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About revolsen

I am a retired Lutheran Pastor currently residing in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. I am married .and have three grown children.

Reformation or Re-formation?

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Prayer of the Day: Eternal light, shine in our hearts. Eternal wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance. Eternal compassion, have mercy on us. Turn us to seek your face, and enable us to reflect your goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

This week’s lesson from Jeremiah as well as the psalm celebrate the liberation of exiles from captivity and their joyous homeward journey under the sheltering protection of the God who frees slaves, champions the cause of the poor and leads the homeless to a homeland. In our gospel reading, Jesus halts his journey toward Jerusalem to heal a blind beggar, a loud and bothersome fellow that the rest of the crowd tried to silence. These lessons are by no means atypical. The Bible, especially as it is read through the lens of Jesus, paints the picture of a God whose heart bleeds for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the sojourner with no country to call home, the hungry, the poor and the noisy outcast at the side of the road that everyone else wishes would just shut up.

From whence, then, cometh the God of “America First”? How the hell did we wind up with this deformity called the “prosperity gospel?” How can those of us from the American “mainline” protestant churches, bastions of middle class respectability that we are, claim to worship the messiah who calls disciples from among “the least” of every nation, tribe and tongue? How did we get to be the church of white privilege?[1] How is it that self described “evangelicals” can be found in such large numbers howling with laughter as our president mocks a man who is disabled and makes fun of a woman trying to piece together what happened to her in the wake of a sexual assault? Can anyone with the most rudimentary understanding of Jesus find this funny? And why are so many self-proclaimed Christians cheering that same president who now proposes to meet a band of refugees fleeing violence and poverty with military force?

Of course, I am aware of all the historical currents, ancient and contemporary, that brought us to this pass. I am also painfully aware that the church in every age has always been less than a perfect witness to its Lord. Even in its finest hours, its witness has been clouded by self-interest, timidity and tunnel vision. This week we observe the 501st anniversary of the Reformation initiated by Martin Luther. Luther certainly had his character flaws, blind spots and prejudices. The Reformation movement failed to address some critical issues, became captive to political agendas inconsistent with the gospel and produced some horrific unforeseen consequences. Yet, to his credit, Luther recognized what was really at stake, namely, the truth of the gospel or, you might also say, the truth about God. That truth is known as one knows Jesus. Jesus is at the heart of the scriptures and the scriptures are rightly called God’s word in their capacity to lead us to faith in Jesus.

In view of all this, it is remarkable how little is said about Jesus these days, both among evangelicals and mainliners. As to the former, see the satirical piece in Kierkegaard’s Ghost. For the latter, see my post for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. It is equally remarkable how little Jesus figures into what passes for public Christian witness these days. Evangelicals in Alabama were ready to go to the trenches in order to keep a monument bearing the Ten Commandments in front of the state house. But has any Christian group, evangelical or otherwise, ever advocated for posting the Beatitudes in public? Has anyone ever suggested enshrining Jesus’ admonition to love the enemy on the wall of the Pentagon? And how do you explain the fixation of so many American Christians on abortion and homosexuality-two matters Jesus never so much as mentioned-while blatantly ignoring his clear and unambiguous call for his followers to sell their possessions and give alms? And how much of the frantic “do gooding” activity in which we engage is actually grounded in and constitutes a clear and unambiguous witness to the crucified messiah? The only conclusion I can reach is that for North American Christians, conservative or progressive, mainline or evangelical, Jesus just isn’t that big a deal.

Therefore, on this anniversary of the Reformation, we should perhaps be asking ourselves what shape reform ought to take. What does return to the radical good news proclaimed in Jesus look like in our context? Is reform really just a matter of tweaking the machinery of the old order? Can we be re-formed without formal dissolution? One vision of reformation has been offered to my own ELCA by #Decolonialize Lutheranism. Decolonialize has articulated a refreshingly Christocentric proclamation of salvation by grace:

“As Lutherans, our greatest gift to the world is our theology – the recognition of human beings as simultaneously sinner and saint, the theology of the cross, and our holy insistence upon the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But most importantly, Luther’s ultimate contribution to the Christian world is his insistence on justification. If Article IV of the Augsburg Confession is the article by which the church stands or falls, if all and any are ‘freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith,’ then this means that Christ has justified everyone and everything before God. And hence, if this is so, then no one is to be excluded – indeed, cannot be excluded – from the love and power of God: human beings, nature, earth and all stars, indeed all of the created cosmos. Attempts to do so are not only impossible, but are even a most foolish attempt to thwart the holy will of God. Therefore, Justification lays at the center of all that #decolonizeLutheranism stands for, and all that we hope to accomplish.”

Therefore,

“The time has come for marginalized communities to lead our church into the 21st century –  people of color, the disabled, all genders (women, trans, and gender nonconforming), sexualities, ages, incarceration or immigration or citizenship status, and others. Since early Christians were never bound to respectability and social perceptions of right behavior, and often boldly contradicted these standards by lifting up the lowly and the down-trodden, #decolonizeLutheranism believes that we must all do likewise. Because of this, every member of the church is to be aware of and respect all of the voices in the room, not just the most evident or numerous, for each sings a part in God’s chorus.”

Of course, “talk is cheap.” Unless accompanied by concrete proposals, bold theological assertions are empty. This group, however, has specific reformation goals. These are set forth at this link. In short, Decolonialize is calling for the inclusion of ten bishops of either of color, gay, lesbian, transgender or disabled. It recommends tripling the number of female bishops; equalizing salaries for minority/women clergy and reforming seminary curricula. Little is said about how this is to be accomplished without doing violence to our representative polity or creating in its place an even more repressive hierarchy. But where the representative polity’s chief problem is its failure to be truly representative by reason of which it is doing violence to those with little or no voice, then we have to ask ourselves whether there is any virtue in protecting from violence a structure that is doing violence to our members and our witness to Jesus. The risk that these bold proposals might fail must be weighed against the clear and present reality of systemic failure in the status quo and the dangers of doing nothing to transform it. Reform and renewal never come without risk, failure and a measure of loss. As people guided by the theology of the cross, we ought to know that.

In the meantime, I am waiting, like poet Lawrence Ferlingghetti, for a rebirth of wonder, the capacity to be astounded at the good news of resurrection for the crucified messiah, the awakening of a community to the hope that once sustained it. And every so often, I see the foundations of the old order shudder; the proud certainty of the oppressor suffer a spasm of doubt; a blinding flicker of hope seep through the cracks in my cynicism; and I know that the old skins cannot forever restrain the new wine. At times like these, I am able to believe that the gentle reign of God will undo the militarized borders, class distinctions and systemic engines of oppression, both within the church and throughout the world, just as surely as the sun is bound to rise.

I am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

Source: Ferlinghetti, Lawrence, These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems (c. 1993, New Directions Publishing Corporation). Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born March 24, 1919, is one of American’s last living poets of the “beat” movement, which included Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Patchen and Gregory Corso. In addition, he is an accomplished  painter, a socialist activist and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. Ferlinghetti is best known for his book, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), a collection of poems that has been translated into nine languages, with sales of more than one million copies. He earned a master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University in 1947. From there, he went to Paris where he earned a doctorate in comparative literature. You can learn more about Lawrence Ferlinghetti and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] I base this claim, which some might find offensive, on the results of a comprehensive demographic survey of the American Religious landscape done by the Pew Research Center. The study shows that the membership of my own church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) continues to be 96% white, notwithstanding numerous official statements trumpeting our openness and diversity. Furthermore, the northern midwestern states, where ELCA membership is primarily located, were instrumental in electing the current president whose racist sympathies are well known and crudely expressed.

Of Humiliation and Humility

Image result for servantTWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Prayer of the Day: Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth. Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom, and make us desire always and only your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’” Mark 10:42-45

Humility is perhaps the most misunderstood of virtues, being frequently confused with humiliation. Though both words are derived from the same root, they each represent quite different concepts. Humiliation is an act of violence committed by one person against another. To humiliate someone is to degrade and embarrass him/her. It consists in using verbal abuse, peer pressure or perhaps even physical assault to put someone else into what you believe to be their proper place. Humiliation is the means by which one’s privileged position within the hierarchy of the status quo is preserved. It is hard at work in the heart of racism, sexism, nationalism and gender bias. Sadly, it is now the weapon of choice in the realm of so much of our political and religious discourse.

Humility, by contrast, is a habit of the heart. A humble person seeks his/her place without regard to where that place might be in any sort of hierarchy. S/he does not necessarily lack ambition. Rather, his/her ambition is focused on his/her calling to be of service to the neighbor. Whether such service takes the form of running for public office or scrubbing the office floor matters not at all. The world might value these respective callings differently, but humble people understand that, when the kingdom of God is revealed in its fullness, “many who are first will be last and the last first.” We cannot control or predict the magnitude of our contribution to the advent of Christ’s gentle reign. After all, who could have imagined that the child born to a homeless couple in a barn out on the frontiers of the civilized world would turn out to be God’s beloved Son? What the headlines raise up as great people and significant events are not necessarily the ones God employs to accomplish God’s redemptive purposes.

Humble people are not lacking in self esteem. Rather, knowing that they are highly esteemed by the one who claimed them in baptism, they have no need for popular acclaim or recognition. They are free to pursue lives of service that bring them joy, satisfaction and sustaining friendships without vexing themselves over whether they have “maximized their full potential.” They are able to rejoice in the accomplishments of others without envy and take pride in their own accomplishments without measuring them against those of anyone else. Life for them is not a competition to reach the top because they know that, in fact, there is neither top nor bottom. They understand that their names, their deeds and their achievements will likely die with them and they are fine with that. Humble people are “simple folk…who grow strong and beautiful in their season, toil at honest labor till it ends [and] fade away with grace when it passes…expect[ing] nothing in return.”

Humility is not to be confused with weakness or timidity. Humble people stand tall and strong against injustice, oppression and for what they believe to be right; but their moral courage is tempered by knowledge of their own limited understandings. For that reason, the humble person never shuts the door to dialogue even with the seemingly most unreasonable foe. Neither is s/he afraid to make compromises to serve the greater good or confess freely when s/he is shown to be wrong. To be sure, in our current cultural climate, “backing down” or “giving in” is deemed weak and cowardly. Compromise is synonymous with surrender. Humility knows, however, that refusal to admit error or accept a reasonable compromise is the worst form of cowardice and that “there is no mind so weak as that which is too strong to be changed.” Humble people know better than to view life as a series of wins and losses. It is enough for them to live honestly and with integrity as servants to all the neighbors placed in their path. That is as much success as they want. That, too, is what Jesus means when he tells his disciples that “greatness” in God’s kingdom consists not in the service one is able to command, but in the service one is able to give.

Here is a poem that, in a round about way, seeks the kind of humility about which Jesus speaks.

In Search of Prime Residential Real Estate

I’d Like to live in a place
Where you can get a cup of coffee
Without having to specify,
Large, very large, jumbo,
Mocha, Columbian or Java.
Let me make my home
In a place so far from
The nearest metropolis
That you can’t get reception
For network stations
Without a computer
And that with difficulty
As there’s no broadband access.
Let history’s great moments
Make their way to me
Through the lens of local news
And humbly take their place
Beneath those truths
That are timeless,
Real and unchanging.
I want to live on open land
Where nothing obstructs my view
Except the sky.
And let that sky be so wide
And so chuck full of stars at night
That nobody looking up into the heavens
Will ever be able to imagine
That he’s any more important
Than a Spring tulip that’s long gone
Before the end of May.
I want to live among simple folk
Who, like that tulip,
Grow strong and beautiful in their season,
Toil at honest labor till it ends,
Fade with grace when it passes,
And expect nothing in return.

Source: anonymous

 

 

 

American Evangelical Leaders call for Jesus’ Resignation

IMG_0280 (1)The Ghost of Kierkegaard

(News that’s fake, but credible)

A group of Evangelical leaders, including the Rev. Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, Jerry Falwell, Jr.,  president of Liberty University, Rev. Robert Jeffress  consultant to President Donald Trump,  and Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family recently issued a call for the resignation of Jesus of Nazareth. “We believe the time has come for Jesus to step down,” the statement declares. “We mean no disrespect toward Jesus,” Rev. Franklin Graham explained. “But the church today needs a leader who is willing to speak an uncompromising word against homosexuality, same sex marriage and abortion. Jesus has never spoken a word on any of these issues. We need a leader who is not afraid to stand up for Christian values like border security, national defense and capital punishment. Jesus is soft on every one of those critical issues.” Rev. Jeffrees agreed, pointing out that Jesus has never stood up for the second amendment and has even made statements that undermine the right of the people to bear arms. “God’s not an open borders kind of guy,” he said. “So how are we supposed to keep your borders closed by ‘putting up our swords'”?

Additionally, his critics claim that Jesus takes harsh and draconian positions in areas calling for sensitivity and understanding.  “For example,” says Tony Perkins, “Jesus is on record stating that ‘whoever divorces his wife and marries another has committed adultery with her.’ That’s entirely too severe,” said Perkins. “A man can expect to go through a few wives in his lifetime and he ought to get a mulligan or two on that score.” He went on to say, “I mean, marriage is no big deal-unless it’s same sex marriage. Then, of course, it’s an abomination.”

Perkins also took issue with Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek” when stricken. “That’s bull!” said Perkins. “Look, you only have two cheeks, right? How often are you supposed to turn them? Jesus clearly doesn’t understand terrorism or the threat posed by liberals who mock us true Christians, bully us and deprive us of our rights. Doesn’t he realize we have the second amendment for a reason?” Dr. Dobson pointed out that Jesus has shown decidedly socialist tendencies in exhorting his followers to “sell their possessions and give alms,” noting that such “give-aways,” however well intended, destroy the incentives of the poor to better themselves by fostering dependency. “That,” he maintains, “is a leading reason for the erosion of family values.”

When asked who might succeed Jesus, Mr. Falwell didn’t hesitate. “We may have our new savior sitting in the White House this very moment. No one can dispute that Donald Trump’s election was a miracle of God. God has shown us who his real son is.” When confronted with Mr. Trump’s seeming moral failures, Falwell replied, “Look, God called King David a man after God’s own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer. Donald Trump is only one of those. That makes him twice as fit as David. Really, who would you rather see on the throne of David? A liberal snowflake like Jesus or a principled conservative like Donald Trump?” So, too, Graham said that Donald Trump has been a “champion” for Christians in the United States. “Who is like the Donald?” he said, “Who can fight against him?” His colleagues concurred.

For his part, President Trump expressed openness to accepting the office of Jesus. Tweeting in response to the above mentioned statement, Mr. Trump stated: “I would make a great savior of the world. I’m best qualified for Job. Jesus is huge disappointment. Three years. Just got killed. What has he given us. Says take up the cross. Sad.” When pressed on this statement by reporters, Mr. Trump replied, “Look, Jesus says the least are the greatest. That’s loser talk. I’m not a loser. Believers shouldn’t be losers either. As savior, I will see to it that Christians win for a change. In fact, they’ll win so much they will get sick of winning. No Christian will suffer under my watch.”

****************************************************************

FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen. In the words of John Steinbeck, “There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.”

 

 

When Prudence Dictates Silence, but Faithfulness Requires Speech

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time. Amos 5:12-13

Unless you have spent the last two weeks on another planet, you know what has been taking place in the United States Senate. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford come forward to testify before the Senate, indeed, before the whole world, about the intimate details of the most horrific and traumatizing event in her life: a sexual assault by Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. For the most part, the Senators, even those who supported the nominee, treated her with courtesy and respect. They all agreed that her testimony was highly credible. Then the Senate went on to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination and he was sworn in as an associate justice of our nation’s highest court. This, too, after his delivering an angry, vindictive and paranoid rant about conspiracies against him. The whole travesty was a replay of the confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas almost three decades ago during which his accuser, Anita Hill, received the same dismissive treatment. Then, as now, the fraternity of old men stood with their male nominee. The voice of a woman claiming sexual assault, however credible, cannot trump the presumptively valid denial of a man.

It is more than a little disheartening that, notwithstanding the many advances women have made for themselves in government, education and the workplace, the same male hierarchical structures and the dismissive mentality among powerful men persists.  Over a century ago, Elizabeth Barrett Browning published her novel/poem, Aurora Leigh. In that book, Browning follows the fortunes of her title character, an aspiring female poet. In one passage that has a sadly contemporary ring to it, Aurora’s suitor, Romney Leigh, summarizes his attitude toward her and women writers in general:

Therefore, this same world
Uncomprehended by you must remain
Uninfluenced by you. Women as you are,
Mere women, personal and passionate,
You give us doting mothers, and chaste wives.
Sublime Madonnas, and enduring saints!
We get no Christ from you,—and verily
We shall not get a poet, in my mind.

Given the persistence of aggression against women by men and our society’s practice of silencing their cries for justice, I can’t help but suspect that Dr. Ford sometimes wishes she had just remained silent. This is “an evil time” and the “prudent” thing is simply to keep your mouth shut.

Anyone familiar with the prophet Amos must know that his words to that effect in the above cited passage can only be understood as deeply sarcastic. Amos was anything but silent about the injustice surrounding him. He, too, was a vulnerable individual, being an immigrant to the Northern Kingdom of Israel from the Southern Kingdom of Judah. When you are considered an outsider, you have to know that meddling in the politics and religion of your host nation will not make friends for you. Keeping quiet about such things is the way of prudence. But for Amos, faithfulness took precedence over prudence. He spoke such words as the land of Israel was “not able to bear.” Amos 7:10. Like Dr. Ford and so many women seeking justice, Amos was silenced. He was forbidden to prophesy any longer at the national temple in Bethel and summarily deported. Seeing this, we might well conclude that Amos’ big mouth only got him into trouble and that he would have done better taking his own advice to remain silent.

Nevertheless, although Amos’ words seem not to have had much impact in his own time, they remain with us today. They helped the broken and exiled people of Israel make sense of the terrible things that were happening to them and gave them hope for a better day. The words of Amos inspired Dr. Martin Luther King and many other leaders in the civil rights movement. As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12. And as the prophet Isaiah assures us:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11-12.

Therefore, in this evil time when it seems as though speaking out can only get us into trouble, we must nevertheless speak. Speak even when you are being shouted down; speak even when you being ignored; speak even when it is disruptive; speak even when it seems as though your words accomplish nothing; speak even when your voice is shaking and your mouth is dry; speak even when your voice is tired, cracked and worn. Speak the word that is truth and let the chips fall wherever they may. Any one of us can be silenced, but the word of truth can never be erased.

Here is a poem by Langston Hughes that urges us not to succumb to the darkness or acquiesce to evil in silence. It represents, I believe, the spirit of prophesy inspired by visions of the gentle reign of God that moves us to speak throwing caution to the wind.

As I Grow Older

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun–
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky–
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

Source: Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (c. 1926 by Alfred A. Knopf, pub. by Random House, LLC, 1990). Langston Hughes was an important African American voice in the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s. Though well-educated and widely traveled, Hughes’ poetry never strayed far from his roots in the African American community. Early in his career, Hughes’ work was criticized by some African American intellectuals for portraying what they viewed as an unflattering representation of back life. In a response to these critics, Hughes replied, “I didn’t know the upper class Negroes well enough to write much about them. I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren’t people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too.”  Today Langston Hughes is recognized globally as a towering literary figure of the 20th Century. You can read more about Hughes and discover more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website (from which the above quote is taken).

Profiles in Courage and Cowardice: An Open Letter to Senators Heitkamp and Collins

See the source imageSee the source imageThe Honorable Heidi Heitkamp
SH-516 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510

The Honorable Susan Collins
413 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Heitkamp and Collins:

Let me first say to you, Senator Heitkamp, as the father of two wonderful women and the grandfather of a little girl too young to have learned that the adjudication of her rights has just been placed into the hands of a sexual predator, thanks! You have had the courage to speak up for vulnerable women in a very frightening time. I know whereof I speak. On the night of the 2016 election, two male Babson College students drove through Wellesley College in a pickup waving a Trump flag and uttering racist and sexist epitaphs at all who happened to be on the campus of that all women’s college. I first heard of this, not from any media outlet, but from my eldest daughter, an alumnus of that fine institution, who was present that night for an election watch party. The message was clear. The man who brags of grabbing women by the privates is in control. Girls beware. From here on out, it’s a man’s country.

Today the Senate (principally its GOP members) affirmed the sentiments of these young men by confirming Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court and letting our women and girls know that, if they are sexually abused, best keep quiet. You won’t be believed. You will not be heard. This is a country of men, by men and for men. On this dark day, your courageous voice and vote constituted a clear and decisive witness and reminder that our country is better than all of this. I know that you are paying a heavy political price for the stand you have taken. I wish that I could give you my vote, but as a resident of Massachusetts, I obviously cannot do that. All I have to offer is my sincere gratitude and prayers for your ongoing work. I have no doubt that your public service and your contributions to our country will remain and continue, regardless of election results.

That you were willing to put the well being of the women and girls I love ahead of your own political self interest speaks volumes about your character. I wish there were more persons like yourself in politics who place principle over polls, conscience over convenience and country over party. Thank you for demonstrating to my daughters, my granddaughter and the many women I care for that they have a voice and that they matter. Thank you for standing up for the hundreds of victims of abuse whose lives have touched mine throughout my years of ministry. You are a true hero.

Now, Senator Collins, I turn to you. How poorly your capitulation compares with the courage demonstrated by your colleague! How very poorly you compare with Dr. Blasey Ford who, in the face of outrageous abuse, including death threats to her and her family, came forward to testify before the entire nation about the most intimate and humiliating details of a most horrific trauma. Dr. Ford put her life on the line for her country. Senator Heitkamp put the rights of women and the safety of our girls ahead of her political career. You scampered into the shadow of Donald Trump to save your political hide. Your high sounding rhetoric about protecting women’s reproductive rights and overcoming partisan divisiveness over the years has won you a reputation for wisdom, understanding and moderation. But today you voted to put on the Supreme Court a man who, according to the sworn testimony of Dr. Ford that even your Republican colleagues deemed credible, committed a violent act of sexual assault. That tells us who you really are and puts the lie to your professed concern about sexual assault and sympathy for the “Me too” movement.

Almost as revolting as your vote in the face of Dr. Ford’s sworn testimony was the lame explanation you gave for it. I don’t think for one minute that you really believe the “presumption of innocence” governing criminal proceedings has any application to what is, after all, a job interview. I certainly would not hire Judge Kavanaugh to babysit my children after hearing what Dr. Ford had to say and I doubt that any other parent would either. Yet you seem to think we can overlook these serous allegations of sexual assault and put this man on the Supreme Court out of “fairness.” I was honestly embarrassed for you and I think you were also more than a little embarrassed yourself. I suspect your real target audience was a president and his supporters who think men are the real victims and that “the girls are doing just fine.” How sad that a woman of your accomplishments and intelligence would stoop to groveling before a man who thinks it’s funny to ridicule a woman trying to piece together what happened to her in the wake of a sexual assault. Yet, like the rest of your Republican colleagues, when push comes to shove, you play to the base. Whatever it takes to get re-elected is fair play.

Furthermore, even if we accept your rejection of Dr. Ford’s testimony as a “false memory,” even if we accept the outlandish assertions of some of your Republican colleagues that the other two women reporting sexual assaults by Brett Kavanaugh were only doing so to “get attention,” and even if we were able to listen with a straight face to Judge Kavanaugh’s highly improbable excuses for his explicit and obscene yearbook messages, you and all the rest of the country heard Brett Kavanaugh rave incoherently about conspiracies against him by the Democrats and the Clintons. You cannot convince me that you didn’t see at least clear and convincing evidence of an emotionally unstable and dangerously unhinged mind clearly lacking the temperament for any judicial post, let alone the highest court in the land. But, when the Donald calls, neither judicial character nor the safety of women and girls must be allowed to “Trump” the party line. I must say, you had me fooled. I truly expected better of you and so did the millions of American women you betrayed.

I am convinced that history will not look kindly upon you. You will be remembered, if at all, as a handmaiden to the most corrupt, vile and incompetent president this country has ever seen. You will take your place along with the now embarrassed supporters of George Wallace, Lester Maddox and Strom Thurman, champions of ideologies no less hateful than the systemic hierarchical oppression of women, a system that facilitates the victimization of women like Dr. Ford and summarily silences them. Because I believe in the true greatness of our nation’s core values, I am confident that the Trump regime, its supporters and those, like yourself, who submitted to it for their own political advantage will find their way into the dust bin of history.

But history will not be your harshest critic. You see, Senator Collins, I know that you are not an evil person. You are simply a person who never found the courage to be good. I believe that you possess a conscience. For that reason, you will forever be re-playing over and over again in your head like a broken record the reasons you gave for supporting Brett Kavanaugh, trying in vain to convince your skeptical conscience that they are all legitimate, that you were right all along, that you cannot be blamed for the consequences of your complicity in what you must know even now to be a travesty. You will wake up every morning in the skin of a coward and know that there is nothing you can do anymore to shed it. Every time you look into the mirror you will be confronted with a traitor. For that reason, Senator Collins, I pity you. I will pray for you also. I will pray that you someday find the courage to confront the truth about yourself and what you have done. I will pray that you someday find the path to redemption for the remainder of your life and know some measure of peace.

Most sincerely yours,

Rev. Peter A. Olsen (retired)

Does the Church Really Need Jesus?

TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Prayer of the Day: Sovereign God, you have created us to live in loving community with one another. Form us for life that is faithful and steadfast, and teach us to trust like little children, that we may reflect the image of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…” Hebrews 1:1-2.

Of all words spoken by God, wherever or however, the final authoritative word is Jesus, the Word made flesh as John’s gospel puts it. Christian faith is therefore not principally the acceptance of doctrinal propositions. It is, in its essence, trust in a person, namely, Jesus. The church, according to professor Stanley Hauerwas, is that community of people whose way of life makes no sense apart from the conviction that Jesus is Lord. Turning the other cheek to aggression is an irrational response in a world where the peace is kept by armed police officers, militarized borders and weapons of mass destruction. Lending without hope of a return on your money is a recipe for bankruptcy. Selling your possessions to provide aid to the needy can only result in becoming needy. The Sermon on the Mount could hardly form the basis for a neighborhood home association, much less a nation state. That is because it was not designed for mass consumption. The Sermon, as well as Jesus’ other teachings, are meant to govern a people who believe that, with the resurrection of the crucified messiah, all the old assumptions about power, glory, security, wealth and poverty go out the window. Disciples of Jesus live in and for the reign of God which, though not yet fully revealed, is more real to them than the political, social and economic powers and principalities that demand their allegiance. Therefore, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews will point out in Chapter 11, faith in Jesus results in a life that is altogether unintelligible to the rest of the world.

It is somewhat troubling that, in our culture, the church is often all too intelligible quite apart from Jesus. In the mind of the general public, the church is seen as a public service organization doing good in within its community. It is viewed as a teacher of morality. Pastors and priests are the last resort for people in crisis who can’t afford professional counseling. The church is often expected to address social and societal issues. Of course, the church also provides fellowship and community. Don’t misunderstand me here. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the church doing any of these things. But the truth is, there isn’t one of them that other organizations are not also doing-and often better than we are. So why join a church? Why not volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or get involved with Amnesty International? Why not join a biking group or a bridge club for community? What can you find in the church that somebody else isn’t offering? The church is, for the most part, neither odd nor even very interesting!

It isn’t that we aren’t trying. We have consorted with think tanks, hired consultants and authorized studies to figure out what we need to do to be more appealing.  But perhaps that is altogether the wrong approach. When discussions about spiritual renewal begin with questions about how to attract millennials, what needs exist in the community to be addressed or how to make our liturgy more “user friendly,” I begin to wonder whether we are trying to draw people in to save ourselves rather than bringing the good news of salvation to the world. I wonder whether we are looking at the needs in our community to find problems to solve, thereby justifying our existence, rather than responding to the pain in our community because the love of Christ compels us. I wonder whether we are being driven by an institutional survival instinct rather than the Spirit of Jesus. Are seeking to save our lives at the cost of our souls? Or are we spending them confident that God will return them to us?

I recently attended a meeting of clergy within my denomination in which our leadership introduced a program designed to “revitalize congregations.” The program lasted a good hour and a half. There were the usual participatory exercises, small group discussions and Q&A. At the conclusion, I came to the realization that, throughout this entire parade of Powerpoint slides, talking points, graphs and charts, not once was the name of Jesus so much as mentioned. I don’t know whether that was intentional or inadvertent. Nor am I sure which would be the more disturbing. How, I wondered, is it possible to revitalize a church without Jesus? Moreover, even if this program were to succeed, would we want a church, however successful, that is revitalized by something other than Jesus? If God speaks finally, fully and authoritatively through Jesus the Son, shouldn’t that Son be central to any effort we make to grow in our faith and mission?

Without Jesus, there is no reason for the church to exist. Indeed, if we have reached the point where Jesus is not relevant for us, if he is so inconsequential that we neglect to include him in discussions about mission and ministry, then I think we owe it to the world to shut our doors, liquidate our assets for donation to worthy causes and tell our congregants to go out and do something useful with their Sunday mornings. Forgive me if I am being a bit flippant here, but I can’t help feeling somewhat appalled at any meeting of church leaders in which Jesus is mentioned only in opening devotions, and all the more so when that meeting is about spiritual renewal!

I believe we need to confront our spiritual anemia head on. Maybe the way to renewal is acknowledging that our connection to Jesus is frayed and that we have, to a large degree, lost our direction. Like the church in Ephesus, we have “abandoned the love [we] had at first” Revelation 2:4 . I would like to suggest a modest proposal: Suspend all revitalization, outreach, “transformational ministry,” “missional” events for the next year and dedicate these times for communion with Jesus in prayer, worship and reflection on the scriptures. Let our time be spent learning to pray together, trust one another and build collegial friendships. Let us engage in those spiritual practices through which the mind of Christ is formed in us. Let us learn to listen again to that Word of God that is Jesus. I have a feeling that if we do that, the revitalization part will take care of itself.

Here is a poem by Christina Rossetti I previously shared this last April in connection with my Easter reflections. I share it again because it expresses a prayer that perhaps should be on the lips of us all.

A Better Resurrection

 I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

Source: This poem is in the public domain. Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) was the daughter of an Italian poet and exile who emigrated to England in 1884. There he established himself as a scholar and teacher of Dante’s works at Kings College. He married an English woman in 1826 and they had four children together, one of which was Christina. Christina Rossetti’s childhood appears to have been happy, characterized by affectionate parental care and the creative inspiration from her older siblings. A devout Christian, her many poems, short stories and devotional works are rich in biblical imagery. You can find out more about Christina Rossetti and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Hurt My Little Ones and There Will be Hell to Pay-Jesus

See the source imageNINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Prayer of the Day: Generous God, your Son gave his life that we might come to peace with you. Give us a share of your Spirit, and in all we do empower us to bear the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” Mark 9: 42-48.

Jesus doesn’t talk much about hell, so when he does, we had all best listen up. Jesus says in no uncertain terms that the worst thing you can do is place an obstacle in the way of someone seeking him. Do that, says Jesus, and there will be hell to pay. I can hardly imagine a more vivid illustration of putting “a stumbling-block” in the way of Christ’s “little ones” than the damning report issued by a grand jury last month alleging that bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it. Few persons are privileged with the confidence placed by parishioners in their spiritual leaders. Pastors and priests are to represent a zone of safety. They are to be the ear that will listen with compassion to the darkest of secrets and offer portals into healing and hope. Abuse of that privilege is indeed a grave and despicable offense. It is hard to quantify the irreparable harm wrought upon the souls of those trusting children who came seeking the love of Jesus and found instead exploitation of the worst kind. All of this makes Jesus’ harsh admonition to his disciples to sacrifice eye and limb before committing such an offense entirely understandable.

The scourge of sexual abuse is not solely a Roman Catholic problem. We protestants have had our share of scandals. If we have not engaged in covering them up to the same degree, it is most likely because we lacked the bureaucratic machinery to do so effectively. Nor is sexual abuse the exclusive sin of the church. According to the National Center for Missing and Ex­ploited Children, of the 25,000 runaways reported in 2017, one in seven are likely victims of sex trafficking. There is a hot market for these vulnerable persons Jesus calls his “little ones.” Furthermore, the “Me too” movement has successfully brought to light what everyone always knew, but nobody ever talked about or tried to change, namely, the entrenched sense of entitlement among powerful men to exploit sexually women and young girls in the workplace, on campus and in the halls of government. In viewing the phenomenon of sexual assault in our country, one striking fact emerges: Men commit 90 to 95 percent of sexual assaults.[1] Yes, there are cases in which women abuse young men, but they are the rare exception that further establishes the rule.

Clearly, there is something deeply wrong, deeply corrupt and deeply toxic in our cultural understanding of manhood. It goes under the rubric of “boys will be boys.” Young men are expected to be sexually aggressive and to “sow their wild oats.”  Women ought to know this and avoid provoking young men by their dress, behavior or choosing to place themselves in circumstances where men are able to take advantage of them. In short, if a woman is raped, it is probably at least partially her own fault. You can’t blame a man for being a man.  These assumptions about masculinity and our societal acceptance of the same has created and continues to enable a predatory culture to which the church has too often conformed rather than being transformed by the in-breaking reign of God in Jesus Christ.

If you have any lingering doubts about the deep and lasting trauma inflicted upon victims of sexual abuse, a reading of the anonymous poet will soon resolve them. Multiply that one wounded soul by the hundreds of thousands of survivors in this country and you can begin to understand the heartbreak and rage reflected in Jesus’ hard words to his disciples. Our failure and that of our society to shelter and protect God’s “little ones” has brought upon us a fearful judgment and, as the Apostle Peter warned us, it is beginning “with the household of God.” I Peter 4:17. It is encouraging to see churches finally beginning to take more responsibility for ensuring that our sanctuaries, our assemblies and activities are safe places for women, children and all vulnerable persons. I could only wish that it had come a lot sooner.

Still, better late than never. A counter-cultural witness of personhood, manhood in particular, that values compassion over power, mutuality over dominance and the sanctity of children, women and the dignity of all persons regardless of gender is sorely needed. That is the case now more than ever. The struggle for equality and justice for all of God’s children has evoked a hostile cultural response. We have elected a president who boasts that, as a celebrity, he is entitled to grab any girl he wishes by the genitals. Hardly a week goes by without some political leader or media celebrity being exposed as an abuser. This week we are witnessing the spectacle of a nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States confronted by at least two credible allegations of sexual assault. [2] It is my prayer that, as we confront this nomination and other critical decisions as a people and, more importantly, as a church, the voice of the anonymous poet who speaks for so many of Christ’s “little ones” will not be shouted down.

Shattered

I was made shattered.
A ruined soul now exists
where a whole person
once
was.

I break plates and glasses,
smashing them for release;
The fractured pieces litter the floor
and I can’t help but relate
to each broken fragment.

I’m the broken vase that lies on the floor,
the spilled water decorating the tile
with the tattered roses
begging for
life.

The body is soft and supple,
able to absorb blows.
Identities are fragile
and difficult to repair.
My self is destroyed.

I’ve put the pieces back together with glue-
that’s progress-
but the glue is still curing and the pieces
don’t fit together quite right.
I’m not okay.

We work with
available light
to mend the fractured soul.
Like plates, I am the
product of human efforts.

You made me shatter.

Source: This poem is one of several written by survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse posted on the website for Vera House. Vera House is a comprehensive domestic and sexual violence service agency providing shelter, advocacy, and counseling services for women, children and men along with education and prevention programs and community coordination. I encourage you to visit this website.

[1] An Analysis of Rape and Sexual Assault, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

[2] In that vein, evangelist Franklin Graham said with respect to allegations of attempted rape raised against Judge Kavanaugh during the course of confirmation proceedings for his nomination to the United States Supreme Court, “It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh who has a stellar record — that somebody can bring something up that he did when he was a teenager close to 40 years ago…That’s not relevant.” Christian Broadcasting Network. I can understand that Rev. Graham might choose to believe Judge Kavanaugh’s denials over the claims of his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. What I cannot fathom is how he can insist that this claim, even if true, is irrelevant when considering whether to give life tenure on the Supreme Court to someone who will be called upon to decide important issues of law touching on the rights of women and children victimized by abuse. If Rev. Graham thinks trapping a woman in a bedroom, throwing her down on a bed, groping her, attempting to rip off her clothes and nearly asphyxiating her in the process is equivalent to egging and toilet papering the neighbor’s house on cabbage night, then I have to wonder how anyone with the most rudimentary notions of right and wrong can recognize him as a moral authority.

Sunshine and Shark Attacks

As you probably already know, a shark attack tragically ended the life of Arthur Medicia, a twenty-six-year old man, on Newcomb Hollow Beach here in Wellfleet last Friday. This horrible occurrence put our small town on the map for at least one news cycle and cast a dark cloud over the end of an otherwise uneventful summer season. Newcomb Hollow is, in my opinion, the loveliest of our four ocean beaches and a favorite haunt of Sesle and me. The dunes are rich with sea grasses, pitch pines, oaks and a large variety of flowering plants. The cliffs overlooking the ocean are majestic and the sand is as white and soft as any you are likely to find in the tropics. On that particular sunny morning, wave upon frothy wave broke silky white out of a sea as blue as the sky above. It was a perfect beach day and the last time and place you would expect to encounter violence and death. A memorable utterance of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead comes to mind: “fairies dance and Christ is nailed to the cross.”[1]

The following Sunday I was in church listening to a preacher struggle at making sense out of this terrible loss of life. He was clearly moved by Arthur’s cruel and untimely death. His deep compassion spoke volumes even though we were left with less than an explanation for what still seems for all the world like a random, violent and meaningless act of nature. I have long since concluded that tragedies like these have only as much meaning as we can give them. We give meaning to lives lost in war by striving for peace. We give meaning to lives lost to cancer by dedicating ourselves to finding treatments for the disease. We give meaning to lives crushed under the wheel of oppression by striving for a more just and peaceful world. So how do we give meaning to the life of Arthur Medicia, a young man killed while out enjoying the ocean waves with his family?

Some verses from Psalm 104 in praise of God’s creative power might be of some assistance:

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

Psalm 104:24-26.

I can appreciate the psalmist’s sense of wonder and awe. When you stand on the ocean shore, you can’t help being overcome with the beauty and grandeur of this planet with its manifold living and non-living forces. The ocean is indeed filled with marvelous creatures, but these include the sea monster, Leviathan. Just as C.S. Lewis reminds us that God is not a “tame lion,” so the psalmist would have us know that the world God made is not a safe playground. Those of you who happen to be of my vintage know what I am talking about. For you youngsters, I am referring to playgrounds with which you are familiar and perhaps the only ones you have ever known. They were all built since the 1990s. They are paved with soft, rubbery padding and equipped with cushioned playthings designed to prevent injury. You won’t get hurt in these play areas, but if you are over six, you probably won’t have much fun there either. By fun I mean the sensation of rocketing into the sky on a wooden slab swing and the thrill that comes with coming face to face with the sky for just an instant before falling back to earth. I am talking about the merry-go-rounds that the strongest and fastest among us would crank up to warp speed while the rest of us clung for dear life against the pull of centripetal force. There were more skinned knees and elbows back then. Occasionally we broke bones. Rarely, but tragically, we saw some serious injuries. But maybe that’s the cost of having fun, of living fully in this marvelous world, of playing in the vast oceans where Leviathan and the great white sharks sport.[2]

This Monday morning my daily bike ride took me on a turn down to Newcomb Hollow Beach. At the end of the parking lot was a sign posted by the township announcing the closure of the shore to swimming and surfing until further notice. Surrounding that sign were bouquets of flowers and shell arrangements memorializing Arthur Medici. Down in the water I could see about half a dozen surfers taking advantage of the high surf in seeming defiance of the sign’s injunction. Foolhardy? No more so than me when I hop on my bike to negotiate the narrow, curvy and shoulderless highways of the outer Cape. I am aware that cars kill far more cyclists than sharks do swimmers. Still, I ride. I love the sea wind in my face and the scent of the ocean. I love the exhilaration of cresting a hill and coasting down the other side. I love the subtle sights and sounds of the national forest that you miss when you travel through it in a cage of steel and glass. Like those surfers, like Arthur Medici, I believe that life, however short or long it might turn out to be, is far too precious to spend in a safe playground. So I will honor and give meaning to the life of Arthur Medici by fully celebrating and living in God’s beautiful, mysterious and terrifying universe-Leviathan and all.[3]

[1] Whitehead, Alfred North, Process and Reality (c. 1978 The Free Press, NY) p. 338.

[2] I feel compelled to put this incident in some sort of context. This event was the Cape’s first shark fatality since the 1930s. Shark attacks are rare in these parts for a couple of reasons. First, understand that white sharks typically do not attack human beings intentionally. On those occasions when they do attack, it is usually because they mistake us for something else. A surfer in a black wet suit looks a lot like a seal to a hungry shark. You reduce your chances of encountering a shark substantially by staying away from seals and avoiding the water at dawn and dusk. Second, during the official holiday season, the beaches are under the watchful eye of lifeguards who are trained in emergency medicine as well as water rescues. They are skilled at spotting rip currents and detecting the approach of marine life dangerous to swimmers, including sharks. The life guards are in radio contact with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy which studies and monitors shark activity. That does not preclude the possibility that a white shark might slip through undetected into swimming areas and attack swimmers as happened earlier this year in the neighboring town of Touro. But your chances of suffering harm from a shark are exceedingly small. After Labor Day, the beaches are unmonitored and swimmers are essentially on their own. Because cell phone reception is poor to non-existent on the beach, anyone spotting a swimmer in distress would need to run back to the point of beach entry and climb up the substantial incline to the parking lot in order to call for help. Even so, rip currents and hypothermia are far more likely to take you out than a shark.

[3] Predictably, this tragedy has inspired the usual upsurge in shark hysteria and calls for the elimination of great white sharks from the Cape or the seals drawing them to our shores. This, in my view, amounts to little more than creating a “safe playground” on a grander scale. Though I am no marine biologist, I can still say that, from a biblical standpoint, altering the ecosystem of the Cape for no better reason than eliminating what we know to be a slight risk to some vacationers constitutes an act of profound homocentric arrogance.