Category Archives: Uncategorized

I’ts Not the Economy, Stupid!

See the source imageFIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

Prayer of the Day: God among us, we gather in the name of your Son to learn love for one another. Keep our feet from evil paths. Turn our minds to your wisdom and our hearts to the grace revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“You cannot serve God and wealth.” Luke 16:13.

If you read the very next verse after the end of this Sunday’s gospel reading, you will discover that Jesus’ opponents, who were listening in on a parable directed to his disciples, “were lovers of money…and they ridiculed him.” Luke 16:14. Among those who ridicule Jesus might be former New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie  who took part in a “round table discussion” on ABC’s Good Morning America this Sunday. He made the point, and not for the first time, that however much the American people might dislike Donald Trump, they love the low unemployment rate and they love what the stock market is doing for their retirement accounts. That, says Christie, is what they will take into the voting booth, not, what for them, are distant and abstract issues like immigration or foreign policy. To put it in the words of a slogan dating back to the days of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

This is all chillingly reminiscent of the attitude expressed by millions of Germans in the 1930s who, however much they might have disliked the vulgar and pretentious little corporal with the audacity to call himself “the Fuhrer,” nevertheless liked the creation of millions of new jobs, the rebuilding of decaying national infrastructure and the rebirth of patriotism under his reign. They, too, were less concerned about abstract issues like the “Jewish Question” and the nation’s drift toward militarism. It seems that, in the Governor’s view, the American people are as morally tone deaf as the crowds that cheered for the Nazis. In the end, says Christie, they will vote their pocket books. After all, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Jesus warns us that our fixation on the economy and reliance on the wealth it produces for us is misplaced. The economy is a notorious traitor. When corporate decides that the sporting goods store you work for could more profitably be closed, liquidated and the proceeds invested in a more promising sector of our booming economy, you learn that a good economy is not necessarily your friend. A healthy economy might promise you a comfortable retirement in your golden years. But if your next physical reveals a lump on your body that turns out to be malignant, there may be no golden years to enjoy. Money can’t do anything about that. Money can buy you a new swimming pool for your dream house, but it provides little consolation the day you find your toddler floating face down in the middle of it. For those who are willing to learn from history, the decades of misery suffered in Germany and throughout Europe during and after the Second World War should demonstrate how foolhardy it is to “vote your pocket book.” A self centered and myopic equation of security with wealth leads to destruction every time. It’s not the economy, stupid.

Jesus’ parable illustrates the point. This story is often given the title “The Dishonest Manager,” but I am not convinced that the manager was actually dishonest or even negligent. We are told only that “charges were brought to [his master] that this man was wasting his goods.” Luke 16:1. Those of us who have spent time in the corporate world know that when mistakes are made that hurt the bottom line, heads must roll. They are not necessarily the heads of those responsible. Lower sales figures might not be anyone’s fault, but there is no better way for a middle manager to show corporate that s/he is in charge and taking matters in hand than by fixing blame and firing people. That shows the people on top that you are holding your subordinates responsible and sends a message to your subordinates that you expect improved results. In any case, whether the manager in Jesus’ parable was dishonest, incompetent or merely a victim of someone else’s scheme to deflect blame, he has clearly learned one of life’s cruelest lessons: Corporate doesn’t care, not about you, your ailing spouse or your child with a serious medical condition. The bottom line is the only line that matters. Everybody else is expendable.

So, our hero, who just moments ago imagined himself firmly established among the proverbial 1%, suddenly finds himself among the other 99% without the skill sets needed to survive there. He responds by reducing the debts of his master’s creditors in the few hours he still has left in the office, hoping to ingratiate himself to them. One can read this cynically as a disgruntled employee’s final attempt to screw his boss on the way out the door. If that were the case, however, you would hardly expect the master to congratulate him on the cleverness of his fraudulent scheme. Can you imagine yourself admiring the skill of the thief who broke into your car? More likely, I think, the manager was writing off only his own commission on his master’s debts. That would have won him a debt of gratitude from the master’s creditors without decreasing the master’s accounts receivable.

Whatever conclusions you might draw about the manager’s actions and motives, the point here is that he has learned an important truth about the security wealth and privilege promise, namely, that such security is illusory. Genuine security comes not from wealth, but from one’s ties to a caring community. In the end, my own security is no better than my trust and confidence in my neighbor. My wellbeing is finally dependent on the wellbeing of my neighbor. The best way to achieve security is to work for the freedom, security and wellbeing of your neighbors. Losing sight of that fact and focusing solely on your own financial well being while your neighbors are being detained, separated from their families and deported is, well, stupid.

Here is one of my favorite poems speaking to our connectedness and our aching need for “Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light…” It was composed by Elizabeth Alexander for Barack Obama’s Inauguration. How hard it is to believe that this day once dawned in the nation we have become.

Praise for the Day

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Source: Praise Song for the Day, (c. 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander, pub. by Graywolf Press). Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem in 1962. She grew up on Washington, D.C., however, where her father, Clifford Alexander, served as United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman. She earned her Ph.D. at University of Pennsylvania. Alexander is chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a professor of poetry at Yale University. She composed and read the above poem at President Barak Obama’s inauguration in 2009. You can find out more about Elizabeth Alexander and read more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Senator Mitch McConnell Receives Russia’s Highest Honor

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

See the source imageThis week Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell was awarded a Hero of the Russian Federation medal, the highest honor bestowed on Russian citizens. Though the medal is usually awarded to Russians, a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that “We have always regarded Mr. McConnell as one of us.” Mr. Putin himself presented the medal at a special ceremony in Moscow. “We could not have won the 2016 election without your loyal support,” Mr. Putin told a cheering Duma. “You have more than earned the honorary title, ‘Moscow Mitch.’” The Russian leader pointed out that Mr. McConnell’s resistance to the Obama administration’s request to launch bipartisan interference with his country’s generous assistance for America’s 2016 presidential election was instrumental in “giving us the best United States president Russia ever had.”

Upon his return to the U.S., Mr. McConnell was swarmed with reporters questioning the propriety of his acceptance of the medal. Mr. McConnell lashed out at what he termed “the McCarthyism of the left wing media.” Brushing off an inquisitive press and criticism from his colleagues in the Senate, the Senator replied, “This is what we’re up against with the hard left today in America. These people are lying, lying when they dismiss the work that I’ve done to secure our democracy for real Americans against that congressional “squad” of radical socialists who are only fake Americans. They’re lying when they insist I have personally blocked actions to protect American freedom. Those idiots don’t even know what freedom is! I know first hand what it is like to lose your freedoms. My state of Kentucky has been the victim of tyranny under liberals for decades. Since the 1960s, activist liberal judges have been imposing their perverse ideas of racial equality on our people, robbing real Americans of their drinking fountains, their lunch counters and parks. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect America from more injustice like that and support the president in making it great again, like it was before all this nonsense started. We joined with the Russians against the Nazis in World War II and we will join with them again against the Democrats.”

Many congressional leaders, including a few Republicans, pointed out that Mr. McConnell had not received authorization from the president or his national security staff before attending the presentation ceremony in Moscow. “Nonsense,” replied a spokesperson for Mr. McConnell. “Mitch would never have taken this trip without his president’s approval. Mr. Putin has been supportive of the Senator’s visit from the get go.”

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

FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “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.” John Steinbeck

Can Prayer Change God’s Mind?

See the source imageFOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-10
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Prayer of the Day: O God, overflowing with mercy and compassion, you lead back to yourself all those who go astray. Preserve your people in your loving care, that we may reject whatever is contrary to you and may follow all things that sustain our life in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Pastor,” said the apprehensive voice on the other end of the line, “please pray for my Dad. He’s had a heart attack and he’s in the hospital.” This from a woman who had told me only a few days before how she believed that “God has a plan for everyone’s life. He decides when you are born and when you die.” That belief, she told me, brought her great comfort and confidence. “Nothing can happen that God has not already planned,” she told me. I wondered, then, why bother to pray? If everything in the life of this woman’s father has been foreordained, then there is no point in praying. If this was to be his time, he would die. If not, he would recover. No amount of prayer could possibly change anything.

Of course, I told my friend that I would both pray for and visit her father in the hospital. Now was not the time to start a discussion probing the theological fault lines in her faith. Still, I wondered how it was possible to hold these two seemingly contradictory beliefs in common: 1) God foreordains everything in a believer’s life; 2) God answers prayer.

Our lesson from Exodus fully supports the second proposition, namely, that God is influenced by prayer. Indeed, God’s mind can be changed by prayer. God seems to have been determined to make an end of Israel once and for all following their idolatrous worship of the golden calf. If the miracle of the Exodus could not inspire faith in God’s promises and demonstrate the futility of trusting idols like the gods of Egypt, what would? What more could God do to win the hearts of God’s people? What was left other than to scrap the whole project and start again from scratch? But then Moses lifts up the covenant God made with Abraham, Sarah and the other matriarchs and patriarchs. Moses appeals to God’s faithfulness, God’s compassion and the importance of God’s completing with Israel what was started so long ago. God then changes God’s mind and changes course. Moses’ prayer was efficacious.

But there is also scriptural support for the first proposition, namely, that God ordains the outcome of all things and that God’s will invariably prevails. Consider these verses from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:

I am God, and there is no one like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My purpose shall stand,
and I will fulfil my intention’,
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man for my purpose from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have planned, and I will do it. Isaiah 46:9-11.

Or these words from Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.

……………………………………………………………………..

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. Psalm 139: 1-4;16

So, too, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians states that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” Ephesians 1:4. Thus, the paradox residing in my friend’s faith is actually rooted in the scriptures. How, then, do we make sense out of the seeming contradiction between the omnipotent sovereignty of God and the efficaciousness of prayer?

If there is any resolution, it lies in the Triune nature of God whose essence is love: love between the Father and the Son embodied by the Spirit. Genuine love is necessarily open to the influence of its object. It is hard to imagine how a parent can love a child without being shaped, influenced and, more than occasionally, made to change course by that child’s needs, requests and opinions. In one sense, you could say that God ceased to be almighty the moment God spoke the words, “Let there be.” For once these words were spoken, something else, something that was not God existed. In the words of one of our hymns, the Trinity “in love and hope made room within their dance” for another partner. “Come Join the Dance of Trinity,” by Richard Leach, Lutheran Worship, Hymn # 412. Like a child, the universe must have freedom, within certain protective parameters, to grow and develop into maturity. The creation is not the Creator’s still life painting. It is a complex, living, dynamic organism ever capable of mutating, for better or worse, into a new thing with different needs, unanticipated potential and a wealth of possibilities.

In what sense, then, can it be said (if at all) that God foreordains all things? Again, the answer must be grounded in God’s nature as Trinitarian love. As St. Paul reminds us, “love is patient…love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” and “love never ends.” I Corinthians 13: 4; 7-8. We are accustomed to thinking of power as the ability to control outcomes by way of coercion. Powerful people are those who can “get things done” by means of persuasion, threats or, if necessary, brute force. But in Christ Jesus God manifests a qualitatively different kind of power-the power of infinite patience, the power of infinite perseverance, the power of infinite commitment to recovering all that has been lost and weaving it into the fabric of a new creation.

To be sure, God’s reign can be resisted, frustrated and, in the short run, defeated. But God is not deterred by setbacks and failure. God, who has all eternity to work with, takes whatever the world throws up and works with it. Taking into Godself our accomplishments, failures, acts of compassion, acts of pure meanness and, yes, our prayers, God performs the work of reconciling all things in Christ Jesus. God will continue so doing until our stubborn resistance is finally worn down by God’s never ending Trinitarian love. Our petitions of thanksgiving, intercession and lamentation are important parts of the stuff God makes use of in redeeming creation.

I think Martin Luther said it best in our Small Catechism: “The Kingdom of God comes without our prayer, but we pray that it may come among us.” God does not need our prayers or anything else from us to establish God’s reign. But God loves us too much to allow us to be passive observers. God invites us to be active participants in God’s gracious reign so that it becomes not a distant hope, but a present reality in the midst of a troubled world. Prayer takes us into the heart of God’s struggle to overcome the world’s hostility through Christ’s ministry of seeking the lost. While prayer cannot be used to manipulate God into giving us the results we want, it clearly influences God’s faithful and redemptive work in our lives and in our world.

Prayer has a transformative power, particularly when employed on behalf of the marginalized, the persecuted, the forgotten and the lost. Our gospel lesson comes from a chapter in Luke heavily focusing on the lost: lost coins, lost sheep, lost sons, lost sinners who many people feel aren’t worth looking for and righteous people too blind to realize they are lost. Below is a poem by Scott Cairns purporting to be God’s answer to our prayers. It points out how self-centered and how limited in scope our prayers often are. Yet it challenges us to deepen our prayer life and harmonize it with God’s own zeal for recovering “the lost.”

Possible Answers to Prayer

Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

Source: Philokalia: New and Selected Poems. (c. 2002 by Scott Cairns, pub. by Zoo Press). Scott Cairns (b. 1954) is an American poet and essayist. He is the author of nine collections of poetry, one collection of translations of Christian mystics, one spiritual memoir, a book-length essay on suffering and was co-author of an anthology of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Cairns has served on the faculties of Kansas State University, Westminster College, University of North Texas where he was editor of the American Literary Review and Old Dominion University. He was the founding director of Writing Workshops in Greece, an annual four week workshop on the island of Thasos. He is currently on the poetry faculty of Seattle Pacific University. You can find out more about Scott Cairns and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Actors, ICE Agents and Excommunication

See the source imageTHIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Prayer of the Day: Direct us, O Lord God, in all our doings with your continual help, that in all our works, begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name; and finally, by your mercy, bring  us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27.

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Deuteronomy 30:19.

Imagine that a life-long member of a mainline protestant church, like my own Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA), comes to worship on Sunday morning. The pastor meets him at the door with an ultimatum. “I understand that you continue to be employed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is that true?”

“Yes, what of it,” the individual replies.

“Your employment and affiliation with an agency committing acts of violence against families, children and persons seeking asylum from persecution is contrary to your baptismal promise to renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God and the ways of sin that draw you away from God. Accordingly, I must insist that you resign from your employment with ICE. Should you refuse to do so, we will have no choice but to bar you from the Lord’s Table until such time as you repent of your sin and demonstrate a willingness to renew your baptismal commitments.”

I cannot imagine such a thing happening in any of the churches I have been involved with. Excommunication has long since been cleansed from our ecclesiastical DNA. It was very much alive, however, in the church of the New Testament and throughout the third century. Please note that I am not holding this era of our ecclesiastical history up as a “golden age” when everything was done as it should be. The early church was hardly perfect, but it understood that it was called to an existence radically different from the surrounding culture. It understood that Jesus was offering it a better life than the dominant society could provide. The earliest post New Testament document we have, a baptismal training tract called the Didoche, has as it’s opening chapter, “The Two Ways.” “There are two ways,” says the author of the tract, “one of life and one of death; but there is a great difference between the two ways.” These words echo those of our Psalm and the admonition of Moses in our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures admonishing the people of Israel to “choose life.” The Didoche then spells out what a life of discipleship looks like, expounding on the “great” commandments to love God above all and one’s neighbor as oneself.

The church that produced this teaching document understood that the new life to which Jesus called it inevitably took the shape of the cross in a world dominated by greed, injustice and violence. Moral choices had to be made on a daily basis and those choices were a matter of life or death. They were often costly. Joseph H. Hellerman tells the story of a small congregation in Northern Africa during the third century facing just such a costly life or death decision. (Full article published in Called to Community, edited by Charles F. Moore and published by Plough Publishing House, c. 2016) pp. 26-30. A young actor expressed a desire to be baptized and join the church. Acting in the third century was not the craft of pure entertainment we know today. It was employed exclusively for the celebration of pagan festivals featuring plays depicting overt violence and explicit sexual immorality. Accordingly, the young man was required to renounce his profession and he did so. Subsequently, after his baptism, the young man started his own school to train actors for the very profession he had given up. When confronted by his pastor, he pointed out that he needed still to make a living to support himself and that, because he was no longer involved with the actual plays, he didn’t feel that he was violating his baptismal vow to follow Jesus.

At a loss for how to handle this unique situation, the pastor sought advice from his bishop, Cyprian of Carthage. Cyprian’s response was clear and uncompromising. Participation in pagan religious productions, whether as an actor or as an acting instructor, is inconsistent with the church’s faith and witness. The young acting instructor must again be called upon to abandon his profession. That might sound harsh and it is, though hardly more so than Jesus’ call to abandon even one’s blood relations and sacrifice all that one has for the sake of God’s reign. Still, the young actor was being called upon to abandon his only means of supporting himself. Continuing to follow Jesus would be a costly proposition.

But there is more to this story. Cyprian went on to say that the congregation should provide support and sustenance for the young man for as long as he needed it to make his transition to another trade. Furthermore, Cyprian offered the support of his own church in the event this responsibility proved too great for the little congregation. Thus, Cyprian was not a puritanical judge determined to cleanse the church of sinners. Rather, he was the caring pastor of a church community whose members were dedicated to helping one another turn from sin to the better life Jesus offers. This is a classic example of what Saint Paul calls “bearing one another’s burdens and so fulfill[ing] the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2.

In my own Lutheran tradition, we tend to identify a person’s calling or vocation with his or her profession, trade or job. We call this the “priesthood of all believers.” After all, the work that we do in society for the sake of our neighbors is no less holy than the work of ministry within the church. That sounds good, and it works well enough when your employment meets your needs for sustenance, fits your temperament and contributes to the well-being of society. But more and more I am finding young people employed by companies demanding more time, more energy and more tangible results while offering less security and compensation. Through the cellphone and the internet, the office seems to be worming its way into evenings at home and family vacations demanding availability 24/7. Unskilled heads of families find it necessary to hold down two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet leaving little time for family, church and community. Attorneys find that, so far from advancing the rule of law and justice, their hours are consumed with assisting insurers in denying the claims of sick and injured people. Doctors find their care of patients increasingly frustrated and compromised by the cost cutting measures and complex billing procedures of insurers and HMOs. Many folks I know have deeply ambivalent feelings about their jobs-such as a young woman who works for a manufacturer of automatic fire arms sold to civilians. Work that exploits, overreaches, enslaves and compromises is anything but holy. It is hard to view it as a calling to serve God. I think that many folks caught up in these dehumanizing roles would welcome an opportunity to free themselves from this way of death and embrace Jesus’ life-giving alternative. But that is a lot to expect from an individual.

Perhaps this is where the church comes in. Maybe we need to become once again a community that does more than call upon individuals to choose life and bear the consequences alone. We need to be the kind of community that helps people choose life by supporting them every step of the way-as did Cyprian. We are similar in this respect to a twelve step community of addicts trying to help one another achieve and maintain sobriety. We are all struggling to break away from ways of death that threaten to destroy us and embrace Jesus’ way that leads to life. So, for example, what if our churches found the courage to tell our members employed by ICE that their jobs are inconsistent with their baptismal vows-and offered to assist them in changing careers? Would that not be both a powerful witness to the world and a liberating act of pastoral care and discipline for our people?[1]

To be sure, Christians are not better people, but we are people who believe in a better way of being human. We are sinful people, but people who are nevertheless capable of making good, faithful and life-giving choices-especially when we support, strengthen and encourage one another. We are a people in which the Holy Spirit is at work forming the mind of Christ. When that happens, the Body follows suit.

Here is a poem by Blas Manuel De Luna that incarnates for me the urgency of the moment.

Bent to the Earth

They had hit Ruben
with the high beams, had blinded
him so that the van
he was driving, full of Mexicans
going to pick tomatoes,
would have to stop. Ruben spun

the van into an irrigation ditch,
spun the five-year-old me awake
to immigration officers,
their batons already out,
already looking for the soft spots on the body,
to my mother being handcuffed
and dragged to a van, to my father
trying to show them our green cards.

They let us go. But Alvaro
was going back.
So was his brother Fernando.
So was their sister Sonia. Their mother
did not escape,
and so was going back. Their father
was somewhere in the field,
and was free. There were no great truths

revealed to me then. No wisdom
given to me by anyone. I was a child
who had seen what a piece of polished wood
could do to a face, who had seen his father
about to lose the one he loved, who had lost
some friends who would never return,
who, later that morning, bent
to the earth and went to work.

Source:  Bent to the Earth, (c. 2006 by Blas Manuel De Luna, pub. by Carnegie Mellon University Press) Blas Manuel De Luna (b. 1969) grew up working alongside his parents and siblings in California’s agricultural fields in Madera, California. He holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from California State University-Fresno and has written prolifically in poetry and fiction. His writings frequently dwell on his and his family’s experience as immigrant laborers. You can find out more about Blas Manuel De Luna and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

[1] I understand that ultimatums like this run the risk of making us into self-righteous, legalistic hypocrites. I understand that the guilt for what is happening at our borders cannot all be placed upon the backs of people working for ICE. I also know that many would argue against excommunication on grounds that it is better for people of conscience to remain within ICE and so work to turn it from its destructive course. Of course, ICE does provide some necessary services for all the misery it is currently inflicting. Some will point out that there are many levels of complexity here that I am glossing over. There is much to be said for that argument. But I fear that those of us in the mainline churches often use nuance as a defense against having to take action. Is it appropriate to continue being “a community of moral deliberation” while the Nazis are marching millions into death camps? No, we have not yet reached that point, but how close do you want to get? How much further do we need to go before we simply can’t afford to keep on deliberating? How many more families need to be split up? How many more children must die on our border? How many more of our neighbors must be deported before we finally decide, enough is enough. When will the need to act decisively overcome our fear of acting imperfectly? I have the same pressing question my children had whenever we took a long road trip: Are we there yet?

It’s Official: Donald Trump Doesn’t Lie

See the source image

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

Kayleigh McEnany, President Donald Trump’s campaign national press secretary, told Chris Cuomo of CNN today that the president has never lied to the country. “In fact,” she said, “thousands of Arabs did take to the streets of Jersey City to celebrate when the twin towers fell on September 11, 2001; Barak Obama was not born in the United States; noise from windmills does cause cancer; and the colonial army did have airplanes in the Revolutionary War. These are all true statements when placed in their proper context. The trouble is, you take what the president says out of the context of what he means and put it on the news. That, of course, makes the president look stupid.”  “Under what context could any of those assertions be true?” Cuomo asked. “Exactly!” McEnany replied. “None of us knows the context President Trump had in mind when he said those things. So how dare you accuse him of lying?” Mr. Cuomo reportedly left work immediately following the interview complaining of a severe headache.

Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway reiterated Mr. McEnany’s assertion. She, too, expressed the view that the media “picks and chooses” among Mr. Trump’s statements in its ceaseless efforts to mislead the public with “fake news.” “Nobody loves the truth more than Donald Trump,” she told reporters later today. “The president loves the truth so much that he isn’t content to serve it up as is. He cares enough about the truth to embellish it, to make it attractive enough for people to accept.” So, too, White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, explained at a press conference that “truth isn’t about facts. It’s about what those facts mean. And if you want to get to the meaning of truth, sometimes you have to change the facts.” For the first time in recorded history, reporters remained silent at the close of the press secretary’s remarks, seemingly unable to come up with any follow up questions. Many were seen attempting to replay Ms. Grisham’s remarks on their recording devices. “Did we really just hear that?” one was heard to whisper.

Evangelical leaders, staunch supporters of the president, agree on this point. Said the Rev. Franklin Graham, “We all know that the miraculous election of Donald Trump proves he is God’s agent. What God’s agent says has to be true. So even if something wasn’t true before Donald Trump said it, it becomes truth in his mouth.” His colleague, Jerry Falwell, president of Liberty University, concurred. “There’s too much emphasis on truth these days,” he said. “What we need is more faith. If Donald Trump says it, true Christians should believe it and that should settle it. It isn’t for us to question the words of God’s chosen.”

At the end of the day, President Trump himself weighed in, asserting by way of a tweet, “I’m a very honest guy. Everyone would see that if the dems and the media would just stop printing all the things I say for the fact checkers to pick apart.”

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FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “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.” John Steinbeck

Follow Jesus; Break the Law

See the source imageTWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Prayer of the Day: O God, you resist those who are proud and give grace to those who are humble. Give us the humility of your Son, that we may embody the generosity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” Hebrews 13:2-3.

This month my church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), declared itself a “sanctuary church,” meaning that “walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith.” I was pleased to learn of this development-until I read the “talking points” issued by the ELCA explaining what this all means. Talking point number two is particularly telling: “Being a sanctuary denomination does not call for any person, congregation or synod to engage in any illegal actions.”

With all due respect, that’s hog slobber-unless “walking alongside” means accompanying refugees and immigrants only until ICE shows up at their doors to deport them or until its officers show up at the door of our church’s day schools and ask to question our teachers about the immigration status of our kids or until the government starts enforcing strictly laws that forbid aid of any kind to undocumented persons. If that’s the case, perhaps the Churchwide Assembly should have amended the letter to Hebrews so that it reads “remember to show hospitality to strangers as long as you can do it without breaking the law.” It is a bitter irony that these talking points follow fast on the heels of our gospel last Sunday in which Jesus teaches us that you sometimes have to break the law in order to keep it. Luke 13:10-17.

Walking alongside the oppressed is synonymous with following Jesus. As we all should know, Jesus warned his disciples that following him meant taking up the cross-an instrument of torture and death reserved for execution of criminals. Jesus told his disciples, “where I am, there will my servant be also.” John 12:26. Jesus lived and died on the wrong side of the law. We can follow him there or merely stand on the right side of the law and admire him. Here’s a true story that illustrates the difference.

Koinonia Farm was an intentional Christian community established in the State of Georgia back in 1942. It continues as a vital witness to the gospel to this day. Its founder, Clarence Jordan, intended for Koinonia to be a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.”  For him, this meant a community of believers sharing life and following the example of the first Christian communities as described in the Acts of the Apostles. In order to bear witness to the church as a family in which there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Koinonia was constituted from its inception as a place where African Americans lived side by side with their white sisters and brothers. Not surprisingly, Koinonia Farm was a frequent target of Klan hostility and government initiated opposition in the deeply segregated south. In his book, Unleashing the Scripture, Duke University professor of religion and ethics Stanley Haueraus relates a story about Koinonia Farm and its founder, Clarence Jordan.

Shortly after Koinonia was founded, Georgia’s state attorney general made several attempts to outlaw the community, confiscate its property and evict the residents. Clarence Jordan sought the help of his brother Robert Jordan, a prominent lawyer with political aspirations. Clarence asked Robert to take on the defense of Koinonia Farm. According to a passage from a book written by James McClendon, the following exchange took place:

“Clarence, I can’t [represent you]. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”

We might lose everything too, Bob,” [Clarence replied.]

“It’s different for you.”

“Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”

“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”

“Could that point by any chance be—the cross?”

“That’s right, [Clarence]. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”

“Then, [Bob], I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer and not a disciple.”

“Well now, [Robert replied] if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”

“The question is” Clarence said, ‘Do you have a church?’”

Koinonia continued on in defiance of the law as a model for genuine discipleship. It is a model my own church would do well to emulate. I am tired of that worn out refrain, “But we are a nation of laws.” I would like to know exactly who this “we” is. Whatever the United States of America might be, the Body of Christ is a community founded on its organic relationship to its Lord. It stands with what the rest of the world considers “the least” regardless which side of the law they happen to be on. Sometimes you have to choose whether you will stand with the United States of America or with Jesus. Shame on a church that has so poorly trained its members that they cannot imagine there being a difference between the two.

I am aware of the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans and his admonition there to obey the authorities because government is ordered by God for the purpose of maintaining peace. I am also aware of the Book of Revelation illustrating how government becomes demonic when it usurps the position of God and purports to direct people to act contrary to the great commandment to love God above all and one’s neighbor as oneself. I am aware of Paul’s call for us to to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” Romans 12:1. That very thing recently happened when neighbors of a man and his son targeted for deportation formed a human chain around these two to help them get back into their home as federal immigration agents tried to take them into custody. Said one of the participants in the chain, “I know they’re gonna come back, and when they come back, we’re coming back.”  Breaking the law is a holy obligation where the law breaks the backs of people it is intended to protect. Breaking the law is obligatory when it breaks up families, breaks the desperate hope of those fleeing for their lives to safety and threatens to break the sacred practice of hospitality to strangers. I hope that my church finds the courage to be a follower of Jesus instead of just an admirer. I hope it finds the courage to present itself as a living sacrifice for its most vulnerable neighbors.

Here is a poem by Reb Irwin Keller expressing the loyalty to God that I wish for my church. 

Oath of Disloyalty

I am a disloyal Jew.

I am not loyal to a political party.
Nor will I be loyal to dictators and mad kings.
I am not loyal to walls or cages.
I am not loyal to taunts or tweets.
I am not loyal to hatred, to Jew-baiting, to the gloating connivings of white supremacy.

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to any foreign power.
Nor to abuse of power at home.
I am not loyal to a legacy of conquest, erasure and exploitation
I am not loyal to stories that tell me whom I should hate.

I am a loyal Jew.
I am loyal to the inconveniences of kindness.
I am loyal to the dream of justice.
I am loyal to this suffering Earth
And to all life.
I am not loyal to any founding fathers.
But I am loyal to the children who will come
And to the quality of world we leave them.
I am not loyal to what America has become.
But to what America could be.
I am loyal to Emma Lazarus. To huddled masses.
To freedom and welcome,
Holiness, hope and love.

Source: Jewish Journal, August 24, 2019

Reb Irwin Keller lives in Sonoma County California and is a student member of Ohalah, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal. He is Ner Shalom’s Spiritual Leader and a founder of “Of One Soul,” an initiative of the Interfaith Council of Sonoma County, working to defend the rights and dignity of the Muslim community and others who are under threat. He is also founder of the Taproot Gathering, a week-long experience of Jewish text study and embodiment practice for activists, organizers and artists. Reb Irwin is currently continuing his studies through the Aleph Ordination Program. Learn more about Reb Irwin Keller and sample more of his poetry at his website.

Trump Supporters to White Male Progressives: Deep in Your Heart, You Know We’re Right

 

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

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Kierkegaard’s Ghost is committed to generating dialogue across the fault lines of our polarized society. To that end, we are pleased to publish this letter from Reginald Wright, a devout supporter of Donald Trump, to his progressive friend, Louis Leftowitz.

Dear Lou.

You liberal white guys really don’t get us Trump supporters. You look down your Ivy League noses at us. You call us angry, ignorant and racist. But let me tell you a few things about us. We grew up in an America where a man was master of his household and the way he disciplined his family was his own business-not the concern of schools, social workers or the police. We grew up in an America where women respected their men, knew their places as wives and mothers-and liked it. We grew up in an America where a man was expected to take advantage of a girl wherever possible and it was a girl’s responsibility not to give any advantage and, if she did, she had only herself to blame for the consequences. We grew up in an America where the high school football team could dunk a guy’s head in the toilet if he looked and acted like a girl and it was all just good, clean fun. No suspensions or law suits or any of that crap. We grew up in an America where those folks you libs like to call “people of color” stayed in their place along with their own kind-and were a lot happier for it. In the America where we grew up, we knew what it meant to be a man.

But the America we find ourselves in today is a foreign country. It’s like we don’t even speak the language. We see the streets on which we grew up full of foreign language signs. We see people on the sidewalks we can’t understand. We see our religion banished from school, pushed out of the town square and the shopping centers on Christmas and mocked on late night television. But we can’t even tell a joke without somebody getting offended. We flirt with a girl and we are sexual predators. We put a confederate flag sticker on our bumper and we’re racists. We don’t know how to be men in this new order of yours. Angry? You bet we are! Our country has been taken away from us. America is becoming less American every day we are getting pushed out of the land we love. Our backs are against the wall and there is no place for us to retreat.

So what do we see in Donald Trump? It’s like this. When we are at one of his rallies, when we look out over that sea of cheering humanity and see nothing but white skin, when we hear Donald expressing all the things we feel deep down inside but are afraid to say in “polite company,” when Donald Trump speaks to us, we feel like men again. When he speaks, it’s possible for us to believe that the old America, the America we grew up in, the America we love is coming back. And that feeling means more to us than the economy, more than health care and more than politics. So listen very carefully Lou: We don’t care that Donald Trump lies about his business prowess, or that he molests women who might easily have been one of our daughters, that he is a draft dodger, a tax cheat and an adulterous philanderer. It doesn’t matter that he lacks any semblance of policy, conservative or liberal. You can talk facts to us till you’re blue in the face and it won’t matter. We don’t care about facts. We believe in Donald Trump because he stands for something beautiful, something we love and miss. And we will keep on believing in Donald Trump and nothing you say will ever change our minds.

There is something else you should know about us. We aren’t as stupid as you think. Of course, we don’t live in the middle of a Trump rally 24/7. Most of the time, we live in the same world you do. We know what’s really going down. We see more and more dark skin on television, in professional sports, in movies, in congress and in our courts. We see more and more women doing men’s jobs. We see mixed race couples walking the streets without getting a second look. We see those folks you call “gay” kissing in public in ways that would have gotten them beaten to a pulp in our youth. We know in the depths of our hearts that the old America we loved is never coming back. Nevertheless, although we’ve lost our America, we can still stop you from building yours for a good long time. We can make a mess so big, leave a country so divided and so ruined that you libs will have your work cut out trying to build your crappy vision of an effeminate, socialist, multi-cultural paradise. Donald Trump is the wrench we are throwing into your well oiled machine. We can’t win, but we can damn well see to it that you lose.

Finally, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Donald Trump is going to be re-elected in 2020 and all you white, male libs are going to help us put him over the top. You see, Lou, you really aren’t so very different from us. Don’t tell me you weren’t relieved when you found out that your company decided not to hire that young woman they were considering to run your department and hired the old white guy instead-who will probably be your boss until you retire. Don’t tell me you didn’t breathe a sigh of relief when you googled that new boyfriend your daughter has been gushing about and learned that, thank God, he was white. Don’t tell me that you don’t feel an overwhelming sense of relief every weekday after you drive across town from work and cross that invisible line into your suburban neighborhood where everyone looks like you. You feel just as jittery as we do when you find yourself in a neighborhood where everybody is speaking a language you can’t understand. You know very well how tempted you are to cross over to the other side of the street when you see a group of black men coming toward you talking their jive. Face it, you are more like us than you want to admit.

And one more thing. You can’t deny that Trump has given you a booming economy. However much you may hate Donald Trump, you love what the stock market is doing.  Change, any change could do a number on that nest egg of yours, the savings you are counting on to give you and the little woman a first class retirement. This thing you libs call “white, male privilege,” you benefit from it even more than we do. You have more at stake in preserving it than us-even if it is only to the end of your lifetime. So here’s how it’s going to go down. You will go on talking the talk of “equality,” “women’s rights,” “it’s OK to be gay.” You will continue holding forth on your enlightened views in your liberal church and at cocktail parties among your liberal co-workers and on the golf course with your liberal friends. But when the second Tuesday in November of 2020 rolls around, when you and all your liberal buddies are alone in that voting booth where no one else can see or judge you, you are going to pull the lever for Donald Trump. You will do it to protect your white neighborhood. You will do it to protect the security and seniority you enjoy as a man in a man’s workplace. You will do it to protect your pocketbook. You will vote with us for Donald Trump because, deep in your heart, you know we’re right.

Your good friend,

Reggie

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FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “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.” John Steinbeck

Of Crime and Punishment

See the source imageELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Prayer of the Day: O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright. Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“…to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Hebrews 12:24.

Lawrence Russell Brewer was convicted of drug possession and burglary in the late 1980s. He was paroled in 1991, but returned to prison three years later after violating his parole conditions. During this second incarceration, he joined a white supremacist prison gang and became indoctrinated with the ideology of white supremacy.  On June 7, 1998, following his release from prison, Brewer, along with Shawn Berry and John King, offered a ride to James Byrd, Jr. an African American man. Instead of taking Byrd home, the three men took Byrd to a remote county road out of town, beat him severely, spray-painted his face, urinated and defecated on him and chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck before dragging him for about three miles. Byrd died as a result of his injuries. Brewer, along with his two accomplices, was arrested, tried and sentenced to death for Byrd’s murder.

There are many disturbing aspects of this case, but the question that strikes me is this: what nation in its right mind would create and finance an institution that takes young men who have committed petty crimes and turns them into hardened, racist murderers? Lawrence Brewer went into prison a non-violent offender. There is no indication that he posed a threat to himself or others. It appears from the record that he had an addiction problem and stole to support it. Whether the addiction problem was ever addressed during his incarceration, I don’t know. What we do know is that he came out of prison filled with racial hate and bent on violence. If the point of incarceration is rehabilitation, then the system failed miserably. But I am not convinced that the criminal justice system is about rehabilitation. In the American context, criminal justice has more to do with punishing criminals than restoring them to responsible citizenship or doing justice for their victims.

Our tendency is to equate justice with punishment. Wrongdoers should “get what they deserve;” hence, our attachment to the death penalty or its more cruel and unusual refinement, life in prison without parole. So, too, our insistence on “hard time” in prison for offenders rather than alternatives to incarceration. We have an aversion to seeing people “get off too easy” for their offenses. Criminals must “pay their debt to society,” though I am hard put to understand how expending tax payer dollars to feed, clothe and shelter people in an institution that dehumanizes them and returns them to the streets more dangerous than before can satisfy any kind of debt. From all appearances, the prison system is making our streets more dangerous with every penny we spend on it. But none of that seems to matter. The objective appears to be that of inflicting upon convicted criminals the misery they have brought to their victims. Whether that does the victims or the rest of society any good is beside the point.

The author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews makes reference to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain in the fourth chapter of Genesis. Genesis 4:1-16. God confronts Cain by asking him, “Where is your brother?” Cain responds with the infamous rejoinder, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Then God tells Cain that Abel’s blood is crying out to God from the ground. The author of Hebrews assumes that Abel’s blood is crying out for vengeance, as does one of our fine Lenten hymns.[1] Whether or not that was so, the point to be made here is that the blood of Jesus makes no such cry for vengeance. Retaliation is not God’s way. It is important to note that Cain received neither the death penalty nor imprisonment. He was exiled from his community, but sent away with God’s mark of protection so that nobody would try to take revenge upon him. What God told Cain before his murderous act remained true as he was sent into exile: “If you do well, [you will] be accepted.” Genesis 4:7. Cain is being given another opportunity to “do well.”

There can be little doubt that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform. Laws passed in response to hysteria over drug trafficking and sex crimes deliver prison sentences and postconviction penalties out of all proportion to the offenses committed. It is well known that this oppressive hammer falls most heavily on Black Americans whose incarceration rates in comparison with white Americans is obscenely out of balance. A conviction on one’s record closes the door to nearly every professional avenue and has the potential to bar employment in the most menial of jobs. It places a scarlet letter of shame on the back of people who are already coming away from an experience that has likely made them angrier, more resentful and thus more dangerous.

None of this should surprise us. After the murder of Cain and God’s gracious response, we read in the following chapters of Genesis about how the cycle of vengeance grew to the point where “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” Genesis 6:11. Revenge is not justice. Retaliation only sucks us ever further into the vortex of destructive violence. Whatever cathartic satisfaction we might get from learning that the one who harmed us is going to prison for a long time, it does nothing heal the wrong. Neither does it deter further violence. Indeed, as Lawrence Brewer’s case demonstrates, incarcerating criminals only makes them more dangerous.

I am not suggesting that there shouldn’t be consequences for criminal behavior. Furthermore, I understand that there are some people who, because of the threat they pose to themselves and others, must be incarcerated in some way. But I believe that punitive incarceration as the default response to criminal conduct is wrong headed and counter-productive. As people of faith in Jesus, we ought to know that punishment is not the solution to crime. What we need is common sense legislation that treats addiction as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement crisis. What we need are alternatives to incarceration that provide opportunities for offenders to make restitution to those they have harmed, receive the medical and psychiatric treatment they need and be given opportunities for education, training and integration into productive work. We need to stop stigmatizing persons who have been convicted of crimes. It is one thing to hold a person responsible for a wrongful act. It is quite another to make that act the defining factor for the rest of a person’s life. None of us would want our entire lives judged by the meanest, most cruel and destructive thing we have ever done. Why should the same charity we grant to ourselves on that score be denied to those whose wrongs happen to be against the law?

We are our best selves when we are conscious that we live by the grace of a God who “is merciful and just; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Living in the mercy of God quenches our thirst for retribution with profound gratitude overflowing in generosity toward our neighbors-even the ones who wrong us. Here is a poem by Denise Levertov giving expression to that infinite mercy.

To Live in the Mercy of God

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
before ribs of shelter
open!

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
as salt water
would hold you,
once you dared.

To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
flung on resistance.

Source: Sands from the Well (c. 1996 by Denise Levertov; pub. by New Directions Publishing Corporation) Denise Levertov (1923–1997) never received a formal education. Nevertheless, she created a highly regarded body of poetry that earned her recognition as one of America’s most respected poets. Her father, Paul Philip Levertov, was a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity and subsequently moved to England where he became an Anglican minister.  Levertov grew up in a household surrounded by books and people talking about them in many languages. During World War II, Levertov pursued nurse’s training and spent three years as a civilian nurse at several hospitals in London. Levertov came to the United States in 1948, after marrying American writer Mitchell Goodman. During the 1960s Levertov became a staunch critic of the Vietnam war, a topic addressed in many of her poems of that era. Levertov died of lymphoma at the age of seventy-four. You can read more about Denise Levertov and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

[1]
Abel’s blood for vengeance
Pleaded to the skies;
But the blood of Jesus
For our pardon cries.

“Glory be to Jesus,” Lutheran Book of Worship, Hymn # 95. Unfortunately, this is another fine hymn that didn’t make the cut for the subsequent Evangelical Lutheran Worship. 

 

White House in Damage Control After Trump Hitler Gaffe

 

Kierkegaard’s Ghost

(News that’s fake, but credible)

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To the shock and horror of many across partisan lines, President Donald Trump told a crowd today that Germany’s late war time chancellor, Adolph Hitler “was not really such a bad guy.” The startling comment came during his formal endorsement of Curt Schilling, who is running for congress. Schilling is an outspoken conservative and Breitbart podcast host known for espousing conspiracy theories, white nationalist rhetoric and collecting Nazi memorabilia. In defense of Mr. Schilling in the face of widespread criticism for his seeming Nazi sympathies, Mr. Trump reiterated his point that many Nazis are “very fine people.” He also pointed out that Hitler’s views on race mirror his own preferences for encouraging more immigration from northern European countries like Norway and stemming the flow of immigrants form South America and African nations. When pressed on the dictator’s genocidal policies, Mr. Trump was quick to defend the chancellor. “Look,” he said. “I have every reason to believe Hitler was not really such a bad guy. Did he even know about concentration camps? Germany is a big country. You can’t expect him to know what’s going on in every corner of it.” At that point, the sound system inexplicably shut down and Mr. Trump was whisked away by secret service agents citing unspecific “security concerns.” In a tweet later in the day, Mr. Trump stated that the Holocaust was likely engineered by Hillary Clinton. “Nasty woman,” he said. “Wouldn’t put a thing like that past her.”

Mr. Tump’s remarks drew severe and immediate criticism from Democrats and many organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, Amnesty International, the VFW and numerous individuals. Several foreign leaders, including Britain, France, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands also condemned Trump’s statements. Even Israeli prime minister  Benjamin Netanyahu, ordinarily a staunch supporter of Mr. Trump, said that the president’s remarks were “troubling and disappointing.” By contrast, many voices on the far right of the political spectrum applauded the president. “At last,” said National Policy Institute president, Richard Spencer, “our president has found his voice.” David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan also registered approval tweeting, “I always knew he had it in him.”

Republican Congressional leaders are all unavailable for comment. The congressional switchboard on the Republican side of the House of Representatives appears to have been shut down. Reporters have been unable to contact any Senate Republicans. The whereabouts of Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is currently unknown, though it was reported that a man fitting his description, except for a pair of thick glasses and a mustache, was seen lurking in the Senate coat room. Maine Senator Susan Collins is reportedly holed up in a stall of the woman’s room at her Augusta office and is not responding to inquiries. But White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham addressed reporters this afternoon and emphatically denied that Mr. Trump intended to praise Adolph Hitler. “This is just another example of the liberal press taking one statement of the president and twisting it out of context,” Ms. Grisham said. She then told reporters that a teleprompter malfunction was responsible for the misunderstanding and that the intended words were “Adolf Hitler was such a bad guy.” Ms. Grisham went on to explain that “When the teleprompter breaks down, the president tends to say what he thinks instead of what he means.”

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, dodged inquiries into the president’s statements about the Nazi dictator, but defended his policy positions on immigration. “We need to protect the cultural character of our country,” he told reporters. “That inscription on the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants into the country, it’s not about a lot of diseased, dirty, lazy people who speak gibberish-like the kind we are getting over the border today. It’s about people coming from Europe who speak English and have good jobs.” He went on to explain that plans are being made to eradicate the words “poor huddled masses” from the base of the Statue and replace them with the words, “people who can stand on their own two feet.” Mr. Cuccinelli explained that this new rendering expresses more clearly what poet Emma Lazarus, author of the poetic statement, actually meant. “We don’t want to create the impression that the United States is the dumping ground for the world’s refuse,” he said.

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FAKE NEWS ALERT: The above article is satirical. The events it describes didn’t happen.  “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.” John Steinbeck

Interpreting the Times for A Dying Empire and a Dying Church

See the source imageTENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29—12:2
Luke 12:49-56

Prayer of the Day: O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“…why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Luke 12:56.

A large part of prophetic ministry involves “interpret[ing] the present time.” The Hebrew prophets were not hermetic mystics speaking only out of esoteric visions. They were politicly savvy and incisive critics of their time. Better than the Israelite kings and their courts who played the high stakes game of geopolitics, Isaiah and Jeremiah understood that the world around them was changing. They could see that the future of Canaan belonged not to Israel and its rival kingdoms of Moab, Ammon and Philistia, but to the great empires of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. The prophets could see that the way of faithfulness for Israel in the days to come would be radically different. There could be no return to the past, no “making Israel great again” as some of Jeremiah’s prophetic contemporaries insisted. The end of the world as Israel knew it was at hand. All hope now must be placed on whatever new world God might raise from the ashes. Salvation there surely would be-but only on the far side of judgment.

So, too, Jesus ministered at the end of an era, that era being one in which his fellow Jews occupied the land promised to Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. Theirs was a life of faith revolving around the temple in the holy city of Jerusalem, albeit under the shadow of Roman occupation. Jesus recognized (as did many of his contemporaries) that Judea was on a collision course with the Roman empire, a conflict that would bring an end to Israel as Israel knew it. But Jesus challenged is disciples and the rest of his people to recognize that the reign of God was bigger than both the temple and the empire that would finally destroy it. Turns out, he was right. From the ashes of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 CE there arose the rich and revitalized Judaism we know today and the church bringing the covenant promises of Israel to the nations.

So how are we to interpret the present times? I am no prophet by the measure of Isaiah or Jeremiah and certainly not Jesus. But there some trends that present both dangers and opportunities I believe we should be thinking about. I present my thoughts along these lines as questions because they are as tentative as my limited perception.

Is this the beginning of the end for the American empire? One might challenge the notion that the United States is an empire. But let’s not argue semantics. What I mean by “empire” is a nation state that, in addition to its sovereign territory, controls numerous “spheres of influence” throughout the globe. To put it as kindly as possible, one might say that the world has for seven decades depended on American economic and military power to ensure its well-being. A less charitable (and perhaps more accurate) assessment would be that American economic and military power has been instrumental in supporting the supremacy of North American/Western European domination of Africa, Asia and South America. Either way, America’s position is eroding and much of the rhetoric on both ends of the political spectrum is calling for a reversal of that trend.

This situation presents both temptation and opportunity. The temptation will be to fall in with one version or another of the “make America great again” meme. As I have often observed, the progressive vision of the American church’s mission differs from the evangelical Trumpist vision in methods and priorities only. Whether through banning abortion and returning prayer to the classroom or making healthcare available to all and implementing a livable wage, the objective is the same: saving America, restoring it to some golden age in its past or moving it to some lofty ideal of what it was always intended to be. Here the rhetoric of American mythology mixes freely with biblical imagery in ways that have often proved misleading and even toxic. Make no mistake, I am all for doing the right thing politically. But let’s do it because it is the right thing to do and not only because it has sufficient popular support to succeed in pushing us toward a kinder, gentler America.

To illustrate the above point, let’s stop promoting phony half baked responses to America’s gun fetish and avoiding criticism of the Second Amendment as though it were some god-given sacred cow. Let’s stop pretending that “self defense” is a natural right. According to the “just war doctrine” as espoused by Augustine, Aquinas and the Lutheran Confessions governing my own ELCA, the use of lethal force in the furtherance of justice belongs solely to the government. Thus, there is no reason for a Christian to possess a lethal weapon unless s/he is a law enforcement officer or soldier on active duty.  We ought to be witnessing to God’s just and peaceful reign by banning weapons from our sanctuaries (sad to say that this is even a necessity) and calling upon our members to empty their homes of the same. Let the politicians worry about the fallout.

This is an opportunity to proclaim loud and clear that one ought not put one’s trust in empires, parties, candidates or elections. Empires crumble, parties align themselves with narrow self-interests, candidates are corruptible and, as Professor Stanley Hauerwas pointed out this summer at the annual gathering of the Ekklesia Project, there is only one example of democratic rule in the Bible. In that one instance, the people chose Barabbas over Jesus. So let’s purge from our rhetoric all idiotic phrases like “faith in democracy,” “faith in our constitution,” “faith in the rule of law.” There is but one who is worthy of our faith. Idolatrous blather about faith in institutions has no place in our preaching and teaching.

This is a good time to consider how one can recite with integrity both the Apostle’s Creed and the Pledge of Allegiance. This is an excellent time ask ourselves why it is appropriate to have the flag of the United States of America (or any nation state for that matter) displayed in a sanctuary where we confess one holy catholic and apostolic church throughout the world in which there is “neither Jew nor Greek…slave nor free…neither male nor female.” Galatians 3:28. This is a good time for us to do some soul searching, asking ourselves whether we are more American than Christian and why so many of us are not even capable of entertaining such a question.

Is this the end of the Church? The end of the church might be at hand-in the sense that the Babylonian conquest was the end of Israel and the Roman sack of Jerusalem the end of Judaism. These events resulted in the unthinkable, the destruction of everything Israel thought essential to its existence as God’s chosen people. Though Israel did indeed “rise from the ashes,” its existence, self understanding and covenant life were, though in continuity with, radically different from the past.

We have good reason to believe that, at the very least, the church in America will be much smaller, poorer and less influential in the decades to come. Our decline is due to numerous factors, but the bottom line is this: American society no longer needs us. The time is long past when the Church was a big player in municipal, state and national politics. In my childhood, everyone went to church or lied and said they did. Being a believer in the Christian God was as much a part of being an American as saying the pledge of allegiance. Today, next to nobody cares whether you go to church or believe in God. You can be a good American citizen without having a trace of religion in your psychic DNA. The church isn’t necessary to American society anymore and so people no longer feel it necessary to attend, much less join a church.

The temptation will be to try and save the dying church of yesterday just as we are tempted to try making America great again. Once more, the means and priorities differ on opposite ends of the theological spectrum, but not the objective. We mainliners will be tempted to continue trying to convince progressive politicians that we are “relevant” and have something important to contribute while they, for their part, will exploit our angst to get  whatever votes they think we can still deliver. We will feel compelled to continue generating new programs and projects with whatever resources we have left more, I fear, to convince ourselves that we have a reason to exist than out of a commitment to the reign of God. A mirror image of this same effort can be expected on the fundamentalist end. In both cases, the end result is the same. In desperately seeking to save our institutional lives, we stand to lose our souls.

The opportunity here is to re-examine our mission and reflect on what it means to be a diminished church in a dying empire. That might sound dreary, but it isn’t. Really. Think of it this way: You just got fired from a job you didn’t much like and were not very good at anyway. Once you get over the anger and humiliation, you realize that this is the best thing that could have happened to you. Now you are free to do what you want, what you are good at and what brings you joy and satisfaction. I look at the situation of the church today in much the same way. It has always been assumed that the church must provide the moral framework justifying America. We have been co-opted into deifying white middle class morality, rationalizing America’s violent ways, sanctifying its wars and elevating its sacred symbols in our sanctuaries. In exchange for “Americanizing” our faith, we got “god” on our money and in the Pledge of Allegiance along with lip service in the form of our leaders occasionally referring to the United States as a “Christian nation.” Now, at long last, we are out of that damned, stinking contract. Praise be to God for that pink slip! We are free at last from the onerous burden of propping up a dying empire and free to be God’s people in Christ Jesus.

So, what does it mean to be church in America but not of it? First and foremost, I think it means being the sort of community that forms in its members the mind of Christ. Let me put some shoe leather on that. About twenty years ago now I was listening to the interview of an old Polish Catholic woman on public radio. Unlike so many others in her generation who turned away Jewish refugees during World War II, she welcomed these families into her home and, when the Nazi’s invaded, she hid them in her basement. The interviewer asked her, “Why would you put yourself and your family in danger of death or imprisonment in a concentration camp for people who are complete strangers to you?” There was a long, pregnant pause-almost as though she didn’t understand the question. Then the woman answered with a question of her own: “Well, what else would one do?”

We need communities capable of forming people like that woman, people who cannot even imagine doing other than what Jesus would have us do. That is why, though I applaud my ELCA’s decision to declare itself a sanctuary church for refugees, I wonder whether we are ready to live into that commitment. Jesus solemnly warns us in this Sunday’s gospel that he came not to bring peace to the world, but division. Are we prepared for hard conversations that might divide congregations, split families and alienate friends?  Are we ready for the bad press we are already starting to see from Fox News? Are we ready for an exodus from our church by angry Trump supporters on a magnitude bigger than what we saw in 2009 when we welcomed same sex couples? Are our pastors ready to preach the word of God’s welcome to strangers in front of hostile congregations? Are we prepared to face not mere criticism, but death threats? Legal action? Tear gas and bullets?

This might sound hyperbolic. I truly hope it is. But we have seen in the last few weeks the strength and intensity of white nationalism and the horrific violence of which it is capable. We have seen all too clearly that the present administration is whipping up racist hysteria for its own purposes and seems disinclined to moderate its rhetoric. We have seen the emergence of racist populism throughout Europe and the increasing instability of international institutions and treaties that once held nationalistic impulses in check. I would like to think that these trends are just blips on the historical pulse monitor and not signs of impending systemic crisis. But our hope can never be based on mere optimism. It must rest solely upon our confidence in the crucified one who God raised from death and with him a new creation. Such faith is learned in communities where it is lived out day by day in ways big and small. I pray that our churches are making disciples like that old Polish saint in whom the mind of Christ was so thoroughly formed that she could not imagine doing less than putting her very life between ruthless oppression and its victim. That, after all, is what it means to be a “sanctuary church.”

Here is a poem by William Butler Yates speaking a timeless yet timely message on interpreting the times.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Source: This poem is in the public domain. William Butler Yeats (1865 -1939) was an Irish poet. He was born in Sandymount, Ireland and spent childhood holidays in County Sligo. Yeats studied poetry from an early age when he became fascinated by Irish legends, spiritualism and the occult. He later abandoned his pursuit of spiritualism as he became increasingly drawn to the Irish struggle for independence. Yeats served two terms as a senator of the Irish Free State. He was a leader in the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th and early 20th century along with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn and others. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. You can read more about William Butler Yeats and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.