Friday, February 28, 2020

The Real Victims of the Coronavirus

On Monday, Rush Limbaugh accused the media of misleading the public about the coronavirus.  “It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump….Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus…I’m dead right on this.  The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”  He went on throughout the week: “They’re (the media) gonna use anything they can to get Trump because that’s what they are obsessing…They don’t care about the public health aspect of this, most of them….what they are caring about is how this can be used to damage Donald Trump…”

This morning, Donald Trump Jr. said on Fox & Friends:  “”Anything that they (Democrats) can use to try to hurt Trump, they will…But for them to try to take a pandemic and seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people so that they could end Donald Trump’s streak of winning is a new level of sickness.”

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney blamed the media today for exaggerating the risk of the coronavirus because “they think this will bring down the president, that’s what all of this is about….The reason you’re seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be the thing that brings down the president.”

Also today, some Republicans and Democrats walked out of a meeting when  Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) blasted the administration as “disorganized and lacking urgency in combating the coronavirus.”

The President, himself, in a tweet early this morning accused congressional Democrats of unfairly blaming the coronavirus threat to Americans on his administration.

Enough is enough!  The real victims of the coronavirus are those around the globe who have it, those who will get it, and those who will die from of it.  Let’s get our priorities straight and recognize the real victims.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

By The Waters of Babylon

Psalm 137 is a lament of the Israelites for their lost “promised land” (Israel) from which they had been exiled.  Their homeland had been destroyed and its people scattered. “By the Waters of Babylon I sat down and wept.”

I lament our new exile from the “American Dream.”  Our homeland, like that of ancient Israel, is being destroyed and we “the people” are scattered (divided) into Trumpers and Never-Trumpers.  We can’t talk to each other anymore without rancor, without yelling, without belittling one another.  The Democratic debate last night and Trump rallies  demonstrate this .  Someone described the last Democratic debate in Las Vegas as “a cafeteria fight among middle-schoolers.” I’m at a loss for words to describe the debate in South Carolina last night.  “By the waters of Babylon I sat down and wept.”

Babylon was an ugly scene in 586 B.C.  The Israelites were not there as willing tourists, but as unwilling spoils of battle.  They found themselves as exiles in a land that had nothing but contempt for the things they held sacred.  Their captors taunted them from all sides and called upon them to sing their songs of faith, songs of  the dignity of every person, the celebration of diversity, and civil rights for all.  “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Did they hang up their harps because they could not sing their sacred songs in such a strange land?  No, they did not!  They still sang their songs whenever they could and we know this because their faith survived the exile.  Their faith in the dignity of persons, the celebration of diversity, and equal rights for all would not have survived without their singing.

Our voices must not be muted now.  We must not allow the aggressive dehumanizing of American life render us voiceless.  We must do more than sit down and weep in this land that has become a strange land.  We must continue to sing, as others throughout history have sung in the midst of hostile times.

Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples on the night he was betrayed.  Paul and Silas sang in their jail cell at midnight in Phillippi.  African-Americans sang under the lash of slavery.  The civil rights movement sang in the midst of firehoses, burning church buildings, dogs, and police batons, “We Shall Over Come.”  We, too, must sing now.  This is not the time to hang up our harps and our lyres.  We must continue to sing our sacred songs of that which is far bigger and better than Trumpers or Never-Trumpers.   

Monday, February 24, 2020

Ungraspable Truth

Is there any middle ground? 
Who is wrong?
Who is right?
When truth comes around?

Opinion is one thing,
Facts another. 
We seem no longer to distinguish.
Whatever fits—to that we cling.

What you read,
What you hear, 
What you see,
Is not real, do not believe.

Misinformation is spun.
Deception is rampant.
Conspiracies abound.
But we are no longer stunned.

“Injustice anywhere…”
Including the highest office in the land
“Threatens justice everywhere”
But we do not seem to care.

Does truth have the final say?
Does it really matter anymore?
If Truth is ungraspable and doesn’t matter,
We have lost our Way.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

God Is Completely What We Are Partially

When we speak of “a person” we mean one who is a center of consciousness.  One “who is able to be aware, who is able to have purposes, who is able to know and to care.” I am aware.  I have purposes.  I am able to know and to care.  I am therefore a person.  If you are conscious, aware, have purposes and are able to know and to care, you are a person.  

Elton Trueblood wrote, “God may be more than a Person and probably is, though we do not really know what that means, but unless God is at least as personal as we are (aware, having purposes, one who knows and cares) God would be inferior to us.”  Jesus’ message was good news and a big part of that good news was that “God is completely what we are partially.” God is personal, not limited as we are limited, but marked by complete love, respect for persons, and complete consciousness of purpose.  God is aware of me.  God has a purpose for me.  God knows me.  And God cares for me.  But God is also aware of you and every other person.  God has a purpose for you and every other person.  God knows you and every other person.  God cares for you and for every other person.  God is aware, knows and cares not just for me, you and others, but even notices the sparrow falling from the nest.  With the psalmist I confess that to know this is beyond my ability to understand or to grasp it, but I do experience it from time to time.  

You have examined me (and my neighbor, my brother, my sister, my nation and every other nation). You know me.  You know me when I am alone, you know me when I am with others.  You know my thoughts.  You walk alongside me wherever I go.  You are familiar with all my ways.  You know every word I speak before I say it. You are behind me; you are ahead of me, and you have your hand upon me.  To know this is a wonderful thing.  It is beyond my ability to understand it or to grasp it.

Where can I go to escape your spirit, where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
If I make my bed in hell, you are there.
If I travel to the limits of the east,
Or dwell at the bounds of the western sea,
Even there your hand will be guiding me,
You will be with me and my brother, my sister, my enemy, my neighbor, my nation and every other nation. (Psalm 139).

God is completely what we are partially.

"Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror...
My knowledge now is partial; then it will be whole,
like God's knowledge of me..."

Friday, February 21, 2020

My Toothache

A century ago, L.P. Jacks wrote:  “I read the other day a book intended to justify the ways of God to man, which argued that if men are to have teeth at all they must have teeth that ache.  There must therefore be such as thing as toothache.  Quite so.  But what if the number of aching teeth in the world at this moment is a hundred times as great as it need be?  And why should this aching be as violent as it is?…And why should my teeth ache rather than yours?”

Jacks was dealing with the problem of God and the fact that evil and suffering exist in our world—a persistent problem even in our so-called modern world of the 21st century. I have found no satisfactory answer to that problem. 

I just know that if I have a heart and you have a heart that our hearts will inevitably and from time-to-time be broken.  I know that as my heart ages it is likely to fail. (Figuratively speaking, I also think that without such a heart, I would not be able to love).  I know that I am encased in a body—and a frail one at that.  My body (and yours) is susceptible to all kinds of maladies from the common cold, arthritis, cancer, and even the Coronavirus.  But without that body what would I be?  Having a head means occasionally having a headache.  But without that head I wouldn’t have any place for a brain and without a brain I wouldn’t be able to process my thoughts and my body wouldn’t function as it does now.  I know that having ears I may occasionally have an earache.  But without my ears (big as they are) I wouldn’t be able to hear.  

But Jacks’ final sentence gets to me, “And why should my teeth ache rather than yours?” Why should I be disturbed about this or that when others are not?  Why, when you have eyes and I have eyes do we see differently?  Since we all have ears,  why is it that I hear what others seem not to hear?  It’s baffling and it irks my soul.  On the other hand, what a boring, dull world it would be if we were all alike—all seeing, thinking, and feeling the same.   But still the question comes:  “And why should my teeth ache rather than yours?”

Antelope Canyon, Page, AZ

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Witness of William Stringfellow

William Stringfellow (1928-1985) was a lay theologian, lawyer and social activist. I first heard Stringfellow  speak at a Clergy Conference in the early 1970’s and was struck by his strong Christian witness.  He viewed his vocation as a Christian to be a life-long struggle against the “powers and principalities”which he believed “evil” is sometimes called in the New Testament.  He insisted on the primacy of the Bible for Christians as they undertook the precarious and inherently dangerous work of witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

Like so many other Christian witnesses of the past, Stringfellow’s witness has been forgotten and lost in the Christian thinking of the 21st century.  We are impoverished for the loss of that witness.  It is that loss which prompts me to share a mere tidbit of Stringfellow’s witness this morning.

“This Gospel,” wrote Stringfellow, “means that the very life of God is evident in this world, in this life, because Jesus Christ once participated in the common life of men (and women) in the history of our world…..(This Gospel tells us) that God is with us now, anyway and already, and even, thank God, before we call upon Him….The best news of God is that He is no secret.  The news of God embodied in Jesus Christ is that God is openly and notoriously active in the world; it is this news which the Christian Church exists to spread.”  

“In the eyes of the Christian faith,…no state of society can ever prevail, in the past or now or in the future, which satisfies the concern of Christians for the world.  The Christian is committed permanently to radical protest in society.  A Christian is always dissatisfied with the existing state of affairs.”

“In Jesus Christ there is no chasm between God and the world…Jesus Christ means that God cares extremely, decisively, inclusively, immediately for the ordinary, transient, proud, wonderful, besetting, profane, frivolous, heroic, lusty things of men and women.  The reconciliation  of God and the world in Jesus Christ means that in Christ there is a radical and integral relationship of all human beings and of all things.  In Him all things are held together.”

“The world to which Christians refer when they speak of the presence of God in the world is this world.  It is the same world in which you and I live.  It is not a make-believe world; not some non-existent or not yet existent world, not some world of aspiration or anticipation, not some imagined or imaginary world, not some world after this world, but this world.  It is the world in which you and I and other men and women live and talk and laugh and buy and sell and lust and love and fight and die.  It is this world that you or I or any person apprehends and knows in all the ordinary ways—the world we touch and smell and hear and see.  It is this world, the world we know, this world just as it is into which God comes, for which God cares, in which God is with us, in which the presence of God resides.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Where Am I Coming From? I Want You to Know

Where am I coming from?  Where am I coming from when I rant and rave in this blog about the way things are?  I want you to know. 

“Religion (the Christian religion),” wrote Elton Trueblood, “is not the acceptance of conventional standards of behavior and it is not primarily an effort to save our own puny souls; it is the exciting venture of faith in that we bet that God really is, that this is His world, and that He is like Jesus Christ.”  It is believing that God has a purpose for the world and is actively seeking throughout history to bring that purpose (God’s Dream) to fruition.  A religious person’s greatest desire is to learn what that purpose is and to carry it forward.

Mere belief is never enough.  Many say they believe in God.  What really matters is that we become engaged in God’s purpose, that we become committed to the dream.  As Trueblood wrote, “A Christian is committed to the conviction that God really is, that He is wholly personal, that He is like Jesus Christ, and that God has a particular interest in each individual of the human race.” “This,” Trueblood wrote, “is what Christianity is.”

“The way we have organized our society is fundamentally different from the way in which God conceives it, and the way in which God’s own being longs for it to be ordered,” said Gordon Cosby.  It is therefore the task of every Christian (both individually and corporately) to “overthrow the existing order,” ridding it of every prejudice, every injustice, every social arrangement not in consonance with the nature of God’s eternal love.

What, then, is God’s conception for the ordering of our society?  A good place to start is to get hold of the fact that God has a particular interest in each individual of the human race.  If that is true, and I believe it to be,  then we also must have a particular interest in each individual of the human race—no matter the color, the creed, the wealth or poverty, the nationality, or gender of that individual. Jesus came to enhance human life.  This is also our task, while it is day.  This is where I’m coming from.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Living in a Mendocracy

“We live in a mendocracy.  As in: rule by liars.” So wrote Rick Pearlstein in the Daily Beast some years ago, long before the present administration.  “When it becomes ‘uncivil’ to call out liars, lying becomes free.”

Pearlstein wrote, “It takes two things to make a political lie work:  a powerful person or institution willing to utter it, and another set of powerful institutions to amplify it.”  There have always been Kings, corporate executives, politicians from both sides of the aisle to bend the truth when necessary or convenient.  That’s not new.  “What’s new is the way the liars and their enablers now work hand in glove.”

In the Vietnam/Watergate era, the lies of LBJ and Nixon were called out by network news anchors like Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley and others.  Investigative reporters and congressional committees in the mid-70’s revealed that the CIA had secretly assassinated foreign leaders, the FBI had spied on citizens, while Ralph Nader was busy exposing  corporate lies.  American exceptionalism: “The things America did were noble because they were done by America” took a huge hit.  Facts and Truth hurt our American pride, but we preferred facts and truth over the cover-ups and the lies, at least for a little while.

Then Ronald Reagan came along and suggested it was time to stop challenging the powerful.  “A new sort of lie took over: that the villains are not those deceiving the nation , but those exposing the deceit.”  Watergate conspirators “were not criminals at heart.”  Vietnam had been a noble cause.  “America has a genius for great and unselfish deeds.  Into the hands of America, God has placed the destiny of an afflicted mankind.”  It became “unpatriotic” and “uncivil” to call out America’s short-comings, unpatriotic and uncivil to call out the lies of the powerful.  

Today we have moved far beyond the Reagan ideology.  What some thought was a mendocracy in that era has become a true reality show in the present administration.  

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Religious and Political Apathy

Religious apathy runs rampant in American society.  By apathy I mean the “lack of motivation to do, to complete, or accomplish anything.”  After all, why bother.  Only "Jesus saves!”  That’s the main thing for many—the saving of our own puny little souls—in order to eventually (after death) have an eternal and glorious existence.  This mentality, this apathy that permeates the churches of Christendom is a travesty of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In this “apathy” there is no “motivation to do, to complete, or accomplish anything”—like loving our enemies, caring for our neighbors, establishing peace, speaking truth to power, battling injustice, building communities of love, caring for the planet, feeding and clothing refugees—all of which is part of the “New Age” Jesus inaugurated and asks us to follow up on.  No, we’ve watered it down.  Jesus will do it all if it needs to be done.  All we need to do is “accept him as our personal Lord and Savior” and wait for the Rapture!

Martin Luther King, Jr. following Jesus’ words  in the New Testament, said, “I must correct what might be a false impression.  I’m afraid you’ll go away misinterpreting my whole message.  I have talked about a new age which is coming into being.  I have talked about the fact that God is working in history to bring about this new age.  There is the danger, therefore, that after hearing all of this you will go away with the impression that we can go home, sit down, and do nothing, waiting for the coming of the inevitable.  You will somehow feel that this new age will roll in on the wheels of inevitability, so there is nothing to do but wait on it.  If you get that impression you are the victim of an illusion wrapped in superficiality.  We must speed up the coming of the inevitable.”  Apathy is not an option in religion. 

Political apathy runs rampant in American society and is often buttressed by religious apathy.  Religious apathy says leave it in the hands of Jesus.  Political apathy says let the elected political leaders handle it.  All we need do is vote for the right leaders, give allegiance to the flag, support our troops, and bask in “the greatest economy ever,” etc.  That’s all!  No need to make noise, to protest, to speak truth to power, to seek peace, or to battle injustice. Just vote and forget about being “motivated to do, to complete, or accomplish anything.”  Or as Mr. Trump has trumpeted:  “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening….”  Apathy is not an option in politics.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Am I A Christian or Not?

Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote the following in his autobiography:  

“The fact is that so-called ‘Christianity’ at its worst has produced some of the most hideous persecutions, wars and fanaticisms in history, and that today it is sometimes bigoted, superstitious, and intolerant,” makes one wonder “How often must Jesus Christ have felt that he was not a Christian!”

Fosdick’s words have been extremely helpful to me since I first read them over fifty years ago. There have been many, many times when I have been embarrassed to be called a Christian!  There have been many, many times when I have felt that if this so-called Christianity (at its worst) is what a Christian must be, then I am not a Christian.  

Throughout its history, Christianity at its worst, through its representative churches, has often displayed monstrous ethical perversions, giving divine sanction to the evils of slavery, racial discrimination, war and religious persecution as being “the will of God.”  It has often, at its worst, fallen into a moralistic and arrogant legalism. “Christianity at its worst, has exhibited the very evils against which in the religion of his time Jesus most vigorously protested.”

Christianity at its best has sought to enhance human life rather than diminish it.  Christianity at its best has sought to dignify individual lives and to be inclusive of all humanity.  Christianity at its best seeks to be a partner in the creative love at the heart of things.  “Christianity at its best is incarnate in the personality of Jesus, and it means basic faith in God and in personality’s sacredness and possibilities, and the fundamental principle of life’s conduct which Jesus of Nazareth exhibited.” 

In the midst of a Christianity at its worst, I am not a Christian.  In the midst of a Christianity at its best, I am eager to be one.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

“This is completely stunning,” said CNN legal analyst Elie Honig.  “I have seen thousands of cases in my career as a federal and state prosecutor.  I have never seen anything like this. It stinks to high hell.  There are all sorts of problems here.  This is not normal.”

“Completely stunning.  Never seen anything like this.  It stinks.  There are all sorts of problems here.  This isn’t normal.”  These words were spoken by Honig after Donald Trump tweeted early Tuesday morning that he thought prosecutors were being too tough on his friend Roger Stone. After the tweet, the Department of Justice, ignoring the recommendations of its own prosecutors in the case, sought a lighter sentence.  All four prosecutors immediately withdrew from the case; one resigning from the DOJ.  Today, Trump is tweeting disparaging remarks about the prosecutors!

Stunning?  Is it anymore stunning than Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman being “escorted” from the White House?  Have we ever seen a president declare that he “certainly” expects the military to discipline Vindman—who was subpoenaed to testify in the impeachment inquiry?  Does it stink any more than Trump firing people for investigating him?  Does it stink any more than “a trial without witnesses” or the blanket rejection of congressional subpoenas?  Is this situation anymore problematic than a president making nearly 6,000 false or misleading claims in his first three years in office? Is it any more abnormal than the president calling congressional Democrats “scum,” “sleaze bags,” “horrible,” “bad,” “vicious and mean,” a “disgrace,” and “bad for our country?”

I think not.  What we are seeing now is what has been going on since the first day Donald J. Trump declared his candidacy.  Unleashed by his acquittal in the impeachment trial, there is much more to come.  You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  

But then, maybe we don’t want to see, or maybe we are satisfied with what we see at the moment.  Just wait.  Because you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The bridges are crumbling.  Without bridges, we cannot
cross the chasms that divide us.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Today's New Religion

Evangelist Franklin Graham has called Islam a “wicked and evil” religion.”  He has said that the legalization of same-sex marriage is orchestrated by Satan.  He has attacked laws which give civil rights to transgender people.  He calls homosexuality a “sin and an abomination.”  He falsely stated that Barack Obama was “born a Muslim.  He said presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s homosexuality is “something to be repentant of…” His homophobic and Islamophobic comments have prompted seven venues booked for his summer UK tour to cancel his appearances.

Pastor Robert Jeffries said last week that “it’s hypocritical” for people like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say she prays for President Trump.  Jeffries was responding to Trump’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast on "Fox & Friends.”  At the Prayer Breakfast, Trump castigated his perceived opposition as “some very dishonest and corrupt people.” He said he did not “like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong. Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.” 

Jeffries said that Trump “was completely right in what he said.”  “This president, he absolutely hates phonies; he can smell it a mile away.”  He suggested that "the Bible supports Trump’s skepticism,” quoting James 3:10:  “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers and sisters this should not be.”  Jeffries supported Trump’s not loving his enemies, telling Trump “to love your enemies means to want God’s best for them, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be unified with them.  Truth divides people.”  Jeffries criticized Mitt Romney’s vote in the Senate Impeachment trial, suggesting that Romney’s vote “seems more based on self-promotion than religious beliefs.”

This new “Trumpian Religion” with its dogmatism, biblio-idolatry, and “rightness” is dangerous, both to our democracy and to the Christian way .  It tolerates no dissent.  No differing views are allowed.  All opposition is to be vanquished.  This “religion” is not Christian and is so far removed from the teachings of Jesus as to be ludicrous. 

I am reminded of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s words,  “…but there is one thing I am sure of:  courtesy and kindliness and tolerance and humility and fairness are right.  Opinions may be mistaken; Love never is.”

The darkness shall not extinguish the light.
Truth shall prevail.

Monday, February 10, 2020

“Government” Schools?

Where did Donald John Trump’s children get their education?  Where did Betsy DeVos go to school?  Did they go to what Trump called “government schools” in his State of the Union address? “Government schools”  apparently in Trump parlance, is another term for public schools.  Donald Jr. went to Buckley and Hill School, a college preparatory boarding school.  Eric went to Trinity School in NYC and Hill School. Both Donald Jr. and Eric eventually graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.  Ivanka went to Chapin School (a private school in Manhattan) and later to Choate Rosemary Hall (another private school).  She also graduated from the Wharton School.  I wonder if they had “student loans?”  By the way, Betsy DeVos was educated in Holland Christian Schools (a private school system) and graduated from Calvin College.  I wonder if she had a student loan?

Now before you jump to the conclusion that I am being partisan, please take the time to find out where President Kennedy, Carter, Bush, and Obama’s children received their education.  I’m sure they didn’t have student loans either, nor did they go to Trump’s “government schools.”

There are (as of 2019) 50.8 million Americans in public schools.  Sixty-six percent of students graduating from public colleges have student loan debt.  Seventy-five percent of those graduating from private non-profit colleges have student loan debt.  

I was educated in the public school system.  I went to a private non-profit college and had student loan debt. My children went to public schools and all three had college student loan debt.

If it were not for the so-called “government schools,” most Americans would not receive an education.  If it were not for “student loans” most Americans would not have a college education. So the question is:  Is education essential?  Or is it only for those who can afford it?

When public education first began in this country (not so very long ago) many thought education was a family’s responsibility.  Free public schooling, said some, “invaded the field of individual initiative, furnished gratuitous education to those ‘who were better suited to their station without it,’ and did not meet the nation’s real need for an adequate reserve of laborers who could very well dispense with education.”  Many then regarded public schools, to use a current phrase, as “creeping socialism.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt (a very wealthy man who went to private schools) said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.  The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”  And I would add, particularly “Public Education!”