Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Life, liberty, dancing, feasting, hugging, and collecting stuff

Posted July 2, 2019 Garrison Keillor

I have returned from a week in Portugal and a little village where we attended our nephew’s wedding and enjoyed lavish feasting and shameless dancing and people hugging each other left and right. There was liquor involved but mostly it sprang from lack of self-consciousness. Everybody knew each other except for us Americanos; there was nothing to hide. After the wedding, I saw men hugging other men, if you can believe such a thing. The father of the bride hugged the groom and squeezed him hard.
I’m from Minnesota. I associate male hugging with pickpockets. I don’t recall ever hugging or being hugged by another person of the male persuasion. My people shook hands. We were cautious people and didn’t want to be thought “too forward.”
The feast and dance took place at the bride’s parents’ farmhouse and I noticed the great freedom that her father enjoyed in his enormous garage. Several motorcycles in stages of repair, tractor parts, many gizmos and whatchamacallits around in no apparent order. Antique clocks and tools, implements, machine parts, tchotchkes, buckets of miscellaneous bolts and screws. Also a good deal of junk.
All of this was attractive to me. And so when I came back to America and watched the Democratic debates, I was looking for a candidate who would open the door to feasting and dancing and hugging and the basic freedom of owning stuff for which there is no good explanation. I don’t see Biden or Sanders or Warren or Harris as being that candidate. They all stayed behind their lecterns.
And so I come, for the umpteenth time in my life, to realize how irrelevant politics is to happiness.
Nobody wants to hear this, but I’ll say it anyway: the Current Occupant hasn’t changed much. He’s ridden along on a wave of prosperity that began during the Obama years and he’s issued thousands of twitters and scowled and threatened and called people names and he’s shown great cruelty to people who can’t vote, but when it comes right down to it, the daily weather forecast matters far more than anything he does in Washington.
As we descend into the 2020 presidential campaign, the very number 2020 reminding us to seek Clear Sharp Vision, let us agree that the importance of the presidency is greatly exaggerated. The office gets so much attention because journalists are lazy and it’s easier to write about one guy than to, say, spend six months in Iowa and write about American agriculture. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t get into the movies played by Redford and Hoffman by writing about corn and soybeans. But the effect of Watergate on the lives of Americans was less than that of a solar eclipse.
No president can make America great. God is the judge of greatness, and meanwhile the challenge is to educate children, do business, feed and doctor people, preserve farmland and wilderness, deal with the real world, look for the least worst outcome.
The guy who affected my life most was LBJ, whose Vietnam War obsessed me in my 20s and whose Medicare is a lovely benefit in my 70s. In between, there was Nixon whom we liberals loathed for reasons I can’t recall and Gerald Ford who pardoned him and thereby was defeated by the Georgia Sunday school teacher. The movie actor I remember for his affable Irish mug but don’t ask me to write 500 words about Iran-Contra because I can’t and neither can you. Then came the Ivy League Texan and the last of the Arkansas liberals and Dubya who tried so hard to be presidential and then our first Kenyan president and now this New Yawk showman who has the distinction of being the first man elected to the office by being an out-and-out jerk and mooning the media and giving the stinky finger to whoever irks him and yet what has he done other than offend most Americans? Not that much.
Most of the real damage done by presidents falls on distant lands while life in these States keeps chugging along and so when I look at the Democrats in the race and ask whom I favor, I say, “Anybody who doesn’t wear a ducktail and who attends church now and then and doesn’t blather.” We need a new story. And now I’m going to take my wife by the hand and walk down the street and find a café with a table under an umbrella and order salad and an iced tea and enjoy some conversation about the future. That’s where happiness lies, out in front of us.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Life is good, unless you get on the wrong train

Posted on January 8, 2019  Garrison Keillor

In response to the government shutdown, I have stayed in bed, gone without bathing, turned off the phone. I am going to continue until Walmart sends me six fresh walleye and a set of white sidewalls autographed by Barbara Walters. I know what is needed and I can hold out for years if I have to.
Meanwhile life is good. Of course tragedy is at the heart of great literature but life is not a novel and we’re here because our parents got excited and happy and if we put our minds to it, we can be happy too. Politics is a mess because liberals want a just world and it just isn’t going to happen, meanwhile conservatives want it to be 1958, but goodness never depended on politicians. Goodness is all around us.
Senator Romney said last week, “To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation,” and that is a bunch of hooey and horse manure. America has not suddenly become a nation of sleazy con men and compulsive liars. If anything, the presidency in its current state offers a valuable moral object lesson on an hourly basis. Senator Romney is way off base, like saying “To a great degree, a U.S. senator wields great influence on hair style.” I don’t see it. Children are growing up during this administration who are learning a good lesson: if you don’t know history and you can’t do math, you’re in deep water and there’s no way to hide it.
Goodness is lavished on the world from all sides. Small generosities engender tremendous force against the darker powers. Great kindness pervades our lives. The man at the newsstand says “Good morning” and “How is your day so far?” and he is from somewhere in the Middle East and I am warmed by his blessing. The woman at the café pours a cup of coffee, light, and toasts my sesame bagel and slathers it with cream cheese with scallions. I ask her how her day is so far and she smiles enormously and says, “Excellent, sweetheart.”  I’m in Penn Station, with my daughter, waiting for the train to Schenectady, and a Schenectadian tells me to be sure to visit the Nott Memorial at Union College, which I take as a joke — what is a memorial that is not? “N-o-t-t,” he says. “The guy who built the thing.” Schenectady is a depressed old factory town but here is a man who loves it and I have a perfect bagel and coffee and we two are about to embark on the 8:15 train. It is a very good morning and it is shaped by good people and God Almighty, not by the president. He is as irrelevant as Delaware, El Dorado, the Elks Club or L.S.M.F.T.
I have no business in Schenectady: the trip is my gift to my daughter who just turned 21 and who loves train rides. We’ll go up on the Adirondack and back to New York on the Lake Shore Limited, which used to be the 20thCentury Limited, which Cary Grant rode in North By Northwest. I will sit by the window, point out the Tappan Zee Bridge, Poughkeepsie, Albany, and she will study the people around us. I’m a loner, she’s the sociable one, scoping out the neighbors. Up around Yonkers, she leans against me, scootches down, lays her head on my shoulder. She says, “I love you.” She falls asleep.
When I say “life is good,” I’m not talking about serenity. I’m not a guy who feels complete within himself and at home in the universe. I am talking about the basic animal goodness of having a mate — my wife, who doesn’t care for trains, enjoying her day alone in the city — and having a daughter who loves me and nestles against me. I was a neglectful father, obsessed with work, on the road, and yet I got this beautiful daughter, jokey, loyal, good company, affectionate. I want to warn her against men, their cruelty and treachery. When they’re not vulgar, they’re clueless. They are brutes and savages, all of them, and you should avoid them whenever possible, especially the shy and sensitive ones, they’re the worst, and if you decide to have one of your own, find one who seems trainable. This may take years. If he doesn’t show progress, kick him down the stairs and start over. This is what needs to happen in Washington. What are we waiting for? Hurl the bozo out on the street and his robotic vice president with him. Nancy Pelosi for president. Next week would not be too soon. Next stop, Schenectady.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Affairs of Men

The Affairs of Men
July 4, 2018
Psalm 33:12-15; 18-22 - Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He has chosen as His heritage! The Lord looks down from heaven; He sees all the children of man; from where He sits enthroned He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. ... Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love, that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy Name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in You.
On the birthday of the U.S. of A., we could spend a lot of time speaking about things right and things wrong in our nation. We could talk about present leaders who are trying and those who have given up. Instead, I would like to share some facts which have mostly been forgotten. For example:
1. Did you know shortly after breaking with England, the Continental Congress voted to buy and import               20,000 copies of Scripture for the people of the new nation?
2. Patrick Henry was the firebrand of the American Revolution: Did he say
a. "I regret I have but one life to give to my country"?
b. "We must hang together, or we will all hang separately"?
c. "Give me liberty or give me death"?
If you selected C, you did well. Now the bonus question. Finish the quote. (Pause.) Most folks can't do it because the rest of what Henry said is no longer taught. This is what he said, "An appeal to arms and the God of hosts is all that is left to us. But we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations. The battle, sir, is not of the strong alone. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death."
You should also know Henry wasn't talking about some generic god or nebulous deity.
How do I know? I know because Mr. Henry told me. In his will Henry wrote, "I have now disposed of all my property to my family; there is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian religion. If they have that, and I had not given them one shilling they would be rich; and if they had not this, and I had given them all this world, they would be poor."
No doubt about it, the man had a gift for words.
Now this is the point where I'm supposed to say, "Sure wish we had people like Patrick Henry around today." Well, I'm not going to say that because I can't. The truth is I have met many men and women who remain committed to the Savior, who has rescued their souls from damnation.
They may not have Henry's flair for words, but the sincerity of their hearts cannot be questioned. They love the Lord who first loved them, and they faithfully share the Savior with their children. So, in this land of freedom, the Savior's story of salvation will always be told through all generations.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, for many years the Holy Scriptures have been attacked by puffed-up people. Today that attack is joined by those who would write You out of all history. May they realize their errors, so they may introduce their household to Jesus, their Savior and Lord. In Jesus' Name, I ask it. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Lutheran Hour Ministries

Saturday, June 30, 2018

On Romans 13 and the Immigration Crisis

Thursday Theology #929
June 28, 2018

Topic: The Use of Romans 13


I have opined a few times, most recently three weeks ago, that I find ungodliness ensconced in the Oval Office these days. On each occasion I’ve gotten a rebuking counter-response from one or more readers. Hence this bit of essential introduction:

Our vocation as citizens with opinions to vent and votes to cast entails a peril that no one to my knowledge is naming in today’s America. St. Paul spits it out in Romans 2:1: “You have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” This is the reality that every person who reads today’s piece is about to experience, and by no means for the first time since the sun came up this morning. I read the paper. I scanned the Facebook or Twitter feed. I’m nailed cold by the God whose laws of citizenry oblige me to judge what I’m reading and the sanity or decency of the people who churn it out. Come to think of it, there’s a hidden mercy, perhaps, in my visceral disinclination to listen to Fox News, or in yours to avoid Rachal Maddow like the plague, if that’s what you do. Thus does God keep us from doubling the Everest of judgment that already looms over each of our heads. I say this with tongue in cheek, of course. Said tongue returns to its proper place when I add the observation that we all need Christ, and desperately. With that, I trust, you’ll all agree.

Counting on that agreement I forge ahead with today’s project in which I pass along a piece I got a few days from Steven Kuhl. Steve put it together in connection with some duties for the Wisconsin Council of Churches. He thought that Crossings readers might want to see it too. While the presenting issue—the policy of separating children from parents at the U.S. southern border—is not what it was two weeks ago or so when Steve wrote this, the problem he focuses on is still very much in place. That problem, as you’ll see, is the use and abuse of Scripture, and specifically Romans 13. Steve is unabashed in passing judgment in the matter. He has no choice except to do that. Nor does anyone else. That includes those who wouldn’t dream or dare to expose their judgments to public view. Adam is obliged to call the shots on what is good and what is evil, and Eve is too. That, at base, is what is sin is about. There’s no escaping it. We sin even and perhaps especially in our best efforts to get God right and to love our neighbor as God requires.

Trust me,” says Christ, “and get on with the conversation. How else can you do what citizens must as they grope to discern God’s will and do it?”

A quick note about Steve: he had triple-bypass surgery earlier this week, so please, pray for his good and strong recovery.

Peace and Joy,
Jerry Burce


On Romans 13 and the Immigration Crisis
by Steven Kuhl

As the Trump administration continues to demean immigrants and persist in its policy of separating children from parents as a strategy for punishing and deterring them from seeking asylum and assistance from the United States, the situation was made especially disconcerting to many Christians when the Attorney General, Jefferson Sessions, on June 14, invoked the Apostle Paul and his teaching on the State in Romans 13 as justification for this manifest injustice.

While the mainstream television and print media have been doing an admirable job of in-depth research into uncovering the social and political factors leading to this migration and the injustices being perpetrated by our governing authorities against these immigrants, little has been done in correcting the misinterpretation of Romans 13 and Christian teaching on the State.

To be sure, several “theological experts” have been interviewed by the media about Sessions’ use of Romans 13. In general, they have rightly, emphatically, rejected it. (See, for example, this article from The Atlantic.) Indeed, to underscore just how objectionable Sessions’ interpretation is, they tend to note how this kind of interpretation of Romans 13 has been used historically to justify other manifest injustices: by Britain to discredit the American Revolution, by the United States to justify slavery and malign the civil rights movement, by South Africa to justify apartheid, and by Nazi Germany to justify Nazi atrocities against the Jews, to mention a few. But no one, to my knowledge, has ventured a constructive, critical, theological reading of Paul’s teaching in Roman 13 in order to show how it systematically contradicts Sessions’ interpretation.

I would like here to try my hand at that. To that end, let me begin by giving the complete citation of Sessions’ full “interpretation” of Romans 13, sparse though it be. Then, I’ll focus on interpreting Romans 13 relative to it. Here is Sessions’ statement.

"I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purpose. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak; it protects the lawful. Our policies that can result in short-term separation of families are not unusual or unjustified...."

To be sure, there is not space here to give a comprehensive account of Paul’s teaching in Romans, let alone the Christian teaching, generally, on the role of the State in God’s divine providence. Therefore, in what follows I will focus on those aspects of the text that are necessary to correct the most obvious errors in the Attorney General’s misrepresentation and to point towards more faithful implications of how it might apply to the present context.

First, Christian teaching does affirm with Paul (Rom. 13:1) that all authority comes from God—whether it be of a spiritual nature (the authority to preach the gospel of the forgiveness of sins) or of a secular nature (the authority to administer the law of retribution to provide for the public welfare).

But, second, Paul also teaches that those who are given authority are not autonomous actors. They are always accountable to God and the purposes for which God gives them. In the case, here, of civil or governmental authorities that’s why Paul calls them “God’s servant[s] for good,” in Greek, diakonia. They serve at the pleasure of God and not in their own right. They serve for the common “good” of God’s whole creation and not their own interests.

Therefore, Mr. Sessions teaches falsely when he says “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves.” They are not! They are good only when they conform to the good purposes of God. The whole history of Israel—not to mention the world, when looked at through the lens of the prophets (see Isaiah 10) —is filled with examples of God revoking authority from leaders who have misused their authority for their purposes rather than God’s purposes. For an illuminating example of this, look at the recent Old Testament lectionary reading for Pentecost 4, June 17, 2018, 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13): “The Lord was sorry he made Saul king” (15:35) and said to Samuel, “I have rejected [Saul] from being king over Israel” (16:1), and commanded Samuel to put into motion the “election” of a new king (cf. 16:6-13), even though Samuel knew Saul would kill him if he found out (16:2), which he didn’t by divine providence. Let those who have ears hear.

Third, while Paul does teach that the ordaining of secular authority is an expression of God’s wrath or anger (Rom. 1:18—3:20), i.e., the law, and not an expression of his mercy and forbearance, i.e., the gospel, that does not mean it is mean-spirited as the Trump policy against “illegals” suggests. But don’t be naive, it is an expression of God’s anger—God’s righteous anger—against injustice and unfairness or, as Paul says here, against “wrong doers” (Rom 13:4) or, as he says elsewhere, against the “ungodly.” This anger is analogous to the very same kind of anger felt by many of us when we are appalled by wrongdoing like that of the Trump administration. The difference is that God can express it without sin, we often cannot.

We must not forget that this angry word and activity of God against injustice is very different from God’s merciful activity of justifying the ungodly in Christ (Rom. 3:21—5:21). Therefore, there is a profound difference between “governmental authority” and “apostolic authority.” Even so, here Paul instructs Christians not only to leave room for God’s wrath, but to regard it with fear and for the sake of conscience (Rom. 4:5), to obey it when executed in accord with God’s purposes. Therefore, neither the Christian nor the secular ruler (who may or may not be a Christian) should presume that their wrongdoing is out of the reach of God’s wrath or the proper functioning of governmental authority. In this sinful age, no ruler is above the law, the very law they are to administer in service to God.

Fourth, Paul is very clear on what law-in-conformity-to-God’s-will entails: “love” (cf. Rom. 13:8-10). Love for Paul is not a sentimental feeling but the giving of real help or protection to those in need. Love is the opposite of “wrong-doing.” Moreover, the love-command applies not only to us as individuals, but also as a society, to the governing authorities. Paul describes what the law demands like this: “The commandments… are summed up in this word: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Rom. 13:9). “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Obviously, then, as Bonhoeffer noted, the content of the law of God (that is, what specifically it means to love your neighbor in any given moment) is not a predetermined set rules that are established from the start, but the command of God in each moment to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is not a mystery, but something that is readily, reasonably, and contextually understandable to us because our neighbor’s context informs what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. We simply need to put ourselves in our neighbor’s shoes and ask “what would we need?” The only thing that hinders love is our sin, which, for Paul, is our inclination to selfishness, to place self above, not on par with, our neighbor.

Shamefully, Sessions commits sin when he twists this clear teaching of Paul into its opposite by saying: “fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak; it protects the lawful.” What is twisted about this statement is the shamefully way it equates the “weak” with the “lawful,” implying that the “weak” are lawful citizens of the U.S. who need protection from unfortunate, illegal migrants. This is selfishness, the very same kind of selfishness enshrined in the slogan “American First.” Because of this selfishness Sessions twists Paul’s teaching and deviously justifies separating the children of the illegals to protect the lawful citizens.

The rhetorical form of this sin is sophistry: speech designed to lie, deceive, and confuse. I know of no other word for his statement above. As his statement rightly says, the fair application of the law does demand that we protect the “weak,” but in biblical terms that means those in need, those for whom life is unfair: the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and, if you will, the “hebrew”—the word means “one from the other side [of the river],” the wandering stranger who has no place to call home or who, because of straitened or violent circumstances, has been driven away from their home. Therefore, contrary to what Sessions thinks, in the present circumstance, according to Paul’s way of thinking, the “weak” are really those children (and their parents) who are torn away from their parents simply because they came to our border desperately seeking protection for their families. In truth, by Paul’s way of thinking, these weak parents and children should rightly be called “the lawful” because they are the ones whom the law has, by the circumstances of history and divine providence, assigned to us to love, to help, the way the Good Samaritan was assigned, by the circumstances of the moment, to love and help the neighbor who had fallen onto evil/unfair times (Luke 10:25-37). Sessions, not to mention the whole Trump administration, is no different than the “lawyer” in that story who tried to “justify” ignoring the needs of the weak in his context.

Finally, then, since Mr. Sessions and the Trump Administration want to be seen as being faithful to Romans 13 and the biblical tradition concerning their duty before God as governing authorities, let them hear the Apostle Paul for what he is actually saying and to create policies that are consistent with it. Let Christians and people of good will urge them to work in a non-partisan, non-selfish way to create policies that reflect the purposes for which God placed them in their governmental offices in the first place: to help and protect the weak, those for whom life has been unfair, like these wandering parents and children seeking asylum. If need be, raise taxes to pay for this purpose. For Paul himself says the governing authority have the right to raise taxes on those of us who are more fortunate precisely so that it might be “busy with this very thing” (Rom. 13:6).

As the church, it is our duty to interpret and proclaim the Word of God as it relates to the circumstances of our time. When that word is publicly perverted, as it has been by Sessions, it is our duty to counter it publicly. As citizens of this democratic republic, it is our duty to exercise the governing authority we have been given. That entails not only obeying the governing authorities, but holding them accountable through both formal (the vote) and informal means (protest). As Christian citizens we pray for our civic leaders even as we criticize them for their wrongdoings and we pray for ourselves that we might be delivered from our own selfishness by the grace of God to heed God’s command to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Thursday Theology: that the benefits of Christ be put to use 
Published by the Crossings Community 
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Thursday, December 28, 2017

How Can True Evangelical Christians Glorify the Godless Trump?

How Can True Evangelical Christians Glorify the Godless Trump?

This article first appeared on the History News Network.
This Advent season, while watching Donald Trump in front of a garishly green-and-red banner which proclaims “Make America Great Again,” take the opportunity to reflect on the Faustian bargain which allowed conservative evangelical Christians to “Keep Christ in Christmas” while seemingly divorcing Christianity from Christ.
That Republican supply side economics, exemplified by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s cruel tax “reform,” contradicts Matthew 5:3 is clear. That Trump’s draconian immigration policy, which new reports indicate could now involve splitting families apart, violates the essence of Exodus 22:21 is obvious.
And it shouldn’t have to be said that the new nationalism, this new fascism, with its “blood and soil” metaphysic, stands in opposition to the sublime universalism of Galatians 3:28.
For those 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Trump, and more troublingly for the profoundly inhumane, greedy, wrathful ideology that he embodies, and who have seemingly forgotten their scripture, I have another passage to remind them of: Matthew 4:10.
Following the dark Adversary who took Christ up “an exceeding high mountain, and shewith him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
And Christ, choosing to follow the small, humble, yet sacred path, rejected the temptations of worldly power declaring, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
America’s conservative evangelicals, however, have taken up that diabolical offer. Witness the self-debasement of a man like neurosurgeon and current H.U.D. secretary Ben Carson offering prayers for Trump on December 19, with the president “quipping” to the press that they “need the prayer more than I do…. Maybe a good solid prayer and they’ll be honest, Ben, is that possible?”
Or when at that same meeting Vice-President Mike Pence (one for whom we are perennially reminded of his piety while he seemingly forgets Matthew 6:6) offered a master class in saccharine sycophancy when he grovelled to Trump with, “Mr. President, I'll end where I began and just tell you, I want to thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for forgotten men and women of America… the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more, and we are making America great again.”
Or if those examples condemn the powerful at the expense of regular evangelicals, consider that 80 percent of white, self-identified evangelicals in Alabama voted for the disgraced and disgraceful losing pedophile Roy Moore.
Presiding over this nightmare of abandoned principles (or perhaps more disturbingly the embrace of principles that were always there) is Trump himself, the philandering, vulgar, immoral New York real-estate developer of seemingly no authentic faith who promised evangelicals that “I am your voice.”
The Public Religion Research Institute reported that over the past five years the “percentage of white evangelical Protestants who said that a politician who commits an immoral act in their personal life could still behave ethically shot up from 30 to 72 percent. The percentage saying such a politician could not serve ethically plunged from 63 to 20 percent.”
The difference, it would seem, is a certain Fifth Avenue resident who promised them that “If I become president, we're gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store .... You can leave happy holidays at the corner."
What easily bought faith! In 2017, all it takes for many right-wing Christians is to be taken to the top floor of Trump Tower, be shown all the kingdoms of the world, and they’ll gladly prostrate themselves before an idol for a bit of temporal power.
Christianity, by its own definition, is a countercultural faith, one which stands in opposition to the things of this world while still being in this world. But humans being humans the history of the religion is replete with moments where Augustine’s City of Man has overwhelmed the City of God in the heart of the believer.
From Constantine’s usurpation of the Roman Church to Henry VIII’s appropriation of ecclesiastical power, Christians have been more than willing to sell their allegiance for thirty pieces of silver. Trumpian Christianity is but one chapter in a long lineage of hypocritical capitulation of principle to sovereigns in the name of worldly power.
A supreme irony, for one of the most important aspects of the Constitutional principle of disestablishment is that it preserved the independence and sanctity of religious practice from the machinations of a meddling state.
But while there is a long custom of right-wing evangelicals bellyaching about their perceived oppression (when such calls for “religious freedom” are often really just a justification for denying the rights of others), there are now no compunctions about jumping into bed with the most manifestly irreligious of presidents in modern history, for whom the only scripture is that of Norman Vincent Peale’s prosperity gospel combined with an endlessly renewable faith in himself, regardless of what reality dictates.
There is an irony in all of this. Since the resurgence of politicized evangelical Christianity with the ascendency of Ronald Reagan, many apocalyptic minded conservative Christians made a sort of prophetic parlor game out of conjecturing who the potential anti-Christ could be.
Figures from Hal Lindsey, to Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, and Jerry Falwell often fingered world leaders or liberal politicians as being in league with Satan. An irony, since if the anti-Christ is supposed to be a manipulative, powerful, smooth-talking demagogue with the ability to sever people from their most deeply held beliefs who would be a better candidate than the seemingly indestructible Trump?
Well, I don’t believe in a literal anti-Christ, and to accuse Trump of being one gives the president far too much credit. At his core he is simply a consummate narcissist with little intelligence and less curiosity, one who has somehow become the most powerful man in the world. And that’s certainly dangerous enough without invoking anything supernatural.
Still, it’s surprising that evangelical Christians, who for years preached about such a figure, seem to lack the self-awareness to identify something so anti-Christian in Trump himself. Or worse yet, they certainly recognize it, but don’t care.
I don’t wish to engage the “No True Scotsman” fallacy; conservative Christians presumably arrived at their faith and their conclusions for their own reasons, and the fact that I disagree with them on a litany of issues theological and political, from abortion to taxes, does not invalidate the legitimacy of their own faith.
But there is something undeniably strange and supremely hypocritical in seeing the embarrassing spectacle of religious leaders bow to such a spiritually illiterate man, a moral midget.
Jerry Falwell Jr., cognizant enough of the disjuncture between personal piety and support of Trump but apparently not cognizant enough to avoid uttering inanities like the following, has compared the president to King David. That is to say that he acknowledges Trump’s copious personal failings (and steadfast refusals at contrition for any of them) but sees the president as a tool of the Lord meant to enact Christian policy, and so it behooves evangelicals to support him.
One imagines that whatever makes it easier for the good Rev. Falwell to sleep better at night, but perhaps he is the sort of man whose sleep is untroubled, for hypocrisy has a handy ability to cleanse the conscience.
Currently evangelical Christianity in the United States is certainly still classifiable as a flavor of orthodox Nicene Christianity. But it’s not like there isn’t precedent for the church to contort itself to the heresies of a totalitarian regime.
Consider the promulgation of an Aryan “Positive Christianity” in the Third Reich, in which all Jewish elements of the faith were expunged, and the gospels rejected in favor of a deadly and noxious blood-and-soil ideology, where the “Fuehrer is the herald of a new revelation.”
This consolidation of all the Protestant denominations of Germany featured no Apostle’s Creed, or Nicaean, rather only allegiance to the state, a complete capitulation to the Prince of this World and an ascent to the temptation upon that desert mountain top.
We must remind ourselves of such compromises, bargains, and contracts as a perennial threat to the inner life of the faithful. While there is certainly no corollary to such a phenomenon in the United States today – yet – one must be vigilant and on guard to those like Rev. Falwell who see no blasphemy in comparing a president to the Anointed One.
Trump is arguably the logical culmination of some strains of right-wing evangelical Christianity in America, from the political theology of dominionism to the hermeneutics of presuppositional apologetics, dogmas which see no inconsistency to rendering all to a Caesar whom they have declared to be a Christ.
We may have yet to see the arrival in the United States of a type of powerful, theocratic, fascistic Protestant Falangism enabled by the opportunism of a Trump, and which makes the traditional Christian Right look positively liberal.
And with the global rise of the new nationalism there is a disturbing degree of collaboration between rightest religion and racist ideology, from the Orthodox mysticisms of those in the Kremlin who follow the crackpot historian Aleksandr Dugin to Stephen Bannon who wishes to preserve his understanding of Christendom not because all of us are children of God but because only some of us are white.
Christianity, when allied to the powers of the world, has a way of promulgating distinctly anti-Christian beliefs. Do not read me as hyperbolic, the threat is global, powerful, interconnected, and real.
When 60,000 Polish fascists marched in November, promoting a Poland without Muslims and Jews, they chanted “We want God” – a phrase from a speech delivered in Warsaw by Trump earlier that year.
Nazi “Positive” Christianity was countered by the resistance of the Confessing Church, the underground network of pastors and parishioners who operated in opposition to the glorification of worldly power as represented by the regime.
One of the greatest of souls and theological intellects was the Confessing Church minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred by the Nazis at Flossenbürg Concentration Camp in 1945.
Witness to the rise of compromised fascist Christianity in his own country, he aptly diagnosed the equivocations and capitulations some Christians were willing to make in order to sup at the table of power, but he also understood that from a theological perspective there should be nothing surprising about this.
He explained that for “evil to be disguised as light… is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who based his life on the Bible, it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil.”
But even while acknowledging the fundamental wickedness of that evil, Bonhoeffer stood in opposition to it, and lived a life testament to that gospel.
So, this Advent, if you’re looking for a bit of the promise of that first Christmas consider this: whenever some persons trade their faith for the treasures of this world, elsewhere a remnant of true faith always seemingly endures. A faith that answers power with mercy, hate with love, a shout with a whispered prayer.
It’s written that nobody can serve two masters, even as many evangelicals seem content to try and serve God, Mammon, and darker gods aside. But a compromised faith, a tainted faith, an implicated faith can only flourish for so long, and genuine faith can never be extinguished.
Writer and scholar Burke Gerstenschlager writes for our current moment that “In the midst of Propaganda and Gospel, we must resist … with love where there is hate. Resist with kindness where there is abandonment. Resist with grace where there is cruelty. Resist with justice where there is impunity. Resist with knowledge where there is ignorance. Resist with truth where there are lies. Advent is our season.”
For if Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church provide us any Advent succor it’s this: even at the darkest of hours when faith seems all but extinguished a faint light can still glimmer so that we may see.
And to those implicated, those collaborators, those who’ve traded faith for power, and those who chant “We want God” – consider that you should be careful what you wish for. God may be precisely what we get.
Ed Simon is the associate editor of The Marginalia Review of Books, a channel of The Los Angeles Review of Books.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The art of the pejorative


When his old campaign manager was indicted Monday, Mr. Trump called me on the phone, crying like a baby, and begged me to endorse him. I said, “You’re already president, Mr. President. You were elected.” He said, “I’d still like your endorsement.” I have a recording of the phone call. It’s so sad. Donald Trump is done. He couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in New York, his hometown. I was very very nice about it. Very nice. But New Yorkers love dogs and he does not. There are 14 recorded instances of him kicking small dogs, and I have documentary proof of all but two of them.
Plus many other instances of him running around grabbing women’s cats. Knocked on the door, grabbed the cat, walked away. Just to show that a famous rich guy could get away with it. Where is the apology? No, the man couldn’t even get a job as a school crossing guard in New York. Look at him leading his grandchildren toward the helicopter — thank God there’s a Marine there to keep them from walking into the rotor.
He’s very wary of children, afraid they’ll pull off the wig. It’s from La Bouffant on 8th & 45th, 3rd floor. Horsehair. Palomino filly. I have receipts.
Trump shot a man on Fifth Avenue last year just to see if he could get away with it and he did. His base said, “Well, some people just need to be shot, that’s all. As a warning to the others.” Why is he so hung up on virility? Because the Army rejected him on account of bone spurs that you get from wearing high heels. Everybody knows that.
Just look at how he salutes the Marine honor guard — TOTAL DISASTER — it’s not a salute, it’s a little yoo-hoo. Uniforms are a huge turn-on for him. And when he salutes the flag, he doesn’t even look at it. Total disrespect for the flag. And the salute is very weak in the wrists. Know why there’s ABSOLUTELY NO video of him hitting a golf ball? Because (pardon me for being politically incorrect) he swings like a girl. And when he slices it into the parking lot, he tees up another ball. Mr. Mulligan. Mr. Multi-Mulligan.
He sits at that ridiculous little desk in the Oval Office and signs a presidential proclamation as if he’s Kim Jong-un or something and he holds it up like a kid holding up his school project that his mama wrote for him. The man can barely read, that’s why he hates TelePrompter. Total lightweight.
He is NOT A NICE PERSON and so the name Trump is as popular as herpes these days. Trumpet players have taken up the cornet. Card players refer to the lead suit as the jump suit. Tramps prefer to be called hobos, town dumps are now refuse heaps, and girls named Dawn are becoming Cheryls. To residents of his crummy building on Fifth Avenue, it’s now known as Chump Tower because it’s caused so much grief and tragedy for people. It wasn’t constructed — it was fabricated. FABRICATED. Plywood modules shipped down from Canada and installed by minimum-wage temps from Hoboken. I can prove this. I have documentation. The wind whistles through the tower at night, roaches the size of rats. Ask anybody.
People who voted for him are humiliated. So his ratings have tanked. The same people who admire him tend to drive Dodge Darts and wear sweatshirts from schools they didn’t attend. Nobody stays in his hotels except foreign CEOs and their tootsies. He is weak. Weak on #s, weak on 1st Amendment, worst president in history. Failed @ real estate and now @ politics. His record = BAD. First president in my lifetime who DOES NOT KNOW the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The lips are not even moving.
He quit holding rallies in stadiums because nobody wants to go hear a loser brag about his manliness for an hour, you can hear that in any barroom. Only places he can draw a crowd are rural areas where billboards are riddled with bullet holes, shot by men who are angry because they can’t read. He is so over. Totally irrelevant, exhausted, flamed out. The sleepytime eyes and la-di-da hair and the tweet-tweet-tweet say it all. Real men don’t tweet. Ask anybody. We bark, we protest, we thunder, condemn, denounce, we give ’em hell, sometimes we post. Wimps tweet. And now the perps are going to start walking and talking. And the fat lady is waiting in the wings.

Garrison Keillor is an author, entertainer and former host of “A Prairie Home Companion.”
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Monday, October 30, 2017

"Reformation? Why Remember?"

October 30, 2017
1 Corinthians 16:13-14 - Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

As far back as I can remember, I have celebrated Martin Luther and Reformation Day. 

When I was a little Lutheran, I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood. That means, every Friday, I said to the Catholic kids: "You have to have stinky, smelly, bony fish, while I'm having a burger for supper. I can have a burger because of Luther and the Reformation."

Back then I could run fairly fast.

On Ash Wednesday, all the Catholic kids had a cross of ashes prominently placed on their foreheads. That's why on Ash Wednesday we Lutheran lads would say to our Catholic counterparts, "What's that on your forehead? It looks like a target. I don't think I'd like the priest to put a target on my head. We don't have targets on our heads because of Martin Luther and the Reformation."

Yup, back then I could run fairly fast. But times have changed, haven't they? In Catholic homes, Friday fish is an option, and in Lutheran churches the imposition of ashes is no longer a heresy.

All of which explains why many people don't celebrate Reformation Day.

Think about it: how many Reformation Day presents have you received? The newspapers haven't reminded us of how many shopping days were left until Reformation Day. The TV stations haven't told us where we can go to see the houses with the best Reformation Day lights, and my community doesn't have a Reformation Day parade or Reformation Day fireworks.

I wonder how many of you are having a special Reformation Day meal today. There's no such thing as a Reformation Day turkey, and you don't hunt brightly-colored Reformation Day eggs, and Martin Luther doesn't come down your chimney to leave gifts.

That's why Reformation Day has become a custom which is pretty much reserved for, and remembered by, a diehard group of pastors and laypeople who are perceived as having nothing better to do with their afternoons on the last Sunday in October.

You see, we are living in an age which still needs a Reformation. In Luther's day the Church was making up laws and saying, "These have come from God." Today, many churches are taking God's laws and saying, "These no longer are in effect." In Luther's time the Church said, "You need to buy indulgences to be forgiven of your sin." Today, more than one church says, "Sin? What is sin?"

Truly, our battles are not the same as Luther's because the pendulum of heresy has swung. That being said, in an age when political correctness has usurped the authority of the Word, the need for faithful preachers and committed Christians remains as strong as ever. The Savior still stands, His nail-pierced hands extended in welcome to all who are called to faith by the Holy Spirit. It is right that we point clearly and unerringly to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Ours is a time when God's people need to join with Luther and say, "Here I stand."

THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, for the Reformers of the past, we give thanks. Grant that we, in our own age, may stand fast to the Scripture, and the Savior -- whose life was given so we might have forgiveness and eternal life. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Lutheran Hour Ministries