Tuesday, September 15, 2020

 Steve Kuhl, a frequent contributor of late, serves an Episcopal congregation in South Milwaukee, not all that from Kenosha, Wisconsin. He sends along a reflection he wrote for his parishioners about the recent turmoil there. He’ll provoke your thinking too—or so we trust.

Peace and Joy,

The Crossings Community

A letter from Steve Kuhl

Dear Christian Friends,

We witnessed with horror and sadness another senseless shooting of a Black man this week. This time it was our own Jacob Blake in Kenosha. I invite you to pray for Jacob, his family, and the community of Kenosha, for those who suffered loss of property, for those White protesters killed or wounded by a White vigilante shooter, and for the shooter himself. As appalling as this vigilantism is—and as odd it was that he could walk away unquestioned by police—the shooter is also, in a sense, a victim of racism. It could very likely ruin the rest of his life, even though he is pleading self-defense. His actions reveal just how suggestible the minds of youth are to the corrosive suasion of racism. They hear the dog whistles, but don’t comprehend the consequences of acting on them.

Racked with anguish, the victims of racism and the Black Community, generally, fear they have nowhere to go with their hurt, their anger, and their pain. Pray for them and, more, stand with them, if not physically, side by side, then at least in spirit and in the choices you make. Choices matter. Pray also for our nation. For the injustices that the Black Community faces is not only a threat to them, but a threat to justice-loving people everywhere—Black, Brown and White. Martin Luther King, Jr. (whose “I Have a Dream” speech was given 57 years ago yesterday, August 28, at the first March on Washington) says it best in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Let us meditate hard on these words. We who are in the White majority in America are easily fooled into thinking that our destiny is not intertwined with the destiny of Black and Brown people. That’s because, so far, we have escaped ultimate judgement for our sins. We came to this land and took it from Native Americans and got away with it. We brought Black slaves to this country 400 years ago this year (it was in 1620 when the first slaves were brought over) and got away with it. We founded this “democracy” (remember, the word means “people-rule”) on the rights of white male rule and got away with it. We founded this country on the premise of “religious freedom” but denied it to other faiths as they stepped foot on this soil. To be sure, there has been a chipping away at some of these historic hypocrisies. (And the consensus is that those change haven’t hurt us, but improved us.) But they did not come because they were welcomed at the time; they came only because the facade of “getting away with it” had developed cracks.

There is a price to be paid for holding onto these hypocrisies. And let’s be clear why these hypocrisies exist. They exist because the historic White establishment wants to preserve its historic power. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric of “Make America Great Again.” It really means, “Return Power to the Hands of White America Again.” It is a betrayal of what the nation’s founders said would make America great—democracy, people-rule—even though they themselves could not find the will to realize it fully. They settled for the institutionalization of slavery, for male-only suffrage, for American expansion at the expense of Natives, etc. And this the price of all of this. Preserving power to advance one’s own self-interests at the expense of others is illusory. Those who would try to save their power, that kind of way of life, will lose it. Self-preservation, amassing privilege for oneself at the expense of others, is doomed to fail.

I did not learn this from studying political philosophy or theory—although you can find it there. I learned this from studying theology. As a Christian this means I learned it from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which passes it on by immersing us in the Bible. This mean I learned it from God. I know that is an audacious thing to say, especially when historic injustices like racism have also been perpetuated and justified by people claiming to be Church-supporting, Bible-believing, God-fearing Christians. But just as slaves could sift out Biblical truth—the truth of the gospel—from the distortions of their masters, so can others. Indeed, that was one of Luther’s central if paradoxical premises. The gospel he proclaimed against the church was the gospel he received through the church in spite of its own distortions. The Spirit works as much in spite of us as it does because of us.

I think the Gospel of a recent Sunday speaks about as clearly as any to the problem of racism, the problem of pursuing self-preservation at the expense of others. The text was Matthew 16:20-28. You probably know the outlines of the story well. Still, bear with me as I unpack it.

Jesus has just finished his preaching tour of Palestine, traveling from the southern Judaean wilderness to Caesarea Philippi in the north. There he pauses and asks his disciples the question of questions: Who do think he is? Have they gotten the point? Peter answers. “You are the Christ/Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter is right and Jesus acknowledges it. At least, Peter has gotten the titles for Jesus right. Then, Jesus goes on to explain what those titles mean. In order for me to be the Christ, your savior, “I must go to Jerusalem, endure great suffering at the hands of [the establishment], be killed and on the third day rise.” But Peter will have none of this, so he rebukes Jesus. “God forbid. This must not happen to you.” But Jesus rebukes Peter back: “Get behind me, Satan. You are setting your mind on human things, not divine things.”

What’s going on in this exchange is clarified by what Jesus says next. If you, Peter, want to be my disciples you must “deny yourself, take up your cross, and following me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Peter’s problem is that he is thinking in terms of “saving his life.” He is bent on self-preservation at all costs. Of course, it is not only Peter who thinks this way. All humanity does. It has become humanity’s “common sense,” so to speak. Note how glibly we justify injustice, racism, police brutality, economic inequity, slave wages, etc. It’s because to change such things would threaten our way of life. We do it in the name of saving our life—our self-preservation. And worst of all, we say this is God’s will! “God forbid” that our self-preservation isn’t the highest good! God, we assume, is surely on our side in this matter.

Why is the human mind obsessed with self-preservation? Where does this idea come from? Jesus couldn’t be clearer. “Satan.” The word “Satan” means adversary and is a traditional word to sum up all that opposes God and God’s will. A like word is “evil,” which also means “to oppose.” Evil is that which opposes God. It is the human mind set on self-preservation at all cost by the Satan, God’s opponent. This is one of the Bibles’ first teachings. Although God created the world and declared it good, humanity included, (Gen. 1-2), we nevertheless see how this world— or, more accurately, human beings, the God-designated stewards of creation—turned against God (Gen. 3). We humans have learned to bite the very hand that creates and feeds us. In the process humanity has also turned on itself and on the natural world that sustains human life . We bite one another and foul the very nest in which we live.

The essence of evil, then, is believing the lie of Satan, which is always a sinister twisting of the truth and a distorting of reality. And the most basic substance of the lie is that “I know what is best.” I make my will the basis for determining what God’s will is. I undo what God did when he “created me in his image,” and seek to recreate God in my image. In Genesis, this is metaphorically played out in the story of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Why does God tell us, humanity, not to pick and eat from that tree? Not because God doesn’t want us to love good and hate evil. But because good and evil is not decided on the basis of our self-interest, but God’s interests, the interests of his creation as a whole—the common good, as we might call it..

Why we humans believe this lie is a mystery. That we humans believe this lie—and live it out in our daily lives—is an inescapable fact. The mystery and fact of the lie confounded St. Paul as much as anyone. Listen to his lament: ” I do not understand my own actions…. For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil that I do not want I do…. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15-24).

To that last question there is hope in the answer Paul gives us from God. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Although we don’t know why we sin, we know that we do; but even more, we know of God’s own remedy for sin. It is Jesus Christ. And here is Jesus’ crystal-clear prescription. “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Please, before you object, hear Jesus out. This is good news.

“To deny ourselves” means “to give up on self-preservation at all costs.” At its most basic level, “to deny ourselves” is what the gospel calls “repentance.” It means acknowledging that the life I have made for myself must not simply change, but come to an end. No compromise is possible. Life in its business-as-usual form must end. And if I need any evidence for that all I need to do is look honestly into the mirror of God’s law. Every commandment is broken. If looked at honestly, the mirror reveals that I have not loved God above all things or my neighbor as my equal.

“Take up the cross” means “Accept the consequence of this sinful life.” It means accepting that you will die, that this life will ultimately have to go. For God there is no such thing as “too big to fail.” Indeed, you could “gain the whole world”—and believe me, we all try—but it will not prevent the forfeiture and foreclosure of your life or the life of your nation. Jesus said earlier, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17). For the guilty the fulfillment of the law happens in the sentencing stage. For the wage of sin—the verdict on it—is death. Sin, living Satan’s lie, is ultimately treason against God—and to commit treason against one’s own source of life is to forfeit life.

“Follow me.” This last line in Jesus’ prescription is the remedy. The first two lines point out the disease. But in saying, “follow me,” Jesus is saying, “don’t be afraid of the bad news, trust me to lead you through to new life.” It’s like the doctor saying to the patient: “Don’t be afraid of your cancer, trust me to cut it out and give you a clean bill of health.” Of course, the surgery a doctor performs on cancer can’t compare to the radical surgery of the cross that Jesus preforms on sinners. His surgery is nothing short of a self-ectomy on us. Our very self must be removed and replaced with a whole new self that is Christ. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The life we now “find” in us is Jesus’ new resurrected life.

Here too we are dealing of course with a profound mystery that we can never fully comprehend. Parts of it, I think, we can understand, such as, Jesus’ “I forgive you.” But other parts, such as Jesus’ “I will raise you up new,” we can’t. Nevertheless, there is factual evidence of the emergence of this new self as it begins to emerge. The evidence is in actually “following Jesus,” that is, trusting in him, repenting of our sin, and beginning to love others as he has loved us. All this Jesus summarizes as “obeying everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).

Concretely, in our present context, that new self would include confessing the sin of racism and living what Ibram Kendi calls an “antiracist” life. (See Ibram X. Kendi, “How to be an Antiracist.”) That would include not only being open to, but working towards the replacement of malignant racial policies, practices, inequities, and ideas with healthy ones that reflect the good God intended for the creation when he first made it, marked by all things working together for good (Gen 1:31), what we often call “the common good.” An antiracist is one who is like the Good Samarian. Upon seeing someone victimized by racism, he doesn’t simply pass on the other side of the road, saying “I’m not a racist,’ I don’t do that. Rather, seeing the victim he does what he can to help. He says “I am an antiracist.” This also matches Luther’s way of describing the meaning of the commandments. To keep the commandment does not mean simply saying “I’m not a murderer,” that is, “I neither endanger nor harm the lives of my neighbors,” but to say rather “I am an anti-murderer,” as in “I help and support those neighbors in all of life’s needs.” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Explanation of the Fifth Commandment, Book of Concord, Kolb and Wengert, p. 352).

I know this is a lot to chew on. But I write it for a purpose. Satan’s lie is being repeated with great force over and over again in these troubling times. That lie seeks not only to confuse us about how to respond neighborly both to the coronavirus and to racial strife, but it tempts us to forsake what Paul calls “the mind of Christ” or what Jesus describes as “setting our minds on divine things.” To set the mind of divine things, the mind of Christ, means to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourself”; it means to “let each of you look not to your own self-interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). It is the calling of pastors like me to proclaim the word and will of God in Christ so that frontline disciples of Christ like you may “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may discern the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Let our prayer be, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Your Servant in Christ,

Fr. Steve

Thursday, February 6, 2020

We Are All on Trial


by Michael Hoy

As of this date (January 24, 2020), President Donald J. Trump is on trial with regard to his impeachment—and the impeachment stigma will follow him all the days of his life and throughout history. What matters most for me is not whether or not he will be formally convicted, even though I concur that he committed impeachable acts. What matters most for me is not even simply that U.S. Senators and Representatives are likewise on trial for their decisions in this matter in these highly partisan times in which so many continue to support the folly of thinking that all that matters is winning or losing, as if there is a victory when half of the nation goes unheard or deprived of justice. No, what matters most to me is that we are all on trial.

Truth is, we have been on trial for some time now. We are on trial for our reluctance to embrace peoples who come to us from other lands among the weak and heavy burdened, and who have been treated shamefully, even more so in the implementation of the current administration’s “zero-tolerance” policies that ripped refugee infants and children from their refugee parents at the border, put these children in cages, and separated them from their parents. We are on trial for the basic degradation of humanity in such actions, and for the deep life-long damage this will do to the injured parties.

We are on trial for Charleston and Charlottesville, for Selma and Ferguson, and for so many other places where racism has been practiced not only through rhetoric, but also with violence. President Trump would not openly denounce the bullying and violent activities of white nationalists, claiming that those who carried torches and shouted Nazi chants were “good people”; and he furthermore echoed an abundance of racist remarks in his open attacks on the late Representative Elijah Cummings, showing no hint of repentance for this egregious sin that has afflicted our nation throughout the centuries since its inception.

We are on trial for all the women who have marched in our streets protesting the misogyny and sexual and immoral exploitation of their very bodies by powerful men, among them President Trump and a few of his predecessors, who have practiced, excused, victimized, bullied, and even bragged about what they got away with.

We are on trial for the LGBTQ community that has been treated shamefully and violently simply for owning the truth of an orientation from which they need not hide.

We are on trial for the world, and for those allies in the cause of democracy whom Mr. Trump has mocked, railed against, and abandoned, thereafter having the audacity to wonder why some of them now give him the cold shoulder and care less about America than they used to.

We are on trial for how the rich have become richer and the poor poorer, how the so-called economic growth of recent years has not been a growth, let alone an even growth, for all Americans.

We are on trial for having so long neglected efforts to curb carbon emissions, and for having otherwise damaged our environment to such an extent that we may have already passed the point of no return with regard to climate change and the scarcity of water and resources that will likely ensue. We are on trial for the multitudes of the poor who, in particular, will pay the price of this neglect.

The Trump administration certainly deserves a damning exclamation point for the depth of these sinful realities; and I fervently pray that this administration will be so exposed that it will not be allowed to continue past the next national election cycle. But these problems and the damage inflicted by them, for which we are all on trial, cannot all be blamed on the past three years alone. They reach back deep into our past and into the sinful truth of our own very beings. It cannot be eradicated simply by the election of a more responsible president and leaders in Congress, though that is an important civic duty. It will do us no good to go on thinking in bifurcated, Manichean ways, to continue judging one another by the legalistic standards that have so deeply infected all our souls, whether right, left, independent, apathetic, or nihilistic.

We are on trial for these souls of ours, and for the sins of our nation. And, if you believe in God (and even if you don’t) as the One before Whom we must all make a final accounting, we may find some merit in following Lincoln’s advice: “It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

When the trial is understood to be before the very Author of our beings, then we begin to understand how serious the matter is. In the solidarity of confessing our sins and turning to our God in hope for his mercy—and there is reason to hope in the One who was crucified for our sake—then, in the strength of forgiveness, let us act for a future where mutual care, love, justice, mercy, and reconciliation is practiced and secured for all.

We have all heard the refrain from this current national trial of impeachment: “No one is above the law.” This is true, and so deeply true theologically. It is also deeply true for the One who bore the weight of that law for our sake, Jesus the Christ, about Whom we as confessing people in the promising tradition bear our our primary testimony of Truth. And because of Jesus the Christ, it can be added that yes, we are not above the law, but the law is not and cannot be for us the last Word. The peace of Christ is the last Word.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Trump Should Be Removed from Office

It’s time to say what we said 20 years ago when a president’s character was revealed for what it was.
In our founding documents, Billy Graham explains that Christianity Today will help evangelical Christians interpret the news in a manner that reflects their faith. The impeachment of Donald Trump is a significant event in the story of our republic. It requires comment.
The typical CT approach is to stay above the fray and allow Christians with different political convictions to make their arguments in the public square, to encourage all to pursue justice according to their convictions and treat their political opposition as charitably as possible. We want CT to be a place that welcomes Christians from across the political spectrum, and reminds everyone that politics is not the end and purpose of our being. We take pride in the fact, for instance, that politics does not dominate our homepage.
That said, we do feel it necessary from time to time to make our own opinions on political matters clear—always, as Graham encouraged us, doing so with both conviction and love. We love and pray for our president, as we love and pray for leaders (as well as ordinary citizens) on both sides of the political aisle.
Let’s grant this to the president: The Democrats have had it out for him from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion. This has led many to suspect not only motives but facts in these recent impeachment hearings. And, no, Mr. Trump did not have a serious opportunity to offer his side of the story in the House hearings on impeachment.
But the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.
The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.
Trump’s evangelical supporters have pointed to his Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things, as achievements that justify their support of the president. We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.
This concern for the character of our national leader is not new in CT. In 1998, we wrote this:
The President's failure to tell the truth—even when cornered—rips at the fabric of the nation. This is not a private affair. For above all, social intercourse is built on a presumption of trust: trust that the milk your grocer sells you is wholesome and pure; trust that the money you put in your bank can be taken out of the bank; trust that your babysitter, firefighters, clergy, and ambulance drivers will all do their best. And while politicians are notorious for breaking campaign promises, while in office they have a fundamental obligation to uphold our trust in them and to live by the law.
And this:
Unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered this administration morally unable to lead.
Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president. Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.
To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?
We have reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now. Some have criticized us for our reserve. But when it comes to condemning the behavior of another, patient charity must come first. So we have done our best to give evangelical Trump supporters their due, to try to understand their point of view, to see the prudential nature of so many political decisions they have made regarding Mr. Trump. To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.
Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity Today

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

Colleagues,

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

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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.”
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Thursday Theology: that the benefits of Christ be put to use 
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