Saturday, November 20, 2021

On Stupidity

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical—and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what “the people” really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from peoples’ stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison

On February 7, 1945, Bonhoeffer was taken first to Buchenwald and then, passing through the village of Schönberg in Bavaria, to Flossenbürg concentration camp where he arrived on April 8. That evening he was tried by a hastily convened and rigged court and condemned to death. Early the next morning he was executed along with several other conspirators. The same day his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi was executed in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, near Berlin. On April 22, his brother Klaus and his brother-in-law Rüdiger Schleicher, the father of Renate Bethge, were shot by the Gestapo near the Lehrterstraße prison in Berlin. A few days later Berlin was liberated and the war came to an end.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

 Pastor Tom Hilpert has a degree in Biblical Studies from Lutheran Bible Institute, a Bachelor of Science from Oregon State University, and a Master’s of Divinity from American Lutheran Theological Seminary. He has been in full-time ministry since 1995. His short, understandable bible teachings (now being posted in this blog have been used by churches and Christians in Vietnam, Mongolia, England, India, South America and all over the United States.

The ministry of this blog is used for a number of churches, including those in the Life Together Churches network.

In addition to Bible Teaching and pastoring, Tom Hilpert writes books, including the popular Lake Superior Mystery novels. Visit his author page on Amazon to learn more. Tom currently lives near Nashville, TN.



SCRIPTURE REFERENCES: Colossians 3:1; Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 8:18-25; John 18:36; Matthew 26:52-53; Matthew 10:28-31; 1 Peter 2:13-17; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

During my twenty-five years as an ordained pastor, I have almost never used my preaching to deliberately speak to current political events. The Bible addresses subjects that are important in politics, and I have always done my best to try to explain what the bible teaches on such issues when they arise in the text, along with some suggestions for ways we might apply the bible to how we think politically. But I have never (as far as I remember) used a sermon as a platform to say something about what was going on politically at the time.

Until now.

I believe that what I want to say should be said soon. I believe it is an important thing for me, as a Christian leader, to say. And, if you are reading this, it means that I believe that the Lord wants me to say it, that, in fact, the Lord wants to speak to you and me about something very important. If nothing else, this is a good reminder about setting our hearts on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1).

Let’s start with some background. When the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred, there was video from many places throughout the Muslim world showing people out in the streets, celebrating that heinous act of murder and destruction.

I really wanted to hear a lot of Muslim leaders condemning the terrorists specifically for being bad Muslims. I did not hear that. You can speculate however you want about why that condemnation was not widely heard. That’s not my main point.

Fast forward to the events of 6th January, 2021. I have read with dismay that many of those involved in the attack on the United States Capitol on the 6th of January, 2021 think that they are good Christians. Some of them carried signs and flags with Christian messages. Christian music was blaring throughout the area. Christians have been among some of the most vehement supporters of Donald Trump. As far as I have a part, I don’t want to fail to say this:

 Those who were involved in the capitol attack are bad Christians. Their actions have no connection to following Jesus Christ. The words of Jesus, and of the scriptures, condemn their actions. They are not beyond forgiveness. But what they did is not Christian, not justified, not justifiable. They have put a terrible blot of shame upon the name of the man who died for his enemies. I do not mean to sound as if I think I am better than them; I’m a sinner too. But I think Christian leaders need to say this very clearly: These were not Christian actions, and they can’t be justified, or considered OK in the light of the Christian faith. Anyone who thinks they did this for Jesus, or because of Christianity, is horrifically mistaken.

How can I say for sure that those who attacked the capitol are bad Christians (to the extent that they claim to be Christians)? Let’s hear from Jesus Christ himself:

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42, ESV)

Was the election truly stolen? I have no idea. Does my ignorance shock you? My short response is this: in the Kingdom of God it doesn’t really matter. In the kingdom of God American politics are really not that significant. Christianity thrived for almost eighteen centuries without the USA. Certainly, America has been a force for a lot of good and freedom in the world. But let’s not get confused. Christianity and Americanness are two entirely separate things. The majority of the Christians in the world are not American. You can be a very good Christian without being American. Being a Christian is not synonymous with being an American patriot, nor vice versa. And most importantly, America might need God, but God doesn’t need America. What I’m trying to say, is that even if America becomes the most evil nation ever to exist, God’s plans will not be thwarted.

And so, what if the election really was stolen? What then? The words of Jesus are clear:  Then do not resist the one who is evil. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Jesus’ words, not mine. We can’t claim to be his good followers while we disobey his teachings.

When I was in seminary there was a movement in theology that I felt was both wrong and dangerous. It was called liberation theology. The main idea behind it was that Jesus had come to bring political liberation to the oppressed. Therefore, the main point of Christianity, (according to liberation theology) was to work for the liberation of the poor, and the righting of injustice.

Liberation Theology was wrong, not because it fought injustice, but because it thought that was the point of being a Christian. Throughout its 2,000 year history, Christianity has indeed been the greatest force in the world to help the oppressed and to work for justice. If you aren’t Christian, that statement may surprise you, but it is true. Even many people today who are not Christians, and who work against injustice, may not realize that they are motivated by values that come from the teachings of Jesus.

Even so, Jesus also taught that his kingdom is not of this world, and the most important things are not to be found in this life. Jesus makes life worthwhile for his people even when we suffer unjustly, even if we never, in this mortal life, receive justice. The good that we can experience in the life to come is so overwhelmingly wonderful that Paul writes:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (ESV, Romans 8:18-25)

Clearly, our main hope is not in this life. Real Christians wait patiently for what we do not see – in other words, for our eternal hope. The sufferings we have in this life are not worth mentioning. If you can even legitimately call an allegedly stolen election “suffering,” it is not worth mentioning, let alone worth marching on the capitol, or taking it over. Our hope is not in Donald Trump, nor in any political leader that might arise in the future. Our hope is not even in an objective, fair election process.

I say again – anyone who claims that they did this because of their Christian faith does not understand what it means to be a Christian. As a Christian leader, a solemnly called and ordained teacher of the Bible, I call any Christians who were involved with the shameful events of January 6, 2021, to repent of your reckless, unchristian behavior, which gives a bad name to Jesus Christ. I beg other Christian leaders to make the same call.

When the locals brought Jesus to Pilate, the Roman ruler of Judea, Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Listen to what Jesus said:

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world (ESV, John 18:36)

Jesus said if his kingdom was about this world, then yes, his followers would be fighting. But his kingdom is not primarily about this world, and therefore he stopped his followers from fighting. When Peter used his sword as they came to arrest Jesus, Jesus rebuked him for it:

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? (ESV, Matthew 26:52-53)

 Yes the values of God’s eternal kingdom lead us to peacefully seek justice for all, particularly the oppressed. Yes the kingdom values lead us to make this world a better place. But this world is not the point. This life is not “about” this life. Our real kingdom is waiting for us in eternity. Therefore, the followers of Jesus do not use violence to establish the kingdom. It would be pointless to do so, because that kingdom is already established in eternity. It is not a kingdom on this version of the earth.

What about our rights? Shouldn’t we fight if they come to take away our rights? Once again, let’s hear from Jesus himself:

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Arenʼt two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Fatherʼs will. 30 Even all the hairs on your head are numbered. 31 So do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (ESV, Matthew 10:28-31)

I want to make sure we understand something. It is not wrong to defend our bodies or homes or loved ones from attack. But violence does not advance the kingdom of God. It is not the way that God achieves his agenda on this earth. In some extreme cases it may be unavoidable. But we are horribly wrong if we think violence is an acceptable way for us to bring about God’s purposes.

It is important to understand something about how Jesus was put to death. His enemies made him out (falsely) to be a revolutionary, someone who was leading people to rebel against the government at that time. Do you hear me? It was his enemies who tried to portray him that way. Those enemies tried to get Jesus to say something seditious when they brought up the matter of taxes.

17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matt 27:17)

Actually, the people paid taxes not only to Caesar, but also to Herod. Herod was a terrible despot, a dictator who crushed the people with taxes, and built lavish palaces for himself. Caesar, of course, was Tiberius, the Roman emperor at the time. He wasn’t the worst of the Caesars during the first century (for instance, not as bad as Nero, Caligula or Domitian) but he was neither fair, nor just, nor concerned for the welfare of the common people in his empire. He was a dictator who held absolute power. What do you think? Should we pay taxes to a pair of dictators who crushed the people without concern for life or freedom? Let’s see what Jesus says:

 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (ESV Matthew 22:18-21)

When he says “unto God the things that are  God’s” he is referring to the fact that human beings are made in the image of God. So he is saying, “yes, pay your taxes. Don’t worry about the government. Worry about your relationship with God.”

The apostle Peter wrote two letters. In Christian theology, the entire New Testament is considered to be the teaching of Jesus. It isn’t just the words in red (words spoken by Jesus, specifically) – we believe that all of the New Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The apostles did not invent things – they passed on the teachings of Jesus. So, what is the teaching of Jesus about government, passed on through Peter?

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (ESV, 1 Peter 2:13-17)

Who was this wonderful emperor that Peter wrote about, the one who was in charge at that time? It was almost certainly Nero, the man who was later responsible for Peter’s own death. There is evidence that Nero also had a party in which he lit up the grounds of his palace by setting Christians on fire.

By the way, there are some people who believe that this riot was actually started by far-left activists who were pretending to be Trump supporters, in order to give them a bad name. What if that is true? Go back to Peter’s instructions, and remember that when Rome was ravaged by fire, Nero and his officials falsely blamed Christians for it (this was his justification for burning Christians as human torches). Yet, Peter tells Christians to honor Nero and his government as far as possible, and the Holy Spirit preserved those instructions for us, even after Nero had done those unspeakable things.

Now, Peter did say, earlier in his life “We must obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29).” That statement was made when the authorities ordered he and John to stop telling people about Jesus. Peter understood godly disobedience. When the authorities try to prevent us from obeying Jesus, we must obey Jesus, and not the authorities. When they try to compel us to do what is sinful, or wrong then we must disobey.

Can anyone make a case that the capitol mob was somehow being prevented from obeying Jesus? I can’t. Can anyone make a case that somehow, the authorities were compelling them to sin, or disobey Jesus? Again, I think you would find that extremely tough sledding.

Godly disobedience is for when the government says we can’t worship Jesus, or tell others about him. It is for when people tell us we can’t have or read Bibles, or pray to Jesus. Also, godly disobedience is non-violent. We don’t attack. We don’t even defend. We merely refuse to do what is wrong, and continue to do what is right. What happened on January 6th, 2021 in Washington DC has nothing to do with godly disobedience. It is not Christian, and all true Christians ought to be broken and repentant that there were people present who thought they were true believers.

By the way, I am not concerned about any of the people in our churches and network. But I want us to be clear about this when we speak to others. I would like us to be a part of a chorus of strong Christian voices that rise up to condemn these actions as not-Christian. I want us to be part of a movement to stop the confusion between American patriotism and Christianity, particularly the kind of radical “patriotism” that resulted in the storming of the capitol.

I want us to call the church at large to remember that our greatest treasure is Jesus, and we can never lose Him, no matter what the government does or doesn’t do. I want us to remind our brothers and sisters that we live not for this life, but the one to come. The same restraint that teaches us to say “no” to sin for the joy that awaits us should teach us to be patient and at peace with whatever the political situation is at present. If Jesus and Peter could ignore the despotism under which they lived, surely we can handle a few years of control by a political party we don’t like.

By the way, just in case someone might dismiss my words with “He’s just another one of those Christian progressives,” let me set you straight. As far as Christianity goes, I believe in the authority and inerrancy of the Bible in the original documents, and there is a wealth of evidence that those original documents have been reliably preserved. That’s a solid, mainstream conservative position, and I hold it because I have studied the Bible for so long. Everything else I believe proceeds from my belief in the significance of the Bible. As far as politics go, I believe in limited central government, and am a passionate supporter of the first and second amendments in particular, and of the constitution in general. You might accurately call me an independent libertarian, though with some differences. A progressive I am not. But before, during and after any sort of politics, I am a Christian first, second, and always. My allegiance – and that of all who call themselves Christians – should be first to Jesus, and Jesus alone. No country, no political party or philosophy or system should ever be able to make us compromise what it means to follow Him.

I know many people are angry and upset about this election, and they feel like this is the beginning of the end. But truthfully, we should not be so shaken by something like earthly politics. In fact, Hebrews says:

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. (CSB, Hebrews 12:28)

I’m afraid many Christians have forgotten that our kingdom is not of this world, and nothing can shake it. Listen to the words of Paul:

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, CSB)

We Christians are first, and foremost, citizens of heaven. Earthly citizenship cannot change that, and all earthly citizenship should be modified by the fact that we belong to Jesus first. Yes, our heavenly future motivates us to work for peace and justice here and now, but the way we go about that should reflect the fact that we are already secure in the kingdom of God.

Let the Holy Spirit apply these scriptures to your heart today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Dolts are dolts

Garrison Keillor

January 13, 2021

Dolts are dolts: don’t give them too much credit

The pictures of Wednesday stick with you — the mob rushing up the steps when the line of cops broke, the bozo smashing the window with a pole, the gangs of Trumpers running wild in the marble halls and the cops in confusion, the lout lounging in Speaker Pelosi’s chair — it was an assault of a few thousand of the densest people in America, a congregation of barflies and dropouts and people you’d never hire to look after your children, who were so thrilled to triumph over authority they could hardly stand it. That was the whole point of it. To roam around where you weren’t supposed to go, to sit in the Speaker’s office, and to take selfies while they did it. It was the high point of their lives.

It thrilled them that Congress fled and hid in the basement and they got to parade around and wave their Trump banners and yell and own the place, which is pretty much how their man feels about the White House. He had little interest in policy but he loved the security entourage, the chopper on the lawn, Air Force One, being saluted. He was ill-informed and had the attention span of a housecat but he was Boss and smart people had to kowtow to him. It was glorious. What fool wouldn’t enjoy it.

In those debates during the Republican primaries of 2016, old pols like Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio stared at him in astonishment — the man made no sense but he could feel the audience’s fascination and he fed on it. There had never been a presidential candidate like him. He was the 300-pound man who won the pole vault. He was an auctioneer with nothing to sell but he could talk faster than anybody else.

The dunces who occupied the Capitol for a few hours got a similar pleasure from their adventure. They got to cross the NO ADMITTANCE line and sit in the Speaker’s chair and put their feet up on her desk, and get photographs of themselves doing it.

When order was reestablished, the suits came back and were full of pious baloney about how the confederacy of lulus had “desecrated” the place by their failed “insurrection” and I’m sorry but they gave the mob too much credit. The halls of Congress are not sacred — the idea of democracy is, but there have been plenty of fools elected to that Congress who desecrate it on a regular basis without any help from the outside. The mob was a band of anarchists with nothing in mind except to cross the red line and take selfies while doing it. As the man said, “Be there, will be wild!”

That’s the whole idea of Trumpism. To call him “authoritarian” is to give him way too much credit. To be a real dictator, you need to have ideas, a goal, something going on upstairs. The man is simply an anarchist. After eight years of the overachiever Obama, people were amused by the idea of a president who was bored with meetings, ignored briefings, liked to play golf, watch TV, and perform for large crowds of people who loved him.

I talked to my friend George on Wednesday as the American Stoopnagle Society took over the Capitol, and he was so downcast, he said, “I feel sad for my country.” I tried to cheer him up, but he’s 85 and a liberal Democrat so he is often slow to get the joke. I told him that the crowd was only out for a good time. And a poll of Republicans later showed that almost half supported the assault on the Capitol. It’s a Good-Time Party now.

The man was an anarchist, out to prove that it doesn’t matter who is president, a potted plant will do just fine. Joe Biden is an honest and decent man. More people prefer that to a potted plant and prefer thoughtful honest people in Congress to old bikers and bozos. So let’s have four years of thoughtfulness and then let the Republicans nominate a springer spaniel in 2024. It could be a close race.

Democracy wasn’t affected by Wednesday. Georgia showed on Tuesday that democracy is quite vital. More than 2 million came out to vote for two thoughtful senators over a springer spaniel and a stoopnagle. It was close, but close only counts in horseshoes.

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.