Tag Archives: Trump

police_christ

Christ: A Stranger in the United States

Christ is always coming toward us as a stranger.  Soon, we’ll read post-resurrection texts and included in those will be a  passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus stands upon the shore, peering out to the lake where his disciples –soon to be apostles—are fishing as some kind of cathartic exercise in response to despair.  They will see a figure on the shore but he is shrouded by fog and distance, unrecognizable until that distance is closed by their urgent race to the shore. They leave their boats again to run to him because while they cannot see him, they can hear him.

John’s Gospel begins by saying that Christ came into the world and the world, though made by him, did not know him.  He came as a stranger. He was perceived as a stranger both by his own family and neighbors and the Romans who killed him.  Christ is always coming toward us as a stranger.

That truth is likely why we end up with the admonishment from scripture to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” since you might unaware end up entertaining angels …or the Christ. Certainly we see this in the famous story in Luke’s Gospel about two disciples on the road to Emmaus who have no idea that the person journeying with them is the Risen Christ. He remained a stranger to them for their entire journey until at table, he blessed bread and then their eyes were opened. That is, they recognized him.

Once you are recognized or known, you are a stranger no longer.  This should be the point, or at least a point, in any religious response to the world and its residents:  close the distance, recognize one another as brothers and sisters.  The stranger who arrives in your midst may be the Christ coming toward you.  You should treat him or her as such.  Yet the early Church lived as strangers in the world—perhaps this is why the Gospels depict Jesus as a stranger and why the scriptures encourage kindness toward the stranger.  Hebrews 11 says that these people of faith “confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth..”  That word “foreigner” gets variously translated as “alien” and “exile.” But it has the sense of illegal aliens, persons who arrived in a foreign country and sojourned there.

Many Christians –not all of course—feel especially alienated in the United States at this moment in history.  The Senate is about to have its remaining leg of bipartisanship removed by a man who single-handedly obstructed the Constitution and stole a Supreme Court seat; the Attorney General is about to roll back civil rights by obstructing reform of police departments across the country, this despite the fact that extrajudicial killings of African-Americans is a travesty in this nation and Gov Scott of Florida is reprising the role of Pontius Pilate with a vengeance; laws to protect the water and air are being rolled back despite the facts of and danger of climate change and a renewed effort to deny healthcare to the elderly and poor and sick is under way.  For Christians who believe in the Prince of Peace, who extol justice and protection of the stranger and immigrants, who believe the bible teaches stewardship of the earth and “creation care,” who know that the stranger Christ was brought into line by the police and soldiers of Pilate, this is madness that resembles the horrifying world of early Christianity.  Christ is a stranger in the United States.

My encouragement to you as we move toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week is to recall what Jesus told his disciples, “In the world you have tribulation but take courage.  I have overcome the world.”  This Sunday, close the distance and cross the threshold of recognition so that we may no longer be strangers to one another and so in the coming days, we might work together to shelter as many as we can from the coming storm.  ~ See you Sunday.

 

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FAKE NEWS. SYCOPHANTS. AND THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS CHRIST.

..for it is the nature of kings that they will hold good men in more suspicion than the bad, and dread the talents of others.’  –Sallust, The Conspiracy of Catiline

Our President is not a king so one might object that the Roman historian, Sallust’s depiction of kings does not apply.  Our President, however, performs as a king, taking great relish in the issuing of edicts and demanding that his voluminous lies be accorded the appellation of Truth simply because the words are coming out of his mouth.  Despite evidence to the contrary, he will double down and triple down on his lies, as if by merely repeating the words he will magically make it so.  Having addressed the positive in Mr. Trump, let’s ponder the negative for a moment.

In his book, Dynasty:  The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar, Tom Holland writes, “Words, under the Caesars, had become slippery, treacherous things.”  And then turning to the Roman historian of that age, Tacitus, describes the moment:  ‘The age was a tainted one, degraded by its sycophancy.’   Tacitus, meet Trump.

This sycophancy—at least it seems to me—is the danger of the moment in which we live.  Sycophants are servile persons who obey and pander to someone important in order to gain an advantage.  What this means is we have a congress that refuses to hold the president accountable because they have an agenda of their own (they would like to be rid once and for all of Medicaid, render the safety net useless, deny medical care to its most needy citizens, the elderly and the poor, and burn billions of dollars building more weapons of mass destruction).  They won’t check the President because for now, they want the President to check the boxes on their legislative agenda.

The banal chant of “fake news” has been taken up by an administration that has attached itself to White Nationalism.  White nationalist apparatchiks [like Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, Michael Anton] who fawn over fascists of previous eras have taken up residence in this administration with little objection from the party in control of both the House and Senate.  Sycophancy has tainted our age and our government to a degree previously unthinkable.  Here’s a tip though:  when the alligators on your animal farm assert the swamp should be drained, you should think twice about who is faking whom.

Why would a pastor speak to these political realities? someone might ask.  My response: The Church has since its inception worked out the Good News of Jesus Christ within the matrix of power and politics.  It was Rome that crucified its Savior.  And it was within the Roman history of which Tacitus and Sallust wrote that Christians had to live.   They offered Good News, not fake news. They worshipped one King, the King of the Universe, not the tyrant that occupied the Roman throne at any given time.  As the Gospel of Luke tells us, Jesus was born under the rule of Caesar Augustus.  He was ruthless.  He insisted upon being referred to as Divi Filius, son of a god.  So when Luke tells the Good News of the birth of Jesus and the New Testament declares him to be the Son of God, it is a direct affront and counter to the tyranny of the Roman Caesar-god.  As then, so now.  The Church declares the Good News and thus opposes the fog machine of lies.  Here’s a tip:  when politicians and presidents declare they are being merciful, as Mr. Ryan has claimed about himself, or that they are born again, as the President has said he is, but they attack and assault the weak, the poor, the hungry, the sick, then you can chalk that up to fakery.  The Apostle James was clear enough:  “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress,. . .[James 1:26-27]  May the Good News of Christ dissipate the fog of  fake news of this Orwellian government.  In such a time as this, do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together. ~See you Sunday

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Holy, Holy, Holy Despite the Princes of Earth

The prophet Isaiah (6:1-3) had a remarkable vision in a year when the king died. . .when all seemed lost. . .when it appeared he and his people were about to leap into an abyss:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.  Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Despite the political turmoil and in the face of the abyss, the prophet awakened to the truth that God is God despite whomever the king or queen or president may be.  We chant HOLY HOLY HOLY despite the princes of the earth.  ~See you Sunday

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A Pestilence Is About to End

Last month I was faced with the task of moving my office across the street to our temporary quarters.  I came across some files of  Newsweek magazines I had saved at the time of Watergate and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.  I was nineteen years old.  Last week, I turned sixty-three.

Though 1972 was a long time ago,  I do recall how unnerved my parents were and the general state of fear and anxiety that was pervasive, at least in my region of the world.  The United States survived that constitutional crisis and resignation. And of course, the truth is, this country survived far worse via the Civil War, the two great wars and a Great Depression.

So when candidates run on fear and declare that if they are not elected there will be a constitutional crisis or that the stars will fall from the sky and our country will end, I’m inclined to simply ask them if they have ever, ever read our history.  Please.  I shy away from fear-mongers and I certainly feel insulted by threats that if I don’t vote for you then you’ll rise up in rebellion.  Tsk tsk.  Churchhill-esque this is not .

The presidential campaigns, for this season at least, are coming to an end.  That end will be greeted as though a pestilence has lifted.  We’ll need a good deal of time to heal from the barbarity and banality of all of this.

So the campaigners have been voicing their opinions.  Now it is our turn. Go vote. Vote for human dignity and worth; for justice and freedom; and by all means vote for hope. Then come Wednesday, no matter who wins, you and I will roll up our sleeves and do what Christ has asked of us.  That mission does not change because someone else sits in the White House as President. Oh, the consequences are enormous, don’t get me wrong. Your vote is important and much will be changed.  But our mission is not one of these.  I must love God with all of my heart, mind and strength and I must love my neighbor as myself.  You must do that too. And when I do that and you do that then we become a  We.

Kingdoms rise and fall. They always have and always will. But the Word of God and the love of Christ endure forever.  Take hope in that as you go to the polls Tuesday.  Take heart in that when you wake up on Wednesday.  ~See you Sunday

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A Silk Glove For Tyranny’s Fist

In Scene IV of Act I, Hamlet and his colleagues are struggling to understand what appears to be the dead King and father of Hamlet.  It is an apparition that waves to Hamlet and seems to want to speak with him. Against the advice of his colleagues guarding the wall that evening, Hamlet goes to the apparition.  Marcellus, a friend and guard, says what is obvious, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Democracy in the United States of America in 2016 is rotten.  A neo-fascist movement is afoot in our country, rotting with sordid ideologies of misogyny and racism.  It is one thing to have such citizens in a country as large as ours. It is another to have a major political party embrace a candidate for President who not only is unapologetic but stokes these ideologies like a scout stoking a bonfire.

Our history, however, is more than adequate to illustrate that these kinds of persons have been here for a very long time and—though the process has been sometimes too slow and an ordeal—we have overcome them.  The way we overcome them is to speak up when the time demands that we speak. To remain silent is to be a conspirator with what is cheap and tawdry and sometimes wicked in us.  You must speak with your vote.  Too many have died and suffered to provide this right and privilege.  Exercise your right to vote then and let us be on our way to exorcising ghosts and fiends.

There will never be a perfect candidate. We will always have to make choices that sift and sort through the flaws of people.  Not to vote is a silk glove for tyranny’s fist.  Christian citizenship is not about electing a Christian or a minister.  Instead, it is about living honorably and doing our best to fulfill the promises and responsibilities of our constitution.  After you vote, perhaps even as you vote, you might whisper to yourself Jesus’ teaching “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  You belong ultimately to the Kingdom of God.  Live honorably in this moment and be assured that if the world is dishonorable, your destiny rests in the the nobility and honor of the Prince of Peace.

~See you Sunday

Garden of Earthly Delights

Clowns and Antichrists: A plea to evangelicals about their champion, Mr. Trump

“It happened that a fire broke out backstage at a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.”
–      Sören Kierkegaard, Either/Or, vol. I, p. 30
You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared.
I John 2:18

 Far be it for me, a Baptist who does not believe we Baptists are historically Evangelicals, to instruct Evangelicals in our country—and let’s put a finer point on this—White Evangelicals in our country who have embraced Donald Trump as a legitimate Presidential candidate–that they have embraced an antichrist, but you just may want to ponder that. 

That verse from the epistle of John is a fascinating one.  Personally, while I appreciate apocalyptic literature, I don’t try to apply it as a template for history.  I’m not fixated on the “last days,” certainly not like the recently deceased Tim LaHaye who got rich off writing stories and pronouncing the end of the world.  One might have at least expected an apology before his own hour arrived (an hour that arrives for each of us, so I’m not trying to be disrespectful of the deceased) which brings us actually to Donald Trump who has been disrespectful of the deceased; Khizr and Ghazala Kahn, parents of a soldier who gave up his life in service to the United States, have had to endure the cynical and disgusting smear of Mr. Trump.  Oh, I’m quite aware that many in the Evangelical and conservative wing of the country retort with “what has Hillary sacrificed?” but they apparently need reminding that Ms. Clinton has not demanded that Muslims be kept out of the country, monitored and otherwise reduced to second class citizenship because of their religion HENCE (this is a word that pivots on some semblance of a logical mind) a Muslim father standing on the national stage and asking what Mr. Trump has sacrificed demolishes Mr. Trump’s arguments about Muslims in general.

What is it to be an antichrist?  To answer that, you have to ask what it means to be Christ-like.  Here’s a short list:  be compassionate, empathetic, protect the weak and the sick, the orphan and widow, work for peace, honor justice, and otherwise see the Image of God in all persons regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexuality.  Does that sound like Mr. Trump? Of course not. But here’s the other red flag: an antichrist will march under the name of Christ while destroying the very principles Christ taught.  Cue the story from the Danish theologian, Sören Kierkegaard.

Evangelicals, we are warning you that the theater is on fire, that your champion is an antichrist.  This is the moment you stand up and denounce him as unfit for the high office of President of the United States.  We’re not holding our breaths though.  We expect you to call us clowns and laugh off the warning.  That would be a mistake, not just for you, but for the country, the world and the Church.