We live, as Augustine wrote, in a culture that is in love with death. Endless war. Unceasing, really. And yet, there is no sign that the American people are tired of pouring their wealth into the production of more and more weapons. Endless violence. Unceasing, actually. Every day we have to read headlines (who reads articles in full now unless the acts of violence committed are so heinous and to such an outrageous degree that we’ll actually pause and ponder the magnitude of our gun-fixated culture?) and listen to news about people gunning one another down and children picking up guns and killing siblings and parents accidentally. And don’t forget suicides.
Last week I trekked to New York to go to the wake and funeral of the radical priest and peacemaker, Father Daniel Berrigan. I saw him in his shroud of white with red embroidered crosses, a small and nearly weightless man. He wore simple, black shoes. He owned little, if anything. Except this: his soul. And as Christ taught, a person could gain all the wealth in the world and lose their own soul. It is more than fair I would say to conclude that the heir apparent of the Republican Party is a soulless, wealthy man. Anyway, seeing Father Berrigan reminded me of seeing the sculpture of John Donne in his death shroud there in a corner of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Except I was not looking at stone but a corpse and not merely the corpse of a once great and saintly man but the corpse of the 1960s when people sang songs about peace and wrote that word on large banners. All of that is blowin’ in the wind.
Back to now. As you likely were, I was appalled by the auctioning of the murder gun of George Zimmerman who killed Treyvon Martin. Not only appalled by the wickedness like puss oozing from this man, but the complicity of those involved in actually conducting an auction. Shame, Shame, Shame!
Here’s the point I’m headed toward though. In the narrative of the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we are inoculated against fear, wickedness and death. All of these elements are at play in that narrative. When we receive this pathogen, as it were, from the narrative of Christ’s life, we are inoculated from these pathogens in our present age. Let me put it yet another way. This month we dedicated a child who was adopted by his mothers, we baptized a special needs child dearly loved by his mother and father and we did all of that in a congregation and holy place that is so filled with hope and joy, that we are empowered to return to the world and heal it, repair it, and redeem it. I’m not sure why folks do not step into a sanctuary of peace. But some of us do and we invite you to join us.
In the world you have tribulation, Christ said. But take courage, I have overcome the world. Fearless. Joyful. ~See you Sunday
In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote a pamphlet entitled, “The Communist Manifesto” which began this way, “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter…”
Today, in the United States of America, the ghost of fascism is haunting the country. It shows up at rallies, froths with fear about the alien, the foreigner, the different. But unlike the 1848 revolutionary period of which Marx and Engels wrote, there is no holy alliance to exorcise this ghost. Indeed, and sadly, we find an unholy alliance of Evangelicals and ne’er-do-wells hawking a syrupy concoction of patriotism and poison.
I am not a politician. I am not a psychologist. But I am a clergyman and I join with others in denouncing the emaciated spirituality that parades at this moment in our country as Christianity. Resist this xenophobic fascist movement that spews its hatred against women, minorities, and anyone who appears different to it. Let your voice be heard. Christ practiced a radical table fellowship. He healed the sick. He denounced puppet rulers and megalomaniacal princes of this world. A specter is haunting America, it is the specter of ghosts we thought we had conquered in World War Two. Come together. For justice. For peace. For merciful and kind citizenship. ~ See you Sunday. ~PSTR
I am not suggesting by the title to this brief excursus that Donald Trump is not “a” problem or “has” no problems. That he is and has is more than obvious to anyone with a modicum of good sense, civility and intelligence. But he is not THE problem in our country at the moment. The problem is the death of civic discourse. Period.
Blame whomever you want and whom you blame will likely depend upon your political allegiances, but the discourse in the Congress rivals the flame throwing demagogues of slavery and civil war in the 19th century. This is not just sad and if it were only sad then we could wait for this phase to be finished and move on, but this is dangerous. This kind of discourse has led to wars, not just in the 19th century in our bloodiest conflict, The Civil War, but most recently in our country’s invasion of a nation (Iraq) that had not attacked us. A Christian should be able to discern these things, discerning crooked speech (as Proverbs would describe it) and the difference between just wars and unjust wars.
Fan or no fan of John McCain, we know that he was a prisoner of war in a Hanoi prison having his body beaten and his mind robbed of any peace while Donald Trump was very, very, very comfortable and pursuing a hedonistic life style. Oh, well. As I said, a Christian should be able to discern crooked speech from just speech. Psalm 34:13-14, for example:
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
and Psalm 37:30:
The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak justice.
We could be here all week proof-texting the scripture and its emphasis upon telling truth, pursuing peace and how the wise, unlike the fools, do this. We need someone to educate and train us about a civic discourse that listens to others and to contrary opinions in constructive ways and how to engage others with the very dignity we expect and desire for ourselves.
The problem most likely goes deeper than what I’ve stated. It is not just that we are observing the death of civil discourse, but we are witnessing what happens when people give up on each other because they have given up on any idea that they are soul-ful creatures who are expected to live on a higher plane than brute, Darwinist principles of survival. Let me end with this strand of verse from Proverbs 16:27:
Scoundrels create trouble;
their words are a destructive blaze.
Avoid scoundrels. If you see smoke and fire rising out of words of persons who seek nothing less than to be your ruler, your President, then by all means, think again. With a heart full of gratitude for God’s abiding love and mercy, let our speech adorn our lives with truth, kindness and wisdom.