Tag Archives: Trump

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

“Trump Privately Urges Pastors to Help Him From the Pulpit in Midterms” The following is a repost of a March 18, 2017 post.  It is still–unfortunately for us and our nation–relevant.
..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

The Perversion of Our Republic

“For the human race is, more than any other species, at once social by nature and quarrelsome by perversion.”
 St. Augustine City of God

“If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

―Abraham Lincoln, 28 years old, speaking in Springfield, Illinois

One year of the presidency of Donald Trump, chaos has been sown into our institutions like weeds into a field of wheat.  The State Department has been stripped like bark torn from a tree.  The Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Departments run by men who despise the very mission of those institutions.  The Supreme Court undermined by the majority leader who refused to hold hearings on President Obama’s choice until Donald Trump could appoint a darling of the right wing.  The sins of commission and omission are simply too numerous to mention. As I type this, the Republicans are undermining the impartial investigation into the Russian subterfuge of our election of a president, preferring instead to protect an authoritarian whose incompetence bewilders even the most jaded of commentators.  Mr. Ryan, armed with the philosophy of Aynd Rand (who believed altruism is destructive), is dead set on shredding not only The Affordable Care Act but Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.  All but the 1% are at risk.

Our Republic is perverted. Its covenantal ties of citizenship severed, the talking heads spend their waking hours stoking hatred and division.  What do we do in the face of this perversion?

We live with dignity and justice. We covenant together in faith, hope and love and show up in worship to honor a Just God who expects justice. We take concrete steps like we will do next month as we dispense $25,000 in grants to agencies that heal, mend and work for justice (this will be the second time in two years that we have contributed such grants).  Next month, on President’s Day, several of us will join with seven other congregations of Jews, Muslims and Christians at Temple Micah to break bread together and worship together so we can state with courage and joy: E Pluribus Unum!

Be part of this.  Discover the power of worship in your life to set you free from fear. Step into courage and hope.   ~See you Sunday

Dear Dishonorable Republican Majority

“We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities,like the wind, take us away.”  ~Isaiah 64:6

Dear  Dishonorable Republican Majority:

It is Advent and we who happen to be Christian and honor this season as a time of hope for what is born in Bethlehem now have little choice but to see you playing the role of the puppet ruler, Herod, depicted in the Gospels as a  ruthless and traitorous sycophant of Rome.   And yes,  as well you have stepped into the role of the inn-keeper who delivers to Mary, about to deliver her holy child, and to her husband, the bad news that there is no room in the inn.  Off to the barn with you! How dare you be needy and without money to secure a place in the inn?   You, Republican Majority Congresspersons, are, however, decidedly not the Wise Men who come seeking the child to honor him. Nor are you the shepherds, poor and at risk in the fields, who receive the angelic announcement that there is a prince of peace born to counter the reptilian minions of Rome.  But yes! dear Republican Congresspersons who have just decided to transfer a gigantic amount of wealth from the needy, the meek, the poor, the sick and at risk so that your wealthy donors might benefit, you are the very same reptilian princes who prowl in predation in the Christmas story while the great Lizard King sits mad in the White House, fumbling toward nuclear war.  While you do nothing.  Well, not exactly nothing because you have just taken steps to raise deficits by a trillion dollars —something you preached against repeatedly in years past—as you destroy the flimsy medical access net provided by President Obama. Even a flimsy medical access is too much in your estimation.  You now have in sight the goal of dismantling Medicare and Social Security. Bang the drum slowly.

Well, I’m just a pastor. I and my congregation will be reading and repeating the Christmas story and celebrating the news that the blessed mother of Jesus sang about:  the powerful will be brought down, the hungry filled and the rich sent away empty. The meek are getting ready.  And you, you will fade like a leaf and your iniquities will, like the wind, take you away.  That is a warning. From the Prophet Isaiah. From the mother of Christ. From the Galilean, who was considered by people like you as smitten by poverty, too powerless to count.  Get this though, dishonorable governing class:  That Galilean is  raised from death.  May your dreams and sleep be haunted by his pronouncements of solidarity with the oppressed.

To you Christians, take hope. Christ assured us,  “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have  overcome the world.”  To people of peace and good will everywhere, we stand with you in this dark night.  May your works of justice and mercy shine like stars in the firmament.

Born Under a Bad Sign

Albert King’s Blues anthem, Born Under a Bad Sign, is about bad luck.  It comes quite close, however, to the narrative matrix of the Lukan birth narrative. That narrative begins in the second chapter with:  “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Jesus was born under a bad sign. Things, however, are not as they seem.

This is one of the first pieces, in fact, that you and I must put into place in order to understand the counterpoint of Luke’s narrative about a humble and holy child born in Bethlehem.  A ruthless and cruel ruler moved an entire empire by his mere decree.  And though this seems to be the way it always is–forces that move and shape us beyond our power to resist–Luke is writing a manifesto of resistance.  For things are not what they seem.  It looks like Caesar Augustus is the one controlling the world but no, Luke says, there is another prince who will not only counter the cruelty of kings and puppet rulers, but he will defeat them.  Christ was born under a bad sign but in its place, raised an emblem of Peace and Justice.

In those days, a tweet went out from President Trump, and the entire world was roiled.  The impulsive and delusional impulses of our President have once again resulted in his spewing lies about President Obama’s birth certificate and attacks on Muslims.  In this season’s Advent watch,  once again, the Christ child is born under a bad sign.  Remember Luke’s subversive message of the Christmas story, that this same holy Prince of Peace will defeat these forces of cruelty and malevolence.  As Christ’s mother, Mary, sang upon the news that she carried within her the messianic hope of the world [Luke 1:46-55]:

 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
 God has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.

Listen, you who provide tax breaks to the 1% and burden the poor and sick.  Pay attention.  Tweet and decree all you like but in this Advent season, we know that the Christ child who countered the power and cruelty of Augustus will overcome you as well.

Raise high the insignia of Peace and Justice over the bad sign of cruel rulers. The Good News has shattered the twitterdom of presidents and sycophants.

The Cruelty of the Trump Administration on Thanksgiving

T.S.Eliot began his epic poem, The Wasteland, with these words, “April is the cruellest month.” Perhaps, but November is going to come in close as the Trump Administration has declared that some 60,000 Haitians must now leave the United States.  Already this administration has told some 2,500 Nicaraguans they must leave the country.  The Temporary Protection Status of some 195,000 Salvadorans faces a March renewal deadline.

As we come to our Thanksgiving tables this week and plates of food are shared between family and friends, take a moment to consider how it must feel to step into this quintessential American holiday of thanks knowing you are about to lose everything and be returned to countries that are in many ways, dangerous or simply incapable of providing you and your family and friends the means to live above an impoverished existence. Let us say prayers of thanks but also let us prophetically call out for justice and compassion to inform our nation’s policies, foreign and domestic.

The cruelty of this administration seems to know no bounds.  From its intentional removal of protections for the environment to protections of citizenship for the immigrant; from its colossal tax cut plan for the extremely rich and then paying for it on the backs of the poor and middle class; from its incessant itch to pick fights, divide Americans and wreck wholesale those institutions designed to elevate our civic life, the Trump Administration and its congressional aids and abettors seem fueled by a need for cruelty.  The land of the free and home of the brave is quickly transmogrifying into the kingdom of Moloch.

Lord, we give thanks for our boundless blessings. We plead with you on behalf of the poor, the sick, the elderly and the immigrant:  Lord, protect them and help us as a nation to throw off the wicked cruelty that blankets us.  May we adorn ourselves instead with justice and mercy.  We pray in the name of the immigrant holy child who sought safety in Egypt, Amen +

Vexation and Belligerence

Listening to some Anglican chant on a youtube channel to which I subscribe, I came across the 143rd psalm and the 4th verse:

Therefore is my spirit | vexed with- | in me : and my | heart with- | in me . is | desolate.

I cut and pasted this from the text from which the choir sang it on that channel (ArchivesofSound).  I like that old English. “Vexed” is not a word we use very often but the vexation of the current political turmoil–the wholesale rending of the safety net, the belligerent rhetoric spewing from the White House and the drum beat of not just war but nuclear war–is a great weight on the shoulders of the multitudes.  Here is a more contemporary translation (NRSV):

So my spirit grows faint within me;
    my heart within me is dismayed.

A spiritual discipline that can infuse hope into your life; that rises above the belligerent, maniacal cawing of tyrants and politicians; that incorporates mercy and grace into the tick-tock rhythms of your daily life–that discipline is worth pursuing!  Pursuing peace we are less pursued by the harrowing tragedies and exploits of our world. We come to a moment such as the one that arises within this psalm of desolation, verse 8:

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.

Faith, hope, and love. Live fearlessly for we are shepherded by the Great Shepherd.  I hope you will begin or continue as it may be, your spiritual discipline and worship with us Sunday morning at 10.

How to Live in the Toxic Atmosphere of Political Strife

I was struck Sunday in our worship service by the power and the simple eloquence of the lectionary reading take from Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 12.  As you embark upon another week and ponder how you’re going to deal with the various catastrophes, hatreds and toxic rhetoric, I urge you to read these words. Print them out and attach them to the refrigerator or  recite them into your life every day this week.  They are words to live by.  They are words that can help us live in the toxic atmosphere of political strife that has permeated our culture.

ROMANS 12:

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 

10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 

16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;do not claim to be wiser than you are. 

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 

18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

AMEN.  So be it…in our own lives, in the lives of our leaders and within the sacred bounds of our beloved community.

An Administration of Bandits

The African Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, writing in the dusk of the Roman empire in his book, The City of God:  “What are kingdoms without justice? They’re just gangs of bandits.”

Mr. Trump meet Bishop Augustine.  America, meet your Congress that is dedicated to obstruction and falsification and yes, burdening the poor while enriching the wealthy.  How does one live faithfully in a kingdom of bandits?  By refusing to sacrifice the assembling of one another in worship; by resisting evil by what is right and just; by rallying around those at risk and certainly, by all means, being willing to name the gansters and bandits, Diabolus.  The Congress could begin to redeem its soul by naming a Special Prosecutor to pursue Russia’s entanglement with the Trump campaign and our national election.  The judgement of God is not always swift. Sometimes it is a slow train coming around the bend (thanks to Dylan).  I can hear the click-clack rumble of that train.

Remembering Who We Are

I’ve been thinking about name tags.  Like when I was five years old and my mother sent me off to school the first day or week.  Was the idea that I might forget my name?  Or was it verification of who I was for the teacher?

Hospitals of course are quite meticulous these days with those wrist bands.  From patients to visitors they want everyone identified.  We get this and it’s not hard to figure out why a name tag or identity badge is important.

It becomes especially important however for persons who no longer have a clear memory.  Anyone who has had a loved one enter some phase of dementia or suffered an accident and is unconscious wants their loved one to be identified and people to know with whom they are working.

So I have a simple suggestion.  In these days of madness when the White House is now tainted by the President of the United States having invited a murderer to visit him, the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who delights in extrajudicial executions, let’s wear a name tag so we can remind ourselves who we are. And maybe we should write beneath our names, “I love justice.”  Alas, this may be so much jousting at windmills. But I do know a way to remind ourselves who we are each week and month after month.

Every Sunday in a middle school auditorium, we gather to create the beloved community. Frankly, there may be no greater counter sign to the madness of a world in love with death than to place oneself within the community of those who believe that God expects justice and righteousness and whose dream is to see these flow down like mighty streams. Worship as counter-cultural, non-violent resistance.   I invite you to remember who you are with us as we remember who we are in the presence of God, who loved the world so much… ~See you Sunday

 

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.