Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The State of Our Nation

We are now in the middle of a growing national crisis that half of the population seems to be troubled by, a third of the country seems to celebrate, and the remainder seems to be standing idly by. Yet all seem powerless to effect any change in national trajectory, a significant investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller notwithstanding. Even so, there are numerous resistance groups and that continue to offer some hope that at least a moral voice can be heard.

President Trump’s recent statement casting vulgar aspersions upon Haiti and all African nations has raised the ire of many in the U. S. and across the globe as he exemplified racist and fascist attitudes long recognized from the beginning of his presidential campaign. Jonathan Alter, in a recent article, has called for Congress to censure Trump for “conduct unbecoming of a president.”

It is only the latest of disturbing trends that we have seen over the past year.

Ominous Parallels

I am reminded of my college days as a ministerial student at Samford University. It was the mid 1970’s and some of us were beginning to do some serious examination for the first time. Our parents had been part of “the greatest generation” that combated Hitler’s regime at great personal costs as they bore the brunt of the horrors of war. I remember one of my classmates commenting that Germany was the most Christian and most intellectual country in the world, and yet they were responsible for such unspeakable evil and darkness, plunging the world into the most violent and destructive war in history.

My friend’s comment did indeed reflect a great irony and a big question that we were still facing 30 years after a war that to us twenty-year-old novices seemed like ancient history. The irony was that even then, any serious theological study involved extensive reading of German theologians (and anyone pursuing a doctorate had to be able to read three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and German). It was a huge question in our minds from that day until now, “How could Hitler’s rise have happened in such a civilized, educated, and Christian country?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was included in our studies and he was admired for his stand against Hitler when most German churches, Catholic and Protestant alike, were in support of the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church movement saw the problem early on. Those were difficult  times that we could hardly fathom, and perhaps none of us imagined ever having to endure such times in our lifetime. An article in the February edition of Sojourners Magazine asks if this is not a Bonhoeffer moment for American Christians. The authors point out:

[Trump’s] “Make America Great Again” nationalism seeks to close the borders and recover some idealized picture of what America supposedly used to be, a picture steeped in white supremacy and the misguided ideology of “separate but equal.” Disturbingly, large numbers of white evangelical Christians share in this longing for Mayberry.

The fact that today I can see a correlation between our times and those times in Nazi Germany indicates that the question, “How could this happen in such a civilized, educated and Christian country?” is not as mysterious now. That is not to say that I have any clear answer to the question. I do have a few observations, and would welcome any other observations from anyone who would care to comment.

1. Uncertain Times

With Trump’s election in November of 2016, I became more aware that fascism seems to be the default mode of government that people tend to fall back on during times of uncertainty. It never ends well, but it seems to be a basic tribal response of people when they are confronted with fear and uncertainty. We want to be with people who look like us, and we demonize the other (whoever looks different). I have watched evangelical Christians I grew up with and worshiped with expressing such fear and hatred, especially after the nation elected its first black president in 2008. I have seen them making political decisions based upon fear and hate rather than on faith and love.

2. The Paralysis of Single Issue Voting

I understand that each person must make his or her own moral choice in civic matters when going to the polls. Unfortunately, voting on the single issue of abortion blinds many to the wider issues at stake.

I attend a Roman Catholic Church and have utmost respect for Catholic social teaching regarding human dignity and the common good. I have been shocked, however, that so many of my Catholic colleagues have allowed the issue of abortion to paralyze their ability to discern other issues concerning the common good. I was dismayed to hear a colleague say with some resignation, “I guess I have to vote for Trump because he is pro-life."

I would not choose abortion, but I realize that my choice for life has not been hindered in my entire adult life since Roe v. Wade.  I also realize that the practice of my faith does not hinge upon the reversal of established law – a law which allows options for young women in dire situations.

Through the years, I have seen Catholics vote for people who have no knowledge of, or interest in, Catholic social teaching and whose agendas are even counter to that teaching. The best way to support life is in our teaching, values, and actions. We can abide by the law of the land and still uphold our faith values without thinking we have to reverse legislation in order to live a moral life.

3. The Desire for Political Power

Another factor that cannot be ignored is that with the success of the religious right in political campaigns, beginning with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and continuing on with groups like Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, has progressed to the point where the religious right seems more concerned with political power than Christian principals.

Apparently, some conservative religious groups are now seeing Donald Trump as God’s chosen one for America. It is beyond me how a thinking, committed Christian could come to such a conclusion, but the founder of Charisma Magazine stated in an interview that Christians should tolerate no dissent when it comes to Donald Trump. If that is the case, what has become of the prophetic role of the church? Are we simply a willing arm of the state, no matter how corrupt the state becomes?

How Will We Respond?

These are a few reasons that Christian America has somehow embraced a president with no visible moral compass, no claim to a Christian faith, and has exhibited little grasp of the responsibilities of the Presidential office. The fact that we are now facing such a national moral dilemma is distressing to many and should be a call for those who are able to offer some kind of resistance, each in his or her own way. The question is, how?

I don’t think there is one way or one answer. I do think that it is important for us to affirm the better angels of our nature, our higher aspirations, and our nobler national purpose. We can do that through the arts, by way of community action, and by voting at the polls. Some of us can engage in politics at the local level, all of us can write our congressional representatives. People of faith can consider the golden rule and seek to practice acts of love, compassion and concern. In other words, churches can renew their commitment to their higher calling and not grow weary with well doing.

Those of us who are part of a faith community can consider the challenge that Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers us from his witness in Nazi Germany. I would challenge you to read the article in Sojourners Magazine by Lori Brant Hale and Reggie L. Williams, “Is this a Dietrich Bonhoeffer Moment? Lessons for American Christians from the Confessing Church in Germany.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, made an observation worth noting that gives me some hope for a way forward:

  “Donald Trump did us a favor, because he shows us how active and significant white supremacy is in this country. I mean, we needed to know it. We needed to see it. We needed to punch a hole in the mythology of post-racialism, because we need to deal with it. I mean, we think about an oncologist — we don’t want our oncologist telling us a little lie that we don’t really have cancer.”

What are your ideas? How do you see the times we are in today? I would welcome any comments reflecting your thoughts or actions in light of the current state of our national life.


Photo: Night time view of Washington, D.C. (Public Domain)


Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday Music: Two from Regina Spektor

François Villon was a 15th century French poet who wrote in the vernacular from the margins of society, and who has influenced poets, playwrights, and musicians ever since. Arthur Rimbaud, Ezra Pound, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, to name just a few, were influenced by Villon. Here is a beautiful rendition of "The Prayer of François Villon," by the Russian bard singer Bulat Okudzhava, sung by Regina Spektor. (Scroll down to read English translation, but first, just listen to the beautiful music)

And speaking of Leonard Cohen, just when I was beginning to think that his wonderful song, "Hallelujah" was being sung too much, here comes Regina Spektor with a must hear performance.

The Prayer of Francois Villon
by Bulat Okudzhava
(English Translation)

While yet the Earth is revolving,
While yet the daylight is broad,
Lord, pray, give everyone
Whatever they have in want:
Give the wise one more brilliance,
The coward a horse to flee,
Give the happy some money…
And don't forget about me.

While yet the Earth is revolving –
Lord, yours is the power!
Give those fighting for power
To rule however much they desire;
Give relief to the generous
At least until the eve;
Bestow upon Cain repentance…
And don't forget about me.

I believe: you can do anything;
In your wisdom I trust,
Just as a killed soldier believes
That he is in the paradise;
Just as every ear believes
To the quiet words of yours,
Just as we ourselves also believe
When we know not what we do!

O Lord, oh the Almighty,
O God mine green of eyes!
While yet the Earth is revolving,
Taken itself by the surprise,
While yet it has in sufficiency
Both the time and the heat,
Give everybody a little…
And don't forget about me.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday Haiku: Earth Dance

with ordered motion
the earth and her moon traverse
in a graceful dance


Photo: The earth and the moon taken by OSIRIS-REx
Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

(My thanks to Tim Lenox, who posted the photo on his blog, where he explained, “A new NASA photo, taken from some three million miles away by the OSIRIS-Rex craft....shows the earth and its Moon in one frame, making it easier to understand how far apart they are. NASA says 30 earths would fit in between the two places in space.”)

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