06 November 2017

Feast of All 'Saints 2017


This feast, All Saints Day almost needs its own defenders in modern culture. Beset by faux-Christian right wing piety, which dismisses all the holy tradition of the communion of saints, wide ranging indifference among traditional protestants, and the ever growing encroaching Halloween party season, there is not a lot of space for the day.

I do not dislike Halloween, in fact I am always available for a party, Sue-z and I have candy for trick or treaters, and love seeing our grandkids and the area youth in their costumes. In the USA, Halloween party costs now exceed those for Christmas. I do not mind the parties and fun but the overshadowing All Saints is I think a problem.

Episcopalians and the RCL do not help. This is the only feast of the church year that is mobile. That is the Prayer Book permits us to arbitrarily shift it the following Sunday. And the lectionary avoids any controversial readings.

I think the feast has much to teach us. It speaks to us of one cloud of witnesses. The brotherhood of all is in that concept as is the common needs, and abundance. Whether we are liberal, conservative or non-belieber, we are all, ALL called to the same end and the same cloud.

A Blessed All Saints, Lamas, and sabbath should be our proclamation.

Trick of Treat!
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23 October 2017

Contagion



3. the medium by which a contagious disease is transmitted. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/contagion

Some time ago, a few weeks at least, I recall David Brooks, the NY Times columnist who frequents the NPR Newshour observing that something about the Trump Administration caused otherwise honorable people to have their integrity and standing stripped from them. Watching the Chief of Staff surrender any perception of veracity, decency, or honor as he flat out lied about a Congresswoman's speech, I recalled the comment.

I would like to think that serving in the highest levels of government would elevate a person. My observation is that those who served in prior administrations, of either party, often wear that service as a sort of mantle. Especially, recently, the former officials in the Obama administration are proud, and recount how working for Mr. Obama was a highlight experience.

Contrast that with the experiences we have endured in the first few months of the Trump Administration. Staffers have come and gone in a dizzying swirl of Federal investigations, power contests, and personality incompatibilities. I cannot imagine several of the press office leaders calling this their highlight experience.

Something is happening in the White House and it is not good. Decent honorable men and women are being corrupted. It is also a spreading disease, moving out from a corrupt center. Watching the incredible illogical, and outright false statements made by "Christians" who claim that they can support and indeed are represented by this presidency and its equally corrupted Congress is horrifying.

At its center are three corrupt men, and one woman. Together they are the core of the corruption of public service, decency and integrity.
  1. Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House. He allows the so-called Tea Party to effectively control the legislative process.
  2. Senator Mitch McConnell is majority leader of the Senate. In that office a leader is called to maintain the order of the legislative process, and defend the dignity and tradition of the Senate. He does not even try. His only efforts are to support Mr. Trump's latest fantasy with procedural maneuvers designed to avoid any semblance of compromise by somehow gathering at least 50 votes so that the intellectual non-entity that is Vice-president Pence can cast a vote.
  3. The president is a constant liar, a will-of-the-wisp who will say anything to advance his racist drive to whitewash the Obama achievements instead of seeking his own. Lacking even any pretense of gravitas, he is at the mercy of whomever gets his attention and convinces him that something is in his own interest.
  4. Finally, the late and unlamented Ayn Rand. A writer of incredibly bad fiction and if anything worse prose, she remains the closest thing to an intellectual center to the horrible idea that greed is a virtue, charity an error, and poverty the sentence that nature imposes on those who cannot or won't compete. Her ridiculous "philosophy" is what underlies the actions of these men and their fellow travelers.


What is happening is that these people are a center of contagion from which the entire American experiment is being infected. Trump, boasts of destroying the credibility of the free press. His people staff and cabinet, the Congress all are being drawn into a vortex of anti-American, faux-Christian, dishonest racism. This is the road to Fascism. And the worst part is that he told us where he would take us. His nomination acceptance speech among the worst oratory in American history, his refrain, "Only I" was the marker of a Facist regime to come.

It may be time to fight, but it also may be time to paint your wagon. America is falling its destiny, rejecting it promise. Dark times as the contagion at center spreads. And spread it will. The disease racism, sexism, and faux religion is unleashed and fed from the center. Lord, have mercy.

12 October 2017

Trouble in America



The trouble with the faux Christian (think Pat Robertson, Mike Pence, and the idiot plaintiffs seeking to not do business with LGBTQ customers) assumption that they make the rules lies in their flawed understanding of America, its Constitution, and Christianity. They are missing many a basic point.

While Christianity is always called to be hospitable, it is never granted ownership of the house. That is reserved for someone else. From Isaiah: My house shall be a house of prayer for all people. God sets the house rules, and is entirely silent on many of the faux Christian's trigger issues.

Most parents of teanagers have at some time or another said something like, "Look, it is my house, we use my rules." My somewhat shamefaced memory is that my time included somewhat less temperate language. Forgive me mysons. America, through its Constitution, and law sets the rules for its citizens. Religions err, most especially Christianity errs, when it thinks it has the right to set the rules for others.

This world this country, this church, however one might define that last one, are not your or my house. This world belongs to its creator and future generations. This country belongs to the its citizens, its constitution, and its future. This is God's, if you are a Christian, a Jew, a Moslem, a Native American, or something else. You can search a long time and never find a real religion that sees mankind's greed as the owner. Stay away from the 700 Club, the Kochs, and the television evangelists and their Moslem twins the, "radicalized jihadists. They are trying to steal the house.

05 October 2017

shootings and storms

Yesterday, Mr. Trump showed us himself. After deliberate ignorance, a stunning lack of empathy, and self absorbed trip to Puerto Rico; his scripted self promoting but solem trip to Nevada exposed the racist core of the man and his administration.

The core that proclaims he is ok with Roy Moore, a homophobic, racist, anti christian, theocrat, is telling. He knows where the bigotries of his core are, and hr panders to them. Hemay at center believe something, but other than his own status, I cannot see

So maybe some conservatives who are not bigots project their beliefs on this man. It seems harder and harder for them to deal with the recognition that they have been lied to. I hear increasing anger and withdrawal.
Thet leads me to an Indian proverb that should worry him: It is easy to ride a tiger, but not to dismount.

28 July 2017

Horatio Alger, Ayn Rand, and Jesus



So, OK, that title may seem a little odd. Well,actually, if you know something of the three of them, very odd. But of late, the three of them have been on my mind, and I have been thinking about how they influence the conversation if that is what we want to call the social media chaos and Twitter storm that has overtaken politics for the last few months. Let me explain.

In the American Literature readers of the 1950's (Mr. Trump and I share an age) the Alger arch-type appeared with some frequency, often in stories written by him. I have included a link here that will offer a perhaps more complete review of Alger's novels. What I think is relevant here is the moral commentary in his work, and the theology that underlies it.

The point here is that wealth, to Alger, and we should note that the "prosperity Gospel" right wing evangelicals is that wealth is a sign of virtue. One person in particlullar appears to have bought into this idea: Donald Trump. Trump remarked of his billionaire heavy cabinet that it had the highest IQ in history. (Yes I heard him say it.) Associating wealth, intelligence, and virtue by implication at least assigns poverty to an absence of virtue, is classic Alger.
***
As near as I can tell, Rand never had an original thought in her life. Her so-called "philosophy" is nothing but Emerson and Thoreau misquoted and without the scholarship. Her writing, nowhere near as good as Alger's, was so busy preaching her conviction that she was entitled to care about no one but herself, that the stories such as they were and what there was of them, had to contend for page space. There may be a legitimate academic who takes her seriously, but I cannot find one.

Rand's silly misrepresentation of Emerson was summarized in her turgid lecture published as, "The Virtue of Selfishness." This 24 page screed is available on line if anyone really wants to read it but I won't link to it here because of copy-write concerns. She makes a very few points none of them supported: morals and ethics are a hangover from pre-modern savages and more recent collectivism. These two: religion and Marxism are evil. She has the solution, atomic individualism and legitimized selfishness and greed.
***
Which brings me to the other guy. We have two major comments on social justice from Jesus. One is the "Sermon on the Mount." Mathew 5 - 7 The other is the description of judgement. Mathew 25 It is worth noting that Jesus seems to have known a lot about Torah and other Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus called on his followers to care for the poor, Deuteronomy and Isiah call for equal treatment of aliens. In fact, Jesus condemns those who do not care for the poor, widows, and those in prison to the same hell he never mentions for gays, lesbians, or even straights! Want a Biblical trip to Hell, mistreat the poor.

We need to put the Christian comments in context. John the Baptizer, and Jesus were intensely political. We now read Jesus in particular as a moral teacher (makes him safer) but he was definitely calling the kings and temple authorities to account. In Luke he often makes that point by asking his followers to be careful about who they talk to about him. Consider one example of being a cagey careful preacher of social justice. A vineyard was a standard symbol for the kingdom of Israel. Now go read the parable of the vineyard with the usurpers, in the context of Herod's Roman backed takeover of Israel. Jesus was political.

And Jesus was in the social justice business. In other words he was everything Alger and Rand were not. We Christians claim we stand with Paul in affirming that, "Jesus is Lord." Which leads me to claim one can not be a Christian and an American Evangelical.

I have not written for a while, which is probably not noticed widely. I have been ill, and my online time has been limited. I do plan to be a bit more active.

FWIW

27 February 2017

Authoritarianism



In Episode V of Star Wars, a major climactic moment is the light sabre fight between Lord Vader and Luke Skywalker. As the duel progressives, Vader tries to talk Luke into joining him. He tries to convince Luke that if they join forces and crush the rebellion, they can bring order. That is his goal and he offers it as a virtue.

In the 1930's, the model fascist State was Italy. Mussolini until his army proved remarkably inept in Ethiopia and Greece, had been the model. Franco, Salazar, and yes Hitler all made trips to Rome to see how it was done. Hitler would add State anti-Semitism and and effective military. As Germany bailed Italy out in Greece and Africa, Hitler would eventually surpass Mussolini. What strikes me as relevant from that earlier time is the almost universal comment by Americans and other visitors was that the Fascists had made the trains run on time. That imposition of efficiency was seen as success, and an alteration of the somewhat sloppy Italian culture that was remarkable.

We must have, I hear, order. The same lunatic gun lobby that proclaimed a right to shoot Federal agents in Wyoming and Montana now wants to attack Standing Rock Lakota and their "liberal" allies. There is as my favorite rock song proclaims, something happening here.

Back in the 1930's Hitler showed the world that what fascism needs is an enemy. So also Communism needed an evil enemy. Hitler proclaimed Jews the enemies of the "volk," while Stalin discovered, "counter revolutionaries" who were enemies of the Soviet People. If any of that sounds the least bit familiar, you have been paying attention to Mr. Trump, and his tools, Steve Bannon and Steven Miller. The press, paid protesters, and the evil intellectuals are the enemies of the people.

Wayne La Pierre declared in his CPAC speech that gun owners, "have the president's back." http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/short-enemies-nras-lapierre-invents-new-one He also brought back the big lie technique with his reference to $1500 a week payments for protesters which he knows or should know is a lie. Mark Shields observed on PBS last Friday that declaring the press the enemy of the people is where dictatorships begin.

So here we are at the moment when the desire for order over-rides (a card player might say,"trumps") liberty. The opposite of order is not chaos, it is freedom. We are slipping into a time when order will be the overwhelming motive of the State. Authoritarianism is always excused by finding an enemy of the people and of order. That way lies fascism.

17 February 2017

words matter



As the National Security Advisor debacle unwound, I became increasingly concerned with some of the language that my liberal friends have adopted. In particular, a single word, treason, troubles me.

When James (Jamie to his friends) Madison was writing the Constitution, he included a clause defining one word, the only definition in the Constitution.
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.
This one word was so repugnant to Madison and the other founders that it was defined, and the sentence specifically limited. Some of this matters today and I shall unpack it a bit.

Treason in England and much of Europe meant whatever the crown said it meant. Punishments were horrible: "traitors" took a long and painful time to die, leading to another item in the Constitution, the prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment" in the 5th Amendment. What the French called, "les majesty" or in any way dismissing or (in the current language) disrespecting, the king, queen or government was treason in England. Conspiracy or rebellion was not required.

Madison defines treason, and while leaving the penalty to Congress, he limited its authority. Specifically, the English rule that a person executed for treason left to any descendants something called, "corruption of blood"is prohibited. The idea is disturbingly simple, it means that they could neither inherit or earn any real property or title. While Madison and his co-authors prohibited titles of nobility, they did not object to simple inheritance, or land ownership. They found the idea of carrying a penalty to descendants unjust and prohibited it.

It is then no small thing to suggest someone has committed treason, or to carry disapproval to succeeding generations. Which is why the way progressives including those on talk radio, are tossing around the word, and the treatment Tiffany Trump has been receiving are worrisome. General Flynn may have violated the Lawson Act which prohibits a private person from intruding on the president's foreign policy authority. His conversations with the Russian Ambassador appear well over the line.

But notice something. Two hundred years ago, Congress enacted the Lawson Act, defining unlawful conduct, not treason! Were the conversations the General held treason, no reference to the Lawson act would be relevant. In fact the law would not exist.

Calling a US Marine flag officer a traitor is pretty far out. People who choose to be Marine officers are almost by definition patriots. They may be authoritarians, they may simply be wrong, but they do not levy war against the USA, nor do they assist its enemies. Do I think the general erred, sure. Do I know if he committed indictable felonies, nope: that is what we have prosecutors and grand juries to determine.

Consider the prohibition of inherited penalties. Whatever I think of President Trump (I do not think much of him) neither of his daughters are responsible for the incredible incompetence he and his staff have exhibited. Boycotting Ivanka's fashion line, or refusing to sit near Tiffany at a fashion show is simply wrong.

As is so often the case, the founders were right. Yes Gen Flynn erred, and it appears lied about it, and yes he could not continue as National Security Advisor. Yes nothing he has done to date suggests Mr. Trump or his staff either know or respect truth, and yes nothing suggests even marginal competence. But General Flynn is not a traitor, and Trump's daughters are not responsible for him.

Finally there is a "what if" lurking on the horizon. What if the Trump campaign actually was in touch with and perhaps receiving aid from Russia during the campaign? Go back and read Section 3. It may be that US Campaign law was violated. It may be that Mr. Trump or his campaign may have legal troubles. And whoever may have been a liaison to the Russians may have more legal issues. But again, Russia is not an enemy of the US, and violating election law is a specific action, not treason.

Words matter. Actions matter. I would not accept Mr. Trump's invitation to dinner, White House or otherwise. But, neither Ivanka nor Tiffany deserve to be shunned. I am poor. We do not buy fashion jewelry or gowns. But if we were to do so, the father of the designer would not be a factor.

We progressives do not need to adopt the worst characteristics of the rightwing. The willingness to name, "traitors" and carry penalties for generations (Tennessee is debating "legitimacy" a dark ages idea) is what I think of as the worst of the worst. We can and should do better.

FWIW





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