Don’t talk about it

Shortly after a police officer was convicted of murdering George Floyd, there was talk of the dawning of racial reckoning in the United States.

This event, it was said, would open new avenues for honest conversation about how racism and its corrosive effects throughout our society might be approached, confronted and eventually eradicated.

I saw this as a dim hope. We have had many such opportunities in recent years, and none of them has moved us close to a fruitful discussion. All our opportunities have evaporated almost as soon as they were glimpsed.

Nothing has changed. The Republican party has seen to that. Its campaign against “Critical Race Theory” will doom all efforts to talk about racism, white supremacy, white nationalism and other subjects that some white people will find offensive.

CRT started as an obscure academic exercise examining social, cultural and legal issues relating to race and racism. It may have been taught in law school or other advanced studies. It was never taught in American high schools or elementary schools. And it never will be.

Because the GOP has found a way to turn CRT into a political weapon. Mainly by spinning wild stories about it, most of them approximately 97.5% untrue. And Republican-dominated state legislatures are falling over themselves passing laws to outlaw the teaching of it.

What this means is that whenever a teacher starts a discussion about race, a white student is going to freak out and parents are going to shout “Critical Race Theory!” and the teacher is going to get fired. It won’t take long before everybody gets the point.

In the United States, you cannot have a discussion about race. It is illegal.

That’s only the start, of course. But if you can shut down this discussion, think about what other things you can make sure nobody talks about. Way to go, GOP.

Epiphanies

The outdoor lights, the many-pointed Moravian star and the lighted Nativity trio came down yesterday, January 5, the last day of the Christmas season. We kept the tree up for Twelfth Night but are removing the decorations and putting it all away today, on Epiphany.

It’s nice to get the living room back to normal, but not having the tree in the front window always feels like a loss just the same.

Some people try to put up their tree on the first day of Advent, but that’s so close to Thanksgiving that it never happens for us. This year I think it went up on December 6. That happens to be Saint Nicholas Day. A few days ago I read that many families set up their tree on that day in the old saint’s honor.

I like that custom: from December 6 to January 6, Saint Nicholas Day to Epiphany. Maybe we’ll keep it intentionally come December 2022.

Linda and I have had an artificial tree for most of our marriage. It took us a surprisingly long time to figure out that having a live tree in the house might explain why she always had allergy problems in December and early January. When we got an artificial tree, the allergies mostly disappeared.

Trekking out to the tree farm, picking the “perfect” tree, lashing it to the top of the car and hauling it home always seemed like a meaningful ritual – until we didn’t do it anymore. Digging the tree out of storage in the attic or garage just isn’t the same, but I have to come to prefer this new routine. The result is still gorgeous, and I like the simplicity of the act.

Come December 6, we’ll do it all over again, but with a renewed sense of purpose. Happy day, Nicholas! The season of miracles is upon us again.

*  *   *  *   *

An epiphany is a sudden revelation. So on this Epiphany we must not fail to take note of the one-year anniversary of events in Washington. That’s when Donald Trump attempted a coup by subverting the elections, and hundreds of Trumpistas stormed the Capitol building, causing several deaths, national trauma, and millions of dollars in damage.

Trumpistas and other purveyors of the Big Lie still insist is what all a harmless frolic. History will record otherwise, unless the Trumpistas triumph and the last shreds of the American democratic experiment are buried in propogranda and hate. Pray that it is not so.

Remember this day for the insurrection that failed, and also pray for the souls of those who bury their faces in darkness and insist on living a lie.

*  *   *  *   *

May the season of miracles continue!

I wanna be a contender

I have a new ambition. I want to be a high Republican official – a legislator or governor or attorney general.

What a great gig! You can lie freely, and your “base” will lap it up.

You can twist information to your heart’s content, and nobody outside of those nasty media folks and a few Democrats will ever question your newfound “facts.”

People will applaud when you claim that the Jan. 6 coup attempt was just a stroll across the lawn.

People will cheer when you compare mask mandates to Nazi oppression.

“Go, go, go!” people will chant when you want to ban books that may offend somebody you want to vote for you.

Bucketloads of money will flow your way when you say Trump won.

You can do anything you want and say anything you want, and nobody gives a fig because you are a Republican, God’s gift to the future of the planet – hell, God’s gift to the whole solar system.

Move over, Ted Cruz.

Give me room, Roger Marshall.

Shut up and learn, Josh Hawley.

Look in your rear-view mirror, all you clowns in the Missouri capitol – and this means you, Parson and Schmitt.

Duck, you suckers in the Kansas crowd – far too many to mention.

Look out, Abbott and Costello (I mean, DeSantis)! I’m coming your way!

So that’s my new ambition. I want to be another scum-sucking liar who’s proud to hang my hat under the GOP banner.

Sorry, all you Republicans who remember when your party stood for honesty and genuine patriotism and all those other quaint notions. Your day is done. This is the new GOP. Get your brown shirt now before the price goes even higher.

A fourth deadly virus

It has become almost commonplace to suggest that there are two viruses in our midst – the coronavirus and the virus of racism.

In a sermon series I did in June 2020, I suggested that three viruses are ravaging American society today – the coronavirus, racism, and authoritarianism. The latter, of course, is most keenly represented by presidential poseur Donald Trump and others who follow in his footsteps.

Now I am ready to add a fourth. Call it a variant of the other three. Call it, as others have, an “infodemic.” It is an epidemic of misinformation. So much of it now concerns vaccination and masks and the “freedom” that some claim to expose others to the virus with no sense of personal responsibility.

The Republican party has become a master of misinformation on almost all fronts. I certainly would not call all Republican legislators liars, but when you consider the likes of Hawley and Cruz and DeSantis and McConnell and so many others, it becomes difficult not to paint with a broad brush.

No, we can’t talk about race because that’s “critical race theory.” No, we can’t investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection because that might expose traitors in high places. Yes, we believe in individual freedom when it comes to masks, but not when it comes to reproductive rights.

Yes, we believe in local control, unless it conflicts with mandates from Republican-controlled state legislatures. Yes, we believe in free elections, as long as Republicans draw the district lines and enact rules that keep minority (but soon to be majority) folk from casting a ballot.

There used to be a thing called truth, around which we could unify. Then along came Trump and the concept of “alternative facts,” meaning self-serving lies. And downhill we have gone.

We are in a volatile moment in our country’s history, maybe in human history as well. This is a moral crisis. We need a moral revival. What we need, the Rev. William Barber Jr. says, is a moral revolution. It will not come from liars and poseurs.

We need leaders who will unify us, not divide us. We need leaders who seek not to dominate but to persuade; leaders who want to make peace, not war; leaders who stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor; leaders who are humble, not proud; leaders who thirst and hunger for righteousness; leaders who understand that the source of real strength is not the knee you press on someone’s neck. No, real power resides in your alliance with the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

Look it up, as the loony conspiracy theorists say. Start with Acts 17:28 and Revelation 4:11. Only the truth will set us free from these four raging epidemics.

An anti-anti manifesto

Contrary to popular superstition, the pandemic is not a hoax. It is very real, and it is far more dangerous than you think it is.

Contrary to popular superstition, vaccines help prevent you from getting the virus.

Contrary to popular superstition, masks help prevent you and others from infecting one another.

Contrary to popular superstition, children are almost as likely as adults to get new strains of the virus.

If you don’t want to be vaccinated, you are welcome to have a nice death. But have the common courtesy not to take others with you. Stay home. You are not fit for human society.

If you don’t want to wear a mask, enjoy your “personal freedom” not to wear one – at home. Don’t go out in public. You are not fit for human society.

If you come down with the virus, don’t go to your doctor or the hospital. Why should you put your life in the hands of people you scorn when they tell you to get vaccinated and wear a mask?

If you don’t want your children to wear a mask at school, don’t send them to public or private schools where they might encounter other children. Homeschool them. Or keep them at home without schooling them, so that they will grow up as ignorant as you are.

If you think your rights are being violated, consider the rights of others not to be contaminated by you. Your right to breathe freely in public ends the moment your breath touches another person.

If you think the inconvenience of getting a shot or wearing a mask is too much to ask of you, don’t bother wondering what great thing you can do for your country. You’re just not up to the task.

A Christlike reading

I became aware of Bradley Jersak’s work less then a year ago, but how I wish I’d discovered him earlier! He makes Christianity feel alive again by returning to our origins and tracing how we’ve departed from them, especially how far we’ve drifted from vital readings of scripture.

His latest book is A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way. It’s part of a trilogy that includes A More Christlike God, and A More Christlike Way.

If you noticed the repetition of the word Christlike in the titles, you’ve found the secret to Jersak’s method. In Christlike Word, he says: “The emphasis of this book … is that Jesus is the Word of God and the Christian Scriptures faithfully testify to him.”

“The Bible an epic story of God’s love,“ shown most clearly in Jesus, he says. Reading it the Emmaus way follows the way Jesus himself modeled interpretation of scripture, as when he outlined it two to the two travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27).

“An Emmaus hermeneutic, in which one reads the Hebrew Scriptures through the gospel lens of Christ, is our primary precondition for reading Scripture,” he states. One implication is that you don’t read Jesus through the lens of the Bible but rather you read the Bible through the lens of Jesus.

That sounds circular, and it surely can be, but it can save you from biblicism and biblioatry. You’re not imposing some fanciful notion of what the Bible is onto the gospel. Rather, you are using the gospel, the Good News of God, to interpret the Bible, from front to back.

If you read something that doesn’t sound like Jesus, you have reason to believe that either you or the author of the passage has misunderstood or misrepresented what God said or meant. “When a passage describes un-Christlike images of God, we must not read them literalistically, because attributing moral darkness to God’s nature or deeds is not worthy of God.”

Again, “The biblical use of words such as anger, wrath, and fury are passions that, when literalized, replace the one true God with an idol and commit a monstrous blasphemy”

You must always read a passage for its literal meaning but be careful about interpreting it literally. Jersak says: “the literal sense is essential to my reading of the Bible. But I believe that literalism and its handmaid, inerrancy, sprout from modernist ideology. Claiming a high view of Scripture, literalism actually undermines biblical authority by pre-imposing on the text a standard of sterile uniformity.”

“The Holy Spirit breathed truth through the authors of Scripture via both ancient worldviews and now-archaic descriptions. This does not make what they said untrue” unless “you force their descriptions to be read literally.”

If you are chained to a literal understanding of the Bible and wonder why it varies so much with the Jesus of the gospel story, now you have an answer to your questions and an avenue for further explanations of gospel truth rather than the fictions of pop religion.

The more you let Jersak’s thesis steep in your mind, the more you will be convinced of its truthfulness, and move closer to the Living Word, who is Jesus Christ.

________

Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike Word: Reading scripture the Emmaus Way (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2021)

________

A digital copy of this book was provided to me by Speakeasy on the condition that I post a review of it.

Have a cuppa

Today’s post from Ginger at CompassionFix.com was too good not to share. She writes:

What is getting your Time, Energy, and Attention right now?

TEA is a helpful acronym to remember to help you stay in alignment with your priorities, values, and goals.

It is also a helpful tool as an energy barometer – if your energy is low, consider what you are giving your time, energy, and attention … then make some adjustments.

We get to choose and control where we spend our time, share our energy, and give our attention.

Decide with whom and on what you will share your precious TEA.

That’s all. That’s great! Have a cuppa on me.

A readable, helpful introduction

The Bible isn’t just one book, it’s a Box Set, and it tells a Big Story, but sometimes we suffer Big Frustration because we read it the wrong way. That’s the thesis of Stephen Burnhope’s new book How to Read the Bible Well.

It’s subtitled “What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How To Love It (Again).” This subtitle suggests that some readers have loved the Bible in the past but don’t anymore, probably because they think it’s something it isn’t.

Burnhope hopes to clear up a host of misunderstandings in this introductory work on how to interpret the Bible without getting a theology degree. Against those who contend that the Bible needs no interpretation, he insists that it does. Every reading is an interpretation, he says, so you need to know what you’re bringing to the text as well as what you hope to receive from it.

Burnhope is a pastor in the Vineyard tradition, and its evangelical roots are clear in his writing. But Burnhope does not fear to challenge many evangelical sacred cows. He’s clearly no biblicist. He says: “The purpose of the Bible has never been to draw us into a relationship with the Bible, but to draw us into a relationship with God.”

In conversational and not confrontational style, he dives boldly into such topics as the nature of revelation and inspiration, the notion of a single biblical worldview, the nature of heaven and hell, why people suffer, how the Old Testament applies to Christians today, and the different ways God is portrayed in the two testaments.

He offers a hermeneutic (a method of interpretation) that is Christ-centered. “Everything God commands and everything God says will always correspond to Jesus – it will always ‘look like’ Jesus and ‘sound like’ Jesus. He is our perfect ‘lens’ for knowing who God is and what he’s like and always has been like.”

I can’t say that I agree with everything he says (we come from different faith traditions, after all), but this is a readable and helpful work, and I recommend it, especially to recovering evangelicals.

A few highlights from the text:

“We should respect the Bible for what it is and not try to defend it as something it was never intended to be.”

“Good interpretation always starts with what the text meant then and recognizes that it will not mean now something that it didn’t mean then.”

“There is not and never has been any such thing as a ‘Christian’ worldview or a ‘Christian’ culture to look back on and wish for a return to. There is no current or preceding worldview that qualifies to be called that. There isn’t even one that comes close to it.”

“The biblical story does not start with “original sin” but with “original goodness.”

How to Read the Bible Well, by Stephen Burnhope, Cascade Books, May 2021

A digital copy of this book was provided to me by Speakeasy on the condition that I post a review of it.

Lest we forget

While House Coverup Leader Kevin McCarthy and his Republican cronies tell new lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, it might be useful to list some of the other the seditious members of Congress.

Election officials in all 50 states insist that the 2020 election was the most secure ever conducted, but the new GOP mantra remains that Trump won. This is lie, but too many people believe it.

These are the seditious 147 – those members of Congress who voted to undermine the presidential election of 2020. (The original list contained 129 names but 17 names have been added because they later voted to object to the results of the election in Pennsylvania.)

Senate

Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)

Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)

John Kennedy (R-LA)

Roger Marshall (R-KS)

Rick Scott (R-FL)

Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)

House

Robert Aderholt (R-AL)

Rick Allen (R-GA)

Jodey Arrington (R-TX)

Brian Babin (R-TX)

Jim Baird (R-IN)

Jim Banks (R-IN)

Cliff Bentz (R-OR)

Jack Bergman (R-MI)

Stephanie Bice (R-OK)

Andy Biggs (R-AZ)

Dan Bishop (R-NC)

Lauren Boebert (R-CO)

Mike Bost (R-IL)

Mo Brooks (R-AL)

Ted Budd (R-NC)

Tim Burchett (R-TN)

Michael Burgess (R-TX)

Ken Calvert (R-CA)

Kat Cammack (R-FL)

Jerry Carl (R-AL)

Earl Carter (R-GA)

John Carter (R-TX)

Madison Cawthorn (R-NC)

Steve Chabot (R-OH)

Ben Cline (R-VA)

Michael Cloud (R-TX)

Andrew Clyde (R-GA)

Tom Cole (R-OK)

Rick Crawford (R-AR)

Warren Davidson (R-OH)

Scott DesJarlais (R-TN)

Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)

Byron Donalds (R-FL)

Jeff Duncan (R-SC)

Neal Dunn (R-FL)

Ron Estes (R-KS)

Pat Fallon (R-TX)

Michelle Fischbach (R-MN)

Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI)

Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN)

Virginia Foxx (R-NC)

C. Scott Franklin (R-FL)

Russ Fulcher (R-ID)

Matt Gaetz (R-FL)

Mike Garcia (R-CA)

Bob Gibbs (R-OH)

Carlos Gimenez (R-FL)

Louie Gohmert (R-TX)

Bob Good (R-VA)

Lance Gooden (R-TX)

Paul Gosar (R-AZ)

Sam Graves (R-MO)

Mark Green (R-TN)

Marjorie Greene (R-GA)

Morgan Griffith (R-VA)

Michael Guest (R-MS)

Jim Hagedorn (R-MN)

Andy Harris (R-MD)

Diana Harshbarger (R-TN)

Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)

Kevin Hern (R-OK)

Yvette Herrell (R-NM)

Jody Hice (R-GA)

Clay Higgins (R-LA)

Richard Hudson (R-NC)

Darrell Issa (R-CA)

Ronny Jackson (R-TX)

Chris Jacobs (R-NY)

Mike Johnson (R-LA)

Bill Johnson (R-OH)

Jim Jordan (R-OH)

John Joyce (R-PA)

Fred Keller (R-PA)

Trent Kelly (R-MS)

Mike Kelly (R-PA)

David Kustoff (R-TN)

Doug LaMalfa (R-CA)

Doug Lamborn (R-CO)

Jake LaTurner (R-KS)

Debbie Lesko (R-AZ)

Billy Long (R-MO)

Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)

Frank Lucas (R-OK)

Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO)

Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY)

Tracey Mann (R-KS)

Brian Mast (R-FL)

Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)

Lisa McClain (R-MI)

Daniel Meuser (R-PA)

Mary Miller (R-IL)

Carol Miller (R-WV)

Alexander Mooney (R-WV)

Barry Moore (R-AL)

Markwayne Mullin (R-OK)

Greg Murphy (R-NC)

Troy Nehls (R-TX)

Ralph Norman (R-SC)

Devin Nunes (R-CA)

Jay Obernolte (R-CA)

Burgess Owens (R-UT)

Steven Palazzo (R-MS)

Gary Palmer (R-AL)

Greg Pence (R-IN)

Scott Perry (R-PA)

August Pfluger (R-TX)

Bill Posey (R-FL)

Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA)

Tom Rice (R-SC)

Mike Rogers (R-AL)

Harold Rogers (R-KY)

John Rose (R-TN)

Matthew Rosendale, Sr. (R-MT)

David Rouzer (R-NC)

John Rutherford (R-FL)

Steve Scalise (R-LA)

David Schweikert (R-AZ)

Pete Sessions (R-TX)

Jason Smith (R-MO)

Adrian Smith (R-NE)

Lloyd Smucker (R-PA)

Elise Stefanik (R-NY)

W. Gregory Steube (R-FL)

Chris Stewart (R-UT)

Glenn Thompson (R-PA)

Thomas Tiffany (R-WI)

William Timmons IV (R-SC)

Jefferson Van Drew (R-NJ)

Beth Van Duyne (R-TX)

Tim Walberg (R-MI)

Jackie Walorski (R-IN)

Randy Weber, Sr. (R-TX)

Daniel Webster (R-FL)

Roger Williams (R-TX)

Joe Wilson (R-SC)

Robert Wittman (R-VA)

Ron Wright (R-TX)

Lee Zeldin (R-NY)

Go, Wally!

Her joy was a joy to behold. Wally Funk’s brief flight into space aboard Blue Origin fulfilled a lifelong dream. An aviation pioneer in her own right, she was denied a chance to fly in space 60 years ago because of her sex. Tuesday morning, at 82, she became the oldest human to ever fly in space.

The real story, though, is her perseverance in following her passion. She trained as hard – even harder – than the male candidates for space flight, but she was never allowed to join the elite (read: male) team of astronauts. Still, she never lost confidence that she would one day make it into space. Billionaire Jeff Bezos invited her to be a guest on Blue Origin’s first human flight to space. It was, finally, a dream come true.

A fun sidelight, at least for this retired United Methodist pastor: On Tuesday morning, 300 members of White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas, attended a watch party at the church to cheer their friend’s accomplishment.

Soaring into space, lifted by the hopes and prayers of fellow church members as well as by a powerful rocket, she experienced the thrill of a lifetime. Most of us have dreams more firmly anchored to Earth. May we continue to pursue them as persistently and hopefully and successfully as Wally Funk.