Archive for March, 2016

David Brooks — and the Psalmist — Take On Donald Trump

March 18, 2016

Occasionally, newspaper columnists (even conservative columnists!) write with the voice not only of a journalist, but as a prophet. Not a prophet who predicts the future, but a prophet in the biblical sense. One who speaks “God’s Word” to the people. I heard this Word this morning in David Brooks’ column in the New York Times,”No, Not Trump, Not Ever.”

First of all, he acknowledges that something is due Trump in that he has “heard” the cries of the dispossessed who are angry because they have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, and lost dreams. Brooks acknowledges that many in the media, including himself, underestimated the Donald’s ability to capitalize on this discontent. But then, this conservative pundit states clearly why no one should support Trump, No…Not Ever:

“Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out….Trump is perhaps the most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetime…He is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity. He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12…In some rare cases, political victors do not deserve our respect…to endorse those…would be a moral failure.”

And here, David Brooks begins to speak prophetically, “History is a long record of men like him temporarily rising, stretching back to biblical times. Psalm 73 describes them:

“Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence…They scoff and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore people turn to them and drink up their waters in abundance. ” And yet their success is fragile: “Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are destroyed.”

And the sermon’s conclusion? “Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship. He pollutes the atmosphere in which our children are raised. He has already shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible…As the founders would have understood, he is a threat to the long and glorious experiment of American self-government. He is precisely the kind of scapegoating, promise-making, fear-driving and deceiving demagogue they feared.”

Precisely that the founders feared! Will Donald Trump’s supporters in this country realize that…before it is too late?

Grassley: No “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” Anymore

March 17, 2016

Our embarrassing senior senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley, has once again become a pawn in the Republican establishment’s plan to oppose everything Barack Obama proposes, no matter how sane and rational it is. This time it is refusing even to consider Merrick Garland to succeed Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.

There was a time when Senator Grassley was seen by many here as a kind of “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” figure, an farmer who would bring common sense Iowa values to Washington and stand for integrity and independence in the political process. That time has long past. With the rise of conservative evangelicals in our state, the moderate, fiscally conservative but socially liberal Republicanism of the past has all but disappeared. Grassley has moved increasingly to the right as his time, and his power, in the Senate has increased.

This GOP strategy may indeed backfire as I believe Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald Trump in the general election (after what will likely be the nastiest presidential campaign in recent memory…maybe ever).  If, when she is in the White House, Ms. Clinton has been able to recover enough Senate seats to make up a majority in the House, she will either bring back Merrick Garland and shove him down the Republicans’ throat or appoint a judge so progressive that they will rue the day they refused this good man even a hearing. Either way, the balance of the Court will begin to shift to the Left. And she will probably have two more appointments to make…maybe three.

The saddest thing about this entire episode is that it makes crystal clear why so many people, especially young people, are disenchanted with Washington and no longer believe that anyone there stands for principle, but only make decisions based on political calculations that will increase their power and influence and job security.

This drives those on the Left toward Bernie Sanders who is a man of complete integrity and principle (however unworkable his specific plans may be) and those on the Right toward, God help us, Donald Trump who, for some reason, appears to them to be a person who says exactly what he thinks and will do exactly as he pleases regardless of the political fallout (this, despite the fact that everything Trump does is to advance his own power, influence, and agendas as well.)

I do not hold the Democrats blameless in this state of affairs by any means. Although there are significant differences between the current Republican refusal to give Garland a hearing and speeches both the President and Vice President gave while young senators suggesting a similar reluctance to approve Supreme Court appointees by a president in the midst of an election season, in the common mind they represent the same “politics over principle” approach abhorred by so many today. And, the Democrats’ unwillingness to acknowledge this does not help matters.

Provided Secretary Clinton is elected President, the Republicans lose either way. Either they will consent to Merrick Garland’s nomination in a lame duck succession or give their consent to him (or someone even more progressive) in 2017.

Of course, in the unlikely event that Donald Trump gets elected, we will all have such great national catastrophes to face, that appointees to the Supreme Court will be the least of our worries!

 

Saving The Soul Of The GOP

March 16, 2016

When delegate rich, winner-take-all Ohio cast its votes for favorite son John Kasich, it may have given the Republican Party a chance to save its soul. While there is still a long way to go and Donald Trump has a commanding lead and while Ted Cruz is still ahead of Kasich in delegates, there are at least two paths to a possible upset.

First of all, Republican voters in the remaining states could recover their senses and reject both Trump and Cruz as disastrous, and even dangerous, choices for President of the United States. Or, more likely, these three finalists will roll into Cleveland to a contested Convention where more thoughtful and committed Republicans will give the nod to “the only grown-up in the room” on the second, third, or fourth ballot after a deadlocked first one.

John Kasich may only look like a moderate because of the frightening competition he has had to face in this election cycle. Certainly his record in Ohio is a mixed one from my point of view. But he is a decent human being, does seem genuinely to care about the poor and the marginalized, and has a proven record — especially when he was a Senator in Washington — of being able to reach across the aisle and make compromises for the common good.

A contest between Hillary Clinton and John Kasich would likely feature a real debate on substantive issues, free from the vile and vulgar campaigns we have seen on the GOP side this time around. Certainly, a clear choice would be provided for the American people between Democrat and Republican values and approaches to solving our nation’s problems.

Readers of this blog may be concerned about Kasich’s membership in the breakaway Anglican Church of North America, but my understanding is that he found The Episcopal Church, as a lapsed Roman Catholic, after the tragic death of his parents and simply followed the parish to which he was committed, and which had been such an important part of his healing, into the schismatic group when they decided to join it.

This does not mean that Kasich does not share the conservative values of ACNA. Only that he may not be some rabid fundamentalist but, like perhaps many in these breakaway groups, primarily loyal to the local parish church in which he was formed and not all that interested in our fractious Anglican global politics.

After all, he has enough of that in his own party!

 

 

In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being

March 14, 2016

Yesterday, driving through eastern Iowa for a Sunday morning supply gig, I heard a wonderful interview by Krista Tippet with Rabbi Lawrence Kushner on the NPR show, “On Being.”  The topic was Kabbalah and, in general, mysticism, particularly those forms coming out of the Jewish tradition.

Every exchange of the interview was fascinating being conducted as it was by a very knowledgeable Tippet and the gentle, humorous Kushner. I was particularly struck by one of the rabbi’s attempts to describe God and our relationship to God as understood by mystics of all stripes.

He said that Western religion has often seen God as in a picture with two circles. The first, very large, in the upper portion of the page; the second, much smaller, on the lower portion. God is, not surprisingly, represented by the larger circle and humankind by the smaller. So, Kushner said, God is outside of us and we are outside of God and we pray to God by sending our prayers “upward.”

What the mystical tradition of the East (and Western religions which have discovered it) says is that there are two circles alright. But, the smaller circle is found inside the larger so that we are inside of God and some of God is inside of us. Mystical experiences, which do not have to be dramatic flashes but are often simple, everyday occurrences, are those times when the line forming the smaller circle gets erased and we experience ourselves as we really always are — in God and God in us. What an amazing way to describe it!

Which, of course, reminds me of the prayer in our Daily Office based on Paul sermon in Acts at the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-29) “Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life, we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.

And so, there is no place where God is not.

 

Confession and Repentance

March 11, 2016

As I have written before, I am increasingly uncomfortable with how much time Christians spend — and not only in Lent — begging God for mercy as if we were (as one writer puts it) “an abused child before her abuser or a criminal standing before a hanging judge.” However, I do believe that we are sinners in need of confession and repentance.

We are sinners because all of us consistently fail to live up to the high calling to love which was woven into our very nature by the Creator. We turn out backs on God, we hurt one another, by our silence we are complicit in things done on our behalf which wound our sisters and brothers every day.

Confession simply means naming those sins. If we do not bring to consciousness the ways in which we have fallen short, it is unlikely that we will ever do any better. One of the ways in which sacramental confession (confessing our sins to God in the presence of a priest) is infinitely superior to private confession (in our own prayers) is that we actually have to say these things out loud, in the presence of another person. It is less likely that we will gloss over things by saying something like “You know what I have done wring. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

That will not likely lead to repentance which means “doing a 180,” actually turning around and going in a new direction. I really think that we are better off confessing our sins, not to God (even in the presence of a priest) but confessing them to the ones against whom we have actually sinned. “Please forgive me for what I said last night. I was wrong and I am sorry” goes a long way toward the reconciliation we all so desperately want. It’s harder than confessing them in the privacy of our prayer closets…but it is infinitely more effective.

So, this Lent, let’s spend less time beating our breasts and pleading for mercy to the One who, in any case, is the Source of all love and showers forgiveness upon us like the spring rains, and more time confessing our sins to one another…and actually doing something about it.

 

 

Gratitude for “The Fifth Beatle”

March 10, 2016

I wrote in this blog a while back that I had been listening to the Beatles’ boxed set on Spotify lately and enjoying the shuffle play effect, never knowing which era of their musical diversity I would be hearing next, but enjoying it all. With the death of “the fifth Beatle,” musical producer George Martin, this week at the age of 90 I am reminded that at least part of their genius was due to George.

As an Associated Press article put it, George Martin “turned the studio into a wonderland of tape loops, multi-tracking, unpredictable tempos, unfathomable segues and kaleidoscopic montages.” He lengthened and improved “From Me to You,” added the string quartet to “Yesterday,” keyboard and special tape effects to the wonderful “In My Life” sung by John Lennon, composed the orchestral score for “Strawberry Fields” on Sgt. Pepper as well as combining two unrelated songs to create “A Day in the Life” on that same album (the sad outer verses from Lennon, the happier inner two by Paul McCartney) and wove them together with an astonishing string score by Martin himself.

Some lamented the Beatles’ decision to retire from touring halfway through their career and work exclusively in the studio, producing amazing album and after amazing album. I never did. I think I knew, even then, that these four (or five) men were about transforming the rock music genre and that it would never be the same again. The focus they were able to give, in their last years together, to composition and musical experimentation required hours, weeks, and months in the studio and could never have been accomplished “on the road.”

I am grateful for what they did. And grateful to George Martin for improving it ever so much.

The Anti-Establishment Movements

March 9, 2016

I wonder why Republicans are surprised (and now, panicked) at the strong showing of Donald Trump in this year’s presidential primaries. It really is very much like Frankenstein’s monster, created wholly by their anti-government rhetoric over the last, really, decades.

The “anti establishment” movement represented by Trump on the “right” (if he really is right of center — who knows?) and Bernie Sanders on the “left” (and he is certainly left of center…way left!) may look somewhat the same to the casual observer. But they are very different.

Senator Sanders represents a long-suppressed socialism which has finally been given the light of day by the obscenely widening gap between rich and poor which opened up under the two Bush terms and has seen no sign of diminishing under President Obama, blocked as he has been at every turn by a Republican Congress wholly in the pocket of corporate America, big oil, and Wall Street. Sanders is clearly not anti-government! He is anti runaway capitalism. Indeed, he would increase the size of the federal government which he sees as a kind of “New Deal” protector of the little guy and gal.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump is the logical product of the “new” Republicanism which not only wants smaller government, but seems to despise the very idea of government itself. It eludes me how people who hate the U.S. government so much should wish to be elected to serve in it and indeed spend millions and millions of dollars running for the highest government office in the land.

Although a lifelong Democrat, I have nothing but respect for the kind of fiscally conservative, socially moderate, internationalist Republicanism I found when I moved to Iowa nearly thirty years ago. Former Republican governors like Robert Ray, Congressmen like Jim Leech, and state senators like Maggie Tinsman would not, and do not, even recognize the Republican party in their state today, high-jacked as it has been by right wing “evangelicals.”

Sadly, the Party has only itself to blame by setting the stage for Donald Trump in the first place and failing to mount a credible opposition to him early in this campaign. I would be shocked if he is not the Republican nominee selected to run against Hillary or Bernie.

But I don’t know who is actually more dangerous — Trump or Ted Cruz.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor…

March 8, 2016

The following is a “response” I got from the Iowa Governor’s office about why Terry Branstad will not allow us to accept Syrian refugees. And…my response to “them.”

March 8, 2016

Dear Christopher,
Thank you for contacting the Governor’s office and expressing your thoughts about Syrian refugees being placed in Iowa. Please accept my apology for the delay in our response.

Iowa has a long history of welcoming refugees to our state. However, in light of the recent acts of terrorism in Paris and San Bernardino, Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds have told the federal government that the State of Iowa is halting any work on Syrian refugee resettlements happening in the state. Governor Branstad’s priority is to ensure the safety of Iowans. In the past though, the federal government has failed to be forthcoming and transparent with information on refugee resettlement and immigration issues.

On January 6, 2016, Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds sent a letter to Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and John Kerry, the Secretary of State, urging them to improve the vetting and information-sharing processes for Syrian refugees that the federal government proposes to resettle in Iowa. The inability of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to proactively verify the identity and personal information of refugees or to detect deception adds to the risk that a prospective refugee is not actually a refugee.

As you probably know, Iowa has a long history of admitting refugees and we will continue our commitment to assisting refugees in relocating to the state of Iowa. This year it is expected that Iowa will welcome over 800 refugees from around the world. However, according to the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, the Islamic State has clearly threatened that it will use Syrian refugees to harm the United States. Until these threats are eliminated, or significantly reduced, the Governor has urged the Federal government to change the process of admitting Syrian refugees to our nation and the state of Iowa.

Again, thank you for contacting Governor Branstad’s office. If you have further questions or concerns, please contact us by calling 515-281-5211.

Sincerely,

Office of the Governor
Nic Pottebaum, Policy Advisor

 

Oh wonderful. An anonymous response from an anonymous Governor. Terry Brandstad is a heartless bureaucrat, so I suspect I should have expected nothing less. Syrian (and other) refugees are properly vetted for security before they enter our country, which is why we have had no terrorist incidents associated with them. I hope Terry doesn’t ever say he wants this to be a “Christian country.” Because he doesn’t.

C. Christopher Epting
VIII Bishop of Iowa (Ret.)