Archive for November, 2016

Getting Ready

November 19, 2016

As anticipated and feared by many of us, President-elect Donald Trump’s initial, extremely important, early selections as advisers and Cabinet members do not build confidence in a more moderate Administration. Rather, it seems to be shaping up that he will govern pretty much as he campaigned. No real surprise, I suppose. He won.

But, after the mildly encouraging appointment of former GOP National Committee Chair Reince Preibus as Chief of Staff, Trump followed up with the scary selection of Steve Bannon of the right wing Breitbart News as a kind of co-adviser. Oh well, we might say, perhaps this will be a good-cop, bad-cop team which will present the President with all the options, leaving him free to make decisions considering both extremes available.

But this morning we awaken to the news of three more selections: Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General; Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA chief; and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser. One the one hand, this is entirely predictable as Trump values loyalty above all else (including competence) and these men were avid supporters from the get-go. They are also longtime Washington insiders. So much for “draining the swamp.”

More concerning is Jeff Sessions’ hard-line immigration views, Pompeo’s support of returning to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (including water-boarding), and Flynn’s view that Islam is not really a religion at all, but solely a “political ideology.” Given the Republican takeover of Congress there is little doubt that those of this number requiring Senate confirmation will receive it (even though Jeff Sessions was turned down by the Senate in 1986 for a federal judgeship because of his history of racist comments). Wonderful!

Even before the Advent warnings of “Get ready” and “Keep awake” begin sounding from our pulpits, it is now time for those of us who yearn for a more progressive, more compassionate, more inclusive country to gear up for the battles ahead. I continue to resist the temptation for us to be obstructionist for obstruction’s sake as Mitch McConnell and the Congressional Republicans were from day one of the Obama Administration. If we can find common ground on infrastructure development, less foreign interventionism working for regime change, moving toward a balanced budget, and improving our broken health care (and health insurance) system, I’m all for it.

But we must be hyper-vigilant for assaults on individual liberty, human dignity, civil rights (including women’s rights, minority rights, LGBT rights, workers’ rights) and so many other areas. Specifically, I plan to re-up my membership in, and support of, groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (which has been as prescient on these developments as any group of which I am aware), Citizens for Community Improvement here in Iowa (which has a long record of fighting against the erosion of environmental standards in this agricultural state).

In addition, virtually every community now has an interfaith organization of some kind which can be relied upon to stand in solidarity on the local with Muslims and others who feel the tide of fear rising in their hearts with every Trump appointee so far. Episcopal Migration Ministries will monitor carefully any efforts at mass deportation of immigrants and the Catholic Church on the ground almost everywhere will be an ally in this effort.

We can hope for more balance in the days ahead as President-elect Trump rounds out his Cabinet and senior leadership team. But we must also be prepared. We must Keep Awake.

It’s time to get ready.


Saint James Warns Trump and Bannon

November 15, 2016

“If we put put bits in the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies.  Or look at ships: though they are so large that it take strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.”

“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire.  The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body…no one can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the image of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”

“My brothers, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:3-6a, 8-10 from the today’s Daily Lectionary Reading)

Let those with ears to hear, listen!

The saddest thing…

November 14, 2016

…about this election is, of course, the continuing division and vitriol being manifested — at least right now — not by the President-elect, but by “the people” of this land. On the one hand we have seen reports of hate speech and the defacing of churches and other institutions with racial slurs and the proclaiming of “Trump Country.” On the other hand we see protests (some violent, some not) which seem not to be directed at any actual actions taken by the new Administrations, but on what actions might be taken.

To his credit, Donald Trump has asked the racists and the hate-mongers to “stop it.” And, of course, the anti-Trump protesters say that they are merely putting Trump on notice that they will be vigilant should he try and enact some of this more outrageous campaign promises. I suppose this division in our ranks might have been just as evident had Hillary Clinton and the Democrats prevailed, but those on the extreme Right had become accustomed to being on the “wrong” side of the political fence over the last eight years. Now, they seem newly emboldened. Predicable, I guess.

But can we not at least seek to find common ground in these early days? Two recent experiences I have had show how difficult this is. When students from the University of Iowa staged a peaceful protest and blocked traffic for a while even on the busy east-west Interstate 80 across the middle of Iowa, I posted on Facebook a picture with the caption “The Peoples’ Republic of Iowa City Strikes Again!” This, using the affectionate handle often applied in this state to the left-leaning state university.

I was immediately accused of supporting the kind of divisive actions Trump himself might have encouraged and which I would have repudiated. I was accused of being insensitive to those inconvenienced by having to sit in blocked traffic for less than an hour. “What if someone died, trying to be taken to the hospital because they couldn’t move through the traffic jam?’ several said. Fair enough. But then, I had not stated that I supported such behavior. I merely posted that the event happened.

And, in another Facebook thread when I in fact questioned the appropriateness and the wisdom of signs like “Not My President” and of mounting protests, not against specific transgressions, but about the fear of same, I was vilified by a former colleague for being “coy” about the danger of a Trump administration and of not being faithful in my Christian witness because I seemed to be calling for a “wait and see” attitude at least in the initial days and weeks of the new Administration.

This kind of intolerance and failure to listen deeply and carefully to “the other side” does not bode well for these next four years. I am as concerned and vigilant as anyone I know about the dangers of a Donald Trump in the White House. But, given the fact that the GOP — because of Donald Trump — heard a voice out there in rural, and not so rural, America and therefore controls (or will soon control) all three branches of the federal government and a vast majority of the state houses, we had better be as “wise and serpents and innocent as doves” as we, on the progressive side of US politics, begin to move forward.

Let’s take a deep breath, dear friends. And be strategic in our response…


Faith After The Election

November 11, 2016

Let me add a few thoughts to those of many of my colleagues on the role of our faith following the volatile presidential election cycle through which we have just lived. Like most Americans, Christians were and are deeply divided in the way we voted and in our reaction to the outcome.

Many liberal Catholics and Protestants supported the more progressive policies of the Democratic Party and its standard bearer, lifelong Methodist Hillary Clinton. Many conservative Catholics and Protestants supported the “change candidate,” Donald Trump perhaps especially because of his promise to appoint strict constructionists like Justice Scalia to the Supreme Court, assuring a halt to the perceived leftward drift of the Court in recent years.

There has never been only one way for committed Christians to vote. It is possible to “agree to disagree” precisely because the issues are so complex and much depends on how one prioritizes the most important ones we face. Is it more important to reverse Roe v. Wade or assure universal health care for all people? Is it more important to combat global warming and the negative effects of climate change or grow the economy to provide jobs for everyone who wants to work? We will have to “agree to disagree.”

One thing we can agree on is this: while it is important, as Christians, to work for a better world which more closely resembles the Kingdom of God, governments — no matter how dedicated and effective — will never usher in that Kingdom, that Commonwealth, that Reign of God. Only God can do that. (While I am sensitive to the patriarchal ring of the phrase Kingdom of God and often use the alternative ways of referring to it, I can’t get away from the deeply biblical use of “Kingdom” and am helped by biblical scholars from John Dominic Crossan to N.T. Wright who continue to remind us that — for Jesus — God is King…and Caesar is not!)

In my tradition, the way we are to live has not changed because of an election. The vows we took at our Baptism and/or Confirmation have not changed. And they are these:

  1. We are to continue to put our trust in the one God we have experienced in Jesus as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  2. We are to be obedient to the teaching of the apostolic church as we have received it in our tradition, particularly by our commitment to the community, to its sacramental life, and to prayer.
  3. We are to (non-violently) fight against evil as we perceive it and, when we fall short of the mark ourselves, ask for forgiveness.
  4. We are to be bold in sharing with others our experience of the loving God we see revealed in Jesus.
  5. We are to look for the image of God in every person, no matter how different they may be from us in background or ideology, and to love that image.
  6. We are to treat other people as we believe God would treat them and strive for the peace which will prevail if we respect one another’s inherent dignity, if we do unto them as we would have them do unto us. (See the Baptismal Covenant, Book of Common Prayer, pages 304-305)

As an example, we will have to be as critical of the Trump Administration’s likely punitive policies on undocumented immigrants as many of us were of the Obama Administration’s immoral use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists who had never been convicted in a court of law. You will be able to think of many more examples. A guiding prayer for us all might be this one for “The Human Family:”

O God, you have made us in your image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP, page 815)

What Do We Do Now?

November 9, 2016

Our worst nightmare has come true. Not everyone’s worst nightmare, of course, but my family’s and so many of my friends’ and colleagues’. A man who by almost any standards has proved himself to be a racist, misogynist, drastically uninformed bully is now President-elect of the United States. How did this happen?

According to the pundits (who have been wrong on almost every count since day one), Trump tapped into the anger and angst of white working-class men and women who fall “below the line.” That is, those who have been largely bypassed by the slow but steady economic recovery and who blame the “elite” from Washington to Wall Street who are more concerned about political correctness than they are about “making America great again.”

There is some truth to that analysis and I can even understand (if not sympathize with) those sentiments. But I have been amazed at the cowardice of those same pundits and mainstream media commentators who have failed, so far, to name an even more troubling reality. Twin driving forces behind the surging Donald Trump campaign have been racism and sexism. Apparently, a majority of people in this country were horrified to find themselves led by our first African-American President and unprepared to secure his legacy by electing our first woman as President.

Promising from day one to oppose anything Barack Obama proposed and perpetrating lies about the honesty and integrity of a future Hillary Clinton presidency, the opposition frightened enough people to give Donald Trump a decisive victory across much of the country. The  same nativism and fear which led to Brexit, the new British Prime Minister, and potentially new leaders in France and across Europe is, we have discovered, hugely present in this country as well. We have elected Donald Trump.

So, what do we do now? First of all, we need to reassure ourselves and our loved ones that we will get through this. We survived Nixon, Reagan, George W. Bush and worse. We will survive Donald Trump. Many will be hurt, I fear, and some of the most vulnerable among us will suffer most. So, secondly, we need to redouble our efforts to stand in solidarity with the poor and marginalized and to be a voice for those this new administration will undoubtedly try to silence.

But our opposition needs to be a loyal opposition. Not loyal to policies and perspective we find, dare I say it, deplorable. But loyal to our country and to the political processes which have stood the test of time and produced one of the greatest nations on earth and a democracy which, while far from perfect, is to be preferred over many of the alternatives. We need to trust in the fact that the same checks-and-balances-system which can be so maddeningly slow when we seek progressive change can also protect us from the folly of people like Donald Trump and the possibly-frightening advisers with which he will likely surround himself.

We do not want to be obstructionist for the sake of being obstructionist (like the GOP has been over the last eight years) but we need to work to restrain foolhardy goals like walls between countries and mass deportation of immigrants and children of immigrants. And, we should be prepared to find common ground when possible on, perhaps, saving Social Security, balancing the budget, and finding ways to fix our broken health care system.

For many of us, our worst nightmare has come true. But, it is morning. And nightmares lose some of their horror in the light of day.

For Our Country

November 8, 2016

As voting starts on this Election Day, I pray that “…we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride, arrogance, and from every evil way.

Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought here out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth.

In the time of our prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 


(Book of Common Prayer, page 820, “For Our Country”)

The Illogical Logic of the Kingdom of God

November 6, 2016

Today is All Saints’ Sunday. That’s the Sunday following All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day; the first, celebrating the great Saints of the Church on Nov. 1 and the second on Nov. 2 celebrating those lesser saints like you and me who are saints in the N.T. sense…saints, because we are baptized members of the Church of Jesus Christ! And the Gospel reading for this day is always the Beatitudes  (Luke 6:20-31), those beautiful “blesseds.” Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who are hungry, blessed are those who weep,” and all the rest.

Episcopal clergy normally don’t title their sermons like our Protestant brothers and sisters, but if I had to title this one it would be “The Illogical Logic of the Kingdom of God.” The Illogical Logic of the Kingdom of God! Because, when you first look at them, the Beatitudes are downright illogical! How are the poor blessed? How are the hungry blessed? How are those who are weeping blessed? How are those who are hated and excluded blessed? That’s illogical!

At least it would be illogical if Jesus was talking about the present. Today the poor and the hungry and the grieving are not blessed at all. But Jesus is not talking about the present. He’s talking about the future. He’s talking about a Day when God will finally intervene and set things right again – once and for all. ON THAT DAY, Jesus is saying, the poor will be blessed. On that day, the hungry will be blessed, and on that day, the weeping will be blessed.

(And, by the way, on that day, he says, the rich will be poor, the fat cats will be hungry, and those who are laughing at the rest of us now, will “mourn and weep!”) Now, that may sound illogical, dear friends, but I submit to you that the Gospel today tells us that it is the illogical Logic of the Kingdom of God! When the Kingdom of God finally comes in its fullness, what seems illogical now will be the logic that saves us all!

So that’s our hope for the future. But what are we to do until then? What are we to do right now? Well, according to Jesus, we are to live our lives as though that Kingdom has already dawned. Because it has. It’s not here in its fullness yet, but because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is within us and we are to begin to live the ethics of the Kingdom:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” The illogical logic of the Kingdom of God!

Well, that’s just impossible, you might say! How are we to live like this in today’s world? Jesus answers us in one sentence. “Do to others as you would have them do to you!” That is, of course, The Golden Rule and it appears in one form or another in every major religion in the world. Because that is so, the great Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung has called it “A Global Ethic.”

In Judaism it reads: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.” (Talmud).  In Christianity, “Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke). In Islam, “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” (#13 of 40 Hadiths). In Buddhism, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” (Varga 5:18). And in Hinduism “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata 5:1517).

It’s almost as if God has written this Golden Rule deep in the human heart, across cultures and religions and across the centuries! If we just lived like this, the Kingdom of God really would be evident. The poor would be blessed and so would the hungry and the mourners! We would begin to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. We would be able to bless those who once cursed us, and pray for those who were formerly our abusers!

So, on this All Saints’ Sunday, there’s a sense in which we have to wait for the promises of the Beatitudes to come true. Wait for that Day when things will be set right again.

But there’s another sense in which we can begin to live those Beatitudes right here and right now. We can love our enemies. We can do good to those who hate us. We can bless those who curse us. And pray for those who abuse us.

We can begin all this by “doing unto others as we would have them do unto us!”