Archive for April, 2017

One Hundred Days Of “Accomplishments”

April 29, 2017

Even though Donald Trump has said repeatedly that the “100 days” marker is an artificial one and ridiculous to comment on (one of the few things he has said with which I actually agree!) he has nonetheless decided to commemorate it with a campaign style rally today. So, artificial or not, I guess that gives us permission to commemorate it as well.

The President has claimed that no chief executive in history has been able to accomplish as much as he has in the first 100 days. Certainly his volatile personality, Twitter fetish, and braggadocio have resulted in his receiving more press coverage than any of his predecessors. But does that equal actual accomplishment? I don’t think so.

From the time he falsely claimed that his inauguration was the largest in attendance of any one in history, Trump’s statements — mediated through, initially, the evil Kellyanne Conway (what ever happened to her, by the way?) and now the clownish Sean Spicer — have been laden with so-called “alternative facts.” No one in this country or world knows whether or not they can take Donald Trump at his word or whether he has any core beliefs whatsoever outside an all-consuming desire to line his pockets with more and more wealth.

He has successfully branded any media reports unflattering to himself as “fake news” and in so doing insulated himself from any revelations that might lessen support from his “true believers” base. It has become virtually impossible for the legitimate news media to do its job as watch dog on the powers that be since almost no one pays them serious attention anymore. Some of this, it must be said, is the media’s own fault for their slavish coverage of the Trump campaign (to the near exclusion of other candidates) from day one.

Accomplishments? Well, the travel/Muslim ban is hung up in the courts. The repeal-and-replace method of undoing Obamacare has been an embarrassment which shows no real signs of resuscitation at this point. After all, “nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” right?  The absurd claim of a “wire tap” by the previous administration on Trump Towers has now resulted in FBI and Congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in our election process and possible collaboration by the Trump campaign.

Our President is a laughingstock around the world as far as foreign policy is concerned. From his snub of Angela Merkel to his oft repeated promise to “build a wall and have Mexico pay for it” (how’s that working out for you, Donald?) to his back and forth position on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO is obsolete; NATO is not obsolete after all!), no one knows what to think about this new President. Including Canada which has now been threatened with some kind of trade war concerning lumber and dairy products.

A certain amount of unpredictability may indeed be successful in the short run (i.e. keeping North Korea off-balance with a good cop, bad cop approach), but over time our allies (and our enemies) must know that the leader of the free world will keep his word and that he has certain core beliefs which guide his actions and this country’s.

Is there nothing we can point to in these first hundred days that is positive? Well, firing Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor because of his Russian involvement was a good decision. But why was he hired in the first place? I believe the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is a plus overall because he seems to be a man of integrity. Surely, he will be a conservative vote for the next 30 years, but I do not believe he is a rubber stamp for anyone.

The recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the Russian investigations was appropriate given his huge role in the Trump campaign. But it is troubling that the first action taken by the new chief cop in our nation was to recuse himself from a major investigation! While most of Trump’s Cabinet are billionaires who have no experience whatsoever in their new spheres of influence, I do believe Nikki Haley has handled herself well at the United Nations and appears willing to stand up to Trump while still keeping his confidence.

The one positive thing about a non-ideological president is that he can, and does, change his mind when confronted with new information. His new embracing of NATO, willingness to work with China, the souring of his opinion of Syria’s Assad after the latest chemical weapons attack will be positive provided nothing happens which allows him to flip flop once again.

However, none of these “accomplishments” are enough to keep the Donald’s approval rating from being the lowest of any sitting president since such polls have been taken. It seems to be becoming clearer and clearer that the one thing Donald Trump is focused on like the proverbial laser is making huge profits for himself, his family, and their vast joint holdings. The skeletal proposal for tax cuts (not real tax reform) should make that clear.

The only thing that gives me hope for the next four years is the genius of the United States Constitution with its checks and balances on the three branches of government. Even with the Republican Party in control of the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court, there seem to be enough level heads to counter the narcissism, misogyny, and just plain ignorance of the man this country somehow elected to be President of the United States. At least so far.

One hundred days may indeed be an artificial marker for evaluating a new President. But let’s hope the next hundred…and the hundreds to follow that…will show improvements.


Disappointed in Barack

April 24, 2017

I will be very interested to see what Barack Obama has to say this week in his first post-presidential address at the University of Chicago. So far, I have not been impressed.

It’s not that I begrudge the Obamas taking a well-deserved vacation after eight grueling years in the White House. But it seems to me that he could have sent a better signal than jetting off from Washington for Palm Springs and then to the British Virgin Islands where he was seen kite-surfing with British billionaire Richard Branson. Oh yeah, and then the Obamas spent nearly a month in the French Polynesia on another yacht.

This is the same kind of disappointment I felt when learning that my former president was moving into a nine-bedroom mansion a few miles from the White House instead of returning to their relatively modest, but lovely, home on the South Side of Chicago.  After his speech to at-risk youth in the Windy City today, Barack will begin a series of handsomely paid speeches in a conversation with Doris Kearns Goodwin (which should actually be quite interesting — she is something else!) and then embarking on a speaking tour in Italy and at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Is Barack Obama really no different from every other politician?

I did not expect him to criticize openly Donald Trump in his first 100 days in the White House. The ” we only have one president at a time” philosophy is a time-honored one. Except when the Donald himself chose to violate it time and time again during the campaign. As Sarah Kovner a New York Democrat who raised more than a million bucks for Obama’s campaigns recently observed, “Why are we not hearing from him? We’ve got to hear from him. Democrats are desperate!”

Today’s speech in Chicago could be a time for the former president to begin to turn things around. Even without mounting a full assault on the Trump Administration, Obama could begin to send us a signal that his post-presidency will begin to take the shape of Jimmy Carter’s or even Bill Clinton’s (whose Foundation, despite all the criticism, has done enormous amounts of good around the world). Barack Obama could begin that trajectory today. Or…

Is Barack Obama  any really no different than any other politician?

Where’s Wyatt When We Need Him?

April 13, 2017

It says something about our times that I was not even surprised to find this headline in today’s Des Moines Register, “Iowa to become latest state to allow guns in its Capitol.” And so we will join 17 others states which allow such foolishness despite the head of Capitol security’s concern about “how guns will mix with heated debates and big crowds as lawmakers take up divisive issues.”

The NRA’s answer, “Iowa state lawmakers know it is hypocritical of them to allow carry elsewhere but to ban it in the Capitol building. In the halls where freedom is celebrated, freedoms should be exercised,”Catherine Mortensen, NRA spokeswoman proclaimed. I guess that might be fine if only the lawmakers were at risk of getting shot dead, but what about schoolchildren who regularly visit the Capitol? Does no one remember Sandy Hook?

Perhaps we should be comforted by the Republican lawmakers who supported the legislation who wisely point out that weapons holders could use them to stop someone intent on killing people. After all, “despite metal detectors, an armed intruder could get into the Capitol through other doors that don’t have security check points.” Oh.

I keep thinking back to Wyatt Earp and his brothers who did their best to bring law and order to the rough and ready frontier towns of Dodge City, Kansas and Tombstone Arizona in the decades following the Civil War. One of the first things they did was to require visitors to “check their weapons” at the first place they visited in town — the livery stable, the bars, the hotels.

They could pick them up on the way out of town but neither concealed carry nor open carry was permitted under the Earp “administrations.” Crime and certainly killing went down. And this in an era when virtually everyone was armed because of the wild territory they inhabited and lack of respect for the law, such as it was, by many. Nonetheless, they checked their guns in Dodge City.

Where’s Wyatt when we need him?

The Greatest Prayer

April 5, 2017

As I prayed the Lord’s Prayer this morning, I was reminded of how easy it can be to say it mindlessly because it is so familiar to us. In my tradition we say this prayer twice each day as part of our Morning and Evening Prayers and it is included in every Eucharist. Most other Christian traditions use the Our Father frequently as well.

I am also aware that the prayer is difficult for some because of its largely first-century world view and the dominant masculine and patriarchal imagery (“Father,” “Kingdom,” etc.). Allow me to share how I understand what generations of Christians including modern biblical scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan have called “The Greatest Prayer.”

First of all, when I say “Our Father” the emphasis is on the “our.” Alan Jones used to send his students at General Seminary out to ride on the New York subway and say the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father,” Alan would smile wryly, “surely not Their Father, God?” Yes, my friends, “father” of us all. And though the masculine image of parent should be supplemented in other prayers with more gender inclusive terms, no serious scholar debates that “Abba” was Jesus’ favorite way of referring to the God of Israel. It is at least one way to understand God.

This God “who art in heaven” surely does not only live above the clouds in the top story of a three-tiered universe. But just as surely God can be found in heaven…in the heavens. I see the Holy One in the beauty of a sunrise and in the orderly rotation of the planets around the sun, and in the dying and the birth of stars too far away even to imagine. That God is in the heavens as well as all around me and in the depths of my spirit.

“Hallowed by thy Name,” of course, refers to the holiness of the very name of God which the Hebrews believed had been revealed first to them. The Tetragrammaton (YHWH) of the Hebrew Bible is unpronounceable in the tradition but is perhaps best rendered “Yahweh” – I Am Who I Am or I Will Be Who I Will Be. Or, “Being” itself, “Existence.” For this is the essence of holiness. Holy is our very being.

I refuse to stop praying “Thy Kingdom Come” just because a monarchial system may be foreign to many today and not the best way to understand God anyway – as some kind of Middle Eastern potentate. But, as biblical scholars as different as Borg, Crossan, and N.T. Wright all remind us, to speak of the Kingdom of God really means God’s king-ship, sovereignty and reign. And it is another way of reminding ourselves that God is king and the principalities, powers, and rulers of this age are not. This has enormous implications for our mission as Christians.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we express our desire that that state of affairs, this commonwealth be established soon. And that it come into existence here on earth, in our societies just as it is wherever God is truly present. Our prayer is that the commonwealth of justice and peace which is God’s dream for this world be established in our communities just as firmly as the immutable laws of the universe in which this planet exists as a tiny speck.

Too many of our prayers are petitionary in nature, asking God to do this or that for us or for someone we care about. That can be a self-serving and egocentric thing. Yet surely it is appropriate to ask the Giver of all things to “give us this day our daily bread.” It’s a way of being grateful for the fact that everything we have, even bread enough for today, comes from the Creator of us all.

Now, I also believe that we spend way too much time, in my tradition, begging for God’s forgiveness (Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us) as though God has not already forgiven us because God is the essence of love and forgiveness itself. We don’t need to beg for it. But, if we truly believe that we stand forgiven because of the love and grace of God we see revealed in Jesus, then is it not right that we appropriate it, receive it into our consciousness. And, even more importantly, that we forgive others as we believe we have been forgiven?

“And lead us not into temptation” is the most problematic phrase in the prayer. We have no idea what was intended. We know that God does not lead anyone into temptation so that’s out! “Do not bring us to the test” or “Save us from the time of trial” may well be about as close as we can get to its original meaning and should remind us that, if we are faithful witnesses to the God of our salvation, we may well be called upon to suffer, even to face persecution or death. In that eventuality, we call upon God for strength and courage.

I am told that I have a “high doctrine” of original sin. That is probably true even though I do not believe it had much to do with the follies of Adam and Eve in the mythological Genesis story.  Whatever the cause (a “fall” from a primitive state of oneness with the creation we see in some indigenous communities still, or an “incompleteness” in this universe which is surely, but ever-so-slowly, evolving toward that perfection which will one day be)  evil is real and this world at least is full of it. From street violence in Chicago to grinding poverty is the two-thirds world to the nuclear ambitions of a madman in North Korea. I am not too proud to ask God to “deliver us from evil” such as that.

I’m glad at least one of the Evangelists and church tradition has included the doxology at the end of Jesus’ prayer whether or not it was original. I often slow my words and try to experience each concept as I pray “For Thine is the kingdom… and the Power…and the GLORY” forever and ever” This universe belongs to God. The power that holds it all together is the power we call love. And the beauty and majesty we can glimpse in the night sky or hear in the harmonies of a symphony show us something of the nature of the Holy One. And this Divine Being will remain forever and ever. To the ages of ages. World without end.

Amen…So be it.