Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Minor Musing About The Forgotten Words Of Christmas

I was having a good Christmas break. Both of the young'uns were home for the first time in six years. Sra. made Swedish Meatballs. I baked plachinda, made knephla, and fried up some country style sausage from Double R Meats in Carson, North Dakota. Like Agent Dale Cooper's coffee, that sausage is "damn fine."

The young'uns left this morning, but FedEx delivered my new Pixel 2, so I could distract myself and not feel too sad. Then I read Cory's response to Gordie Howie's rant, and I began to wonder why some of my fellow believers even bothered to say Merry Christmas.

The hope of Christmas begins with a command repeated in Luke 1 and Luke 2: "Fear not." Because the verb fear has no direct object, it's likely that believers are enjoined to "Fear not the leftists and moderates" or "Fear not the Islamists" or "Fear not the nonexistent Leftist Islamists." Lest one accuse me of being a "Leftist or moderate" grammarian," I'll point out that Matthew 10:28 enjoins believers to fear not those who kill the body but be afraid of those who threaten the soul. The subtext of Howie's rant indicates he doubts Leftists or moderates or anyone but Howie knows what a soul is, so there shouldn't be much to fear.

I'm sure I've made this point before, but it bears repeating. When Jesus first sent out the disciples, he told them to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Neither doves nor serpents bray fearful rants about Leftists or moderates or any other -ist. More importantly braying is not associated with either wisdom or innocence.

If there's a war on Christmas, it's a war on the tidings of joy to all people, a war that involves thinking of ourselves rather than glorifying God, and a war on the idea of peace on earth and good will toward men. It's a war that started because people who should know better forgot the injunction: "Fear not."

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Scripture And Song For The Week: Genesis 28 And Diana Krall Edition

10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 
11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. 
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 
13 And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 
14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 
15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. 
16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. 
17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. 
18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 
19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. 
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 
21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 
22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

A Minor Musing About Comforting The Troubled And Troubling The Comfortable

Recently, Pat Powers used the famous aphorism "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. As first written, the phrase originally described the duty of the newspapers. It has been called "the purpose of all gospel ministry." If memory serves, I first heard the injunction in the early 1980s when now state senator James Bolin told me that it was one the prime duties of an educator.

In 2017 America, the phrase seems more than a bit problematic because apparently everyone is afflicted. If one is unable to buy any gun he wishes, he is afflicted. If a college student is assigned a text written by a dead white male, she is afflicted. Everyone reading this post may be afflicted because the previous sentences contain examples of gender stereotypes.

At the societal level it's nearly impossible to find a group that has not been afflicted: old, young, poor, rich, male, female, trans, straight, gay, Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, Atheists, teetotalers, whiskey connoisseurs, immigrants, and descendants of those who sailed on the Mayflower all claim to be a mistreated and misunderstood community. With all of this affliction being endured, it's doubtful enough people are available to offer comfort.

If being afflicted has become an epidemic, the idea of troubling the comfortable has morphed. In the past it involved speaking truth to power. The practice has distorted into deliberately pissing off people whom one disagrees with just for the hell of it.

It takes neither genius nor prophet to understand the current situation poses two distinct problems. First, all the false claims of affliction cause us to lose sight of who is truly afflicted, and, therefore, who truly needs comfort. Second, angry people seeking to trouble those who are looking for reasons to feel afflicted will produce a violently widening gyre.

Lincoln urged Americans to appeal to the better angels of our nature. Theodore Roosevelt exhorted Americans to channel that energy to stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord. Our current political leadership lacks the vision and moral authority to do either. Even if that were not the case, too many people are too busy enjoying their imagined martyrdom to listen.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What About That One Time In 1972 When That One Guy Did Something I Didn't Like

The recent violence in Charlottesville and the responses and counter-responses have produced the worst public discussion I have witnessed since I was in middle school nearly fifty years ago.

My Twitter feed has been filled with suggestions, both serious and sardonic, that statues honoring any politician who had an affair be taken down because affairs offended that particular denizen of the Twitterverse. One tweet suggested demanded that Michelangelo's David be removed from public view because David was an an adulterer and murderer. In other words, "what about this one guy ....?"

The basic question in response to Charlottesville and the resulting demand to remove statues honoring Confederate leaders is simple: should those who rebelled against the United States of America in order to preserve the institution of racial slavery be honored?

Each state's articles of secession leave little room for doubt that slavery was the root cause for their voting to secede, so the idea that Southern states formed the Confederate States of America in order to protect states' rights is specious unless one wishes to affirm the existence of a state's right to keep slavery legal.

Some have argued that history will be erased as statues and monuments are removed. It's doubtful that the Civil War will disappear from an U.S. History books or that amateur and academic historians will stop writing about it. Those worried about students being unable to read in the future can still buy Ken Burns's excellent documentary.

The main arguments against removing the statues-- here the term "argument" is stretched to the point of being nearly unrecognizable--have been "what about this person's sin or transgression or moral failing or slave ownership or . . . "

When debate class starts in a few days, my young'uns will be taught that "what about" is a red herring. (I will stay away from the hot button issue of the day, but there are examples aplenty.) They will also be taught three responses. First, the "what about . . ." response doesn't answer the question under consideration. Second, the fact that two people committed the same act doesn't mean that both should be celebrated. Freshmen might simplify that to "two wrongs don't make a right." Third, "what about . . . " doesn't refute anything. In the current controversy, pointing out that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves doesn't assert that slavery is moral or that rebellion against the United States was justified. It's saying that both Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson committed the same moral crime, slavery. The assertion, however, doesn't show that Jefferson led soldiers into Pennsylvania to wage war on the United States of America.

In public debates, there is perhaps a more important response: how does the "what about ...." argument help solve the problem? I'm old enough to remember riots being common occurrences during the late 60s and early 70s. "What about . . ." arguments are tools that seem destined to return us to that era not solve the issues that divide the nation into angry racial, economic, and political factions.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

When Things Get Weird Nostalgia May Be The Only Cure: Stranger In A Strange Land

When a sitting president of the United States says the following:
"George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? ...Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down his statue, because he was a major slave owner. Now we're going to take down his statue. So you know what? It's fine. You're changing history, you're changing culture, and you had people — and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally — but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly."
I have no choice but to return to my youth and remember that I have always been a stranger in a strange land. When I was young, I just never anticipated the land would become so Kafkaesque.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Scripture And Song Of The Week: Numbers 13 and twenty one pilots edition

17 And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain: 
18 And see the land, what it is, and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; 
19 And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; 
20 And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes. 
21 So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath. 
22 And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 
23 And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs. 
24 The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence. 
25 And they returned from searching of the land after forty days. 
26 And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land. 
27 And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. 
28 Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. 
29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. 
30 And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. 
31 But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. 
32 And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. 
33 And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

Tone Deaf, Stupid, Or Deliberately Vile?

There's nothing like releasing a 2020 campaign ad labeling folks as enemies one day after after a day of violence.