Tag Archives: politics

A Pastoral Letter on Political Decisions

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One of Martin Luther’s most famous phrases is the odd one “Sin Boldly”. Of course it is usually used prior to doing something really stupid or clearly sinful. As college kids we often used it on Friday around 4 PM just before heading out for the night. That is one of the more harmless places, but what it is often used for is to justify some action you want to do but know is wrong. One could imagine saying “sin boldly” before lighting a Molotov Cocktail as part of a “protest”. After all, nothing is going to change if we don’t do something in the fierce urgency of now. One could also imagine saying “sin boldly” before starting a rumor about one’s opponent. The problem is that is not really what Luther was talking about. What that phrase captures is our bound and fallen nature. In this world we really don’t make choices between good and evil. If we did, ethics would be easy. Rather most of the time our choices are given to us with little ability to influence them. And, most of the time those choices are both compromised. Ethics is not about good and evil but about bad and less bad. And the reason we argue over it is we often come to different conclusions what is less bad. Sin Boldly as a phrase meant choose less bad to the best of your ability, and more importantly rely ever more on the sufficient grace of Christ. He is the one who in this world turns less bad into good for his people. He is the one who one day will make less bad untrue.

There are multiple biblical stories that I ponder in these regards, but I keep returning to one specific place, Genesis 21:8-21. I’d suggest going and reading the story. It is Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael and Hagar. Sarah, impatient and untrusting of God’s plan, had given Abraham her slave, Hagar, to have a child with. She would fulfill by her efforts what God so clearly wasn’t. That child was Ishmael. And as these things go, you can imagine that Abraham would become attached to the child and to the mother. Sarah, perceiving this had immediately sought to have mother and child banished, and Abraham gives in. But The Angel of the Lord finds Hagar and the baby and restores them to Abraham and Sarah. In another of its great ellipses, the bible doesn’t explain how. Fast forward a few years and Sarah has Isaac. And this time, more insistent, she tells Abraham “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”

The entire scene is caused by the failure, the sin, of not trusting the promise of God – “I will give you an heir”. The entire scene is the full born fruit of that sin. There is no good choice. The choices are cast Hagar and young Ishmael out into the wilderness alone most likely to starve or to die of thirst, hunger and exposure, or keep her and the son and deal with the daily problems of the heir and his mother, and the first born and his mother. The vast majority of our choices are like this one – the fruits of past sin. We might be forgiven for that sin, but in this world we live with its results. And in Abraham’s case it really is binary – choose, you first born or your heir. The bible in its typical understatement says, “the thing was very displeasing to Abraham.” No kidding.

What do we do in such a situation? Such situations often lead to paralysis and breakdown. In attempts to find third ways, we compound sin by avoidance or grumbling. I bet Abraham decided to spend some time with the herds for a couple of days. The camp was probably walking on eggshells. But in this case God comes down to Abraham and tells him, “Whatever Sarah says, do it. And don’t be worried about Ishmael, I will prosper him.” This prospering of Ishmael will be a thorn in the side of Israel forever. Today’s Arabs claim biblical descent as the first born of Abraham. Some of the consequences of sin are long lasting. But God tells Abraham make the choice. Sin boldly, and trust on the grace of God to bring out good. In this case, Joseph’s brothers would sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites who would take Joseph to Egypt where he would eventually save Israel from the famine. A further good would be Ruth, the Moabite, part of Ishmael, who would become a grand-mother of Jesus.

I’m talking these things because I think we have found ourselves with such a choice in November. Whatever the merits of Trumpism, Mr. Trump himself does not appear to be fit for such high office. But likewise the other major party has nominated someone who if her last name wasn’t Clinton and she were not running for President would be in an orange jump suit right now. FBI director Comey found fit to put Martha Stewart in one for much less than exposing the nations secrets for personal whim. None of which gets into the international grift of the Clinton Global Initiative. Due to the sins of the primaries, and the sins of past years, we find ourselves with such a choice – a felon and a man who describes his personal Vietnam as dodging venereal disease in the 1970’s and who has never asked God for forgiveness while proclaiming himself a Christian.

What does a citizen do in such a case? And what can we expect? Ted Cruz said “vote your conscience”. It’s a cute line and he earned it. When someone unleashes conspiracy theories against your dad, I would imagine your conscience would say words I can’t write here. But it begs the question, what is a properly formed conscience in such a case for a citizen, especially for one not directly slandered? One option, which the Amish normally take, is simply not to vote. The citizen does not have to take part. But, if you are like me, this feels like a cop out because I am not Amish. The Amish see politics as necessarily defiling oneself with the world. That has never been the majority report of Christianity which has normally held that God is sovereign in the political kingdom (the kingdom of left) just as much as in the gospel kingdom (the kingdom of the right). When he sits at the right hand of God it is not over some truncated Kingdom. The biggest difference being that the kingdom of the left is exercised through crooked us, while the right is simply the declaration “your sins are forgiven” in the many ways that Christ has instituted that to be said. There are many voices – both former Sander’s supporters and supporters of people like Ted Cruz – that sound very Amish. Voting for either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump would sully their morals. Such a conscience to me seems malformed in a hyper-moral way applied to the wrong place. If you want to see saints, you go out to the desert, you don’t go to where people wear the soft clothes and $5000 suits.

So, what does a citizen do? Sin boldly. Choose which ever candidate seems least bad. And trust in the grace of God to work for his people. That doesn’t mean I don’t think either choice is going to lead to good things immediately. Abraham’s choice lead to 400 years of slavery in Egypt. It was roughly a millennium until Ruth met Boaz. I have a sense of foreboding that long after I am gone, my grand-children will be living with the results of this election, the results of picking two such uniquely unqualified people for such an office. But then the Christian’s call is not to think about preserving one’s holiness because we have none. The Christian’s call is to consecrate the fast and call the solemn assembly. Cry out to the Lord. Who knows, after it is past, he might relent and leave a blessing behind. Our salvation comes not from the Princes we elect for a mere four years, but from Christ who reigns forever, and ever. Amen.

Election Day – One Note

I want to first state an analogy.  People rarely die from AIDS.  That is not meant as an inflammatory statement, but the simple acknowledgement that what AIDS does is kill the immune system.  When the immune system is lowered, all kinds of ugly diseases come forward, and we are really fragile creatures.  The word analogy – Secondary disease:AIDS::Casinos:Local Economies – what the secondary diseases are to AIDS, casinos are to local economies.  When a local economy is already diseased and weakened, along come the Casinos to finish the job.

Here is Ross Douthat with a quotation about the fundamental nature and outcomes for places that gain Casinos:

This is clearer in the case of casinos, whose consequences for the common good are straightforwardly disastrous. As the Institute for American Values report points out, the alliance of state governments and gambling interests is essentially exploitative, and the tax revenue casinos supply comes at the expense of long-term social welfare. Casinos tend to lower property values and weaken social capital in the places where they’re planted, they’re more likely to extract dollars from distressed communities than to spur economic development, and their presence is a disaster for the reckless and the addiction-prone.

Casinos are not about the economy and growth. They are about exploitation and impoverishment. A Christian who has it within their power to stop such or prevent them should. The voters are the immune system of the body politic.

And that is what you, the voters of New York, are on Tuesday, November 5th. On the ballot is proposal #1 to amend the constitution. That link is the full text of the proposed change. The abstract from the board of elections says this

Proposal One – Authorizing Casino Gaming

Abstract: The purpose of the proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution is to allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate up to seven casinos for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.

You are a fool if you think the reasons are as stated. You have the ability to vote no on this amendment. And that is what you should do. If you want to gamble, go to Atlantic City or start your own small stakes poker game at home. The problem isn’t gambling on such a scale, it is the institutional crony corruption that casinos and politician bring preying on your community. The responsible vote is no on proposal #1.

The Sorting Hat

Hogwarts crestHarry Potter explains it all. Ok, maybe not everything, but Harry Potter is on continuous loop around the parson’s house. And, sadly, having read the Sorcerer’s Stone about as many times as my namesake gospel, you start to get a feel for the deep reasons why. Ms. Rowling tapped into a simple but nuanced way to understand the universe. Returning to the books is like returning to the catechism. You find again all the simple truth of why you feel, think or believe what you do. This might strike a note of foreboding for a people with a catechism already, but I’m not sure that panic is in order. First because much of the explanatory power is not really metaphysical or religious in nature. Second, because the magic really comes in two forms, comic relief and tragic. Magic is either funny and easily seen as the outcome of a world with a crack running through it, or it is the cause of that crack. The things that win in the end are available to wizard and muggle alike, namely love, especially in its self-sacrificial form. (And if you can’t follow that Christ haunting, well, can’t do anything for you.)

We like to divide things into binaries – good and evil, republican and democrat, law and gospel. As much explanatory power as binaries often have, they usually reduce the world too much. That is when we sometimes admit things in threes like: the good, the bad and the ugly or like kings, priests and labor or every presentation list ever (like this one!). That uber-three the Trinity stands as ground for threes, but using three to define the earthly things isn’t very biblical. JK decides to divide the world of people into 4 corners: Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Slytherin. And this has incredible power.

Ravenclaw gets short-shift in the books. I can’t remember any except Harry’s comic relief first girlfriend. Ms. Rowling must not have run across this type much, but she knows they exist, and the group is recognizable. You could say egg-heads, but it is deeper than that. If your first commitment in to THE TRUTH then you are a Ravenclaw. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint of Ravenclaw. Ravenclaw has a negative image in Slytherin. For Slytherin the only important thing is ideology. In the books the ideology is purity of wizard blood, but that is really just a prop. The real ideology is POWER. Why I say this is a negative image of Ravenclaw is because THE TRUTH is an ideology as well. You don’t know if you are a Ravenclaw or a Slytherin until THE TRUTH causes you to lose POWER. Constantine would be the icon of Slytherin. Hufflepuff is really just the great mass of people who muddle through. Sometimes we produce great muddlers (aka Cedric Diggory), but mostly Hufflepuffs just go along. This might be a stretch, but Augustine is a Hufflepuff. Yes, the world is falling to pieces around me, my mother won’t stop bugging me, the people want me to be bishop, how do you get through? You muddle through the city of man on the way to the City of God. The last house, Gryffindor, is somewhat tougher, partly because JK stuffs all her real characters here. She fairly obviously has a moral point to make, we should all emulate Gryffindor, but what do we emulate. Hermione would seem to be a Ravenclaw. Harry himself comes awfully close to Slytherin. And Ron is a born Hufflepuff. What makes them Gryffindors? Ultimately it is the cultivation of a virtue – courage. That Ravenclaw Aquinas would list it uniquely among the cardinal virtues because while the other virtues restrain our human nature, it takes courage to begin to modify it. The sanctified life requires courage. Interestingly Aquinas is the official patron saint of courage (all those Ravenclaws who write get all the good spots), but Thomas More might be a good one. And if you are Protestant (and Lutheran) I might suggest Luther especially approaching Reformation Day.

And I’d suggest that is a deep way of understanding people. All four, even Slytherin, have noble attributes. (And if you think I’m wrong about that, think about how much we owe to people who correctly pursue and use power. There is a case to be made that General Washington (with aide-de-camp Hamilton) would be a Slytherin to Jefferson’s Ravenclaw. I’ll take that Slytherin any day.) And I’m not sure it really leaves anyone out. Yes there is a catch-all group, but that seems like life. If you are a 10 year old reading Harry, that 4-up way of looking at people might strike me a putting the best construction on everyone.

So why am I thinking about Harry Potter instead of my namesake gospel? Well, it struck me that the 4 corners view does more justice to our political situation, and it helps to understand that we’ve come under the unfortunate sway of a bunch of Slytherins. I say that of both parties because it is pretty clear that the guiding ideology is power. When you have the hubris to take over 1/6th of the economy, that takeover throws many people out of their current insurance arrangements, and your replacement breaks everything you promised, this is not about Truth or Courage or Muddling Through. This is about power. Likewise when you are willing to shutdown the government basically because you can, this is about power. Under R’s and under D’s the federal system sucks in more power. That is Slytherin, and George Washingtons seem to be in short supply. Regardless of your party, the better questions to ask would be those that might expose a devotion to power alone. I’d rather be ruled by the first 300 Hufflepuffs than the best and brightest Slytherins.

Hmm, Correlation or Causation?…and why I care

From the WSJ

But the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that, in 2010, the year ObamaCare passed, full-time employment grew at an average monthly rate of 114,000 while part-time employment dropped an average of 6,000 a month. So far this year, as ObamaCare is being implemented, full-time employment has grown at an average monthly rate of 21,700 while part-time employment has increased an average of 93,000 a month.

Now one can fairly ask why a church website would point something like this out. It could be: 1) I’m just a religious right nutjob that has confused the GOP for the gospel, 2) I hate poor people and don’t understand the prophetic call to the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the alien in our midst, 3) I’m a religious masochist pining for the days when nobody had healthcare and we all faced death and babies without any caring professions help because suffering focuses the mind on things eternal. Or, it could be none of those things (hint, hint).

Let me explain.
1) Occam’s razor. There is a place for the federal government. That place is according to the preamble (half sung to the Schoolhouse rock tune in my gen-x head) is: “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty”. The government’s purpose is to rule fairly applying the same law to the poor and the great (Leviticus 19:15). The government provides the framework that citizens agree to live within. And for a nation of 300 million of various peoples, languages, tribes and nations, that framework should be remarkably simple. Otherwise you get into the position where we are now that rent seeking (gaming rules and loopholes) is more profitable than actually working. The quote above highlights the reaction of businesses logically gaming a complex system, and it will get worse.

2) The law (not this specific law but the law in general) has three uses: civil or curb, moral or mirror and spiritual or rule(r). None of those purposes is salvation. When the preamble says establish justice or promote the general welfare or ensure the blessings of liberty it is poetically talking about placing a legal curb. You can jump the curb if you insist, but only heartbreak lies beyond it. The story that the American founders understood is that the curb is best placed at a minimum level allowing the maximum amount of liberty. Calvin’s Geneva and every established religion has attempted to use the government as a teaching tool erecting mirrors to show sin and often enforcing the rule(r) which is only available to those who have the Holy Spirit. That is a mistake of the tool. That is attempting to use an instrument of law (government) as an instrument of the gospel. At least Calvin and company had the correct gospel. Today we are attempting to enforce a material salvation/a material gospel through tools of the law. That can’t help but come to grief.

3) One of the greatest blessings of the modern world had been the full-time 40 hour work week. The teacher in Ecclesiastes, in the midst of all the vanity, recognizes the gift of work. “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24) He echoes it three times: Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 and Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 being the other two. There is an old german phrase: kinder, kuche, kirche – kids, kitchen, church. The 40 hour week had secured a balance for those most important things, Ecclesiastes’ eat, drink, toil and blessing from God. All of our misuse of the law making it easier to game the system than actually work has killed that gift. This law will enshrine a divide amongst our people that will teach a bad lesson. Notice that the teacher doesn’t distinguish work from work. Work, what is given, is a gift. The law as constructed will teach that there is good work, that which will hire you full time, and bad work, that which will only hire you for 20 hours. It will teach contrary to the truth and move the very people it wants to protect (the poor) away from the blessings of labor.

So in summary: This law increases our biggest problem that the incentives to gaming the system are currently greater than the incentives to work, especially for the smart and already rich. Going to Washington and lobbying is more profitable than producing a new product or service. This law confuses the proper role of the government creating a confusion of law and gospel. This law hurts the very people it is suppose to serve and puts us on a path to teaching very dangerous lies.

Now to hit the other side, the formal GOP has not proposed a real alternative. It should. It is possible to do this simply and with an eye to those currently excluded. Here is Dr. Ben Carson, Johns Hopkins Brain Surgeon, from earlier this year giving the outline in about 2 minutes.

Public Morals and The People We Are

Melanchthon, quoting Erasmus, at Luther’s funeral – God has sent in this latter age a violent physician on account of the magnitude of the existing disorders…

So many of the conversations that I have seem to center around “the magnitude of the existing disorders”. Many people realize “that ain’t right”. But there is an unwillingness, or an inability to say so publicly. And there is no willingness to bear the cost of correcting it. A big part of the disorders are a huge misunderstanding between the correct and necessary application of grace to the private person, and the public rightness of insisting upon the law (i.e. public morals).

The presenting case is one Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who “went walking the Appalachian Trail” and came back with his South American “soulmate”. Roughly three years later, the same Mark Sanford, presents himself as a candidate for the US House of Representatives. This presents us with a pickle. The Christian religion instructs us to forgive. The former Governor has repented, has married his “soulmate” and presented his candidacy as a request for forgiveness. This is a terrible mash-up of public and private. The former Governor from the outside appears to have done everything necessary to receive absolution, privately. He is perfectly able to walk in grace in private life. As 1 Thessalonians would say, “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs (1 Thessalonians 4:11).” There is a big bridge between that quiet private life, and a public one. When you present yourself for public office there is a much different standard. It is not exactly the same thing, but a good place to look for a public standard might be what St. Paul requires of ministers otherwise know as the office of public ministry. Let’s take a look at 1 Timothy 3:1-13.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

The only changes that I might make to such a list for public office in a pluralistic state would be when Paul speaks of “holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” I might substitute something like support the constitution with a clear conscience. That would exclude any revolutionary candidate whose true purpose would be to subvert public order. Otherwise, that list for overseers and deacons (aka bishops/pastors and elders) would serve as a good list of requirements for secular (or temporal) public office. It is not a list marked by strict holiness, but a smart practical list of traits in one who governs. As St. Paul says, to desire public office is no shame but is in fact noble. But, there is no requirement to grant public office. And there is no shame in a quiet private life. To desire the noble public task there are certain requirements – like one wife, not prone to fall into disgrace, faithful in all things. If you don’t meet this, thank you for your desire, but you don’t meet the first requirements.

We can forgive former governor Sanford. We can find like Jonah Goldberg “something quaint” about his scandal. Compared to pressing young interns and sending pictures of your crotch, going walking with an age appropriate soulmate almost sounds sweet. We can also say, such actions disqualify you from public office. In fact Christians should say such things. The appropriate time to have done so for the ministers of South Carolina was during the primaries so that the sword of Damocles didn’t hang over the voters head, where you could vote for someone who would vote for what you like but who is himself unqualified for office, or vote for the person taking you in the wrong direction but meets more fundamental qualifications. Yes, I know that makes us judgmental. You know what, good. The mature should “have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 6:14).” Until we are able to do so, the magnitude of the existing disorders will only increase. If you give an inch, the devil takes a mile.

And what this ultimately does is discredit what we believe in most dear – the gospel. (Douthat gets it.) You cannot come to the gospel without hearing the law. The law is both our tutor in our need for the gospel, and our guide to living the God fearing life. Our problem today is not the same as in Luther’s. Our problem is not that we are beset by a lot of holy-made-up-work crushing our souls. Our problem today is cheap grace. Our problem today is not hearing that the life of a Christian is one of daily drowning and arising. We can’t sacrifice a house seat for a few months, so we live with someone not fit for office. We can’t pick-up our cross or deal with life in community (i.e. the church) so we walk out and go “spiritual”. If the magnitude of the disorders are so great, pray for a violent doctor, because the other option is a disappearance beneath the waves. On this Ascension Day, it is the Lord who raises up and who dispatches. Our time on the stage might be drawing to a close. Just like all those other empires of history.

Have Some Respect for Yourself

I’m not naive about such things, but ask yourself – can you see George Washington, Abe Lincoln or Calvin Coolidge getting rewarded like this reported by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post (no GOP hack source there)…

Lew, who was White House chief of staff while Obama’s campaign was pummeling Romney over his pay and taxes, received a $945,000 bonus in January 2009 after a brief tenure at Citigroup — just as the bank announced huge losses and took a taxpayer bailout. Lew also invested $56,000 in a Citigroup venture-capital fund registered in the Cayman Islands — registered in the very building, in fact, that Obama labeled “the largest tax scam in the world.”

We used to have a series of words for such “bonuses”: graft, payback, bribes, corruption. The reward used to be a 6×9′ cell or at least retirement to private life.

The loopy signature man’s reward? The seat of Alexander Hamilton. Of course that was recently held by Tim Geithner, famous for not paying his income tax, so like the dollar, that seat might not be worth as much as it once was.

And Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), an outspoken foe of offshore tax havens, helped Lew defend himself…

Just a quick check, stuff like this actually seems important to God. Look at Deuteronomy 25:15. The promise of the land is attached to using honest weights in economic matters.
(Leviticus 19:36) Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.
(Deuteronomy 25:13) Do not have two differing weights in your bag–one heavy, one light.
(Deuteronomy 25:15) You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
(Proverbs 11:1) The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.
(Proverbs 16:11) Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making.
(Proverbs 20:10) Differing weights and differing measures– the LORD detests them both.
(Proverbs 20:23) The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.
(Micah 6:11) Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?

They think we are stupid. And as far as I can tell they are right. But getting better would require having a moral space to stand on, and being willing to use it. Since they’ve convinced everyone the the Scriptures are fusty old things, Christian orthodoxy is hate, and that they have the higher enlightened morality, this is what we get. Nero fiddled while Rome burned and then he blamed the Christians.

Have Some Respect for Yourself

We as a people will never be self-governing or have a shred of self-respect until it is no longer possible for someone under a cloud of suspicion around, can I even print it on a web site such as this, foreign under-aged prostitutes to “survive” in office. (Here is a round-up of reporting as of today). These are the acts of a degenerate Caligula who appointed his horse to the senate. And given the recent hearings for Secretary of Defense, the horse might give better answers. I don’t even want to think about what the “disappearance” of witnesses actually means.

Really, what have we come to when former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards’ quip “the only way I can lose is to be caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy” represents a higher moral standard for high office?

Remove politics from the equation. Have GOP governor Christie promise to appoint a Dem to replace a Dem. Everybody should agree that this person can no longer be a US Senator. Instead the majority leader has “the utmost confidence” in this man. Please, somebody, have some respect.

God just usually doesn’t answer the “why” questions…

What we are talking about is theodicy. Milton would famously set out to “explain the ways of God to man” and ended up with an attractive Satan. Theodicy happens anytime you try and harmonize: all powerful god, good god, existence of evil. When I worked finance I used to joke that all the executives demanded was: Revenue growth, unit sales growth and profit margin growth. Every conversation was an explanation which of the three they were not going to get that quarter. In a logical world you can pick two of the three in both cases. But unlike economics which is almost always rational, the ways of God are not so. Deal with it. The two ways to deal are: a) this is a bunch of junk or b) where can I go, you have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). That is the faith question. And since a god who is not all powerful is not god, and the existence of evil is provable, the faith question is if God is good. God’s proof of that to us is Jesus Christ. Can you look at the life of Jesus including the cross and say, “you know God, it might not be something I can understand right now, but I’m going to trust you.”

That is what a Senate candidate recently stumbled into, and a clueless national media refused to understand. The senate candidate tried to explain his reasoning behind being against abortion even in the case of rape. And his reasoning is exactly that of faith. A child as the product of rape certainly doesn’t look good. Would a good God allow such a thing to happen? His answer in its core was: I don’t get it but I’ll take it on faith. The national media decided to declare the candidate “pro-rape” and certain predictable republicans quivered about being turned into “the party of rape” and used it as an opportunity to “ooga-booga” religious members of his party. (I’m not adding that link just because it infuriates me how a neo-con war drummer can fret about social conservatives in such a gross way and yet they have never had to pay one red cent in accountability for Iraq/Afghanistan and every other war they’d like to start. Sorry, rant mode off.)

Leaving the world of partisan politics, what this does expose is just how much Christians are the “away team” in this current cultural moment. The “home team” gets all the calls. The refs whistles are always a little bit faster for the home team, and that home team player always gets that extra half step on the way to the bucket. Christians need to get used to identifying trap questions and need to so understand their own beliefs such that they can explain them sympathetically to “away team” refs. The away team doesn’t decide not to show up. Christians don’t withdraw, but we need to be smarter and more practiced to win. If you can’t turn the why questions back to Jesus, then the next best strategy is probably to emulate God and just not answer theodicy’s “whys”. They aren’t answerable outside of Christ.

Here are a few other’s on the same subject: Douthat, fellow LCMS’er Molly Hemingway, and the parallel universe of questions that would be asked if Christian’s were the home team.

Contempt

Why she moved to the Daily Beast(?!?) I don’t know, but Megan McArdle writes this morning about the VP debate and she says something deeply true.

There was an interesting exchange on MSNBC after last night’s debate when one of the hosts asked one of the string of professional Democrats who were streaming through how she thought Biden had done. I paraphrase, but her answer was roughly: “I thought he was great. He really showed contempt for Paul Ryan.” Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley enthusiastically agreed that yes, Biden had been really contemptuous, which was great.

What an odd thing to celebrate…Yet I suspect that MSNBC was right: this was what the Democratic base wanted to see. Yes, they also wanted to hear him defend their issues. But they already agree with him on the issues. Their biggest desire was just for someone to express their disdain for the Republican Party, and particularly its rising young star–to display their collective contempt in a public venue. I’m not sure exactly why this is so important, but I seem to recall that the same dynamic from Republicans in 2004. There’s a lesson there about where American politics is headed, and it’s a pretty grim one.

She doesn’t expand on that sentence I put in bold type. But that triggered my memory of where the warning comes from – Dr. Gottman’s research on marriage. Gottman, on a bunch of factors claimed he could predict divorce with 90% accuracy. He had a bunch of factors, sometimes called the four horsemen of divorce, but the one riding the pale horse was contempt. When Gottman observed contempt, he stopped watching. It was over.

Now individuals in this society can divorce. And at the margins I have a feeling that we might have been practicing something like that over that last generation. There aren’t too many NY liberals who wake up and say, “I’d love to live in Texas.” Likewise I don’t know too many died in the wool conservatives pining to be residents of CA and NY. When I worked for IBM which had an interesting outpost in Austin, it was always interesting seeing who was happy at a move to Texas and who started to break out in hives. But there is no such thing as an amicable divorce for a nation. Nations are like marriage pre-1960’s. Nations aren’t protestant but catholic. Living with contempt makes the home an awful place.

Incidentally, doing a word study on contempt int he Bible is interesting. (Just take out you concordance, look up the word, and scan the verses it is used in.) Here is my quick look. Those are not stories or places where you want to find yourself inserted. When you find yourself with contempt, the first thing necessary is repentance in the underlying sense. Turn around and change because nothing good comes from that. That way leads to death.

(Genesis 16:4 ESV) And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.
(Genesis 16:5 ESV) And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!”
(1 Samuel 2:17 ESV) Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt.
(2 Chronicles 32:17 ESV) And he wrote letters to cast contempt on the LORD, the God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, “Like the gods of the nations of the lands who have not delivered their people from my hands, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver his people from my hand.”
(Esther 1:17 ESV) For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’
(Esther 1:18 ESV) This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty.
(Job 12:5 ESV) In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip.
(Job 12:21 ESV) He pours contempt on princes and loosens the belt of the strong.
(Job 31:34 ESV) because I stood in great fear of the multitude, and the contempt of families terrified me, so that I kept silence, and did not go out of doors–
(Psalm 31:18 ESV) Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt.
(Psalm 107:40 ESV) he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
(Psalm 119:22 ESV) Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies.
(Psalm 123:3 ESV) Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
(Psalm 123:4 ESV) Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.
(Proverbs 18:3 ESV) When wickedness comes, contempt comes also, and with dishonor comes disgrace.
(Isaiah 9:1 ESV) But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
(Isaiah 16:14 ESV) But now the LORD has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble.”
(Ezekiel 22:7 ESV) Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you.
(Ezekiel 28:24 ESV) “And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord GOD.
(Ezekiel 28:26 ESV) And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.”
(Ezekiel 36:5 ESV) therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Surely I have spoken in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might make its pasturelands a prey.
(Daniel 12:2 ESV) And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
(Micah 7:6 ESV) for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
(Nahum 3:6 ESV) I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.
(Mark 9:12 ESV) And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?
(Luke 18:9 ESV) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
(Luke 23:11 ESV) And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.
(Hebrews 6:6 ESV) and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Close to the Bone

One article recently really hit my cranky bone. Way more information than a pastor should be writing.

That article was David Brooks. The truth is that I haven’t felt at home in a political party for most of my voting life. The last guy I felt completely comfortable voting for was G. H. W. Bush (Bush 41) which was also the first ballot I cast. Clinton was an opportunist and the moral example set gave cover to the worst of our natures. Bush (43) I’d liken to Old King Stephen – “a good man who did no justice”. (Less poetic but better the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s verdict – “he took action without judgment”.) And let’s just not talk about Obama. The lawlessness of the current resident of 1600 shocks even me. I recount my “man without a party” narrative because David Brooks laments the loss of “the traditional conservative”. The modern GOP started out as a coalition between people like me best defined by Brooks’ paragraph…

Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.

…and so-called economic conservatives which are best thought of as libertarians. And Brooks is right that “The two conservative tendencies lived in tension. But together they embodied a truth that was put into words by the child psychologist John Bowlby, that life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base. ” But here is where David Brooks starts misfiring or let’s steal a phrase from getreligion, “there is a religious ghost haunting the story”.

David Brooks complains,

“In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, shrinking government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control. Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism.”

Why does Romney use only market language? Why is shrinking government the organizing principle? Did anybody see what happened to Mike Huckabee in 2008?

The answer or the ghost is that “traditional conservatives” are really religious conservatives. WFB, patron saint and original forger of the coalition, was an every day mass attending Catholic. They have received help from God in ordering lives. And we as a people, we won’t hear talk about God. As a Lutheran what I would say is that we won’t hear the Law. We won’t stand for the traditional teaching of the church. A wall of separation has been erected to prevent anyone from accidentally having their feelings hurt by being implied a sinner and feeling the law. Those people and that language have been run out of polite society as just not acceptable by a corrupt and decadent elite from both parties. We can have plenty of nonsense about God and lots of dressed up language, but direct to the bone Orthodoxy; the type that you say “This is the Word of the Lord” after, none of that stuff allowed.

Brooks again,

“There are few people on the conservative side who’d be willing to raise taxes on the affluent to fund mobility programs for the working class. There are very few willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock. There are very few Republicans who protest against a House Republican budget proposal that cuts domestic discretionary spending to absurdly low levels. “

The government has been doling out programs and money for decades and all the illegitimacy rate does is rise. You know what used to work? Its called the 6th commandment – “don’t commit adultery.” Who and what are exactly the programs or people that are excluded from receiving dollars? People that might accidentally say- “Hey, God says don’t screw around”. Who are the people who are declared ineligible for higher office like Huckabee in 2008? The same people who might tax a little and spend a little through government because the seventh commandment that says “don’t steal” includes the positive force of “helping your neighbor to improve and protect his possessions and income”. (Small Catechism) {Of course being conservative they’d rather see that taking place in city hall or the county seat compared to Washington.}

The fact is that the “traditional conservatives” that Brooks laments are exactly the people that are tarred and feathered the second they are in public life. And that is in both parties. They haven’t gone missing, they’ve just been forced underground.

Now not all the fault is on a secret cabal. The gospel has a consistent external enemy. But it has had an internal enemy as well, recently best described by Brooks co-worker Ross Douthat in Bad Religion. If we don’t take our own religion seriously, why would anyone outside? This takes so many forms its not even funny. Let’s just say when you are willing to change the name of God to something silly, or are willing to ignore clear scripture because of the passions of the day, I wouldn’t take you seriously either.

Law and Gospel, sin and absolution, is serious. You don’t like the thought of Hell, we’ll do away with it and everybody gets a free pass, is not serious. The theology of the cross is serious. Your best life now is not serious.

So, David Brooks, are you willing to say that serious religious people deserve to be heard, or are you lamenting something but not willing to accept the answer?