Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Why Are You So Shocked?

No one should be shocked by what is happening at our borders.  The current President announced   his position on immigration and his  attitude toward immigrants at the very beginning of his candidacy.  Ill-informed as that position and attitude might have been then and ill-informed as it may be now,  no one can say that what is happening comes as a surprise or as a shock.  The decision made to remove children from their parents as a means to deter immigrants from seeking asylum or access to the United States has become Administration policy (a “Zero-Tolerance policy”announced by the Attorney General on April 6, 2018).  We now know that the plan to do so was discussed by the Trump administration immediately after the inauguration (February 2, 2017).  However, the President and his Secretary of Homeland Security maintain that such a policy is not of their own making—that they are simply obeying and enforcing the law.  The fault lies elsewhere (as it always does with this Administration).  It is the fault of Congress, or the Democrats, or they are justified because former presidents did it, too.  

The current President has announced through his former attorney and his current attorney that he is “the law.”  John Dowd said, “The President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under the Constitution (Article II)…”  Richard Nixon said something similar, “when the President does it, that means it is not illegal.”  I disagree totally with this interpretation of the Office and of the Constitution—BUT, if the President believes it.…

Well, then, if the President is “the law” he can stop the present practice of separating children from their parents at our borders immediately!  If he is “the law” he doesn’t need the Democrats to come to the table, nor does he need a  new “Immigration Bill” (that covers what he calls the “loopholes” in current immigration laws). He can just make his own!  Why, he doesn’t even need Congress, even if “his people” are currently the majority and in his pocket.  He doesn’t need the Supreme Court either—but if he can nominate one or two more justices—he’ll have the court in his pocket and his “Muslim Ban” will stand!

Why are you surprised?  Why are you so shocked?  Ah, I see, you took him seriously, but not literally.  What a mistake!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Biblical Justifications

Somewhere long ago I read the words, “Laws do not change men’s hearts.”  Just recently the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions,  now also chief theologian of the Trump administration, quoted a passage of scripture to support the policy of separating immigrant children from their families as a deterrent to future immigrants.  “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” the chief theologian said.  “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”  Later on, the Trump administration’s chief theologian’s statement was confirmed and affirmed by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, now professor of New Testament Exegesis (the task of exegesis is to understand the divine-human intention locked within the biblical text), who said, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”  The passage read by Sessions was Romans 13:1-2.  Taking a passage out of the Bible (and out of historical and literary context)  to prove a point is called “proof texting” and has been used “religiously” by the religious for centuries!  Such a practice distorts the biblical message.  The first two verses of the 13th chapter of Romans used by Mr. Sessions to support the administration’s policy, for example, did not include verse ten of the same chapter, which suggests that laws (those commandments prohibiting killing, stealing, adultery, and coveting) “are all summed up in the one rule, ‘Love your neighbor.’  Love cannot wrong a neighbor; therefore the whole law is summed up in love.”  Curious enough, it was comedian Stephen Colbert who reminded the White House chief theologian and the professor of New Testament Exegesis of this verse 10!

Romans 13:1-2 was quoted by loyalists who urged the American colonists to obey King George III of England instead of resisting.  The resisters used the same passage to suggest that Paul was not referring to despotic rulers like George!  The passage was cited as a support for the Fugitive Slave Act, thereby making slavery lawful because runaway slaves were to be forcibly returned to their owners in the South.  It was cited by both priests, ministers, and politicians in the 1960’s during the Viet Nam War protests and during the Civil Rights Movement under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  You can use biblical proof-texts to prove, confirm and affirm anything you are of a mind to prove, confirm and affirm—but by so doing you will be distorting the biblical message.

Laws do not change men’s hearts.  We have passed many laws about equal rights, and yet many have found ways to circumvent the laws.  We have passed laws about voting rights, but politicians have used gerrymandering to abridge those laws.  We have laws galore—some are good and just; some are bad and unjust—and while the law may help bridge societal and governmental gaps, they do not change men’s hearts.  What does change a man’s heart, I wonder?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

My Paternal Bonds

Today is Father’s Day.  It is a celebration of fatherhood, of paternal bonds we have known beyond the immediate family connection, and the influence fathers have had upon our personal  life and society.  According to some accounts, Father’s Day in the United States got its start from a memorial service held for a large group of men who died in a mining accident in Monongah, West Virginia in 1907.  A national Father’s Day was first proposed, according to other sources, by Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington in 1909. 

I am a father of three children.  I know that I have been “like a father” to a few others along the way for they have told me so.  Much of what I know about fatherhood was derived from my own father and my paternal grandfather and maternal grandfather.  I cannot remember my great-grandfathers.  My Dad, my grandpa and my grandad are now gone from my life, but their influence lingers on.  They taught me a lot about what being a father means.  But they weren’t the only “father figures” in my life.  There were so many other men  who influenced me.   There was Willie “at the garage” who helped me fix my bike, took me fishing and swimming, and provided tools and paint for “go-carts” I tried to create.  There was “Julie,” a single fellow, no wife, no children, and yet was “father-like” to me in so many ways.  There was “Churchill” who always lifted me up and “Jim, the mailman,” who made me feel like a “winner.”  There were many “fathers” in my life and I am grateful for each of them and for what they taught me about being a father.  It seems most appropriate to me that Father’s Day may have gotten its start from “a memorial service held for a large group of men”—for the “fathers” I celebrate and honor today were a large group.

Whenever I hear John McDermott sing “The Old Man” the tears begin to flow—tears of gratitude not just for my Dad, Grandpa, and Grandad, though I loved them dearly—but also for the paternal bonds that linked me to Willie’s, Julie’s, Churchill’s, and Jim’s.  My version of the song includes all “The Old Men” who were and are still my fathers:

The tears should have all been shed now 
We’ve said our last goodbyes
Their souls blessed
They’re laid to rest
And now I feel alone.
They were more than just like fathers
They were teachers, my best friends
They can still be heard
In the tunes of life we shared
As I live my life alone.

I never will forget them
For they made me "what and who I am"
Though they may be gone
Memories linger on
And I miss them, my old men

Tha's me in Mother's arms--and the
family of three would grow to be seven in all!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

God, You, Me

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was born in France.  He was a child prodigy and became a noted mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and a Roman Catholic lay theologian.  His most famous religious work is the Pensees, considered by some to be a masterpiece of religious philosophy and for others a Christian spiritual classic.  One of Pascal’s thoughts stuck in my mind years ago when I first read it:  “It is not from space that I must seek dignity, but from the government of my thought.  I shall have no more if I possess worlds.  By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom:  by thought I comprehend the world.”  Everything in the created world is inferior to a person.  Because I am aware, have purposes, and am able to know and to care, because I am a person, I am in a very real sense superior to the stars!  

Pascal affirms that to be person is to be able to be aware, to have purposes, to know and to care.  If this is so, and I believe it is, then it is absurd to think of God in nonpersonal terms such as a Life Force, a Cosmic Energy,  or as the Absolute.  Could it be that the Creator does not have the same powers (awareness, purposes, knowledge and care) that mark the brightest of the world’s creatures?  I doubt it.  If God is not a Person—if God cannot know a man and I can know that man, then God must be inferior to me!  “God may be more than a Person,” writes D. Elton Trueblood, “and probably is, though we do not really know what that means, but unless God is at least as personal as we are, God is not One to whom we can pray.”

Trueblood wrote something else that has stuck with me through the years:  “God is completely what we are partially.”  This is the main testimony of Jesus given throughout the four Gospels. It is true we must be careful of not seeing God in our own image, but we must also be careful of turning God into something inferior to our image.  To speak of God as a Person, in my mind, is to talk about God in the highest terms we know.  God is “He” and “She” because He/She is not “it,” and God is “Father” and “Mother” because God is not uncaring.  So Jesus tells us—and so does Pascal.

Rocks do not feel, nor does the sea--but I feel
the rocks and the sea

Friday, June 15, 2018

America’s Warning: Purple Toes

My little toe turned from a rosy pink to a deep purple last October.  I paid little attention to it until it became painful.  When I finally had the doctor take a look at my little purple toe he immediately said, “Ischemia,” and sent me off immediately for vascular tests of all sorts—from head to toe.  Somehow and for some reason the blood flow to my little toe had gotten stopped up—it wasn’t getting enough oxygenated blood.  This “stopping up” can happen in your brain, legs, and just about everywhere else in between.  Fortunately for me it was my little toe which shouted out a stern warning.

Hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) is a progressive condition that begins in childhood and becomes more evident as one ages.  Cholesterol deposits in our arteries create plaque buildup. This is dangerous because fragments of plaque can break off and form a clot that blocks your artery and stops blood flow to your heart, brain, legs, or even your little toe.  Age isn’t the only thing that can affect your arteries.  Lifestyle matters—extra weight, lack of exercise, and eating the wrong food (high in trans fat) can all take a toll.  

In a figurative sense, it seems to me that we in America are experiencing a hardening of the arteries—to our brains, and especially to our hearts.  Has our capacity to “think” been stopped up?  Have our hearts grown cold and hard from a stoppage in our capacity to care?  Has the “fat” of our bigotry, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, intolerance, selfishness, ignorance and injustice through the years turned into deposits of plaque, pieces of which are now breaking off and blocking both our capacity to think and our capacity to care?

There are all kinds of “purple toes”—warning signs—showing up, every day, indicating a hardening of those arteries (equal rights, the rule of law, innocent until proven guilty, civil rights, immigrants, unalienable rights) that have carried the American Dream down through the years.      These “purple toes,” this ischemia, cannot be ignored and must be treated.  To ignore the warning signs will lead to a hardening of both mind and heart—and eventually will become the stroke of death to the soul of America.  

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Suppose I Told You….

Suppose I told you “I have the greatest memory of all time.”  Suppose I told you this over and over again.  

Suppose I told you  “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.  Believe me.  I would bomb the [bleep] out of them.  I would just bomb those suckers.  And, that’s right, I’d blow the pipe, I’d blow up the re - - I’d blow up every single inch.  There would be nothing left.  And do you know what?  You will get Exxon to come in there in two months. They will rebuild that sucker brand new, it will be beautiful…and then I would take the oil.”

Suppose I told you “I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.  You’ve seen that, strongly.”

Suppose I told you “You know, people don’t understand.  I went to an Ivy League college…I was a nice student.  I did very well.  I’m a very intelligent person.”

And if you are beginning to wonder about my mental stability, let me tell you straight out:  “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart….I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star….to President of the United States (on my first try).  I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius…and a very stable genius at that!”  Suppose I told you this about me at every opportunity?

Suppose I told you that I lied to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.  I informed him that the US is running a trade deficit with Canada without knowing whether it was true or not (it isn’t).  But since it worked on Trudeau, I’m now using the same line with all the rest of you.  I’ve lied about a lot of things—and offered alternative facts—while continually bashing the media as being fake news.  So far you have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. 

Suppose I told you these things not once, not twice, but over and over and over again.  Would you believe me?  Would you get sick of hearing it?  Or would you become convinced that I was speaking the truth?  Suppose I told you all this?

Comedian Stephen Robert coined a new word about ten years ago—“truthiness,”—while criticizing the Bush administration.  He said, “We’re not talking about the truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth—the truth we want to exist.”    “The Wikipedia entry for the word characterized it as a truth ‘known’ intuitively by the user without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”  Are we living in a new world of “Truthiness?”

The Myth of Narcissus

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Living In A Post-Truth Era

MSNBC’s Katie Tur shared her attempt to talk with some of her friends on various political issues and presenting the  “facts” about  each topic discussed.  Her friends responded by saying they really didn’t care about the facts—they weren’t sure her “facts” were really fact anyway,  Her friends refused to listen to “objective reality,”  preferring instead to accept their already established political opinions.

Two congressmen were interviewed.  Each one had his own set of facts and the facts of one contradicted the facts of the other.  The moderator presented his facts during the interview and his facts were not those being expressed by the two gentlemen!  Three sets of facts?  A fact is “something that actually exists; reality, truth.”  Are there three different existences, three different realities, three different truths for these three different people?  Is there no such thing, then, as objective truth, reality, fact?

Michael V. Hayden in his new book, The Assault on Intelligence, writes about this new and  strange phenomena:  the question of truth.  “It was no accident,” he says, “that the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016 was “post-truth,” a condition where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion or personal belief.”  Hayden’s friend, a British philosopher characterized this  emerging post-truth world as “over-valuing opinion and preference at the expense of proof and data.”  The president of Oxford Dictionary has predicted that the term “post-truth” could become “one of the defining words of our time.”  Within the last  two years since “post-truth” was the “word of the year,” I am more and more convinced that the new word is indeed defining our time.  

Can I live in such a world?  A world where expertise, scholarship, education, data, study, rational evaluation of ideas and happenings—the centrality of fact—is no longer deemed important or central to our life?  No, I cannot.  More than ever, now, today, we need “truth-tellers”—scholars, journalists, scientists, and politicians, writes Hayden, “to preserve the commitment and ability of our society to base important decisions on our best judgment of what constitutes objective reality.”  Can we overcome our narcissism?