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October 24, 2017

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Subversive Prayer In An Era Of Rage

anger explosion

Cross-published from the HuffPost

The Good Book tells us “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). So how do we pray for an administration with a chip on its shoulder? A shaking fist and a beat-red face accompany policies birthed in fantasy and stirred in fury.

Skip past the unseemly Gold Star family spat, where egg smears all faces in a bipartisan spirit, and sample the headlines involving the world’s ecological health: Blazes swept northern California, destroying thousands of businesses and homes and ratcheting the highest weekly wildfire death toll in state history; the US House passed a $36.5 billion spending package for hurricane and wildfire relief while President Donald Trump fired hostile tweets at beleaguered Puerto Rico; and families in southern Asia still reeled from August’s monsoons, which took some 1,200 lives.

We stand in the foyer of Climate Change’s Brave New World. Scientists predicted this.

Yet the administration seems grounded in an eerie, alt-fact universe defiant of the popular will (most Americans embrace human-induced climate change and activist mitigation policies). EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt dismissed former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan as a “war on coal” while Trump nominated US Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) to administer NASA. Bridenstine, whose resume displays no formal science or engineering training, doubts human-induced climate change. The Union of Concern Scientists warns he’ll strip NASA of “all Earth Science related work.” Then there’s Kathleen Hartnett White, nominated to lead the Council on Environmental Quality. The former Texas environmental regulator trumpeted CO2 as the “gas of life.” And it is – plants need it and we need plants – but she misses the point:. Too much of anything kills and destroys. Water, the indisputable “fluid of life,” obliterates buildings in storm surges.

The appointees flow, pending approval: Michael Dourson, who endorsed menacing compounds as an industry consultant, would head the EPA’s review of chemicals in agricultural and commercial products; coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler would be the agency’s deputy administrator.

Yesteryear’s alleged federal environmental villains were more indifferent than angry. They slept too late and left work early. Not now. This group arises at the crack of dawn on the wrong side of the bed, furious at our flora and fauna. It’s as if they gulp pots of coffee before driving to work so they can scheme up anti-nature plots. No deer and antelope will play in their backyard and those evil skies will remain cloudy all day. Anyone craving sunshine must be closet Obama lovers – and, remember, we’re getting back at him because of his unforgivable crime: He skewered Trump at that 2011 press club dinner.

Such rage. Such fury. Such vengefulness. Trump nurtures anger like a gardener waters tulips. Can he even begin to understand Philippians 4:11 (“… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances …”)? Or Proverbs 19:11 (“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense”)? Or Ephesians 4:31-32 (Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”)? To Trump, forgiveness is a weakness. Resentment is a strength. No wonder why reports circulate of a dour president screaming, “I hate everyone in the White House!.” Cabinet members and staffers reportedly see themselves as the nation’s buffers against a volatile chief executive.

So, again, how do I pray? The author of 1 Timothy implicitly bans curses (we pray “for all people – for kings and all those in authority”). Besides, hostile prayers boomerang. We become what we pray.

But neither can I file acquiescent appeals in which I ask God to bless unholy actions based on lies and nurtured in hysteria, nor can I pray meaningless generalities (“God, smile upon your servant and our president today. Amen.”). Hostile, unholy, and compliant prayers violate the nature of prayer itself.

Perhaps Karl Barth offers a path. The monumental twentieth century theologian wrote, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” Jesus himself called for this uprising when he told us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” Prayer is the agency through which the ways of Heaven usurp Earthly norms. Truth conquers falsehood; love overcomes hate; peace reigns over hostility; forgiveness liberates us of resentment. Genuine prayer spurs subversive healing.

Bearing that in mind, I’ll pray for Heaven’s constructive uprising in this administration. I’ll pray that Trump and his appointees seek the truth, since truth beats at God’s heart (John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life” … John 4:24: “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” … Psalm 34:13: “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies”). I’ll pray they’ll anchor themselves in love, which lies at God’s essence (1 John 4:8: “God is love”). Forgiveness wells from love, immunizes us against resentment, and frees us to pursue shalom (Psalm 34:14), which is translated as “peace” but conveys much more than the mere absence of conflict.

Even as I pray for the administration, I notice that 1 Timothy 2:1-2 is actually a two-pronged command: We pray for all people as well as our leaders. That’s especially apropos now. A substantial minority voted for Trump despite a campaign rife with misogyny, race-baiting, and obvious lies. Some respond: There were slim pickings in 2016. Perhaps, but the fact remains that throngs still feed off his spite-filled tweets. They buy the fantasy and relish the beat-red face, with supposedly evangelical Christians his most stalwart supporters. Fact is, Trump’s very presidency holds a mirror up to us. We’ve become a nation with a chip on our shoulder, pervaded by a shaking fist and a beat-red face. Just look at all the rage on Facebook and Twitter.

A subversive prayer for national healing can do no harm, so I’ll pray for Heaven’s eruption not only in Washington but in the United States as a whole.

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September 5, 2017

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Religious Heads Rebuke Trump on DACA

Image result for Dreamers

Photo in the Los Angeles Times

I’m sure glad my Norwegian, wagon-maker great-grandfather didn’t live to see this day. He didn’t speak a word of English and was probably already infected with tuberculosis. No way he’d pass muster with the Trump administration. They’d ship him back to the old country.

Trump and his minions, once again, left many slack-jawed, with key religious leaders among those with mouths agape. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said President Obama exceeded his Constitutional authority when he launched DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which safeguards immigrants who arrived as children and know nothing of their native land. Sessions said Congress should pass a law if it wants change, and he gave it six months. If Senators and reps fail, youngsters will be cuffed and bussed off.

To which Lady Liberty says, “Really?”

One wonders: Will this move finally jolt religious people into active opposition? Their leaders feel shunted. Some evangelical top dogs made a pitch for DACA a few days back, but the supposedly religion-friendly administration paid them no heed.

The reaction has been quick. Witness the sharp rebuke of the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops:

The cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible. It causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families. These youth entered the U.S. as minors and often know America as their only home. The Catholic Church has long watched with pride and admiration as DACA youth live out their daily lives with hope and a determination to flourish and contribute to society: continuing to work and provide for their families, continuing to serve in the military, and continuing to receive an education. Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.

The National Association of Evangelicals was, perhaps, more genteel. But it spoke with no less conviction:

Today President Trump announced the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that has temporarily protected the children of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) calls on Congress to promptly pass legislation that permanently protects these individuals and allows them to fully integrate into American life.

These statements should come as no surprise, given the Bible’s call to befriend the alien, sojourner, and stranger. Just two of a host of passages:

Jeremiah 22:3: “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

Ezekiel 47:21-23, with emphasis added: “You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe a foreigner resides, there you are to give them their inheritance, declares the Sovereign LORD.”

Will the back-to-the-Bible people actually read their Bibles? If they do, maybe they’ll stop fawning over Trump, join the resistance, and protect those kids.

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September 5, 2017

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A Woman For All Seasons

Okay, so I’m not a Roman Catholic. Why should that stop me from celebrating laudable brothers and sisters in the Mother Church? Saint Teresa of Calcutta is one of them. Today, September 5th, is her feast day. I could be an obnoxious Baptist and use this moment to riddle Catholics for lifting up certain individuals […]

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September 2, 2017

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I’m no fan of Joel Osteen, but …

In the words of Damon Linker,  “Twitter is destroying America.” It victimizes even the offensive. Take Joel Osteen, the senior pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church, which holds 16,800 seats and plays host to 52,000 weekly attendees. Despite his disclaimers , Osteen at least veers close to promoting the Prosperity Gospel, which says God inevitably blesses the […]

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August 11, 2017

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A Methodist & Church Father Walk Into A Pub …

Maybe John Wesley wasn’t such a doctrinal avant-gardist after all. It seems esteemed church fathers anticipated his most hot-potato teaching, the one that squirms prim Calvinists. The 18th-century Anglican priest, British evangelist and accidental founder of Methodism confounds some of John Calvin’s die-hard fans, who often conceive themselves as Protestant orthodoxy’s guardians and weigh all […]

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August 10, 2017

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It’s in every corner of the Bible: God loves the downtrodden

Cross-published on the HuffPost. I couldn’t escape. There was no exit. I longed to crawl into a pitch-black cave between chemotherapy sessions while GOP Senate leaders repeatedly hurled their proposals to cut off my Medicaid. I was all brawl at first, but I felt flattened as the dystopian proposals snaked their way through the House […]

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July 24, 2017

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The Prayer of Saint Francis, relevant though the holy man didn’t write it

A prayer, often attributed to Saint Francis but traceable only to the early 20th-century, reminds us of who Christians are meant to be and how we are meant to act. This prayer is especially appropriate in eras of flinging accusations. I’ve begun praying it in hopes that God will shape me more into the image […]

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July 4, 2017

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Thomas Jefferson: Catching a Glimmer a Dream

I hoop and holler over America’s Independence Day with all the enthusiasm of a six-year-old saluting the flag and applauding the fireworks. After all, this nation has stood for freedom and faced down tyrants with global ambitions. But I don’t primarily celebrate for what happened in 1776. To be sure, the thirteen former colonies beheld […]

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June 28, 2017

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Gotta love those hilarious people at Fox News

As a 60-year-old with incurable cancer — forced out of a career, dependent on disability payments and Medicaid — it’s always good to know someone’s got my back. Take commentator Lisa Kennedy Montgomery, for instance, and her ever-so-compassionate Fox News colleagues.

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June 27, 2017

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Patriotism’s Call Under A Rogue Government

Silly me. I dreamed the GOP-sponsored health care travesty passed in the US House would die in the Senate. The Congressional Budget Office just released a report dashing my innocence: 22 million stand to lose their insurance over the next ten years under Mitch McConnell’s cynicism. This comes atop more revelations about Russian election meddling […]

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