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Viewing Good Friday Through Luther, Augustine, and Barth

April 19, 2014

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Perhaps not surprisingly, I find thinkers from previous ages more gripping than the moderns. Three especially shine: Augustine, Martin Luther, and Karl Barth. Each made colossal mistakes – with Luther’s chilling essay against the Jews the most inexcusable – but each understood that theology was a discipline offered to the Church at large, not merely to academia. What’s more, each wrestles with God. They’ve glimpsed transcendence. They’re doing theology on their knees. They’re imperfect because they see things through a glass dimly, but at least they’ve tried. I tried finding what each said about Good Friday. It’s allowed me to gaze at the day through their insights.

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A Relativistic World = A Con Artist’s Dream

March 24, 2012

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Cue the off-key organ grinder monkey music. The postmodern circus has come to town, with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich enrolled as the unlikely ring leaders. Step right up and watch them assert “traditional values” while twisting and bending the truth until it snaps. The political Left tries to join the circus but is no good at it, and journalists, truth’s supposed watch dogs, sleep at the door.

Postmodernism is a vague, multi-layered worldview born in the rubble of World War 2 and nurtured in the iconoclasm of the 1960’s. Many of its adherents shun labels – including “postmodernism” – before arguing that our cultural and personal biases so cloud our vision that we cannot see reality. Our concept of “logic” is tethered to a Western-centered saga, or “meta-narrative,” and is really an excuse for our quest for world domination. Objective truth, if it exists at all, is unknowable. We grope with psychological and cultural cataracts. We’re like Clint Eastwood wandering through Alice’s Wonderland while reading the script for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. We can’t even interpret our interpretations – so please, let’s do away with religion’s moral absolutes. As Stanley Fish once said, “The trouble with principle is, first, it does not exist, and second, that nowadays many bad things are done in its name.”

Apparently, principled leaders like Frederick Douglass, Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Desmond Tutu don’t count.

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A well-motivated bad idea

August 23, 2011

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So impassioned, so compelling, and so misguided: Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz has called for a nation-wide strike against politicians. He’d have us speak the only language they know, money. We would withhold all donations from each and every one until they honestly negotiated, compromised, and resolved their conflicts. Our country will work once more.

How enthralling. I’m almost ready to fold my checkbook – but then I remember the call’s three fatal assumptions: First, believe it or not, not all politicians are equally culpable for the gridlock. Remember the “gang of six” and their noble compromise attempt as the debt ceiling approached? What about those yielding their (reasonable) positions on moderate tax hikes for the rich? And think of Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, the last remaining Republican moderates. Do we abandon them as they guard their party’s historic turf? Even Independents and Democrats can wish them well.

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No fair being unfair — to anyone

August 10, 2011

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Ringing clarion calls for fairness can be a cinch: Find sympathetic people, unearth someone who delivered them a sucker punch, then scream “foul!” Voila. We’re righteously indignant. But what if the punch slammed someone with whom we adamantly disagree? What if a news organization cuffs a tea party leader? Is not unfairness still unfair?

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Surprise-surprise: Fox was very bad

August 8, 2011

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So our president funds his own 50th birthday bash, invites a slew of guests from all races and ethnicities, and has everything but hip-hop music played. How does the blog owned by Fox News cover it? Look at the picture below. Look at it again. Feast your eyes on the cheap shot par excellence. Fox Nation finds scandal where there is no scandal and litters it with racist hints as subtle as earthquakes. No doubt they’ll respond to objections with that we’re-just-kidding look.

The real scandal, of course, lies in an alleged “news organization” that fronts for a propaganda machine. I wonder if the Fox owner Rupert Murdoch is finished answering questions on that phone hacking scandal in Britain …

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Loving this scrappy land

July 3, 2011

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I admit it. I’ll be a sap on July 4th, sniveling for Old Glory with my hand over my heart while the fireworks boom. I love this lumbering giant called America, which I’m still convinced can be a force for good despite its colossal mistakes. So I’m patriotic. So arrest me.

“Patriotism” is a sizzling word. It sears and blisters and roars with flames and fuels temperamental fire in normally affable souls. They’ll quote from the cynical cavalcade. Samuel Johnson: patriotism is “the last refuge of the scoundrel;” George Bernard Shaw: “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” We imagine flag-draped demigods branding their opponents as “un-American,” with the rivals unwittingly playing into their hands when they snub patriotism’s validity and, despite their disclaimers, portray the United States as the most militaristic and narcissistic empire ever to chew up freedom-lovers. They itemize the Native American slaughter, slavery, racism, CIA-propped banana republics and the Vietnam “quagmire.” All so true and terrible, but who else triple-rescued Europe (World War 1, World War 2, the Marshal Plan) and contained the Soviet Union – which really was an “evil empire,” impolitic though the phrase may be?

You’re welcome.

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Wise words for an unwise era …

June 28, 2011

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It may have been the most civil statement ever made in thoroughly uncivil times.

Responding to fellow clergy who criticized the civil rights protests in Birmingham, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned his towering, magnificent “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963.

It’s time that King’s letter—and the spirit and tone in which it was written—be re-examined by every pundit, every pastor, every activist, and every politician

who rightly bemoans the demise of civil discourse in the U.S.

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Rebuilding genuine sensuality

June 19, 2011

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So lemme get this straight: You’re a New York Congressman and there’s talk of you running for mayor and you … uh …

I’ll rephrase: You’re a tweeting Congressman with a bulldog reputation, so you’re careful. You’re alert to snoops. Cyberspace eavesdroppers view dirt as gold and will blast it over the internet, so you …

One more try: Where is the line between “psychological malady” and “stupidity”? When can we abandon therapy’s stilted lingo and holler: “You gotta be kidding!”? Crawl out of your alpha male lair and feel reality’s slap while you yelp under the icy shower, ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner! Everyone knows women look at the whole man, not our isolated privates (which aren’t attractive in themselves); everyone knows they love roses, lilacs, fragrant cologne, Valentine’s Day cards, whispered sweet-nothings and little I-love-you gifts wrapped in a bow. They loathe narcissistic “pigs” who think they’re “studs.” Everyone knows that. Right?

Wrong. My recent in-depth research unveiled a scientifically-verified fact: Men are disgusting. And women are not far behind. Pack your bags, Cary Grant and Grace Kelley. Make room for Gene Simmons and Lindsay Lohan. The scandalized politician, for whom we pray as he seeks help, is more the rule than the exception because sensuality has been ripped from its foundation.

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Life Would Be More Simple If Our Dead Ancestors Followed The Script …

June 6, 2011

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Let’s say hundreds surround you while cameras snap and fans grovel and journalists bark. You might commit a gaffe. You might say “British” when you meant “American.” We’d all understand. Joe Biden put televisions in our Roosevelt-era homes and Jimmy Carter said “Huber Horatio Hornblower” and President Obama called a senator a “jackass.” It was an “oops” moment. Shrewd leaders immediately correct themselves and throw in self-deprecating humor: “I meant to say ‘American,’ but I was distracted because I can see Russia from my house.”

Take that, Tina Fey!

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Socially approved cheap shots

May 28, 2011

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One wonders: Is anti-Catholicism the last permitted prejudice? Sample the approved and publicly flaunted ignorance of the facts. Recently, 75 Catholic academics signed a letter criticizing House Speaker John Boehner for his legislative record on alleviating poverty. Left-handed compliments came swift and sure, with the Syracuse Post Standard Editorial Board providing a sample: “It is a welcome change to see a Roman Catholic politician challenged for a position on an issue other than abortion.”

These routine inaccuracies are getting boring. The US Catholic hierarchy took the side of the labor unions in Wisconsin; the bishops wrote a letter to Congress in general to remember the “least of these;” they published a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church in 2005, very little of which dwelled on abortion and much of which implies radical societal change. And then there are all those soup kitchens and hospitals and charities and … Never mind. Doesn’t matter. See no good; hear no good. We’ll throw our cheap shots left and right because people wearing red drapes make easy targets.

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