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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

God is in control

God is in control.

So say the evangelicals after the Trump election. So says Michael Gerson albeit in a more honest and intellectual way (I have pasted his column to the end of this blog). And so say I, though with a different inflection, a different meaning entirely, from the Christian Right.

Today I saw that, while traveling in a plane to the finals in Colombia, the Brazilian soccer team, Chapacoense, crashed and all but three team members and some from the crew perished. God is in control.

God is good, all the time. So says the evangelical Right.

Aleppo battle continues. 16,000 civilians flee.

God is in control. God is good. All the time.

Think of the God of the Now. Think of His presence throughout all the created universe, His influence, His power, His essence. Where is this God, this He? Nowhere. Not in heaven, which is not a place any telescope can point out; not on Mars or any star; He is not in the Kuiper Belt or in the sun or on the dark side of the moon, hiding. 

He is not a He. But He who is not a He is in control and is always So God-awful good?

"God is a verb, not a noun."--Buckminster Fuller. Why isn't that obvious? He is not an old man, he is not some angel; it is not a he nor a He. Nor is he a She. Even in that dusty tome, The Holy Bible, God says to Moses I am that I am (Ex 3:14), which is a verb. I have read that in the Hebrew the phrase can be considered as conflating all the tenses of the verb "to be," past, future, present.

God is good. All the time.

Three army personnel killed in terror attack in Nagrota, India.

Where is God when a child is suffering? When a child with cancer is undergoing certain chemotherapy treatments, that child suffers torment; it is the same as if someone were torturing her. The child, she screams, screeches. The father can do nothing. Except weep. 

God is good. All the time.

Where is God then? In the space-less heavens? Where? It is the wrong question. God is nowhere. God is a verb; God is what is alive, God is creation as it is creating itself. 

There is no goodness in God except for what is becoming. There is no control from God except for what is and is to come. 

To be is not about happiness. It is merely to be. 

Perhaps we expect too much of God.  
..............
The Michael Gerson column is pasted below: 

Among the disappointments of the 2016 election, the close identification of many evangelicals with a right-wing populism has been the most personally difficult. On Election Day, it was disturbing to see so many of my tribe in Donald Trump’s war paint.
The most enthusiastic Trump evangelicals have taken the excesses of the Religious Right in the 1980s not as awarning but as a playbook. In this political season, they often acted more like an interest group seeking protection and favor than a voice of conscience. They blessed an agenda that targeted minorities and refugees. They employed apocalyptic rhetoric as a get-out-the-vote technique. And they hitched the reputation of their religious tradition to a skittish horse near a precipice.
As a citizen, Ihope that the faith many evangelicals have placed in the Trump administration is justified. As a commentator, I expect a tunnel at the end of the light.
It is part of my job to have strong opinions on public matters. But lately I have been conscious of a certain, unwelcome symmetry. When it comes to Trump evangelicals, I have found myself angry at how they have endorsed the politics of anger; bitter about the bitter political spirit they have encouraged; feeling a bit hypocritical in my zeal to point out their hypocrisy. A dark mood has led to anxiety and harshness.
This is the mortal risk of politics: to become what you condemn. It is not limited to one side of our cultural and political divide. Religious conservatives, for example, are typically attacked by liberals for being preachy and sanctimonious. But televangelists have nothing to teach the cast of “Hamilton.” In my case, I know — in calmer and clearer moments — that an attitude of fuming, prickly anxiety is foreign to my faith, for a couple of reasons.
First, Christian belief relativizes politics. The pursuit of social justice and the maintenance of public order are vital work. But these tasks are temporary, and, in an ultimate sense, secondary. If Christianity is true, C.S. Lewis noted, then “the individual person will outlive the universe.” All our anger and worry about politics should not blind us to the priority and value of the human beings placed in our lives, whatever their background or beliefs.
Christianity teaches that everyone broken, sick, and lonely — everyone beneath our notice or beneath our contempt — is, somehow, Christ among us. “He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the Earth,” said Dorothy Day. I suspect this also applies to Trump supporters — or never-Trumpers, depending on your political proclivity. “Those people” are also “our people.”
We show civility and respect, not because the men and women who share our path always deserve it or return it, but because they bear a divine image that can never be completely erased. No change of president or shift in the composition of the Supreme Court can result in the repeal of the Golden Rule.
Second, Christians are instructed not to be anxious —“take no thought for tomorrow” — because they can trust in a benevolent purpose behind events. This may, of course, be a delusion, though it would be a mass delusion affecting most of humanity through most of history. If the atheists are correct, the universe is vast, cold and silent, indifferent to the lives and dreams of jumped-up primates crawling on an unremarkable blue ball, destined for destruction by a dying sun — a prospect that may be even worse than a Trump administration.
If Christians are correct, that blue ball was touched by God in a manner and form that Homo sapiens might understand. And the vast, cold universe is really a sheltering sky.
Days away from the start of Advent, many Christians are beginning their spiritual preparation for God’s implausible intervention. Advent is a season, wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his prison cell, “in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside.” For believers, Christmas culminates the remarkable story of a God who searches for us. The only adequate responses are stillness, gratitude and trust.
After a dismal and divisive campaign season, many of us need the timely reminders of the Advent season: That people matter more than all our political certainties. That God is in control, despite our best efforts. And that some conflicts can’t be won by force or votes — only by grace.
• Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

Friday, November 25, 2016

So what the heck is evangelical Christianity?

So what is evangelical Christianity? There are the basics, or five fundamentals (or more depending on your particular denominational flavor): Biblical inspiration and the impossibility of error within scripture; the virgin birth; Jesus' atonement for sin; bodily resurrection of Jesus; belief in Jesus' miracles.

Okay, so that is a beginning.

But at some time, not sure when but probably around the mid-century, something else happened, something that created a sub-set of fundamentalism: the evangelical movement. They still liked the five F's but seemed squishy regarding other non-fundamentalists, more likely to reach out, as Billy Graham did, to the youth. Youth for Life and like-minded organizations sought out the young with rock concerts (Christian rock concerts, but still) and Bibles that emphasized paraphrastic interpretations, emphasized form over content one might say. In his book, The Rise and Fall of the Bible, Timothy Beal, a professor of religion at Case Western Reserve Univ at the time of the publication of his book, shows that there has been a definite slippery slope toward the promotion of the Bible over the sanctity of the Bible.

Evangelicals also emphasized the "born again" experience, and the relationship with Jesus. They were true Lutherans in the original sense, believing stridently in salvation through faith by the grace of God's gift of Jesus' death and resurrection. There is a strong attraction to end times (we are always, it seems, living in the end times...until we aren't) and dispensationalism. There is also a strong tendency to judge: Gays have not been known to flock to evangelical churches (neither have any LGBTQ people).

The term, however, is difficult to really pin down. Mainline Christian churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church and even the Catholic Church (decidedly looked askance at by evangelicals) have the appellation "evangelical." Evangelicals will use the term, at least in the US, to differentiate themselves from other mainline churches, and Catholics.

There is a cultural difference, too, it seems to me. Evangelicals are largely white, and fervent nationalists, fervent capitalists, Republicans all (I am aware of something called Progressive Evangelical Christianity but it seems so far afield from what I experience in the evangelical world that I do not speak of it here), and also largely of the Tea Party/Libertarian sort.They are chiefly set in the South. But inroads have been made even in New England where an evangelical college has been started, the New England Baptist College and the Southern Baptist Association has helped to plant churches all through New England but mostly Vermont, seen as a bellwether of insidious liberalism (if they can grow churches in Vermont, one can hear them say, they can grow them anywhere).

Evangelicals love football, sports of all kinds, hunting, conservative politics, and prayer. Prayer is a biggy. Not the sort of prayer that Kierkegaard spoke of (The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays) or squishy meditation, but healing prayer, prayer that changes the lives of others and even the world. It is said often that the most important thing we can do for the nation, for the planet, for one's neighbor, for one's church, is to pray. God is always in control, you see? Nothing happens without the hand of God in it. But what of disease, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamies, war, torture, starvation, injustice... but why ask these pesky questions. God is in control!

Revival is a popular topic. Waiting and praying for revival. End times, as I previously mentioned, is another.

Climate change is not really a concern to evangelicals. Why would it be if we are living in the end times, if the new kingdom of God is just around the corner. Heck, all of politics is pretty much just a forerunner to the coming of Jesus--some even think that we can egg on God to get this going faster by pricking the Israel-Palestine conflict. Get that temple built!

All this comes at a cost. The kind of society that Jesus was teaching us about, caring for one's neighbors, peaceful but progressive change, helping the homeless the poor, widows, orphans, children, making sure everyone has healthcare, treating everyone equally and with respect, all these problems have solutions; but these solutions are not seen as necessary if we have another New Kingdom coming around the corner. Why bother changing the world if Jesus is coming tomorrow?

This is why I see evangelical Christianity as something to be fought against, something to be argued against, something to be at war with. It is one thing to believe prayer can alter the course of the universe by convincing the Creator that, Hey, that girl with diabetes should really be treated better don't you think? Those being tortured by ISIS can use a helping hand 'cause apparently you forgot about them; it is one thing to think that scripture was written by God's hand (or his inspiration whatever that truly means); it is one thing to think Jesus is coming in glory tomorrow; but it is quite another to ignore the present danger of climate warming that will destroy the lives of billions. It is quite another to ignore inequality that takes food from the mouths of children. It is quite a different thing altogether to be pro-birth but care not one wit about children drinking lead and other poisons and breathing in mercury from coal stacks, or starving, or just plain dying because their parent don't have any health insurance.

Evangelicals have also aligned themselves so fervently with the GOP that they voted (more than 81%) for Donald Trump, who cannot even be described as a Christian, let alone an evangelical. They previously voted for Romney, a Mormon, a religion evangelicals do no even consider Christian. It does not matter that Trump proved a liar, a philanderer, a man of no morals, a cheater, a xenophobe, a sexual predator. Didn't matter that his wife posed naked for a lesbian photo-shoot (I personally have no problem with the photos; but evangelicals show their hypocrisy when they don't). Didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the "R" next to his name. It should be scarlet, and it should have been a "P" for Power.

And this is why I will no long ever consider myself an evangelical Christian.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Epilogue

“Our names may perish” said the boy, Kolya, at the funeral of the little peasant boy, Ilyusha, in Dostoevsky last masterpiece. And they will. Time will fly on by, like the sparrows that the boy wished to flock to his grave, to keep him company.

The election now seems like a funeral, so that is why the reference to The Brothers Karamazov. And for those who dislike veiled references, I point out that the progressive movement which hoped to push the nation into the future space of its past promises, Ilyusha, the poor peasant boy struck down by a mixture of peasantry and bad luck, is that very same progressive movement; a movement that hoped to quell the poverty and homelessness of a sick, anti-Christian austerity, heal the earth from a despoilment of over a century of greedy oilmen, and finish the social movement built on equality and fairness for all: gays, refugees, immigrants, Muslims, and the transgendered.

It was all going so well. Until it wasn’t.

Now we face the shovelfuls of dirt pouring down on our shocked faces.

Not forever. But long enough. At least for a generation. Until this pitiful “Boomer” generation has passed on and we make space for our children and our childrens’ children, only then can the earth hope for some respite from our clawing, grasping hands. Has there ever been a generation more deserving of its name perishing?

The world needed one more “greatest generation.” It got instead one that can be described as miserly and measly. Another conservative court will abscond with its corruptible Citizens United verdicts, its shackling of the EPA, its allowance of Republican voter fraud (known as gerrymandering).

The novel ends hopefully. Alyosha, the true hero of the novel, spiritual heir of the author, expounds on the beauty within the ties of humanity, how they will remember their friend forever, will remember their brotherhood on that day, when they stood around the grave, humbly, together in humanity and love.


Dostoevsky hoped for great things from his countrymen. Love, brotherhood. One generation after his death came the 1917 revolution and decades of death and repression. Standing over the grave of the progressive movement, after this victory of an alt-right racist, misogynist, and it also must be said, idiot, we can remember our brotherhood as Alyosha did. That is what I prefer. But I wonder about the revolution of 1917. The progressives will always be a force. Now though one does have to wonder if it is all just too late.