Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

When Caution does not Suffice: Reflections on the Current Presidency

Friday, August 25th, 2017

This is a long follow-up to my Facebook post about Donald Trump and the Fiddler on the Roof (see the end of this piece).

When the President speaks with a teleprompter, that is not Donald Trump speaking. Donald Trump’s largely non-teleprompter “speech” Tuesday night (8/22/17)—despite his appeal to earlier remarks allegedly condemning racists and white supremacists—was once again implicitly racist and pro-Nazi, and explicitly supportive of illegal activity (that of the convicted sheriff), in addition to being mean-spirited toward anyone who questions or disagrees with anything he says or stands for, including a U.S. senator battling brain cancer.

Writing in today’s Washington Post (8/25/17), former longtime Republican senator John Danforth says this: “As has been true since our beginning, we Republicans are the party of Lincoln, the party of the Union. We believe in our founding principle [that of a united country]. We are proud of our illustrious history. We believe that we are an essential part of present-day American politics. Our country needs a responsibly conservative party. But our party has been corrupted by this hateful man, and it is now in peril. In honor of our past and in belief in our future, for the sake of our party and our nation, we Republicans must disassociate ourselves from Trump by expressing our opposition to his divisive tactics and by clearly and strongly insisting that he does not represent what it means to be a Republican” (emphasis added).

Mr. Danforth does not go far enough. Former Bush-speechwriter Michael Gerson, also in today’s Post, starts to go a bit further as he (like me above) calls out the real, non-teleprompter, Phoenix-side of Donald Trump: “Trump deserves a patent on the idea that political authenticity means spontaneity. So it was the real voice that we heard in Phoenix, attacking a man with brain cancer — Republican Sen. John McCain — without any wish for his recovery. The real voice defending a supporter who had been fired by CNN for writing ‘Sieg Heil’ on Twitter. The real voice making fun of a TV anchor’s height. The real voice again widening racial divisions by defending Confederate monuments as ‘our history and our heritage.’ (Instead of the royal ‘we,’ the white ‘we.’) It was the real voice expressing greater passion in criticizing journalists than white supremacists.”

Gerson’s next sentence is a stark but truthful one: “Trump dares us to take him at face value. His self-revelation comes unbidden, even involuntarily. And his transparency reveals a disordered personality” (emphasis added).

Gerson goes on to discuss some of Trump’s odd claims Tuesday night, then commenting as follows: “What if Trump really believes what he claims? Then he would be not deceptive, but deluded. A deluded man in charge of North Korean policy. A deluded man who could employ nuclear weapons at a moment’s notice (actually two to three minutes to order a launch)…. Trump is not merely acting unpresidential; he is erratic and grandiose” (emphasis added).

But even Gerson does not go far enough, concluding simply that “Trump’s version of reality appears to make another Republican legislative and political disaster inevitable. The unified control of House, Senate and presidency means little when the president lives in a reality of his own.”

Unfortunately, this cautious final paragraph is an anti-climactic, insufficient, and perhaps even illogical conclusion to the charge of presidential delusion and personality disorder. There is a time when caution is wise and prudent, a virtue. There is a time when caution becomes a vice. I don’t blame Gerson and Danforth for wanting to be prudent, but perhaps now prudence (in the sense of good judgment) requires something other than caution.

It seems to me, in light of the last two weeks, that many (and perhaps most) people in the U.S. now realize what some of us here and many around the world have thought all along but have been hesitant to say publicly: the current President is morally (and otherwise) unqualified for such an office. They—including Mr. Danforth and Mr. Gerson—intuitively know, in the words of the 25th Amendment, that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” If that is true, unless he repents (meaning both confession of sin and radical behavioral change—and that is the only adequate word for what he needs to do, yet it is nearly impossible for a deluded and disordered person), it now falls to those who have blindly supported him, those who have worked with him and do work with him, the cautious critics, etc., if they have any integrity, to call for and find the quickest way to effect his removal from office. For the sake of African Americans and Jews. For the sake of refugees and immigrants. For the sake of the Republican party. For the sake of this country. For the sake of East Asia. For the sake of the world.

I suspect that Mr. Danforth and Mr. Gerson feel similarly, but caution prevents them from saying implicitly what their critiques imply.

I have no delusions that the current Vice President should actually be President, but perhaps he would at least stop being a puppet for the man who is currently his boss. We can pray as much.

I do not say any of this lightly, and I obviously do not expect everyone to agree, but I would hope that people would at least take these thoughts seriously. (Feel free to discuss this in a civil manner here—but only in a civil manner.)


*Facebook post of 8/23/17: Early in Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi is asked if there is a blessing for the czar. He wisely answers, “Yes: May God bless him and keep him—far away from us.” There might be a similar appropriate blessing for Donald Trump: “May God bless him and keep him—far away from us, and far away from the nuclear codes.”

Kings College Bidding Prayer–Festival of Lessons and Carols

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

A portion of this year’s bidding (opening) prayer for the Kings College Cambridge Service of Lessons and Carols, 3 pm today in England (10 am Eastern US time):

Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas Eve our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger. Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the ?rst days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and let us make this Chapel, dedicated to Mary, his most blessèd Mother, glad with our carols of praise:

But ?rst let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace and goodwill over all the earth; for unity and brotherhood within the Church he came to build…

And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.

Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the
Word made ?esh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.

“We” Do Not Have Troops: An Open Letter to the Church in the U.S.

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Dear Pastors, Other Church Leaders, and All Fellow Christians in the U.S.,

It has been commonplace recently to hear requests for prayer and other forms of support for “our” troops. The problem is that “we” do not have any troops. By “we” I mean the Christian church. It is not my intent in this letter to convince anyone to become a pacifist. It is only my intent to make our speech appropriately Christian and accurate.

When we gather, we confess our faith in the one God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth: “We believe in one God….” When we gather, we confess that Christ came “for us and for our salvation,” which are not references to people of any particular nation, not even the nation in which we happen to live. When we gather, we confess our participation in a community that transcends space and time and nationality: “the communion of the saints….” When we gather, we do so, therefore, as one small, local part of a worldwide community called the church of Jesus Christ. We do not gather as Americans, even if we happen to be Americans. We gather as Christians.

Therefore, when we talk about “our” troops, we are being inaccurate. The troops do not belong to us, that is, to the Christian church, the communion of saints, the Christians gathered together in a particular church. The troops do not represent us; the troops do not fight for us; they are not on a mission from us; they are not our troops. They are someone else’s troops, even if some of them happen to come from our churches. They are, to be theologically correct and grammatically accurate, “their” troops. They go at someone else’s behest. They are someone else’s soldiers and missionaries. The church does not have troops except prayer warriors and mission workers and apologists and martyrs and common believers who bring every thought captive to Christ and who fight daily not against flesh and blood but against and principalities and powers. Those are our troops. Let’s pray for them, for us.

When we talk about “our” troops, we also make another mistake. Even if one believes that the church in the U.S. should pray for “the” troops, we should not use the word “our” because it is exclusive and therefore inaccurate in another way. How so? Many, if not most, churches in the U.S. have members or regular participants who are not Americans, but they are Christians. To pray for “our” troops, referring to U.S. troops, is impossible for these people. The invitation to prayer or support for “our” troops therefore creates a division in the church that ought not to exist.

The prayer of the church should always be a corporate prayer in which everyone can participate and to which everyone can say “Amen.” The mission of the church should always be a mission that all can support. Prayer for “our” troops and support for “our” troops do not fit this essential criterion of inclusion. We need to find something more appropriate that all in the church can support and pray for. Given all the needs in the world, that should not be too hard to do. The end of war, rather than support for it, would not be a bad place to start. (Even Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” might agree [see his Nov. 8, 2009 comments].)

Speech about “our” troops is possible only for a church that has lost track of its fundamental and ultimate identity. It is the speech of civil religion, not of the international, transnational church of Jesus Christ. It is time to clean up our speech.

Your brother in Christ,


Thoughts from Lamentations

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I depart this morning from my normal genre of posts to reflect a bit more personally on a milestone—as of yesterday, July 1, we have lived 20 years in the same house. Obviously, much has happened during those two decades as three children have become adults, etc. But yesterday at breakfast my wife and I read the following passage from Lamentations (3:21-22) that expresses our sentiment (and I hope yours in your situation):

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

It is especially important to read the previous 20 verses to see what horrible life experiences the writer has gone through before he introduces verses 21-22 with the following “but”:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

These words, as most commentators say, express the heart of biblical faith. Like most families, we have had our share of sorrow and challenge. But…

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Some Thoughts About Singing…

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Methodists are singing people. Charles Wesley wrote more than 5,000 hymns. We sing whenever we gather for worship, and often at other times. If singing is so central to what we do, it might be valuable to think a bit about what we are actually doing.

St. Augustine (354-430) said famously that “to sing is to pray twice.” Another ancient church saying went like this: “lex orandi, lex credendi,” meaning “the law of praying is the law of believing,” or “our prayers reveal what we really believe.”

If our prayers reveal our deepest beliefs, and if singing is praying twice, then it follows that what and how we sing is extraordinarily important. (Perhaps that’s why John Wesley gives us instructions; see the front of our hymnals.) In fact, what we sing not only reveals our beliefs and attitudes, it shapes them. The more you sing Christian songs or hymns, the more their theology and spirituality becomes part of you—for better or worse, since not all Christian music has good theology and spirituality in it!

When we sing, it can do something to us, often something that mere speech, even speech that is prayer, does not and cannot do. We own the prayer-song, and it owns us. It becomes embedded in us, and we may draw on that music in times of great joy or sorrow.

As we sing and listen to sacred music, whether traditional or contemporary, we are being changed, molded, transformed. That is why the temple had musicians, why the Bible has 150 psalms (songs), why St. Paul told his churches to sing (Col 3:16, Eph 5:19), and why the apostle even includes some verses of hymns or poems in his letters (Phil 2:6-11, Col 1:15-20).

For all these reasons, it is crucial that musicians select music that reflects good theology and spirituality, and why we should all consider the words of Wesley:

• Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
• Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
• Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing.

Let us continue to “make a joyful noise to the Lord,” in every season of the church year.

Praying for Soldiers at War?

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Our church’s July 2008 church newsletter contained an (unsigned) article on suggestions for praying for the U.S. military forces, especially in Iraq. It struck me as sincere but theologically misguided. In the August 2008 newsletter, I offered another view in order to stimulate some additional thinking and discussion in our church—and now more broadly. Apparently, it has stimulated some controversy, though only one person has directly approached me about it.  It follows:

The first point to be made is that whenever Christians pray, but especially during a war, we pray as Christians, not as Americans (or Canadians or whatever). It is very easy for Americans or anyone else to assume that some power called “God” is on their side. But it is more difficult to know what and how we as Christians should pray during a time of war.

We need to put prayer during war into a wider spiritual framework, and not just assume (like the misguided minister and his flock in Mark Twain’s famous poem “War Prayer”) that God is on “our” side—that is, our particular country’s side. We should remember that when the U.S. went to war in Iraq, most major denominations and many theologians (myself included), both in the U.S. and around the world, protested that the war would not meet the criteria for a just war.

Whatever one’s view of this specific war, some things from Scripture are crystal clear:
1.God does not desire war but, instead, peace, justice, and reconciliation. God “breaks the bow, and makes wars to cease.” God in Christ dealt with us, his enemies, with love, not death. Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
2.Jesus calls us, his disciples, to be peacemakers and to love our enemies.
3.God has a special concern for the poor and oppressed, the victims of injustice.
4.As Christians, we are part of the universal body of Christ, and that is far more important than any national identity

These truths should affect the way we as Christians pray:
1.We should pray for the war to end, for the establishment of justice, for reconciliation among enemies, for creative alternatives to violence. Pastor Steve does this frequently in church.
2.We should pray for the courage to make peace, and to love those who might be perceived as our enemies.
3.We should pray for the victims of war, especially the families of innocent civilians, refugees, etc.
4.We should pray for the church in Iraq, which has been horribly affected by this war.

As for the soldiers themselves, there is no mandate from Jesus to pray for them. Historically, however, when Christians have thought about whether Christians are even permitted to participate in war, the church’s largest concern has been that soldiers might actually have to kill or do something else that violates the teaching of Jesus. Historically, the church has often required all returning soldiers to go through a period of repentance.

Therefore, the chief prayer we should offer to God for Christians who are in a war zone is not merely that God will protect them, but that God will protect them from committing evil, from doing anything that violates the gospel of Jesus Christ. For some of us, this will mean praying that they will not kill anyone at all and will even lay down their weapons. For all of us, it will mean praying that they will not kill the innocent or do anything else that contradicts the will of God. And it will mean asking God to forgive all of us for contributing to humanity’s incessant penchant for war and violence.

At the same time, we can pray that God will keep all those involved in the war (on all sides) from doing evil, that all will seek peace, and that God will provide for the families and friends of all who are away from home because of war. This might be at least one spiritually acceptable way to pray both for those we know, and for those we do not know, in a time of war. It might even help draw this long, horrible conflict to a close.


Doing Taizé in Lent

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

I first visited the community at Taizé, France in 1973. After a long absence, I have returned four times in the last eight years and plan to visit again this summer and next. I have grown to love the style of contemplative prayer and music for which the community is known. In 2005 I did a short retreat there and saw Brother Roger just before he was murdered.

My wife Nancy and I have been participatiing in the Lenten Taizé services at the local Presbyterian church througout Lent this year. No one there has visited the community, and that affects their ability to imagine and replicate (in a non-identical way) the “real Taizé” experience. Tonight I went to a different Presbyterian church with my friend and co-worker Patty while Nancy was out of town. The difference was palpable because the leader had been to the community in France.

What is it about the music, the silence, and the prayer that is so appealing? For me, it is the simplicity and beauty of the music that allows me to experience the real presence of Christ in the place where the prayer occurs, in me, and in others. For me, that is a rare experience in this busy world, so even when there is no Taizé service, I often listen to a CD of the music. 2007-03-28; 22:25:47