Tag Archives: humor

Repent…the end is not at hand

My favorite pop psych carpe diem mental masturbation exercise is imagining what I would do with the time I have left if I only had a year to live.  Being “of the cloth,” I fantasize about devoting my few remaining days to delivering desperately needed inoculations to people dying of highly contagious bleed-out diseases in godforsaken banana republics laced with landmines and crawling with the minions of local wackadoo dictators.

But let’s get real.  Like most people, I’d probably spend my last days watching Glee reruns and eating Girl Scout cookies by the sleeve.*  Given an expiration date, very few of us make an about-face, amend our errant ways, and get any more firmly on the straight and narrow that we’ve ever been.  Where genuine repentance is concerned, the last minute isn’t much of a motivator.

In the wake of the latest school-shooting-de la semaine and the inevitable ensuing firestorm about firearms, I’ve read several variations of the following on Facebook:  “Guns aren’t the problem.  People are the problem.”  These gemlike bumper sticker policy statements unleash predictable surges of political and moral controversy and streams of uninformative/uninformed, unkind, and unoriginal responses as people on all sides of the issue weigh in, yet again, on how and why our children are dying in hails of gunfire in their classrooms.  Then, just as predictably, those same outraged authors immediately scroll on to click “Like” on the latest videos of a cat in a shark suit riding on a Roomba.**

I try not to engage in exchanges of verbal gunfire on social media, preferring, as I do, to hide behind a Norton security screen and fire random shots into crowds via this blog.  But I’ll tell you what I would have posted to Facebook if I hadn’t gotten sidetracked by dogs on skateboards.  People are the problem.  People have been the problem since Adam and Eve got dressed and escaped Eden.  All of us bear the weight of sins we’ve inherited from our ancestors – social sins, sins of inequality, systemic “isms,” and systematic injustice; and we bear within us the sins we ourselves have committed and keep committing.  Being human gives human beings a deservedly bad name.

Gun control, mental health treatment, arming teachers, encasing our children in Kevlar; the solutions fly in a frenzy of hand-wringing for about a week after every mass shooting, then we go back to business as usual, acting as if none of this has anything really to do with us until the next barrage of media images showing sobbing teenagers in front of makeshift memorials with stuffed animals and crosses and balloons and handmade signs that say, “We will never forget you.”

Except we do.  These days, mass murder seems to be the cost of participating in our free and democratic society.  It’s positively routine anymore.  And it’s precisely our business-as-usual approach to routine civilian slaughter that makes these catastrophes possible again and again and again.

By itself, all the gun control – or gun stockpiling – in the world will not end events like Columbine, Pulse, Aurora, Las Vegas, Sutherland, Sandy Hook, and Parkland.  Because guns – or the lack of them – aren’t the root of this kind of evil.  Our society, pathologically permissive of violence, is.

Which brings me to repentance.

Popularly associated with hair shirts, self-flagellation, sackcloth, ashes, and consuming entire sleeves of Girl Scout cookies in a single sitting, repentance is one of the most misused theological concepts in the Christian playbook.  The Greek word metanoia, which we translate as “repentance,” literally means “turning around.”  Repentance is a course-correction made possible by the understanding that we are not moving in the right direction.  Unfortunately, the people most interested in repentance – Christians, supposedly – are among those most guilty of failing to do it.

I remember watching professional football games on TV as a kid and seeing a season ticket holder seated behind the goal posts raise a sign during every field goal and extra point that read: “Repent!  The end is at hand!”

Despite the personal satisfaction obtained via such broad-spectrum guilt-baiting (not dissimilar, I suspect, from the satisfaction gleaned from posting things on Facebook such as, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”), to my knowledge, no one in the Bible ever said, “Repent, for the end of the world is at hand.”  They did say repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

One of the other most misused theological concepts in the Christian playbook is the concept of the kingdom of heaven.  Contrary to opinion popular among the “Jesus Loves You and Burns Sinners in Hell” crowd, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven in the Bible, he’s not talking about some heavenly reward for the deceased faithful.  He’s talking about a state of grace in this life, on this space-time continuum.  He’s talking about something we do in this life, not something we earn our way into in the next.

People who truly repent — who take a fearless moral inventory of their world and then make substantive behavioral changes — actually do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven.  Starting today.  Right now.  Not after breakfast.  Not after death.  Repentance, that active course correction, brings the kingdom of heaven to the present moment.  That’s what Jesus meant when he prayed, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is done in heaven.”  Understood this way, repentance is less a sentiment and more a decision; less a feeling than a course of action.

We are called to repent because the end is NOT at hand.  But for those of us who do repent, the kingdom of heaven on earth may be.  In any case, keeping on keeping on for American society should not be an option, especially for people of faith.  Keeping on keeping on will not usher in the earthly rule of the Prince of Peace.  It is, however, successfully managing to make life hell on earth for far, far too many.

 

* I’d also book a trip to Hawaii so I could scratch “spit off the rim of a live volcano” off my bucket list.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I fucking love this one.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2018

 

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Prayers for The Donald

Donald Trump is an evil man in the most banal sense of the word.  And by “banal,” I don’t mean trivial; any man with Trump’s wealth, fame, and connections certainly has destructive potential to be taken seriously.  I simply mean that there is nothing particularly unusual or ingenious about his wickedness.[i]

Biblically speaking, his malevolence is nothing new under the sun.  He is Solomon using women as objects of amusement and pleasure.[ii],[iii]  He is Pharaoh identifying resident aliens as the enemy, isolating them from the local population, enslaving their bodies and exploiting their strength.[iv],[v]   He is Pilate, with his casual contempt for the land he would govern.[vi],[vii]  He is Herod, with his monument-building and ruthless aspirations to political greatness.[viii],[ix]  He is, in other words, a dangerously flawed human being gleefully plumbing the depths of our human potential for awfulness.  Millions of us love him for it.[x]  And millions of others can’t tear our eyes away, though we may wish to.

That said, what kills me isn’t Trump.  Just as Jesus said, “You shall always have the poor among you,” we will also always have megalomaniacal dickweeds among us…often contributing to the perpetuation of poverty, but that’s a topic for another post.  What kills me, as always, is the so-called Christian response to him.  On the one hand are the Christians who piss themselves with joy every time some toxic vitriol about a) brown people, b) women, c) people with disabilities, d) non-Americans, e) prisoners, f) have I missed anyone? comes out of Trump’s mouth.  On the other hand are the Christians, like yours truly, who secretly pray for a stray asteroid or one piece of bacon too many to simply remove Trump from the human equation.

Obviously, any celebration of evil (on the one hand) or prayerful exercise of evil (on the other hand) is patently un-Christlike.  I think Trump delights some Christians because he openly displays the rottenness that contaminates the human heart, particularly American human hearts with our conflicted and self-contradictory history and national identity of “liberty and justice for all”/slave-holding, genocide, and oppression of women and foreigners.  In this respect, Trump gives us a vicarious thrill when he spouts off about women bleeding out of their eyes (“or wherever”), or prisoners of war as “losers,” or roughing up brown people exercising their right to free speech.  I’m sure a great many Christians agree with their ever-lovin’ hearts and minds with the hateful sentiments behind such comments, but on some level, I think we all find Trump entertaining because yes, “he just said that.”  And it touches a similarly corrupt chord in all of our hearts.

Being a political liberal and a “progressive” Christian, I’m generally self-congratulatory about taking the moral high ground on social and political issues  But when Trump strums those corroded strings in my heart, in that soft, mealy spot in my own character, I respond as most of my kind do: with hot, righteous, but not altogether justifiable indignation.  Then, being a proper religious, I pray.  I’d be lying if I said I pray for Trump’s welfare, or for the heart-healing I think his ardent fans need.  No, I pray for Trump’s destruction.

The great political theorist and ethicist, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that only power can confront power and an evil and corrupt establishment cannot be brought down with sit-ins and kumbaya.[xi]  An apt political observation, but it doesn’t stand up to Jesus’ command to love thy enemies and pray for those who persecute you.[xii]

I can’t for the life of me think of how to pray, with integrity, for The Donald, nor for many of our national and global leaders who seem bent on building empires for themselves on the backs of other nations and of their own people.  The best I can do is grieve my sin (yes, I just said that) and let God do the praying for me.  Paul wrote in his final letter, the letter to the church in Rome:  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”[xiii]

We don’t know how to pray as we ought, or live as we ought, or hold each other or our public officials accountable as we ought because to do so would cast a circle of light over all of our sins.

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[i] These terms probably seem quaint or even archaic.  “Wickedness,” “evil,” and “sin” don’t see much play in my progressive Christian tradition, which is one of many ways educated, white, liberal Christians quietly acquiesce to the viciousness of our society: we patently refuse to call it what it is.

[ii] I Kings 11:1-3, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315650964

[iii] “18 Real Things Trump has Actually Said About Women,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/18-real-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-women_55d356a8e4b07addcb442023

[iv] Exodus 1:8-22, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315651105

[v] “Debunking Donald Trump’s Five Extreme Statements about Immigrants and Mexico,” http://www.forbes.com/sites/doliaestevez/2015/09/03/debunking-donald-trumps-five-extreme-statements-about-immigrants-and-mexico/print/

[vi] Luke 13:1, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315651271

[vii] “Hey Trump, Don’t Use “Crippled” as a Metaphor for America,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-kuusisto/donald-trump-and-the-crip_b_8510368.html

[viii]  “History Crash Course #31: Herod the Great,” http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48942446.html

[ix] “How Donald Trump Abandoned his Father’s Middle-Class Housing Empire for Luxury Building,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/08/10/the-middle-class-housing-empire-donald-trump-abandoned-for-luxury-building/

[x] A long, but fascinating article in The Atlantic features thirty reasons, from all along the political spectrum, for why so many Americans support Trump’s presidential bid:  “What do Donald Trump Voters Actually Want?” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/08/donald-trump-voters/401408/

[xi] I confess, this is a bit of a paraphrase.  For Niebuhr’s actual position, see Moral Man in Immoral Society.

[xii] Matthew 5:44,  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315653551

[xiii] Romans 8:26, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315650687

[xiv] Illustration by Canadian artist, Dominic Philibert, http://dominicphilibert.blogspot.com/2010/09/donald-trumps-for-clarktoys-trailer.html

© Marian the Seminarian 2015


Epistle of Marian to the Followers of this Blog

Marian, servant of God,[i] by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ[ii] and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,[iii]

to Constant Readers:[iv]

Peace out.

I have heard of your faithfulness, good looks, feats of strength, and general thingness.[v]  So…good job and keep circulating those tapes.

It’s been several months since you heard from me.  If this was first century Palestine, you’d attribute the hiatus to slow postal service or me getting eaten by lions somewhere, but thankfully, we’re two thousand years beyond all that, except, possibly, for slow postal service.  Lo, these last many weeks, I’ve been immersed in deep and significant higher learning about Presbyterian polity,[vi] creeds, and confessions,[vii] Biblical Greek,[viii] and Paul’s seminal epistle to the Romans.  It is in regards to Romans that I write you today.

The book of Romans has been freaking people out for centuries.  A madcap hybrid fund-raising letter/theological treatise written in characteristically incomprehensible Pauline Greek,[ix] the book of Romans kept Augustine up nights, inspired Luther to pound his historic list of grievances to the Wittenberg door, gave Calvin the idea of dressing up as a doubly predestined sinner for Halloween – a totally depraved act which, as we all know, led him to invent the Protestant Reformation[x] – and gave Barth something to read in his free time when he wasn’t pissing off the Third Reich.

After two months of dogged study, I am now fully qualified to stand shoulder to shoulder with these theological grandmasters and share my view of what, clearly, is the principal take-home message of this famous letter:

Grace, baby, grace.

kitten

I couldn’t come up with a meaningful picture of grace, so I opted for this kitten that looks like a marshmallow.

Oozing through this letter is the theme of God’s grace, which Paul presents alternately as a) God’s faithfulness to Israel and b) God’s justification of Christ-followers’ through forgiveness of sins.  N.T. Wright, an epicure and soldier on the front lines of the new-perspective-on-Paul, doesn’t see much of a difference between the two:  “Dealing with sin, saving humans from it, giving them grace, forgiveness, justification, glorification – all this was the purpose of the single covenant from the beginning, now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.”[xi]  Pretty much this means that God had it all figured out for all of us a long time ago and we can just get over our damn selves.

Now, I know that some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but what predestination?”  As a good Calvinist, I turn to Barth.[xii]  He said that humanity’s love for God originates in God, who exists outside chronological time, so a temporal human life can’t predicate predestined outcomes because in the mind of God, whatever we’re hurtling toward is already reality, so we can just get over our damn selves.  And anyway, God gets to pick no matter what and because God’s faithfulness and love surpass human belief or unbelief, we can stop worrying and just get over our damn selves.

Yes, yes, some of you are going to the dark side.  What about double predestination you say?  Paul sums it up best:

Nothing, you name it, separates us from God’s love.  Not even twerking.[xiii]

So, rejoice.  Let’s get over our damn selves and enjoy God’s grace, peace, and general thingness.  Amen.

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[i] Stop laughing.  I’m doing homage to a classic literary form here.

[ii] Please don’t hold this post against Jesus.  He’s been held against enough posts.

[iii] In the cunning guise of Rail Yard Red Ale and Frito pie.

[iv] Or Re-Readers, to which you’ve been reduced to since this blog hasn’t seen two microseconds worth of action in six frickin’ months.

[v] I also heard something about the Guinness people, a deacon clearly operating without adequate adult supervision, and a hot dog eating contest, but since you didn’t break the current record of six hot dogs consumed in under three minutes, I really don’t think that’s something we should broadly advertise.

[vi] Because, loosey goosey as our theology may be, by God, all Presbyterian pastors know how to run a decent and orderly meeting.

[vii] These are kind of like Presbyterian fight songs.  For example:  “Rah, rah, ree!  Total depravity!  Rah, rah, rent!  Limited atonement!  Rah, rah, race!  Irresistible grace!”  We have pompons and everything.

[viii] One of the peculiar hazing rituals to which Presbyterian candidates for ordination are subjected.

[ix] Through an aneurysm-inducing cocktail of participles, serial clauses, and run-on sentences, Paul makes his point in Koine Greek at least as well as I make mine in English with liberal applications of footnotes and semicolons.

[x] And Protestants have been protesting ever since.

[xi] From N.T. Wright’s latest New York Times bestseller, Justification: Twenty Centuries of Low-Fat Cooking on the Road to Damascus, p. 95.

[xii] While avoiding Calvin himself and his five centuries of bad press.

[xiii] Romans 8:38-39, slightly abbreviated and nominally paraphrased.

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(c) Marian the Seminarian, 2014


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