Dear Brother Donald

Letter to President Donald J. Trump

September 30, 2017

Dear Don,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you Don. You can call me Gordy; only those close to me in grade school called me that, but, so did the kids in my confirmation class. Since we were both confirmed in Presbyterian churches, I think it makes sense to call each other Don and Gordy.

brown-psr-3-300-394After writing you yesterday, I wondered whether your confirmation class read the same book mine did. Did you read Robert McAffee Brown‘s The Bible Speaks to You? I have to confess I didn’t read much of it at the time. I faked it. Maybe you did, too. I think we were probably a lot alike that way, don’t you think?

Anyway, this morning I went online and found The Bible Speaks to You in Google Books — Google, like Twitter, is amazing, don’t you think? — to see what we were supposed to be reading and to get a sense again of what we were being taught. Even way back when we were in confirmation class, we were being taught that Jesus was killed by the coalescence of two mistakes that seem to be the opposite of each other: nationalism, on the one hand, and imperial rule, on the other. They went hand-in-hand in deciding Jesus has to go.

Do you remember that?

Jesus wasn’t big on either nationalism or or empire; he saw both as substitutes for God, idols manufactured by the human heart to provide a false sense of security and importance. I suspect you may have skipped those chapters of the New Testament, but this wouldn’t be the first time the crucifixion was erased from consciousness. It happened in the German Church in the 1930s when the majority Christian population blamed the Jews, the Gypsies, the communists, and homosexuals for Germany’s fall from greatness. Make Germany great again was the agenda back then and Jesus was weeping all the way through it — in the concentration camps and in the cattle cars of the trains that removed from the nation everyone who wasn’t of the Aryan race, an idol of exceptionalism that, like all idols, had no foothold in reality itself.

Do you remember how we hated Hitler and all that stuff in confirmation class, how we thought of ourselves as Christians who would never do that because we were disciples of Jesus, and as Americans who would never do that because … well, we were Americans? We were better than that!

Funny how things change sometimes if we don’t pay attention, don’t you think? Maybe we paid too much attention to that period of world history and not enough attention to Robert McAfee Brown and the Bible. Long after we finished confirmation class to become disciples of Jesus, Robert McAfee Brown said something I’m remembering now:

Who we listen to determines what we hear. Where we stand determines what we see. What we do determines who we are.

I wonder who you’re listening to, where you stand on all of this, and write you now because, as your brother in Christ, I went on to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his American friends,Paul Louis Lehmann, William Sloane Coffin, and, yes, our old confirmation class author Robert McAfee Brown, who all claimed that what we do determines who we are.

The Bible speaks to you

Original cover of The Bible Speaks to You used in Presbyterian church confirmation classes in the 1950s and ’60s.

Don, if you can find a moment this morning, you can click this  Amazon LINK to The Bible Speaks to You, click “Look Inside” and scroll down to what neither of us can remembers now that we’re over 70 years old and forgetting much of what we learned. Take a look at pages 11 and 12 about the Marine Corporal following Robert McAfee Brown, the Marine Chaplain, back to his quarters after a Bible study on the Gospel of John story of Lazarus:

“Chaplain,” he said, “I felt as thought everything we read this morning was pointed right at me. I’ve been living in hell for the last six months, and for the first time I feel as though I’ve gotten free.”

You’ve been in the White House for nine months now, and I suspect it may feel like a hell you’ve never experienced. Maybe the same thing can happen with you as happened with the Marine.

634px-Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_The_Raising_of_Lazarus_-_Google_Art_Project

“The Raising of Lazarus” — Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1318-1319)

Remember, Don, every one of us has had at least a taste of hell these last nine months, but I’m looking to you for something different to rise from the ashes of our confirmations: a refutation of nationalism and empire. As Robert McAfee Brown said when he was much older, “What you do determines not only who you are but who we are. ” Take a close look at the picture of Robert McAfee Brown and at . It feels as though he’s looking at us to see whether we’re with Jesus and Lazarus.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart (“Gordy”), Your Brother in Christ

Chaska, Minnesota

10 thoughts on “Dear Brother Donald

    • Thanks, JoAnne. I needed that time in the woods and need it again. I think I’m no less horrified but also less certain I understand what’s happening and searching for some kind of forgotten common ground and ways to talk about it that do more than deepen the chasm. Hope you and Bill are well and enjoying your new home. Love and peace, Gordon

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  1. Actually, nobody remembers that because it’s not part of- nor nor taught as part of the Gospel.

    Indeed! If one puts the Sermon on the Mount in purely secular context, it was a manifesto of Judean nationalism, though also a diatribe against Imperial rule. It was a Gandhi-esque model for civil disobedience.

    S’OK. You’ve got to be: a biblical scholar, decent in ancient languages, and a student of the history, culture, and laws of the Roman Empire to really get that. 😉

    Also, I feel the need remind or educate you – don’t know which it is – that the state of Weimar Germany, the rise of Hitler, and the corruption of the Church was caused by the inherently flawed mortal response to the atrocities committed upon Germany by outside powers at the end of WWI. NOTE: You might want to think about the fact that the US did not sign the Treaty of Versailles because it violated our constitution and we knew no good would come of it.

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    • Greetings, Jonalan, and thanks for coming by. Yes, one could call the Sermon on the Mount a manifesto of sorts — clearly Jewish and not so clearly to many, unfortunately, a statement of political-economic-cultural-religious resistance to the Roman Empire’s occupation. I like that — “a Gandhi-esque model for civil disobedience.”

      Crucifixion, of course, was a Roman form of execution and Jesus was one of thousands who were crucified for being insurgents against the Roman occupation. The New Testament Gospels present varying narrative descriptions and interpretations of Jesus. I took a moment to travel over to you blog post on Jesus in the Temple, one of those key moments that shows how both nationalist and imperial power and authority did was seems oxymoronic: they joined together to get rid of him because he insulted them equally. Jesus’s raid on the Temple was an attack on the Temple monetary system, which, in turn was an attack on the Roman monetary system that bore Caesar’s image. Jesus would be charged with two things: “we found this man guilty of stirring up the people, and refusing to pay tribute (i.e. taxes) to Caesar.”

      Thanks for the paragraph about the responsibility of the Treaty of Versailles on the Weimar Republic’s weakness and the rise of Hitler. I agree. At least I think I do. 🤓 Glad for the conversation.

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