Drinking Drano — Who Will Pump America’s Stomach?

It ends before a paragraph is written. Anything I might say seems so obvious. Trite. I feel like Chicken Little! How many times can I warn that “the sky is falling!”? Why bother?

Once a preacher always a preacher? The people I most want to reach are professing Christians who leave me gasping for air: the part of the American electorate that seems so out of touch with their spiritual-moral core that they cannot see clearly the gaping chasm between their faith and their politics.

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 28JAN12 – Jim Wallis (L), President and Chief Executive Officer, Sojourners, USA; Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-making, is captured during the session ‘Trust and the Social Contract’ at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum at the congress centre in Davos, Switzerland, January 28, 2012. Copyright by World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo by Monika Flueckiger

Can we find common ground?

Christians of all sorts read the same Bible. We read different translations, and we read it differently, but we read it. We cherry pick parts of the Bible that support our viewpoint and black out what we prefer to ignore. A search for a small patch of solid ground that could become the common ground for respectful conversation about faith and politics landed on Paul’s good counsel to the Philippians.

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, If there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Letter of Paul to the Philippians 4:8

Letter to the Philippians 4:8

We all need more of goodness. Less ugliness. Greater attention to the things that are excellent and worthy of praise; less attention to things that are worthy of scorn; more love, less hate. These qualities of character are a succinct guide in all areas of life. But no sooner do we agree with Paul’s wisdom than the divisions re-create themselves.

Christians, nones, dones, agnostics, and atheists

Yet no sooner do we shake hands in agreement with Paul’s advice, than we retun to the fight that brought us to this moment. In 2020, what do we deem truthful, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable/worthy of praise, and how do the these qualities of character guide professing Christians as we make decisions in public life?

It troubles me that the nones, dones, agnostic and atheist friends practice what Paul advised more than the growing number who have read Paul’s letter. How does a professing disciple of Jesus become deaf to the shrillness, the ugliness, the smirk, the self-serving manipulation of the sacred, the drip-by-drip erosion of trust, the disappearance of what we once regarded as admirable?

White House Press Conference 09/23/2020

WH Correspondent: “Will you commit to a peaceful transition of power if you lose the election?” The President: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that.”

WH Correspondent: “Will you commit to making sure there is a peaceful transfer of power?” The President: “We want to have — get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”

Campaign mailing to homes in Minnesota

In our mailbox: Front page of mailing “Paid for by the Republican Party of Minnesota” Inside: “THIS IS THE TRUTH: President Trump helped families struggling the most under the coronavirus. When Democrats in Washington walked away from a deal and turned their backs on American families, PRESIDENT TRUMP DELIVERED.”

“To serve, protect, and defend the Constitution”

It’s hard to turn attention to whatever is excellent and worthy of praise when I see the American ancestors of the Philippian church applauding the desecration of what Paul taught, to say nothing of ignoring the violation of the President’s oath of office “to protect, serve, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Getting it wrong and not getting it

But those who support Mr. Trump are not the only ones in need of re-reading the Letter to the Philippians. Progressive evangelical theologian and social justice activist Jim Wallis summarizes the American political scene in God’s Politics: Why the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it (2005, Harper-Collins). Who of us is not poisoned in 2020?

In need of a stomach pump

The 2020 American electoral campaign reminds me of the day my two-year-old brother swallowed Drano before being rushed to the hospital emergency room where they pumped his stomach before the poison could kill him.

Current logo for Drano

Who will pump our stomach before the Drano burns away the things that are commendable — and American constitutional republic — from inside out?

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, September 24.

End the Violence

Today’s Sojourners’ blog posted End the Violence .

After reading this article, I submitted this comment about the “comments”:

I am continually amazed and dismayed by the character and content of comments on articles like this. I have the sense that Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have told their listeners, “Go on Jim Wallis’ blog and take him down!” Lines like “liberal Christian drivel,” “a law that restricts a persons (sic) ability to fulfill their divine obligation to protect their home and family” (the legislation does NOT restrict it, and there is no such “divine mandate” except in the NRA Bible), and “what are these faith leaders doing about abortion?” (when the issue here is violence with guns and the allegation is that religious leaders must choose between the two) – these comments do not engage the issue.

There is an anti-legislation, anti-democratic, anti-government streak in so many of these comments. The comments are political in the worst sense, demeaning the integrity of the writers and stereotyping their views into predetermined conclusions.

This seems to be the nature of the blogosphere, but it is especially distressing to see it here on Sojourners where readers mostly profess Christ and have attempted to take to heart The Epistle of James, “So the tongue is a little member and boats of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” The tongue is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison. WITH IT WE BLESS THE LORD AND FATHER, AND WITH IT WE CURSE OTHERS, WHO ARE MAD IN THE LIKENESS OF GOD. FROM THE SAME SOURCE COME BLESSING AND CURSING. Brothers, this ought not to be so. (James 3:5-10).

As a writer and a blogger, I am grateful that the comments on Views from the Edge are respectful and thoughtful. Those of you who choose to comment engage the substance of what this blog posts. Such is not the case with the Sojourners blog with Jim Wallis. Jim Wallis is a progressive evangelical Christian, author of “God’s Politics: How the Left Doesn’t Get It, and the Right Gets It Wrong” and subsequent books on American values, economics, religion, and politics. Glenn Beck has publicly targeted him as a Social Gospel liberal (i.e.) a socialist disguising himself as a Christian.

Sojourners publishes Pleasantville Sermon

Yesterday Sojourners’ blog God’s Politics: a blog with Jim Wallis and friends published “The Garden Outside Pleasantville.” Thanks to Jim Wallis and the Sojourners staff for republishing.

Click HERE for the piece on Sojourners.

Sojourners publishes “Just Leave Me Alone”

This afternoon Sojourners published “Just Leave Me Alone” as a Lenten Reflection. Jim Wallis, founder and CEO of Sojourners, is one of the nation’s outstanding social justice theologians and best-selling author.

Click Just Leave Me Alone to read the piece on Sojourners and leave a comment there.

Sojourners publishes again today

Sojourners today re-published “A Song for Each Kind of Day” on their blog – “God’s Politics: a blog with Jim Wallis and friends.” Click HERE to see it on their blog.

Yesterday they picked up “I Wish We Were All that Crazy.”  Click HERE to see it.

Thank you, Sojourners – and thank you Steve Shoemaker for the heart of the piece.

“Sojourners” republishes piece today

Thanks to Sojourners for republishing a piece that first appeared here. Click I wish we were all that Crazy” to read the piece on Jim Wallis’ blog, “God’s Politics.”

If you missed it, it was a reflection on the late Bishop James Pike and the late William Stringfellow, the lawyer and lay theologian who defended the Bishop at the Episcopal Church’s heresy trial.

Sojourners Today

This morning Sojourners chose to publish last Sunday’s sermon (posted yesterday on “Views from the Edge”) on it blog, “God’s Politics:  a Blog with Jim Wallis and Friends”. Click THE STONES ARE SINGING for the Sojourners post to read and hear it, “like” it (If you do :-)), post a comment,or send it to a friend by email.

Once again, special thanks to Dennis Aubrey and Via Lucis (click the link for today’s Good Friday photos) for permission to use his magnificent photographs and written description of his time in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Vezelay, France.

Reading Dennis’ words from the pulpit near the end of the sermon, I had to stop. It was as though years of trying to understand had come together into a single moment. When  the Gospel writer has Jesus respond to his critics with “I tell you, if these keep silent, the very stones will cry out,” he is quoting from the Scriptures of his Jewish faith – Ode against the Chaldeans in the Book of Habakkuk “The stone shall cry out from the wall, and the beam out of the framework shall answer it. Woe to him that builds a town with blood, and establishes a city by iniquity.” (Hab. 2:11-12)


Video: “The Bouquet”

Click HERE for the YouTube broadcast of last Sunday’s sermon at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN. The sermon text is published on this blog as “The Biouquet” and on the Sojourners blog, blogging with Jim Wallis.

The Bouquet

Re-posted by Sojourners’ blog, “God’s Politics with Jim Wallis” March 27, 2012.

Most every Sunday Ruth or Lily Janousek hands me a drawing on the way out the door. I have quite a collection.  Lily and Ruth are budding theologians. They may not know that about themselves, but that’s what they are: budding theologians – they do theology, they do their best to speak of God.

They draw pictures of God and us. Like the one from last Sunday. The drawing of a bouquet with the words:

“God doesn’t loves us as a flower but as a bouquet”

Right then and there, standing at the door last Sunday, I knew I had the sermon for the next week in my hand.

Ruth’s drawing took me back some years ago when I had the great privilege of serving as the summer minister for Saint Timothy’s Memorail Chapel in Silver Cross, Montana, a ghost town with four residents where they would bring the world’s greatest preachers!  One of the four residents of Silver Cross was the 92 year old Eliza who lived up the hill, perhaps the length of a football field, from Saint Timothy’s . Every Sunday morning Eliza would cut the wildflowers in her yard, arrange them into a beautiful bouquet and place them on the altar for worship. Now I get a drawing from eight year old Ruth, younger version of the 92 wilting theologian, Eliza.

“God doesn’t love us not as a flower but as a bouquet.”

I wonder who the flowers are in this bouquet, the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus speaks of it in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-14) or, the Body of Christ, as Paul speaks of it in First Corinthians.

As in Ruth’s drawing and Eliza’s Sunday morning arrangements, a bouquet is made up of a variety of flowers. Individual flowers come in a single size and shape, eac with its own color. In a bouquet, these different colors, shapes and sizes complement and contrast with one another to make something altogether beautiful in the hand of a skilled florist.

Ruth may be a rose and Lily a sunflower, Bob might be a purple Iris, and I might be…a Milkweed or a thistle or a twig of red oshier – but put us all together and we become something more than who we are.

God loves us as a bouquet. We are God’s bouquet. We are the flowers; God is the florist; we belong in God’s bouquet.

Could this be what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount?  Could the collection in Jesus’ Beatitudes be the bouquet, the Kingdom of Heaven?

Listen to the florist’s strange list of flowers in this bouquet:

Blessed are the poor in spirit;

Blessed are those who mourn;

Blessed are the meek,

Those who hung and thirst after righteousness,

The merciful, the pure in heart,

The peacemakers,

Those who are persecuted,

Those who are slandered against for doing what’s right.

“You are the city set on a hill that cannot be hid. the bouquet that cannot be ignored.”

Until this morning, I had always thought of these individual beatitudes as a description of the individual life of the disciple of Jesus. But to think of them that way is depressing because it’s unachievable.

In a former pastorate I used to visit four young men in psychiatric institutions whose demented states of mind I was sure were rooted in some way to their failure to measure up to this impossible spiritual standard. Each of them was a professor’s son. Each of them had been raised on a missionary style of Christianity. Each of them had been raised to feel sorry for the persecuted, the meek, the poor, the oppressed. And each of them, as we walked the grounds of the psychiatric hospital in Mansfield, would talk as though he should be able to save the world from its pain. Each of them seemed to believe that purity of heart meant being like Jesus – which meant to them incessant suffering, guilt, and sorrow.

Each of these brothers bore the marks of the Beatitudes. Each was poor in spirit. Each hungered and thirsted for justice. Each was merciful. Each was pure in heart. Each felt persecuted for pursuing what was right in a world that didn’t care or didn’t know. Each of them felt slandered for doing what their parents – and Jesus – had taught them to do.

But there was one quality that was missing: the quality of meekness…

So long as they lived in the illusion that they, as individuals. were responsible for the world as It was, or that each of them alone was responsible for ridding the world of its suffering, each of them was lost in the lonely world of a flower without a bouquet. So long as they embraced the twisted missionary moralism of their distorted Christian upbringings, they would suffer the horrors of shame and loneliness.

Now, I know, of course, that each of the four brothers I visited back then were mentally ill. They didn’t choose to be in the state psychiatric institution. But I also knew their parents. And I knew the church in which they had been raised. It came as no surprise to me that there seemed to be a profound connection between what I was hearing from the homes and the church of their upbringing and what I was hearing form their sons in the psychiatric hospital.

I have to admit to sharing in the twisted spirituality that saw the Beatitudes as a list of requirements for the Christian life. It’s made me sick along the way.

But this morning, in light of Ruth’s yellow card from last Sunday, I’m seeing them differently.

“God loves us not as a flower but as a bouquet.”

Not every flower in God’s bouquet is poor in spirit. Not every one of us is in mourning. Some of us got up this morning with smiles on our faces and a song in our heart. Not every one of is meek.  Not everyone came here this morning hungering and thirsting for righteousness – some of us came out of habit; some of us came for comfort, some of us came to sing some hymns. Some of don’t know why we came. Not everyone is known by acts of mercy – we come with grudges and desires for retribution. Not everyone is pure in heart or a peacemaker. And almost of none of us is being persecuted as advocates for social justice.

But TOGETHER all of those blessed people are here in God’s Bouquet.

Makes me wonder whether Jesus had read the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scriptures of India written two to five centuries before he preached the Sermon on the Mount in Palestine. Listen to its familiar ring, and let the Florist place you in the vase of God’s remarkable Bouquet.

“I am the Self…seated in the heart of every creature. I am the origin, the middle, and the end that all must come to.

“All your thoughts, all your actions, all your fears and disappointments, offer them to me, clear-hearted; know them all as passing visions.

“Thus you free yourself from bondage, from both good and evil karma; through your non-attachment, you embody me, in utter freedom.

“I am justice; clear, impartial, favoring no one, hating no one. But in those who have cured themselves of selfishness, I shine with brilliance.

“Even murderers and rapists, tyrants, the cruelest fanatics, ultimately know redemption through my love, if they surrender

“To my harsh but healing graces. Passing through excruciating transformations, they find freedom and their hearts find peace within them.

“I am always with all beings; I abandon no one. And however great your inner darkness, you are never separate from me.

“Let your thoughts flow past you, calmly; Keep me near, at every moment; trust me with your life, because I am you, more than you yourself are.”

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Youtogether – are the salt that preserves the earth from its own self-destruction.

“You – together – are the city set upon a hill that gives light to the world.”

We together – each and all – are God’s bouquet. God loves us as a bouquet!