Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 26th Ordinary (Day 4)

Mark 9:38-50
  38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”
39 Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. 40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. 41 I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.
42 “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake. 43  If your hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter into life crippled than to go away with two hands into the fire of hell, which can’t be put out] 45  If your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 - If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out. It’s better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to be thrown into hell with two. 48 That’s a place where worms don’t die and the fire never goes out] 49  Everyone will be salted with fire. 50  Salt is good; but if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other.”

What a passage for the world we live in today! 

First, we have the disciples acting as exclusivists.  Demons are cast – as clear a sign of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom as we find in the gospels.  Only the one doing the exorcizing is not among the number of those who follow Jesus.  So the disciples acting to protect the integrity and honor of their master try to shut this exorcist down.  They proudly hurry back to report on this part of their “ministry” to Jesus.

Whatever praise or approval they expected from their master, they receive only a rebuke.  Perhaps remembering Jesus’ counsel in another situation, “Whoever isn’t with me is against me” (Mt.12:30), they felt justified in resisting the work of this exorcist.  They were drawing a circle around Jesus and declaring everything done by those outside this circle as blameworthy.  Sound familiar – a little?

Jesus, as he often does, pulls the rug out from under his disciples.  And when they have landed unceremoniously on their butts, he announces a new teaching:  Whoever isn’t against us is for us.

What?  But you said . . . and now you’re saying the opposite?  What’s up with that, Jesus?
It’s the kingdom of God, that’s what (v.47)!  The disciples have failed (again) to grasp the reality of God’s kingdom breaking in to human existence in Jesus.  It changes everything, especially religious stuff.  Nurtured in a nationalistic tradition that worked to establish and police the boundaries of God’s people, keeping God within those boundaries was second nature.  Jesus here, however, breaks the mold of their conceptions. 

God’s kingdom is breaking out in various ways all over the place both within and without the boundaries of national Israel, within and without the band of Jesus’ disciples.  The kingdom of God is larger than God’s people, larger than the church.  And whenever we see signs of the kingdom exhibited, we ought to rejoice and be glad.  Even if God’s work is not done by us, it is nonetheless being done and we ought to support those signs of kingdom life.

But Jesus is not through with the disciples.  Not by a long shot.  He turns from what is happening “out there” to what is happening among them.  This failure to grasp the truth about God’s kingdom he seems to liken to hindering others (“these little ones”) and themselves from entering God’s kingdom.  The violence of his language, drowning oneself, chopping off limbs, to avoid this possibility is a clear, if gruesome, index of the utter urgency of the matter.

The church serves the kingdom of God, not the other way round.  The church lives by the hope and horizons of the kingdom, not those of its own survival, security, or reputation.  The church pours out its life for the kingdom, not preserves its life for itself.

Trouble is coming for the nation and for Jesus’ followers – “everyone will be salted with fire” (v.49).  The nation is on a terrible crash course with destruction by trying to revolt against the Romans.  The word “salt” is an Old Testament word associated with covenant.  Jesus, in catch-word fashion, moves from the first metaphorical use of “salt” in v.49 to using it with this covenantal association for his followers.  If the covenant community loses its distinctiveness as witnesses to God’s kingdom, what good is it? 

Thus Jesus concludes with this admonition “Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other” (v.50).  Keep your eyes on God’s kingdom and embody God’s “shalom” among yourselves.  In this way you will both see and welcome signs of God’s kingdom wherever and through whomever they come.  And you will yourself be a sign of that kingdom for all to see.

Please God that this be true for us today, tomorrow, and every tomorrow God grants till kingdom come.

Head Coverings in Worship: Why Female Hair Is a Testicle
Posted on 9.27.2012

One of the joys of being friends with bible scholars is the stuff they share with you to explore. Recently, my colleague Trevor Thompson, who is a New Testament scholar here at ACU, shared with me some of the work of another NT scholar, Troy Martin, who is a friend of Trevor's. One of Martin's areas of expertise is using ancient medical texts to illuminate NT passages, particularly passages that seem confusing to us. In various studies Martin makes the observation that some of these confusions stem from the fact that we don't share the same medical understandings of the NT writers and their audiences. When ancient medical terms or ideas are used we often miss the meaning.

A good example of this comes from 1 Corinthians 11.2-16.

This passage has caused a lot of head scratching. In this text Paul makes an argument about women needing a head covering during worship. But what is strange is that after making this argument Paul seems to undercut and contradict himself. Specifically, in vv. 5-6 Paul makes the argument that a woman should wear a covering to cover her hair during worship. Not doing so would be a "disgrace" (NIV).

So far so good. But a few verses later Paul makes an argument from nature that seems to contradict what he has just argued, that a woman's hair is a "disgrace" if uncovered. The perplexing text is v. 15:
...but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
You can see the problem. In vv. 5-6 the woman's hair needs a covering to avoid disgrace. But in v. 15 a woman's hair is its own covering and her glory. What's the deal? Is a woman's exposed hair disgraceful or a glory? Does a woman need to cover her hair or is her hair its own covering?

This is one of those passages where Martin argues that a proper understanding of ancient medicine, in this case reproductive medicine, can help resolve the apparent paradox. Specifically, in an article Martin published (Journal of Biblical Literature, 123/1, 2004, 75-84) he argues that the root of the interpretive paradox has to do with the proper interpretation of the word "covering" in v. 15.

The word rendered "covering" in v. 15 is peribolaiouPeribolaiou can refer to an outer garment and given the discussions about covering up in this text most translators have gone with this meaning. However, Martin points out that in the ancient world peribolaiou had a wider range of meanings.

Specifically, peribolaiou could refer to testicles. Which raises a question about the connection in the text with women's hair. Why is Paul talking about reproductive anatomy in a discussion about hair?

According to Martin, it has to do with how the ancients understood where sperm was stored and how hair aided the movement of sperm through the body.

Two ideas are important here. First, the ancients saw the head as the place where sperm was stored. Second, the ancients saw the hair as functioning like a straw, exerting a sucking force on the sperm. That is, where more hair was located more suction was exerted.

The idea is roughly as follows. A woman has a lot of hair on her head so that, when sperm enters her body during intercourse, the hair can suck the sperm upward and into her body. For the man the goal is to pull the sperm down and out of the body. The testicles were believed to be "weights" that helped exert this downward pull.

What all this means is that, according to the ancients, the hair was a part of reproductive anatomy, with the female's hair functioning as the analog of the male's testicles. The testicles in the male pull semen down and out and the hair of the female pulls the semen up and in.

This is one reason why Paul considers long hair on a man to be problematic. If a man grows his hair long he'll be unable to eject semen as his long hair will exert too much suction upward. (Insert funny and inappropriate joke about my own long hair.) A similar line of argument goes for females with short hair.

And all this explains what Paul is saying in 1 Cor. 11.15. Paul's argument is that a woman's long hair is proper to her nature. Why? Well, just as a man has testicles so a woman has long hair. The proper reading of v. 15b is this: "For long hair is given to her as a testicle."

And if a woman's long hair is sort of like a testicle then of course you'd want to keep that covered up during the worship service.

All of which brings us to the issue regarding if today's women should continue to keep their hair/testicles covered in Christian worship. At the end of the paper Martin concludes:
Informed by this tradition, Paul appropriately instructs women in the service of God to cover their hair since it is part of the female genitalia. According to Paul’s argument, women may pray or prophesy in public worship along with men but only when both are decently attired. Even though no contemporary person would agree with the physiological conceptions informing Paul’s argument from nature for the veiling of women, everyone would agree with his conclusion prohibiting the display of genitalia in public worship. Since the physiological conceptions of the body have changed, however, no physiological reason remains for continuing the practice of covering women’s heads in public worship, and many Christian communities reasonably abandon this practice.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 26th Ordinary (Day 3)

James 5:13-20
13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. 17 Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
19 My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, 20 recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

I cannot resist offering for your edification the section on the confession of sin to one another Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned in Life Together.  It is longer than usual but well worth the time.

“CONFESS YOUR SINS to one another” (James 5:16). Those who remain alone with their evil are left utterly alone. It is possible that Christians may remain lonely in spite of daily worship together, prayer together, and all their community through service—that the final breakthrough to community does not occur precisely because they enjoy community with one another as pious believers, but not with one another as those lacking piety, as sinners. For the pious community permits no one to be a sinner. Hence all have to conceal their sins from themselves and from the community. We are not allowed to be sinners. Many Christians would be unimaginably horrified if a real sinner were suddenly to turn up among the pious. So we remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrisy, for we are in fact sinners.
However, the grace of the gospel, which is so hard for the pious to comprehend, confronts us with the truth. It says to us, you are a sinner, a great, unholy sinner. Now come, as the sinner that you are, to your God who loves you. For God wants you as you are, not desiring anything from you—a sacrifice, a good deed—but rather desiring you alone. “My child, give me your heart” (Prov. 23:26). God has come to you to make the sinner blessed. Rejoice! This message is liberation through truth. You cannot hide from God. The mask you wear in the presence of other people won’t get you anywhere in the presence of God. God wants to see you as you are, wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and to other Christians as if you were without sin. You are allowed to be a sinner. Thank God for that; God loves the sinner but hates the sin.

Christ became our brother in the flesh in order that we might believe in him. In Christ, the love of God came to the sinner. In the presence of Christ human beings were allowed to be sinners, and only in this way could they be helped. Every pretense came to an end in Christ’s presence. This was the truth of the gospel in Jesus Christ: the misery of the sinner and the mercy of God.  The community of faith in Christ was to live in this truth. That is why Jesus gave his followers the authority to hear the confession of sin and to forgive sin in Christ’s name. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).

When he did that, Christ made us into the community of faith, and in that community Christ made the other Christian to be grace for us. Now each stands in Christ’s place. In the presence of another Christian I no longer need to pretend. In another Christian’s presence I am permitted to be the sinner that I am, for there alone in all the world the truth and mercy of Jesus Christ rule. Christ became our brother in order to help us; through Christ other Christians have become Christ for us in the power and authority of Christ’s commandment. Other Christians stand before us as the sign of God’s truth and grace. They have been given to us to help us. Another Christian hears our confession of sin in Christ’s place, forgives our sins in Christ’s name. Another Christian keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to another believer to confess, I am going to God.

Thus the call within the Christian community to mutual confession and forgiveness goes out as a call to the great grace of God in the congregation.

In confession there takes place a breakthrough to community. Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community. The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and closed isolation of the heart. Sin must be brought into the light. What is unspoken is said openly and confessed. All that is secret and hidden comes to light. It is a hard struggle until the sin crosses one’s lips in confession. But God breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron (Ps. 107:16). Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of another Christian, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders, giving up all evil, giving the sinner’s heart to God and finding the forgiveness of all one’s sin in the community of Jesus Christ and other Christians. Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear apart the community. Now the community bears the sin of the individual believer, who is no longer alone with this evil but has “cast off” this sin by confessing it and handing it over to God. The sinner has been relieved of sin’s burden. Now the sinner stands in the community of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. Now one is allowed to be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. We can admit our sins and in this very act find community for the first time. The hidden sins separated the sinner from the community and made the sinner’s apparent community all a sham. The sins that were acknowledged helped the sinner to find true community with other believers in Jesus Christ.
In this connection, we are talking exclusively about confession between two Christians. A confession of sin in the presence of all the members of the congregation is not required to restore one to community with the entire congregation.  In the one other Christian to whom I confess my sins and by whom my sins are declared forgiven, I meet the whole congregation. Community with the whole congregation is given to me in the community which I experience with this one other believer. For here it is not a matter of acting according to one’s own orders and authority, but according to the command of Jesus Christ, which is intended for the whole congregation, on whose behalf the individual is called merely to carry it out. So long as Christians are in such a community of confession of sins to one another, they are no longer alone anywhere.

In confession there occurs a breakthrough to the cross. The root of all sin is pride, superbia.  I want to be for myself; I have a right to be myself, a right to my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The spirit and flesh of human beings are inflamed by pride, for it is precisely in their wickedness that human beings want to be like God.  Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one’s pride. To stand there before another Christian as a sinner is an almost unbearable disgrace. By confessing actual sins the old self dies a painful, humiliating death before the eyes of another Christian. Because this humiliation is so difficult, we keep thinking we can avoid confessing to one another. Our eyes are so blinded that they no longer see the promise and the glory of such humiliation. It is none other than Jesus Christ who openly suffered the shameful death of a sinner in our place, who was not ashamed to be crucified for us as an evildoer. And it is nothing else but our community with Jesus Christ that leads us to the disgraceful dying that comes in confession, so that we may truly share in this cross. The cross of Jesus Christ shatters all pride. We cannot find the cross of Jesus if we are afraid of going to the place where Jesus can be found, to the public death of the sinner. And we refuse to carry the cross when we are ashamed to take upon ourselves the shameful death of the sinner in confession. In confession we break through to the genuine community of the cross of Jesus Christ; in confession we affirm our cross. In the profound spiritual and physical pain of humiliation before another believer, which means before God, we experience the cross of Jesus as our deliverance and salvation. The old humanity [Mensch] dies, but God has triumphed over it. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life.

In confession there occurs a breakthrough to new life. The break with the past is made when sin is hated, confessed, and forgiven. “Everything old has passed away.” But where there is a break with sin, there is conversion. Confession is conversion. “Everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Christ has made a new beginning with us. As the first disciples [die Jünger] left everything behind and followed Jesus’ call, so in confession the Christian gives up everything and follows. Confession is following after [Nachfolge]. Life with Jesus Christ and the community of faith has begun. “No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov. 28:13).  In confession, Christians begin to renounce their sins. The power of sin is broken. From now on, the Christian gains one victory after another. What happened to us in baptism is given to us anew in confession. We are delivered from darkness into the rule of Jesus Christ. That is joyful news. Confession is the renewal of the joy of baptism. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:6).

In confession there occurs a breakthrough to assurance.  Why is it often easier for us to acknowledge our sins before God than before another believer? God is holy and without sin, a just judge of evil, and an enemy of all disobedience. But another Christian is sinful, as are we, knowing from personal experience the night of secret sin. Should we not find it easier to go to one another than to the holy God? But if that is not the case, we must ask ourselves whether we often have not been deluding ourselves about our confession of sin to God—whether we have not instead been confessing our sins to ourselves and also forgiving ourselves. And is not the reason for our innumerable relapses and for the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living from self-forgiveness and not from the real forgiveness of our sins? Self-forgiveness can never lead to the break with sin. This can only be accomplished by God’s own judging and pardoning Word. Who can give us the assurance that we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins? God gives us this assurance through one another. The other believer breaks the circle of self-deception. Those who confess their sins in the presence of another Christian know that they are no longer alone with themselves; they experience the presence of God in the reality of the other. As long as I am by myself when I confess my sins, everything remains in the dark; but when I come face to face with another Christian, the sin has to be brought to light. But because the sin must come to light some time, it is better that it happens today between me and another believer, rather than on the last day in the bright light of the final judgment. It is grace that we can confess our sins to one another.  Such grace spares us the terrors of the last judgment. The other Christian has been given to me so that I may be assured even here and now of the reality of God in judgment and grace. As the acknowledgment of my sins to another believer frees me from the grip of self-deception, so, too, the promise of forgiveness becomes fully certain to me only when it is spoken by another believer as God’s command and in God’s name. Confession before one another is given to us by God so that we may be assured of divine forgiveness.
But it is precisely for the sake of this assurance that confession is about admitting concrete sins. People usually justify themselves by making a general acknowledgment of sin. But I experience the complete forlornness and corruption of human nature, insofar as I ever experience it at all, when I see my own specific sins. Examining myself on the basis of all Ten Commandments will therefore be the right preparation for confession. Otherwise, it might happen that I could still become a hypocrite even in confessing to another Christian, and then God’s comfort would continue to be remote from me. Jesus dealt with people whose sins were obvious, with tax collectors and prostitutes. They knew why they needed forgiveness, and they received it as forgiveness of their specific sins. Jesus asked blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Before confession we must have a clear answer to this question. In confession we too receive the forgiveness of particular sins that come to light at that time. And it is in confessing these particular sins that we receive the forgiveness of all our sins, both known and unknown.

Does all this mean that confession to one another is a divine law? No, confession is not a law; rather, it is an offer of divine help for the sinner. It is possible that by God’s grace a person may break through to assurance, new life, the cross and community without benefit of confession to another believer. It is certainly possible that a person may never come to know what it means to doubt one’s own forgiveness and question one’s own confession of sin, that one may be given everything in one’s solitary confession in the presence of God.  We have spoken here for those who cannot say that about themselves. Luther himself was one of those for whom the Christian life was unthinkable without confession to one another. In The Large Catechism he said, “Therefore when I urge you to go to confession, I am urging you to be a Christian.”  The divine offer that is made to us in the form of confession to one another should be shown to all those who, despite all their searching and struggling, cannot find the great joy of community, the cross, the new life and assurance. Confession stands in the realm of the freedom of the Christian. But who could, without suffering harm, turn down that help which God considered it necessary to offer?

To whom should we make a confession? According to Jesus’ promise every Christian believer can hear the confession of another. But will the other understand us? Might not another believer be so far beyond us in the Christian life that she or he would only turn away from us without understanding our personal sins? Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar. Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus. Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin—and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy. Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ungodliness of the human being. [100]And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner. The psychologist must first search my heart, and yet can never probe its innermost recesses. Another Christian recognizes just this: here comes a sinner like myself, a godless person who wants to confess and longs for God’s forgiveness.9 The psychologist views me as if there were no God.  Another believer views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ. When we are so pitiful and incapable of hearing the confession of one confession. Only those who have been humbled themselves can hear the confession of another without detriment to themselves. The second danger concerns those who confess. For the well-being of their soul they must guard against ever making their confession into a work of piety. If they do so, it will become the worst, most abominable, unholy, and unchaste betrayal of the heart. Confession then becomes sensual prattle [wollüstiges Geschwätz]. Confession understood as a pious work is the devil’s idea. We can dare to enter the abyss of confession only on the basis of God’s offer of grace, help, and forgiveness; only for the sake of the promise of absolution can we confess. Confession as a work is spiritual death; confession in answer to God’s promise is life. The forgiveness of sins is alone the ground and goal of confession.

Although confession is an act in the name of Christ that is truly complete in itself and is practiced in the community as often as there is a desire for it, confession serves the Christian community especially as a preparation for participation together in the Lord’s Supper. Reconciled to God and human beings, Christians desire to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is the command of Jesus that no one should come to the altar with a heart unreconciled to another Christian.  If this command applies to all worship, indeed, to every prayer we offer, then it applies all the more to receiving the sacrament. The day before the Lord’s Supper together will find the members of a Christian community with one another, each asking of the other forgiveness for wrongs committed. Anyone who avoids this path to another believer cannot go to the table of the Lord well prepared. All anger, strife, envy, malicious gossip, and conduct to the detriment of one another must have been done away with if all wish to receive together the grace of God in the sacrament. But apologizing to another Christian is still not confession. Only the latter stands under the express command of Jesus. But preparation for the Lord’s Supper will also awaken in individuals the desire to be completely certain that the particular sins which frighten and torment them, which are known to God alone, are forgiven. The offer of confession and absolution with one another is proclaimed to fulfill this desire. Whenever anxiety and worry over one’s own sins has become intense and the assurance of forgiveness is sought, the invitation to come to confession is extended in the name of Jesus. What brought the accusation of blasphemy against Jesus was that he forgave sinners;  this is what now takes place in the Christian community [Bruderschaft] in the power of the present Jesus Christ.  One forgives all the sins of the other in the name of Jesus and the triune God.  And among the angels in heaven there is joy over the sinner who returns to God.  Thus the time of preparation prior to the Lord’s Supper will be filled with admonition and consolation of one another, with prayers, anxiety, and joy.

The day of the Lord’s Supper is a joyous occasion for the Christian community. Reconciled in their hearts with God and one another, the community of faith receives the gift of Jesus Christ’s body and blood, therein receiving forgiveness, new life, and salvation. New community with God and one another is given to it. The community of the holy Lord’s Supper is above all the fulfillment of Christian community. Just as the members of the community of faith are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord, so they will be together in eternity. Here the community has reached its goal. Here joy in Christ and Christ’s community is complete. The life together of Christians under the Word has reached its fulfillment in the sacrament.

Believe It Or Not: Republicans Hate Jesus

Thomas Magstadt
Published: Tuesday 25 September 2012
Remember the sweet little children’s song, “Jesus loves me! This I know…”? Well, kiddies, guess what? Republicans are different. They don’t love you.
If Democrats were to pull a Watergate caper and steal the Republican campaign playbook, they might accuse Republicans of committing the ultimate blasphemy to Christians.  They might say that in seeking to denigrate and tear down everything government tries to do to help the poor, the sick, and the needy, Republicans are secretly waging war against the teachings of Jesus Christ.  They might conjure up a catchy slogan like  REPUBLICANS HATE JESUS and treat it as a self-evident truth.

They could then proceed to turn the slogan into a campaign strategy and use it to preclude any real debate on the issues.  When did Republicans start to hate Jesus?   Why do Republicans hate Jesus?  Do all Republicans hate Jesus or mainly just politicians, CEOs, and the Super Rich?  And they could debate these questions endlessly on a popular TV channel that disguises its propaganda as news.  They could use this smear tactic in every political campaign from here to eternity – or at least until it stops working.

By this standard, it doesn’t matter whether or not a slur or slogan is true.  What matters – indeed, the only thing that matters – is whether or not it produces the desired results because nothing succeeds like success.

This is the point of Jill Lepore’s fascinating essay entitled “The Lie Factory” in the latest (September 24) issue of The New Yorker.  Lepore shows how Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker, the ingenious couple who invented the art and science of political consulting back in 1933, transformed American politics with a simple insight, namely that repeating a lie over and over again is the surest way to win elections.

Lepore tells a riveting story of how Baxter and Whitaker created the first political consulting firm in the U.S., Campaigns, Inc., and “licked” Upton Sinclair when he ran for governor of California in 1934 by getting the Los Angeles Times to put a box with an Upton Sinclair quotation in it on the front page every day for six weeks before the election.  The quotes were not from Sinclair speeches and interviews, but rather from fictional characters in his novels. Clever, huh?

 When Sinclair lost the election, he wrote a long post-mortem, “How I Got Licked”, published in installments in 50 newspapers.  The reason he lost, he said, was that the Republicans ran what he called a Lie Factory.   (Did I mention REPUBLICANS HATE JESUS?)
The Lie Factory would go on to play a major role in defeating two early attempts at guaranteed health care, one at the state level (then Governor Earl Warren’s proposal for a universal health insurance system in California), the other a compulsory, comprehensive national program (President Truman’s proposal in 1945).   Today, we are living – and dying – with the consequences.
How did Baxter and Whitaker do it?  Two steps:  1) persuade physicians and the powerful AMA lobby that letting the state get into the act would be fatal for the free exercise of the healing arts; 2) persuade the American people that national health insurance was the first step on the road to totalitarianism (think Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia).   Campaigns, Inc. gave opponents of affordable health care the only weapon they would ever need, namely a poisonous label: “socialized medicine”.  
Of course, it was (and is) a lie.  Guaranteed health care is not a synonym for socialism.  Nor is it incompatible with a robust market economy.  The empirical evidence drawn from the experience of many countries – most notably, our closest allies – and decades of economic history is overwhelming, which means that anyone who pretends otherwise is a fool or a liar.

And if your name happens to be Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan you are lying through your pearly white teeth.  But lying is what the heirs of Baxter and Whitaker – you know, nice guys like Roger Ailes (think: FOX News), Karl Rove, and Grover Norquist – want you to do.  Winning is what you want to do.  You want to win?  The facts are not in your favor?  Okay, tell lies, a lot of lies, big lies, dirty lies, and wrap yourself in the flag while you paint you’re opponent as a socialist, atheist, or (if he happens to have an unusual middle name), perhaps a Muslim.

Back to the point:  REPUBLICANS HATE JESUS.   Remember the Sermon on the Mount?  Does anything in it remind you of today’s Republican leadership?  (Yes?  What Bible are you using?  No?  That’s the one we used when I was in Sunday school.)   Or do you remember the New Testament accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John where Jesus “cleanses the Temple”;  that is, He throws the moneychangers out (by contrasting, Republicans bail them out).  A little fuzzy on that, are we?  Kindly re-read Matthew 21: 12-13, to cite one example from what Christians consider Holy Scripture.

Or has that changed?  Seriously, it’s difficult to imagine the historical Jesus endorsing the pack of lying liars who now head the Republicans party (aka, The Lie Factory). 

So, please repeat after me:  REPUBLICANS HATE JESUS.  Repeat it over and over again, like a mantra, okay?  Do it at least until November 3.   Be sure to start repeating it again at least a year before any election.  It’s of utmost importance that we all use only these three words until everyone in America believes it.  (Think:  “duckspeak” in 1984.  Orwell was onto something.)

Remember the sweet little children’s song, “Jesus loves me! This I know…”?  Well, kiddies, guess what?  Republicans are different.  They don’t love you.

More proof that REPUBLICANS HATE JESUS (and affordable health care).

And that’s no lie. 

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 26th Ordinary (Day 2)

Psalm 124
124 If the Lord hadn’t been for us—
    let Israel now repeat!—
    if the Lord hadn’t been for us,
        when those people attacked us
then they would have swallowed us up whole

        with their rage burning against us!
Then the waters would have drowned us;
    the torrent would have come over our necks;
    then the raging waters would have come over our necks!
Bless the Lord
    because he didn’t hand us over
    like food for our enemies’ teeth!
We escaped like a bird from the hunters’ trap;

    the trap was broken so we escaped!
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    the maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 124 from The Message:

124 1-5 If God hadn’t been for us
    —all together now, Israel, sing out!—
If God hadn’t been for us
    when everyone went against us,
We would have been swallowed alive
    by their violent anger,
Swept away by the flood of rage,
    drowned in the torrent;
We would have lost our lives
    in the wild, raging water.
Oh, blessed be God!
    He didn’t go off and leave us.
He didn’t abandon us defenseless,
    helpless as a rabbit in a pack of snarling dogs.
We’ve flown free from their fangs,
    free of their traps, free as a bird.
Their grip is broken;
    we’re free as a bird in flight.
God’s strong name is our help,
    the same God who made heaven and earth.