Archive for September, 2015

Strange because of the Strangers?

September 22nd, 2015 No comments

illegal immigration

This whole anti-immigrant sentiment that’s out there in our politics right now is contrary to who we are. Because unless you are a Native American, your family came from someplace else,” Mr. Obama said. “Don’t pretend that somehow 100 years ago the immigration process was all smooth and strict. That’s not how it worked.” The grandparents and great-grandparents of politicians taking a hard line on immigration, he said, were also “somehow considered unworthy or uneducated or unwashed.”

“When I hear folks talking as if somehow these kids are different from my kids or less worthy in the eyes of God, that somehow they are less worthy of our respect and consideration and care, I think that’s un-American. – Barack Obama

“Why on earth would Bernie go there?”

September 19th, 2015 No comments

Yesterday Donald Trump declined to correct an ignorant and bigoted supporter who asked him how he would save the country from “Muslims”, among whom he believes the allegedly foreign-born (and ironically simultaneously “socialist”) Barack Obama presents the greatest threat. There is a distinct possibility that Trump declined to correct because he himself agrees with his dangerously addled supporter. The reactions from the political world were the expected fervent denunciations from the left, crickets from the Republican field, and a mainstream media gleeful that they had a juicy sound bite to generate interest in their advertising.

I don’t think I’ve made it a secret that I see Bernie Sanders’ campaign as a breath of fresh air in the sewer of American politics. While Republicans are catering to fear, ignorance, and false patriotism, insulting each others’ physical appearance and Hillary Clinton’s hair like third graders and creating a deafening silence about the issues that really matter, Bernie Sanders has consistently delivered an on-point,  thoughtful, and reasonable appeal.

There are a few issues on which I disagree with Mr. Sanders. I believe that the issue of abortion is about more than a woman’s right to choose; it is as well about the right of the child the woman created who cannot choose. I believe that you can create a civil union between people of the same sex that is recognized by a secular state as “marriage,” but that you cannot call that union a marriage in biblical terms. But I agree with Sanders that the major threats facing American society today are not foreign terrorism or what people do in their bedrooms but instead arise out of economic imbalance and divisions that are destroying this country from within.

This morning when I opened my email I found one from the Sanders campaign which I am including verbatim below. The reason I feel compelled to do this is because I think it presents a profound contrast to what we have come to expect in the political arena. No attacks, no lies, no fear-mongering or bottom feeding. Just reasoned straight talk and an appeal for civil discourse. If you are convinced that the greatest threat to America today is “Muslims” and that the number one enemy is the foreign-born communist Muslim Barack Obama I doubt you will be able to endure it. But if you still have even the slightest grip on reality, and would like to see an elevation in the way we interact in the political arena, I believe you will find the below quite interesting.


Dear Keith,

Earlier this week I spoke at Liberty University. For those of you who do not know, Liberty University is a deeply religious institution. It is a school which tries to understand the meaning of morality and the words of the Bible, within the context of a very complicated modern world. It was founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, and the vast majority of people at Liberty strongly disagree with me, and perhaps you, about abortion, marriage equality, and other issues.

You might be asking yourself, “Why on earth would Bernie Sanders go there?” It is a fair question within the context of our modern politics.

I spoke at Liberty University because I believe that it is important for those with different views in our country to engage in civil discourse – not just to shout at each other or make fun of each other.

It is very easy for those in politics to talk to those who agree with us – and I do that every day. It is harder, but not less important, to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us and see where, if possible, we can find common ground. In other words, to reach out of our zone of comfort.

So I went outside of my zone of comfort. Watch this video of my remarks there and read what I have to say about the ideas of morality and justice as they relate to income inequality and other critical issues facing our nation.


The message I gave at Liberty University is that the moral choice is to fight income inequality, and that the just thing to do is to work to make our society more fair. Below are some of my remarks to Liberty from the video above, but I think it is important to share them with you here as well so that you can share with others how I approach these issues.

I am far, far from a perfect human being, but I am motivated by a vision which exists in all of the great religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and others – and which is so beautifully and clearly stated in Matthew 7:12. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the prophets.” The Golden Rule. Do to others what you would have them do to you. Not very complicated.

I told the crowd at Liberty University that I understand that issues such as abortion and gay marriage are very important to them, and that we disagree on those issues. I get that. But there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and the world and that maybe, just maybe, we don’t disagree on them. And maybe, just maybe, we can work together in trying to resolve them.

Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

Justice. Treating others the way we would like to be treated. Treating all people with dignity and respect.

It would, I think, be hard for anyone in that room where I spoke to make the case that the United States today is a “just” society or anything resembling a just society.

In America today there is massive injustice in terms of income and wealth inequality. Injustice is rampant. We live in the wealthiest country in the history of the world but most Americans don’t know that because almost all of that wealth and income is going to the top one percent. We are living at a time where a handful of people have wealth beyond comprehension – huge yachts, jet planes, tens of billions of dollars, more money than they could spend in a thousand lifetimes. But at the same time, millions of people are struggling to feed their families or put a roof over their heads or find the money to go to a doctor.

When we talk about morality and when we talk about justice, we have to understand that there is no justice when the top one-tenth of one percent own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. There is no justice when all over this country people are working long hours for abysmally low wages, $7.25 an hour or $8 an hour, while 58 percent of all new income being created today goes to the top one percent.

There is no justice when, in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires while, at the same time, the United States has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. How can we talk about morality when we turn our backs on the children of this country? Twenty percent of the children in this country live in poverty and that includes 40 percent of African American children. There is no justice when, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, children in our country go to bed hungry.

There is no justice when the 15 wealthiest people in this country saw their wealth increase by $170 billion dollars in the last two years. That is more wealth, acquired in a two-year period, than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. And while the very rich become much richer, millions of families have no savings at all and struggle every week just to stay alive economically, and the elderly and disabled wonder how they stay warm in the winter. That is not justice. That is a rigged economy designed by the wealthiest people in this country to benefit the wealthiest people in this country at the expense of everyone else.

There is no justice when thousands of people in America die each year because they don’t have health insurance and don’t get to a doctor when they should, or when elderly people are forced to choose between food or medicine because our citizens pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. That is not justice. That is not morality. That is simply an indication that we are the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care for all as a right.

There is no justice when low-income and working-class mothers are forced to separate from their babies one or two weeks after birth and go back to work because we are the only major country on earth that does not have a paid family and medical leave policy. That is not justice. That is an attack on family values that everyone should be appalled at.

There is no justice in our country when youth unemployment exists at tragic levels – with 51 percent of African American high school kids unemployed or underemployed. No. We apparently do not have the funds to provide jobs or educational opportunities for our young people but we sure do have the money to throw them into jails. Today, the United States has more people in jail than any other country on earth, and many are serving time in inhumane conditions. That is not justice. That is the destruction of human life.

I am not a theologian or an expert on the Bible or a Catholic. I am just a U.S. senator from the small state of Vermont. But I agree with Pope Francis when he says: “The current financial crisis… originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

He also states: “There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. Money has to serve, not to rule.”

In his view, and I agree with him, we are living in a nation and in a world which worships the acquisition of money and great wealth, but which turns its back on those in need. And that must end. We need to move toward an economy which works for all, and not just the few.

Throughout human history there has been endless discussion and debate about the meaning of justice and the meaning of morality. I hope that by getting out of my comfort zone and speaking with the students at Liberty University that I can be a part of a dialogue with people who might not agree with us. I hope that some of them conclude that if we strive toward morality and toward justice, that it is imperative that we have the courage to stand with the poor and working people of our country.

In solidarity,

Bernie Sanders


Bernie the Baptist?

September 17th, 2015 No comments


An evangelical response to Bernie Sanders’ address at Liberty University by a Liberty graduate. If you call yourself a Christian and you have somehow confused discipleship to Jesus with membership in the Republican party, you need to read this. It should at lest give you something to think about.

The Greatest Sin of Our Age

September 10th, 2015 No comments


By ignorance of the biblical narrative we can imagine an angry Old Testament God who responds to trivial offenses with apocalyptic overkill. That leads us moderns to either dismiss him as a primitive phantasm or to judge his character to be that of a nit-picking busybody. Thus we can either ignore his desires (because he doesn’t really exist) or we can follow him by being the same kinds of busybodies we imagine him to be. Most people know little to nothing about the narrative of the Bible, other than what they have “heard,” which is like listening to our “friends” on social media.

But the Old Testament when considered in context and in total reveals a God who created humans in love with the intent that they would love in return, and bestowed upon them the same dignity as he himself possesses. God’s wrath comes into play when humans reject the love of God and pursue love of self and created things. The sin of Adam and Eve had nothing to do with apples or sex. All of the injustices attributed to this so-called wrathful God are in fact the injustices perpetrated by humans against other humans in direct violation of both God’s commandments and character. And we read over and over in both the Old and New Testaments of God’s steadfast desire for his people to return to the way of justice, righteousness, and love, for their own blessing and the blessing of all the world.

I could probably write a whole book about that but this is a blog post so I want to try to keep it manageable. My real purpose here is to shine a different light on the conflict over same-sex marriage and sexual morality in general than we currently encounter in our national conversation. I think it is true that American culture is morally depraved. And I think it is true that one expression of that immorality is the apotheosis of sexual desire and satisfaction. Admit it: America is obsessed with sex. Americans seem to think about sex more than anything else. And I think there is some validity to the aphorism that what you think about the most is the object of your worship. I don’t think this makes America unique; I think probably everyone in every time and place has been subject to the same temptations and have or will succumb to them without moral diligence. Be that as it may, sex is the idol of our age.

But I wonder if the greatest sin of our age is not our sexual predilections but our preoccupation with sexual sins to the exclusion of other sins. Because our focus on these things does not reflect God’s character. Standing in moral judgment of another’s sins does not reflect God’s righteousness, justice, and love. It does not reflect Jesus’ commands to not judge, to see the mote in our own eye first, and to love others as he loved us.  Those who stand in pride upon their false righteousness would find Matthew chapter 23 instructive, if they could envision themselves in the place of the Pharisees whose hypocrisy Jesus condemns. Here is just a sample: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24 ESV)

Straining a gnat and swallowing a camel. Those who imagine themselves righteous by condemning their brothers and sisters stand idly by as children are incinerated by American drones, as whole populations suffer displacement because of violence and persecution, as people the world over die from lack of food, clean water, and basic medical care. We moan that a pagan culture acts like a pagan culture, and we conveniently ignore that our streets are aflame because of historical injustice, that young men in large numbers languish in jail, that our children are abandoning their lives to hopelessness that sees drugs as a reasonable escape. And we think ourselves clever when we are able to make arguments for or against what people do in their bedrooms. We devote all of our attention to that and none to the cries of the poor and the widow, the afflicted and the orphan. God does condemn sexual sin in both the Old and the New Testament. Sexual sin is destructive to the human creature in many ways. But the sin that breaks the covenant is not sex; it is abandonment of the way of justice and mercy.

It’s not just right wing Christians who are guilty of this. We live in a mad culture that makes heroes of both Kim Davis and Caitlyn Jenner. And this becomes the basis of our discourse. Gnats. While the camels go unremarked like the proverbial elephant in the living room.

The great sin of our age is that we cannot recognize what sin really is. The real sin is that we leave our brothers and sisters to suffer while we strain gnats.


Facts are Stubborn Things, Mr. Huckabee

September 6th, 2015 No comments

John Adams, while defending the wildly unpopular soldiers who had fired into the crowd in the incident known as the Boston Massacre, famously remarked, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” This morning Republican Presidential hopeful former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee compared jailed Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis to Abraham Lincoln, suggesting that Lincoln defied the Constitution in his struggle against slavery.

Folks, this is exactly the monotonous note I have been strumming in my one note samba about history and politics. Politicians hope you don’t know the facts so that you can be swayed with lies. In fact, slavery was legal and in full practice in the United States throughout Lincoln’s lifetime. Slavery was legal and still practiced in Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia, and Delaware throughout the Civil War, and was legal in parts of Louisiana at the end of that war. The Emancipation Proclamation declared emancipation only for slaves “within the rebellious states” where Lincoln had no practical jurisdiction. Effectively, the Proclamation didn’t free any slaves, and in fact did not end slavery. Slavery in the United States was ended by the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, after Lincoln’s assassination.

So, although Lincoln was against slavery, and changed the character of the Civil War to be about emancipation, Lincoln always acted within the law and the Constitution in regards to slavery. A man seeking the Presidency should know that.

The Second Coming

September 5th, 2015 No comments


The Second Coming

W.B Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Kim Davis and the Politics of the Sewer

September 4th, 2015 No comments

sewer cover

Kim Davis should resign. In case you’re unsure who that is, Davis is the County Clerk in Kentucky who has become an international lightning rod over the issue of same-sex marriage because of her refusal to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. She claims she cannot issue those licenses because of her deep Christian conviction that the Bible defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

She is correct about the Biblical definition of marriage. Although there are some who argue against it, most often based on wishful hermeneutics, the theological case for defining Christian marriage as between a man and a woman is solid. The problem that Kim Davis has is not her understanding of the Bible but her understanding of the Constitution.

The latter document may not consist of an authority higher than Kim Davis’ God, but it does create a secular society in which at the same time Davis’ free exercise of religion is protected and her promotion of a state religion is prohibited. The Constitution creates a pluralistic state in which Davis is free to believe as she is called to, and to act on that belief. But her freedom hinges on the freedom of all to practice religion (or not) as they see fit. I think her stand, though I do not doubt its sincerity, is mistaken. When Davis was elected as an officer under the Constitution (ultimately all office holders in the United States are subject to the Constitution) she agreed to enforce the laws of the state. If she cannot, she should resign. I know there are many who disagree with me and I’m fine with that.

What I find particularly tasteless and troubling, however, is raising her own marital history as an issue. What does it matter that she has been married four times, twice to the same man, in this particular case? It has nothing at all to do with the facts at issue. All it does is cheapen the argument. Following the trite aphorism “if you spot it you got it,” what personal attacks do is detract from the credibility of the attackers. Why are the facts not enough? Why do we have to sink to the level of ad hominem?

Ya. Google it. It might help lift our political discourse out of the sewer.

September 1, 1939

September 1st, 2015 No comments


September 1, 1939

W. H. Auden, 19071973

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame
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