Tag Archives: Kamala Harris

What should we do about 2024? : Not enough suggestions

I guess this is what married Christians do in 2024. My wife came to me after her prayers and wanted to talk. “What should we be doing about this year?” she asked. A sobering question.

We’ve often wondered what we would have done if the Nazis rolled train-fulls of Jews and other targeted people through our town. Would we lay across the tracks? Is this the year we will find out?

US President Joe Biden delivers his third State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 07 March 2024. SHAWN THEW/Pool via REUTERS

At the State of the Union address last Thursday a feisty Joe Biden tried to rally the dispirited and exhausted electorate with a long list of accomplishments and plans. He sounded upbeat and defiant and his congressional boosters were enthusiastic. But his ambitious speech was a picture painted on a backdrop of half of Congress sitting on their hands — looking a lot like the Speaker in the photo, above.

Biden jumped right into his call to action and returned to it at the end:

My message to President Putin, who I have known for a long time, is simple: We will not walk away. We will not bow down. I will not bow down.

In a literal sense, history is watching. History is watching. Just like history watched three years ago on Jan. 6, when insurrectionists stormed this very Capitol and placed a dagger to the throat of American democracy.

Many of you were here on that darkest of days. We all saw with our own eyes. The insurrectionists were not patriots. They had come to stop the peaceful transfer of power, to overturn the will of the people.

Jan. 6 lies about the 2020 election, and the plots to steal the election, posed a great, gravest threat to U.S. democracy since the Civil War. [Skipping to the end]

My fellow Americans, the issue facing our nation isn’t how old we are, it’s how old are our ideas.

Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are the oldest of ideas. But you can’t lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back.

To lead America, the land of possibilities, you need a vision for the future and what can and should be done. Tonight you’ve heard mine.

State of the Union 2024 highlights: Biden talks Trump, democracy and abortion in energetic speechIt was the best speech I ever heard him make. But I think he gave an even better message as the cameras followed him around the chamber when he was done. He graciously and cheerfully attended to a roomfull of egotists and looked like a regular guy doing it. He looked like a caring adult. He has a daunting task: negotiating with a Netanyahu, speaking to a Representative in a Trump T-shirt (left), spotting George Santos in a crystal-encrusted collar and seeing poor Senator Lankford who thought he had a compromise border bill before Trump pulled the plug to deny Biden a “win.” But there he was connecting and, dare I say, sincerely caring.

Politics will not save us. We know that very well — Christians always have always known that. As a result, Jesus followers have endured every imaginable hostile environment throughout history in almost every culture. Jesus is alive and well in China right now. Putin and Orban will not co-opt all the true believers in their countries. Christians have survived in Palestine since Jesus rose from the dead.

But what should Jesus-loving, compassionate, justice-seeking people do in this very political year — a year when the stakes seem so high? I don’t think we should just wait for the trains to leave the city limits and hope the consequences aren’t too bad. Especially in the U.S., where Christianity has a history of saving capitalists and power-hungry extremists from their worst impact for generations, we really ought to be salt and light; we really should have better solutions than to join a political party or just drop out. Lives and livelihoods are at stake! Planetary war and warming are both constant threats! Children are malnourished, going uneducated, and dying. Wouldn’t Jesus be on the side of the least of these?

Here is what we are up against.

Since 2021 Republicans have blocked the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. Last September, House Democrats reintroduced it. On March 1 it was introduced to the Senate.

Speaking in Selma on the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on March 1, Kamala Harris shared that the first thing she sees when she enters her office. It is a

“large framed photograph taken on Bloody Sunday depicting an injured Amelia Boynton receiving care at the foot of [the Edmund Pettus] bridge…[F]or me, “it is a daily reminder of the struggle, of the sacrifice, and of how much we owe to those who gave so much before us….History is a relay race. Generations before us carried the baton. And now, they have passed it to us.”

Meanwhile in Mar-a-Lago after his near-clinching of the Republican nomination last Tuesday, Donald Trump had much different picture of the baton he would like the voters to hand him. He said,

[The United States] is a magnificent place, a magnificent country, and it’s sad to see how far it’s come and gone … When you look at the depths where it’s gone, we can’t let that happen. We’re going to straighten it out. We’re going to close our borders. We’re going to drill baby drill.

Our cities are being overrun with migrant crime, and that’s Biden migrant crime. But it’s a new category and it’s violent, where they’ll stand in the middle of the street and have fistfights with police officers. And if they did that in their countries from where they came, they’d be killed instantly. They wouldn’t do that. So the world is laughing at us. The world is taking advantage of us.

[The “weaponization” of government against a political opponent] happens in third world countries. And in some ways, we’re a third world country. We live in a third world country with no borders …We need a fair and free press. The press has not been fair nor has it been free … The press used to police our country. Now nobody has confidence in them….

2024 is our final battle. We will demolish the deep state, we will expel the warmongers from our government—we will drive out the globalists, we will cast out the Marxists, the communists and fascists. We will rout the fake news media, we will drain the swamp. We will be a liberated country again.

Congress's Only Palestinian-American Lawmaker Hold Up Signs During Biden's Remarks on Gaza
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, and Rep. Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri. (andrew caballero-reynolds/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

It is quite a year

What must we do with the rest of 2024, in the face of the huge feelings of political despair, endless antagonism, a faltering Ukraine and a devastated Gaza (and who knows what is happening with Iran?), SEPTA trying to figure out how to keep transit safe enough to ride, information mistrust, courts that don’t work right, people locked in isolation?

  • So far, a lot of us are dropping out of the political process and leaving it to the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene. We’re avoiding any associations like neighborhood and church, so they are all run by zealot factions or the C Team. Qualified people are deserting local government just when it is crucial for our well-being.
  • So far, a lot of us are numbing it all with drugs, with overspending on distracting experiences, or with endless screen time.
  • So far, at lot of us are building a wall around our families or pods like we learned to do in the pandemic if we were lucky enough to have a circle of relationships. If you’re alone, you might be barricaded in your studio apartment.

I know or know of people who are doing all these things. But mostly, I think we are wandering in the dark bumping into walls where there used to be no walls.

I can basically make it around my house in the dark — I wake up early a lot so I get a lot of practice. But if you put a footstool in my way or leave your shoes out, I might end up in the hospital. Many of us have run into so many walls and tripped over so many footstools, we feel we are perpetually recovering from injuries!

What should we do?

So we were talking about all this again the other day. I think the first thing to do is what we were doing: ask the question and talk about it. There are not going to be good solutions without dialogue. Serious conversation is the seedbed of inspiration. Apparently, most of our leaders are not going to make dialogue happen. We’ll have to start somewhere without them and build from there. Here is what I am thinking so far:

  1. Get ready to lay on the tracks. The Nazis had train technology. Now there is the internet and AI all run by giant corporations which are slaves to profit. Don’t forget Exxon made $36 BILLION in profits in 2023. Elon Musk is worth ~$200 BILLION and he claims Putin is richer. That is just to say that the powers-that-be have a lot of “trains.” Tell the truth about them as personally as possible. Use all the means to make noise, show up, don’t get rolled over. But touch real people. Create places where people can gather — at least have a dinner party. We have to stick together. We can’t outsource our responsibility to care. If worse comes to worst we may have to take some risks to overcome evil with good.
  2. Take care of your body and soul.“Depleted” and “exhausted” are terms people often use to describe themselves when I see them these days. But we often discover resources they have been undervaluing. We can rise again. There are so many things we can do to address the mental and spiritual health crises (amazing stats). During and after the pandemic, while churches were dying (mine included) I trained to be a certified spiritual director. One of the things I did was start a direction group for men. Soul care is more than “namaste” or taking deep breaths when you are nervous (both of which are a daily thing for me). Deep problems call us to go deeper and get healthier. We need to seek our truest selves and God’s guidance to find a way through 2024. A serious year needs serious people.
  3. Build community. Last Lent we joined a new church. It has made a big difference, even if Church, in general, is still pitiful. If you can’t stand churches, you could at least begin with Meetup. Or you could take an extra step with the superficial relationships you have. But I hope you won’t give up on the church. Just because the media broadcasts all the corruption church people perpetrate all over the world does not mean every church is corrupt or God is dead – you’re probably not corrupt and you aren’t dead yet either. Are we really going to give over the church to psychopathic and narcissistic leaders? I recently learned of Apollo Quiboloy of the KOJC in the Philippines, who is a prime example of why you might be tempted to give up faith altogether, as well as the church. But it will cost the world dearly if it loses the salt and light of Christian alternativity.
  4. Join up with action organizers. Being part of church counts. Your business or non-profit might count. There are lots of other people doing great things to build a new society and care for people facing great changes. I support the IRC and MCC. I’m allied with Third Act, Habitat for Humanity, Poor People’s Campaign, Philly Thrive and others. Keep taking yourself seriously.
  5. Do something symbolic. Act like you mean something. We’re taking our own trip to the Edmund Pettis Bridge after the Christian Association of Psychological Studies Conference in Atlanta this month. First we will go to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. Our feet need to go directions our hearts want to go for our souls to be strong and our minds to be convinced we matter. Stubbornly insist that who you are and the gifts you give are valuable. They make a difference to God and they save the world. Show yourself and leave the results to God.
  6. Dare to admit it is not enough. You and I don’t have enough, let’s admit it. There is a streak of bad theology which teaches we are never enough, that we are bad and perpetually in need of doing better — we are wrong but we better get it right!! It has worn us out. I know I am tired of hearing about it. The Evangelicals have made it seem like salvation depends on our personal choices; the weight of our failures and the imminent collapse of the world as we know it is on our shoulders! Not so! Jesus is Lord.

But we can sense something more is required right now and most of us have no Idea just what it is. Even though I have laid out some good ideas, they seem kind of old to me. Some ideas are always good, but I’ve got a feeling this year might require a new version of them or something we’ve never even imagined. Even more likely, what is needed will require a new version of me. This post is a small symbol of me talking about it and getting serious. I don’t think we dare watch this year on TV.

Voting for someone who makes more sense than the other someone may be something. But it is not enough. Not voting or protesting against the powers is something. But it is not enough. I have given some suggestions on where to begin, but I don’t think they are enough. But I do think there will be moments this year when a path is laid out and good things need to happen, and you and I will be there.

Jesus is the victor: Be recreated for Lent

I had a happy time in my Jesus Collective Hub the other day. I love the fool’s errand we are on: trying to have a Jesus-centered outlook which manages to respect but not join the powers tearing apart the church and whole societies these days. We’re not succeeding, but it feels like the right thing to try.

 

In every generation of the church, there has been an argument about something, and great teachers have generally arisen to help us figure out how to keep going. For instance, the Apostle Paul’s letters in the New Testament usually hone in on a current problem he needs to solve.  His approach is different in different contexts — like the difference between a problem your mother might have had as a child and one you are having now, or the difference between an email you’d write to your work group and the one you’d write to your best friend. Just so, the letter to the church in Ephesus feels different than the letters to the church in Corinth. As a teacher in the church myself (I wanted to be like Paul), I think the greatest skill I needed to develop was to listen in love to all the varying viewpoints people have and to try to knit them into a mutually accepting whole, leaning toward a consensus direction while accommodating both the newest and stubbornest differences.

 

The different ways to see the atonement have provided people a reason to have an argument over the years. The views have matured over time and have been expressed differently in many contexts. All of them have their own beauty to respect, don’t they? In the past four weeks I have been meditating on the four main “theories,” and I am going to get to the fifth in a minute. But I want to acknowledge the need for “third way” thinking before I do, just like the Jesus Collective is trying to develop for our current problems.

 

The same damned argument

The present polarization in the United States does not seem like a new phenomenon to me. I am sort of stuck in the 11-1200’s in my readings right now (good book), so everything seems to go back there for me. But I honestly think the differences between Marjorie Taylor Greene and Kamala Harris seem a lot like what Christians were arguing about way back then, too (the women are both Evangelicals, at some level, after all).

Greene represents people who are afraid tradition is being run over by newfangled thinking. They still have a view of the atonement in which God beats the devil, using deception to do it, as necessary, for the sake of purity and goodness. So she will also work with God as he does what it takes to defeat evil.

Harris represents people on the side of human individuality, science and progress. Those people have a view of the atonement in which God unleashes people from guilt and frees them to appreciate the wonder of creation, especially the value of each human. So she will keep at it until the world is safe for all God’s children.

How we put those potentially polar positions together takes a third way, not a triumph by one side.

Paul manages to be on both sides of redundant church and societal arguments. For instance, he tells the Ephesian church: 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13

 

I think Greene thinks Harris is with the devil, so she is putting on her armor to stand against her in this evil day. I don’t think she read all of Ephesians well, but I could see how she might get where she is.


Then Paul tells the church in Corinth
 

So if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. — 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

 

I think Harris thinks Green is in the way of new things that need to come, especially the need to reconcile elements of a pluralistic society and to protect against people being trespassed upon. I am not sure Jesus is at the center of her thinking, but I respect her goals.

 

Christus Victor launches a new/old way

 

Gustaf Aulen (1879-1977)

In the atonement explanation named “Christus Victor” (Christ the Victor) Gustaf Aulen went back to the Bible and the Early Church to verify the transcendent way Jesus worked to saved humankind — and creation with us. I am not sure he intended to do this, but he opened up a new way to see an old thought and many people latched onto it as a way to stop having the arguments of the past over and over again. We are still having the same damned arguments, but Christus Victor provides a view that incorporates previous explanations of the atonement and frees up imagination locked in entrenched views from Eurocentric philosophy and politics.

 

In 1931 Gustaf Aulen published a book of his lectures titled Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement. We’ve explored all the main types, so far; I split Aulen’s third one into two parts. He saw his book as a defense of the “classical” view of the atonement he found in Paul, Irenaeus and Luther. (Of course Luther — the Swedish state church theologians at the time all needed to adhere to “evangelical faith,” which was, basically, Lutheranism). In the course of offering his defense against egocentric, humanistic, and idealistic theology, Aulen ends up offering a new way of seeing — at least it seemed new enough to get a name that stuck: the “Christus Victor theory.”

 

Aulen  stressed a Bible-based, dramatic view of God and the work of Jesus. That is, God in Christ personally participates in the drama Christianity is. The Gospel is a story about how God entered into our place and time and saved us. This view is more popular all the time, it seems. A church plant in Philly affiliated with my denomination was called Story Philly. Evangelical author, Donald Miller, wrote a book called Storyline: Finding Your subplot in God’s Story.

 

The main plot of the story is clear in the Bible. In Christ, God “rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13–14). The order of the action is important: God has rescued us; God has transferred us; in Christ we have redemption and forgiveness. Paul does not write, “God has forgiven us so that he may then rescue us” (as in the penal substitution theory). Rather, God rescues us out of darkness and brings us into the kingdom of his beloved Son and that rescue act is our salvation. By his gracious initiative, God brings us into the realm of life where we find that our sins are forgiven. 

 

I’m not sure Aulen would approve of where his work has led, especially since he thought he was talking about something old, not new. But it has provided a fresh way to meet the evils of the modern and postmodern world. Paul’s statement that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (in 2 Corinthians, above) provides a new launchpad. That phrase epitomizes Aulen’s view that the atonement is “dramatic,” “dualistic,” and “objective.” It is dramatic and dualistic, because it is the story about a conflict between God and the powers of evil, sin, and death, in which God triumphs over “the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (in Ephesians above). It is objective, because it is about God’s action, not ours. God took the initiative to decisively change the relationship between God and the world (see Marianne Meye Thompson). I think Aulen caught the wind of the Spirit which has been blowing for a hundred years as the modern era comes to a close. Others are moved along with it, as well.

 

The Powers

 

World War I, the Great Depression, massive industrialization and huge governments and corporations ignited new imagination for what Aulen (and Paul) called “the powers.”

It was not just theologians having a discussion about “the powers.” Here is a quote from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) — it may seem familiar after peeking into Silicon Valley Bank recently and getting a glimpse of the faceless “power” it represents.

 

But the bank is only made of man. No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.

 

I think most people want a world without militarism, poverty, sexual exploitation, white supremacy and the despoiling of nature. Yet we find it very difficult to have such a world. Our social, economic and political structures powerfully resist transformation! Steinbeck made that reality vivid when he described the banking system as a monster that cannot be controlled.

The American theologian Walter Wink (who died in 2012) made it his life’s work to help us understand these monsters and how to loosen their hold. He freed the core truths of  biblical faith from endless argument and made them tools for change agents to use, both in the church and in society (Gingerich summary). I am not sure he is a direct theological descendant of Aulen, but I think he is moving in the new stream of freedom Aulen undammed.

 

Wink shows how the language of “principalities and powers” in the New Testament (e.g. Eph. 6, above) refers to human social dynamics—institutions, belief systems, and traditions. He calls these social constructs “manifestations of power,” and insists they always have an inner and an outer aspect.

 

Every Power tends to have a visible pole, an outer form—be it a church, a nation, an economy—and an invisible pole, an inner spirit or driving force that animates, legitimates, and regulates its physical manifestation in the world. Neither pole is the cause of the other. Both come into existence together and cease to exist together. (Naming the Powers).

 

In Wink’s view, we need an integrated, inner-outer awareness in order to understand the world we live in and act effectively as agents for healing and transformation. “Any attempt to transform a social system without addressing both its spirituality and its outer forms is doomed to failure.” What’s more, in Wink’s understanding, all systems of power have the potential to be just or unjust, violent or nonviolent. “The Powers are good. The Powers are fallen. The Powers must be redeemed” (Engaging the Powers).  (Nice summary artricle).

 

The Gospel of Peace.

 

Kamala Harris and Marjorie Taylor Greene are on the outs with God if they profess to follow Jesus but continue to create and serve a domination system which has been overturned by the work of Jesus. An alternative way to live is being taught for people with ears to hear. We have prophets of the new creation arising everywhere, just like Gustaf Aulen. They are peacemakers — see J. Denny Weaver’s The Nonviolent Atonement (2001). They are social investigators — watch Rene Girard reimagine Jesus as the final Scapegoat. They are feminists and womanists — listen to Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker take down anyone who can’t see Jesus as the Liberator.

 

Aulen and the rest are all following a very basic, maybe the most basic, atonement explanation, as Paul taught the church in Ephesus:

 

[Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, abolishing the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.  — Ephesians 2:14-16

 

The “powers” which create the systems of domination they control and defend have been abolished. We are free to live now and forever. Whenever we see the latest powermonger creating their territory in the name of something good (like an end to racism, climate action, evangelism, etc.), we need to reassert the Lord’s basic work: reconciliation to God and others, not a more robust hostility that defeats our enemies.

If the resurrection of Jesus did not free us from sin and death to effect reconciliation and participate in the new creation, who is Jesus? Even if you are a leader of the country with the largest military in history, which is the biggest polluter in history and whose marketing machine overwhelms whole economies worldwide, reconciliation is still a top priority;  persistently planting the seeds of a new creation is a preoccupation. For us small people, who think we are comparatively powerless, the call is still the same. We live in the new creation; what else is there to do but live with Jesus?