Tag Archives: Ronald Reagan

The saviors I did not ask to receive

On the long ride to the Poconos, the only thing on NPR was the Prairie Home Companion. Normally I can only get so far with the redundancy of Garrison Keillor, but he hooked me with his broadcast for Memorial Day. He was at the Wolftrap in Virginia, near Manassas, the site for two great Civil War battles—and he referenced Antietam, the deadliest one-day battle in U.S. history (on the U.S. side, at least). The show was sprinkled with songs from the American war-song book, but Keillor was singing for peace. He was in sync with President Obama, who remembered Memorial Day by visiting Hiroshima and calling for a “moral revolution” to make a world free from nuclear weapons.

One of the songs the cast sang was a soulful rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Keillor led the crowd to join in. Everyone seemed to know it, since this very–religious song is still taught in school. It was, quite appropriately, sung at Ronald Reagan’s funeral, who I lately accused of misleading the public to think that the United States military power was God’s instrument of policing the world, right down to calling new missiles “peacekeepers.”

This hymn, written by a staunch abolitionist, saw the Union Army as God’s instrument of bringing about His judgment on the evil of slavery (as even Thomas Jefferson concluded was inevitable). Julia Howe’s allusions are all to Isaiah 63 and the book of Revelation, which promise that the day of the Lord will not be pretty for the disobedient. Her song assured the army that the Civil War was a foretaste of the wrath to come.

My problem is not with God’s judgment. I rely on the fact that evildoers will receive what they have been committed to achieving. My great problem is with the rest of the theology she promoted. I think if you ask a random Christian, they will, most likely (and unfortunately), still be headed in the wrong direction she was leading the troops. The problems are in every verse. For instance:

Verse 1: He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

The leaders of armies have been telling soldiers that God is on their side for as long as I can remember. Right now, Daesh is the evil. It was added on to drugs, terror etc. The Union army was told it was God’s sword.

Verse 2: I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damp

Very few soldiers saw their camp fire as one before an altar I am sure. But the allusion reminds us that Christians reinstituted an altar worship when Constantine installed Jesus at the center of every town in the Roman Empire, right where the altar to the false gods once stood, often in the same building. But, in truth, Jesus made the body of Christ the temple; altar worship is obsolete – not merely the Jewish altar, but the very idea of needing a place of mediation where men make sacrifices to please God.

Verse 3: I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.

I gave you the whole verse. By now, you get it. The song assumes the gospel uses violence for its ends. It teaches that violence redeems. Regardless of the Lord’s own example of nonviolence, the powers that rule the world convince noble-minded women that 13,000 men should die, be wounded or go missing in one day at the battle of Sharpsburg/Antietam and those losses should be considered holy, and even the fulfillment of the spirit of prophecy.

Verse 4 — He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;

In the song, the “sifting” is about the latest war. It is not about being in God’s kingdom or another’s; it is about being on the right side of the nation’s history. As you notice from the most recent era of polarization in the U.S., people are still sifting and are still ready to condemn those who align on another side. But unlike what Howe teaches, in truth, Jesus is not presiding over the animosities which run the United States and which threaten to loop us all into an endless cycle of judgment. Jesus died and rose to end that cycle.

Verse 5 — As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free

This is where most versions of the song stop (even though Howe included a last verse). It is an appropriate climax for the song, and it is the apex of its wrong theology. The “sacrifice” the soldiers are preparing around the “altar fires” of their encampment is supposedly like the sacrifice of Jesus. The thought is the 10,000 casualties at Manassas will be worth it because the cause is one with the Lord’s.

The problem is that Jesus died and rose so that we would no longer be sacrificing animals or one another to save the world. The old is gone, the new has come. The very thing she is exalting is exactly what He brought down. Yet in the name of Jesus, Howe is celebrating the sacrifice soldiers make to His “truth” that is marching on – they are to believe that this war is for that truth.

Every war song since has said the same thing—dying for country, dying to preserve freedom, dying to protect your brother soldiers, dying to protect American interests, making the world safe for democracy, protecting the homeland from communism, extremism, from people who would destroy our way of life. It is always justified with the most serious, even majestic tones. I have often been told that I could not do things like write this blog unless the sacrifice of brave men had made my freedom possible. Yet I am not free from their sacrifice. I honor their courage and devotion, and I don’t think every choice we need to make is as easy as writing a blog post. But I don’t worship at their altar. They are the saviors I never asked to receive. I don’t believe my true Savior asked them for their sacrifice on the altar of preserving His rivals who continue the way of sin and death—and put it to music.

[I found out that Garrison Keillor wrote the song that moved me most in the show. It is called Argonne. Here are the lyrics.]

They’ll Pathologize and Medicate the Noncompliance They Surveil

What might happen to you if you resist?

What if you said, “Taking on a load of debt in order to participate in normal economic life is foolish! I won’t do it and neither should anyone else!”? What if you said, “Creating an artificial disaster in inner city schools and then blaming it on the unions or the parents instead of the leaders who made the value judgments is wrong! I won’t stand for it, neither should anyone else!”? What might happen?

A lot might happen, and you are probably well-trained to fear it, by now. Here are two more techniques the powers-that-be are using to erode our desire and capacity to resist. You might want to note them.

For one thing, they might outlaw, pychopathologize or medicate your noncompliance. 

Ronald Reagan believed that under the Constitution the President has the inherent authority, as the commander in chief, to direct a military intelligence agency (such as the NSA) to intercept enemy communications during wartime or when necessary to protect the national security. The authoritarian snowball got rolling and got even larger when it proceeded into the snowdrift of Bush’s perpetual war on terror and Obama’s threat of a

Ever-growing psych bible
Ever-growing psych bible

drone to follow the surveillance trail.

At the same time Americans elected the increasingly authoritarian Reagan, an increasingly authoritarian American Psychiatric Association added to their diagnostic bible (then the DSM-III) some newly-described mental disorders for children and teenagers. The “disorders” focused on disorder, such as the increasingly popular “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD). The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” “often argues with adults,” and “often deliberately does things to annoy other people.”

Had he lived in our era, Jesus probably would be medicated in a secret prison rather than publicly crucified. As one of His followers, you should consider what it means that our Bible says things like:

“Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2-4).

Talk about oppositional and defiant! It is at least annoying to denounce the “god of this age” and it is probably against some homeland security regulation to suggest that a citizen should “renounce secret and shameful ways!”

The general population believes in the DSM, even though they’ve never seen one. Science is god and Big Pharma builds suburban temples like Merck just north of Philly to develop devotees to their vision of wholeness. Drug company revenues climbed more than $200 billion between 1995 and 2010. For every dollar spent on research $19 goes toward promotion and marketing. Heavily tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs (e.g. Zyprexa and Risperdal) are now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States ($16 billion in 2010). A major reason for this explosion in sales, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010, is that many children receiving antipsychotic drugs have nonpsychotic diagnoses such as ODD or some other “disruptive disorder” (this especially true of Medicaid-covered pediatric patients).

The government has created an omnipresence that must be obeyed. The medical establishment has backed it up with diagnoses and a vision of normality. Pharmaceutical companies produce the meds to make children compliant. Christians might like to specialize, like Paul, in saying things that begin with, “On the contrary…”

For another thing, they might drown you in the surveillance of your noncompliance

Everyone thinks surveillance is normal now. We can even spell it. The neighbors along Broad St. are talking about how the police want them to coordinate the cameras on their businesses so no one will be out of sight for very long, if ever. Here’s Mayor Nutter trying to appear “on top of” the matter (see what he says about cameras at about the 3-minute mark).

The fear of being surveilled makes a population easier to control. The National Security Agency (NSA) has received publicity for monitoring American citizen’s email and phone conversations, but we’re over that. Employer surveillance has become increasingly common in the United States and people accept it. It is small wonder that young

Click for more amazement
Click for more amazement

Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance because, beginning at a young age, surveillance is routine in their lives. Parents routinely check websites for their kid’s latest test grades and completed assignments, and just like employers, they monitor their children’s computers and Facebook pages. Some parents use GPS to track the kids’ whereabouts, and other parents have video cameras in their homes. These days it is not unusual to find that young people lack the confidence to pull off a party when their parents are out of town! How much confidence could they have to pull off a resistance movement below the radar of the authorities?

The Christians are in the same condition. You’d think they were still waiting for Jesus to rise from the dead. Before they met him alive after his crucifixion, the first disciples were locked in a room for fear the authorities would find them:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  (John 20:19).

I think many of the Christians I know are afraid of being psychopathologized just like the rest of the population and are definitely afraid of what the powers that be know about them. They are locked up for fear of the leaders, or just afraid of the unseen forces they sense all around them that are determined to keep them quiet and compliant. But the risen Jesus can still get in the room, despite the authorities and the fear they engender:

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21).

From what we know of the first disciples, they received the Spirit even though they were afraid and doubtful. Will the young disciples of today do the same? I keep wondering if the next generation, in general, is already lost to their subjugation. Is resistance dead? I hope that is not true of the Christians, at least. If someone calls us crazy or criminal for following Jesus, that is a good thing. Let them see all they need to see. May we be found by every camera doing what Jesus would do.

Further voices and my previous posts:

Again, thanks to Bruce E. Levine published in alternet.org

I think we should not get the drift, at least in a bad way

The “state” has sucked up the majority of everyone’s allegiance and made the church a private, leisure time matter. That makes our public covenant-making with the people of God a radical, countercultural act. We still think Jesus is Lord and he personally leads a kingdom. On vacation I read a stimulating book that stoked the fires of my covenant convictions. I’ll get to that in a minute. But here’s the gist: I got excited about how it made me think about a piece of our “about making a covenant” teaching that has just become more radical since we started teaching it.

The covenant is a life, not a concept

It should be an obvious teaching — elementary Christianity. In my estimation, it is stating the obvious to teach that a Jesus follower will not be one in name only but will, by nature, demonstrate their covenant with Jesus and His people with some basic activity. In the case of Circle of Hope:

  • they will obviously be part of our weekly meeting when the community shows herself to the world in worship and truth-telling (1 Cor. 14);
  • they will obviously be part of a cell where we share our gifts face to face, are given basic care,  and share in basic faith dialogue (Acts 20:20);
  • they will obviously be  part of some expression of our mission as part of one of our many teams or, if they are blessed, through their occupation (1 Cor. 2:4);
  • and they will obviously share their money in our common fund (Acts 2:44).

In our teaching about what it means to make a covenant with real people in real time, we note that we all have resources of spiritual gifts, time, care, and money. We actively put these resources into practice as a part of the body. All this seems like basic Christianity to me. But I think it has become radical. Circle of Hope is a community of activists in a lowest-common-denominator Church and world.

Are most American Christians followers in name only?

I’m coming to the conclusion that American Christians love nominalism; they like being Christians in name only. They are having a tough time right now because the culture changed on them and the nation is less inclined to protect their “freedom” to sit in their Christianity, having it unmolested by any need to exercise it. When Circle of Hope got started, we flourished by picking up a lot of the radicals who could not find a place in a nominalized Church, and a lot of new believers who never found Jesus from knowing inactive Christians. We are still going against the grain. But our capacity is going to be tested in postChristian America. Circle of Hope has also had some freedom to sit. Now we might have to mean what we teach.

The drift away from consensus building

Rachel Maddow explains driftThat brings me to my book. I have been reading Rachel Maddow’s Drift. It documents how the presidents have slowly become the sole deciders of when the U.S. goes to war, without the approval of Congress and certainly without the input of us citizens. The book shows how the privatization of what used to be soldiering and the expansion of secret operations has led to perpetual war that is off the radar of the nation. The leaders make sure we aren’t disturbed by war. Maddow is generous enough to say that this was caused by “drift,” not decision, starting with Ronald Reagan and added to by every president since.

I could not help but think that in the same era the BIC leaders have drifted the same direction (and I think that includes a lot of us pastors). They also do more in secret and ask the constituency to trust their advertising. We are not disturbed by our body life. It seems that the BIC started going this direction when people misapplied John Maxwell’s leadership training. I don’t think Maxwell meant to install the “my way or the highway” style that characterizes congressional debate these days. But it got installed.  I think the leaders drifted out of what they considered ineffectual consensus-building and into “over-anointed” leadership.

The radicality of covenant

I’m thinking about that drift in relation to maintaining ourselves as a group of activists. What I am working on is that Circle of Hope is growing up in an era where radicals are less likely to float to the top of a placid sea of nominalism and collect as a new, cool church. The sea of the nation and the Church is too stirred up, and the people who lead the nation and church have drifted into an authoritarian style that keeps people from handling too much reality. We might need to really choose to live by faith. We might have to be thoroughly disturbed. Honestly, I am delighted with that challenge. Good trees need to bear good fruit (Matt. 7).

The Jesus way honors us all as crucial “members of the body.” Our way of life as Circle of Hope demands that we act on the reality of our life in Christ – at least that is what we teach. We are going against the grain when we insist that we all make a difference, not just the leaders, in a world where Occupy sputters into distrust and ineffectiveness, and we don’t take to the streets when the president fights secret, debt-exploding wars that no one is required to pay for while the bankers run us into the ground economically with impunity. It is good to go against the flow if the flow is going down the spiritual drain.

When the thirty-or-so people showed up to consider making a covenant with us the other night, they were exploring something that has become even more radical than when we imagined it. Imagine! – people who would consider coming right out in the public, as it is now, and pledging their allegiance to Jesus and his people in a way that is not just in their secret thoughts but in their hands and feet and relationships, in a way that impacts their loves and their finances. That’s not a surprising thing in the Bible, perhaps, but it seems rather rare these days.