Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Oddly enough, as I scroll back through old entries, I discovered that many of my thoughts center on a lack of transparency, deceptiveness, and trust issues with so many things. The original title of this entry was going to be simply "trust," but I discovered that I had already written one with that title prior.
It will be difficult, and even perhaps impossible to thoroughly present what's on my mind here in the heartland in such a forum. This could end up being a lengthy entry as a result. The bottom line is that we are in the midst of a "pandemic." Now let me state up front that this virus should indeed be taken seriously - JUST as we take other things like influenza seriously. But in this time of pandemic, we have heard so many lies, conflicting statements, and outright fear mongering that it is no longer prudent to simply trust blindly what our government and the media say. Let's face it: no matter what news outlet you watch (I will regularly compare CNN and Fox, along with the occasional network feed), the coverage has been nearly all "virus-virus-virus" for 6 weeks now. You mean to tell me that there is no other news happening anywhere in the world? There is, and we'll get to a couple of those in a moment.
Let's simply deal with the government misinformation first. While it has now been changed, THIS was found on the CDC website on April 1, fully 3 months AFTER we were told of how contagious the virus was when people were asymptomatic:
"Can someone spread the virus without being sick?
People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus,
but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads."
My main regret was in not taking a screen shot of it then, but others can report on the accuracy of this as well, and I questioned it on April 1 on my personal facebook page. If you recall, back at about the beginning of March, we were told that we needed "two weeks to flatten the curve." Now, here we are, 2 MONTHS later, and the virus is still on the rise in many parts of the country, including my home state of Nebraska and my home county of Dawson.
The government's expert and task force member, Dr. Fauci, initially projected catastrophic death numbers and infection rates. This was apparently done using a study that was well documented as being highly flawed. It was reported on one of the news sites back when the death toll predictions kept getting lowered, but I'm no longer finding a link to it. What is now causing a shattering of the trust in what the CDC and the government are doing is the intentional padding of numbers of those who die of other causes, but because they test positive for COVID19, are being identified as victims of the virus instead. Even those who have NOT tested positive, but die with viral symptoms are being identified as victims of the virus. A youtube video of two doctors making just such a claim has now been censored by youtube. The full video can still be viewed here. Why censor a member of the medical profession? Multiple other reports of this happening have also been removed from internet searches, where they appeared last week. Italy reports that 99% of it's fatalities were already ill with other things. And yet the mainstream media and the government both continue to push a narrative that the worst is yet to come, despite the growing number of medical professionals who are indeed on the front lines challenging their assertions? Why would this be, if not to continue to incite fear and panic, and to justify the often draconian measures many states have undertaken which constitute government overreach in the eyes of many.
Because I need to move on to the "other news" that also shows a breach of trust between the American public and the government, I will have to merely mention how this virus has been politicized ON BOTH SIDES. It is sickening that the virus numbers are being padded to overinflate the mortality rate as if to continue to fuel panic and fear. That is a sure way to get many Americans to stop trusting you, when the virus becomes more of a political weapon to be wielded, rather than something which the government should be providing assistance in coping with those infected. I need to briefly touch on how this virus will have far more damaging effects long term than just the deaths from the virus itself. It is questionable whether or not these lockdowns are having any real effect. For comparison, Sweden did absolutely nothing, and the death rate there is no more significant than anywhere else in the world, and there appears to be a herd immunity developing there as a result. And this is to say little of the apparent government overreach happening in such states as Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, and even here to a lesser degree in Nebraska. It is worth noting how often the phase "for your safety" comes up in these instances. Two things come to mind - one is that this is highly insulting to the American public, as if we were incapable of protecting ourselves from danger. This is in itself a violation of the charters of freedom and what they intend. It should also be pointed out that the public must exercise due diligence in educating itself - but sadly the very point of this is that it's near impossible to trust most of the sources we have to do just that today. The second point is that Jews were routinely told the very same thing - "für Ihre Sicherheit" (for your safety) as they were rounded up and ultimately exterminated in Nazi Germany.
Now has there been other news, that is largely unreported? Yes. Two major stories come to mind, and the first demonstrates the glaring hypocrisy of the mainstream media, and a prime cause of the shattered trust in government and media I'm speaking of. It is a tale of two candidates: Brett Kavanaugh (for the SCOTUS - September 2018) and Joe Biden (for POTUS - 2020). You may recall the firestorm over Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation: the nonstop media coverage, the very public hearings on the allegation of sexual misconduct from his high school days, and the figurative crucifixion of the man's character, which by all other counts was impeccable. What is fascinating about the CNN timeline just linked is that nowhere does it mention that two of the three allegations were later proven to be demonstrably false, and the remaining accusation had significant holes in it (especially a lack of corroborating witnesses, along with witnesses who contradicted the accuser), which is what prompted his ultimate confirmation. Yet during the entire process, calls for "believing all women" were constant.
Now fast forward a year and a half, and an accusation has now come out, but against a liberal candidate for President: Joe Biden. Are all women still to be believed? Regarding the aforementioned CNN, this is what they've presented thus far: Nothing. In fact, the only network that has provided any coverage of substance at all on this current accusation against Joe Biden (which has far more damaging evidence in support of it than the accusation against Justice Kavanaugh), is Fox. Is there now a glaring double standard here? Absolutely. We've got one party that is galactically hypocritical on it's "moral outrage," while the other party (the party of morals and family values) continues to engage in behavior that is anything but moral or of family values. This war between the parties plays out on the media daily. Is it any wonder I believe there is absolutely NO reason to trust those who serve in state and federal government?
Now let's look at a third story that has been breaking, but mostly on the conservative Fox News Channel. As I've watched other network/cable news outlets, I've seen virtually no reporting on the renewed interest in the case against Michael Flynn, who if you recall, was nominated and briefly held the position of National Security Advisor to President Trump until late 2017 when he was convicted of lying under oath and fired from the position. Again, fast forward a couple of years, and what we now find is that, like the entire Russian Collusion Hoax, the entire proceeding was a hit job from the beginning, orchestrated by many of the same players in the FBI as the collusion hoax. Trump Derangement Syndrome is a real thing, and there are many in this country who suffer from it.
Since when was politics about gaining and preserving power? Since when was this country founded on people or ideologies coming to power and working to hold it at all costs? This is the pattern in virtually every failed empire and civilization in history, and it is precisely what the founders hoped to prevent in our democratic republic, with the concepts of "checks and balances," as well as the Electoral College, to prevent a few populated areas from controlling the entire nation. It is all that I've attempted to outline right here that makes me instantly skeptical of anything spoken of in either the mainstream media or from any number of government agencies.
There was a time when this country's religion, morality, values, and liberty were all headed in the same direction. Alexis de Toqueville said in the 1830's, "Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. In France, I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country." (excerpt from "Democracy in America") In this same book, he postulates, "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." So what was the secret of America's greatness? A foundation established on the Christian principles of liberty, morality, and virtue. As this foundation erodes, we see the cause of the shattered trust: a government that has failed at every level to live up to the principles established at its' founding, and a media that is all too complicit in propping up the shattered shell of a government that no longer carries out it's duties the way in which they were intended.
What is the answer? Certainly not in propping up these shattered hulks of the remnants of the Constitutional system of governance we have today, both at the state and federal levels. The foundation has to be rebuilt first. And that means to recapture the virtue and morality that once guided this great nation long ago under the banner of the Christian religion. It does not mean becoming a theocracy, but it should be clear that when there are no standards any longer, we are engaged in a free-falling death spiral. Think about it. And think about what you can do to rebuild the foundation now lost.
ADDENDUM, May 8, 2020: Yesterday, the case against Michael Flynn was dropped by the Dept. of Justice. Predictably, the very people who began this witch hunt were up in arms, while those on the other side hailed it as a great victory. Also predictably, Fox reported on the contents of both the reasons for dismissal and the pages of released documents that contained many of the key players claiming they had no reason to believe in any Russian collusion, while CNN interviewed Andrew McCabe (rather than report on the reasons for dismissal and the content of the documents), who is not only portrayed in these documents as one of the liars-in-chief, but was then allowed to spin and lie about the contents of the documents in question.
Friday, April 10, 2020
It is not a good Friday, at least not from where we stand. God's Son is crucified: tortured, beaten, flogged, and then nailed to a cross. The cross remains today the most barbaric, painful, and prolonged means of execution ever devised by humanity. And this is what Jesus was willing to endure. This is what God would endure: not for Himself, but for us - his creation.
It is strange that we would call it "Good Friday." Now without getting into all the theoretical reasons - word origins and such - it expresses a theological truth: that we are not in charge, and we never were. We believe ourselves to be, but the current pandemic ought to put that notion to rest once and for all time. Throughout history, we have all succumbed to thinking thusly - that we were, in fact, in control of our destinies and of course sets the self up as our chief and number one idol.
But it is "Good" from the perspective of God. It is Good from the human perspective, but ONLY as the human perspective thinks, reflects, and ponders on the divine. It is Good because in it begins the culmination of God's Divine Plan, laid out for us in the pages of Scripture and being fulfilled in these 3 days, beginning with THIS day. It is Good precisely because it vanquishes the real enemies of humanity: sin, death, and the devil, and destroys their power over us for an eternity.
Now we may want to know why in heaven or on earth God would choose to act in such a fashion? It is for the very reasons listed above. When every "religion" on the face of the earth holds to a position that humans can be "good enough" to save themselves ultimately, Christianity stands alone as the one religion in which we are powerless to save ourselves. Therefore God does the act of saving on our behalf, which is fitting considering we are but God's handiwork and creation. The problem with any religion that somehow thinks people can ultimately be good enough is in how that particular religion would define "good," which is often in not a very good way. Sadly, this would sometimes include Christians as well, who forget that God alone saves us through this "Good" act on His part, and therefore they take on the notion that we must be Good enough to save ourselves. And because we are all guilty of acting as our own "god," in thinking this way, God chose to act on our behalf, to prove that we were wrong.
We may never be able to answer that question in this lifetime, as to why God would choose to act in this way (at least outside of what I ponder above). But isn't it enough to know that God "so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life?" We may never be able to answer many of the questions we have about God, but may it be sufficient for us to know that despite our lack of understanding, God's love for us was extreme enough to bring about Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, and his triumph over death in rising again.
Thursday, April 9, 2020
Throughout Lent, we focused on the historical nature of the book of Exodus, with one primary intent: to demonstrate that all of the events leading up to the Exodus itself, including the institution of the passover, were historically grounded so that when Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper in celebrating it with his disciples, we could be assured that it wasn't just some fable from long ago, but factual reality.
For us, since our "service" on this Maundy Thursday commemoration has always been communion around a common table with the Lutheran potluck (one of the best meals a person can ever get - anywhere!), there was not much we could do to celebrate it since we cannot gather for either.
But that said, our lessons read today would be these:
Exodus 12:1-14 (the institution of the Passover as the 10th and final plague against Egypt unfolded)
1 Corinthians 11:23-32 (the Words of Institution - for us)
Matthew 26:17-30 (the Lord's Supper)
It is perhaps a good time to review what we believe about this Sacrament of the church. the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther succinctly tells us in the Small Catechism, that we believe in the real presence of Christ, as the bread and the wine are indeed "Jesus' body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins."
And when is a person rightly prepared to receive this Sacrament? This body and blood? This forgiveness of sins through His body and blood? Once again, the answer is "a person is rightly prepared when they believe those words above, for the words 'for you' simply require a believing heart."
Now there will indeed come a time, sooner than later, to borrow a phrase from the late great announcer Harry Carey, "as sure as God made green apples," we will gather together again and receive this wonderful sacrament, gift, and grace of God. And when we do, it will be a joyous time! But until that time comes, let us reflect on this great gift of God: "Jesus' own body and blood, given and shed - for you - for the forgiveness of sins."
Tonight we enter the "triduum," or 3 days which are the most holy days of the church year. Tomorrow's service will indeed be a joint service to be broadcast at 7 pm, but stay tuned for how to access that broadcast, as it is a prerecorded video since we cannot gather together.
A blessed Maundy Thursday to you all,
Friday, February 21, 2020
(Author's Note - This is a transcript of a Paul Harvey Radio Broadcast from April 3, 1965. Here we are, 55 years later, and it seems as though the Devil listened to him... Posting here as a blog entry because of several instances over the last week where this broadcast was referenced)
"If I were the devil...If I were the Prince of Darkness, I’d want to engulf the whole world in darkness. And I’d have a third of it’s real estate, and four-fifths of its population, but I wouldn’t be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — Thee.
So I’d set about however necessary to take over the United States. I’d subvert the churches first — I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: ‘Do as you please.’ To the young, I would whisper that ‘The Bible is a myth.’ I would convince them that man created God instead of the other way around. I would confide that what’s bad is good, and what’s good is ‘square.’ And the old, I would teach to pray, after me, ‘Our Father, which art in Washington…’
And then I’d get organized. I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting, so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice versa. I’d pedal narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
If I were the devil I’d soon have families that war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves; until each in its turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.
If I were the devil I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions — just let those run wild, until before you knew it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.
Within a decade I’d have prisons overflowing, I’d have judges promoting pornography — soon I could evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress. And in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls, and church money. If I were the devil I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.
If I were the devil I’d take from those who have, and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. And what do you bet? I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich? I would caution against extremes and hard work, in Patriotism, in moral conduct. I would convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on TV is the way to be. And thus I could undress you in public, and I could lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure.
In other words, if I were the devil I’d just keep right on doing on what he’s doing.
Paul Harvey, good day."
(First broadcast on the radio - April 3, 1965)
Friday, December 20, 2019
I know that I recently resolved to not let the weight of society dilute the joy of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany seasons upon us, and it's not. But something still needs to be said, however, in defense of just that: the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany seasons.
Of course, for society, it is largely Christmas, with the other two all blurred into one. And of course it begins December 1 or thereabouts, and ends December 25, which shows a lot of ignorance toward the actual season of Christmas (which actually runs December 25-Jan 5), along with the other two. But also for society, people largely avoid using the "C" word (Christmas), for the bland, vaguely celebratory, largely non-descript "Happy Holidays." As a kid, I recall it being used on occasion, and as society has pushed back more and more against the religious nature of Christmas, it has become mainstream.
Recently, however, I was somewhat surprised to find that there are pastors who advocate using that bland, vanilla greeting if and when a person's religious views are unknown. I could not disagree more. In fact, the more I pondered it, the closer I came to breaking my resolve on keeping the joy in the Advent-Christmas cycle! Quite simply, there is nothing at all - NOTHING - that should diminish or cover the Christian's celebration AND pronouncements of the Christmas season. As the angel said, "it is good news of great joy..." And honestly, those who would be offended by the word Christmas, quite simply need to be offended. I look at it this way: in a society that has largely purged the religious nature of the holiday itself (and it is a religious holiday - without Christ there is absolutely NO Christmas), hearing the words "Merry Christmas" could be the only exposure a person gets to the good news of Christ. Without that, there is nothing to celebrate. Considering part of my job is to make Christ known, I will do so whenever and wherever I can, which includes pointing to "Jesus as the reason for the season." When someone wishes me "happy holidays," I answer right back, "and a very merry Christmas to you!"
There are a lot of theories about how the "date" of Christmas came about. Based on the information from the Bible itself, it is likely more springtime or summer, based on the shepherds in the fields by night. Some have claimed that the date was set to counter the pagan "winter solstice." Others claim that the pagans co-opted a celebration from the Christian date of Christmas. The history of Christmas is wild and varied. In fact, for the first few centuries, the church didn't even observe it. Regardless of it's origins, it is a date set aside to commemorate the birth of the Messiah, or the Christ (hence the name itself, Christ-Mass). It is equally true that the "traditions" of Christmas have developed over the centuries as well. Things we assume as "tradition" may not have been so for as long as we think. Take the Christmas tree, for example: It is generally assumed that it's origins go back to Martin Luther, the German reformer in the 16th century. That means that the Christmas tree has only been a symbol of the season for approximately 1/4 of the time that Christians have had opportunity to celebrate it! There are those who would also claim the use of greens as a part of those origins that would date back to even the time before Christ. Or take "jolly old St. Nick:" A real saint and friend of children but also a very religious figure. (see this older entry on St. Nicholas). The modern day "Santa Claus" is really a product of mid-20th century Coca Cola advertising, and has been morphed into much that doesn't fit the original icon - that of St. Nicholas. But sadly, one other such "modern tradition" is the purging of Christ himself from Christmas in today's society.
That's an absolute travesty. No Christ? No Christmas. Period. The non-religious need to hear about Christ more than ever, considering that the numbers of those claiming no particular religious affiliation is growing, placing them largely in the category of either agnostic or atheist. To remove Christ from Christmas is to eradicate the holiday itself. And for me, to eradicate Christ would not make for a very happy holiday. In fact, it would destroy the holiday and this time of year, no matter that this is not the likely time of year for the birth of the Messiah. So that said, for us and for our household, we say "Merry Christmas." No. Matter. What. If you don't like it you had better have a good reason. And if you have a good reason, it likely will not be good enough to change the habit here. And if you have a good reason, you'd better also be prepared to hear my reasons for why you can't have Christmas without Christ. So sorry, you pagans and non-religious types. You can celebrate many things on your own, but don't you dare - you who don't believe in Christ - celebrate the day in which we commemorate his birth, that is, unless you actually want to believe. And if you want to believe, you can join us or any church to learn more about the reasons why it is important that we say "Merry Christmas."
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
The brand new boiler had dry fired. With no water inside, and no makeup water being added, it didn't take long for these conditions to develop. Later we were told that the building itself was moments away from igniting under these conditions, and therefore likely would have burned to the ground. There were some who were so thankful that I had decided to drop the supplies off that night, rather than wait until the following day, thus discovering the problem and "saving the building."
Now in the aftermath of all this, what became increasingly clear was that there were some, albeit not all, who clearly worshiped the building more than the God to whom the building had been erected and to whose glory it was dedicated. For years after, I believed that it might have actually been the best thing for the congregation itself if that beautiful building had indeed burned to the ground, despite what would have been a tragic loss of so much early 20th century architecture and stained glass.
Fast forward to this week. I see the exact scenario playing out once again in Paris. While I have no doubt that those parishioners who might regularly attend mass there are devout in their worship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, what I have come to see is that a world in general, which is increasingly hostile toward the triune God that the cathedral was erected to worship. clearly loves the building more than God. In fact too often people love the building but hate the God who is worshiped there. It's sad that we lament the loss of such a grand cathedral, despite that it will indeed be rebuilt and repaired, while we give no thought at all to the loss of Christian value, virtue, morality, guidance, and worship in western society.
There were many signs in the aftermath of this fire to suggest that God is still in control, despite that western society in general rejects Him. That so many holy relics survived, and even much of the interior, while scarred and damaged, can be repaired is itself a miracle. It is a reminder to us that what Isaiah the prophet said long ago: "the grass withers, the flowers fade. But the Word of our God remains forever." There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it would be appropriate, to paraphrase Grundvig's great hymn, to also say "steeples fall, and stained glass fades, but God's Word will endure forever."
I pray that this great cathedral is not rebuilt simply as a monument to the folly of humankind, but that it's glory once again points solely to the glory of the triune God, rather than the glorified self, which so often takes over in our world. I fear the latter, but I pray for the former. In all things, may God be glorified. May we all not only see, but live out the salvation that comes to us through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. May the events we recall this Holy week be more than just words on a page, and may they be seen in all that we say and do.
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Many years ago, as we approached Ash Wednesday, someone commented to a member about the day, "is that where you go to church and get that sh*t smeared on your forehead?" It is truly sad that this is the sum total of the person-in-question's knowledge of what this day is. Seems to me that if we had a better collective understanding of the day itself, it would go a long way toward helping to heal the divide among certain segments of our population.
The day itself: a day of penitence and fasting, derives from the most ancient of practices in the Old Testament (thereby providing yet another direct link between the Old and New Testaments, making the Old VERY relevant today still). Ashes were also a sign of humility and repentance out of the Old Testament, thereby providing the symbolic meaning for us today, which goes from symbolic to the reality of the individual penitent who has received the imposition of ashes. Ash, or dust, drives home the reality for us that we are all mortal and finite. As the first human parents are told in the garden, "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19). We all return to dust upon death, as the sum total of our physical existence breaks down, becomes food for other organisms, and returns to the dust from which it came. in other words, the very foundation of Ash Wednesday is found in human existence: birth, sin, and death itself.
Abraham's own view and humility before God includes him recounting, "I am nothing but dust and ashes." (Genesis 18:27) The placement of ashes upon the head of a person was associated with a sign of repentance and humility in the face of sin and suffering (cf. 2 Samuel 13:19). Job, upon recognizing his own place before God (that God was God and he was not), replied, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.... ...Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:3, 6) The prophet Jeremiah, among others, calls for a return to God, in humility and repentance for having turned away from him, with the call to "put on sackcloth and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing as for an only son." (Jeremiah 6:26).
So within this framework of humility and repentance before God, dating back to the very beginning, we too mark the beginning of the season of Lent with this day: Ash Wednesday. It is the season that recalls our own unworthiness before God because of sin, culminating with God's solution as a part of His divine plan: The coming of, the ministry of, the passion and death of, and the resurrection of the Messiah. Tying us into this eternal reminder, the palms from the previous year's Holy Week are burned to create the ashes that remind us of our own mortality and unworthiness before God.
Whether you observe this day or not: May you recall these things, for they are true of us all. May we all recognize our own mortality and unworthiness before God, and may it inspire us to once again return to God, our maker and redeemer. May we recognize the absolute and sovereign truth of God's Word, which includes the very essence of what human existence entails: our mortality and unworthiness to be in God's presence. May we recognize again the great gift of God in the mercy and grace extended to us in spite of our mortality and unworthiness, that comes to us through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.