Tuesday, August 18, 2020


In the morning light
Of a dream before waking
I stood on a hill
Overlooking the sea

In leaves of low branches
Daybreak was caught
Dancing like stars
In facets of diamond

I knelt to the earth
Lethe's dirt, Lethe's sand
And dreaming
Looked close

Caught in the leaves
Windblown spheres
Of ocean froth
Gleamed living jewels

In the bright of sunrise
Effervescent and fleeting
In a dream on a hill
Overlooking the sea

On Planting a Poison Seed

Mainstream American Christianity is an odd thing these days.

It's changed over the course of my lifetime, as the dominant theology of our culture has transitioned.  The argument between the modernists and the fundamentalists has  been settled, with the winner being...neither of them.   American theology is now prosperity theology, the name-it-and-claim-it faith of tee vee Jesus preachers.  It's our semi-official state religion, as this administration has surrounded itself with the priesthood of Mammon, who know a good grift when they see one.

The heart of the prosperity gospel is remarkably simple:  Do what God asks, and you will be rewarded.  Plant a seed, and God will meet your need.  This means, in practice, that you're giving money to the aforementioned tee vee preachers, whose wealth and success clearly indicates the correctness of this theology.  How could my pastor possibly have a jet, if God did not favor my pastor?  Why would pastor have a 25,000 square foot mansion with its own international airport, if God did not favor pastor?  

Yeah.  I know.  But that's the schtick.

I've never bought in to that transactional approach to faith, not at all.  God's grace is poured out to us whether we merit it or not.  It's completely unrelated to how much treasure we dump into our particular franchise of AmeriChrist, Inc.  I also don't for a moment buy that wealth, material success and righteousness are linked.  The wicked can do quite well for themselves financially, and as a follower of Jesus, I know that suffering can come to the righteous.  It's that whole "cross" thing.  

Still, I can't ignore that there is a consistency and mechanistic predictability to prosperity preaching that appeals to millions.  We want to know that our actions and intentions create blessings in our lives.  We want to know that we can do things that will influence how God treats with us, and that we'll be rewarded for doing what is expected of us.  You always know where you stand with that God.

But there's a thing that I can't quite fathom, and it has to do with the logical extension of Prosperity theology.  If doing right by God with our lives and our treasure guarantees blessings and wealth and well-being, then the inverse should also be true.  If we are doing wrong by God, then we will be materially cursed.  If we are pouring our treasure and our energies into things that are an offense to our Maker, then...if the idea of prosperity preaching is true...we should expect to receive the dark reward of our blighted choices.

People or nations that plant poisonous seeds should expect a harvest of poison fruit.

Which gets us to the strange paradox of America right now.  Prosperity preachers are all in with our current national direction.  Their theology defines our national life.  Donald J. Trump is the Prosperity Gospel President.  

But...are we prospering?  Is everything going swimmingly?  

If you believe the theological reasoning of the preachers who now flutter around Trump's baleful light, there's a direct correlation between our choices and God's favor.  And Sweet Lord Jesus, unless you're dumber than a bag of particularly dumb rocks, you can't miss where we are right now in terms of God's favor.  No sane human being would say that we're in a time of God's blessing.

Things have gone to hell in a handbasket.  We're in the thick of a pandemic that seems to have no end, and in which more Americans have died than in the First World War.  We're economically crippled, with debt running wildly out of control.  The rifts of division in our culture are widening, and old wounds are re-opening.  The streets are filled with discord and tear gas.  Armed militias prowl our streets and threaten other citizens.  We've never been less respected by other nations, and never been more an object of pity to other nations. On top of that, there've been four years of freakishly intense weather.  Historic floods.  Wildfires obliterating entire communities.  Devastating storms have left coastal communities staggered, and left entire cities in ruins in the heartland.

If you believe that God favors the righteous nation with blessings, then open your eyes and look.

God. Is. Not. Favoring. Trump's. America.  

We're gettin' a taste of God's abundance right now, but what we Americans are getting is our butts abundantly kicked.  Not by the "subversives" and "leftists" who have always been the straw men of right wing despots, but by reality itself.  

By the standards of America's warped version of Christian faith, we have clearly offended God, and are reaping the whirlwind we have sown.

Is this my theology?  No.  It is not.

But it is the theology of a people who have confused lies, discord and failure with truth, harmony, and prosperity.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Cross and the Punisher

He lives just a couple of houses up the street from us.  

He's genial enough as neighbors go, happy to offer a pleasant word in passing, or a comment about the weather.  Don't know his name, and he doesn't know mine, but we do exchange a nod or a word of greetings.  What I know about his is what I can infer from his household.  It's the house with the most flags, meaning that not only is there a flag pole with an American flag and a yellow Don't Tread on Me flag, but a good solid dozen little flags set out in front of the shrubbery.   

He's a Ford guy, meaning every vehicle at the house is a Ford.  An Edge, an Explorer, an F-150, and...for a long time...a raised old F250 from the 1990s.  This summer, he replaced that F-250 with a brand spankin' new F-250, a big black beast of a truck.  Honestly, it's a pretty nice vehicle.  Not really the best for inside the Beltway commuting, but he's a hunter and a sportsman, so I get the appeal.

He'd had it for a couple of months when the stickers went up on the cab window.

On the left side, there was a cross emblazoned with the stars and stripes.  Not really my cup of tea theologically, but very in keeping with the rest of his home decorating scheme.

On the right, there was a Trump 2020 sticker.  This didn't surprise me, given the NRA stickers on the old truck and the aforementioned Don't Tread on Me flag.  But this was not just any Trump 2020 sticker.  It was a Punisher Skull Trump 2020 Sticker, also emblazoned with the stars and stripes.

It's a peculiar juxtaposition.  The Punisher, in the event you're not familiar with him, is a Marvel Universe anti-hero.  He's a cynical, gun-wielding vigilante who sees it as his calling to set things right by killing people.  If you've ever seen the Clint Eastwood film Magnum Force?  The Punisher isn't Clint Eastwood.  The Punisher is closer to one of the cops who murder the people they've determined are scum or enemies of law and order. A good analogue to the Punisher, from elsewhere in the comic book world: Judge Dredd, who enforces the law without mercy in a fascistic fantasy dystopia. Not a villain, exactly, but definitely on the darker side of things.

The Punisher has a skull on his outfit, and that skull has become an icon of the Trumpist right wing. For them, it parses as powerful, as kick-butt.  You can't mess with me, it says, or some dyin's comin' your way.  I get that, generally.  It's like kids liking the skull and crossbones pirate flag, as they play around with the liberating power of doing whatever one pleases.  Or the skulls preferred as biker flair.  As a political symbol, though?  

It's odd, given that the Punisher's skull is rather obviously meant to be a symbol of brutal, cold-hearted violence.  It is not a symbol of good.  It was never intended to be.  It reads as evil, turned against evil.

I mean, does it look good?  Clear your mind, and imagine showing this to an average American in 1976.  "Here's a campaign sticker from the year 2020," you'd say.  "What do you think it says about the state of the country and the spirit of this candidate?"

I think you'd be met with a horrified shudder.

And there's something else.  It is exactly the opposite of a cross.  The Punisher, in point of fact, is exactly the kind of person who might consider crucifixion as a viable option for someone who he considers an enemy.  

Those two stickers on my neighbor's truck speak to the fundamental tension between Trumpism and Christian faith.  One embraces the ideal of violence and fetishizes retribution and a sense of aggrievement.  The other defies violence and embraces self-sacrifice and forgiveness as the highest virtues.

Together, the two are irreconcilably dissonant.  That kind of dissonance tears a person apart.  Or a country.

Yesterday, I saw my neighbor drive by on his way to work.  The Trump Punisher Skull was gone, but the cross remained.

A good thing, I suppose.