Memories of an Inauguration

Life in Washington

Reagans and Bushes descending Capitol Steps
after Inauguration

We lived inside the Beltway from June of 1988 till August of 1992. My wife was determined that we would get the full immersion experience of Washington, D.C. I once began a sermon with "There went out a decree from Susan Augustus" that we would attend the lighting the National Christmas Tree. 

On Veteran's Day, 1988, the church was closed but school was open, so the two of us decided to drive into the city. On the way we heard on the radio that President Reagan would be speaking at amphitheater at Arlington, and we decided go. It was a very short (his main speech was at the Vietnam Memorial) but vintage Reagan speech complete with Nancy looking on in her adoring way. An experience we are happy we had.

Reagan at Arlington (Probably 1985)

There were great many other experiences - all the museums and monuments, the National Cathedral, concerts of military bands on the Capitol steps on summer evenings, tours of the White House, Evening Parade at the Marine Barracks, the cherry blossoms, Fourth of July Concerts on the Capitol lawn, Food Court at Union Station,a series of Marine Band Concerts at Constitution Hall, lunch at the American Cafe on Capitol Hill, Messiah at the Kennedy Center. 

The memory that comes to mind on this Inauguration Day is the 1989 Inauguration of George H.W. Bush. Again Susan found out there would be a concert at the Lincoln Memorial. (I was surprised that Donald Trump did not know there had been a concert on Inauguration eve there before.) The other day I opened a drawer in a desk and found a small flashlight. All of us received one as we arrived at the Memorial as tokens of the Bush theme - "A Thousand Points of Light." I remember only two acts - Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine and the Beach Boys. My favorite memory of the Concert is of our youngest son, Joel, then 5 years old, sitting on my shoulders and singing at the top of his off key voice, "Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya..."

The next morning we caught the subway into the city. When we arrived we claimed a spot on the street in front of the Navy Memorial. Of course, there were hours left till the Inauguration itself, but, if my memory is correct, we managed passing the time without family crisis and without a meltdown on the part of any of the five boys or dad. Susan has always been the glue (by calmness, resilience, and organization) that holds our family together, and the Inauguration was no exception.

The twins had got a battery operated TV with a very small screen for Christmas, and much of the time was spent watching TV on the curb. It was on that TV we witnessed the Inauguration itself. Not too long afterward we watched as a giant helicopter carrying the Reagans to Andrews for their flight to California flew over our heads. Eventually the "entertainment" began, and we watched as band after band passed before us. We saw the the Bushes darkly as through a tinted glass waving as their limousine made its way to the White House the the reviewing stand.

Navy Memorial

At last the sun began to go down, the temperature began to drop, and the Queen said that we could go home. We made it home in time for those who wished to watch the end of the parade and then the Inaugural festivities. The boys were nowhere to be found.

We lived in Washington at the right time. (We moved to Pittsburgh in August of 1992.) Susan always said she was glad we got out of town before "those people" moved into the White House.

Questions about Insurance and Healthcare

Questions about Insurance and Healthcare
for Conservatives and Liberals

For Conservatives

  • Are you prepared to see people denied healthcare if it means their not having serious illness treated or dying from preventable causes because they lack healthcare?

    • If are so prepared:
      • Would you also do away with or severely limit the benefits currently provided seniors by Medicare?
      • Would you do away with or severely limited the benefits provided to the poor by Medicaid?`
      • Do you make any distinction between the sick and the injured in the obligation of hospitals to treat? Would allow hospitals to deny emergency treatment to either or both?
      • If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, to what point in American history would you set back the clock with regard insurance and healthcare? 
      • Do you favor a purely market-driven (to the extent such is possible in the American economy) to the availability of insurance and the distribution of healthcare?
      • Would you do anything at all to insure or provide healthcare for those with pre-existing conditions?
      • Is there a limit in the numbers of persons or percentage of the population suffering death because of lack of healthcare you would find unacceptable?

    • If you are not so prepared:
      • What would you be willing to do to assure that persons with serious illnesses are treated and that persons whose deaths are preventable do not die?
      • Assuming you would want churches and charitable organizations to enable uninsured persons either to obtain insurance or to receive healthcare, what, if anything, would you do about those for whom these organizations could not or would not provide?
      • Would you leave in place Medicare? What changes do you think are necessary for it to continue to be viable?
      • Would you leave in place Medicaid? What changes would in terms of contraction, expansion, modification to keep it viable?
      • What, if anything would you do about those with pre-existing conditions?
      • What, if any role, do you envision for the government?
      • Do you think it would be more likely to come up with workable healthcare solutions by working with Conservative Group 1 above or Liberal Group 2 below?

For Liberals

  • Are you prepared to spend an unlimited amount of money so that everyone with a serious illness and everyone with a preventable cause of death is treated?
    • If you are so prepared:
      • Would there be any role of the insurance industry?
      • Do you favor a single payer system of providing healthcare?
      • Even, if an unlimited amount of money were provided, would rationing of healthcare be necessary?
      • How would you provide the money to insure and/or treat everyone? Increased deficits? Higher taxes for some? 
      • What, anything would you do to restrain the cost of healthcare? Would hospitals be run by the government? Would doctors become employees of the government? Would the pharmaceutical companies be owned by the government?
      • How do you see money being available for medical research that would lead to such things as innovation in treatment, development of new drugs, etc?
      • Would parts of the federal budget have to be eliminated, cut, or restrained in order to have money to spend on healthcare? If so, what parts?
      • When you say you are willing to spend an unlimited amount of money, do you mean an absolutely unlimited amount of money? Would there be any limits in terms of such things as percentage of the federal/state budgets or percentage of the GDP?
    • If you are not so prepared:
      • Would you cover with insurance or by some other means provide healthcare for all?
      • Do you favor a single payer system or a system that uses some combination of government and private involvement?
      • What limits would you impose on expenditures for healthcare?
      • What changes, if any, would you make to Medicare and Medicaid?
      • Do you think it would be more likely to come up with workable healthcare solutions by working with Liberal Group 1 above or Conservative Group 2 further above?

Is Martin Luther King in Heaven?

Is Martin Luther King
Looking Over Heaven's Balcony?

(What follows is a post from January 21, 2015, at my old Blog, "The Christian Curmudgeon. It addresses the doctrinal views of Dr. King. This seems to me relevant given the tendency among some evangelicals, black and white, to portray Dr. King, not only as a civil rights hero, but as an exemplary Christian.) 

To answer my own question, I hope so. I very much hope so.

I am not a fan of hell. I bow to God's sovereign wisdom and justice, but I wish there were no hell. I wish that every life were sooner or later redeemed, set free from the scourge of sin, and released from the eternal judgment that follows sin. I don't want to go to hell, and I don't want anybody else to go there.

I hope that Dr. King now rests in peace and will rise to glory. He was in many respects a great man who did good and important things not only for Black people but for the whole country. The thought of his being anywhere other than in heaven and waiting to share in Jesus's resurrection to eternal life is one I don't like to contemplate.

Yesterday (1/20/15) the Reformed African American Network published A Dream Conferred: King Day Reflections by John 
Richards. Mr. Richards has a B.A. from Morehouse College, a J.D. from Howard University, and a M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary. He blogs at John C. Richards,Jr.

Mr. Richards seems to have no doubt that Dr. King whom he describes as "one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century" (true if by preacher one means homiletician and/or orator) is "looking over heaven's balcony" at us. Reflecting on Dr. King's sermon "The Drum Major Instinct" (the desire to be first, to be the leader), Mr. Richards writes of King:

He marched to the beat of the One from whom every family in heaven and in earth derives its name. He marched to the beat of the Drummer in whom all things are held together. He marched to the beat of the Great Different Drummer.
However, there are reasons it is necessary to be concerned about Dr. King's eternal destiny (which should have nothing to do with our evaluation of his civil rights legacy). I do not refer to Dr. King's marital infidelities. Dr. King would not be the first Christian or the only preacher in heaven whose life contained large moral inconsistencies. Nor am I overly concerned for his misunderstanding of the relation of Gandhi and Jesus:  
Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale…
His belief that Gandhi worked out in practice "the love ethic of Jesus" is an error, but not one that would exclude from heaven. Moreover, we can be thankful that he employed Gandhian non-violence as his method of protest and gaining of rights: 
It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform...the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.
It is not either of these issues, but Dr. King's theological beliefs, that give me grave concerns about him. In his writings as a student Dr. King did not just question but denied outright basic tenets of historic Christian orthodoxy such as the virgin birth, the eternal Sonship, the atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the second coming.

On the virgin birth: 

First we must admit that the evidence for the tenability of this doctrine is too shallow to convince any objective thinker. To begin with, the earliest written documents in the New Testament make no mention of the virgin birth. Moreover, the Gospel of Mark, the most primitive and authentic of the four, gives not the slightest suggestion of the virgin birth. The effort to justify this doctrine on the grounds that it was predicted by the prophet Isaiah is immediately eliminated, for all New Testament scholars agree that the word virgin is not found in the Hebrew original, but only in the Greek text which is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for "young woman." How then did this doctrine arise? 
A clue to this inquiry may be found in a sentence from St. Justin's First Apology. Here Justin states that the birth of Jesus is quite similar to the birth of the sons of Zeus. It was believed in Greek thought that an extraordinary person could only be explained by saying that he had a father who was more than human. It is probable that this Greek idea influenced Christian thought.
A more adequate explanation for the rise of this doctrine is found in the experience which the early christians had with Jesus. The people saw within Jesus such a uniqueness of quality and spirit that to explain him in terms of ordinary background was to them quite inadequate. For his early followers this spiritual uniqueness could only by accounted for in terms of biological uniqueness. They were not unscientific in their approach because they had no knowledge of the scientific. They could only express themselves in terms of the pre-scientific thought patterns of their day.
On eternal Sonship:
The orthodox attempt to explain the divinity of Jesus in terms of an inherent metaphysical substance within him seems to me quite inadequate. To say that the Christ, whose example of living we are bid to follow, is divine in an ontological sense is actually harmful and detrimental...the orthodox view of the divinity of Christ is in my mind quite readily denied. The significance of the divinity of Christ lies in the fact that his achievement is prophetic and promissory for every other true son of man who is willing to submit his will to the will and spirit of God. Christ was to be only the prototype of one among many brothers. The appearance of such a person, more divine and more human than any other, and in closest unity at once with God and man, is the most significant and hopeful event in human history. This divine quality or this unity with God was not something thrust upon Jesus from above, but it was a definite achievement through the process of moral struggle and self-abnegation.
On the atonement:
Any doctrine which finds the meaning of atonement in the triumph of Christ over such cosmic powers as sin, death and Satan is inadequate.... If Christ by his life and death paid the full penalty of sin, there is no valid ground for repentance or moral obedience as a condition of forgiveness. The debt is paid; the penalty exacted, and there is, consequently, nothing to forgive.
On the resurrection:
The last doctrine in our discussion deals with the resurrection story. This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death. From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions. In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting. But here again the external evidence is not the most important thing, for it in itself fails to tell us precisely the thing we most want to know: What experiences of early Christians lead to the formulation of the doctrine? 
On the second coming:
It is obvious that most twentieth century Christians must frankly and flatly reject any view of a physical return of Christ...
Actually we are celebrating the Second Advent every time we open our hearts to Jesus, every time we turn our backs to the low road and accept the high road, every time we say no to self that we may say yes to Jesus Christ, every time a man or wom[a]n turns from ugliness to beauty and is able to forgive even their enemies...The final doctrine of the second coming is that whenever we turn our lives to the highest and best there for us is the Christ.
At least in his student days Dr. King held typically liberal theological views. Did he change them? Some say he came to see neo-orthodoxy as a needed corrective to liberalism. Others say that in his latter years he identified increasingly with the sufferings of Jesus. Jim Wallis, the evangelical progressive social activist, apparently believes that King's theology developed in a more conservative direction:
His theological liberalism was not an adequate foundation for what he would face later...I would argue that the more deeply one moves in the struggle for social justice ... personal faith becomes more important.
However, one writer who interviewed the professor to whom Mrs. King entrusted the early writings of Dr. King says: 
Dr. Clayborne Carson, a world-renowned King scholar and director of the King Papers Project at Stanford, told me that he had not seen any documentary evidence of a later shift in King's thinking from his early views on Christian doctrines. He also said King may have found creative ways to avoid expressing his unorthodox views, as he was trained in a liberal seminary but served a Baptist congregation. 
I agree with both William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan who favored a King holiday. It is important especially to Black people to have a day set aside for the celebration of the Black man who led their 20th century quest for personal dignity and equality of rights. Dr. King need not be a Christian believer to secure his place in history and in the American pantheon of heroes. 

I wish that Christians did not feel the necessity of doing the equivalent of the funeral practice of "preaching him into heaven." There is no necessity for the clergyman officiating at a funeral to determine what a person was or was not in this life or where he is or is not in the world to come. Read the service, preach the homily, commit the body to the earth and the soul to God. Leave it at that. 

Dr. King is a hero like all others - admirable in some ways, flawed in others. He is in the hands of a merciful God from whom we hope he, as we, will receive mercy. 

But let's be truthful. You don't raise questions about police brutality by claiming Mike Brown was an unarmed teenager with his hands up trying to surrender when an out of control white cop killed him. You don't make Martin Luther King greater by diminishing Lyndon Johnson. And you don't make Dr. King a Christian leader by overlooking what he said he believed. 

My 700 Club

The 700 Club

My Blog is a very small thing. But it’s my little ewe lamb, and I have an affection for it. I don’t love it as I once did, but I continue to write when I am stirred up enough about something to want to write.

I noticed that a number of bloggers and online magazines listed their most read pieces in 2016. The bloggers published a list their Top 10 blogs.

Today I finally got around to looking at my 40 blogs of 2016 to see which ones had been most read. What should the cutoff be? I decided not to come up with a top 10 list (which would be ¼ of all I published), so I decided to list only those that attracted as many as 800 looks. 40 blogs published. 7 got 800 or more hits. A small thing, as I said.

Here is my 700 Club with the number of hits in parenthesis, a short annotation, and a quotation from the blog.

1. This Does Not End Well for the PCA  (3383) Reflections on Michelle Higgins presentation at Urbana.

This is political progressivism, liberation theology, and social gospel. Historic theological orthodoxy cannot long cohabit with this liberal version of orthopraxis. One or the other will have to move out.

This does not end well for the PCA.

2. A Hymn No Christian Should Sing - Ever (1600) I have published this criticism of the hymn “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” several times, and each time it attracts readers.

Mrs. Howe's hymn is a liberal hymn of hate stirred by the passions of war and based on a "God is on our side" mentality. Today, some whose patriotic zeal is high and theological discernment low might be tempted to sing it. Worse, some on the religious right may march into the culture wars singing it.

3. Why This Doesn't End Well for the PCA (1754) Answer to request to elaborate on why I believe the views represented by Michelle Higgins will undermine the PCA.

In general when political and social issues get balled up with Biblical authority and the Gospel, orthopraxis (right practice defined in terms of social/political issues rather than personal conformity to Biblical morality) will be elevated to equality with orthodoxy (right doctrine.) This happens with conservatives as well as the liberals.

4. The PCA Has Got To Get Its Mind Right on Race (940) The pressure on the PCA to adopt the social/political views of those who tie them to the Gospel.

In the church it is, "All Biblically enlightened, Biblically right-minded, Biblically good-hearted, and Biblically righteous people see things as we do." You can't say, "We have a difference about political and social matters, and we can charitably disagree about these matters as Christians while being united by our faith." No, these are matters of Biblical and Gospel righteousness. Those who disagree must get their minds right - whatever it takes.

5. Sorry, I Don't Feel Your Pain (918) I contend that the outcome of the 2016 election was just politics.

These brothers believe that God is on their side and they on God's. Their cause(s) is the cause of the kingdom of God. To them Trump was not just someone they disagreed with but the enemy of the kingdom of God. The 80% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump voted against the interests of the kingdom of God, betrayed their black brothers and sisters (who ask, "How could you?"), and proved themselves unreliable allies in the righteous causes highest on the list of black priorities.

6.  Candidates, I Don't Want to Hear about Your Faith (841) During the Presidential primaries I listed 12 priorities and concluded...

When I look at my list I find it is based on my political philosophy and principles, on prudence and common sense, and on preferences. I do not believe they are derived from the Bible or are an expression of my Christian faith. If I put flesh to them and tried to turn them into a political program, I would not look to the Bible for guidance or to my church for direction.

7. "Sex Isn't a Need." Really? Really?? (806) I respond to a Christian psychologist who argues that sex is a want not a need.

Paul teaches that those who are not married and who have sexual needs must exercise self-control and refrain from fornication. But he knows this is hard, very hard, and so urges those who burn to marry...Is sex a need? The psychologist says, “No.” Paul says, “Yes.”

The Right Not To Be Upset

The Right Not To Be Upset

Back in the 90s I began a practice I am still following today. In Presidential election years after both conventions I decide which candidate is likely to win. If it is not the candidate I prefer, then I stop watching the news until after the election. 

One year, when we were living in Pittsburgh, I figured Bill Clinton would win. During the time slot of the network news our local PBS station was broadcasting the series based on the James Herriot books, so I watched Dr. Herriot heal halt, blind and lame creatures throughout the fall. I did this even though I had seen many of the episodes before. Then, since the days of Reagan I have watched very little of the debates between the two parties' candidates. This year I watched none. I let the little lady tell me about them.

Why? I found my levels of anxiety increased. The news and debates upset me. So, I created my own safe space. I figured I had no obligation to expose myself to the news or debates if they made me feel bad, so I didn't.

Perhaps I was on the leading edge of a societal trend. There are few rights now more sacrosanct now than the right not to be upset. If something upsets you, the person or event that upset you is in the wrong, and you have a right to understanding, sympathy, and protection. 

If they don't understand your upset feelings, they lack empathy. If they don't sympathize, they are insensitive. If they don't protect you, they fail to fulfill an obligation. Whoever is in authority - the parent, the management, the administration, the government -  has an obligation to get in between you and who or what upsets you. 

Get the coach, who made Junior feel bad about himself and made him run laps, off the field. Make the boss write up and send to sensitivity training your fellow worker who said something that offended you. Shame and isolate that guy with unenlightened views about women. Get that professor whose views violate the current campus orthodoxy out of the classroom. Accuse that person who says unpopular things of hate speech. Make sure everybody understands how self-evident these responses are. Make sure they understand that something is wrong with them if they don't see things as you do.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing seems as common among Christians as it does among the secularists. What would these snowflakes have done if they lived in the centuries before Constantine? What would they have done during the Reformation when not only Protestants and Roman Catholics but Protestants and Protestants talked mean to and about each other? Melted no doubt.

After the recent POTUS election African American evangelical Christians interpreted the election in Biblical terms. One would have thought that African Americans (regardless of Christian profession) in the United States were ancient Israelites soon to live in Egypt under a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph. Did they think that soon they would be back on the plantations? Or that Jim Crow would be re-instituted? That they'd be riding in the back of the bus? That they would have to pay a poll tax? Did the think the 1964 Civil Rights Act and all the laws and regulations that have followed would be undone? Or that their children would be sent to separate and unequal schools? 

Moreover, they were painfully disappointed that their white evangelical (supposed) brethren had voted for Trump. And they were wondering why these same "brethren" could not at least don sackcloth and sit with them in the ash heap to mourn. 

But it was an election! Just an election. Trump won. Hillary lost. Had Hillary won, would I have been justified to do a "Job" and to expect that Black Christian Democrats would appreciate my despair? As a matter of fact, I went to bed on election night rather than watch the returns, fully anticipated awaking to a President-elect Clinton, very possibly a Democrat majority in the Senate, and the expectation my last years would be spent watching the country go to hell. But I didn't expect Jemar Tisby or Thabiti Anyabwile to sit Shiva with me.

Recently absurdity has been trumped by absurdity. At the University of Glasgow theological students are given a trigger warning. If in class depictions of Christ's crucifixion are upsetting to them, they may leave class. The University stated, "We have an absolute duty of care to all our students and where it is felt course material may cause potential upset or concern warnings are issued." God forbid those students should be told that during that gruesome crucifixion the Son of God experienced the hellish wrath of his Father. God forbid that they be told that in that death is all their hope of eternal salvation.

I wish I had gone to school in the age of trigger warnings and my right not to be upset. I wish at Pensacola High School there might have been a warning, "This class involves testing that requires working algebraic equations. If you find this upsetting, please feel free to excuse yourself." Or, "Tryouts will be held today for the elite choir within the choir. If you are upset afterwards, counselors will be available." Or at Belhaven College, "Dr. Durrett ridicules stupid ideas and comments and sometimes gives 'passing' grades like D- -. If this would make you uncomfortable, please sign up for one of Dr. Preer's philosophy classes where you can peacefully sleep." Or at the University of West Florida, "This philosophy professor writes caustic notes on test papers and makes caustic comments when students say dumb things. There will be an alternative class in crocheting for those who would be upset by Dr. Wittgenstein." Or, at Reformed Seminary, "In this class you may be asked to translate Hebrew and/or Greek. If you find this upsetting, you may be excused from taking this class."

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5).