The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict

compassion, kindness

verdictI’m trying to contextualize the disappointing but unsurprising Kyle Rittenhouse verdict.

One part is Mark Evanier’s tweet. “And one day soon, someone of a different political view and/or race will do what Kyle Rittenhouse did and all the folks cheering today’s verdict will be screaming, ‘Rule of law!'”

There is a 2021 article in Slate that I found intriguing. “Black gun rights advocate Kenn Blanchard says Black Americans shouldn’t be scared of the Second Amendment.”

And of course, many African-Americans are afraid. Race DOES permeate the politics of gun control. Think of the death of Philando Castile, who announced to an officer at a traffic stop that he had a gun in his car. He ended up dead, and that continues to gut me.

I’m left to speculate what would have been the reaction by law enforcement to a young black male running through the streets of Kenosha, WI with an AR-15. Perhaps he would have ended up dead like Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. He was a good black man with a gun trying to end an Alabama mall shooting.

But Kyle Rittenhouse, running through the chaotic streets with an automatic weapon, goes past law enforcement without incident. As a Boston Globe columnist noted: “You can be a vigilante when your mission is to serve the system.”

STFU

Much has been made of the judge’s rulings during the trial. For the most part, I concur. Yet there is one aspect that I have to agree with him. The fact that Rittenhouse had not made public comment before the trial should not have mattered. Moreover, when the prosecution suggested that this was an issue, and the judge reprimanded the state on Fifth Amendment grounds, it hurt the case. It was prosecutorial ineptness.

In this blog back in 2014, I wrote: “If I am ever in a situation that would involve the criminal justice system – whether as the victim and/or witness or defendant – I will not comment on what I might testify about until the trial is over. I won’t talk about it, and I certainly won’t blog about it.”

Very few things irritate me more while watching the news than having  Lester Holt, or whomever, saying, “X is breaking their silence.” It’s as though talking about testimony to the press before the trial is what one is SUPPOSED to do. I do not buy it.

As a practical matter, shutting up is probably better. Alec Baldwin spoke after the shooting death of the cinematographer for the movie Rust. When he talked about how well-run the set operated, he may have made himself vulnerable to civil liability.

polar bear

With God on his side

It fascinates me that the two folks on my Facebook feed who clearly supported the outcome put it in a Christian context. My old neighbor Greg says the verdict was “Absolutely beautiful totally innocent! 100% self-defense.” He bashed the “bleeding hearts”, and ends with “so good for Kyle excellent praise God.”

As someone who has been reading a lot of the Old Testament recently, there’s a lot of stories of the people of Israel preparing to invade other folks. Start with Joshua 1, for instance.

But this is not the Christian theology I believe in. I’m more of a Colossians 3:12 kind of guy. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” That would mean, in my mind, not becoming a Stand Your Ground provocateur.

“I Can Be A Christian By Myself”

“Shut the door and I’m the people.”

christian churchIn the liturgy for the first Sunday in October, the New Testament scripture was  Ephesians 4:11-16. It begins, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and teachers.” And immediately, I thought of the song I Can Be A Christian By Myself.

There are lots of scripture that suggests that the church is comprised of parts. 1 Corinthians 12 is possibly the most famous. “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

I Can Be A Christian By Myself was a sarcastic take about this understanding. Someone told me about the song maybe 35 years ago. This led me to a search. I couldn’t find a recording on YouTube. But I did discover this article from 2010.

“[Richard] Avery and [Donald] Marsh have an ironic song called I Can Be a Christian By Myself. The first verse goes:”

I can be a Christian by myself.
Leave my dusty Bible on the shelf.
I’ll sing a hymn and pray a bit.
God can do the rest of it.
My heart’s the church, my head’s the steeple.
Shut the door and I’m the people.
I can be a Christian by myself.

Wait there’s more!

I’ll break some bread and drink some wine.
Have myself a holy time.

I’ll take the off’ring then I’ll know
Where that money’s gonna go.

So please remember, Lord, when I die,
Give me my own cloud in the sky.

After this life with its labors
Don’t bug me with needy neighbors.

I discovered the song appears in  The Richard Avery and Donald Marsh Songbook, c. 1972. But instead of waiting to get an interlibrary loan page, I ordered a used copy of the collection.

This article quotes the exact same parts of the song. It then notes, “In John 17, Jesus prays about giving his love and glory to his disciples and to the community or church. It is not a prayer for the individual Christian but for the community.”

This has informed my understanding of the communal/communion/community sense of faith, as opposed to the individual sense of salvation.

John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, the life

Frederick Buechner

Beyond WordsAbout a dozen years ago, a blogger buddy of mine completed a quiz about the Bible, addressing several topics. One was “A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don’t get?”

The response: “John 14:6. Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’

“I’d honestly hate to think that good people who aren’t Christians in life will be turned away by God for this reason. I have a very hard time with this notion.”

I remember this vividly because I didn’t have a particularly good answer. Moreover, reading it literally, as many Christians I grew up with would do, caused me to pretty much abandon the church for over a decade.

The narrative propelled the notion that we needed all of these missionaries. Otherwise, the Buddhists and Hindus, and Muslims were all going to burn in hell because they had not “accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior.” Though I came back to church, I never found satisfactory verbiage to respond to this mindset. Until now.

The realm of mystery

In one of my small, remote groups at church, we are reading Beyond Words by Frederick Buechner, pronounced BEEK-ner. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who attended, among other places, Yale Divinity School and the Union Theological Seminary. Buechner is, to the best of my knowledge, still alive at the age of 94.

Beyond Words is “A word a day to keep the demons away.” It is a 2004 compilation of three of his earlier books from the 1970s and 1980s, “tweaking some of the original entries.”

For the word “Christian,” he quotes the above scripture. Buechner added, “[Jesus] didn’t say any particular ethic, doctrine or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was.

He didn’t say it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you can ‘come to the Father.'” This is nuanced stuff. “He said it was only by him – by living, participating in, being caught up by the way of life that he embodied, that was his way.”

Here’s the crux of the matter. “Thus it is possible to be on Christ’s way and with his mark upon you without ever having heard of Christ, and for that reason to be on your way to God though maybe you don’t even believe in God.”[Emphases mine.]

Buechner’s theology would no doubt be considered blasphemy in the circles I grew up with. Oddly, I now consider their views to be the actual heresy.

Home, or the lack of it

what is required

homeI have long had this peculiar ambivalence about the idea of home. It started as a kid. Our dwelling seemed so small, the first floor of a two-story house.

I seldom had my friends over, though I’d go to several of their homes. My bedroom was carved out of the dining room with two walls my father built. When we visited my mother’s first cousins in St. Albans, Queens, NYC, their house seemed like a mansion.

But that wasn’t it, really. My grandma Williams house was hardly roomy. Yet it was the headquarters where her family would congregate. Based on photographs, this was the case for a number of generations.

It may be that my father and mother didn’t own our house, grandma Williams did. And while this didn’t faze me, I think it ate at my father. Why didn’t he buy a house? Was it that he was shut out of the GI Bill’s provisions, as many black veterans were? Could he not find a house to buy in Binghamton?

I have since found out my parents were barred from renting some places there because they were (incorrectly) perceived to be an interracial couple. Or was his upbringing such that he never thought of himself in that role?

Inkwell

Two things brought this to mind. One piece in my brain is this Boston Globe article, “Claiming land and water on Martha’s Vineyard. Inkwell, a historically Black beach in Oak Bluffs, is a resistance.” It’s about a young black woman who bought a home with her brother. And one of the things she wondered about was whether she was worthy to own a house. And not just for her, but for future generations.

Since I never owned a house before my current address – and I lived in 30+ apartments before that – I totally get that vibe. Add to that all of those stories of people who lose their homes, often to fire or flood. I see them on TV. They almost always say, bravely, “At least everyone’s safe,” if that’s true. “We can always buy more stuff.” Except that the loss of a homestead is more than “stuff.”

Or maybe not. Several years ago, there was a young woman on JEOPARDY who noted that she lost her possessions in a fire. She felt liberated. Alex Trebek appeared aghast.

OT

Another stream in my consciousness was a lectionary reading from December 20.2 Samuel 7:1-11. In part: “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.”

In our Bible study, we kicked around the idea of what is required in a physical structure, whether in a home or a church. Someone commented, “There is something to be said about the church as ‘home.’ To strike the balance of Church as a welcoming architecture of physical materials, comforting relationship, sense of belonging, and vessel for the holy, is I believe the challenge we face.”

Of course, we haven’t been IN our church building for over nine months. The early church was in people’s homes. So do we need a fancy structure? Surely we mourned when Notre Dame burned in Paris. Or when racists torch black churches. These are not just buildings, but symbols of something greater. My previous church burned down twice in a 30-year period, and they rebuilt the current cathedral-like structure in the midst of the Depression.

In conclusion… well, I have no conclusion. I just have musings about the importance and impermanence of place.

Paula White, evangelical advisor

They’ll say anything that sounds good to exploit you.

Paula WhiteI had heard the name, Paula White. I knew she was djt’s “spiritual advisor” of some sort. As it turns out, she is chair of the evangelical advisory board for the regime. She delivered the invocation at his inauguration, becoming the first woman ever to do so.

“In November 2019, Trump appointed her special advisor to the Faith and Opportunity Initiative at the Office of Public Liaison.” I had frankly forgotten about her until her prayer for the outcome of the 2020 election went viral. “Angels are being dispatched from Africa right now,” she said. (Wha?) But who the heck IS she?

From her  Wikipedia page, I learned that from “2014 until May 2019, she was senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center, in Apopka, Florida, a non-denominational, multicultural megachurch.” Naturally. The thrice-married pastor has had some financial difficulties with her previous church, which you can read about.

God and mammon

John Fea describes her. “White’s life is a classic rags-to-riches story filled with hardship, struggle, and eventual victory (and wealth), stemming from faith in Christ and positive thinking. She often describes herself as a ‘messed-up Mississippi girl’ who God saved from an early life of sexual and psychological abuse, poverty, and single motherhood. She is not shy about sharing negative stories from her past because she believes her biography is a testament to how God can help ordinary people live the American dream.”

Is THAT what God wants? “She hawks dietary supplements, teachers her followers how to lose weight (repent and stop eating sugar), and offers beauty tips… White ‘reinvented her image with extensive plastic surgery, modish hairstyles, perfectly manicured nails, chic silk suits, fitted dresses, and a leaner size 4 figure…'”

Paula White has been a life coach to people such as Michael Jackson, Gary Sheffield, and Darryl Strawberry, and the personal pastor to the latter, “starting in 2003 following his release from prison on charges of cocaine possession.”

The connection

“White’s biggest star-caliber fan is Donald Trump. In 2002, Trump, who had apparently seen White on television…” Well, naturally. He “reached out to the popular prosperity preacher and invited her to a meeting at Trump Tower… Following that meeting, they remained friends, and Trump began to take White with him on Atlantic City excursions, where she would conduct Bible studies and prayer meetings with the celebrities who visited the casinos.”

Of course, the prosperity gospel. More on that momentarily.

“At some point in their ongoing relationship, White claimed that Trump had a born-again experience… She said that she was ‘one hundred percent’ sure that he ‘confesses Jesus Christ as Lord.'” She also insists “1,000 percent” that he is “not a racist,” as she told journalists in 2017, at the Religion News Association annual conference in Nashville.”

Now the prosperity gospel “is a religious belief among some Protestant Christians that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth.

“Prosperity theology has been criticized by leaders from various Christian denominations, including within the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, who maintain that it is irresponsible, promotes idolatry, and is contrary to scripture.” Contrary to scripture: I’m in THAT camp.

The rap song

And so, I discovered, is a rapper and Christian pastor  Shai Linne. He namechecks, among others, Paula White, her spiritual mentor T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, and Joel Osteen, who I’ve written about, in a 2013 song called “Fal$e Teacher$”. You can hear it here or here or here. Read the lyrics here.

Fal$e Teacher$ quotes four pieces of scripture.

Matthew 7:16 NRSV

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?

Wait. What does THAT mean? So, I decided to use translations from The Message by Eugene Peterson, a favorite of my late friend Keith. I accessed it from Bible Gateway .

Matthew 7:15-20 Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character.

Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.

The epistles

Jude 3-4 Dear friends, I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish.

What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license—which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master.

2 Peter 2:1-3 But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They’ll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other—biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back!

They’ve put themselves on a fast downhill slide to destruction, but not before they recruit a crowd of mixed-up followers who can’t tell right from wrong.

They give the way of truth a bad name. They’re only out for themselves. They’ll say anything, anything, that sounds good to exploit you. They won’t, of course, get by with it. They’ll come to a bad end, for God has never just stood by and let that kind of thing go on.

1 Timothy 6:9-10 But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.

Sounds about right.