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Signs of the Times • 1 August 2017 • No. 130

¶ Invocation. Listen to my 3-year-old grandson recite e.e. cumming’s poem “I thank you God for this most amazing day.” (Special thanks to Marc Mullinax for technical expertise.)

Above: This beautiful “Nature Mandala” collage was created in June by children, and their teacher, Monica Hix, at a “Worship in the Arts” camp at First Baptist Church, Greensboro, NC.

Potpourri edition
(commentary in small bytes)


There are at least four ways to normalize cruelty, to make it appear routine, inconspicuous, unnoteworthy.

            One is to make it a statistic. It was the Soviet butcher Joseph Stalin who said, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” So, talking about 15 or 20 or 30 million people without health care, as the various Republican plans have stipulated, isn’t a stretch when there are no faces or names.

            Eh, a million here, a million there. . . .

            A second way to normalize cruelty: Use the word “freedom.” (And if you can stuff it in, insert “religious” as an adjective.) That’s what Vice President Mike Pence did in an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Asked if repealing the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) would be “worth it” if the outcome led to “millions fewer Americans” having health insurance, Pence responded by saying “the very essence of living in a free society is people get to make their own decisions. . . .” —for more see Oliver Willis, Shareblue

            A third way to normalize cruelty: Call it colorful language. That’s what short-term White House communications director Steve Scaramucci did in his non-apology after being called out for using a squalid stream of profanities to describe West Wing colleagues, plus promising to “f***ing kill all leakers.” Tacitly, by his silence, Trump had no qualms with such behavior.

            A fourth way to normalize cruelty: Say it’s a joke. Just kidding. That’s the response from the White House after Trump did one of his famous wink-wink saying-something-without-actually-saying-it comments, this time, in a speech to law enforcement, an endorsement of police brutality. His suggestion was so bald that police chiefs across the country publicly disassociated themselves and their officers from the president. (For the White House press secretary to say it was all in good fun is actually worse.) —for more see Ray Sanchez, “Police push back against Trump’s law-and-order speech,” CNN

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Senate vote drama, 1:30 a.m. Friday morning, 28 July. CNN called it “John McCain’s maverick moment,” then the Washington Post headlined, “The night John McCain killed the GOP’s health-care fight.”

        Yes . . . but no.

        It’s true, Senator McCain’s vote was as dramatic as it was surprising, having flown back from Arizona to DC less than two weeks after surgery to partially remove a cancerous tumor above his eye, to deliver a surprising (and deciding) “no” vote on the latest Republican health care bill.

Left: Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Lisa Murkowski

        There’s something about staring mortality in the face that enables the choice for truth over politically-expeditious deceit. The believing community is called to ritually enact such choices in every baptism and memorialize in every Eucharistic observance.

        Renewed confidence that death is not the end is faith’s gambit (and the only reliable source of freedom) while surrounded on every side by the vanity of lies that rationalize cruelty and despotism.

Word. "Madness in great ones must not unwatched go."
—Roman Emperor Claudius, first century CE (Thanks Don.)

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However, the efficacy of McCain’s vote was utterly dependent on fellow Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME). These two women resisted the moral catastrophe of their colleagues’ attempts to gut health care throughout each of the bill’s three different versions.

        We know, at least in Murkowski’s case, that the Trump Administration explicitly threatened to withhold federal funds for previously approved projects for her Alaskan constituents unless she voted the party line. —for more see Alexia Fernández Campbell, Vox

Right: Delicious irony.

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This episode, played out after midnight last week on the Senate floor, illustrates the range of options people of faith may be called upon to practice. It is misguided to argue over which is more important: McCain’s dramatic stand or Murkowski’s and Collins’ endurance. Though it is certainly true that women’s contributions to the commonwealth have long been ignored or discounted.

        I agree with those who say that, in Scripture, the most celebrated virtue is faithful persistence, practiced mostly out of the limelight, no TV cameras or book publishers waiting to tell your story, in out-of-the-way places, by those who scramble when kids are sick and can’t go to school, who regularly squeeze pennies out of paychecks, and contend with getting food on the table and laundry out of the wash.

        Everyone wants to change the world; fewer are willing to do the dishes.

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I have come to believe that the true mystics are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self. . . . If they are wise, they treasure the rare moments of solitude and silence that come their way, and use them not to escape, to distract themselves with television and the like. Instead, they listen for a sign of God’s presence and they open their hearts toward prayer.” —Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

Left. President Lyndon B. Johnson signing Medicare and Medicaid into law.

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On 30 July 1965, “President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, extending health care to millions of seniors and the poor.

        “The idea had been in the works for decades but previous attempts had been unsuccessful. Industry groups were fierce in their opposition and conservatives denounced any plan as ‘socialized medicine.’

        “Johnson persevered. At the time, nearly half of America's seniors didn't have access to health insurance and a third lived in poverty. Today, all seniors have access to affordable health care and the poverty rate has fallen to 9%. The Congressional Budget Office has found that Medicare and Medicaid are more efficient than private insurance. Yet Republicans today seem just as determined to undermine these essential programs as they were before 1965. The fight is far from over.” Robert Reich on Facebook

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On a hopeful note, Trumphoolery is actually inspiring some of its antidote. “Much has been said about White House dysfunction and how little President Trump has accomplished in his first six months. But that’s not the whole story: In Washington and around the world, in some surprising ways, things are happening—but they are precisely the opposite of what Trump wanted and predicted when he was sworn in.” —for details see Fred Hiatt, "Behold, the Trump boomerang effect," Washington Post (Thanks Larry.)

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¶ Benediction. “There will be no love that's dying here / The bird that flew in through my window / Simply lost his way / He broke his wing, I helped him heal / And then he flew away / Well the death of love is everywhere / But I won't let it be / There will be no love that's dying here for me.” —Gregory Proter, “No Love Dying” (Thanks Al.)

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