ELCA: America

Part the fourth of an exploration of the nouns in the name of the denomination to which I am a member of, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Oh, America, modern Babylon. As I write this, there’s a woman on NPR talking about the difficulties homeless shelters are having, getting the funds and materials needed to function in this COVID19 pandemic, difficulties of which I was aware since I work in a homeless shelter. I’ve lived my fifty years in the USA, near the bottom of the economic hierarchy, and I am suffering from no delusions that this is the land of milk and honey. The pandemic is shining a big spotlight on the gross injustices in America that I’ve long been conversant with, but the personalities on NPR seem to have been unaware of – institutionalized racism means that people of color have less access to health care which means they have pre-existing conditions which means they are dying of COVID19 at wildly disproportionate rates; poor whites are no better off than poor people of color; people are buying guns faster than stores can stock them, in gleeful anticipation of finally getting to use them for the purpose they were made for; the wealthiest people in the world, given the opportunity to step up and help those less fortunate, have mostly hunkered down in their palaces, secure in the knowledge that they will not be negatively affected or even much inconvenienced. Tornadoes, earthquakes and flooding have occurred, mostly glossed over by the media, somewhat exacerbated by climate change. And the president has doubled down on the lying, gaslighting, and rambling, megalomaniacal rants that we’ve all come to expect from him. Is America great again yet?

I do not believe that God inflicts natural disasters or pandemics on nations as punishment for their sins. I do not believe that God causes awful things to happen to see how well the faithful will hold up under pressure. I do believe that actions have reactions. I do believe that God gave people pretty clear advice about how to live and organize society, good advice which has been ignored with a vengeance.

COVID19 is the latest corona virus to make the news, and, so far, the most damaging. This time, average Americans are actually noticing. Some are making efforts to reach out to their neighbors, to offer help; others are jumping on the chance to create havoc. The longer it goes, the more extreme the two sides will get – though I cynically expect the bad to get extreme faster and with greater effect.

Here we have an opportunity to change, to start living as God would have us. Of course, to know how God would have us live, we have to read His instruction book all the way through, seriously contemplating what it says and really seriously questioning what other people say it says. Because it doesn’t say what a lot of people say it says.

Take the whole “Left Behind” franchise. They’ve got a handful of movies and a few books and they’ve managed to convince a significant number of people that Revelation points to a violent end-time battle, when it doesn’t say anything like that. The book of Revelation is about the triumph of Christ, the Prince of Peace, portrayed as a sacrificial lamb, over the forces of evil, there represented by the city of Babylon, which I have equated with modern America.

The Bible tells of God’s relationships with people, who keep getting it wrong. From page one, the people fail to hold up their end, to fulfill their responsibilities, and to behave at all decently. God keeps giving them another chance, another chance, speaking through prophets, finally sending His Son to explain things. People just keep screwing it up. Even after Jesus is crucified and resurrected, God keeps on acting in the world. Revelation, the last book in the Bible, is about God’s continuing communication with people, specifically with a man named John (there used to be some debate about whether Revelation was written by the Apostle John, but it’s pretty much settled that there were three Johns: the Baptist, the Apostle and the Revelator).

Growing up, I was taught that the “age of miracles” was over, that God didn’t act that way anymore. As an adult, stumbling into recovery from alcoholism, I found myself surrounded by sober people talking about miracles like they happened all the time. Eventually, I became one of them. The fact that I experienced direct communications from the Almighty helped that transition. I now live in a world where God acts behind the scenes all the time. I could go into detail about how God has changed me and my circumstances in the past few months, but I’ve covered all that in previous posts and the bald-faced fact is that all the miracles I’ve experienced or head about from friends can be attributed to some other cause by people who really want to deny God’s action. I’m reminded of a joke:

What does an atheist say during sex?

Math! Science! Raaaaaational explanaaaaaation!

Miracles still happen and people continue to act as God’s messengers – the word “prophet” is generally misunderstood to mean someone who foretells the future; it really means someone who speaks God’s words, who carries God’s message. There have been many, and will be many more afore it’s all done.

When it’s all done – when history is finally over – we have some reason to believe we will live with God, here on an earth renewed and made perfect like it was in the first few verses of Genesis. Until then, our mission, if we choose to accept it, is t proclaim the good news that Christ died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, and that we are redeemed through His actions. It’s not a bad life at all – obviously I prefer it to the alternative or I wouldn’t do it.

It’s tough in the US of A though. This land of freedom, home of the brave, beacon on a hill, yadda-yadda, is so far from following God’s very clear directions on how to set up a society that it seems like it was done on purpose. Supposedly, Americans are very religious people, but you couldn’t prove it by me. The Americans I know, when they do get fired up about religion, start shouting the opposite of what I read in my Good Book, and refusing to make cakes, as if that had anything to do with anything. Not all of ‘em, of course. I do know plenty of Americans who really do attempt to live somewhat sorta like God instructed. Yesterday I was generously helped by a pair of American Christians, who also happen to be lesbians, and who are happy to talk about what God has done in their lives, but not likely to start shouting. I’m pretty glad to be part of a quiet, unnoticed, loose collection of Christians going about their business doing little things to prepare the way of the Lord, and sharing His peace. It’s kinda like being in the early church, under the radar in the Roman Empire. I ain’t suffering from any delusions that I’m gonna make a big noise and initiate some kinda new revival in Christendom, and I’m okay with that. I like my quiet life. I try not to pay a lot of attention to the popular culture because it’s depressing as shit, but I hear the news and I know what’s happening.

The pandemic could be a game changer. It’s entirely possible that people will realize that there are more important things than status, sex and violent movies based on comic books. People might decide they like spending time at home, expressing concern for others and breathing unpolluted air when they do go out. The blatant failures of this current orange president might shift the body politic away from a system that only serves the interests of robber barons and racists, leading to a more egalitarian America where people are willing to help their neighbors. (That’d be a lot more likely if certain demographics were killed off, but a lot of those are pretty vulnerable to COVID19, so maybe we’ll get lucky.) (I’m not at all happy about the old coot the Democrats coughed up for their presidential candidate and will probably vote third party.) People could change. It’s pretty unfuckinglikely, but it could happen.

Imagine living in a society based on loving God and neighbor. Wouldn’t that be cool? It could happen, but it’ll take a miracle.

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