Why there shouldn’t be clergy at Ground Zero

That Mayor Bloomberg is not inviting clergy to participate in the ten year anniversary events marking the 9/11 anniversary has provoked not a little outrage.  But Lutheran pastor William Cwirla presents a contrary view:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned clergy from participating in this year’s 9/11 memorial events at Ground Zero. Good for him! He’ll save us all a bunch of post-9/11ecumenical hangover headaches on Monday. As far as I’m concerned, clergy are best neither seen nor heard in the public square. And I’m one of them.

What makes clergy “clergy” is their appointment to serve their “faith communities” as we like to call them. Pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams and the like represent their various religious bodies and teach their various religions to their respective groups. They are public figures within their congregations and circles of influence, not within society at large. At least in this society.

The events of September 1, 2001 were not inherently religious in nature. I know Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and their ilk like to say they were, but they’d find any excuse to bash religion. Yes, the perpetrators were radical fundamentalist Muslims. Yes, they did what they did in part believing they were doing the will of Allah and would be rewarded eternally for their actions. But 9/11 was an attack against the United States of America for its policies and presence in the Middle East. It was not an attack on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or any other religion. In case we’ve forgotten, the targeted buildings were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and presumably, the White House. No cathedrals were harmed in the atrocity.

The reason we get all religious about 9/11 is two-fold, I think. First, it was an enormous, sudden and violent loss of life, property and personal security. The enormity of what happened that day is hard to fathom let alone put into words. I remember that Tuesday vividly and still don’t quite believe it. We were supposed to have our monthly pastors’ meeting. Instead, we planned our services for later that evening. I remember the silence of the skies overhead as planes were grounded. Events of such enormous loss seek enormous answers in a God who is bigger than the enormity of what happened. When really bad things happen, most people get religious. I do. I get that.

Second, we believe in our patriotic heart of hearts that our being American somehow transcends our being Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. That’s not true, though we like to believe it, at least on days other than Sunday. Hence the parade of religions around 9/11. We did it at the first 9/11 event at Yankee Stadium to show the world how we all get along and play nice in this country. It hasn’t always worked out that way since, but we like to pretend, at least when the cameras are rolling.

America’s civil religion has grown increasingly complex and diverse since our formative years when our largely Deist and Christian founding fathers carved out a place for Divine Providence in the public psyche. Ironically, a few of the founding fathers were skeptical atheists too, including notably Thomas Payne and Benjamin Franklin. But they, like the Deist Thomas Jefferson, saw the value of a little religion in public life, so long as it was neutered and kept on a short leash. We like our civic religions tame and domesticated in the public square. But as we who worship the Lion of Judah know, God is never tame or domesticated.

So as a Lutheran clergyman with a firm hold on the proper distinction of the two kingdoms, I say, “Good for you, Mayor Bloomberg.” And thank you for giving all of us clergy a day off from the public square. I’ll be sure to get together with my faith community on Sunday, September 11, as is our custom every Sunday, to hear of Jesus’ victory over Sin and Death and receive the gifts of His Sacrifice for the sin of the world.

And we’ll say a prayer for our country, for the government and those who protect us, including you, Mr. Mayor, as well as for all the nations of the world, for our fellow Christians scattered throughout all the world, for our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and for that peace that the world cannot give.

via Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere – No Clergy at Ground Zero.

When names become adjectives

Some people have made such a contribution in one way or the other that their names pass into the language.  The Washington Post has an interesting feature that takes up some of these names and argues that the actual person was different from the adjective that their names became.  (At the link, you can link further to complete articles about each of these individuals.)

Mao was not a Maoist By Jung Chang

Chairman Mao extolled the “hard life” for hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. Yet, biographer Jung Chang explains, Mao enjoyed the choicest food, lived among 50 estates and earned millions in royalties from the books he forced the nation to read.

Clinton was not Clintonian By Jon Cowan and Matt Bennett

Is President Clinton Clintonian? It depends on what the meaning of “Clintonian” is. But Third Way’s Matt Bennett and Jonathan Cowan argue that the benign definition — having a willingness to take on party orthodoxies — is the one that will endure.

Rand was not Randian By Jennifer Burns

Rand wanted to live up to her novels’ heroes — men like Howard Roark and John Galt, who lived for their work and cared little for the opinions of others. So why, asks historian Jennifer Burns, was Rand heartbroken when reviewers didn’t like “Atlas Shrugged”?

Keynes was not Keynesian By Nicholas Wapshott

The term “Keynesian” has become a Washington insult — “shorthand for spendthrift, wasteful, debt-ridden, incontinent, elitist, socialist,” writes journalist Nicholas Wapshott. But the elegant British economist was none of the above.

Machiavelli was not Machiavellian By Miles Unger

“It is better to be feared than loved.” The author of “The Prince” offered cynical chestnuts such as this to 16th-century politicians. But biographer Miles Unger writes that Machiavelli was far from devious: He took in orphans, went to jail for his beliefs and died broke.

Queen Victoria was not Victorian By Kate Williams

The supposedly dour monarch who ruled England during the repressed Victorian era not only had nine children with her dashing young husband, but even flirted with the help after his death. Biographer Kate Williams offers a glimpse at the woman behind the frown.

Freud was not Freudian By Howard Markel

Freud demanded that his patients tell the truth about their most intimate experiences. But author Howard Markel says the inventor of psychoanalysis was never honest about his deepest, darkest secret: his addiction to cocaine.

Jefferson was not Jeffersonian By R.B. Bernstein

It’s hardly news that the founding father who wrote that “all men are created equal” owned slaves. But according to biographer R.B. Bernstein, this small-government enthusiast was not above big-government moves. Exhibit A: the Louisiana Purchase.

via What’s in a name … and what isn’t? – The Washington Post.

One could take issue with some of this.  (Believing in sexual propriety as Queen Victoria did does NOT mean being against sex in marriage!)  And I suspect that every person is far more complex than some single quality that might be attributed to them.  But still, this is a game that we might play.

I am currently engaged in an e-mail controversy over whether Marx was a Marxist.  Was Calvin a Calvinist?  Was Luther a Lutheran?

What other names could we scrutinize?

Economic purgatory

Here is a rather more optimistic assessment of the economy, based on the plans of America’s business executives.   I cite it, though, for the figure of speech in the final paragraph:

Washington policymakers are entering a crucial period for the nation’s stalling economy, starting with President Obama’s address to Congress about jobs on Thursday, but the fate of the recovery ultimately depends on decisions being made elsewhere: inside corporate America.

So far, business leaders have been standing firm, with senior executives making few revisions in the plans they had drawn up for expansion and hiring, according to interviews and a review of more than three dozen recent conference calls that executives have held with financial analysts. Even the wild swings on Wall Street during this cruel summer have not knocked executives off track.

But while companies are not undertaking new rounds of layoffs, hiring does not seem poised to take off. Executives speak of the same sluggish but steady job creation that has been underway for months continuing through the end of the year.

The cautious approach taken inside executive suites was also reflected in the grim jobs report from the Labor Department on Friday. While it showed that the nation’s job creation had ground to a halt in August, the private sector continued adding jobs slowly. After adjusting for workers on strike, mostly at Verizon, and employment cuts by government, the report revealed that private employers added the modest net sum of 62,000 jobs.

That result was consistent with the reflections of top executives, such Ronald L. Sargent, the chief executive of office-supply retailer Staples.

“I’m not an economist at all,” Sargent said in a conference call in mid-August with analysts to discuss quarterly earnings. “But from what I see, we have no chance at another recession. I think we’re probably more likely to stay in economic purgatory for a while longer, but I don’t have any worries about a double dip at this point.”

via Despite stock volatility, executives moving ahead with growth plans — for now – The Washington Post.

We are in economic purgatory!  We are being punished for our sins!  But we are still saved, eventually.   And government efforts to get us out are nothing but indulgences.  We can buy them, if it makes us feel better, but they don’t really work.  Can there be free forgiveness in the economics realm, or that just in the spiritual kingdom?

Vocation Day

This blog has, for a number of years, been engaged in a crusade to co-opt the secular Labor Day and to get it on the church calendar as a holiday that celebrates the Christian doctrine of vocation.   I think it is working.   I’ve been hearing people making the connection.  (Did you hear that on Sunday?)

Remember that vocation does NOT just mean your job, which is important for the over 9% of Americans who do not have one.   Our calling from God also and even more importantly has to do with our positions in our families (as son or daughter; husband or wife; father or mother), the church (pastor or “hearer”), and the state (ruler or citizen).  All of these are estates to which God stations us to live out our faith in love and service to the neighbors that each office brings into our lives.  “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17).

The reason we celebrate Vocation Day by NOT working, even though we are honoring economic labor, is to give recognition also to our other vocations:  our families (by spending time with them) and our country (to share in a national holiday doing cultural-specific activities such as grilling out and thinking about sports).

We will honor Vocation Day on this blog by not posting about our horrible problems.  We’ll go back to that tomorrow.  In the meantime, today is about celebrating all of your different callings.


Pleasure in toil as God’s gift to man

Your theme for Labor Day, I mean, Vocation Day:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-12)

Defensive plays

Charles Krauthammer, taking a break from bemoaning the state of the world, devoted a column to baseball, specifically to the defensive plays made by a few members of the otherwise hapless but improving Washington Nationals.  I love his descriptions:

When you live in a town with a team that is passing rapidly through mediocrity on its way to contention — the Nats have an amazing crop of upcoming young players — you go for the moments.

I go to see Ryan Zimmerman charge a slowly hit grounder down the third-base line. This happens roughly once a game. Zim comes flying in, picks up the ball barehanded and throws it across his body to first base, perpendicular to the direction he’s running.

Except that this cannot be done. You could never get enough (velocity) on the throw to get the out at first. So Zimmerman dives forward, leaving his feet and hovering there for an instant, his body parallel to the ground in order to get more arm extension and thus more on the throw, which by now is nearly underhanded, his fingers almost scraping the ground. Batter out.

Try this yourself. Aim for a barn door. You will miss. And also dislocate your shoulder.

Another attraction is rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa. He has what in baseball parlance is known as range. A hard shot is hit to the hole between first and second, and Espy ranges to his left to snag it. Three weeks ago, one shot was hit so hard and so deep that he had to dive onto the outfield grass to reach it, sliding on his side in the general direction of the right-field foul pole.

Nice grab, but unless you can get the ball to first, it’s just for show. Espy starts to get up. But there is no time for standing. So, from his knees, while still sliding on the grass out toward the stands, he forces himself into a counterclockwise 180-degree spin to throw back toward first base — except that he actually begins his throw mid-turn, while facing the outfield, thereby gaining velocity from the centrifugal force (and probably the rotation of the Earth, although this remains unverified). It’s like throwing on your knees from a spinning merry-go-round that is itself moving laterally in a landslide. Try that.

Batter out.

The piece de resistance, however, is what center fielder Rick Ankiel pulled off last Sunday. It’s the bottom of the ninth, one out. The Reds have just tied the game with a solo homer. They need one more run to win. Batter crushes the ball to right-center field. If it clears the wall, game over.

But it doesn’t. It bounces off the wall, eluding our right fielder. Ankiel, who had dashed over from center, charges after the ball, picks it up barehanded and, in full running stride, fires it to third, to which the batter is headed and from which he is very likely to later score and win the game (there being only one out).

Now, when mortals throw a ball, they give it arc to gain distance. That’s how artillery works. Ankiel is better than artillery. He releases the ball at the top of his throwing motion, the ball rocketing out as if tracing a clothesline. It bounces five feet from third base, perfectly on line, arriving a millisecond before the batter and maybe 20 inches above the bag.

Quick tag. Batter out. Game saved. (Blown five innings later. But remember, it’s the Nats.) Said Nats broadcaster and former major leaguer F.P. Santangelo: “That might be the best throw I’ve ever seen.”

via The best show in town – The Washington Post.

If you don’t believe that first example, here is a picture of Ryan Zimmerman throwing: