Consecrated

Christianity Today features an article titled “Why God Still Works Through Fools Like Samson.

The very timing of the article hints that many CT readers recognize a particular prominent person (who shall be unnamed by me as he was by the author) as a “fool” of Biblical proportions.

But it’s not pious rationalizations of the fool’s doings. There’s no “12-dimensional chess” or other piffle.

Instead, it puts a surprising spin on how little “spirituality” may be involved in being “consecrated” for some divine purpose. And it stands on its head, for any discerning reader, the faux spiritual assurance that a consecrated fool will Make Anything Great Again. Au contraire.

Samson’s problems, according to the article:

From the start he is impulsive, spoiled, demanding, arrogant, and lacking judgment. He shows no hint of kindness or love or what we would call the evidence of a life stirred by the Spirit. He is cruel and vindictive. Incapable of discernment and immune to advice, he twice marries into the families of the Philistines—the very people who are the enemies of Israel. Disregarding every warning and all counsel, he creates conflicts of interest that prove fatal. Betrayal and disappointment are constant themes in his life.

His own people don’t know what to do with him and the chaos he has created. He is a rogue killing machine, yet no one can touch him. His anger and pride control him, isolating him from everyone around him. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “His whole life is a scene of miracles and follies.” There is nothing in the life of Samson that proves his being motivated by the Spirit of God as we understand it. Nevertheless, he is consecrated by God.

Samson may be the first total narcissist in Scripture. He is a textbook case. Narcissists misjudge their own importance and consider themselves to be indispensable and worthy of special rights and privileges. When opposed, they are furious and blame everyone around them. They infuriate other people, and their excessive pride causes others to work even harder just to cut them down and see them humiliated. While thinking themselves sophisticated and shrewd, they are actually more gullible than the average person. They are betrayed by the very people they think they can trust. Finally, they believe they are destined for greatness and, when crossed, they react with revenge and violence—even at the risk of their own lives.

Oh dear! But it gets worse when you reflect that Samson was consecrated

to defeat an enemy and bring down an entire government. His epitaph reads, “He killed many more when he died than while he lived.” Isn’t that what he was set apart to do?

But just because his life had a purpose does not mean it was well spent. He had no wisdom, no maturity, no relationships of any value. We equate consecrated with spiritual maturity, piety, godliness, and a longing to be more Christlike. That was not Samson. Perhaps he was raised up in the same way as Pharaoh: to display God’s power but then be destroyed.

Yes, Samson was consecrated in that he was singled out and set apart to accomplish one mission. It turns out character is not necessary for being consecrated, which can simply mean “designed and set apart for a purpose.” To be consecrated means to be set apart by God, not to be chosen by a popular vote or based on character qualifications.

It turned out there was little that could govern or rule Samson except his own unpredictable nature and ego. There was nothing else of value he accomplished in his life. He was a weapon—not a leader. He never led the people to battle or to victory. He betrayed himself and everyone around him. But he accomplished his mission.

The writer of Judges doesn’t hide any of that or even attempt to justify or condemn his behavior. It is not a tale with a moral. It is not a warning. It is simply a puzzling illustration of how God’s ways are not ours.

Read the “triumph” of Samson here if you don’t recall it.

* * *

On a totally unrelated note (I speak thus to those who would buy a bridge in Queens if I offered it for sale), I worried this morning at two newspaper items.

  1. From the Wall Street Journal: Sessions Warns White House Not to Fire Rosenstein[:] The attorney general said would consider resigning over such a move.
  2. In the Washington Post, a Joe Scarborough column It’s becoming clear that Trump won’t run in 2020, which strikes me as wishful thinking and lamentably closes with a kinky fantasy about Nikki (“With all due respect, I do not get confused.”) Haley taking the Presidential “debate stage to coldly cut the Donald down to size, revealing to the world once and for all that this bloated emperor has no clothes.”

I fear the Wall Street Journal may have incited metaphorical death sentences for Sessions and Rosenstein, the Washington Post for Nikki Haley. I know only a fool would be so willful, but kings of old committed filicide at the first whiff that some offspring had designs on early ascension to the throne.

I said almost from the get-go that “Trump v. Clinton” had God’s judgment written all over it. Now look where we are:

When power dominates truth, criticism becomes betrayal. Critics cannot appeal to neutral facts and remain loyal, because facts are not neutral. As Hannah Arendt wrote of the 1920s and 1930s, any statement of fact becomes a question of motive. Thus, when H.R. McMaster, a former national security adviser, said (uncontroversially) that Russia had interfered in the election campaign, Mr Trump heard his words as unforgivably hostile. Soon after, he was sacked.

(The Republican Party is organize around one man, The Economist for April 21, 2018)

But those Democrat Philistines still had better be very careful about making sport of him.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The Fixer

Every so often, news emerges that explains the mixed esteem in which lawyers are held, and the news that Michael Cohen has been Donald Trump’s “fixer” is the latest.

According to Merriam-Webster, a fixer is “a person who intervenes to enable someone to circumvent the law or obtain a political favor.” The less prestigious Wordnik, citing The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition, capture more of the connotations: “A person who uses influence or makes arrangements for another, especially by improper or unlawful means.” Wiktionary, again via Wordnik, goes further: “A person who arranges immunity for defendants by tampering with the justice system via bribery or extortion, especially as a business endeavor for profit.”

Apparently it is “nice work if you can get it.” Michael Cohen says he had just three clients last year: Donald Trump, GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy and Sean Hannity (who insists he paid no fees).

The most offensive thing is how fixers beslime the legal profession, the true ethos of which is helping clients achieve their lawful objectives by lawful means. (That’s pretty close to the Merriam-Webster definition.) My Fair City’s rumored legal fixers were not held in high esteem by judges and lawyers.

Or maybe the most offensive thing is how the existence of fixers proves that some people, if rich enough, can live “above the law” for a substantial while, and how others, if base and shrewd enough, can get rich facilitating life above the law. How many zillionaires so lived, and died unexposed to any but God, is not known.

I would not trade places with any of them for so parlous and spiritually debilitating a life.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

How Trump seduced the Evangelicals

U.S.—The vast majority of the nation’s evangelical Christians stressed Friday that they were “this close” to abandoning their support of Donald Trump as they coped with a seemingly endless string of moral scandals surrounding the president.

“I swear, if 197 or so more egregious moral failings come to light, I am DONE supporting this guy,” one evangelical from Idaho declared, drawing a clear line in the sand. “My support for this president is not limitless, nor is it unconditional. Just a couple hundred more clear examples of belligerently immoral behavior and I’ll jump off the Trump train so fast it’ll make your head spin.”

At publishing time, American evangelicals had upped the number of passes they’re willing to give the president from one or two hundred to one or two thousand, stating “we didn’t elect him to be the nation’s pastor, for crying out loud.”

This must be, and is, the Babylon Bee. You can get it by Facebook, RSS, and G*d knows how many other ways.

Evangelical support of Trump has been fertile soil for the Bee’s Christian sense of humor. But I heard somewhere yesterday an uncommonly good explanation of how Trump got Evangelical support in the first place.

It went something like this.

Trump gets together with sundry Evangelical mucky-mucks and poo-bahs and says (or likelier signals) :

Look. There’s no sense playing around here. I’m not a pious man. No way.

But I know you. I respect you. You are important to the nation. And I think you have a right to live how you want to live.

So if I’m elected, I was protect you. I will build a wall around you. A beautiful wall. A magnificent wall.

And I’ll make the progressives pay for it.

 

Well, it’s an uncommonly good if you bracket inconvenient questions like “How did they spread the word without word getting out?”

UPDATE:

If this really is the way it went down, this may be an instance where Trump has fairly steadfastly made good on a promise. Witness, for instance, Roger Severino at HHS:

The Trump administration is deploying civil-rights laws in new ways to defend health-industry workers who object to medical procedures on religious grounds.

Roger Severino, an administration appointee to the Department of Health and Human Services, is heading a new division at the department that will shield health-care workers who object to abortion, assisted suicide, or other procedures they say violate their conscience or deeply held religious beliefs.

HHS has proposed rules that would expand the division’s enforcement ability and require many health organizations to inform workers about their federal protections regarding their personal faith or convictions.

The list of coming changes has many worried that HHS is putting religious priorities ahead of those of a secular state. But Mr. Severino rejects the notion that his office is pushing an evangelical or Catholic agenda, saying his unit will protect people of all faiths.

“It’s not about denial of service based on a person’s identity,” he said in an interview. “A retailer like Target happens not to sell guns; that doesn’t mean they’re denying anyone their right to buy guns.”

Just so.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Neither Nor

Neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, I nevertheless pay a lot of attention to both, because they are where the culturally significant religious action is in my homeland.

Likewise, I pay attention to doings in the Republican and Democrat parties. The sicknesses of those parties is also part of the sickness of my homeland. Politically, I’m not as settled in my American Solidarity Party affiliation as I am in Orthodoxy religiously.

I never was a partisan activist for either party, though I considered myself a Republican until January 20, 2005. GOP insanities bother me more than Democrat insanities because I never hoped for much from the Democrats (though it earlier seemed an inversion of the characteristic party tendencies when Democrats became the party of war on the defenseless unborn while Republicans nominally rose to their defense; I now recognize that the Democrat “party of the ordinary man” is dead).

I think Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter, still considers herself Republican, and she, too, focuses more on GOP shortcomings. If you can get through the paywall, her April 13 Wall Street Journal column will reward you:

Mr. Trump came from the chaos, he didn’t cause it. He just makes it worse each day by adding his own special incoherence … He happened after 20 years of carelessness and the rise of the enraged intersectional left. He … can’t capitalize on this moment—he can’t help what is formless to find form—because he’s not a serious man.

Republicans will have to figure it out on their own. After they lose the House, they will have time!

Here’s what they should do: They should start to think not like economists but like artists.

The thing about artists is that they try to see the real shape of things. They don’t get lost in factoids and facets of problems, they try to see the thing whole. They try to capture reality. They’re creative, intuitive; they make leaps, study human nature …

If an artist of Reagan’s era were looking around America in 2018, what would she or he see? Marvels, miracles and wonders. A church the other day noted on Twitter that all of us now download data from a cloud onto tablets, like Moses.

But think what would startle the artist unhappily. She or he would see broad swaths of the American middle and working class addicted and lethargic …

A Reagan-era artist would be shocked by our culture, by its knuckle dragging nihilism … The artist would be shocked that “the American dream” has been transmuted from something aspirational and lighted by an egalitarian spirit to something weirdly flat—a house, a car, possessions—and weirdly abstract.

And think twice about your saviors. Those NeverTrump folks trying to take back authority within the party—having apparently decided recently not to start a third one—are the very people who made the current mess. They bought into open-borders ideology. They cooked up Iraq. They allied with big donors. They invented Sarah Palin, who as much as anyone ushered in the age of Trump. They detached the Republican Party from the people.

I also listened to a fascinating podcast last night on a late drive back from a meeting in Indianapolis.

Historian Michael Doran from the Hudson Institute traces The Theological Roots of Foreign Policy, American foreign policy in particular. He starts with Andrew Jackson and traces the “Jacksonian tendency” through the manufacture of dispensational premillenialism with its Zionist obsessions, William Jennings Bryan, Harry Truman and to Donald Trump (in a party jump that’s part of our ongoing realignment — my comment, not his).

Then he traces the competing “progressivist tendency” from mainline missionaries (who substituted imperialist-tinged foreign aid for the mandate to preach, baptize, and teach the Christian faith) through its descendants — John D. Rockefeller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, William Sloan Coffin and others less familiar and memorable to me because they’s not my religious kin as are the Jacksonians.

If you’re looking for a satisfactory wrap-up, it’s not here. Once again, I’m neither-nor.

UPDATE: Doran’s article appears in print, close to verbatim from his speech so far as I can tell. By June 1, it should be free.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Divine Jest

In the run-up to the 2016 election, a lot of Evangelicals were grasping for Biblical analogies to cast Donald Trump as just the kind of improbable figure that the God of the Old Testament repeatedly used to fulfill His purposes, in a kind of Divine Jest.

Well, let’s hold this up to the light and look at a different facet: Maybe the jest is at the expense of precisely Trump’s Evangelical enablers.

That God has a sense of dramatic irony and narrative surprise seems like one of the most obvious lessons to be drawn from the Trump era. That God is using Trump not as an agent of his good work but as a kind of ongoing test of everyone else’s moral character seems like a not-unreasonable inference to draw.

(Ross Douthat via Rod Dreher) I’d say the whole lotta Evangelicals have flunked the test.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Indiana Senate Primary

I have said that we seem to have three Republican Senatorial hopefuls vying to out-Trump one another. But it’s getting close to decision time for me: person plans require be to vote absentee if at all, and I’ve never not voted, nauseating as the exercise was some elections.

So I just spent some time reviewing three websites and sets of campaign ads. Impressions:

  1. Todd Rokita had some of the loveliest, most personal ads, including one about his firstborn son (born with a serious disability) and one by his wife on how they got together. That surprised me. He also had, hands down, the ugliest and most sinister ad of the three. Since I’ve known him to be a pretty shameless liar since his first race for Congress, and his immigrant-bashing continues that sleazy legacy, my slight uptick in regard for him as a human being is not enough to get my vote.
  2. Mike Braun has some cute ads about how indistinguishable the other two candidates are. But he also has some pretty hard-line ads and promises about immigrants that I find odious and somewhat dishonest. And he’s politically green, which I do not consider a plus. Probably not.
  3. Luke Messer, contrary to my impression, is careful to support the “Trump agenda” more than supporting Trump per se. His modulated voice on some symbolic measures to discourage illegal immigration is much more palatable than Rokita, and even Braun, promising harsh stuff. He reinterprets “build the wall” as “secure the border,” leaving open other alternatives. And Rokita’s ad about how Messer spoke truths about Trump’s temperament sway me toward Messer; Rokita is both confirming that Messer is sane and truthful and that he (Rokita) is playing for voters who will hear, see, and speak no evil of Trump. Messer probably gets my vote.

I’m still leaving open the possibility of a rare vote for the Democrat, Joe Donnelly, in the Fall.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

 

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Parkland

A commitment to tell the truth doesn’t mean one must blurt out just any true thing that comes to mind. But we’re at risk, it seems to me, of unduly valorizing the survivors of the Parkland high school shooting, which does neither them nor our gun debates any favors.

Of course the Parkland survivors have suffered a real loss, and in terrifying circumstances. But of course they’re being aided, advised, even scripted (and possibly funded) by adult gun opponents. Both things can be true at the same time. There is no contradiction.

This isn’t a slam of the kids. It’s just a realistic assessment of what grieving high school students could and could not pull off without help from activist adults who are delighted, not at the deaths, but at the opportunity to thrust into the limelight some kids with the Victim’s Immunity from Criticism.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Todd-Luke Messkita

The version pared down for television is even more devastating:

If I was Congressmen Todd-Luke Messkita, I’d be focusing my opposition research on Mike Braun.

Sorry to say, all three of them are running as Donald Trump’s BFF, so none will be getting any financial help from me.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

3 things, 12 rules, 1 prayer

[P]rophets are neither new nor controversial. To a first approximation, they only ever say three things:

First, good and evil are definitely real. You know they’re real. You can talk in philosophy class about how subtle and complicated they are, but this is bullshit and you know it. Good and evil are the realest and most obvious things you will ever see, and you recognize them on sight.

Second, you are kind of crap. You know what good is, but you don’t do it. You know what evil is, but you do it anyway. You avoid the straight and narrow path in favor of the easy and comfortable one. You make excuses for yourself and you blame your problems on other people. You can say otherwise, and maybe other people will believe you, but you and I both know you’re lying.

Third, it’s not too late to change. You say you’re too far gone, but that’s another lie you tell yourself. If you repented, you would be forgiven. If you take one step towards God, He will take twenty toward you. Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.

This is the General Prophetic Method. It’s easy, it’s old as dirt, and it works.

Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex, reviewing Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life.

For whatever reason, I’ve become pretty fierce about the obligations of lie-resisting and truth-telling. I’ll leave that sentence as a bit of a Rorschach test, but I’ll tell you that it includes resisting lies from sources Left and Right.

With that, and with Jordan Peterson particularly in mind, I added to my morning list of people to ask God’s blessing on “all truth-tellers, Christian or not, in this age enamored of lies” (that’s the reminder I wrote to myself).

Then an old friend — and by “old” I mean I met him in 1963 — who has remained fiercely Evangelical and activist, pricked my conscience with a video, shared on Facebook, pointing out that the United States was in a terrible spiritual state in the late 18th century — maybe worse than that of the late 20th century — but then,  voilà!, what should up and happen but the Second Great Awakening, with enormous and lasting change in its wake.

So I decided I should pray for something like a Third Great Awakening, and that’s how I wrote down a second reminder.

But it’s no secret that I’m an ecclesial and liturgical Christian. Among other things, that implies that if I’m going to pray for something every morning, I’d really like to do a bit better than “Father God, we just ask you Father to just Father bless all the truth-tellers Father and coudja just send us Father another Great Awakening Father if it’s not to much trouble — Father?”

So I was pleased Thursday night to notice, in the Prayer Book I was using, a succinct petition that, with minor adaptation, effectively rolls my truth-teller and Great Awakening prayers into one, leaving the executive details up to He Who Is At An Infinitely Higher Pay Grade:

O, Most Holy Trinity, who lovest mankind and willest not that any should perish, look, I beseech Thee, on all my countrymen that are led astray by the devil; that rejecting all errors, the hearts of those who err may be converted and return to the unity of Thy truth.

“Led astray.” “Error.” “Converted.” “Unity of Thy truth.” That seems to cover it.

Feel utterly free to make it your own, remembering that it could apply to you, too.

But if you try to type it, watch out for those dadburned modern auto-correct features. They don’t like the King’s English.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Folks, this ain’t normal

With apologies to Joel Salatin for my title, I sample Michael Gerson’s powerful response to the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Henry Olsen, who proposes “fusion” between conservatism and Trumpism:

Is this a normal political moment?

If Trump were merely proposing a border wall and the more aggressive employment of tariffs, we would be engaged in a debate, not facing a schism. Both President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush played the tariff chess game. As a Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney endorsed the massive “self-deportation” of undocumented workers without the rise of a #NeverRomney movement.

But it is blind, even obtuse, to place Trumpism in the same category. Trump’s policy proposals — the details of which Trump himself seems unconcerned and uninformed about — are symbolic expressions of a certain approach to politics. The stated purpose of Trump’s border wall is to keep out a contagion of Mexican rapists and murderers. His argument is not taken from Heritage Foundation policy papers. He makes it by quoting the racist poem “The Snake,” which compares migrants to dangerous vermin … Trump’s policy ideas are incidental to his message of dehumanization.

So how do we split the political difference on this one? Shall we talk about Mexican migrants as rapists on every other day? Shall we provide rhetorical cover for alt-right bigots only on special occasions, such as after a racist rally and murder?

The point applies in other areas ….

(Michael Gerson, This madness will pass. Conservatives can’t give up) The ellipses are there because Gerson ennumerates other ways in which Donald Trump is toxic, not someone whose persona we can ignore while climbing in bed with him on shared “policies.”

James Fitzjames Stephen, an occupant of my current blog endnote, is right on point.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.