Faith Thinking Aloud

Harry Potter, Magic, and the Dark Ages in Tennessee

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There must be some deranged thrill in burning books, some rush of the delusion of power over the minds of other people. Because I have never read MAUS and must now wait at least an extra month and a half for the copy I have ordered, I suspect the banning and burning are having their traditional effect upon book sales, driving them up. The poet Carl Sandburg wrote humorously of the predictable effect of forbidding some previously untried or not-yet-imagined fruit:

“Why did the children
put beans in their ears
when the one thing we told the children
they must not do
was put beans in their ears?”

How many people, I wonder, would have paid to see the movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” if the Roman Catholic Church had not sought to prohibit Catholics from seeing it? There has long been a half-joke that if you want to get more people to see a movie or read a book, get a church to ban it.

There is no magic in the Harry Potter novels. Yes, I said that. Because magic is a continuous and central feature of J. K. Rowling’s seven Potter novels, let me explain what I mean by that seemingly ridiculous statement that there is no magic in them.

In a few passages, the Bible’s contempt for sorcery breaks the surface, and so we know it’s there, just as when a bass jumps out of the water to catch an insect, I know there are bass in the lake. I then know also that more are swimming beneath the surface, and so it is with the Bible’s scorn for sorcery: there is much more beneath the surface than a few prohibitions, and the principal concern is not with witches or wizards but with religion itself and the people’s relation to their sovereign God.

In the Potter novels, what is called magic or witchcraft does not involve the conjuring of supernatural powers, divine or demonic. Even the worst dark wizard, Lord Voldemort, does not conjure. He merely possesses an overabundance of innate magical power which is really more like a super power (think Marvel and DC comic book characters) than like conjuring that summons and seeks to control the supernatural. The Potter books touch upon and develop many very human themes, somewhat in the tradition of Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings, among which are courage, redemption from past misdeeds (Sirius Black, for example), friendship, power that seeks to dominate, societal caste systems (pure bloods, half-bloods, mud-bloods, and muggles), and the greatest power of the apparent weakness of love even to the extent of love that will lay down its life for another. But there is no conjuring or “true” witchcraft, no connection to the demonic or satanic.

The God of Israel – of Moses, the prophets, and (for Christians) of Jesus – cannot and will not be conjured. That profound insistence upon God’s freedom from any use of religion or magic that might seek to conjure (assure God’s presence by force of sacrifice, prayer, or ritual) or obligate God (by any form of piety, goodness, or charity) breaks the surface powerfully in the third chapter of Exodus. There, at the burning bush that is not consumed, Moses asks God for a name by which to address or call the God who cannot be summoned. God replies with a name that can be spoken only in the first person singular: “I AM WHO I AM,” or (I think more helpfully, following Martin Buber’s translation), “I WILL BE (with you) WHO I WILL BE.” This name fits with the command that Moses remove his sandals because he is standing on holy ground, made holy not by virtue of place on earth but by the presence of the God who alone is holy.

Moses, the human now called into service, cannot conjure God and must not try. God will be known by the human only as God self-reveals and self-commits freely. Keep your distance, human! is the message, but only half the message – the crucial but less important half. What God tells Moses after warning him to back off and never try to control or manipulate his God is, “I will be with you.” That’s the greater half of Moses’ call to service for the sake of the Hebrew people and, ultimately, all the world’s people and all its creatures, the whole creation. God cannot and will not be controlled or obligated in any way, but will self-commit freely to being with this human for God’s own redemptive purpose.

Attempting to conjure God is always a grave temptation for the religious. The very practice of religions smacks of magic. People ask me, “Do you believe in the power of prayer?” I say, “Yes,” because I sense that what they are really asking is whether I think God cares enough about them to be responsive to their distress, and, yes, I do. But the real answer, which would likely be wrong to explain to someone who just wants God’s help, is that I believe in the steadfast love and mercy of God. Prayer is not to be a tactic for wheedling blessings or favors out of a reluctant God, as a child may pester a parent to give what the parents have refused (or just ask grandma).

It’s not that we have to get everything just right, not at all. A good parent sees through the child’s attempts at wheedling to some real need or distress behind the perhaps annoying behavior. But the child’s awkward plea for help differs greatly from religion’s various attempts to con people into believing that the right method, the big contribution, or the prescribed spiritual experience with its formulated words will work (on God!) to generate and dispense blessings and even miracles. That kind of religious con game works on people’s magical thinking much more truly and dangerously than anything in the Potter books.

At worst, the Harry Potter novels are harmless fantasies intriguing children into reading willingly and with interest. At best, they may get children or adults thinking about the dangers of seeking power over others and about the far better but harder way of love willing to be vulnerable and, maybe, even give up life for the sake of others in danger. Greater love has no one than this, that he (in the books, Harry) or she (in the books, Harry’s mother) lay down his/her life for those loved (also in the Gospel of John translatable as “friends”).

In the Dark Ages, people believed magic of the conjuring kind was a real thing and a serious threat. So it was that people with power, especially in the church, could inflame the fears and resentments of the ignorant and whip them into a frenzy ready to do violence against innocent foes, people who were made to seem inhumanly evil. Give people unnecessary and irrational fear and so turn them against a fake enemy, and you can gain power over them, power for yourself. And so we come back to book burning in Tennessee. One further point: look at the timing. I strongly suspect the real issue is not Harry Potter but black history and MAUS. Alleged witchcraft, however, provides cover by presenting a supposedly demonic threat that gives pious rightness to the rage. Of course it’s not about black people and Jews (yes, I’m being sarcastic). It’s about witches and wizards. How long ago were the Potter books published? I think it really is about black people and Jews.

It Is Very Like a Wall

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Surely there is no single way to view and try to understand the human dilemma. What goes wrong with us, and what causes us to go wrong? Why do we harm each other? What are the sources of murderous rage, soul-tearing bigotry, and callous indifference to the pain of others? Why don’t we treat other people as we would wish to be treated? What evils within us cause systemic injustices in our societies?

Is the culprit greed? Fear? Selfishness? Pride? What about shame? In this quest for answers to what ails us as a species, we become much like the blind men encountering the elephant, as told in the ancient fable. It is very like a wall (the elephant’s body). It is very like a rope (tail). It is very like a spear (tusk). It is very like a snake (trunk).

On Facebook, of all places, I came across the suggestion that all our evils arise from the belief that some people’s lives are worth more than other people’s lives. Without denying the destructive powers of greed, pride, shame, fear, etc., I have considered this idea and found it useful, especially when viewing the forces of social stratification and the casual acceptance of flagrant inequalities.

Slaves and subsistence (or sub-subsistence) workers have long been expected by their masters to take pride in the success of the enterprise that grinds them down and breaks their bodies. After all the slaves and workers are, the masters deem, privileged to be part of something far greater than themselves. Did not Mr. Bezos remark that it was the Amazon workers and customers who made possible the grand venture into space? Are not the house slaves in Gone with the Wind proud to be part of the plantation Tara and share (in a very small, poor way) in its splendor? Indeed, in the fiction, those house slaves fight to preserve the stratified way of life that sanctifies their bondage as something right and good. They know their place, as those in the most elevated and comfortable places like to phrase it.

Think with me. How many evils – how many cruelties and deprivations – would be revealed as scandalous and unacceptable if we no longer believed that some lives are worth more than others? Are boys really worth more than girls? White people than people of every other tint of skin? Rich people than poor people? Those to the manor born than those to the scullery born? The owner than the workers who toil to make the profits?

What is behind of quaint question, “How much is he worth?” We expect an answer in dollars, and so we monetize the value of human life. For that matter, is the reader who had to look up the word “monetize” of any less value than the one with the broader vocabulary? From some of our standardized tests, one might be led to conclude we regard vocabulary as the grand determiner of educational and social stratification, of “place” in a hierarchy of human life.

Here I am tempted to turn theological because neither the prophets of Israel nor Jesus of Nazareth had any regard for social stratification or for the dismissiveness that overlooks the dignity and worth of all loved by God. Indeed, it has been argued well that God’s justice has a bias in favor of the poor and downtrodden. But for now, I ask the reader only to consider how many evils (things that do harm, that inflict cruelty, that justify indifference to injustices and sufferings), would be challenged and perhaps overcome if we did not, every day and in nearly every way make distinctions between the people worth more and the people worth less (or even worthless!).

Is There a God?

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[This post was intended originally to grow into the first chapter of a book-length conversation responding to questions I hear people, especially younger people, asking or implying. I don’t know how or even if I’ll continue in that direction.]

“There is a god!” exclaims the person who has just experienced a moment of satisfaction or relief triggered by an event perceived as good and right but not truly expected. After a seemingly endless search, a job has come at last. A villain has been thwarted and made to suffer consequences. Indeed, a payback for someone else’s wrongdoing (often labeled popularly as “karma”) may be the most frequent trigger for this exclamation which, to be sure, is not actual faith or even a serious affirmation of the existence of a deity, but merely the voicing of delight in some unexpected but welcome rightness or good fortune in a world where so much goes wrong for people without power while the powerful seem to get away with the cruelties of their greed and privilege and even to be rewarded for them.

“Is there a God?” is a question of no concern or very little concern in biblical faith and thinking. Believing that there is a God, that God does in fact exist, differs so much from faith in God that there may seem to be no connection between the two. But here I urge caution.

In my youth, I read a book titled Our Faith written by the theologian Emil Brunner for his sons. Brunner begins the first chapter with this question, “Is There a God?” but his answer might surprise many people. In what may seem little more than a wave of his hand, he dismisses the people asking this question as idlers or as skeptics voicing mere intellectual curiosity about how anyone might craft an answer. I know where he was coming from. It can sound as though the questioner were implying, What do you have to say, believer, that might provide casual interest or, failing that, cynical laughter? Come, amuse me with your answer.

But there is another possibility. People do not always lead off with their real questions but guard against exposing their deeper and more painful concerns. Sometimes – just maybe sometimes – the real but unspoken, perhaps even unconscious, question is, rather, “Is there a God for me?”

Is there any God for me? Am I just an accident in a world with no Creator? Does my life have any meaning or purpose? Does it matter how I live if there is no answer to why I live beyond the biological facts of my birth and, so far, continued personal existence? Am I responsible for anything, and am I accountable to anyone beyond myself? Do my choices really matter, or is all human life merely a balance between pleasure and pain (with the former overbalanced for a few and the latter for many)? Is hope an empty word or just a lofty term for delusional optimism? Are we alone in the universe? Who is to say what is just or unjust, right or wrong, helpful or destructive?

I have known people for whom the question was not of God’s existence but of God’s attitude toward them. Not, “Does God exist?” but, “Does God hate me?” This deeply painful question is quite likely to trouble people whose conditions of existence are regarded as shameful, deficient, abnormal, or even sinful by their society, their parents and their parents’ churches, and their peers. Am I the child “of a lesser god” or of no god at all? These may be people wondering why they have to be who they are and what cruelty made them different in ways they did not choose, no matter what is said about their supposed choices by people who condemn them. But doubt about there being a God “for me” can come to anyone at any time in life.

My first draft of a response to the question, “Is there a God?” grew long and complex. Here I stop, at least for now, with an imperative for myself and other people of faith who care how they represent to others the God in whom they believe. Respect the questioner! I may hear only what the person’s mouth says and catch the tone of indifference, amusement, cynicism, scorn, or presumed superiority. God hears what the heart says.

How to respond is a different question, and I’m sure I cannot spell out an answer for all situations. The answer seems to me unlikely to be an argument, a well-formed and carefully-worded defense of the faith, for if the question really is deeper and more personal than it sounds, the answer must be personal and relational, too. The person covering vulnerability with cynicism or indifference will need to sense vulnerability in my response, in me, before, maybe, opening up. Besides, the goal is not to convince the mind that, yes, there is a God. As I said at the outset, that question is unbiblical and of little concern for faith. An unloved child does not need to know that there is, indeed, such a thing as love in the world but needs to know, feel (experience!), and believe (however cautiously), that there is love for her/him/them as a person.

Is there a God? Who cares? Is there a God for me, for us, and for this seemingly god-forsaken world? Let our answer start with and emerge from respect for the questioner.

The Laughter of Fools

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Many years ago, I saw a Peanuts comic strip which, as I recall, began with other children laughing at Charlie Brown, not in true amusement but in derision. Nothing is funny. The children are being cruel, finding delight in making Charlie feel as much shame and rejection as they can force upon him. They are dismissing him from acceptance as a person. Upon reaching his home, Charlie hears someone on the radio extolling the joy of hearing children’s laughter. In the final frame, Charlie Brown kicks the radio.

This morning on Facebook, I saw a short series of comic strips from “Tom the Dancing Bug” grouped under the question, “What comes after Peanuts?” Following the alphabet, the strip answers, “Q-nuts” with obvious reference to QAnon. One of the strips in the series has Charlie Brown saying to two little girls that we would do well to follow science and take the precautions needed to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. The girls make no reasonable argument or, indeed, argument of any kind but just laugh and laugh as though something genuinely funny has happened. But no, their laughter is without humor. Nothing funny has occurred. Theirs is the mocking laughter of fools.

It has become fashionable on Facebook and, I suspect, on other so-called “social media” platforms to react with derisive laughter emojis to any serious comment that does not fit into the MAGA world-view. A report on a young black woman’s lawsuit against a local Bible college she alleges discriminated against her to an extent that damaged her student years there has drawn dozens (at least) of those dismissive little laughy faces. Those little laughy faces serve as a cowardly way of refusing to consider any opinion, insight, or experience that, if regarded thoughtfully, might threaten the comfort of unthinking certitude in which other people’s pains, experiences, and aspirations are rejected out of hand.

Let me be clear about something: my use of the term “fools.” Have I ever myself spoken or acted foolishly? Yes, I have, as we say, “played the fool” and lived to regret it. Is there anyone among us who has not played the fool, ever? I doubt there is such a person, and likely people imagining themselves to be such always reasonable and wise persons would, in that imagining, be playing the fool big time. Besides, someone important to me has warned against demeaning another person by declaring with an assumed sense of superiority, “You fool!”

It seems always easier to play the fool in a group of like-minded people doing so together in unified and mutually reinforced folly. The group has the advantage of providing cover for the individual and, also, of being able to gang up on the person who expresses a concern that challenges the group’s shared ignorance, prejudice, or cowardice.

So, we have the trending practice on social media of seeing a serious concern raised and immediately responding with a laughy emoji which becomes the face of refusal. Refusal to think. Refusal to care or even consider. Refusal to respect. Refusal to respond as an adult human being.

Such easy refusal damages us as a society. It shuts down public conversation and tempts us to regard the “other side” in our polarized nation as not worth even talking with. It insulates us against sympathy or empathy with other people. It separates us into our comfortable echo chambers where we hear only reinforcement for what we already think and believe. Certainly, it threatens our democracy and all our social institutions. Now, with yet another surge of the COVID-19 virus in its Delta variant, it threatens our very lives, but even without the virus (though we are not without the virus and have dimming hopes for being without it any time soon), it drives down and tramples the very idea of a United States of America and the concept of public good.

And what would be the response of refusers to this blog post? The laughter of fools, I suppose.

A Discouraging Word

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Yesterday, I posted a comment on one of our Lititz, Pennsylvania, Facebook group pages. A woman had asked why the town was holding a super-spreader event this weekend. Predictably, her question ignited angry retorts from the “freedom!” (without public responsibility) crowd.

The craft show is a big event drawing tens of thousands of people in good years. The two main streets are closed as they and the Lititz Springs Park are lined with tents and booths. The event is also important for the town as it raises money for the community’s benefit. From the event Facebook page: “The money raised through renting out spaces to the crafters, subtracting expenses, is given right back to the community. The Rotary Club of Lititz donates to nonprofits such as Lititz Springs Park, Lititz Library, Warwick Community Ambulance Association and local fire companies.”

The retorts to the woman’s question included the usual laughter emojis, which I suppose are a way to “own the libs” for people who have no reasonable reply to offer. They were not the responses I found most discouraging.

I suggested that the fear that this year the craft fair could become a super-spreader event was not bogus and that, according to our current numbers, Lancaster County could be in for a very rough time with the virus. For so doing, I drew the usual disparaging retorts: a so-clever abuse of my nickname, a recommendation that I stop watching CNN, and more laughter emojis, plus a small chorus of, “Stay home if you’re afraid,” “It’s a personal choice,” and “I’ll be there with no mask!” Discouraging? Yes, but not unexpected. I should note that my rather understated comment drew more than a few positive emojis as well. So, “America’s coolest small town” does have people taking seriously the resurgence of the virus with its Delta variant that is attacking children in new and troubling numbers.

Two further retorts, however, stood out as discouraging. One woman posted, “I just want to be free and have fun!” As someone noted recently, “Freedom without responsibility is mere adolescence.” I felt my own dark thoughts troubling me as I imagined the headstone for a child’s grave inscribed (as it surely would never be) with, “My mother just wanted to be free and have fun. Well, Mom, now you’re free of me. Have fun!” What a terrible thought! But we are in the midst of a resurgent pandemic, and a pandemic kills without regard for its victim’s age or the depth of grief it causes among parents left not only with horrific loss but also with the self-blame of, “If only I had . . . .” I wish it would not happen to any parent or any person, but I fear there will be parents left blaming themselves in their grief.

The second discouraging retort came from another woman parroting a vacuous argument I had heard before: that because she could still smell odors through a mask, the mask obviously did not protect her from the virus. Upside down and backwards. Of course I can detect odors through my mask. I need to be able to breathe, and I’m wearing a cloth mask not a gas mask. I wished I could talk rationally with the woman, but Facebook is not the forum for rational conversation on a subject that has aroused anger and resentment. What might I say?

You’ve been outside on a cold day when you could see your breath.  What you’ve seen is the small cloud of respiratory moisture droplets you are exhaling, and they can carry the virus.  Your mask keeps most of your moisture from escaping to infect other people, and their masks likewise protect you from their exhaled moisture.

What discourages me in these Facebook exchanges? First, I find discouraging the adolescent (and prevalent) misunderstanding of freedom as personal liberty without public responsibility. Second, I am discouraged by the deliberate dissemination of empty, silly arguments designed to deceive the gullible who are only too happy to repeat them in foolish and dangerous defenses against unwanted personal inconveniences such as getting the shot and wearing a mask.

I find myself wondering how we will escape the ravages of this pandemic without widespread tragedy to prove the lies false and the bravado foolish. I hope that as a county, state, nation, and world we can come to our senses without first having to bury more and more of our children and other loved ones.

Two False Arguments about Gun Control

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One fallacious argument is that many things, including bare hands, can be and are sometimes used to kill people and, therefore, the murder weapon does not matter but only the actions of the person doing the killing. How is this argument false?

The issue is purpose – the purpose for which the implement is designed and made. The purpose of cars and trucks is transportation. Yes, motor vehicle accidents kill people, but killing is not the purpose for which motor vehicles are designed, manufactured, and sold. As one Facebook comment I read recently argued, a scalpel can be used to kill (therefore, supposedly, gun control is unnecessary). Yes, a scalpel can be used to cut murderously, but its purpose is to cut surgically in order to heal bodies and preserve life.

In contrast, “America’s gun,” the AR-15 is designed to kill many people quickly, and the weapon has no other purpose. It is for killing people. This purpose sets it and some other weapons apart from all the other things, including bare hands, that can be used to kill accidentally or intentionally. One man advocating on Facebook in favor of the AR-15 assured me that hunting had nothing to do with it. We had a brief but straightforward conversation with no name calling, but when I asked him if insurrection did have something to do with it, he made no further reply.

Another fallacious argument is that police do not prevent crimes but only show up after a crime has been committed. How is this argument false?

How can anyone have data on how many crimes were prevented? Is someone keeping count of things that did not happen?

I realize there might be ways, such as comparing crime statistics in under-policed areas with crimes in highly policed areas, but such comparison is rife with possibly unequal factors, and so I doubt it would provide evidence of anything useful. For one thing, police attention is likely to be focused on high crime areas which may still have more reportable crimes than other areas but still fewer than they would have had without police presence.

When I’m driving on a highway and spot a police cruiser, I check my speedometer and, even if I’m under the speed limit, might touch the brake pedal reflexively. When I see police presence at a high school sporting event, I suspect the likelihood of fights has been reduced. How many fights did the presence of police prevent? Maybe none. Maybe several. How do we count what did not happen?

Businesses install alarm systems that notify the police of a possible break-in, and they post the warning that such systems are in force. The knowledge that the police will respond quickly should be enough to deter an even minimally intelligent thief or vandal.

I consider it insulting to police officers to suggest they don’t prevent crimes but only show up too late to help anyone. I’m sure much of police work involves hours of boredom punctuated by bursts of sudden high intensity and danger. I also think it’s reasonable to assume there would be more crime and, yes, more killings if no police were available.

If we are going to discuss gun control and, yes, disagree about it (and, of course, we are), let’s at least see to it that our logic is logical and not deceptive. We need to act for the public good, and honesty with each other would help us get there.

Very Brief Reflection

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Preaching that no longer proclaims hope for deliverance nor calls us to put our trust in the God who delivers the distressed extols instead the psychological and social benefits of faith. It is a preaching of adjustment and accommodation. It is not gospel but just religion. It is Moses going back down into Egypt to teach the Hebrews to accept their slavery and make the best of it. It is Jesus patting the sick on the head and telling them to embrace their diseases as life’s way of strengthening them inwardly. It is the slave catechisms of the American churches promising the people in bondage God’s approval if they obey their masters and make no trouble. It is hope dismissed and faith domesticated.

Stand and Wait

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Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live. (Ezekiel 18:31-32 NRSV)

Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; (Ezekiel 33:11 NRSV)

Donald and Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19, the Corona virus pandemic that has killed more than two hundred thousand people just here in the United States. Though he knew better, Trump has consistently dismissed the virus as a hoax, a conspiracy against him, or a mild problem no worse than the flu. Our current president has been the outstanding purveyor of misinformation about this pandemic and its true dangers.

Facebook this morning is oozing both satisfaction and disgust. “I wouldn’t wish the virus on either candidate,” says self-righteous outrage at the thought that anyone would call Trump’s infection karma or express pleasure of any sort at the news. Columnist Nicholas Kristof, hardly a fan of the president, takes the civilized approach of wishing the Trumps recovery and good health. Others do indeed celebrate this turn of events as the just deserts of a president who has deliberately misled his followers and insisted his servants put themselves at risk, mocking any who dared wear masks in his presence.

What is likely to happen if Trump’s case of the virus proves mild? Will he not use his narrow escape from the ravages of COVID-19 to double down on his dismissal of its dangers and refusal to do what the nation and world need to control the infection and death rates? Will he not gloat and swagger as more people die? Will he not try to shame people who take precautions and even incite violence against them? How could we possibly expect him to do otherwise when such has been his method of operation all along?

For those who care what the Bible says, we are assured that God takes no pleasure in the death of any person. But. The rest of the message is that God wants the wicked person to turn from evil ways and act justly.

Trump’s infection is not something to celebrate, but his presidency is even less so. What are the chances he will turn, face the truth, and act justly? Our own medical science suggests the chances are nil. We have no cure for malignant narcissism, and a lifetime of practiced cruelty, swindling, and bullying present an overwhelming challenge to hope for repentance from a man who refuses to admit he has ever done anything for which to ask forgiveness.

But, we read, “with God all things are possible.” My skepticism whispers in my ear that moving Donald Trump to repentance, a true change of heart and way of life, would make walking on water look like a party trick, but such matters are left to God, not to me.

So, what do I pray for Donald J. Trump? I cannot bring myself to pray for his quick and easy recovery, knowing he would use it to mislead and destroy more people, to strut his arrogance and further inflame his cult followers to violence. Neither will I pray for his death but only for God’s grace for the nation, the world, for the children in cages, for the victims of his racism and cruelty, and, yes, for Trump himself. But God’s grace excuses no evil but, rather, deals with it, offering life to the wicked who will turn from the evil they have been doing.

My watchword, then, for this day, this turn of events, is what Moses is told by God to say to the Israelites caught between the Sea of Reeds and the pursuing Egyptian chariots. Stand, stand firm, and wait.

Disruptive Child

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My wife is an elementary school teacher, now retired. Because she had effective skills in classroom management and discipline, she was able to keep control of some very difficult children many of whom had severe mental and emotional problems and severely difficult lives outside of school. But she was the adult in the classroom. She had authority, even if not so much as teachers had formerly. She also used her authority fairly and did not demean or humiliate even her most difficult and disruptive students, and so they respected her.

Even so, the disruptive child took far more than his or her fair share of time and energy, not only from the teacher, but from the other children in the class. Day after day, too much had to be about that one child (even though there was often more than just one, multiplying the theft of time and energy). Dealing fairly and empathically yet firmly with a disruptive child is exhausting.

At suppertime, the disruptive child consumed more than one share of our conversation about the school day. He or she always hovered around the edges, if not occupying dead center, of conversation about the class as a whole.

What happens when the disruptive child is not a child but an adult with power, far greater power than anyone else in the room? Last night’s so-called debate showed us what happens. Nothing restrains him – not decency certainly but not any authority, agreement on rules, or reprimand from the moderator either. He continues to act out and steal the show no matter what.

Donald Trump has been stealing the show for years. During the 2016 campaign, I began calling MSNBC a Trump channel. Not Fox, but MSNBC. Why did I call it a Trump channel? No matter the topic of conversation, no matter that the news item triggering the topic was about Hillary Clinton, the focus shifted back to Trump. I could only imagine what it was like on pro-Trump channels or shows.

How can there be a debate when one candidate is committed to lying, lives by lying, and doubles down on his lies, then steamrolls over all attempts to counter his lies? Last night we saw that there cannot be.

The disruptive child needs help. The insatiable craving for attention, the bullying of other children, and the determination to dominate the classroom cry out for help, but the needed help is difficult to give day after day, and the effort takes its toll on all the children as well as on the teacher. If Donald Trump were not in power, he would be deeply pitiable. But he is in power, and he says (and for once I believe him) that he is determined to abuse his power in every possible way to stay in power and out of criminal court. Pray for him? Yes, but first pray that he is removed (and vote to remove him) from power so the American people and the victims of his cruelty can be free of him.