Monday, June 20, 2016

If I Had Said It….

     I am with my dear wife, Anne, and Janice Laskie and her husband,
     the good Reverend Larry Laskie at yesterday's celebration of his 50 years of ministry.

As I listened to folks speak yesterday at a celebration of a friend’s 50 years of ordination as a Christian pastor, I squirmed in dissatisfaction. It wasn’t that they spoke foolishly or inaccurately, but it was – it was just – it was that they didn’t seem to understand what an extraordinary accomplishment this was.
by Charlie Leck

It was a wonderful service of celebration in that little Iowa town yesterday. The pastor of the church was being recognized for the 50 years of service as a Christian pastor. All sorts of wonderful things were said about him for this accomplishment. Yet…

Not once did I hear the word “disciple” or “discipleship!” It was a gargantuan omission. Here’s how I would have said it….

It was about 52 or 53 years ago that Larry – Reverend Laskie – and I took together a course in Christian Ethics that was led by a brilliant young professor who would have an enormous impact on both of our lives. During that course, we were assigned the reading of a book that would have a very deep and lasting impact on my life as a Christian – and, I think, on Larry’s also. It was a book by – when I say his name I find myself needing to do so reverently and with great admiration and love – it was a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Doctor Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Germany, in early 1906.
At the age of 14, young Dietrich began to study religion and theology in a rather serious way (not as we know confirmation youngsters study today). At the age of 17, Dietrich entered Tübingen University. The following year he transferred to the University of Berlin. There, he became familiar with the works of the great Biblical theologian Karl Barth.
So that what I am saying this morning will be particularly clear, I must add that Dietrich also spent a year of study – 1930 – at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
But, let us jump over a number of years to a time when all of Dietrich’s learning and beliefs would be tested to the ultimate degree. Dietrich was a pastor and theologian in Germany when Adolph Hitler rose to power, installed as chancellor of that great nation in 1933. It was while in New York City that Dietrich began to tell Americans about the great danger that was possible if Adolph Hitler gained ultimate power in Germany. He sent loud and clear signals.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the first to recognize the great dangers that Hitler posed to the nation and to all of Europe; and he clearly and openly declared himself an adversary of the great leader, denouncing the political system that gave such authority to a single person.
Again, let me jump ahead, so I can make my point about Reverend Laskie. Bonhoeffer became an announced and very public opponent of the cruelty and evil that composed Adolph Hitler. Dietrich was very much a part of one coalition that attempted to assassinate Hitler. The young pastor and theologian paid the ultimate cost for that. In 1944 Bonhoeffer was imprisoned as a declared enemy of the Third Reich. From prison, Dietrich continued to write about the responsibilities of the Christian in times of evil. In 1945, only days before American forces sprung open the prison where he resided, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed as an enemy of Hitler’s own evil dreams. As he was taken away from the other prisoners, on the way to his execution, he turned to one of them – a friend – and whispered: “This is the end! For me, the beginning of life!”
The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and reading the books he wrote was a major part of our education in seminary.
Here then is what he wrote in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, and it is this that frames how enormous are the achievements of the Reverend Larry Laskie:
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die… Suffering, then, and death is the badge of true discipleship.”
Discipleship! Larry Laskie was called to be a disciple of our Lord, Jesus Christ; and when the Lord bids a man “come,” he is asking him to put all else aside and to follow in his footsteps –even to the cross. Among Christians, there is no greater calling and the timid ought step aside.
Bonhoeffer liked to distinguish between “cheap grace” and “costly grace!” Cheap grace is grace without a price – without cost! Costly grace requires paying a price and sacrificing. Less precious money! Less comfort! Less time with the family! Less fame and notoriety! Less praise!
“Follow me,” Jesus said to those who were willing to be disciples. “Follow me!” And the way leads to the cross and to all the pain attending Jesus and the disciples there; but it also leads to the resurrection and the joy and wonder of new life.
Larry Laskie, at his ordination, became more than a pastor, priest and minister. He became a disciple of Christ and that led him to a difficult passage. The now famous hike over the Appalachian Trail that is talked of with such admiration is nothing compared to the trail that the followers of Jesus Christ take. When Jesus came to those fishermen by the sea and he called them to follow him, it required that they lay down all the tools of their normal life – all that gave them comfort and a means – to go and follow Jesus along the dusty, steep trails all through Galilee and, eventually, to the hillside at Golgotha, outside Jerusalem.
Larry Laskie took the vow of discipleship at his ordination and no vow is to be more honored and praised. It is a difficult and trying path that he walked, following his Lord, but the rewards, which most people cannot understand, are remarkable and fulfilling.
This man – this classmate – this dear friend heard the call to discipleship and he was willing to pay the cost. And I am as proud of him today as one could possibly be. And on behalf of him who called Larry to follow, I give him earnest and deeply sincere thanks from all the Christian world!


I've written a number of times here about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here are some other blogs about him...

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Trump is out of control!

For the last couple of days, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate has been out of control. To define that, I mean a candidate who cannot be controlled by the party he represents nor can he be controlled by the politically trained and savvy staff surrounding him. And, in all likelihood, he cannot control himself! It’s not a pretty picture.
by Charlie Leck

Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, made a couple of very serious political errors in the last several days that are biting him back very viciously. His staff tried to step him back to correct his error, but the candidate raged against both the idea and, according to several reliable news reports, against his staff.

It all comes down to a matter of the separation of powers doctrine in both the United States Constitution and in the long standing traditions of politics in America. Republican U.S. Senator from Maine, Susan Collins, has been particularly sharp in her attack against Mr. Trump’s faux pas and his stubbornness about backing away from his miscue.

“I continue to hope that Mr. Trump will rethink his position,” Senator Collins said for the record, “and take back those words and show respect for the separation of powers doctrine that is enshrined in our Constitution.

You all know, by now, vaguely anyway, what has happened, but I’ll review it here as factually as I can.

Dahlia Lithwick, reporting for Slate, explains the law suit this way: “… two class-action lawsuits filed by former students against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s Trump University. The “University” and Trump are on the hook for allegedly using predatory marketing practices to sell worthless real estate classes.”

Mr. Trump has been suggesting very publically lately that the judge, because he is of Mexican descent, will not be fair and neutral in his judgment. Even though the judge, Conzal P. Curiel, was born in Indiana and educated at Indiana University and the Indiana University Mauer School of Law, Mr. Trump continues to refer to him as a Mexican. Plenty of people, with no ox of any kind to gore, have called Mr. Trump’s attacks on the judge both racist and a threat to the American concept of an independent judiciary.

A couple of weeks ago, the judge ordered documents about the case, which would apparently would be embarrassing to both Mr. Trump to his efforts at TU, released to the public.

Mr. Trump suggested that the appropriate people ought to take a look into Judge Curiel. When that didn’t stick or get a response, Mr. Trump went further by arguing that Judge Curiel had “an absolute conflict.”

Why? What is the conflict? It is “…because he is a Mexican!” The judge also happens to be a member of an association of Latino lawyers. Why is all this relevant?

“Because I am building a wall,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s an inherent conflict of interest!”

Mr. Trump has had many opportunities to walk the statement back or to make clearer what he is saying. He’s babbled some, but he can’t make these comments come out any better. They are very damaging. What Mr. Trump is realizing is that he has said many foolish and racist things about the ethnic backgrounds of a number of people and he is suggesting that anyone of such background could not hear a complaint about him without prejudice.

Our American judicial system is being insulted and attacked by Mr. Trump. We have a great tradition in this nation of protecting the judiciary from such attacks.

In all of this, Mr. Trump has gone more than a bit too far.

Evidence that he is out of control are displayed in the way he has reacted to his political staff’s suggestions that he step this whole matter back a bit and show more restraint in such attacks. There are several very credible reports that Mr. Trump has displayed a great deal of anger and displeasure with his advisors (the most solid report has been presented by Bloomberg News).

Only yesterday, Mr. Trump publicly expressed displeasure that former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, called his remarks “inexcusable” and inappropriate.

Mr. Trump’s reply was: “I saw Newt. I was surprised at Newt. I thought it was inappropriate what he said!”

Donald Trump is having a hard time handling “the racism thing,” as he has called it. Only last week he pointed to someone in his audience and referred to the fellow as “my African-American over here!”

A New York Times editorial on June 7, 2016, expressed shock and dismay at Mr. Trump’s remarks. Mr. Trump saw nothing to worry about it what he said.

“Federal judges have repeatedly and emphatically refused to recues themselves from cases because of their (the judge’s) race or ethnicity. These rulings were driven by two realizations: Ethnically based challenges would reduce every judge to a racial category, which would be racist in itself. And such challenges would make judges vulnerable to recusal motions — for reasons of race, ethnicity, gender or religion — in every case that came before them.
“In other words, once these challenges were allowed, there would be no end to them.
“The gravity of this matter has clearly eluded Donald Trump, who has cast aside the Constitution and decades of jurisprudence by suggesting both ethnic and religious litmus tests for federal judges. These pronouncements illustrate that Mr. Trump holds the rule of law in contempt.
“…Mr. Trump is essentially arguing that his own bigoted attitude toward Mexicans has disqualified a respected jurist from hearing a court case in which he is a defendant. Under that bizarre logic, he could rationalize ruling out judges from every demographic group he has insulted or happens not to like. At the rate he’s going, there would soon be no person in the land left to judge him. Fortunately, the American legal system doesn’t work that way.”

In an interesting side story, the NY Times points out that this is not the first time Mr. Trump and his lawyers have used such a strategy. His attorneys argued the same thing between 2008 and 2010 in an attempt to remove two judges who were hearing cases against Mr. Trump – one of African American descent and another a white woman. (You can read this June 6, 2016 story by Michael Barbara and Megan Twohey here!)

I’ve been arguing here for weeks that Donald Trump is not qualified to be President of the United States – he’s not bright enough and he’s not fair enough! His ego is too out of control and his sense of judgment is warped! The Republican Party ought to do something to shed this candidate (but, you know, they are afraid of the certain law suit that would follow).


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Friday, June 3, 2016

The Case against Donald Trump

Here are some strong bullet-points in the case against Donald Trump. Spread them around one-by-one if you care to; however, be sure not to swallow!
by Charlie Leck

  •  Stephen Hawking, the physicist, author and genius of matters relating to the cosmos and a gentle comedian, had something remarkable to say the other day as an explanation of one of the greatest cosmic mysteries: “I can’t… He is a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
  •   Something else Hawking said intrigued me more, suggesting that history is pushing Britain toward a deeper union of nations for both security and trade: “Gone are the days we could stand on our own against the world. We need to be a part of a larger group of nations, both for our security and our trade.” I think it is time for America to begin thinking about such matters as well and a true union of North American nations might make sense as well. However, Donald Trump’s terrible talk about America makes it difficult to build a case for such an alliance of nations.
  •   Retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, a long time Republican, will not vote for Donald Trump. “He just thinks Republican Donald Trump is too dangerous to be President.” [Anne Gearan in the 6-1-2016 Washington Post]
  •   Former President of Trump University (the bogus disaster) testified under oath that Donald Trump was significantly involved in crafting the advertising for that institution that cost unsuspecting individuals thousands of dollars. Documents released by the District Court portray Trump University (TU) as a pretty sleazy place. Instructors were told to attempt to steer students toward the most expensive courses. In advertisements for TU, Donald Trump claimed he was over-seeing the curriculum and that the faculty would be “hand-picked by me.”
  •  North Korea has officially endorsed Donald Trump in his election efforts to become President of the United States.
  •  In a May 31, 2016 editorial, the Washington Post referred to Donald Trump as “Bully-in-Chief!”
  •  Trump recently referred to Indiana-born jurist, Judge Gonzalo Curiel as a “Mexican” and “a hater.” This particular judge is overseeing a case against one of Mr. Trump’s businesses.
  • Trump has wondered aloud if more countries shouldn’t be permitted to stock nuclear weapons.
  • One must remember that our founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, warned us that Democracy – this Democratic Republic –is fragile and hangs “as if on a thread!”
  •  In an opinion piece in the June 1, 2016, StarTribune (Minneapoilis), Rolf Westgard comments about Donald Trump’s call “to restore coal to its former glory.” He writes: “Trump is not concerned about CO2 emissions and global warming; he had stated earlier that the ‘concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” … “The Trump plan would also cut off all U.S. funding for the United Nations climate programs and cancel U.S. agreements under the Paris climate accord.”
  • Thomas Friedman wrote this week in the NY Times: “Indeed, when Donald Trump tells the truth, it should be labeled “Breaking News – Trump tells truth without immediately contradicting himself. We’re going live to the scene right now.”
  •  New York Daily News on May 31, 2016, called Donald Trump “a thin-skinned liar who can’t take the heat!”
  •  The Republican Governor of Michigan has said he will not support Donald Trump. The state’s Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, has said he will support Trump.
  •  Republican hot-shots are starting to come out of the closet with announcement that they will not attend the Republican National Convention. They include Jeb Bush and Senator Lindsey Graham (SC). Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has indicated he probably won’t make it either. The NY Times says that “just about” every U.S. Senator in a close race will avoid the convention. Senator John McCain (AZ) is one of the prominent senators who will avoid the convention.
  •  Conservative columnist David Brooks, whom I greatly admire, wrote the following opinion in the June 3, 2016 edition of the NY Times: “In this election we’ve been ignoring the parts of America that are working well and wallowing in the parts that are fading. This has led to a campaign season driven by fear, resentment and pessimism. And it will lead to worse policy-making down the road, since prosperity means building on things we do well, not obsessing over the things that we’ve lost…. The person chiefly responsible for this all-warts view of America is, of course, Donald Trump.”
  • Paul Krugman (granted, a liberal columnist), in his June 16, 2016 column, gave this explanation of why the Natural Resource Defense Council has already endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidency.: “At this point Donald Trump’s personality endangers the whole planet."
  • A letter written to the NY Times (David Swanger from Santa Cruzz, CA) on June 16, 2016 suggests a new slogan for the Hillary Clinton campaign: “Sanity!” He says, “Sanity embraces all the qualities that you bring to the campaign and counters Mr. Trump’s boasting, blasting and bloviating.”
  • If I had to declare the very dumbest thing Donald Trump has said in his campaign, it would be this (in reference to Mexicans}: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’r bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Hispanics now constitute 17 percent of the U.S. population. Not too smart, Mr. Trump – not too smart!
All of this is remarkable. In a normal year one would not hesitate to predict a devastating defeat for Donald Trump in the national election. This, however, is not anything close to a normal year.

Work – in any way you can – to defeat Donald Trump!


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