Saturday, January 16, 2021

Pericope of the Week (and really of the past four years)

Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All the day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying, "See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!"

Psalm 52.1-7 (NRSV)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Very Important Statement from the President of Georgetown University

A friend of mine, who is retired from Georgetown University, sent me the following statement from that university's president. I am forwarding it here because I think it is a message that all of us who are American citizens need to heed in this time of national crisis. While President DeGioia's message is grounded in the Jesuit tradition and aimed at his university community, what it affirms is fully consistent with Lutheran emphases and the values that my church-related university upholds as well. (When it came to civic matters and responsibilities in God's "left-hand kingdom," Luther also praised Cicero most highly....)

January 12, 2021

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

Every four years, in January, the city of Washington is home to a defining moment for our nation: the inauguration of a president, a citizen of our Republic, who commits to an oath, “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Elected representatives across the country share this oath.

In the events of January 6, and the actions that led to them, this oath has been violated at the highest levels of our government and by the president of the United States. As I shared in my statement on January 6, that day we “witnessed a violent attempt to disrupt the democratic process and prevent our Congress from fulfilling its Constitutional responsibilities. These acts are reprehensible and have no place in our country." At the instigation of the president, there was a violent assault on the Capitol Building; disruption to the process of the formal recognition of Congress of the votes of the Electoral College; a parade of violent imagery, words of hate and further threats of violence; and later, after order was restored and members of Congress were able to re-convene, there was a continued brazen attempt by some lawmakers to block the process of validating the will of the electorate. Neither the mob attack nor the obstruction of some legislators was able to stop the fundamental work of our democracy. We can be grateful to the members of Congress who honored their responsibility to our Republic.

For our community, these days have been particularly challenging. This assault happened here—in the city that our University calls home. And all this took place, of course, as COVID-19 continues its rampage in virtually every corner of our country, leaving us with record-setting numbers of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths—revealing, once again, indefensible inequities in our society and disproportionate impacts on Black communities and communities of color.

This is a defining moment for our nation in how we choose to respond. This moment demands a moral and civic imagination equal to the scope of the challenges we now face.

Understanding the challenges—through scholarship, research, and civic engagement—and crafting responses—policies, laws, programs, new institutions—all this is the work of universities. And in all of our work, we follow the truth, wherever it may lead. This is among our most important contributions to civic life.

For a university located here in the heart of this Capital City—we recognize a special responsibility. We are animated by a commitment to the common good. This is deeply ingrained in the more than two-century history of Georgetown, as well as the four-century tradition of the Jesuits.

The last sentence of the mission statement of the Jesuits, the Formula for the Institute, written by St. Ignatius himself, ends with these words:

"Moreover, he should show himself ready to reconcile the estranged, compassionately assist and serve those who are in prisons or hospitals, and indeed, to perform any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good."

The Jesuit Historian, Father John O’Malley, a longtime faculty member here at Georgetown, identifies Cicero’s De Officiis as a foundational influence on Ignatius and the first Jesuits. De Officiis is often translated as On Public Responsibility.

Father O’Malley identifies this passage of Cicero as having foundational resonance within our tradition:

"We are not born for ourselves alone…we, too, as human beings are born for the sake of other human beings that we might be able mutually to help one another; we ought therefore to…contribute to the common good of humankind by reciprocal acts of kindness, by giving and receiving from one another, and thus by our skill, our industry and our talents work to bring human society together in peace and harmony."

Father O’Malley calls this the foundation of a civic spirituality. In the tradition upon which our university is built, we acknowledge that we have a civic commitment to seek the common good.

As we look to the days ahead, and confront the many challenges we face as a people, we do so as a community—shaped by an unwavering commitment to truth, service and the common good.


John J. DeGioia

Monday, December 21, 2020

Mrs. Jean Graetz+

 Back in September, I noted that an important American-Lutheran Christian, Robert Graetz, had died. For that post, go here.

Over the weekend, I learned that his wife, Jean, has also died. To read her obituary, go here.

Robert and Jean Graetz deserve to be better known for their public Christian witness. May they rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Timely Hymn

 One of my favorite Advent hymns is “Wake, Awake…,” which has been called “the king of chorales.” It was composed by a German-Lutheran pastor, Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608). You will find it in the “end times” section of the Lutheran Service Book (#516), but it could just as easily be placed in the "Advent" section, since that season, too, at least in part, has to do with Christ's end-time return.  

Nicolai, a graduate of Wittenberg University (class of 1579), was pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Unna, Germany, which fell victim to the plague in 1597-98. A great many people died.

During that fall/winter, Pastor Nicolai wrote a devotional booklet “to leave behind (if God should call me from this world) a token of my peaceful, joyful, Christian departure, or (if God should spare me in health) to comfort other sufferers whom He should also visit with the pestilence….” Three hymns were included in this booklet, including “Wake, Awake” (“Wachet auf”). So, this hymn was composed during a pandemic.

Nicolai looked forward to the Lord’s Second Coming, when disease and death would give way to God's New Creation begun in Jesus Christ.

In our time of plague, maybe we need Pastor Nicolai’s perspective more than ever. The hope for God’s perfect future lifts our eyes from despair, when everything looks dark, and points us to our Coming Savior. Yes, we are shaken and disturbed by what is happening all around us. We are visibly reminded that this fallen creation is not our true and eternal home; we are to be looking for that new creation that is coming. In the meantime, God calls us to keep watch, to wait, and not to lose hope. Soon, the night will be past….

“Wake, Awake…,” is based on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25.1-13), but it alludes to other Scripture texts as well, including Rev. 19.6-9 and 21.21. Look ‘em up! Here are the hymn's three stanzas:

(1) "Wake, awake, for night is flying," The watchmen on the heights are crying; "Awake, Jerusalem, arise!" Midnight hears the welcome voices And at the thrilling cry rejoices; "Oh, where are ye, ye virgins wise? The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take! Allelujah! With bridal care Yourselves prepare To meet the Bridegroom, who is near."

(2) Zion hears the watchmen singing, And all her heart with joy is springing; She wakes, she rises from her gloom. For her Lord comes down all-glorious, The strong in grace, in truth victorious; Her star is ris'n, her light has come. Now come, Thou Blessed One, Lord Jesus, God's own Son, Hail! Hosanna! We enter all The wedding hall To eat the Supper at Thy call.

(3) Now let all the heav'ns adore Thee, Let saints and angels sing before Thee With harp and cymbals' clearest tone. Of one pearl each shining portal, Where, joining with the choir immortal, We gather round Thy radiant throne. No eye has seen the light, No ear has heard the might Of Thy glory; Therefore will we Eternally Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee!

In my opinion, Christian hymnody doesn’t get any better than this! To hear the hymn sung (and to join in singing it!), go here.

One more thing: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), the greatest musician/composer of all time (who also happened to be a Lutheran Christian!), based one of his cantatas on Nicolai’s hymn. To listen to the best online performance of it, go here.

Advent hope be with you!

Addendum (12/18/20): Brian Bartusch, who is the organist for the congregation to which my family and I belong, recently uploaded a video of Bach's piece, "Sleepers Awake, a Voice is Calling" (BWV 645), which is also based on the Nicolai hymn. Here's the link:

Friday, December 4, 2020

A Relevant Letter

For the past week, I have been watching the wonderful, insightful, and engaging lectures on Abraham Lincoln by Dr. Allen C. Guelzo. I like such thirty-minute "Great Courses" lectures, since they fit perfectly with the duration of my workout routine (on an elliptical machine). 

At the time he taped these lectures, Dr. Guelzo was a professor of history at Gettysburg College, which is an institution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Now he is a Senior Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities and Director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. In addition to his other academic degrees, he earned a Master of Divinity degree from Philadelphia Theological Seminary. Given his interest in Christian theology, it is not surprising that his most well-known and award-winning book is on Lincoln’s religious views: Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (Eerdmans, 1999). (For Brian Lamb’s excellent interview with the author, go here.) (Further aside, but relevant for what follows: Back in the day, Dr. Guelzo supported Jack Kemp for president.)

I cannot help but draw attention to the lecture I watched this morning. It is the penultimate one in the course. Its title is “The President’s Sword.” While the second half of the lecture does, indeed, examine the failures and successes of U. S. Grant, the first half is all about Lincoln’s own “sword,” namely, his pen.

In the lecture, the professor reminds us of the president's 1861 letter to a special session of congress that he had called. Lincoln's letter, dated July 4th of that year, ought to be read by every American citizen, especially now, when, in our present national crisis, we have a sitting president who refuses to accept or publicly acknowledge the will of the majority of citizens who voted in the last presidential election. Would that the current leaders of the Republican Party would take to heart these words of their party’s most famous father.

According to Dr. Guelzo, “[Lincoln’s] first message to congress... turned into one of the greatest defenses ever offered for the essential role of [the] peaceful transfer of power as a key element of democracy…. In a democracy, majority rule, and therefore minorities must submit…. When minorities rise up against that rule and refuse to abide by the decision of the majority, then the very operations of democracy are disrupted, and the only result can be anarchy.”

The context to which Dr. Guelzo’s analysis applies, of course, was the aftermath of the 1860 presidential election.

Here’s a key paragraph from Lincoln’s letter:

"Our popular Government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it our people have already settled--the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains--its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets, and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal except to ballots themselves at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace, teaching men that what they can not take by an election neither can they take it by a war; teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war."

To read the full letter online, go here.

I look forward to watching the final lecture, "The Dream of Lincoln," during tomorrow's workout.