I knew I would be getting a phone call from my friend Arnold about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

     “Not another one,” he said, knowing that I knew what he was referring to.

     “So tell me what you’re thinking, my friend,” I said.

     “I’m thinking the National Rifle Association is the most evil organization in the world.  To think they’re buying the influence – no, the silence – of our political leaders just makes me sick.  You know, I had to laugh at the dark humor of one of those students, who said after the tragedy that we should start calling the AK-15 rifle a “Marco Rubio” because it can be so easily bought.”

     “I heard that too,” I said, “and I thought the remarks of most of the student leaders were pretty articulate and delivered calmly and maturely for their age.”

     “Yeah,” Arnold replied, “one of them said that if the real problem is mental health, we’re the only country in the Western world with that problem.”  

     “So what’s the solution,” I asked.

     “I have to give the Florida government credit for trying to raise the eligibility for gun purchase to 21 and require a three-day waiting period, but already the NRA is taking Florida to court to prohibit the adoption of such a law.” 

     “Do you think the rest of the country would consider such a law?” I asked.

     “I wish it would,” said Arnold, “but I wouldn’t bet on it.”

     “Why not?” I asked.

     “Because, we’ll be told, there are too many people who are under 21 who like to hunt.  And I’ve been thinking about that.  They would say it’s their right to have guns so that they can hunt – animals, you know,” he said, with a little sarcastic cynicism in his voice. “They claim the Second Amendment to the US Constitution gives them to right to hunt.”  

     “Well, doesn’t it?”

     “The way I read it, it doesn’t say anything about hunting.”

     “What does it say?”

     “OK – I have it right here.  The Second Amendment simply says:  `A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’”  

     “So what do you make of that?” I asked.

     “To me it says clearly that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is for the security of a free state.  First of all, that was written when we didn’t have a regular military, like we do now, you know Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, strong police forces, etc.  And second, it says nothing about the right of the people to bear arms for the purpose of hunting animals.  So where do people get off saying they have the right to have a gun because they like to hunt, much less to have an AK-15, which isn’t a weapon made to hunt animals but to kill people.”

     “So what are you going to do, Arnold, change the Second Amendment?”

     “That’s my point, Richard.  It doesn’t need changing.  If you’re a strict constructionist of the Constitution – like Conservatives are supposed to be – then it doesn’t give us the right to have a gun to hunt.”

     “Do you think you’ll get anywhere trying to shut down hunting as a sport?” I asked.

     “OK.  But you can regulate it. Like in Europe, if you want to hunt, you have to join a hunt club, get licensed anyway, and demonstrate safe storage of the gun you buy, either at the club or at your home.  If you store it at home, you have to agree to unannounced inspections by the authorities to see if your guns are being kept safely.  I think it’s an abomination that the United States has no requirement regarding the safe storage of firearms.”

     “Sounds like you’ve really looked into this, Arnold.” I said.

     “Well, aren’t you worried that there are 317 million people in the US and 357 million guns on the loose in this country?”  

     “How many?”

     “357 million – and counting.  We have 40 million more guns than people.  Doesn’t that bother you?

      “Yes, it does.  But pretty big job trying to take all those guns away, isn’t it?”

      “I saved a clipping from the 2015 Economist.  Want me to read it to you?

      “Sure, go ahead.”

      “`Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard [mass shootings] the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing.’”

     “So how does that leave you?”

     “Depressed – depressed about how crazy this country has become.”

     “So I guess you don’t want to see teachers armed in the classroom, either.”

     “If the NRA has its way, everyone in the classroom will have a gun, sooner or later students too.  The idea is that we all need to protect ourselves from each other.  That’ll really make America great again, won’t it?”

     “Don’t know what to say, Arnold,” I replied.

     “Well, you’d better wear a flak jacket under all your vestments on Sunday.”

     “Will you come to church to see?”

     “I’m too scared to come to church now.”




     I picked up the phone yesterday and it was my friend Arnold, calling to wish me a Happy New Year. 

     “Thanks, Arnold, and the same to you.  Did you have an enjoyable holiday season?” I asked.  

     “Yes,” he said with a chuckle, “we even got a Christmas tree,”

     “Your first one?” I replied

     “Second one.  We started last year.”

     “But I thought you didn’t believe all that stuff about Christmas.”  

     “I really don’t, but Irma thinks it’s a nice thing to have a tree and decorate it and put presents underneath it.  She even got a CD with Christmas carols on it – you know, a medley of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby and someone else singing about Rudolf, the Red-nosed Reindeer.” 

     “So you like all that about Christmas?”

     “I didn’t mind,” he said.  “Those songs at least got us in a present-opening mood.  But I’m really calling you to wish you a happy 2018, and see if you made any New Year’s resolutions.”

     “Well thanks, Arnold.  Very thoughtful of you.  Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?

     “Yeah,” he said.  “I’m going to forget the tofu and get back to the veal chops.”

     “So you’re giving up on last year’s resolutions?”

     “Yeah, they didn’t work.  Last year I resolved to lose twenty pounds and now I have only thirty to go.”

     I laughed.  “Did you get onto a serious diet?”  

     “At first yes I did.  No-carb, no sugar, small portions, easy on the booze.  It worked for a while, but then St. Patrick’s Day came around, and we celebrated with friends at McGee’s Pub with all that corned beef and cabbage – and green beer.  Then Memorial Day started all those rounds of barbeques throughout the summer with all those pork ribs and hot dogs and more beer.  Then Thanksgiving came with the usual turkey with all the trimmings – including pumpkin pie -- that lasted for a good ten days – leftover turkey sandwiches, turkey stew, turkey everything for ten days.  Then came the Christmas season, with invitations to parties complete with cream cheese dips and cookies and cakes and laced egg nog, and a delicious Christmas ham that Irma always makes at home.  You know, all these Christian holidays make me fat.”

     “There you go – blaming everything on us Christians again.”

     “It is convenient, I have to say.”

     “So any new resolutions for 2018?

     “Yes, I started taking golf lessons, at least to get some exercise in.”

     “Good idea.  Are you enjoying the game?”

     “Not really, especially after what the pro told me.”

     “What was that?”

     “He told me I had to lose weight.”



     “Got cut off,” Arnold said, now that his cellphone was up and running again.  “What was I saying – probably nothing of importance.” 

     “Are you home?” I asked. 

     “Yeah, Irma let me back in.  Told her I had to juice my phone, so she relented.”

     “Good for her,” I said.  “So she doesn’t hold a grudge.”  

     “Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” said Arnold.  “She has a way of recalling every little spat we’ve ever had.”


     “You kidding?   She always puts her own spin on it.  But what were we talking about when my phone went dead?”

     “You asked if we still had the American flag in our church, and then your phone cut out before I could answer.”

     “So do you or don’t you?” he asked, as his cellphone crackled again.

     “Yes, we do.  Some churches have moved the flag out of the chancel and put it into the narthex, but we haven’t done that yet.”  

     “Why do those other churches do that?”  

     “Because Christianity is not bound to any one particular country.  And people from other nations who come to visit shouldn’t have to worship in front of a national symbol that is not their own.  Back in the 1930’s I wouldn’t have liked to go into a German church for worship in front of a Nazi flag.  The cross of Christ is the international Christian symbol, and it shouldn’t take second place to any other particular national flag.”

     “I get that,” Arnold said, “although I wouldn’t know a chancel from a narthex; but I get your drift.  But this whole discussion started when I asked your opinion about all those athletes taking the knee during the national anthem.”  

     “So what’s the big problem with that?” I asked.  

     “Come on,” Arnold said.  “You know what the President said about them – that they were all SOBs and should be kicked off their teams.  And Irma agrees – which got me kicked out of the house for a while.”

     “Do you think the President has ever taken the knee?” I asked. 

     “What?  Why ask a stupid question like that?”

     “So he’s never taken the knee?”

     “No, of course not – he is outraged by those that do.”

     “We take the knee all the time,” I said.

     “You do?  On Sundays, during the national anthem?”

     “No, on Sundays during worship, in front of the cross of Christ.”


     “it’s a sign of humility before our God, a sign of reverence before the cross.”

     “Well, I’ll be darned,” Arnold said.  “So you’re used to kneeling.”

     “Yes, to show a little humility.”

     “Why didn’t the President think of that?”

     “Maybe he’s never gone to a church where there’s kneeling.”

     “If he ever did, he’d probably never show up there again.” 

     And Arnold’s cellphone went dead again.


     The phone range and it was my friend Arnold, telling me his wife Irma just kicked him out of the house.

     “What for?” I asked.  “Nothing permanent, I hope.:

     “No.  She just told me to take a walk around the block – and go soak my head somewhere in the process.”

     “What brought that on?”

     “Oh, we got into an argument about those football players taking the knee during the national anthem.”

     “Is that all?” 

     “Well, she got really upset.  She’s an avid pro football fan – originally from Kansas City, she likes the Chiefs – and she thinks it’s terrible to show disrespect for the flag and the country like that.  I thought it was kind of funny and I guess I got a little too sarcastic.  I was really surprised she cared that much about it.”

     “Where are you now,” I asked.  

     “Sitting on a bench in the park near us, talking to you on my cellphone – and it doesn’t have that much juice left in it.”

     “So what made her so upset?”

     “It got into religion – that’s why I’m calling you,” Arnold said.

     “Religion?  I thought it was about football.”

     “Yeah, but I started kidding her about her religion – ‘America first,’ you know, and she took umbrage at that.”

     “Is she religious?”  I asked.

     “Not really, except when it comes to football – or any other sport where the national anthem is played.”

     “Tell me more,” I said.

     “Well, you know, there’s a ritual to these games – especially the important ones, like Super Bowl and World Series – where everybody is supposed to stand and watch four fighter planes swoop over the stadium and a color guard march out with their flags like an acolyte procession and then sing the national anthem with your hand over your heart and then in the seventh inning stand up and sing “God Bless America.”  My God, it’s like some kind of religious ritual – or, what you would call a kind of liturgy, don’t you think?”

     “Some people treat it that way, I suppose.  Sounds like Irma does.”

     “Yeah, well, she sure didn’t like it that these players are all taking the knee.”

     “Were you able to explain why?”

     “I tried.  Told her it was a gesture of protest.  And she didn’t think their politics had any place at a football game.  People were coming to watch the game, not people protesting.  So I asked why we can’t watch the game without all the nationalistic ritual before it starts, and then she accused me of being unpatriotic.  I told her she was sounding religious about it, so she told me I ought to take a walk.”  

     “That happen much?” I asked.

     “No.  How about you?  By the way, you still have the American flag in your church, don’t you?”

     And before I could answer, his cellphone broke off – out of juice. 



     My friend Arnold is back from his Colorado vacation and gave me a call to see if we could meet for coffee, so we arranged a time.

     “So did you have a good trip?” I asked.

     “Sure did,” he said.  “And it was great spending some time with our old friends Gerald and Hilde.”  He showed me several photos of the four of them hiking in the woods and eating out in several restaurants.  There were also a couple pictures of him and Gerald on their days out fishing.

     “Is he a good fisherman?” I asked.  

     “Better than I am.  He caught more trout than I did, even though I had the biggest one – that beautiful cutthroat trout I emailed you about” -- and showed me a picture of that one.

     “You said you were old Army buddies.  How did he meet his wife Hilde?”

     “When we were stationed in Heidelberg, she was studying at Heidelberg University, and they met at a party thrown by the German-American Friendship Club there.”

     “Is she from Heidelberg?” I asked.

     “No.  She’s from Hanover, where her father was a pastor.  She went to Heidelberg to get her PhD in political science, and had a great academic career, finally winding up at the University of Frankfurt.   They got married in her father’s church in Hanover and Gerald decided to stay in Germany in order to allow Hilde to pursue her academic career.  After he left the Army he got a civilian job at the Ramstein Air Force base just outside of Frankfurt.  They did very well, because they have a nice large apartment in Frankfurt, and they love it there.”

     “Have you visited them there?”

     “Oh yes, several times.  They also took Irma and me to church.  Didn’t understand a thing, but the music was great.”

     “So they had more luck than I’ve had, trying to get you into church.”

     “That’s what I need to ask you about.  You see, she refers to themselves as “evangelisch,” so I thought that meant “evangelical.”  So we didn’t talk that much about religion, but when we did I got really confused.” 

     “How so?”  I asked.

     “Well, I was just confused about what she believed.  She said she believed in women’s rights, including the right to choose, you know, about reproductive rights, and evangelicals aren’t supposed to believe in that.  I went down the list of things I thought evangelicals believed.  Climate change – she believed in that.  Keeping immigrants out of the country – she rejected that.  Building a border wall – she thought that was unchristian.  Gay rights – she was supportive of LGBT issues, even same-sex marriage.  Pro-Israel – she was for that, but not at the expense of Palestinian rights, and definitely spoke against the settlements that encroached on Palestinian territory.  And she chided our country for its lax gun laws.  She even knew about DACA – and thought that it is awful to want to deport children who were brought to America by undocumented parents.  All that didn’t sound very “evangelisch” to me.  

     “I hope she told you that “evangelisch” was not the equivalent of “evangelical” in our country,” I said.  

     “She tried to, but that’s what I want ask you about.”

     “In Germany the word “evangelisch” means Protestant, in distinction from Roman Catholic.  It has nothing to do with “evangelicals” in this country.  If she’s from Hanover, that’s Lutheran territory, and Martin Luther didn’t want his followers to use his name to define themselves, so they used the term “evangelisch,” to indicate more emphasis on the freedom of the gospel than on laws in the church.” 

     “So how do evangelicals in this country get off using that term of themselves?” Arnold asked.  “With all they stand for it sounds like they’re more into law than gospel.”

     “You could say that,” I said.  “But there are progressive evangelicals too, so it’s hard to generalize.”

     “That’s what makes religion so confusing.”

     “Come on, Arnold, even among us church people it takes a little freedom of thought and not be confined to a rigid dogmatism.”

     “That’s what Hilde said too.”

     “So how’s Irma?” I asked.

     “Oh, she’s bummed that this latest terrible hurricane has her name.”  

     “So does she believe in climate change?”

     “Now she does.”     




    My friend Arnold emailed me from his vacation in Colorado to tell me he had done some great fishing in the beaver dams above Estes Park.  He said he had to hike a long way up above the tree lines to find these mini-lakes, and he caught a beautiful 18-inch cutthroat trout that fed four people that evening.  Every third year he and his wife Irma meet his old Army buddy Gerald and his German wife Hilde for a two-week vacation, doing a lot of hiking and fishing and just communing with nature.

     But the real reason for emailing me was because of a discussion they had had last night over the incidents in Charlottesville over the past weekend.  While they were watching the news, Gerald’s wife kept saying, “Not again, not again.”  She said it was against the law in Germany now to brandish any swastikas, or to give the Hitler salute, or anything Nazi.  “They should outlaw all that stuff here too,” she said.  So they got into a discussion about how a forward-looking nation like Germany, with its history of great thinkers and artists, could have ever succumbed to a fascist government. 

     In the course of their discussion they came up with ten reasons for the rise of the Third Reich, and he wanted to send their list to me for my perusal, and for my reaction, if I had any.  

     Their list:  1) institutions, especially judicial, were attacked for bias and for not protecting the country; 2) xenophobia was on the rise, especially after World War I, and certain ethnic groups were blamed for invading the country; 3) intelligence agencies were vilified and their personnel replaced by ideologues; 4) the press was demonized; 5) the universities and the intellectual elite were impugned by a base built on demagoguery; 6) national exceptionalism, hyped by the leader, was the mantra of conformist masses; 7) only one man had to be in charge and he knew more than the generals; 8) political opponents were mocked, shamed, and sidelined while whitesupremacists were given positions of power; 9) propaganda machines arose to spread lies and subvert the truth; 10) religious institutions were infiltrated by government collaborators and intimidated into silence.

     “Sound familiar?” he wrote, and then signed off.

     I wrote back that their list was a formidable one, and that I wondered how long it took them to put it together.  Arnold replied that Hilde was a retired professor of political science at Frankfurt University and it didn’t take long at all.  Her father had been a pastor in the 1930’s and was a member of the Confessing Church, which put him under a lot of pressure.  Arnold told her about his friendship with me, so she wondered whether I was speaking out against bigotry and racism, and he said he thought I probably had done that. 

     I wrote back asking him to congratulate Hilde about the fact that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was looked upon as the leading political voice in the free world right now. I also added that we can thank God that in this country we have a system of checks and balances, with three branches of government, legislative and judicial and not just executive.  He should remind her that the wheels of democracy grind slowly, but they seem to get the job done.

     So in his response to that he said she just shook her head, and wondered what kind of democracy allows the loser of the popular vote to win the Presidency.  In turn I asked him if he wanted to spend his whole vacation trying to explain the Electoral College to her.   

     So Arnold sent me a one-line response:  “OK, I’ll just put it your way: thank God for checks and balances.”  


The Call Button



     I phoned my friend Arnold to see how his surgery went.  “Oh, it was really nothing major – just a removal of an abdominal hernia.  They kept me overnight for observation, but it could have been an in-and-out job.  Get it, Richard?  An `in-and-out’ job – before I knew it, it was out.”  

     “I see you still have your sense of humor, Arnold. Any residual pain?” I asked.

     “Not really; just a little soreness that gets less and less every day.  But the real pain was the guy in the room in the bed next to me.”

     “So what was wrong with him?”  

     “I couldn’t get any sleep because he was always yelling for the nurse.  Every half-hour he kept yelling for the nurse.  I told him to press the call button but he just kept yelling.”

     “He must have been in pain,” I said.

     “Could be, but I think he just wanted some attention.”

     “Do you know what he was in for?”

     “Not really,” Arnold said,“ and I didn’t ask.  I figured that was private information.  But what got him really riled up was the chaplain.”

     “The chaplain?” I asked.

     “Yeah, before the lights went out, this chaplain came by to ask us how we were doing, which I thought was nice.  But he didn’t want anything to do with the chaplain.  He said he was an atheist and didn’t have much respect for religion at all.”

     “Did he discuss that with you?”

     “Oh yes, he sure did.  He went on and on about how religion was behind all the wars and all the killing in the world.  He said that religion has caused more deaths throughout world history than anything else, and he was glad he was an atheist.”

     “So you were his soundboard then,” I said.

     “Well, you know, I thought about you and told him I didn’t go to church much, but that I really didn’t consider myself an atheist.  And he said, ‘Well, you should; you’d be better off.’  And suddenly I felt like arguing with him.”

     “And did you?” I replied.

     “Yeah.  I asked him if he really wanted to classify himself with atheists like Mao, and Hitler, and Stalin, and Pol Pot, who killed more people than all religious wars in history put together.”

     “So what did he say to that?”

     “Nothing for a while.  Then he finally asked me why I don’t go to church.”     

     “And what did you say?” I asked.

     “I’m too lazy, I told him.  I’m too lazy.”

     “Arnold, that makes me laugh.  Did he laugh too?

     “No.  But that’s probably why he kept yelling all night.”

     “So maybe atheists yell more then believers do,” I said jokingly.

     “Well,” Arnold said, “I guess believers would at least use the call button.”

June 2017



     Recently I met my friend Arnold for afternoon coffee at our favorite café.  He wanted to talk to me about global politics.

     “I didn’t vote for the guy, but maybe he has something with his ‘America First’ policies.  What do you think, Richard?”

     “I keep thinking about that proverb of Jesus, ‘The first will be last, and the last first.’”

     “Oh, there you go, quoting the Bible again.  What does that have to do with the shape of the world today?”

     “Isn’t America already first in so many things – like natural resources, individual opportunities, vast wealth and productivity, advanced technology, and certainly in military strength?”

     “Yes, but that’s why everybody else in the world wants to bring us down to their size.”

     “So you envision the world as one of competition among nations?”  

     “Of course I do.  Competition is what makes the world go ‘round.”

     “Where does that leave cooperation?”

     “What do you mean?”

     “Take the environment, for one example.  No one nation can go it alone in improving the environment.  We all have to work together and put self-interest aside if we want to address things like global warming and air pollution.”

     “But why should we bear the brunt of the burden for things like that?”

     “Because we have resources that other countries do not have.  Like Jesus said, if you don’t mind my quoting him again, ‘To whom much is given, much will be expected.’”

     “But don’t we have the right to guard our own self-interests?”

     “Yes, but let’s not be selfish about it.  Other countries have looked to us in hope for our leading the way toward making this a better world.  Shouldn’t we share our resources, instead of pushing for even more wealth and dominance for us?

     “Don’t we do that already?”

     “We have in the past.  So what’s the big deal about making ‘America First’ all of a sudden?  Can’t we assume a less selfish posture?  After all, we’re not that insecure, are we?”  

     “I guess.  But I’m not so sure the world is such a safe place these days.”

     “Well, it won’t be if everybody is out for themselves, to the detriment of others.”

     “OK,” Arnold said with a wry smile, “as long as everybody agrees with us.”   



March 24,2017



     My friend Arnold phoned the other day to ask about Bibles.  He said he had a Bible once but can’t find it, so he went to a book store and saw about twelve different kinds of Bibles and didn’t know which one he should get.  So he decided to call me and ask me about it.

     “Well, Arnold,” I said, “I’m glad you’re interested in reading the Bible.  What brought that on so suddenly?”

     “My nephew Ralphy said he got himself ‘born again’ and twits me all the time about my biblical illiteracy.  He’s always on my back about it.  He keeps quizzing me, like when he asked me if I knew who preached the Sermon on the Mount and I guessed it must have been somebody like Billy Graham and he laughed like crazy at me.  He says any educated person should know something about the Bible, since, he says, so much of world literature refers to biblical things.”

     “So what Bible does he use?” I asked.

     “I think he uses the Saint James Version, or something like that.”     

     “Do you mean the King James Version?”

     “That’s it,” Arnold said.  “Ralphy says that’s the true version.”

     “So all the other versions aren’t so “true”? I asked.

     “Not according to Ralphy,” Arnold replied.  “All the other versions change the Bible, because they’re translations, and they change the original King James Version.”

      “The King James Version is also a translation,” I countered.

      “It is?  Ralph says he uses the “original” King James Version, so I thought that was the “original” Bible.”

      “Well, first of all, nobody can use the original King James Version, because it first was published in 1611 and there are 600 words in it that are no longer used in the English language.”

      “How did that happen?” Arnold asked.

      “Because language is a living thing,” I said, “and you know that we don’t speak the same English as people did back in 1611.”

      “Of course, I should have known that.”

      “You also know that the Bible wasn’t originally written in English, don’t you?”

       “Oh, you mean Hebrew?  I guess I new that.”

       “The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek.  That’s why we need translations, and up-to-date translations into the languages that we now speak.  That’s what the original King James Version did:  it translated the Bible into the English that people spoke back in 1611.”

      “So no wonder I was looking at twelve different Bibles – they’re all different translations, is that it?”

     “Yes,” I said. “There are about 25 different Bible translations into modern English on the market today.”

     “Why is that, anyway?” Arnold asked.  “Can’t they all just go back to the original Hebrew and Greek and come out the same, so that we don’t get confused all the time?”  

     “Because we don’t have any original copy of any biblical book.  We have to rely on copies, and copies of copies, compare them, and reconstruct what can be accepted as the original Hebrew and Greek texts.”  

     “Man, is that ever complicated,” Arnold said.  “You mean, when you guys say the Bible is divinely inspired, like my Ralphy does, you’re really talking about the original biblical texts – which we don’t have?”  

     “Right.  But actually we’re fortunate to have around 5000 ancient manuscripts – some complete, some fragmentary – of the New Testament alone, which scholars can compare in order to be relatively certain of what the biblical authors were writing.”

     “So why so many different translation then?” Arnold wanted to know.

     “Because language changes, and several newer translations are also written for different audiences, like children’s Bibles, for instance.  Just in general, we need a new translation about every 25 years, since new words and new expressions come into being virtually every day.”

     “I don’t know whether I can absorb all this, Richard.  Just tell me what Bible you would recommend for me to read.”

     “I would suggest the New Revised Standard Version – and use a study edition; you can learn a lot from the accompanying notes.”

     “OK, but don’t think this is the last time I’m going to talk to you about it,” Arnold said.

     “Fine with me, my friend.  Anytime.”


                                                                             -- Richard L. Jeske, Vicar





     My friend Arnold called early one morning and asked if I had time to meet him for coffee.  When we got to the diner, he asked if we could sit over in the corner where no one could hear us.  So we did.

     “Why all the secrecy?” I asked.

     “I have some questions and I don’t want to offend anyone who might overhear us.  You know I have this hearing problem and you always have to speak up so I can get it.”

     “OK,” I said, “so what’s the issue?”

     “Evangelicals,” Arnold said.  “Maybe I’d better ask first if you classify yourself as an `evangelical,’ so are you one?”

     “Yes and no, Arnold,” I said.  “The word comes from `evangel,’ which means `gospel,’ so if you’re asking whether I believe in the gospel of Jesus, then the answer is `yes.’  But the word `evangelical’ has been taken over by the conservative wing of Christianity, and if you’re asking whether I belong to that wing, then the answer is `no.’”

     “You see, Richard, that’s what makes religion so confusing.  When people like me want a Christian answer to certain things, I have to ask a ton of people, because there’s the Catholic answer, the Episcopal answer, the Evangelical answer, the mainline answer, etc.  And then who can say what answer is the `Christian’ one.”

     “Wait until you ask someone who belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” I said, trying to be humorous.

     “Is there such a thing?” Arnold asked.  “I thought Lutherans were mainline, not evangelical.”

     “Yes, they’re mainline.  They’re just the only mainline church body that actually has the word `evangelical’ in its official name.  But they’re not part of the religious right that calls itself `evangelical.’”

     “OK.  But what I really came to talk about is what the so-called evangelicals really stand for.  My neighbor, who used to be my friend, considers himself to be an evangelical, and before the election told me he couldn’t vote for such an indecent man like Trump.  When I asked him why, he said he couldn’t vote for a man who had been married three times, who boasted that he abused women, who stiffed his contractors, who built casinos with strip clubs in them, and who couldn’t quote the Bible correctly when asked to do so.  So after the election I told him he must be pretty disappointed, and he said he was totally glad that Trump had won and that he had voted for him.

     “But doesn’t that go against your religion?” I asked him.  “And he just stared at me and turned around and walked away.  And then I read that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, more than Bush ever got in either of his runs.  So I’m confused, and that’s why I wanted to talk to you about what they really believe.  I mean, they are Christians, aren’t they, like you?”  

     “I know, Arnold, it really can be confusing, can’t it?” I said.

     “You got it.  So is it just a matter of liberal versus conservative?  They’re conservative and you’re liberal – is that it?”

     “There’s really more to it than that,” I said.

     “Like what?  What makes you `mainline’ and them `evangelicals’”?

     “OK.  For starters, we’ve kept the ancient creeds of the church, its ancient liturgies, infant baptism, and emphasize Holy Communion, and they haven’t.”

     “But that makes you `conservative’ and them `liberal,’ doesn’t it?”

     “Historically and theologically, yes,” I said.  But socially, they are opposed to women’s right to choose, to gay rights, and blame immigrants for taking away American jobs …”   

     “And Trump rode all those objections all the way to the White House,” Arnold interjected.  

     “It looks that way,” I said.

     “So if they got rid of all those traditional Christian practices and adopted a sort of nationalistic populism, are they really Christians in your mind?”

     “Well, they accept Jesus as their personal Savior,” I answered.

     “So is that all there is to it?” Arnold asked, getting a bit upset.   “They want to build walls, and the Pope said that’s not Christian.  They want to stop welcoming refugees into the country and the Pope says that’s not what Jesus would do.”

     “Maybe fear is a stronger motivation than we would expect,” I offered

     “But didn’t you tell me once that faith in Christ overcomes fear?”

     “Yes,” I said.

     “So I’ll take faith any day,” Arnold said.

     “So will I see you in church now?”  I asked.

     “Don’t pin me down, Richard.  Waiter, I’ll take the check.”        


                                 -- Richard L. Jeske, Vicar




     My friend Arnold called a couple days ago to wish me Merry Christmas and to tell me he really tried hard to make it to our Christmas Eve candlelight service. 

     “Thanks, Arnold,” I said, “but what happened?”

     “Oh, on the way I decided to drop in for a few minutes to a friend’s Christmas party and I got into a fight.”  

     “You got into a fight on Christmas Eve?”  

     “That’s right.  And not just one of them, either.”  

     “Tell me about it.  Are you OK?”

     “Yeah, I’m OK. It didn’t come to fisticuffs, but almost.” 

     “ Tell me more,” I said.

     “Well, I got my drink and went over to the host standing there in a small group in a corner of the room and I told him I wasn’t going to be there long because I was going to Christmas Eve Mass.  Then one of them said, “What for?  All those fairy tales, you mean?”  And I replied, “So what’s with you?  You’ve never sung ‘Here comes Santa Claus?’”  And the guy got so mad he spilled his martini all over his tie.  I was just trying to be playful, but he got mad, for some reason.”

     “So did you leave?” 

     “I should have,” Arnold said.  “But I wasn’t finished with my drink, so I meandered over to another corner of the room, where some guy was saying, “We’ve just elected a sexual abuser as our next President!”  The woman next to him didn’t like that and said she was offended by what he just said.  He replied to her, “I’m not being malicious, I’m just stating a fact.”  “Well, it’s malicious,” she said.  So I couldn’t help myself and jumped in with “But isn’t that what the President-elect admitted about himself?”  “Oh, not another one of those Demo-libs,” she said.  “No,” I told her, “I’m a Republican.”  “Then just shut up about it,” she said, red in the face.

     So I drifted away from that conversation over to another one, where someone was saying, “I couldn’t vote for Hillary because she doesn’t tell the truth.”  So I asked him, “Have you ever logged onto “Politifact?  It’s a fact-checking organization that shows how Trump as a far bigger liar than Hillary.  “No, and I don’t care about those phony fact-checkers,” the guy replied.  So I told him, “You mean you’re more comfortable with fake facts and conspiracy theories?”  And the guy put his nose up against mine and said, “Who the hell are you to tell me what to think?”  So I just kept wandering around the room to find a decent discussion where I wasn’t going to get into any trouble.

     “So did you find one?” I asked.

     “No.  Everybody was mad.  I found that intriguing.  It’s Christmas Eve and everybody was angry.  It was the most cheer-less Christmas party I’ve ever been to.”

     “So why did you stay?”  

     “I don’t know.  It was my kind of Scotch and it was free, I guess,” he said with a chuckle.  

     “That’s not like you, Arnold,” I said.  “Something else must have made you stay.”

     “Like I said, the anger intrigued me.  So I just want around and listened to everybody.  What do you make of it, anyway, Father?  Everybody’s mad.  Fake facts and pizza place shootings and phone threats to teachers and swastikas painted on churches – now we’ve got mall brawls.  What’s your take on it, anyway?

     “A combative spirit is loose in the land, isn’t it?” I said.

     “You can say that again.  If you don’t agree with someone, they’re ready to go to combat.”  

     “So what’s your solution, Arnold?” I asked.

     “I think we need another election, with a whole new set of candidates, but if I go around saying that I’ll get into another fight, won’t I?”  

     “Probably,” I said.  “You should have skipped the party and come to Christmas Eve Mass, my friend.”

     “I know.  So what would I hear about there?”

     “How about things like the Prince of Peace?”

     “Peace?  Now there’s something worth fighting about,” he said.  “And Happy New Year too.”  





     My friend Arnold called the other day with some excitement in his voice.  “I’ve just been talking to a friend who was up in arms about the pastor in his church, and I wanted your opinion.”

     “About what, Arnold,” I asked.

     “Well, you know I don’t go to any one particular church, and I haven’t been lately, but I just wanted to know if you preach politics from the pulpit.”  

      “Why do you ask?” I wondered out loud.

      “Because my friend insisted that clergy should not be saying anything politically from the pulpit, and he thinks his pastor is going too far on that subject.  So I wanted to ask your opinion on whether politics belongs in church.”

     “Well, wherever two or three are gathered together,” I said, “there’s going to be politics, right?”  

      “Come on, Richard, I’m serious.” 

      “OK, my friend, let me ask you:  as someone who would be rather “objective” about this – like you say you are about religion in general – do you think pastors should preach politics?”

      “Why not?” Arnold asked.  “I would guess that some people would like to have some political direction from their pastors, wouldn’t they?  I mean, if they are serious about applying biblical principles to their lives, wouldn’t they want their ministers to guide them?  Who would be a better resource than that?”  

     “So why don’t I see you in church more, Arnold?”  

     “There you go again, trying to evade my question.  Maybe if you had more politics in your sermons, I’d come more,” he said with a chuckle.  

      “Arnold, our primary goal in preaching is to preach the gospel of Christ, the good news that we have been redeemed by God as God’s free gift to us.”

      “Wasn’t Christ political?  Weren’t the Old Testament prophets political?  Didn’t your New Testament biblical leaders – like John the Baptist and the apostles -- take on kings and rulers when they were wrong?”

     “Whoa, my friend, you’re getting ahead of me now.”  

      “Well, speak up.  Give me some answers,” Arnold said, a bit irritated at what he thought was my evasion of his concern.

      “OK.  Yes, the prophets of the Old Testament were directly political when they felt they had to be.  And yes, John the Baptist took on King Herod and the apostles appeared before governors and kings.  And Jesus himself was executed as a political threat to the establishment.”

     “So what’s the problem about you pastors getting political?” Arnold asked.

     “OK.  If you mean that we should engage in partisan politics from the pulpit, we will simply turn some people off and bring division in the church.  That’s not very helpful to the unity of a congregation.  But if the gospel of Jesus, with its emphasis on unity and love, is spoken boldly and clearly, people should be able to apply it to the decisions they have to make in life.  Don’t you agree?”

     “Yes,” Arnold said, “but do you see them doing that?”  

     “I know what you mean.  People can hear Jesus’ message of unity and love and still support division and hate in their communities, in their voting, and in their daily lives.  But if I bluntly tell them to stop it, and tell them what to do in every situation, they will still make up their own minds, won’t they?  After all, I can’t force them, can I?”  

     “Then why do they go to church?” Arnold asked.

     “That’s a totally different subject, my friend,” I said.

     “I’m still not sure you’ve answered my question, Richard.”

     “Well, drop in some Sunday, Arnold, and maybe I might.”   


                                       Richard Jeske, Vicar



     My friend Arnold made one of his infrequent trips to church on a recent Sunday and came to ask me about the offering.  He said he feels a little guilty about not putting something in the collection plate.  

     “So why didn’t you throw in a couple coins when it went by?” I asked.

     “Well,” he said, the plate came around so suddenly I didn’t have a chance to put something in.  Do you pass that plate every Sunday?”  

      “Yes, every Sunday,” I told him.

      “Why?” he asked.  “Are you so far behind on the light bill?” 

      “Giving is part of Christian life,” I said.  

      “I know,” said Arnold.  “I have a buddy – he’s a good Christian, I guess – who always gives to someone begging on the street.  Once we had a good discussion about it, but I disagreed with him.”

      “About giving to someone who asks?”  

      “Yes,” he replied.  “Giving to those panhandlers only makes them keep panhandling.  Some of them could get good jobs and do some work for a living, if they really wanted to.”

      “Some of them?” I asked.

     “Well, I suppose that there are a few of them who are unable to work – but not most of them.  I remember a movie with Clint Eastwood when Clint was hit up by a panhandler and Clint gave him five dollars and said to him, ‘Now make sure you don’t buy any food with this.’  That was really funny.  And that’s another reason not to give:  they’ll just use it for drugs or booze.”

     “Now Arnold, aren’t you being a bit judgmental?”  I asked. 

     “Probably.  But there are enough soup kitchens where they can get food for free.  Places, like shelters, where they can sleep for free too, without cluttering up the sidewalks.”

     “Do they feel safe in those places?” I wondered.

     “Why not?  A lot of those places are churches,” Arnold said.

     “See?” I said.  “That’s one of the reasons Christians give, to offer safe places to those who need them.”

     “So that’s why you pass the plate every Sunday.”

     “Not the main reason,” I said.  “Christians know that everything they have comes from God – life first of all, then skills and talents to pursue their professions – and they commit themselves to giving back to God a portion of what God has given them.  It’s an act of thanksgiving.”

     “So I suppose you think that those of us who don’t give aren’t very thankful.”

     “Arnold, you said that, not me.”    

     “So it’s not all about the light bill?” Arnold said.

     “No.  It’s all about you, and the kind of person you want to be,” I replied.

     “Well, Padre, thanks for the religion lesson.  Maybe I’ll be back to your church in a couple Sundays – and I’ll bring a couple coins with me.”       


                                -- Richard Jeske, Vicar