Thursday, August 7, 2014

Praying for Obama

Is he really praying? Does it really matter?

Respecting the President’s Name

Living in Texas, I often have occasion to reflect on Elton John’s satirical “Texas Love Song”. The link takes you to a live version of it performed in Austin, possibly the bluest city in Texas, in 1998, with Sir Elton’s pre-performance caution, “Don’t be offended.” Probably they weren’t; many square miles of Texas hold people who still wouldn’t recognize the song as satire, and the people of Austin most likely hold them in as much contempt as did lyricist Bernie Taupin.

One line especially stands out to me right now: “And kids still respected the President’s name.” Personally, I can’t think of a single POTUS whose name was universally respected in his lifetime; even ol’ George Washington came in for some calumny during his second term, and didn’t achieve veneration second only to the Blessed Virgin Mother until some years after he passed. When Taupin wrote the song, the President was Richard M. Nixon, who had succeeded Lyndon B. Johnson — ’nuf ced; hippies weren’t totally to blame.

Still ….

Father Erik Richtsteig at Orthometer and I have a couple of things in common: 1) We’re both friends of Katrina Fernandez (and, I believe, Frank Weathers); 2) We’re both Knights of Columbus. Yesterday, attending the Knights’ annual convention in Orlando, he posted on his status:

The cold silence didn’t bother me; that was possibly the least disrespectful thing the Knights could have done in response to Pres. Obama’s message. Nor did the reactions of Fr. Erik’s followers, which all told wasn’t a Facebook “two-minutes’ hate” so much as an all-day grump, bother me … except for one:

“Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” Brrr, yikes.

Psalm 109: A Prayer of Vindication and Vengeance

In one sense, Psalm 109 is a very apt selection, as it’s a prayer for vindication and God’s wrath against persecutors; in Acts 1:20, St. Peter cites verse 8 to justify the selection of another disciple, Matthias, to become one of the Twelve. But when the psalmist says, “Let his days be few,” he’s not talking about impeachment. Brrr, yikes.

(The whole of the psalm reminds me of the fate Stephen King wished upon a certain type of literary critic — deconstructionist, I believe — in Danse Macabre, mostly involving Sauron and Mordor. “And if they somehow manage to avoid all that, I hope they catch poison oak.”)

Does Pres. Obama fit the description? Shrug; meh. Granted, he’s such a liar that even Democrats occasionally will admit it; and he’s done his level best to trample on conscience rights in pursuit of universal baby prevention — oops, universal health care. Granted also that his assistance to the “Arab spring” in Egypt and Libya helped to enable Islamic Brotherhood persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Kudos for bringing Meriam Ibrahim to the US; but if he’s doing anything else for, say, the Christians of Iraq and Syria, he’s certainly keeping it on the down-low.

Still, narcissists aren’t interested in other people except so far as they’re potential tools or obstacles. Obama, who in my admittedly untrained opinion is a classic narcissist (as are many at the top levels of government and business), isn’t concerned with pushing Christianity down so much as he is with pushing conservative Christians out of the way of his agenda. When it suits his purposes, he can quote Scripture and even show benevolence to Christian organizations; even Satan can do so much (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14). But I don’t have to believe Obama’s a crypto-Moslem to think he doesn’t really get Christianity; it’s just not on his radar.

The real problem with the Psalm 109 citation is not that Pres. Obama doesn’t quite fit the “persecutor” bill. Rather that, as Christians and not Jews, we’re called to a different code of conduct.

To Love Our Enemies

In the Gospels, Jesus uses rabbinic hyperbole not to advocate specific courses of action but to stress how important it is that we not do something. For instance, when Jesus says, “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12), he isn’t speaking literally of enucleated men, nor is he suggesting that his followers neuter themselves. Rather, he’s telling us that sexual sins are grievous enough that to embrace a life of perpetual continence is preferable to adultery or fornication.

So we see in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Would that we could all feel love for people who hate us; sometimes it’s all we can do to feel any respect for them. But in the Christian lexicon, love isn’t a feeling — it’s an action, a choice: a decision to wish well for others, and to do them good so far as we’re able.

More to the point, though, if we’re not capable of loving our enemies as we love our friends, relatives and neighbors, we must not hate them. If we’re unable to wish our persecutors well, we must not wish them ill. We pray for the conversion of their souls, not the destruction of their lives or their bodies … and most certainly not for their condemnation to Hell.

Praying For Government Authority

Moreover, as St. Paul teaches us, government leaders are servants of God, even when they’re not good or faithful servants (Romans 13:1-7). He instructed St. Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

American politics is far too rancorous as it is. I thank God for whoever it was that coined the term “outrage porn” for the constant hype, misrepresentation, mishegoss and outright bulls**t churned out every day to keep us perpetually angry and mistrusting. For porn is what it is — by feeding our baser desires, it demeans and debases everyone involved, and addicts us to a sordid life.

We Christians must remember that we are Christians before we’re Americans, and are called to more than occasional charitable contributions and smug self-congratulations. There has to be more depth to our faith than displaying rosaries on our rear-view mirrors or wearing T-shirts that say LORD’S GYM: HIS PAIN OUR GAIN. The call to “take up our crosses” (Matthew 16:24-25) reminds us that our salvation comes at a cost to us as well as to Christ; discipleship can be anywhere from discommoding to fatal.

If praying for the sake of an unpopular President is the most onerous task you have as a disciple of Christ, you’re near to getting off scot-free.