The Birth of the United States Parliament: Update

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Update:

October 7, 2013

When I first published this post back in August, I honestly thought that neither a government shutdown nor a Debt Ceiling default was within the realm of possibility in a world of rational people.  After all, I thought, in the end cooler heads would prevail.

I’ll never make that mistake again!

Now with the House of Representatives being held as political prisoners, because the GOP’s super-conservative faction (is cult too strong a term–maybe not! Look up the definition of a cult) has decided that the idea of majority rule as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution no longer applies to them, and therefore, they can stage an ideological and, therefore, legislative coup, violating both the Constitution and their pledge to defend it.  Of course, in their twisted logic, they believe they are defending the Constitution from the rest of us who are…well, just the rest of us.  The notion of majority rule can just go to hell.  They threaten to take the nation over the socioeconomic edge into a pit of unknown calamities, though, the economy crashing down around our heads is likely to be one major consequence.

After the election in fall 2012, I was thinking, ‘Okay, now we can get back to Congress doing some real business.  The next election is a long way off and I’m burned out with the 24-hour election cycle we were subjected to by the media, and anybody else with an axe to grind and a Twitter account.’  Now, I can’t wait for Fall 2014 to get here soon enough, presuming we have some semblance of an electoral process still intact, so through some miracle, this group of constitutional insurgents can get voted out of office.  Way out.  Maybe to be the new boots on the ground in Afghanistan as we pull our troops out.  I’m sure they and the Taliban would have most interesting debates over ideological sledge hammering.  The Taliban are against compromise, too.  Oops, did I just compare the tea party insurgents to the insurgents in Afghanistan?  Well, of course not.  I obviously just used the illustration to highlight the fact the tea party politicians are pathologically opposed to compromise.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who have been Extreme Thinkover readers since the beginning, The Sniffer and I are very pleased with the Affordable Care Act rollout.  Minute by minute, Americans’ demand for access to health insurance is building as a wave against those who would still deny them that.  And as the Exchanges get the opening kinks worked out, the Whiff’ and I both have this strong feeling the initial registration and enrollment period will exceed the everybody’s predictions, perhaps by the many millions.

And all the Republicans have to present to the nation as their alternative national health care plan remains that one blank piece of paper that Boehner, Cantor, and McConnell were so smug about in January 2010 when they met with the President.  Oh yeah, and then a month and a half later President Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010.  Majority rules.

Now we are closer to devolving into a parliamentary morasse than when I posted this essay:

The Birth of the the United States Parliament

Sometimes you get an insight by reading what is going on someplace else in the world. I’ll admit that’s not a ground-shaking revelation, but the insight can be a point of sudden snap-focus into what is happening right here under your nose.

In my case, this “ah-hah!” moment came from reading a New York Times Op-Ed article by Shmuel Rosner, a Tel Aviv journalist and senior political editor for The Jewish Journal. His piece, titled, “The Tyranny of the Minority” (2 August 2013) discusses changes that are taking place in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, regarding adjustments to the election laws that determine the threshold percentage needed to win a seat in body.  The specifics are not important to my point (you can read the article if you are interested), but the impact of the changes on how the minority parties will have to negotiate to have a voice caught my attention.

I contend we have in the United States House of Representatives not just the birth, but the rapid evolutionary growth of a parliamentary structure; a structure that, according to my reading of the United States Constitution, should never exist.

For some context, here’s what’s happening in the Knesset.  As the percentage threshold for winning a seat in the assembly is raised, the smaller parties that might have had just one or two seats under the old rule are now unable to win even a single seat.  Since these small parties represent minorities to begin with, such as different Arab groups, and more extreme Jewish conservative and liberal parties, they are faced with a huge dilemma.  How does a single party negotiate with one (or more) of the others to piece together a coalition that might mean compromising with a group they find politically distasteful?  And even worse, from their perspective, what if their only solution was to compromise and attach themselves to one of the mainline “Jewish” parties?

Rosner writes,

Raising the threshold was proposed on the theory that it could help stabilize Israel’s political scene by strengthening the two leading parties.  It may not: Some say it would only create more midsize parties. But at least it would fix the currents system’s main pitfall, which is to discourage compromise among all parties by encouraging the proliferation of small ones.

Huh? An image began to form in my mind sketching out what is happening in the House of Representatives as we observe the growing influence of smaller and smaller groups of politically narrowly-aligned representatives declaring that they are fighting perceived tyranny in the size and function of the Federal Government, but ironically, growing closer to manifesting and exercising a true “tyranny of the minority” over the House.

Rosner’s closing point was my snap-focus realization:

For a country as varied and complicated as Israel, the representation of minorities is crucial.  But for a country as varied and complicated as Israel, learning to compromise is even more important.

Bang! Substitute the words “United States” for “Israel” and what emerges is a powerful statement of what I see is the affliction that is now crippling the House of Representatives, and placing the balance of power of the Legislative Branch outlined in the Constitution in jeopardy.

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Light of the World–Easter Sunday 2010

He is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

...And the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overwhelm it! Photo: Courtesy Bing.com Images

Light of the World

On the night of His birth a chorus of angels sang praises to God for this new life

Thirty-three years later He was reviled by angry crowds calling for His death

On the night of His birth He was hailed as the Prince of Peace, the heir to David’s royal throne

Thirty-three years later He was condemned as a false king and an enemy of the state

On the night of His birth shepherds came to visit Him and rejoiced that they had beheld the Lamb of God

Thirty-three years later He became the sacrificial lamb whose blood was poured out for the f0rgiveness of sins

On the night of His birth He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and gently held by His mother

Thirty-three years later He was stripped of his clothing and scourged by Roman soldiers

On the night of His birth He was placed in a wooden manger

Thirty-three years later He was executed on a wooden cross

On the night of His birth He was born in a stable, most likely a cave, open to the cold night air, attended by gentle farm animals

Thirty-three years later He was buried in a tomb, most likely a cave, covered by a massive stone, attended by armed guards

On the night of His birth a new star appeared in the heavens, splitting the darkness, and the heavenly host rejoiced that Emmanuel, “God With Us” had come into the world

Thirty-three years and three days later, He arose, a New Light, and appeared to the world, banishing the darkness of sin and all humanity rejoiced that Jesus, the “Light of the World” is the Risen Lord whose light shines forevermore.

December 22, 2002

This meditation was originally presented at Northwood Christian Church, Springfield, Oregon.

Light of the World–Easter Sunday

He is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

Light of the World

On the night of His birth a chorus of angels sang praises to God for this new life

Thirty-three years later He was reviled by angry crowds calling for His death

On the night of His birth He was hailed as the Prince of Peace, the heir to David’s royal throne

Thirty-three years later He was condemned as a false king and an enemy of the state

On the night of His birth shepherds came to visit Him and rejoiced that they had beheld the Lamb of God

Thirty-three years later He became the sacrificial lamb whose blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins

On the night of His birth He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and gently held by His mother

Thirty-three years later He was stripped of his clothing and scourged by Roman soldiers

On the night of His birth He was placed in a wooden manger

Thirty-three years later He was executed on a wooden cross

On the night of His birth He was born in a stable, most likely a cave, open to the cold night air, attended by gentle farm animals

Thirty-three years later He was buried in a tomb, most likely a cave, covered by a massive stone, attended by armed guards

On the night of His birth a new star appeared in the heavens, splitting the darkness, and the heavenly host rejoiced that Emmanuel, “God With Us” had come into the world

Thirty-three years and three days later, He arose, a New Light, and appeared to the world, banishing the darkness of sin and all humanity rejoiced that Jesus, the “Light of the World” is the Risen Lord whose light shines forevermore.

December 22, 2002

Table of Forgiveness–Holy Saturday

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

Table of Forgiveness–Written for the First Anniversary of 9/11 2001

This week we will commemorate the terrible events of September 11th one year ago.  I would like to offer a perspective on what it means to be a Christian and to come to this table as we remember those who perished, those who were left behind, and those who gave so much to rescue and protect the survivors.

My illustration comes not from Ground Zero in New York, but from a newscast in the Palestinian city of Jenin after the Israeli troops occupying it earlier this summer had left.  The reporter was interviewing a group of Palestinians standing on the rubble of what was once their homes.  What caught my attention, however, was the hand-lettered banner tacked onto a wall, written in English, undoubtedly for the benefit of the American and British TV cameras.

The banner read,

“We will never forget.

We will never forgive.”

The words stunned me.  It is one thing to never forget.  Our brains are designed to remember things, after all (finding the TV remote notwithstanding).  To choose not to forgive, however, is another thing altogether.  To make that choice is a decision that will only lead to vengeance and violence, to accept whatever Evil places before you, to justify any act with any means.  There is no justice, only the burning for revenge.

And that is exactly the opposite-the opposite-of what coming to this table stands for.  We come not because we deserve to be here; we come because, above all, we are the forgiven, invited to join our host, the One who gave His life for our sins.  Each week as we gather to take communion, we gather around this table of forgiveness.

Jesus said, “This, do in remembrance of me.”  That is our banner so we will never forget his sacrifice.  But also, as our Lord forgave those who executed him upon a Roman cross, we are also to always remember His example to forgive those who persecute us.  When we make the decision to forgive, we open our lives to God’s justice, to defend and protect those who are oppressed and downtrodden.  In this, our hearts burn not for revenge but for peace.

This is the table of remembrance and forgiveness.  It has been given to us to remember that first, we are the forgiven.

sept_11_bkgrnd

Photo Credit: Ask.com, 9/11 2006

September 8, 2002

Echoes from the Future–Good Friday

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

Echoes from the Future

We all enjoy standing on the edge of a canyon or the balcony of a building and calling out loudly to make our voice echo.  It’s fun to hear the sound bouncing around like we were standing in several spots at once.  And we use the term echo as an analogy for remembering events that have happened in the distant past.

But when God speaks, the echoes can come from the future.  Consider these words of the prophet Isaiah, written over five hundred years before the birth of Jesus:  “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:4-6, NIV).

These words are not echoes of the past, not when Isaiah wrote them, and neither for us, for they are the present word from God to all future generations of humankind.  The words tell us what happens and why it has to happen, so at that moment in time, in reality, in history that Jesus sits at the table with his disciples, a new present and a new future is opened.

We come to this communion table each week not merely to remember Jesus’ death on the cross, but to celebrate His presence with us.  The bread representing his body broken for us and the juice representing his blood shed for us binds us to the past, present and future of God’s eternal love and salvation.  Again to quote one of Isaiah’s echoes from the future:

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (53:12, NIV).

And most of all, because He bore my sin.

March 7, 2004

A Room for All Time–Maundy Thursday

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

A Room for All Time

Jesus knew what he wanted.  It was time to prepare for the Passover.  Jesus knew it would be his last Passover and his last meal.  And so he wanted a room that would hold all of his closest disciples, the Twelve, and probably those few other men and women whom Jesus loved most.  He sent Peter and John to arrange the room and the meal.  The owner of the house is not named, but undoubtedly he was one of Jesus’ followers.  The room was large and on the second story of the house.  The room was perfect–perfect for the One who would make this a room for all time.

For over a thousand years the Jews had celebrated the Passover in rooms like this one.  But Jesus was standing history on its head, and now this room would witness an act of God’s grace.  For in that room Jesus spoke the words, “This is my body, which is given for you” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  As Jesus spoke those words, God’s presence was no longer hidden away in the Temple in the Holy of Holies.  For the rest of all time, God would be present in any room, or place, in which the words were spoken and the meal partaken.

Yes, Jesus knew what he wanted that night.  The Upper Room was the place where Jesus declared himself to be God’s greatest gift to creation, where through his death on the cross, all humans would find salvation.

As you eat the bread and drink the cup today, let us all give thanks to God for His presence in this room at this very moment.

August 15, 2004

Final Meal of Grace–Day 4 of Passion Week

[Each day of Holy Week, I am going to publish a communion meditation that I wrote and delivered, while serving as an Elder, over the past seven years where I worship at Northwood Christian Church, in Springfield, Oregon.]

Final Meal of Grace

Author Lauren Winner, in her book, Mudhouse Sabbath, writes this sentence, “Humanity’s first sin was disobedience manifested in a choice about eating.”  In the book of Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve they may eat the fruit of every tree except that of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  When they choose to disobey God and eat its fruit, at that meal humanity falls from grace.

When Moses leads the people of Israel out of Egypt, God institutes a new meal of remembrance, the Passover meal.  This food, eaten once a year, was to remind the people of Israel of God’s mercy and their liberation from enslavement.  When they ate this food, they were thanking God for the Law, which gave them their identity as God’s chosen people and set the stage for the Messiah.

How appropriate, how beautiful it is, then, on the night when God’s grace is to be returned to humanity, God gives to us the final meal.  When we choose to eat this food, we are accepting God’s offer to forgive our sins.  It is the Messiah, Jesus, who transforms the Passover meal into not just a remembrance of His sacrifice on the cross, but into an act of God’s covenant of grace, present through the Holy Spirit.

Listen to the words:

And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  And He took a cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is to be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:26-28, NAS).

January 30, 2005