Ed Schroeder:  Crossing Steve Kuhl’s Tracking Essay with his Grounding of Matthew 4:12-23

CROSSING Steve Kuhl’s TRACKING essay, “The Legitimation Crisis of the ‘American Way of Life’,” with Kuhl’s programmed GROUNDING text, Matt. 4:12-23 “Business as Usual and the Unusual Business of Jesus.”
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Son Nathan Schroeder came over here to our old folks’ home on Wednesday to have lunch with Marie and me and to give us a report of the Crossings conference just concluded–of which we attended only the Sunday evening opening session.  In short–most of which we missed.

After listening to his summary–three printout pages!– I pulled out of my pocket what’s here below.  Namely, my own attempt to cris-cross the 2 pieces that I had in hand from the Sunday evening session:  Steve Kuhl’s TRACKING essay, “The Legitimation Crisis of the ‘American Way of Life’,” and his GROUNDING-page wherein he “programmed” (Bob Bertram’s term) last Sunday’s Gospel text Matt. 4:12-23 using law/prmoise lenses.  His title for that:  “Business as Usual and the Unusual Business of Jesus.”  Which GROUNDING I summarize here (with some cris-crossing-hints already added):

Bad News
–Business as usual in our own “fishing” trades.
–But  probing deeper: Folks sitting in darkness (USA Today = Zebulon/Naphtali?)
–Even worse, sitting in the “region of death” (death of our “American way of life,” even more, of the American Empire? God signing the death certificate?)

Good news
–Light has dawned.  And the first word is “Repent.”  Huh?  Here’s why:
–Jesus enters that death-dark region–geographically by living in Galilee and redemptively by rescuing follks living there–i.e., the new Regime of Heaven unfolding on earth.
–Calling for repentance. Turn around from “following” business-as-usual voices and instead following the one proclaiming the “brand new” News of God’s New Regime.
–Appropriating his agenda as our agenda: becoming fisher-folk fishing-for-folks to join in Jesus’s FOLLOW-ship.
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Herewith a possible CROSSING of Steve’s TRACKING and GROUNDING.

The term “legitimation crisis,” prominent in Steve’s TRACKING, reminded me of a mantra my Doktorvater Helmut Thielicke often recited when discussing Hitler’s Third Reich.  “Alles war technisch ‘legal,’ aber nicht ‘legitim.'”  “Everything was technically legal, but not legitimate. Technically, what Hitler did was in keeping with German law (as that law had itself been re-formulated to his ideology), but it was illegitimate.    It was not right.  The ideology behind it was false.

The American way of life is for us Americans, says Steve, is business as usual.

Steve probes beneath that American way of life to see one of its major foundation stones, possibly THE cornerstone of the entire American enterprise: the marriage of democracy-governance and capitalist economy.  And vis-à-vis the current hallabaloo in the USA he says:  that marriage is falling apart.  Falling apart the same way that human marriages disintegrate.  Trust between the partners has faded away.  Faded away because the people don’t believe it “works” anymore.  At the least, it does not work for them.  And something that doesn’t “work” in people’s minds has lost its credibility, its legitimacy, its rightful place in their lives, as their “way of life

Folks, many folks–so it seems–simply don’t believe in the democracy-capitalism marriage any longer.  In that sense it is a deep-down faith-crisis.  If it’s not believable, it isn’t true.  At least not believable for me and therefore not true for me.   Therefore it has no legitimacy, no rightful claim for my allegiance.  Authority must have legitimacy to hold my allegiance.  [The “-leg-” in each term signals the connection.]

And in the absence of faith in the legitimacy of the capitalism-democracy-marriage folks are most often giving up on democracy, but not on capitalism.  Big mistake.   You might say: sitting in darkness. It is capitalism that is the serpent.  Democracy has some affinity to Biblical anthropology, possibly even has its historical root there, but capitalism with its sub-text (or is that really the major text?) “always tries to get more” actually has two Biblical commandments of the 10 against it, the very last two.  It’s called coveting.
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Now linking Steve’s TRACKING to the specific items of his GROUNDING

BAD NEWS
1.–Business as usual in our own “fishing” trades.
Divided America.  Folks are frustrated.  Both those on the so-called right and on the so-called left. Many on both sides are frustrated in trying to make the capitalist economy “work” for me–as it apparently does for the billioniares.  They make the democracy-capitalism marriage work for them.  Why not elect one of them as president to have him make it work for me too?   Current leaders, mainly folks on the left, have rigged the system.  System un-rigged is “Run government like a business.”  Get a super-business man to run the democracy.  That ought to work.  The new president says he’ll make our democracy-capitalism work for me.  the democracy. That ought to work.  The new president says he’ll make our democracy-capitalism marriage work for me. Sounds convincing to many, “false adverting” to many others.  It’s Zebulun and Naphtali—not a good place to live.
2. –But  probing deeper: Folks sitting in darkness (darkness in the USA Today = the darkness of Zebulon/Naphtali?)
Aspects of darkness:  Trusting the “marriage of capitalism and democracy.”  That marriage has been trusted, lo, these many years.  And still is by both so-called liberals and so-called conservatives in our land.  Trump, Hilary, Obama, Sanders, included. Such marriage is darkness.  Just as it is darkness to run government like a business.  As it would be to “run” human marriages like a business.  Caring for one another and making a profit are as different as apple and oranges.  Even darker is to trust that dark-marriage—even as presidents may reform it—as reals rescue for me.  As my way of “life.”  More darkness is not seeing that you are living in such a marriage AND that that marriage is darkness, an internal contradiction—AND not seeing that that “marriage” is now crumbling.
3.—Even worse, sitting in the “region of death” (death of our “American way of life,” even more, of the American Empire? God signing the death certificate?)

Enter God as actor in all this.  It is a god-sized-problem.  “You have been weighed and found wanting. I am the one behind the scenes dismantling capitalism/democracy marriage.”  “Repent” (“turn around”) says “You are going in the wrong direction.  Heading for ‘the region of death’.”  True both for individuals and for a people.  All the more so when a “people” has become an empire,” exercising its sway over other peoples.  Empires can never fulfill the “love thy neighbor (selflessly)” commandment.  They constitutionally operate as oppressors.    Cannot be otherwise and therefore they always eventually disintegrate.  God has never let an empire “last.”  Now seems to be our turn, America the only empire left.  God swinging the wrecking ball.

GOOD NEWS
4.–Light has dawned.  And the first word is “Repent.”  Huh?  Here’s why:
–Jesus enters that death-dark region–geographically by living in Galilee and redemptively by rescuing follks living there–i.e., the new Regime of Heaven unfolding on earth.

Jesus enters Zebulon-Naphtali to rescue the residents.  Offering survival as the wrecking ball, God’s own wrecking ball, crashes and smashes.  That’s what “Kingdom of Heaven” means in Matthew’s gospel.  [Also in Luther’s Small Catechism on “Thy kingdom come.]  Not Eden-restored, nor the democracy-capitalism marriage saved, but the god-sized problem resolved with God’s own management-by-mercy the unusual business of Jesus.  It is a “business clean contrary to “business as usual,” all which business are debit/credit transactions, aka transactions under the law.  Easter announce which “business”  survives and which one winds up in the region of death.  The Messiah’s pre-emptive “apocalypse” on Good Criday/Easster is already pre-run of the final apocalypse for those who follow him.  For such followers, its judgment day by mercy, mercy already in the hand before the final exam.

5.–Calling for repentance. Turn around from “following” business-as-usual voices and instead following the one proclaiming the “brand new” News of God’s New Regime.

Legitimation crisis is a faith-crisis.  So “repent” (turn around) is turning to a different faith.  Stop trusting the axioms/mantras of the business as usual in Zebulun-Naphtali–in our case, the American way of life–and trust the “follow me” invitation that Jesus extended to Peter and Andrew and to James and John.  Yes, and do so “immediately,” as it is said they did.  Delay not, delay not.  For the “other gospels” in Zebulun-Naphtali are very tempting, very compelling, sometimes even sweet, as were the tempter’s ancient words to our primal parents.

Also trust this “follow me” for your own “economics and governance” in the face of the continuing alternative economic/governance that persists, and will likely continue to persist, at your postal address in the land of Zebulun-Naphtali.  Yes, land of darkness, region and shadow of death, but that is now a minor text for those “in the darkness” upon whom the “light has dawned.”

6.–Appropriating Jesus’ agenda as our agenda: becoming fisher-folk fishing-for-folks to join in Jesus’s FOLLOW-ship.

I’ll copy here Steve’s own paragraph for Step 6. “The Unusual Business of Jesus: Fishers of People”

Although the call to follow Jesus entails a break with the world it does not entail abandoning the world.  On the contrary, it reinserts us into the world but now with the added new agenda Jesus calls “fishing for people”  That phrase does not mean that everyone is to become a professional apostle as these four fishermen did.  The Kingdom of Heaven consists of neither a set of rules to follow nor a list of occupations to choose from.  In such matters, we are free to decide on the basis of opportunity and the clarity of faith.  Rather, when Jesus says “I will make you fish for people,” he means that, whatever our worldly occupations or locations, there we will find people, like those Jesus found throughout Galilee, who will welcome the break from the world which the reign of Christ offers.  So share it.

[With this PS from ES.] In times of Apocalypse Now, when our world is crumbling, I wonder how much new meaning would come from crossing a slice of life with the message of the last book of the Bible, Revelation (Greek: apocalypse) of St. John.  [Crossings Inc. once had a semester-long course in its curriculum called   “Crossing from the Book of Revelation: Surviving the Apocalypse Now.”  The grounding text was Revelation 12:7-12, the lectionary reading for St. Michael & All Angels.]

Arcane, bizarre–yes, “weird” we’d call it today–that NT book never got high marks in the ancient church.  Nor from Luther either.  Its legitimate place in the NT canon has always been challenged.  It’s in the category called “anti-legomena.”  People, serious Christians, “speak against” it.

Even so, how about making that next year’s Crossings conference focus?  “Crossing” our Apocalyse Now with the Apocalypse of St. John.  For if our time actually IS an apocalypse now with all its own incomprehensible conundrums of truth and anti-truth, we might find a beneficial pot-of-message in St. John’s equally discombobulating apocalypse then.  When text and context are on the same page, crossings twixt the two might well jump right off the page.

Ed Schroeder
Jan 25, 2017