Christ in Genesis: the Sacrifice

Genesis 22 has inspired awe and horror in God’s people for many generations. Soren Kierkegaard wrote an entire book, Fear and Trembling, about this chapter. He makes the interesting point that any man today who dared to imitate Abraham and prepare to offer his son as a burnt offering would be stopped, arrested, tried, and convicted of a crime. Any statement that God had told him to do such a thing would be disregarded as an attempt to obtain a verdict of innocent on the grounds of insanity.

Kierkegaard overlooked the fact that Genesis 22 contains a picture of Jesus and his sacrifice. However, Kierkegaard correctly indicated that this account teaches more than the truth that we should give our best to God. Many teachers see only that lesson—Isaac was the best thing Abraham could offer to God, and God demanded that from him. A vast distance separates our requirement to give our best to God and God’s command to Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt sacrifice.

How was Abraham capable of daring to obey such a command? “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac… He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:17-18). Abraham’s faith in the promise of the resurrection made him able to obey God’s command to sacrifice his son. If Abraham knew about the resurrection, he must also have known about the promised Savior. Perhaps Abraham even believed that his miracle son, Isaac, was the promised Savior, the blessing from his family for the entire world. Instead of recognizing Isaac as a picture of Jesus, Abraham may have thought that he was in the presence of his Redeemer in the person of his son.

So a father is prepared to accept—and even to cause—the death of his son for the good of the world. The son trusts his father and does not resist his father’s will. He even carries the wood to the place of sacrifice, as Jesus carried his own cross. Abraham is stopped just in time, because Isaac is not the Christ. He is only a picture of the Christ. A second picture of Jesus appears, a ram taking the place of Isaac as Jesus himself would take the place of Isaac in the future.

As they climbed the hill for the sacrifice, Isaac asked Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham must have gulped and sighed before he said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” When he said those words, Abraham expected Isaac to be the lamb, for God had provided Isaac by a miracle to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham’s words were made true when he provided a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. They were made more true when God provided his only-begotten Son to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Not only is Jesus depicted first by Isaac and then by the ram; he is also present at this near-sacrifice. He is the angel of the Lord who speaks to Abraham, repeating the promise that Abraham’s family would be a mighty nation and would provide a blessing for the entire world. Jesus himself fulfilled that promise when he suffered and died on the cross and when he rose to life again on the third day. His resurrection guarantees our resurrection and our eternal life. This promise of a resurrection strengthened Abraham to obey the command of God, and (as the letter to the Hebrews says) “figuratively speaking, he did receive him back”—on the third day from the command to sacrifice his son!

Where did this take place? “The land of Moriah… on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you,” God said (Genesis 22:2). This mountain of Moriah is mentioned again in II Chronicles 3:1, where we are told that Solomon built the house of the Lord on Mount Moriah. Moriah is one of the seven hills of Jerusalem, and the animal sacrifices (which, like Isaac, were pictures of Jesus) were offered to God in the Temple on Mount Moriah from the time of Solomon until the Babylonian Captivity, and again in the second Temple until the time of Jesus. Calvary may possibly be the very outcropping of Mount Moriah on which Isaac was nearly sacrificed. If not, we can be sure that the place where Father Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son and the place where God the Father accepted the sacrifice of his Son were very near each other. J.

Super Advent

The season of Advent begins on Sunday November 27 this year. Because Christmas is on a Sunday, Advent is a full twenty-eight days this year—the longest Advent can be. For this reason, I have decided to label this year’s Advent a Super Advent. We will not have another Super Advent until 2022.

This month the moon reached its perigee while it was full. (The perigee is the nearest the moon comes to the earth during its elliptical orbit.) The nearness of the full moon made it seem a little larger than usual on the 14th, especially when it was closest to the horizon. This effect of a larger moon has been labeled a Supermoon.

Advent always begins on a Sunday. Therefore, when Christmas is on a Monday, Advent is only twenty-two days long. This year’s Super Advent reaches the other extreme. But what is Advent? Advent is less a countdown toward Christmas than it is a spiritual and emotional preparation for Christmas. While the rest of the world is bustling with Christmas preparations and early Christmas celebrations, Advent is an island of calm, a quiet time of reflection for Christians. Congregations that observe Christmas all the Sundays of December are missing an opportunity. Congregations that observe Advent offer an opportunity to consider why Christmas matters to Christians.

The word “advent” means “coming.” During Advent, Christians think about the coming of Jesus. Advent is a royal season, as we await the coming of a King. Yet it is also a somber time when we reflect upon our sins and upon the price the King chose to pay to claim us for his Kingdom.

During Advent Christians sometimes think of three advents of Christ. We think of his first coming to be our Savior. We reflect upon the prophecies and pictures of Christ in the Old Testament and upon the people of Israel waiting for the Son of David. We think of his second coming to be the world’s Judge. We do not fear his judgment, because we know he has already given himself (in his first advent) as a ransom so we will not be judged and condemned. Therefore we rejoice to welcome him on the Day of the Lord when we will see him coming in the sky with all the angels and all the saints. Meanwhile, we think of another advent of Christ which happens every day. “I will be with you always,” Jesus promised the apostles, and his promise to them is true to us as well. Jesus comes to us in his Word and in the blessings of his Church. He comes as Savior, as Ransom, and as King. He comes to claim us and to make us his forever.

During this Super Advent we have twenty-eight days to think about the Advent of our God. May these four full weeks of Advent enrich your Christmas celebrations. J.

Microaggressions

This month I attended a workshop at work about microaggressions. I chose this workshop over others for two reasons: I knew that the presenters would lead a good workshop (they always do), and I wanted to learn more about what microaggressions are and how I can avoid doing them.

Microaggressions are the way we communicate—usually with spoken words, but also with gestures, facial expressions, and body language—our disdain or dismissal of other people because they are different from us. Deliberate insults and purposeful dismissals are not microaggressions—they are full aggression, easily recognized and easier to address. Microaggressions are usually unintended; they are the result of insensitivity rather than overt prejudice or bigotry. They are unplanned slights toward other people because of their race, language, gender and sexual preferences, age, economic status, religion, political beliefs, and the like.

Saying, “she’s pretty smart for a woman” is a microaggression. Assuming that the white middle-aged male is the head of his department is a microaggression. Choosing which customer to attend first based on skin color is a microaggression. I felt that the workshop gave too much attention to microaggression toward people of different sexual preferences or gender confusion—but my label “gender confusion” would probably be considered microaggression. On the other hand, we all hurt the feelings of other people without intending to be hurtful; sometimes we might even intend to be helpful.

One example was given by two people attending the workshop. A patron had approached the two of them gushing over a book about diets and weight loss. The patron had found the book very helpful, and she thought these two workers would also benefit from it. They were polite while she was near them; after she left, they turned to each other and asked, “Did she just say we are fat?”

I attended the workshop to learn how to avoid troubling other people. I also learned that I am sometimes the victim of microaggressions. An example that came to mind during the workshop was the wailing and gnashing of teeth in my department the day after the national election. Nobody went so far as  to claim that they were cheated or to organize a protest, but the conversations definitely reflected an assumption that everyone within earshot wanted Hillary Clinton to win, and that no one in the room considered her the greater of two evils on the ballot. A common expression was, “It was a terrible mistake, but we need to be calm and to live with it for the next four years.” I kept silent at work that day. I did not remind my coworkers that not everybody in the room supported Clinton. I did not even offer those words as an example of microaggression at the workshop, because I suspected that I represented a minority also within that group of people. Reticence to address a topic or a perceived insult is one of the signals that microaggression is in play.

An even clearer example of microaggression happened to me shortly after the workshop. One of my coworkers told me that a third coworker had needed to go home early that day because of a kidney stone. While he was telling me this, a fourth coworker approached us. The coworker speaking to me proceeded to share with the two of us an email from the coworker who was now at home. This coworker (who is an atheist) disparaged the poor design of the human body (making kidney stones possible) as evidence of the absence of a wise Creator. The fourth coworker responded, “I consider myself a spiritual person, but that’s pretty solid evidence,” or something to that effect. Both these coworkers know that I am a Christian, that my relationship with God is a very important part of my identity. Yet I saw no way to address their casual dismissal of faith—if I were to deliver a lecture on the problem of evil from a Christian perspective, it would not have been effective or well received at that time. Yet I had no short answer to show these two coworkers how disrespectful their conversation was toward me.

Sometimes you can’t win. Jews and atheists might feel dismissed by “Merry Christmas” greetings, while Christians feel slighted by “Happy Holidays” greetings. In the end, we do the best we can to respect one another’s identities and values. Meanwhile, we obviously need to find better ways of informing others of their insensitive microaggressions that trouble us. J.

The Sea of Time

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippiin’, into the future.” Fly Like An Eagle, lyrics by Steve Miller and Steve McCarty, ©1976.

For some reason those lyrics keep rolling through my mind as I try to compose a post or two for this blog. I didn’t want to write about that song. I wanted to write something timely for Thanksgiving. I also wanted to write about a workshop I recently attended on microaggression. Somehow the two subjects keep on merging into one potential post.

I am uncomfortable when someone dismissively refers to our National Day of Thanksgiving as “Turkey Day.” I am uncomfortable when advertisers portray the best part of the four-day weekend as the opportunity to go shopping. Our National Day of Thanksgiving has already been consumed by the excesses of the traditional feast; to see even that feast and family gathering disappear for many families, because of the excessive demands of shoppers and business-owners, borders on the tragic. I remember when the Day of Thanksgiving featured a special service at church to give thanks to the Lord for all his blessings. The feast and family gatherings, the televised parade and football games, all took second place to the church service. Now that service has been moved to Wednesday night… because we are too busy celebrating Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November to actually stop and give thanks.

Other potential posts are also swirling in my mind. This fall Mrs. Dim has been spending hours each day trying to clear her lawn and flowerbeds of autumn leaves. Every morning, of course, new leaves have fallen. This fall I have spent one hour a week dealing with autumn leaves. I bought biodegradable paper bags, and every Saturday I fill five bags and leave them by the curb to be taken by the city. When my grandchildren have grown, my leaves and bags will long have decomposed into fertile soil. Mrs. Dim’s leaves will still be trapped in their plastic bags.

When Christmas is on a Sunday (as it is this year), Advent is a full twenty-eight days long. Advent always includes four Sundays, but the season can be as short as twenty-two days when Christmas is on a Monday. As we observed a Super-moon this month, now we can enjoy a Super-Advent this year.

And time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’, into the future. That song has never made sense to me. I think of time as linear, and existence in time is like a train traveling down the track. Each moment of existence, there is a little more of the past and a little less of the future. It would seem that time is slipping into the past, not into the future.

But Albert Einstein demonstrated more than a hundred years ago that time and space are relative. Perhaps that is why the future exists—perhaps it is fueled by moments from the past that slip into the future. George Santayana famously said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (When read in context, that sentence does not mean what people think it means, but that is yet another topic to consider.) Perhaps as our memories of the past fade to gray, the future becomes correspondingly brighter.

We know that a Day is coming when history as we know it will end. The Lord Jesus will appear in glory with all his angels and with the spirits of all the saints. All the dead will be raised, and every person will stand before his throne for judgment. Some will be welcomed into his perfect new creation, while others will be sent away. To open his kingdom to unworthy sinners, Jesus has already entered this polluted creation and paid the penalty for all sins. Therefore, for those who trust in him the Day of the Lord is not Judgment Day; the Day of the Lord is the beginning of a new and eternal life. The new creation will not follow the rules of entropy and decay that we know in this world. There will be no pain, no suffering, no tears, and no death. In that world, time will indeed be perpetually slipping into the future.

For that, we can be truly thankful. J.

Christ in Genesis: Miracle Babies, and the Rights of the Firstborn

Some people say that every birth is a miracle. To a certain extent, I suppose that is true. There would be no babies, or flowers, or ears of corn, if not for the God who made everything in the beginning and who still provides for his creation every day. But when everything is a miracle, then nothing is miraculous. When a baby enters the world in the usual way, we thank God for the new life. When a baby enters the world in a special way, we marvel at the miracle.

God told Abraham that his family would become a mighty nation, but Abraham and Sarah had no children. When God first spoke his promise, Abraham was seventy-five years old, and Sarah was sixty-five. As the years passed, neither of them was getting any younger. Twice Abraham tried to help God keep God’s promise. First, Abraham proposed to adopt Eliezer, his chief servant, as his heir. Later, at Sarah’s suggestion, he used her servant Hagar as a surrogate mother. Both times, God said no to Abraham. The promised heir would be born from Sarah, in a manner that would be undoubtedly a miracle.

Sarah was ninety years old when Isaac was born. Only God could cause such a thing to happen. To underline the point, God repeated this miracle every few generations. Manoah’s wife could have no children until Jesus appeared to her and promised a son, who was Samson, the mighty man of Israel. Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, could have no children until she prayed to the Lord for a son, who was Samuel, the last judge of Israel. Elisabeth, the wife of the priest Zechariah, was too old to have children, but Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and promised him a son, who was John the Baptist.

All these miracles happened to prepare God’s people for a different kind of miracle. Isaiah told King Ahaz about the coming miracle: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). While it is true that the word translated “virgin” could simply mean “young woman” in Hebrew, it is also true that the word always designated an unmarried woman. Other words were appropriate for unmarried women who were not virgins. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5). Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).

Because Abraham did not trust God to keep God’s promise without Abraham’s help, Ishmael was born before Isaac. In Deuteronomy, it is written: “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his” (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). Clearly this was written long after Ishmael and Isaac were born, but many ancient civilizations had similar rules. A man’s firstborn son was always to be his primary heir, receiving at least twice as much as any other son.

In Abraham’s family, this rule is repeatedly broken. God favors Isaac over Ishmael, even when Abraham pleads for Ishmael, the firstborn son. God favors Jacob over Esau, even though Esau was born first. Jacob favors Joseph, the son of his favorite wife, over all of Joseph’s brothers, most of whom were older than Joseph. Joseph even receives a double portion in his inheritance; instead one tribe of Joseph, there are two: the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Meanwhile, the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is passed down to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob. When Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, he gives priority to Ephraim, even though Manasseh was Joseph’s firstborn son.

How is Christ pictured by this anomaly? Jesus Christ is eternally the Son of God the Father; the rights of the firstborn belong to him. Yet he entered the world to provide for our adoption as sons. Jesus trades places with us, taking on himself the guilt of our sins and paying our penalty, while granting to us the rewards he deserves. This is why we are all adopted as sons (not “children,” or, “sons and daughters”). God looks at each of us and sees the righteousness of his Son. He says to each of us what he said to Jesus: “You are my Son. You are the One I love. With you I am well pleased.” The ancestors of Jesus acted out this adoption as, again and again, the firstborn was set aside so a brother could receive the blessing, not by law or because of law, but because of grace.

Heavy hearted

The administration where I work discourages us from visiting Facebook while at work. Their biggest concern is not that we spend every minute while on the clock with our noses to the grindstone; their biggest concern is reserving enough bandwidth space for our patrons and our workers. Most of us cheat on this policy at least a little. I’m not going to worry about getting caught visiting Facebook briefly when I log in and see that my boss is also shown online.

Today was a bad day to glance at Facebook. One of the first posts I saw was from a close family member. Her post was personal and thoughtful, reminding me of the struggles she has been facing and the courage with which she has done so.

Right under that was a post saying that one of my friends from college has died.

I feel guilty not keeping in touch with this friend. Over the past few months he has been battling cancer, and he used Facebook to report his treatment and progress to all his friends. I regret that I never once responded with encouraging words. In fact, often I would skim his updates and then move on to someone else. (Can you spell TMI?) When I got home from work this afternoon, one of my first projects was to write a letter to his wife (also a friend from college) expressing my condolences and offering my prayers. I know this sounds odd, but I feel as though a mailed letter might atone for my lack of communication with them on Facebook.

When I first opened a Facebook account, my main reason to do so was to keep track of my children’s lives. Over time high school friends and college friends began emerging, and it was nice to be in touch. I’ve never been one to share much on Facebook, though—I’m more of a lurker, keeping tabs on other people in my life without reminding them too often of my existence.

The Big Chill was released when my friends and I were in college. We all saw the movie and speculated about the future of our friendships. Some of us were able to return to campus for Homecoming Weekend in the first years after graduation. I remember in particular one uproarious evening in a restaurant when most of the group was there. Over time, though, jobs and families made it harder for the group to assemble. If not for Facebook, by now most of us would be strangers to each other, with a few still making the effort to update one another with a letter at Christmas.

I won’t be able to make it to his funeral. I expect that most of the rest of our college group will also be missing. I feel bad about that absence, but it can’t be helped. Along with memories of past good times, I am also making sure to appreciate the people in my life today—especially the one who almost didn’t make it this far. J.

Christ in Genesis: Abraham, the Father of Faith

Abraham is called the Father of Faith. The apostle Paul and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews both stress the faith of Abraham, the fact that he trusted God even when the son God had promised appeared increasingly unlikely every year. The two actions that demonstrate Abraham’s faith are these: in obedience to God, he traveled to Canaan; and, in obedience to God, he prepared to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering.

Between these two acts of faith, probably more than thirty years apart, Abraham often demonstrated the weakness of his faith. During a time of famine, Abraham left Canaan and traveled to Egypt, evidently doubting that God would take care of him during the famine. In Egypt, he persuaded Sarah to call herself his sister rather than his wife, evidently doubting that God would protect Abraham and his family in Egypt. Although he believed that God would provide him a son, he also tried to help God keep this promise. First, he suggested that he would adopt his servant Eliezer to produce a son for God. Later, he accepted Sarah’s suggestion that her maid Hagar be a surrogate mother to produce a son for God. God had to insist to Abraham that neither Eliezer nor Ishmael (Abraham’s son by Hagar) was the promised son. Then, in the land of Gerar, Abraham once more persuaded Sarah to say that she was his sister, not his wife, evidently still doubting that God would protect Abraham and his family from the power of King Abimelech.

One day Jesus and two angels were traveling towards Sodom, and they stopped at the tent of Abraham. Abraham recognized Jesus and insisted that the group stay for a meal. He ordered a calf slaughtered and fresh bread made, and Jesus and the angels enjoyed his hospitality. During the meal, Jesus told Abraham that by that time next year, Sarah would have a son. Sarah overheard the promise and laughed, but when Jesus asked why she was laughing she lied and said, “I didn’t laugh.”

After Jesus had sent the angels to Sodom, Jesus told Abraham that he was investigating Sodom and that he would destroy the city if things were as bad there as he had heard. Abraham knew how bad things were in Sodom, and so he began to bargain with God (always the sign of a weak faith). He had Jesus promise not to destroy Sodom if fifty righteous people were living there. Then, step by step, Abraham worked his way down to ten righteous people. Each time Jesus agreed, even though Jesus knew that not a single person in Sodom was righteous. Knowing the intention of Abraham’s prayer, Jesus did something Abraham hadn’t asked: he had the angels remove Lot and his family from the city before burning sulfur fell from the sky to destroy Sodom and the sinners who lived there.

Abraham’s faith was weak, but it still was saving faith, because it was faith in the right God. Our faith can be as weak as Abraham’s faith. We say we believe God’s promises, and then we do things our way rather than his way. We say we believe his promises, and then we struggle to make them come true by our efforts. We say we believe his promises, and then we try to bargain with God instead of trusting that his will is good. Yet when we put our trust in God, even though our faith is weak, God saves us by his grace through faith. Abraham is our father because we are like him: clinging to Christ with a feeble faith, but saved all the same by the strength of Christ’s work. J.

Christ in Genesis: Melchizedek

In Genesis 14, Abraham leads a commando unit to rescue Lot and the other citizens of Sodom after they have been seized in a raid led by four kings from the east. Abraham’s mission is successful, and afterward Abraham is blessed by Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God most high. Abraham gives Melchizedek a tenth of everything. The identity of Melchizedek is a puzzle. He is mentioned in Psalm 110 and plays a prominent role in the letter to the Hebrews, where Jesus is declared to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Some people have suggested that Melchizedek is Jesus, the same Jesus who spoke with Abraham on many occasions and even ate at the tent of Abraham. Another suggestion is that Melchizedek is Shem, the son of Noah, who lived 502 years beyond the flood. (This is an interesting suggestion, as Methuselah, according to the book of Genesis, was born early enough to have known Abraham and lived long enough to know Noah and his sons. Now Shem was born early enough to have known Methuselah and lived long enough to known Abraham.) Both these suggestions overlook an important truth: Abraham and his family were not the only people on earth who believed in God. Although the promise of salvation was being carried out through the family of Abraham, other people also believed that promise and were saved through the future work of Jesus. As a priest of God, Melchizedek taught and served some of those people.

Hebrews 7 notes that Melchizedek is a picture of Jesus. His name means “king of righteousness,” and as king of Salem he is also “king of peace.” Like Jesus, Melchizedek is both a king and a priest. This was forbidden in Israel. King Saul was rejected by God because as king he offered sacrifices to God rather than waiting for Samuel to arrive. King Uzziah was punished, stricken with leprosy, because he burned incense to the Lord in the Temple, which was intended only for priests to do (II Chronicles 26:16-21). In Israel, no one but Jesus Christ was fit to serve as both priest and king.

All the kings of Israel and Judah were pictures of Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Jesus is the ultimate King, but every other king is a picture of Jesus. Even bad kings are bad pictures of Jesus. All the priests of Israel were pictures of Jesus, making offerings for the forgiveness of sins, representing the people to God and pleading for their forgiveness. Jesus is the ultimate Priest, offering himself as full payment for all the sins of history, pleading to his Father for our forgiveness. Even evil priests and ungodly sacrifices are bad pictures of Jesus. By combining these jobs, Melchizedek was a unique picture of Jesus. Only he and Jesus belong to the order which bears his name.

World Series memories, part two

While the Chicago Cubs were becoming champions, life continued happening. I needed to go to work, teach classes some evenings, take part in church services on Sundays, eat, sleep, breathe, and all the rest. In fact, some unusual events took place during the same days that I was watching playoff baseball on television.

One Saturday morning I began to take a shower, and there was no hot water. The water heater was replaced less than two years ago, and I have had to relight the pilot light twice before, so I threw on some clothes and went outside to light it again. (Our water heater is in a closet that can be reached only from outside, probably to reduce the risk of a gas leak into the house.) Although I tried several times, I was not able to light the pilot light. Instead (this being a new heater), I received an error message—a light flashing seven times, which according to a sign on the side of the heater signified a “gas control or valve failure.”

That sent me to the telephone. First I called the gas company, who assured me that the problem was inside the heater and not their responsibility. Then I called a plumber certified to work with gas lines. He said that he could replace the part, but he could not get it from the warehouse until Monday. He also suggested that I contact the manufacturer, since the heater should still be under warranty. After checking the warranty, I called the manufacturer and described the problem. After asking to be sure that the red light was flashing seven times, they said that they could send the part by overnight shipping, but not until Monday, since the warehouse was closed for the weekend. I called the plumber again and he promised to install the part, but he refused to schedule an appointment until I had the actual part at my house.

My family and I were taking fast cold showers. We were heating pots of water on the stove to wash dishes. Mostly, we were waiting for the repair. I stayed home from work on Tuesday. The part was delivered around ten o’clock Tuesday morning. I telephoned the plumber, who said he would try to get to my house that afternoon but might not be able to make it until Wednesday morning. I called him again around four to tell him not to try to make it any more on Tuesday, as I had a class to teach that evening. He finally arrived about noon on Wednesday. It took ten or fifteen minutes to replace the faulty part with the new part, and another fifteen minutes to complete the paperwork.

When I spoke with him on Wednesday, he asked me if I had drained the heater. When I said no, he asked me to do so while he was on his way to the house. I found a hose in the storage shed, attached it to the heater, and opened the valve. When I checked it a few minutes later, water was still coming out of the hose. I was about to go back inside when it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to turn off the valve at the top of the heater that brings water into the heater. Shortly after I did that, the heater finished draining.

Overlapping the drama with the heater was a second drama with a dishwasher. The weekend before the water heater stopped working, I decided that the time had come to replace the family dishwasher, which was no longer getting dishes clean. I checked prices and reviews online, then went to a store at the mall to order the best dishwasher I could afford. I ended up applying for a store credit card to get the benefit of no interest for a good number of months and then scheduled delivery and installation.

The truck came as scheduled, the workers came into the kitchen, and immediately one of them said, “We can’t do this.” The old dishwasher was too far from the sink; they didn’t have the right connectors for our house. They left the new dishwasher in its box in the corner of the dining room and promised to return. After a few days, a phone call to the company verified that they had not scheduled a return visit. Such a visit was scheduled, but not until the Saturday one week after the water heater failed.

Moreover, the day before the water heater failed, our city services failed to pick up the recycling on our street, something they are under contract to do every fourteen days. I waited until Monday, and when they still hadn’t come, I began contacting the company. Twice a day I was in touch with them, sometimes by telephone and sometimes through an online chat. Each of ten such conversations included a sincere apology on the part of the company and a promise to get the truck out to our street as soon as possible. I reminded them that I was one of fifteen customers who had been missed, but the one time that week a truck did come, the workers picked up only the recycling from two houses at the other end of the street. Friday afternoon I was told that they would probably wait until the next scheduled pick-up. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” she sweetly asked.

“I know this isn’t your fault,” I told her politely, but this is getting old. Is there any way I can file a complaint?” There was indeed such a procedure, which I followed. I never heard back from the company about my complaint, but the recycling did get picked up during the day on Wednesday. And they did come back again Friday as scheduled to take what little recycling we had generated in two days.

So all three of these problems were happening at the same time: no hot water for five days, a new dishwasher in its box in the dining room for nine days, and a recycling bin at the curb for twelve days. Was I complaining? In fact, I was not complaining. I figured that, as long as Murphy’s Gremlins were busy at my house, they couldn’t cause any trouble at Wrigley Field. The inconvenience was worth the reward. J.

America Trumped–what comes next?

Like many other people, I stayed up late Tuesday night to watch coverage of the election results, and like most of the people watching, I was stunned with Donald Trump’s success. I had noted the amount of quality time Mr. Trump spent in America’s Heartland during the last weeks of the campaign, but I couldn’t have predicted that he would prevail in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In fact, I had toyed with interactive campaign maps to see what might happened, and I had realized that if he won all the battleground states and took either Michigan or Pennsylvania, he could win. Actually, I was looking for the possibility of a tie, throwing the election into the House of Representatives. That could have happened, but of course it did not happen.

I was one of six million voters who cast my ballot for someone other than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Sometimes votes for those other candidates are called “wasted votes,” but I studied the positions of all the candidates and cast my vote for the one whose positions came closest to mine and the one I considered best qualified for the job. To me, this choice was a valid protest against the process which nominated Clinton and Trump–far more valid than shouting in the streets after the votes had been counted.

Now that Mr. Trump has been chosen by the voters to serve as our next President, we owe him respect and honor and support. We should pray for him, asking the Lord to grant him wisdom and to guide him in his job. We can hope that the dignity of the office will change Mr. Trump rather than the other way around. His speech early Wednesday morning already sounded more presidential than his campaign speeches; this is the beginning of a trend that we can pray will continue.

On election night, Donald Trump surprised the nation. Now Trump is about to be surprised, as the last twelve presidents have been surprised. The power and the influence of the presidency are not as great as most people imagine. Already during the transition, Trump is learning things he did not expect to learn. He is being given new information about Iraq, Iran, China, Russia, and other countries in the world. He is being given new information about the CIA, the FBI, and other government agencies. He is beginning to discover how American government really works, which is not exactly the way it is described in high school civics classes or portrayed in the movies.

The President cannot initiate legislation. He can propose legislation, but his proposal must then be made a motion on the House or Senate floor. It then will be assigned to a committee which will study it, refine it, reshape it, and amend it. When the committee has rewritten a proposal in a way that they like, they will bring it to the House or the Senate, where it is likely to be discussed and amended some more. Both the House and the Senate must approve the bill, and they often approve different versions of the bill. Then they have to negotiate a version that both can pass and send to the President. Congress is accustomed to this process of negotiation and compromise. Donald Trump will not be able to fire the members of Congress. He will have to negotiate with them. He will have to learn the art of compromise. He will not get everything he wants out of Congress.

He will not get everything he wants even out of the Executive Branch. He will appoint the members of his Cabinet, and they will choose some people to work in their offices, but most the employees of the Executive Branch are career government workers. They have learned how to survive under Republicans and under Democrats. They have learned how to pursue their own interests and desires. They have learned how to ignore a direct order, how to stall until the order is no longer relevant, and how to distort messages to make them match what they have already decided. These people cannot be fired. Without their jobs being filled, much government work would come to a halt. Trump will discover that most of the people who work for him are Democrats, since Democrats tend to believe that the government can do meaningful things, while Republicans tend to doubt that belief.

Does Donald Trump want to build a wall between the United States and Mexico? If he proposes such an idea to Congress, it is sure to die in a committee. Does he want to kick all the illegal immigrants out of the United States? He might persuade Congress to make tougher immigration laws, but he will have trouble finding anyone willing to enforce those laws. Does he want to screen all legal immigrants from Muslim countries to weed out possible terrorist? He will find that procedures are already in place to detect possible terrorists among people seeking to come to the United States. Once again, he may persuade Congress to make stricter rules, but he cannot guarantee that the stricter rules will be followed.

Does Donald Trump want to repeal Obamacare? For three years I have been saying that it cannot be repealed. It can and should be improved, and Republican members of Congress are already talking to one another about amendments to the Health Care Act that will reduce or eliminate its objectionable provisions while continuing to help the people who need its help. Does Donald Trump want to reduce the spending of the federal government? He can propose changes, but for every cut he wants to make, he will have to find a compromise or two that will move his spending cut through Congress.

Donald Trump has a mandate from the voters to try to fix what is wrong with the American government, but not many solutions can come out of the White House. The obligation returns to the voters to send honorable men and women into the government, to advise those elected or appointed to government positions, and to honor and respect the government we have created for ourselves. When we are better citizens, then we can produce a better government. Until then, we can only pray for the government that we have made. J.