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Sunday, January 22, 2023

God And Man In The White House–No Spiritual Advisors Need Apply

“I’m not that kind of reverend”, said the Reverend Al Sharpton when approached by President Biden concerning an appointment as Spiritual Advisor to the President, and with all due respect he went on to explain how his life was now committed to the streets not the pulpit, suffering not preaching, and social ills not the Ten Commandments.

Al Sharpton - IMDb

“Would you accept something part time?”, replied the President.

Joe Biden’s White House had been as secular as they come and determinedly so.  He, his administration, and his enabling supporters in Congress, had defiantly refused the likes of Billy Graham, presidential groupie who feathered his own nest with his kneel-downs in the Oval Office. 

Prayer breakfasts were only distractions from the real business at hand.  The less people turned to the magic of religion for guidance and inspiration and listened more to the appeals of good men and women fighting for social justice, the better off the country would be.  Religion while perhaps not Marx’s opiate of the people, was certainly no more than an after-dinner sweet; so the President’s new interest in spiritual advice surprised his inner circle and set off rumors of evangelism.  

The President was already having more and more of his shaky moments, veering recently off message and off theme, drifting here and there back to his boyhood, receiving communion at the altar rail, assisting Father Mullins at the 9 o’clock Mass, and happy summers at Rehoboth.  What if religion had finally surfaced like a long-dormant virus?

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The problem was that the President was 80 years old, more than likely living his last decade on earth, and like many men his age he felt unready to face the unknown.  His perfunctory attendance at Mass was no more than getting a membership ticket punched, proof that he was still a Catholic but a flagging one.  The years of dogged progressivism had eroded whatever faith he had had as a boy.  The idea of an intervening, merciful, forgiving, and benevolent God had become a silly fairy tale.  

Reality – the hard streets of the inner city, the rancid smell of bad food, bling and spinners, ho’s and pimps, Glocks and posses – was something that God had never bothered with and never would.  Only man could make a difference, and he was elected to do just that.

Yet the niggling thought of death was as persistent ringing in the ears and came to the president at odd times – on his morning walks in the Rose Garden, in the presidential limousine, in Cabinet meetings, and on Air Force One.  You are unprepared, said the little voice in his head.  The President was nonplussed. What was happening to his hard resolve and determination? His salvation depended on the salvation of the country, and no deathbed conversion, personal epiphany, or finding Jesus would ever change that.  His was a collective path, not the wild, gyrating, speaking in tongues, nonsense of backcountry cracker visions.  Born once was enough in this troubled world, and he knew his way.

Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych, and the five stages of grief - Hektoen  International

His aides acted quickly to stem the disconcerting wobbliness of their boss, and located a number of pastors who were spiritually anointed in name only – tenders of the flock with messages of social justice, civil rights, and environmental sanity.  

The Reverend Doctor Phipps P. Blanton of the Westphalia Church of Christ was their first choice.  Pastor Blanton led a congregation of wealthy white suburbanites, progressive to the core and only a step away from Unitarian Universalism in their very secular approach to religion.  They wanted to be chastened not for their spiritual waywardness but their ignorance of black plight, the caged spirit of closet transgenders, and the frustrated ascent to the glass ceiling of women; and so every Sunday to a full house, Phipps Blanton earned his keep.  

He was a talented orator who had learned technique from his black seminary classmates who had returned to the South and made careers of potent evangelism.  Blanton could cajole, tease, blandish, and chastise with the best of them; but whereas his Methodist mates urged submission to Jesus, Blanton preached moral victory.  Go back to the barricades, he said, recapture the freedom-riding days of your youth.  Sit in at lunch counters, consort with blacks, defy the white establishment.

And so a meeting between the Reverend Blanton and the President was arranged. Blanton was delighted at this opportunity to preach to the President, to channel Billy Graham, and to give him the moral and spiritual support that would help him to achieve his progressive reforms.

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The President who was expecting an early ‘Let us pray’ was disappointed by the Reverend Blanton’s overtures of white guilt solidarity, black wannabee contrition, and, from a Catholic point of view, blasphemous references to Papist idolatry.  Blanton would not do; and neither would a string of liberal, secular, in-name-only spiritual leaders.

“Get me a Catholic”, the President advised his staff, and so they did; but it was much harder to find a priest with a secular vocation than a Protestant.  The Catholic clergy was still fixated on sin, transubstantiation, the mystery of the Mass, and the holy sacraments.  “Have you been to confession recently?”, asked one priest, honing right in on Catholic guilt.  None of your business thought the President, showing the priest to the door, ushering in the next applicant, a gay priest who had managed to fly under the radar of the Vatican, keep his sexuality under wraps, and keep his job.  He didn’t quite sashay into the Oval Office, but the President knew that his counsel would come with codicils, so out he went.

The President was more confused than ever, angry at this lineup of spiritual predators.  “I’m going to die soon”, he thought. “I don’t need these twits”.

The next Sunday morning the President went in mufti to St. Ann’s church.  He blessed himself with holy water and took a seat in a back pew. He opened his missal and followed order of the Mass.  There was no politics here, no fol-de-rol, no hectoring and hammering about social justice or the black man.  Just the Mass, the invocation, the Kyrie Eleison, the consecration, and the Ite Missa Est. It was a chastening experience, a return to spiritual simplicity, and in the regularity and predictability of the litany, a sense of calm and belonging,  He had no need of spiritual counsel, just the Mass was enough.

169 Priest Celebrating Mass Stock Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos  from Dreamstime

There was no need for any more Protestant preachers, no more finding Jesus, no more deceptive and insulting social cover for belief.  Things were in their place, God was in His heaven, and all was right with the world.  Death finally made sense, and progressive flailing for a secular Utopia made none.  

It seemed that the President had some sense after all. He gave religion in America its due, lightened up a bit on the dogged secularism of his progressive supporters, and never gave a second thought to Billy Graham, prayer breakfasts, or political spiritualism.  Regardless of the fantasy and impossibility of his political agenda, at least it wasn’t couched in anti-religionist cant, at least not in his office.  The Congressional Left kept thundering on about social inspiration and civil justice, the black man, and irremediable change, but Joe knew otherwise.  From now on he would keep his own counsel, and unbeknownst to even his closest advisors, he began to veer to the Right.

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