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Evangelicals’ emotional vulnerability to Trump: the sacrament of affectivity

“Trump rally crowd,” U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH, by Hayden Schiff on Flickr (10/13/2016) [CC BY 2.0 – Attribution 2.0 Generic].

Reading Richard Beck’s recent three-part essay “The Sacrament of Affectivity,” I suddenly understood how Donald Trump exercises such a perverse power over politically right-wing evangelical Christians.  I say “perverse,” because both his personal behavior and his slash-and-burn politics are so antithetical to true Christian faith and practice.

Beck explains how, during the Reformation of the 16th century, “low-church Protestants” moved away from encountering the presence of God’s grace materially (objectively) in sacraments like the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper).  Instead,

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The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 6: What do we do now?

“The Road to Emmaus,” Claes Moeyaert (Dutch, 1591–1655), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

In a sense, we all come to the Sermon on the Mount backwards—as in fact we do with every other biblical story.  Regardless of our religious or secular backgrounds for reading these stories, we begin from the perspective of whatever we understand about Judaism and Christianity.  Then we read the stories as if that were what the original storytellers intended the stories to evoke.

And yet, as we found in Part 5, it is what we learn in story

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The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 5: From preventing murder to opening one’s hand

“Oblivious,” affluent young couple beside a homeless woman on a bench, Montreal, by Mike Shell (8/8/2013).

From nonviolent resistance and retaining personal agency under duress (Part 4), we move on to consider our own violent impulses and our desire to cling to material comforts.

The fence around murder

In  Matthew 5:21-25 (NIV), Jesus expands upon the Torah’s prohibition against murder.  Levine and Brettler explain:

[This extension of the Torah] begins, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times…, ‘You shall not murder’” [Matt 5:21]….

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The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 4: Bringing the Torah’s guidance into daily life

“Carrying a Roman soldier’s furca,” from Backpacking in Ancient Rome: Old School, Minimalist, YouTube video by Kenneth Kramm.

As Part 3 suggests, listening to the Sermon on the Mount as storytelling rather than as doctrinal text we learn that Jesus is not reading from the text of the Torah.  He is paraphrasing passages that his audience already knows.

And his concern is not to prescribe ideals of righteous behavior, but rather to work out practical moral guidelines for life under Empire. Jesus is “building a fence around the Torah” in order to help people apply the behavioral

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The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 3: “Building a fence about the Torah”

Part of Dead Sea Scroll number 28a (1Q28a) from Qumran Cave 1

In Part 2 we explored the concentric circles of audience for the Sermon on the Mount. There are Jesus’ disciples and the surrounding crowds within the story, and next Matthew’s first readers.  Then, the Jewish and Christian traditions of interpretation which developed over the centuries.  And, finally, we who read the story.

We cannot possibly hear the story as those first Jewish listeners did as people living under Rome’s totalitarian rule.  However, we can free the story from it’s

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The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 2: Historical contexts, audiences, and textual sources

The Bible with and without Jesus: How Jews and Christians read the same stories differently (2020), Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler

I proposed in Part 1 that we miss the significance of Jesus’ human presence for his own people and for us if we do not recognize the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, NIV) as storytelling.

The Sermon is not just a set of moral pronouncements for people who await a metaphysical end-time.  The writer of Matthew is teaching living Jewish audiences in the first century by crafting a story about Jesus.  And Jesus is telling stories to

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The Sermon on the Mount as storytelling, Part 1: Storytelling by and about Jesus

"Portrait of Jesus," Jacob Barosin (c. 1955)

The primacy of storytelling

We human beings are vulnerable to the spurious power of the written word, particularly when it comes to our sacred texts.  The organic, evocative, ever-renewing power of oral storytelling can become frozen into words.  Then we tend to ascribe illusory authority those words, replacing the sacredness of shared human experience with the bureaucracy of received doctrine.

It is particularly common for us to use Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” in this way.  The book

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“Yule Blood,” republished from Walhydra’s Porch, 12/23/2008

Banner: Bright red Yule bow against black background.

Note by the Amanuensis: Around Winter Solstice 2008, we were in the early throes of the global financial collapse that persecuted many people in the many ways over the next decade or so.

At Winter Solstice 2023, we are in the early throes of a global war.  We might as well call it that, since every part of the world is impacted by the brutal wars going on every where else.  And since climate collapse likely will stir more and

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