Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Rule of Law

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein goes against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in saying Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has made a legitimate appointment to the US Senate. – Fox News, Web Headline.

It is a new year with a new president and a new Congress. With the new comes the strange. Strange for me is agreeing with a radically liberal senator from – of all places – California.

You know the story. Indicted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has made his selection for the senatorial seat vacated by president-elect Barack Obama. Governor Blagojevich's chances of beating the rap of trying to sell this Senate seat are nil. In addition, he has a potty mouth which has made him the butt of late night humor.

Nevertheless, the fact is that as Mr. Blagojevich is the governor, indicted, but innocent until proven guilty, state law empowers him to make this appointment to the Senate. In addition, there have been no allegations against his appointee.

So where is the rule of law in denying Roland Burris a seat in the Senate?

The appointment was tainted? By what? A foul-mouthed governor? Sad to say, but many of our elected officials suffer from a lack of vocabulary in their private speech. This does not rise to a point of law, in my humble opinion.

Unless there is some evidence that Mr. Burris himself was involved in the federal accusations against Governor Blagojevich, the Senate of the United States of America, the greatest deliberative body in the world, is guilty of an unconstitutional hissy fit.

As a white guy living in Wisconsin, I have no dog in this fight. There is this concern. After eight years of the administration under Mr. Bush playing fast and loose with the Constitution, this first act under a new regime does not bode well.

Senator Feinstein is right – I still cannot believe I am writing this – Mr. Burris should be seated.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Post-modern Luther

On this day in 1521, Pope Leo X issued the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, excommunicating Martin Luther. On May 26 of that same year, the Edict of Worms declared Luther an outlaw, putting his very life in danger. Neither the excommunication, nor the edict, however, would prevent Luther from writing, preaching, teaching, marrying, and fathering children, until he died in ripe old age on 18 February 1546.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Modern Age began with this man on this date with this papal act of excommunication. This is not to say that Martin Luther was a great man. He was, but the beginning of a new epoch takes more than a great man. It also requires a confluence of economic, political, and cultural circumstances. The story of the Sixteenth-Century Reformation includes everything from improvements in mass communications to shady banking practices.

At the center of it all is Martin Luther, a brilliant, irascible, complex man, who, because of circumstances, did not suffer burning at the stake as his Czech predecessor Jan Hus did in 1415.

It is a sign of the poverty of our post-modern era that the popular understanding of Luther – where there is any recognition at all – goes no further than the 2003 movie Luther staring Joseph Fiennes. This movie attempts to capture the drama of Luther's life without being encumbered with the facts of history. Scenes depict not only events that never happened – which might be defended on the grounds of "dramatic license"—but events that are out of character for Luther.

In one of the most impressive scenes, Luther himself buries a suicide on consecrated grounds. This never happened. It bears little relevance for what Luther taught and wrote. It does give Fiennes a fine opportunity to overact, something he does throughout this movie.

In another scene, Luther preaches to a congregation, not from the pulpit, but walking in the midst of the congregation like a modern American Evangelical, dressed in a fine chasuble. For centuries before this movie, Luther was always depicted preaching in the traditional way, from a pulpit, and in modest dress.

This movie is fiction, not fact, promoting an idea of Luther, and bears no resemblance to what he was. Fiennes, coming off a film where he fictionalized Shakespeare (Shakespeare in Love), hardly even musses his hair to take on Luther. He rants, he raves, he throws himself around the room, but for all the energy he expends he does not have the gravitas of a Luther.

This is the popular presentation of Luther in our day. Because it was a mainstream picture, with legitimate actors, even some of the most conservative
Lutheran churches embraced Luther. It was obvious that the stars got in their eyes.

On this day in 1521, the Modern Age began. It would be nice if we understood something of it.