What is Pravda?

When the Communist Party of Russia came to power in 1918, they set up a newspaper that would be their official organ of propaganda until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. They called it “Pravda,” which is Russian for “Truth.” With its eventual monopoly on news, “Pravda” sought to define all of social reality for Russians, depriving alternative voices of any oxygen or standing. In 2022 Donald Trump set up his own media platform to disseminate his  views without fear of silencing or contest. He called it “Truth Social.” (Now in all caps: TRUTH SOCIAL.)

Observers should not be surprised that he has instinctively copied the Communist Party’s strategy, since his support for Vladimir Putin is well-known. This is just one more example, though veiled for those who may not know Russian.

What is important to observe is that all tyrants and totalitarians immediately seek to redefine social reality in order to stifle the possibility of dissent. That is, they seek to choke off the intellectual basis for public life. They know that genuine public life, and the republics that arise from it, depends on people’s immediate access to a truth that transcends their particular arguments. The source of this truth may be science, sacred texts, or some ancient tradition, but it must truly transcend current power dynamics and be immediately accessible to participants. In the words of the American founders, it must be “self-evident.”

What this means is that statements about truth in a republic have to emanate from people who are not seeking or holding political power. Truth that is subservient to power is immediately corrupted and can no longer be the basis for genuine public life. Thus, religious truth must be institutionalized separately from political or economic power. Scientific truth, such as resides in schools and universities, must also be independent of political power. The collapse of this wall of separation between truth and power is a mortal threat to genuine republican life.

In our technological age we have assumed that truth and power can be united in the effort to dominate physical reality. The search for truth is harnessed to the quest for power over the planet and other life. The struggle over truth, technology, and political power gained dramatic form during the Covid pandemic, as we all remember to our great sorrow and consternation. Our present struggle with tyrants who would claim for themselves the TRUTH is one consequence of this collapse of truth and power.

When the Roman “procurator” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews, and thus a clear threat to King Herod, Jesus responded that he came into the world to testify to the truth. Pilate’s  contemptuous question “What is Truth?” sought to cut off all political power from the judgment of a transcendent truth. But in this interchange we come upon the heart of Jesus’s creation of an alternative reality to Roman rule and indeed to all our efforts to subject truth to power (John 18:33–38). As the author of John saw it, Jesus was a living truth—a life of free self-disposal anchored in the Creator’s Spirit—that creates a realm of witnessing to the truth we know in our hearts and which we share freely with one another. It is this kind of trustworthy public life— this ekklesia in Greek terms—that finally stands in opposition to all forms of tyranny and human domination.

This election year we Americans, especially we American Christians, have a peculiar challenge to discern the truth that sets us free for public self-governance and reject claims to truth that are simply a propaganda shield for the lust for power by the tyrants, despots, and demagogues of our time. The continued vitality of our republic hangs in the balance.

Posted in Ethics, Public Life | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Eyeless in Gaza

Eyeless in Gaza we strike out

  bringing down the temple of our gods,

 turning into ashes bodies of our dreams,

  the tender offspring of our hope.

Was not one Holocaust enough?

Must the children of the victims wreak extermination to survive?

Must the pilgrim road to Zion become a swamp of bitter retribution?

Must the cross that bore the crucified of countless generations

bleed again into the chasm of our fear?

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Buried at the Keyboard

You haven’t seen any new postings from me for the past month because my fingers have been busy typing up two books that I probably mentioned sometime earlier. This is, thankfully, a progress report.

The first book is an effort to set forth in very small compass the theological rationale for the roundtable worship that you have read about here for many years. In fact, I have been gathering with a steady flow of people for this kind of worship for almost 21 years. At the same time I wanted to describe this worship practice so that anyone interested in in gathering for this kind of worship would have a kind of manual to follow. The description took only one chapter, but the theological grounding led me to rehearse themes going back to the late 1980s as well as more recent changes in how I, along with many others, have been reconstructing the central Christian image of Trinity. So that added another hundred pages.

In addition to lifting up the importance of my perennial concerns for the rich concepts of covenant and public life, I took on the transformation of the image of Trinity from being “two men and a bird” (theologian Sandra Schneiders) to a social view of Trinity as genuinely equal partners in a dynamic “conversation.” You can visualize it as a circle of electromagnetic fields rather than as a static pyramid of power. The groundwork for this view has been laid down by feminist theologians, by Jürgen Moltmann and Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz in Germany, and American process theologians over the past half century.

Why the strange and baffling notion of Trinity? For the whole period of “imperial Christianity” (325-1945?) the Trinity was seen as a kind of patriarchal monarchy, with the Spirit as a kind of glue holding the Father and Son together. In short, it was a condensation of the pattern of male inheritance and power legitimating monarchy in the West. In moving to a genuinely “social” image of Trinity, we open up the way to an image that might legitimate in some way the activity of conversation, persuasion, and dynamic interchange at the heart of real democratic-republican governance. That’s the short form of the argument.

The reason this seemingly arcane intellectual work is important right now is that we face a clear choice in our political life between forms of rule that would take us back to models of patriarchal monarchism and those that would lead us more deeply into genuinely democratic consensus-building under a rule of constitutional law. One could argue that the churches’ retention of so much kingship language in its worship, especially at Christmas and Easter, has simply fueled an image of governance that undergirds monarchical rule. Moreover, we are besieged by one-way patterns of speech from pulpit and screen in a world desperate for genuine conversation. Roundtable worship, at its core, is an effort to live into core values underlying a vision of a post-monarchical, democratic/republican world. My little book is an effort to spell this vision out in a concise way.

The other book is a compendium of the liturgical materials I have composed for these gatherings over the past twenty years. In their imagery they seek to draw on visions beyond the limited range of kingdom metaphors that have dominated Christian worship for most of its life. As I noted in an earlier post, these calls, invocations, remembrances, thanksgivings, and blessings seek to be more poetic than didactic, fit for the tongue more than for the rationality of the brain. I want to bring this collection out in a form that will make it easy for people planning worship to simply cut and paste elements for that purpose. Selecting, editing, assembling, and indexing this extensive collection is taking more time than I expected.

So that’s my update. I hope to let you know in a few months about the forms of publication for these two pieces. Meanwhile, I hope you all are finding your own way to stay centered and loving in these challenging times. I conclude with an illustration by my daughter Aneliese Parker that has hung on my wall for many years. You can see more of her work on her Etsy site. Enjoy.

Posted in On Writing, Roundtable Ministries Project, Theology, Worship and Spirituality | Tagged , | 2 Comments

In the Dark time…a Light

As we move through a season of stark contradiction between the happy music in churches and the violence and horrific death in Ukraine, Israel-Palestine, and Sudan, between the fervent consumption of our marketplaces and the anxious cries emerging from our rapidly heating planet, two poems echo in my mind.

The first is a remembrance I wrote for our Roundtable Worship in December 2012. It is echoed by a powerful sculpture that resides in our home, a retirement gift created by our friend Charles McCullough, whose work can be found at this link. Its depiction of the Annunciation conveys for me the terror and yet the affirmation of the new life invading our own, of a light that blinds and yet guides us beyond our darkness.

Annunciation, by Charles McCollough

There was a frightened woman laboring in hope and dread.

There was a man bewildered by uncertainty and want.

There was a brutal occupation crushing hopes of freedom and respect.

There was a light no darkness could extinguish.

There was a life no death can overcome.

There was a love no word can ever cover.

So now there is a circle where creation can begin again.


The second emerged only a few weeks ago, a flash of light and beauty from Rafaat Alareer, a poet who, along with his sister and four nieces, was killed by an Israeli bomb in Gaza on December 6. Because of its power and signal hope I share it here, not knowing what copyrights it may carry. The world needs to hear its message.

If I Must Die

If I must die,

you must live

to tell my story

to sell my things

to buy a piece of cloth

and some strings,

(make it white with a long tail)

so that a child, somewhere in Gaza

while looking heaven in the eye

awaiting his dad who left in a blaze—

and bid no one farewell

not even to his flesh

not even to himself—

sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up


and thinks for a moment an angel is there

bringing back love

If I must die

let it bring hope

let it be a tale

May we all find a way to witness to a life beyond the tragic deaths around us in the coming year. Thank you for being in this circle.




Posted in Arts, Poetry and Songs | 2 Comments