For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:
that Christ died for our sins ... that he was buried, and that on the third day
he rose again in accordance with the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3–5)
I heard a terrifying interview on NPR last week. Michael Lewis, the well-regarded author of Moneyball, was asked about recent articles he wrote for Vanity Fair about the transition teams President Trump sent (or rather didn’t send) to the Departments of Agriculture and Energy after his inauguration. Those serving in the outgoing Obama administration in those two departments had prepared for weeks to pass on the important information and knowledge of their departments. They spent hours writing thousands of pages of briefing information to prepare their successors with the kinds of insights they would need to gain a foothold on their demanding tasks. The outgoing teams reserved ample parking spaces and prepared in every way they could to receive their guests with dignity and decorum, providing them a welcoming and enabling environment within which tradition of federal management would effectively be passed on.
To the horror of both departments, no one from the Trump administration showed up at the appointed time. After a week, still nobody. Finally, after about a month, the replacements (actually one person in each department!) sauntered in with indifference marked by disdain, looked around and left. And shortly afterward, Trump added injury to insult when he appointed radio talk-show host and lobbyist for PepsiCo, Joel Leftwich, to head Agriculture and Texas Senator Rick Perry to head Energy, a department he bragged as a presidential candidate he would do away with! Soon after that, a number of wholly unqualified people began to fill the positions in each department. One observer noted, “In many cases [the new appointees in Agriculture] demonstrated little to no experience with federal policy, let alone deep roots in Agriculture.” As for Perry, he replaced Dr. Ernest Moniz, Green Professor of Physics and Energy Systems at MIT, who had already served as Under Secretary of the Energy Department for four years and led national policy initiatives concerned with many grave nuclear issues demanding his expertise.
What’s the big deal? Hadn’t Trump promised to drain the swamp? Put your waders on and consider what this negligence means. The Department of Energy oversees all of the nuclear power installations and protects and preserves all of the nuclear materials to be handled, including nuclear waste. Our own Hanford site alone will require $100 billion dollars of cleanup costs extending over 100 years to avoid a catastrophic leakage into the Columbia River. How much of the expertise and vigilance for overseeing just this one aspect of the department’s jurisdiction will pass on through Perry’s obscurantist tenure? Likewise, the Department of Agriculture oversees not only the process of food production and use in the United States. It manages land resources, rural community development, feeding programs, firefighting, etc., programs that impact millions of Americans. How much of the expertise needed to oversee this responsibility will be drained away through Leftwich’s egregious appointment?
How we human beings pass on tradition is crucial, whether we are talking of federal administrative traditions, city government procedures, or our faith tradition. What is at stake for congregations that neglect this task, or do it well? Do we pass on our own faith tradition with great intentionality and care, immersing ourselves in the knowledge of God and the call of the Gospel on our lives so that the next generation will respond to God’s overtures with faith, love, and hope? Or do we opt to be indifferent to the things of God, casual in our discipleship, haphazard in passing on the tradition of Christian faithfulness, and distracted with our own concerns and cares? Some food and energy for thought this Advent season.