Wednesday, August 14, 2019


The question of whether to support or oppose building the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) atop Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the island of Hawai’i, has recently attracted the national media’s attention and preoccupied a significant portion of The Episcopal Church in Hawai’i (TECH). The controversy came to a head in July when TMT opponents physically prevented construction crews and their equipment from using the only access road to the site. Over three thousand protesters have spent time in the encampment that blocks access. In spite of final court approval and issuance of all relevant permits, construction of TMT atop Mauna Kea now appears unlikely.

As an ethicist, a mediator and a Christian priest, I offer three observations.

First, the discipline of ethics offers little help in resolving ethical dilemmas such as this one that have valid, rational arguments on each side. The two sides rely upon different, incompatible frameworks to justify their conflicting positions.

Proponents advance utilitarian arguments, explicitly or implicitly seeking the greatest good (or most love) for the greatest number of people. Construction and use of TMT will provide jobs and economic benefits to Hawai’i’s people, native Hawaiians and non-native Hawaiians alike. The telescope has a real if unknown and unquantifiable potential to advance science and benefit humanity. A majority of scientists contends that the Mauna Kea site will produce superior results to the alternative location in the Canary Islands. Furthermore, the Canary Island site probably entails higher environmental costs.

Opponents advance deontological claims, refusing to comprise on important principles. Construction is wrong because it would disrespect native Hawaiians and native Hawaiian traditions, thereby denying justice to already marginalized people. Pointing to God's preferential concern for the vulnerable and least amongst us, opponents argue that respecting human dignity and seeking justice negate any utilitarian calculus of TMT’s potential benefits.

TMT has polarized Hawai’i’s peoples precisely because people on both sides fail to appreciate the values, reasons and ethical frameworks that lead to opposite conclusions. Analogously, narrow ethical perspectives which ignore conflicting views, when twisted and inflamed by demagogues for personal benefit, explain much of the current political polarization in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Second, unlike litigation in an adversarial court system that produces a winner and a loser, mediation strives for win-win outcomes. After years of litigation over possible construction of TMT, the courts finally decided in favor of construction. Proponents won; opponents lost. Ironically, native Hawaiian culture historically relied upon a type of mediation (ho’oponopono) to resolve many disputes.

Mediation proceeds by identifying the real concern(s) behind the issues and multiple options for resolving a conflict. For example, is the real issue for native Hawaiians their quest, their demand, for sovereignty? The U.S. illegally annexed the Hawaiian Islands in 1898 after expat merchants, plantation owners and others overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. Unlike Native American tribes, the Inuit and Eskimos, the U.S. has never recognized native Hawaiians as a sovereign nation. Can several of the existing telescopes on Mauna Kea, whose technology is outdated and whose useful lifespan may have been exceeded, be demolished to permit TMT to be erected in their place? Are there other, not clearly identified, central concerns? What alternatives to TMT as currently planned are possible?

Third, as a priest I lack the authority, knowledge and wisdom to resolve the conflict over constructing TMT. I’m not an expert environmentalist, trained labor economist, world-renowned astronomer or other credible authority on any of the issues. I’m not a native Hawaiian. I live on another island. At the most, I’m a stakeholder at the third or fourth remove.  Nor do I have the wisdom to decide who should and should not sit at the table to identify the pertinent issues and then to resolve the conflict.

Priests and, importantly, all Christians can prophetically call for justice and reconciliation. Several aspects of justice are especially relevant. Justice emerges out of a Christian vision of God's beloved community, an inclusive community that embraces the earth and all that dwells therein. God desires justice because God loves all. Queen Lili’uokalani was Hawai’i’s much-loved last monarch and a genuine follower of Jesus. TECH has authorized her local remembrance as a saint; congregations often sing a hymn she authored as a prayer during their services. Before and after the overthrow, Liliuokalani insisted that all people – regardless of race or ethnicity – be allowed to enjoy the shaded coolness and beauty of her palace’s grounds. This practice cohered with the Hawaiian culture’s openness to intermarriage and acceptance of all people. The subsequent racism that has plagued Hawai’i came from Caucasians. They, not native Hawaiians, defined a native Hawaiian as someone whose bloodline was 50% or more native Hawaiian. Hawaiians traditionally defined a Hawaiian as someone shaped by aloha for the land, the sea, and the people. It’s an inclusive vision of the beloved community that Jesus would applaud.

Justice depends upon people having some degree of agency. Without agency, persons are devalued and disrespected. Without agency, justice is impossible. Only a small minority of Hawaiians harbor any hope that the U.S. will cede the Hawaiian Islands to native Hawaiians for them to form a completely independent country. Most native Hawaiian demands for sovereignty actually express their desire for respect and to have their voices heard. These demands are integral to God's preferential option for the marginalized and most vulnerable. The culture of white racism introduced to the Hawaiian Islands when Captain Cook exploited Hawaiians thinking he was a god continued with the expat overthrow of the monarchy and plantation system that devalued non-white labor persists today.

Lastly, justice connotes fairness. In some conflicts, compromise is inherently impossible. TMT will either be built or not; there is no middle option of building only half a telescope. When confronted with such an issue, experienced mediators seek to package several issues together. Packaging issues allows all parties to win on some issues, lose on some issues, and compromise on others. Nobody receives the entirety of what they want, but everybody receives some of what they deem most important. Living as God's beloved community requires this type of compromise. Fairness requires that all parties, affirming their identify as part of the beloved community and exercising some measure of agency, view the final agreement as fair and just.

When mistrust and alienation characterize relationships, beloved community does not exist. When identity politics, of which racism is one form, distort relationships, power imbalances undercut agency. And when those factors persist over time, fairness and justice are possible only through reconciliation.

Reconciliation requires parties working to incorporate those alienated into the beloved community, embracing everyone as full and equal members, fully and equally respecting the dignity and worth of every member. In addition to more usual emphases on repentance (turning from sin) and reparation (trying to repair the harm done), reconciliation also requires sharing power and agency equitably. No voice is always heard more often, more loudly or more dominantly. These steps necessitate emotional and value shifts by both those with and without power. Forgiveness is the hopeful act of believing, tentatively trusting, that the parties engaged in reconciliation are sincere, supported by evidence of genuine repentance and practical steps taken toward reparations. Too often, people with power are loathe to share. Conversely, people without power may develop a conflicting sense of power and agency, cherishing their role as outsiders, reluctant to let go of grievances and integrate into the beloved community.

Theologically, I believe that reconciliation is always possible. Realistically, I know that is improbable. The process of reconciliation allows the dialogue that permits movement toward fairness. Perhaps too much time has passed since debate over TMT began; perhaps an originally unnecessary urgency now surrounds the decision; perhaps positions have hardened too much because of pre-existing alienation and power imbalances. As a Christian and a priest, I prophetically call for stakeholders in the TMT dispute to heal the divides in God's beloved community, to share agency and power equitably, and to seek a just, fair solution to the broader issues that fracture and harm our culture, the Hawaiian culture.

We, the Church and its priests, will improve our success rate as reconcilers if we proactively discern where and when God may heal brokenness. Identify the next issue(s) likely to further splinter the beloved community or the wider culture; then prophetically, preemptively, call for reconciliation, forgiveness and justice. Reconciliation resembles healing an infection: it is best done before the bacteria develops a resistance to antibiotics.

The national and local attention focused on the TMT controversy demonstrates the power of a small, still emerging element of God's people to reclaim their own agency and in doing so to reshape the prevailing narrative, moving the larger society toward a fuller embodiment of justice. For this, everyone – regardless of their views about TMT – can give thanks.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

What is your attitude about money?

Recently, I read Ken Honda’s book, Happy Money: The Japanese Art of Making Peace with Your Money. I don’t recommend reading the book. I do recommend pondering his basic question, “What is your attitude about money?”

Honda suggests that many, perhaps most, people live with attitudes of fear and anxiety about money. These people fear they will have insufficient money to fulfill their wants and needs; they are anxious that their money will not afford them adequate security against hunger, houselessness, etc. He contends that our individual attitudes of fear and anxiety originate in a broader societal attitude of scarcity. Never will there be enough money for all to be happy and for all to live abundantly.

Honda believes that money symbolizes energy. A person may achieve happiness by becoming a “money magnet,” i.e., someone whose persona attracts the flow of money. Once a person becomes a money magnet, then s/he person needs to manage their money in a way that produces personal happiness.

He describes himself as a self-help author focused on the connection between money and happiness. This best-selling author has sold seven million books in Japan. He characterizes the book that I read as pointing to the Zen of money.

Although Honda consistently emphasizes the importance of generosity as a help in learning to hold money loosely and as a source of happiness, I found his message strangely at odds with the Christian attitude toward money. His thought does resonate with the “prosperity gospel,” a warped interpretation of Jesus’ teachings premised the idea that God wants everyone to enjoy material wealth.

Christianity, understood more traditionally, teaches that money, per se, is unimportant. Money is a tool for facilitating exchanges (e.g., buying food) and storing value. Money is not a source of happiness.

Happiness always and only comes from a person’s relationship with God, a relationship frequently manifest in our relationship with other people, with creation and with self. Abundant living, as Honda acknowledges can be found in impoverished people, e.g., a person who has chosen a monastic lifestyle or among the people of Bhutan, often identified as the happiest people in spite of their very low incomes and levels of wealth. Research in the U.S. and other developed nations consistently suggests that above a certain income level (now about $75,000) a higher income is no assurance of increased happiness.

By ancient design, communion wafers resemble a coin in shape. The IHS imprinted on many communion wafers represent the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Latin, evocative of coinage minted with the monarch’s name or bust. (The dollar sign, incidentally, is a stylized form of the IHS symbol.) And as with; money, the bread and wine of Holy Communion are called species.[1] In other words, God claims our money as God's own because all things ultimately belong to God, creation’s author. As Jesus said, one cannot serve God and mammon.

Consequently, each person, according to Jesus, is God's steward responsible for using her/his talents, time and treasure in a Godly way. Life is not about me. Life is about us, us understood in its broadest, most inclusive sense. (For more on caring for creation, cf. Restoring God's Earth: A Year of Personal Action.)

Furthermore, faithful stewards acquire an attitude of thankfulness (Honda calls this arigato, the Japanese word for thank you). Honda fails to link thankfulness to stewardship. Thankfulness transforms anxiety and fear into peace, trusting that our security and well-being depend not upon money but upon relationships. A young Mao Tse Tung reportedly said, “Money is the father and grandfather of the mean of spirit.”[2] Thankfulness develops as we cultivate mutually life-giving and loving relationships with others, with the world around us and with our innermost self. Thankfulness points toward life’s deepest mystery, that which we call God.

[1] Mark C. Taylor, About Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 154.
[2] Max Boot, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013), p. 434.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

How big is your worldview?

How big is your worldview?

I write looking out over an urban area, beach park, and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean framed by Oahu’s mountains, all of which are eroded remnants of long dormant volcano craters. I generally read the New York Times, Washington Post and the Guardian (a British newspaper) every day. Although the reporting covers the world unequally, articles cover the permanently inhabited continents. My world’s boundaries extend far beyond the small Pacific island on which I live.

Before I write, I generally circumambulate the beach park that I can see from my window, a walk of about four miles. At ground level, my view toward the ocean is largely limited to grass, sand, palm trees, beachgoers, a lagoon formed by a coral reef and the ocean for a few miles beyond the reef.

While walking one day this week, I mused about globalization. In the eighteenth century, communication moved at the speed of a person, perhaps aided by a horse or sail powered vessel. Relatively few people ever travelled outside the local geographic area in which they were born. News traveled slowly. Steam, the telegraph, the internal combustion engine, radio, TV, the jet engine, transistors, the internet – a growing stream of inventions accelerated communication, sped up travel and lowered the cost of travel, and broadened horizons. Today, most people are more aware of the rest of the world than ever before. A diminishing minority of people live without knowledge of the rest of the world.

Intentionally narrowing one’s perspective on the world by paying attention only to one’s immediate surroundings and the people with whom one has a special relationship (either family, long-time friends or caregivers) works for the very young and the very, very old.

For the rest of us, intentionally narrowing our perspective courts disaster. Two sets of issues illustrate the looming danger. First, a person who blithely ignores all information about climate change, pollution and other environmental hazards may not diminish his/her quality of life. However, the consequences of those irresponsible actions for future generations are dire. Indeed, the consequences of those irresponsible actions for the present are increasingly dire. Second, military and terrorist threats are now global, easily crossing formerly formidable defensive topographical features such as oceans. As airport security checks and other intrusive, defensive measures remind us: the threats are real. My neighbors include all living people.

Politicians, leaders and people in every nation who prioritize self and their nation above everyone else expedite the end of the human race and perhaps of all life forms on this planet. White supremacists, religious nationalists and all forms of xenophobia pose a real threat to the whole world.

Our one hope for humanity is expanding our definition of “neighbor” to include all people, all life forms and the earth itself.

Biologists, psychologists and other researchers doubt that genuine altruism – care for another that does not benefit the caregiver is possible. Instead of advocating altruism, adopt an ethic of reciprocal altruism. Care for others believing – knowing – that your life and well-being are impossible without active concern and care from others.

For example, a mother cares for her newborn until the child is able to fend for him/herself. Mothers often have a partner to aid in the time demanding and costly endeavor of childrearing. Parents sacrifice for their children because they (or their genes) know that the parent’s genes live on through the child. Without parental care, probably no child would survive.

Parental care alone is generally insufficient. Few parents have the knowledge and ability to feed, clothe, shelter, provide medical care, educate and otherwise nurture a child from birth until adulthood. Parents rely upon others for assistance with those tasks. Historically, we can trace the slowly expanding circle of mutual concern that provided the assistance from the nuclear family to the extended family to the clan to the tribe and then to nation. In the twenty-first century, that circle must extend to all humans if we are to survive.

The wisdom that Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan rightly understood points to a far more profound truth than Jesus’ contemporaries could have ever imagined.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Martha or Mary?

While he was Dean of Duke Divinity School, L. Gregory Jones and his eleven-year-old son “were driving home from soccer practice. [He] was talking with his son...about his team and the drills they had done that evening. [The Dean] did not anticipate the turn [their] conversation was about to take.

“‘What does Divinity School do anyway?’ [the son] asked....

“[Jones] told [his son] that a Divinity school is a place where people go to learn how to become ministers. [He] mentioned the name of some ministers [his son] knew, then added ‘They came to divinity school so that they could study the Bible, learn how to preach and lead worship, and develop the skills necessary to be ministers of a congregation.’

“‘Oh, ’he replied. [The Dean] thought this had settled the matter. But then [his son] spoke again. ‘Dad,’ he asked, ‘Don’t you think a divinity school ought to spend more time learning about God?’”[1]

That story has the same message as this morning’s gospel lesson.[2] Like Martha and Dean Jones, we sometimes become so focused on serving God and doing God’s business that God seems distant. Jesus praised Martha’s sister Mary for doing the one thing that was needful: learning about God.

This morning’s epistle lesson expands on that message, teaching us about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.[3] First, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. We repeat that claim every time we say the Nicene Creed: “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father.” The image of God in Jesus is spiritual, an image of light and of love.

“A mountain guide, Michael Zanger, once told of leading some men up Mount Shasta. One man was having great difficulty breathing. His face coloring was unusual. Frequent stops for rest did not seem to help. As they continued to climb, his breathing was punctuated by coughing and spitting froth mixed with blood. To make matters worse, a sudden snowstorm confined them to hastily erected tents. Michael thought the man might die of heart failure.

As he lay there, Michael revealed that they could call for rescuers because he had a cell phone. The man showed interest. “‘Would you make a personal call for me?’ the man asked.

“Michael thought to himself, ‘This man thinks he’s critical, and he wants to speak to his loved ones one last time,’ so he said, ‘Yes.’

“‘Well,’ said the man, ‘Would you call my broker in San Francisco and ask what the value of my stock is today?’”[4]

To see God, make spending time with Jesus a daily priority.

Second, remember that church in all of its programs, events and relationships should be about Jesus. Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, once summarized the history of the Church this way:

In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women who centered their lives on the living Christ. They had a personal and vital relationship to the Lord. It transformed them and the world around them. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Later it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. Finally, it moved to the United States, where it became an enterprise. We’ve got far too many churches and so few fellowships.[5]

Too often, small congregations are either tight-knit, closed groups bound together by love but unable to welcome new people or simply a group of persons who gather on Sundays with no real ties. The challenge is to be family, a loving family who welcomes and invites newcomers to belong. Our love for one another and for others embodies Christ and reveals God to us.

Third, Jesus reveals God to us by reconciling us to God and to one another, filling us with peace. Two weeks ago, I briefly attended the Thursday evening centering prayer group that meets in Monteiro Chapel. Then, I stepped out into the courtyard to attend an event organized by our School’s Development office. Alumni, parents, children and faculty were celebrating the best of Holy Nativity School. Among those attending were individuals supporting and opposed to recent changes in the School’s administration. People experienced reconciliation and found peace in their love for one another.

Together, our centering prayer group and School represent Martha and Mary. We do not have to choose between them. Life has seasons. In one season, you may be like Martha, seeing Jesus by actively serving and loving. In another season you may be like Mary, looking at Jesus to delve deeper into the mystery of God. And in some seasons, you may be part-Martha and part-Mary. But always, seek reconciliation with God and your neighbor that you may savor the peace that is beyond all understanding. AMEN.

Sermon preached at the Church of the Holy Nativity, Honolulu, HI

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 21, 2019

[1] L. Gregory Jones, “One that matters,” The Christian Century, 20-27 May 1998, p.544. Changed from first person to third person.
[2] Luke 10:38-42
[3] Colossians 1:15-28
[4] Gary Anderson in Eileen h. Wilmoth, 365 Devotions (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1993).
[5] Quoted by Harry N. Wendt, Address to the Chicago Synod Assembly, ELCA, 14 June 1997.