Monday, April 29, 2013

Prudence - part 2

Everything has been figured out, except how to live. – Jean Paul Sartre

One of the great difficulties with prudence is that it presumes a basis for knowledge. Aristotle and Plato found this basis through metaphysics, especially Plato's concept of unchanging eternal forms. Greek philosophy feels alien to most people in the twenty-first century.

Similarly, Christian theology offers no definitive answer as to why God created humans. Catechistical answers such as to "glorify God" anthropomorphize God, attributing human feelings and motives to the divine. In fact, the Bible does not answer the question of why; the book of Job, which contains a long soliloquy in which Job beseeches God about the meaning of things, ends with God replying that God, not Job, is God (a most frustrating answer!).

Thankfully, Sartre was wrong. Twentieth century American philosopher John Rawls offers an alternative. He defined prudence (or practical reason) in terms of what is contextually reasonable, decent, or rational, deriving those three principles from his concept of justice as fairness:

… at no point are we deducing the principles of right and justice, or decency, or the principles of rationality, from a conception of practical reason in the background. Rather, we are giving content to an idea of practical reason and three of its component parts, the ideas of reasonableness, decency, and rationality. The criteria for these three normative ideas are not deduced, but enumerated and characterized in each case. Practical reason as such is simply reasoning about what to do, or reasoning about what institutions and policies are reasonable, decent, or rational, and why. There is no list of necessary and sufficient conditions for each of these three ideas, and differences of opinion are to be expected. We do conjecture, however, that, if the content of reasonableness, decency, and rationality is laid out properly, the resulting principles and standards of right and justice will hang together and will be affirmed by us on due reflection. (The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 87)

Reasonable citizens "… are characterized by their willingness to offer fair terms of social cooperation among equals and by their recognition of the burdens of judgment." (The Law of Peoples, p. 87)

Rawls describes a decent society as one that

… is not aggressive and engages in war only in self-defense. It has a common good idea of justice that assigns human rights to all its members; its basic structure includes a decent consultation hierarchy that protects these and other rights and ensures that all groups in society are decently represented by elected bodies in the system of consultation. Finally, there must be a sincere and not unreasonable belief on the part of judges and officials who administer the legal system that the law is indeed guided by a common good idea of justice. Laws supported merely by force are grounds for rebellion and resistance. They are routine in a slave society, but cannot belong to a decent one. (The Law of Peoples, p. 88)

Rational societies are communities who determine their choices using counting principles, e.g., through voting or cost-benefit analyses (The Law of Peoples, p. 88).

Prudence, Rawls also argued, is contextual. People exercising prudential wisdom will frequently disagree over important, substantive issues, e.g., tax policy and theology. Michael Novak helpfully reminds us, "Universal principles need not be univocal." (The Universal Hunger for Human Liberty (New York: Basic Books, 2004), p. 228)

Rawls' identification of prudence with contextually appropriate choices by reasonable, decent, and rational communities addresses the basic Christian question of how should we live in the present. Shifting the focus from the individual to the community reduces the probability of an individual substituting pride for prudence, as Garfield's physician did. Of course, a community may become demonic, as occurred in post-WWI Germany when a defeated, discouraged nation aided the Nazis in their ascent to power.

The person of faith rightly turns to their faith community as the community of reference for determining prudence. For this reason (along with others!), we do well to avoid fundamentalism and other doctrinaire communities that are not reasonable, decent, and rational. The Westboro, KA, Baptist Church exemplifies this abhorrent type of community that profanes the name of Christianity with its unreasonable (God only loves some people), indecent (protesting at funerals of veterans), and irrational (these protests will prompt people to repent) acts. In contrast, healthy faith communities are reasonable (God created minds for people to use), decent (God calls us to love one another because God created all with dignity and worth), and rational (we weigh perceived pros and cons of alternatives then choose what appears to be best, confident that this is how God leads us).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Prudence - part 1

In the 1670s, Dutch draper Anton van Leeuwenhoek indulged in his hobby of painstakingly grinding little lenses, which he used to magnify everyday objects, such as ditch water. He then sketched what he saw. In 1677, van Leeuwenhoek discovered small living creatures, too small to see without magnification, swimming about in ditch water. And in 1683, he caught his first glimpse of the even smaller objects that we call bacteria. (Isaac Asimov, Past, Present, and Future (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1987), p. 80)

From the perspective of three centuries after Leeuwenhoek lived, his discovery of microscopic life forms was obviously of significant practical value. In the 1860s, French scientist Louis Pasteur demonstrated that microorganisms cause infectious disease. That, in turn, enabled the medical profession to make dramatic advances, curing more disease than they caused, raising life expectancy from thirty-five to seventy or more years.

Yet, practical wisdom is not synonymous with prudence, the second of the four cardinal virtues. The Greek word phronesis became prudence in Latin. Prudence "consists of the capacity, the aptitude, for discerning the right rule, the orthos logos, in difficult situations requiring action." (Paul Ricoeur, Reflections on the Just, trans. D. Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 54)

In sum, the virtue of prudence denotes a subset of practical wisdom, that is, the wisdom to recognize and classify a moral challenge, to discern the moral issues involved, and to develop an appropriate response to that challenge. Plato, in contrast to Aristotle's spotlight on courage, taught that prudence is the chief virtue.

Neither the discovery of microscopic organisms or of their role in causing disease is an example of prudential wisdom, though both discoveries have had tremendous beneficial effects on the quality and length of human life. Instead, the willingness (or unwillingness) of medical practitioners to adopt procedures and protocols informed by those discoveries exemplifies prudential wisdom: recognizing a moral challenge, discerning the issues involved, and developing an appropriate response to the challenge.

Candice Millard's The Destiny of the Republic (New York: Random House, 2011) tells the story of U.S. President James Garfield's assassination through four interlocking stories: that of Garfield, his assassin Charles Guiteau, Joseph Lister, and Alexander Graham Bell. When Guiteau shot Garfield in the back in 1881 at Union Station in Washington, D.C., the wound was not fatal. The wound became infected when multiple doctors stuck their fingers and non-sterilized instruments into the wound, searching for the bullet. In time, the infection would kill Garfield.

Garfield's primary physician had attended an 1876 lecture at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition by Lister, the leading medical proponent of sterilization, building on work by Leeuwenhoek and Pasteur. Yet the physician scoffed, blinded by ego fueled by previous errors as an early adopter of an unproven new technology. The physician lacked the prudential wisdom to recognize a moral challenge (how best to care for the patient), the moral issues involved (an insistence on his status and prerogatives as a physician trumped patient welfare), and consequently refused to sterilize his equipment, his clothes, or his person. Prudence would have had the physician maintain an open mind, examine the data (e.g., look through a lens to see microscopic organisms on his instruments and compare Lister's surgical results with his own), and then make an appropriate choice.

The physician's ego needs drove him to keep much of his treatment of Garfield a secret. Thus, he did not disclose to Bell, who had invented an instrument that detected anomalies in a magnetic field as a way to locate a bullet in the body, that Garfield's mattress rested on a metal frame. Bell had worked feverishly to perfect the device when doctors could not locate the bullet in Garfield's back in spite of repeated attempts.

Once again, the physician lacked prudential wisdom, failing to prioritize patient well-being in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath, blinded to the real issues by his emotional needs and professional aspirations, and then making bad choices.

At what points in your life do your ego, emotional needs, past mistakes, or professional aspirations cause you to fail to recognize moral challenges, discern the issues involved, and then to make poor choices?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Letting God's light illumine our path

In the first century AD, a now dead religion, Mithraism, was the Roman Empire's most popular religion. Adherents worshipped Mithra, a Persian, or in modern terms, Iranian, deity associated with Zoroastrianism. The Christian poet Prudentius left us a description of the initiation rite by which a new convert became incorporated into the Mithra community. Known as the taurobolum, the bath of bull's blood, the rite has had an obvious influence on Christian theology:

A trench was dug, over which was erected a platform of planks, which were perforated with holes. Upon this platform a sacrificial bull was slaughtered. Below the platform knelt the worshipper who was to be initiated. The blood of the slaughtered bull dripped through on to the worshipper below. He exposed his head and all his garments to be saturated with blood; and then he turned round and held up his neck that the blood might trickle upon his lips, ears, eyes, and nostrils; he moistened his tongue with the blood which he then drank as a sacramental act. He came out from this certain he was rematus in aeternum, reborn for all eternity.[1]

In this morning's reading from the Revelation of John, we heard an echo of that rite: "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (7:14)

Christians did not devise their theology and rites ex nihilo, out of nothing. Had they done so, the religion would have been unintelligible to all but the instructed few. Instead, Christians appropriated and adapted ideas, images, and practices from their world, especially Judaism but also the wider Greco-Roman context.

Contemporary Christians who want to read the Bible, particularly a book like Revelation saturated with bewildering metaphors and images, have three choices. First, we can act like ostriches, excluding from sight and thought any information other than what we read in the Bible. Sometimes you may hear this approach described as viewing the Bible as self-interpreting. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the devout Christian, through intense and dedicated study focused only on the Bible, can supposedly understand what God is saying to God's people.

This approach almost invariably leads people to regard Revelation as a prophecy of impending tribulations, which eventually culminate in the establishment of the fullness of God's kingdom. When, as a college student, I stumbled across a book by twentieth century American religious entrepreneur Herbert Armstrong that claimed the Bible predicted the emergence of Great Britain and the United States, and that the battle of Armageddon would involve the Soviet Union, I realized the absurdity of believing that the Bible is self-interpreting. Incidentally, if you find Armstrong's ideas appealing, you might recall that the Soviet Union no longer exists and that Armstrong believed the Bible mandated triple tithing – that's right, giving 30% – to the Church.

We Episcopalians, like many other contemporary Christians, generally stick with a second option. We simply ignore those parts of scripture, like Revelation, that we find incomprehensible or problematic.

However, we do have a third choice. All Scripture has a historical context and human authors. The book of Revelation is no exception, written during a time of increasing persecution of Christians by the Roman authorities. The metaphors and images are not predictions of the future but encoded commentary on what Christians were then experiencing, as illustrated by the image of washing in the blood of the lamb to become clean and victorious. The image may seem absurd (washing in blood will never make anything white) or even revolting. But set in historical context, the image emphasizes that a Christian becomes a new person, whom God heals, loves, forgives, and fills with new life.

Rightly understood, Scripture provides us a prism that refracts the light of God's love, illuminating the Jesus path and empowering us to live in the present. When I reflect on this morning's lesson from Revelation, I perceive God's light helpfully illuminating our journeys and empowering us in at least three ways.

First, like the early Christians, we live in an age in which social forces oppose Christianity. Unlike the open and violent persecution of the first century, current opposition is more subtle, relying on social pressures and insisting upon a false dichotomy between science and religion, rather than violence. This opposition has taken a toll. The Church is greying – aging – much more quickly than is society as a whole. Each adult, including the former boys and girls, who in today's Rite 13 observance we celebrate as men and women, have to decide whether Christian community is worth their time, their talents, and their treasure.

Second, God relies upon the active involvement of God's people. Illustratively, in this morning's lesson, the people with white robes have washed their own robes. The lesson ends with a wonderful and hopeful vision in which people are no longer hungry, thirsty, homeless, or experience life as empty or meaningless (7:15-17). This transformation is salvific and, when we work with God, attainable in the present. Nativity's outreach programs afford many opportunities to work with God. It's not too late to volunteer next Sunday, following the 10:30 service, to help package 10,000 meals in a step to alleviate hunger.

Third, God's concern embraces the totality of creation. Over the centuries, generations of academic theologians and biblical scholars have advanced various theories about the identity of the angels and elders surrounding God's throne without a consensus emerging, perhaps because the Greek is vague.[2] My preferred interpretation is that the creatures around the throne symbolize all creation coming within the penumbra of God's care. Today, not coincidentally, is Earth Day, a time especially appropriate for emphasizing God's concern for all creation and our role as God's stewards, sharing with God in the ministry of reconciliation and creation care.

The prism of Scripture refracts at least three messages: a call to walk the Jesus path, allowing God to transform one; an invitation to join with God in bringing heaven to earth; and an affirmation of God's care for all creation. Where does the light lead you? Depending upon your identity and location, you may discern a very different message.
(Sermon I intended to preach on the Fourth Sunday of Easter at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC, before the Boston Marathon bombings occurred.)

[1] William Barclay, The Revelation of John, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), p. 33.
[2] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, Anchor Bible series vol. 38, ed. W.A. Albright and D.N. Freedman (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), p. 123.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Courage - part 2

The wishbone will never replace the backbone. - Will Henry

Almost twenty years ago, as the tour group in which I was traveling traversed Tel Aviv's busiest street, our guide recounted how his thirteen year-old daughter had been aboard a rush hour public bus on the same street a year earlier when a Palestinian suicide bomber boarded the bus and detonated his bomb.

Unlike many of the similarly aged schoolchildren riding the bus that fateful day, the guide’s daughter survived with only minor physical injuries. The seatback in front of her had shielded her because, in the seconds immediately before the bomb exploded, she had bent over to pick up an item off the floor.

Like most Israelis, this man, his family, and his daughter refused to allow terror to rule their lives; the family continues to ride the same bus route and to live in the same neighborhood.

Can a person cultivate or increase the amount of their courage?

Taking risks can improve one's ability to assess the odds of success, nurture confidence in one's ability to complete the challenge successfully, and strengthen one's self-perception as a brave individual. The military (and some corporations and non-profits!), for all of these reasons, send participants through confidence courses.

The confidence course with which I'm most familiar was at the Marine Corps' Officer Candidates School. Consisting of seemingly impossibly tall obstacles, long rope swings, and other over-size hurdles the course gave those candidates who completed it a fresh reserve of courage, the expectation that they could face unknown dangers and survive.

Cultivating moral courage may be more difficult than cultivating physical courage, but intentional exposure to situations that demand moral courage, and then assessing one's performance can cultivate moral courage.

Additionally, a person can cultivate courage – moral and physical – by developing a self-image as a courageous person, mentally envisioning and rehearsing one's self acting courageously, fostering hope through optimism and experience, and improving one's prudential judgment.

Do you intentionally seek to become a person of courage?

Conversely, a person can have an excess of courage, taking pointless risks and accepting unrealistic odds. Fear triggers a fight or flight response. In a person with too much courage, the fight response overwhelms the flight response. In combat, an excess of courage may mask a death wish. In ordinary life, overcompensating for feelings of inferiority, insecurity, or unworthiness may also find expression in an excess of courage. In other words, true courage may mean refusing to take inappropriate or excessive risks.

Courage is fear that has said its prayers. - Dorothy Bernard

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston marathon bombing

I did most of the thinking and research for my series on the cardinal virtues as part of the work on a just counterterrorism model that I am developing, a model similar to the one that just war theory offers for warfighting but designed to address the unique problems of counterterrorism. The anecdote with which the second installment on courage begins (to be posted Thursday) now seems timelier than ever.

First, some good news. Terrorism is not an intractable problem. Indeed, all terror groups end and most of them lose. In part, terror groups suffer defeat because these groups adopt terrorism, whether as a strategy (big picture) or tactic (approach to a specific situation), out of desperation and weakness.

Second, some more good news. The degree to which terrorists achieve victory depends largely upon how the people who are attacked respond rather than directly upon anything that the terrorists may or may not do. Terrorists attack innocent third parties, hoping to achieve a political victory. Terrorists aim to win that political victory through attacks that produce progress toward their instrumental goals of revenge, renown, and retaliation.

The 9/11 attacks illustrate this dynamic. Although the death toll and economic costs of the attacks were terrible, the greater costs were self-inflicted. These include precipitous drops in stock prices unwarranted by the economic effect of the attacks, the pervasive fear of flying that paralyzed much of American society, and the overreaction of invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq at a cost of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

A community that exhibits courage (i.e., refuses to be terrorized), prudence (adopts proven, affordable defensive measures), justice (insists on upholding the rule of law in its counterterrorism efforts), and temperance (e.g., refusing demands for immediate revenge) not only refuses to cede victory to terrorists but also turns apparent defeat into victory.

In the aftermath of the bombings on the Boston, those injured deserve our prayers. Our nation deserves our courage, prudence, justice, and temperance. Whoever the perpetrators were, deserve defeat. Terrorism is always immoral.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Courage - part 1

All adventures, especially into new territory are scary. - Sally Ride

The Bible exhorts people to have courage (e.g., 1 Chronicles 22:13; Psalm 31:24; John 16:33) and offers examples of God's people being courageous (e.g., Amaziah doing battle against the Edomites (2 Chronicles 25:11) and Paul in the face of opposition (1 Thessalonians 2:2). Unfortunately, the Bible does not include a definition of courage.

Aristotle thought courage was the first of the virtues. He situates courage as the contextually appropriate mean between the deficiency of cowardice and the excess of rashness. The courageous person, for example, would neither avoid every danger nor seek out every danger. Instead, the courageous person avoids acts that risk life or limb without realistic hope of gain such as riding a motorcycle without a helmet while accepting reasonable and proportional risks such as riding in an automobile while wearing a seatbelt.

But what are the constituent elements of courage? Courage, defined as doing/acting when afraid, has at least three components:

1.      Hope. The courageous person has a reasonable expectation or hope that his/her act, even if self-sacrificial, will make a difference for the better.

2.      Self-respect. The courageous person respects her or himself sufficiently to be unwilling to act cowardly, i.e., with a lack of courage.

3.      Self-confidence. The courageous person has sufficient self-confidence to take the risk, stepping into the unknown (or at least into what is unknown territory for the individual), uncertain of what will happen.

4.      Willingness to take risks. The courageous person does not avoid risks but assesses potential outcomes and takes what he/she deems reasonable, proportionate risks.

A willingness to take risks depends upon an ability to assess risk utilizing prudential judgment (the second of the four cardinal virtues) and trust, as contextually appropriate, in self, others, God, or things.

Hope, self-respect, and self-confidence may depend upon genetics; environmental factors including family nurture, achievement, popularity, etc. also determine and shape one's hope, self-respect, and self-confidence.

There are at least two types of courage: moral courage and physical courage. Moral courage tests one's character and integrity. Does the person have the intestinal fortitude to choose and act rightly? Physical courage tests one's willingness to risk limb and life.

Aristotle believed that the battlefield provided the ultimate test of courage, with possible death adding a unique degree of ultimacy to the danger faced. However, people may face similar or even greater risks as first responders (official or otherwise, such as the man who several weeks ago jumped on to New York City subway tracks in the face of an onrushing train to pull a man who had fallen on the tracks to safety).

The evangelical preacher Charles Swindoll disagreed with Aristotle, believing moral courage greater than physical courage: "Courage is not limited to the battlefield or the Indianapolis 500 or bravely catching a thief in your house. The real tests of courage are much deeper and much quieter. They are the inner tests, like remaining faithful when nobody's looking, like enduring pain when the room is empty, like standing alone when you're misunderstood."

Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to the end, requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Pastoral leadership as selling

What makes for a great bishop, dean, rector, or vicar?


One vital part of the answer to that question is that the person must be a woman or man of God. But that, by itself, is insufficient. Not every great spirit has the call or gifts to be a great bishop, dean, rector, or vicar.


Similarly, the Christian Church as a whole and the Episcopal Church in particular has long recognized that great bishops, deans, rectors, and vicars tend to be well educated, i.e., knowledgeable about scripture, tradition (church history), theology, and ethics. In the twentieth century, a constructive emphasis on equipping clergy with the practical skills that ministry requires (preaching, teaching, and caring) has complemented the emphasis on content.


Yet, the Episcopal Church struggles. Worship attendance steadily and persistently declines (cf. my 2011 post, Is the Episcopal Church going the way of the Grange?) Increased numbers of pastoral relationships experience divisive conflict; more dioceses and more congregations seek an involuntary termination of pastoral relationships (cf. Forced clergy terminations). Clergy obviously need more than spirituality, academic preparation, and field education to become great bishops, deans, rectors, and vicars.


Leadership is the key missing component in our understanding of what makes for a great bishop, dean, rector, and vicar. Leadership, according to Dwight Eisenhower, is the art of getting others to do what you want. Unsurprisingly, reporter Daniel Pink has observed:

Spend a day with any leader in any organization, and you’ll quickly discover that the person you’re shadowing, whatever his or her official title or formal position, is actually in sales. These leaders are often pitching customers and clients, of course. But they’re also persuading employees, convincing suppliers, sweet-talking funders or cajoling a board. At the core of their exalted work is a less glamorous truth: Leaders sell. ("Why extroverts fail, introverts flounder and you probably succeed," Washington Post, January 28, 2013)


Spend a day with the bishop, dean, rector, or vicar of one our relatively few growing, thriving dioceses or congregations and you will observe a leader who is a highly effective salesperson. As Pink notes, that is not a glamorous description. But it is an accurate one. Good ordained leaders are constantly selling the organization they lead to other staff, volunteers, members, and the non-affiliated.


A good leader sells the vision, mission, and product or service of his or her organization. Church organizations variously formulate their vision of the life God intends; their mission is some permutation of transformation or, as Richard Niebuhr framed it, loving God and loving neighbor; their product or service, an admittedly awkward phrasing for Christ's Body, consists of activities designed to help people deepen their relationships with God and God's people. If an organization's leader is not an enthusiastic believer in the organization's vision, mission, and product/service, then the organization will almost certainly wither.


Focusing on all three – vision (who we are), mission (where and what God calls us to do), and product/service (how to live into our vision and mission through specific activities in the present) – is essential. Context determines which of those three a leader tries to sell in any given moment. A leader may need to sell the vision to people on the periphery and outside the organization. She/he may need to sell the mission to people considering affiliation or internal groups making program and budget decisions. He/she will constantly need to sell participants on specific opportunities to contribute or get involved.


Career coaches emphasize that a job seeker should have a prepared elevator speech, a 30 to 60 second summary of who they are, their qualifications, and the type of position they want. An elevator speech primes job seekers to seize unexpected employment chances.


Similarly, a good leader always has an elevator speech prepared, ready to sell his/her organization at every opportunity. Good clergy leaders are promoters and recruiters in chief. Selling the organization is not synonymous with gospel evangelism, something ultimately dependent upon the moving of God's spirit. Instead, good clergy sell their organization, confident that through participation people are more likely to encounter Christ, to grow spiritually, and to engage in transformational mission activities.


The best leaders are resilient and persistent salespeople. During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln faced enormous personal and political challenges. The death of Willie, his eleven-year-old son, left an already depressed Lincoln bereaved and weighed heavily on his marriage. A longer, more deadly war with a series of early Union defeats hampered army recruitment and encouraged anti-war political opposition.


In spite of personal doubts and great stress, Lincoln never publicly wavered in his resolve to preserve the Union. He listened thoughtfully to his advisers, held open office hours at the White House office to hear the opinions of ordinary citizens, and visited battlefields and generals. He adapted his actions to the exigencies of events. Originally intending to restore the Union before abolishing slavery, in 1862 he recognized his plan was dead in the water and that freeing the salves in the seceded states would enable him to achieve both objectives. Even then, he timed issuing the Emancipation Proclamation to coincide with a Union victory, heeding advisors' recommendation that to do otherwise would appear to act out of exhaustion and desperation.


Abolitionists strongly applauded Lincoln's Proclamation. Jefferson Davis denounced it as another reason for the Confederacy to fight; political foes in the North decried its legality and saw it as divisive. Yet once he acted, Lincoln did not waver. (Cf. Nancy F. Koehn, "Lincoln's School of Management," New York Times, January 26, 2013)


Leading a growing, thriving diocese or congregation is hard work. Growth never occurs without conflict. The relative bloodlessness of Church fights can be deceptive, hiding the conflict's real intensity and casualties. Battle lines may be less visible. And meanwhile, the ordained leader's personal life may quite likely, like Lincoln's, add emotional turmoil and stress. The effective ecclesial leader needs a Lincoln-like resilience and persistence rooted in both genuine spirituality and mutual (with most members of the organization) commitment to Christ.


Stereotypically, people think that the best salespeople are, according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, extroverts rather than introverts. Almost no research evidence supports that assessment. Adam Grant, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Management, will publish his study of sales reps at a software company later this year in the journal Psychological Science. The best performers? Neither extroverts nor introverts but ambiverts, people who took their cues from the customers on when to speak and when to listen.


Ambiverts "can talk smoothly but also listen keenly, who know when to turn on the charm but also when to turn it off, who combine the extrovert’s assertiveness with the introvert’s quiet confidence." (Daniel Pink "Why extroverts fail, introverts flounder and you probably succeed," Washington Post, January 28, 2013)


To be a great bishop, dean, rector, or vicar, the Church's ordained leadership – whether serving the smallest congregation or as Presiding Bishop – must be called, gifted, and educated women and men of God. But like Lincoln, they must also be leaders who know when and how to listen, when and how to speak. They need his resilience and persistence. And, like Lincoln, they need to have a clear vision and mission that they consistently sell (not of a united nation but a Church that brings heaven to earth).

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cardinal virtues

During Lent, Ethical Musings featured a series on the seven deadly sins (anger, sloth, lust and gluttony, envy, greed, and pride). During Easter, Ethical Musings will explore, along with other topics, the four cardinal virtues of courage, prudence, justice, and temperance. The seven deadly sins are undesirable character traits; the cardinal virtues are the opposite, desirable character traits conducive to living abundantly and human flourishing.

The cardinal virtues have their roots in Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle. Plato considered prudence (also called practical wisdom) the greatest of the virtues; Aristotle thought that justice represented the sum of all the virtues but that courage is the most important.

When Aquinas appropriated and reinterpreted Plato and Aristotle for the Christian tradition, he incorporated the cardinal virtues, giving them a prominent place in his ethics.

After the Reformation, virtue ethics lost prominence and, apart from Roman Catholicism, were often ignored. Only in the last few decades has interest in virtue ethics begun to attract a considerable following. Notably, arguably the foremost Christian ethicist today, Stanley Hauerwas, who teaches at Duke Divinity School and worships in an Episcopal Church, is a virtue ethicist.

When facing an ethical choice, something that most of us do multiple times per day, individuals generally act out of habit without stopping to recognize the ethical issue they face. After acknowledging the issue, few identify alternatives and the pertinent ethical principles before determining the right course of action (this scenario applies if the person is a deontologist, a person who wants to do her or his duty by adhering to ethical principles). Alternatively, the person may enumerate the various costs and benefits associated with each of the possible alternatives and their probable outcomes, then calculate the option that will result in the least harm and most good (this scenario applies if the person is a utilitarian or consequentialist). Yet other persons may seek God's will through prayer, scripture, and other spiritual discernment techniques (this scenario applies if the person subscribes to a divine command approach to ethics).

Instead, we are generally minimally aware or even oblivious to most of the ethical choices that we face. For better or worse, we act out of habit.

Virtue ethics encourages people to cultivate habits (or patterns or practices) in their lives that accord with the best of human flourishing or living abundantly. This Ethical Musings series on the four cardinal virtues will explore four of those virtues – courage, prudence, justice, and temperance – and how people can cultivate each. These posts are in addition to my previous posts on courage and prudential wisdom.

An important underlying premise for this series is that salvation, resurrection, and new life are neither theological abstractions nor eschatological concepts. Instead, God intends salvation in the present. A critical measure of the value of a spiritual journey, perhaps the critical measure, is whether that journey leads to transformation in the present, bringing a more abundant, more fulfilling, and more liberated life. All of the world's major religions share a common concern and aim to produce this effect, in addition to whatever other, if any claimed benefits, salvation may bring.

The old adage if you don't where you are going any road will get you there applies to the spiritual life. Cultivating the virtues offers a set of signposts that one can use to help to chart a spiritual journey that leads to new and more splendid life.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Finding happiness

Philosopher Albert Borgmann has written:

Aristotle recognized that different people find happiness in different ways, some in pleasure, others in a life of honor and actions, and still others in contemplating the order of reality and its divine source of movement and meaning. Wisdom was the skill of being equal to the demands of the contemplative life, and in wisdom, as Aristotle understood it, the highest human faculty, the noblest object of inquiry, and the best kind of life, all became one. (Real American Ethics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 100 referring to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Book I)

What is the path that will lead you to happiness? Where do you find the wisdom to discern that path? And, if you have the wisdom to see the path, do you have the courage to follow it?

This Zen story from Shinichi Hisamatsu about St. Francis seems especially timely in view of the selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis

Francis [is] dealing with a painful and festering wound. Someone brought Francis a fiercely hot blade in order to sear the wound, cauterize it and bring healing.

St. Francis did not welcome the red-hot blade. When fear of that fiery hot blade set in, Francis dismissed those in the room with him. Then, the story goes, Francis sat and talked with the blade confessing to that knife his cowardice. Hisamatsu explains that Francis talked to that blade until he could muster up the invitation, "Welcome, Sister Fire." Not only did he take the heat, but he also relinquished all tears and cries of anguish.

In that moment, the deep wound was cauterized and ultimately healed.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

More on defense spending

Ted's comment on my last post was, pardon the pun, on target.

President Eisenhower recognized the problem decades ago, coining the phrase military industrial complex. He also said: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children."

We work to forge swords into plows to end war (cf. Micah 4.3) but also to build economic prosperity and societies that are conducive to human well-being.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Learning defense from Israel

The United States can learn a lesson in defense spending from Israel. Since 2005, Gaza militants have launched over 4000 rockets at Israel. Most were homemade, costing only a few hundred dollars. Remarkably, Israel has developed an anti-rocket defense system that can knock down 80% plus of incoming rockets.

Originally, Israel's defensive system utilized missiles that cost $100,000 each, a price that made the rockets unaffordable and cost-ineffective, since many of the militant's rockets caused relatively little damage and few injuries. Today, the anti-rocket missile cost just a few thousand dollars each and the system's operator is still cutting costs. For example, most missiles utilize exotic polymers that retain their size and shape in spite of changes in heat and pressure caused by changes in altitude, velocity, etc. Israel recognized that its anti-rocket missiles had low trajectories, meaning aluminum casings would work as well as the exotic polymers. (To read more, cf. Karl Vick, "The Secret of the Wonder Weapon That Israel Will Show Off to Obama," Time, March 19, 2013, p. 17.)

In sharp contrast, U.S. defense procurement almost invariably wants the best, an ill-defined term that has a moving definition that frequently shifts during lengthy design, test, and evaluation processes, as well as once actual procurement has begun.

This video summarizes the dysfunctional and wasteful procurement process of the F-22 Raptor:

Procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter makes the Raptor look like a bargain:

·         2001: Year in which work on the fighter began.

·         2012: Year in which full-rate production was set to begin.

·         2019: Year in which full-rate production is now scheduled.

·         $233 billion: Estimated total cost in 2001.

·         $397 billion: Current estimated total cost, according to the Washington Post.

·         $84 billion: Amount already spent on the F-35.

·         2,852: The number of planes originally ordered by the Pentagon in 2001.

·         2,443: The number of planes currently on order. In 2010, the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission recommended cutting the number of planes ordered for the Navy and the Air Force by half and scrapping the Marines’ version, which has been plagued by the most problems.

·         65: The number of planes that have already been built, even though testing of the fighter is far from complete. And when all the tests are finished, "there will be no yes-or-no, up-or-down decision point," Pierre Sprey, one of the chief architects of the Air Force's older F-16 Fighting Falcon, told the Post. "That's totally deliberate. It was all in the name of ensuring it couldn't be canceled."

·         365: The number of planes set to be complete by the time testing is finished in 2018.

·         $81.7 million: Estimated total cost per plane in 2001.

·         $162.5 million: Current estimated total cost per plane.

·         133,000: The number of jobs the F-35 currently supports, according to Lockheed Martin.

·         260,000: The number of jobs Lockheed says the fighter will support when full production starts.

·         45: The states over which Lockheed and its subcontractors and suppliers have spread the F-35 work.

·         $15.3 million: Amount Lockheed spent on lobbying in 2012, according to OpenSecrets.

·         $6.5 billion: Lockheed’s approximate revenue from the F-35 in 2012, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. While that figure represented 14 percent of the company’s total revenue last year, Lockheed said in the filing that it expects the F-35 “to represent a higher percentage of our sales in future years.”

·         $1.5 trillion: Amount it could cost to develop, build, fly and maintain all the F-35s on order for 55 years — the lives of the planes — according to Pentagon estimates cited by Bloomberg. (Theodoric Meyer, "The Most Expensive Fighter Jet Ever Built, by the Numbers," ProPublica, March 14, 2013)

Boeing and the military have designed the F-35's procurement without reasonable decision points, making cancellation costly. Distributing production to 45 states makes cancellation politically costly. Furthermore, the military argues that the plane is essential because it is the only new aircraft in the pipeline. However, no other nation has a fighter of comparable capabilities, nor is another nation likely to have one.

The money wasted on the F-35 would go a long way towards repairing America's aging infrastructure, expenditures that not only would put people to work but that would also improve the nation's global competitiveness. Alternatively, the money wasted on the F-35 if invested in education, healthcare, or other human services would pay dividends in terms of improved quality of life and perhaps longevity.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The future of marriage - an Easter thought

The religious right and political conservatives are correct. Marriage is in trouble. Unfortunately, the religious right and political conservatives are completely wrong about the nature of the problem. Marriage being on the rocks has nothing to do with broadening the concept to include same sex relationships (cf. Ethical Musings NC Amendment One and Some thoughts on choosing a partner).

Marriage is in trouble because so many lower and middle-income women are opting not to marry.

In the first half of the twentieth century, for example, couples generally married with clear expectations. The woman would not work outside the home but would make a home and be the primary caregiver for couple's children. The man would earn an income to support the family.

Then things changed. Modern appliances, inexpensive wash and wear clothing, affordable prepared foods, and other changes reduced the effort homemaking required. Living on a single income became more difficult as people wanted more things and services. Concurrently, demand for labor in the workforce increased, especially during WWII.

Consequently, expectations began to change. More women wanted to join the workforce, perceiving homemaking as both having a lower status and being less valued than being in the labor market. The sexual revolution, made possible by advances in birth control and changing mores, eroded some of marriage's other traditional underpinnings. Many men, as good paying union and manufacturing jobs diminished, no longer earned enough to support a middle-class lifestyle for their family.

Derek Thompson's article, "The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of Unwed Mothers: An Economic Mystery" (The Atlantic, March 18, 2013) paints this problem more fully.

From a Christian perspective, which social science research corroborates, marriage has at least two important functions for those called to live as a couple:

1.      Children, on average, fare better when raised in two parent households. This is especially true if the two parents together are able to achieve a higher standard of living than one parent alone could achieve, either through two incomes or by one parent's homemaking and caring for children reducing the need for earned income. In either case, two parents frequently afford children more parental time.

2.      Marriage, on average, benefits the partners through improved health, longevity (these two benefits are greatest for men), and life satisfaction. State and federal laws stipulate hundreds of advantages to married couples not extended to other couples, e.g., spousal Social Security benefits and the right to visit and to make healthcare decisions for the other.

Marriage is not for everybody. The Apostle Paul appears to have opted to remain single rather than to marry. But for those willing and desirous of permanent monogamy, a community will gain by extending the right to marry to all couples regardless of gender composition. Contrary to the religious right and political conservatives, the best defense of marriage is to extend the right to marry to all couples. Couples and society both win.

Easter's message too often gets lost amidst bunnies, eggs, chocolates, and fixations on an empty tomb, rooted in denying the reality of death rather than the transformative power of God. This year, celebrate Easter by celebrating marriage. Into the valley of the shadow of death walked two people. Out of that valley emerged a couple, one in spirit and flesh, filled with the abundant life that love births.