Thursday, November 28, 2013


The concept of thanksgiving (or gratitude) implicitly connotes three elements. First, and most obviously, thanksgiving connotes a person giving thanks or being grateful.

The second element of thanksgiving or gratitude is that the person or group giving thanks or being grateful has recognized and appreciated something as good or beneficial. Today, people give thanks for a wide variety of things and on diverse occasions including promotions, completing a project, births (and sometimes a death), anniversaries, a new job, winning the lottery, an unexpected kindness, etc.

However, the third element that thanksgiving or gratitude connotes is both the most important and least recognized. To be meaningful, the person must thank someone.

Consider winning the lottery. Being thankful for winning a game of chance is, at least, a poor choice of terminology and, at worst, completely illogical – unless one believes that the game's outcome resulted not from random chance but an agent's intervention. This agent may be human or otherwise, depending upon whom one believes has rigged the game, for true randomness precludes any form of intervention. The winner of a random game may feel elated or exhilarated, may feel they have fared better than have the losers, but cannot rightly give thanks. For to whom should they give thanks? The winner of a random game may give thanks for their skill or their opponents' lack of skill; they may thank Lady Chance, God, the game's host, or a guardian angel. An almost endless list of to whom one might give thanks is possible, but all of the options are completely illogical in a true game of chance, because the outcome depends upon random events, beyond anyone's control, and not upon any agent's intervention.

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to ponder two questions: For what are you thankful? To whom should you give thanks?

Most Thanksgivings, I observe people thanking God for many things (aka blessings) for which God's responsibility is very minimal and indirect. The health of any particular human depends very heavily upon genetic inheritance, behavioral habits, and random events more than it does God's direct intervention. To believe otherwise entails blaming God for the bad health – painful cancers, life-destroying diseases, disrupting disabilities – that affect so many people. Similarly, harvests depend upon random weather processes and a farmer's choices and effort more than upon God's direct intervention. Otherwise, why do some farmers prosper year and year and other, neighboring farmers, struggle to survive year after year?

I am slowly learning to be thankful to myself for much of what I do, feel, and think. Variously formulated Christian theological doctrines such as original sin and total depravity wrongly and completely devalue humans. Created by God, humans are valuable and able to do good things.

Similarly, I am learning to be thankful to others for much of what they do and for my relationships with them. Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to cultivate the habit of intentionally thanking persons for enriching your life through the kind and good things that they do, or through their relationship with you.

Finally, thank God for life. Life is our real blessing from God. For in life – whether in the beauty of the world, relationships of love, human creativity, our limited autonomy, or our self-awareness – we experience an echo or reflection of the divine.

To thank God for more– for blessings that we and not others have received – implicitly presumes that God loves us better or more completely than God loves the others to whom God has been less good, less kind. That presumption is patently false, because God loves everyone equally. Collectively, American exceptionalism (believing that God loves, favors, and blesses the United States more fully than God blesses other nations), which too often colors Thanksgiving holiday celebrations, reflects unhealthy, unchristian hubris.
For what are you thankful? To whom should you give thanks?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Medical creep

Medical creep is not a healthcare worker who behaves inappropriately.

Medical creep connotes the tendency for healthcare providers to prescribe procedures and treatments for patients in the absence of evidence that demonstrates the procedure or treatment will benefit the patient.

The popularity of CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) illustrates medical creep. Before 1960, the only treatment for a heart that stopped was heart massage. A physician – usually a cardiac surgeon – would open the chest and manually massage the heart, thereby pumping blood through the body. A Johns Hopkins 1960 study described an alternative approach called closed-chest cardiac massage. The method successfully resuscitated all 20 of the patients involved in the study, 14 of whom suffered no brain damage or other ill effects.

Fifty years later, CPR has become the default treatment for every person who dies.

Consequently, survival rates have plummeted. In hospitals, the success rate for elderly patients given CPR is less than 15%; as many as a quarter of the survivors suffer brain damage.

What happens?

Healthcare professionals want to save lives. Loved ones want to see their beloved saved. TV shows and media reports highlight CPR successes.

Yet not everyone with heart failure is a prime candidate for a successful CPR. Multiple factors including age, heart condition, other health conditions, and the length of time that the heart has been stopped partially determine whether even the most skillful application of CPR will succeed. (Brendan Reilly, "How CPR Became So Popular," The Atlantic, Nov. 4, 2013)

The U.S. healthcare system is the world's most expensive, offers the most advanced treatment and procedures available, and yet achieves poorer outcomes than does healthcare in most developed nations.

Identifying medical creep suggests one part of the answer to fixing our broken healthcare system. We must become better-informed healthcare consumers.

For example, I do not want CPR unless there is a reasonable chance that I will survive without significant brain damage or other major complications. I do not want doctors performing tests on me that will not alter the treatment they provide me. I do not want treatment that does not have a proven benefit for patients with my condition or, if the treatment is experimental, is likely to benefit patients with my condition. I know that death is inevitable, do not live with an illusory hope of extending this life indefinitely, and value both the quality as well as the length of my life.

The time to consider and to discuss these issues is when one, and one's loved ones, are well. Preplanning offers the hope of better living, better dying, and guilt free grief for survivors.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Poverty - not an intractable problem

According to Luke's gospel (6:20), Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor." Matthew's gospel spiritualizes that saying (5:3), reporting that Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The affluent tend to find the latter more comfortable than the former because spiritualizing Jesus' teaching saps those teachings of their revolutionary demands that we care for the least among us.

The United States, by any measure, ranks among the elite top handful of the world's wealthiest nations. Yet a staggering 1 in 6 of its citizens – about 16% – live in poverty.

We can change this immoral situation. For example, John Sutter, an economist who writes for CNN, recently proposed seven ways to reduce the income inequality gap in the United States ("7 ways to narrow the rich-poor gap," CNN Opinion, October 29, 2013):

  1. Break down social barriers – when the affluent and poor see one another as real humans, the affluent generally respond with compassion and real help
  2. Improve public schools; unify public and private schools – attending public schools helps to build bridges between children from different socio-economic backgrounds; private schools sap reform drives and economically segregate children
  3. Raise the minimum wage to 1960s levels, at least
  4. Tax the rich at a reasonable rate
  5. Give workers a voice in their companies – this is good management and good for business, increasing profitability, improving operations and giving workers a stake in the business
  6. Reign in crazy-huge donations to political campaigns – if large donations did not buy influence why would the wealthy make those political contributions?
  7. Give money to the poor – maybe at random
Sutter's seven points may not be a panacea but offer a starting point for public discourse about how to close the income gap and decrease wealth inequality, problems that threaten the foundations of democracy and thus its very survival. I've advocated several of these positions in previous Ethical Musings posts.

What will you do to reduce the unconscionable gap between the affluent and the poor?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rethinking eschatology (the study of end times)

Most people, particularly Christians, have an unbiblical view of the arrival of God's kingdom. This set of beliefs is notable for expecting that Jesus will physically return to earth, ushering in the fullness of God's kingdom. That view, however, is at odds with what Scripture actually says.

Among some of the Christians who take the Bible literally, passages such as Luke 21:5-19 enjoy an enduring popularity. Those Christians generally hold a worldview that sharply contrasts with mine in three relevant ways. First, in their geocentric cosmogony, they expect the triumphant, resurrected Jesus to return bodily to the earth and establish the fullness of God's kingdom. In contrast, I do not believe that the earth is at the center of the cosmos, that neither this planet nor humankind is necessarily the center of God's activity, and find the idea of physical resurrection incomprehensible at best and nonsensical at worst. Remember, the people who wrote the gospels lived in a world in which people generally believed the world was flat, the earth was at the center of creation, and had no knowledge of atomic structure. The latter is especially pertinent when thinking about resurrection because scientists think it probable that many of us have shared one or more atoms with Jesus and certainly with other people. If there is a physical resurrection, what happens to molecules that have been part of more than one person's body?

Second, many of the Christians who emphasize this morning's gospel reading view Christianity in general and themselves in particular as persecuted by our larger society. I do not experience that conflict. Instead, I experience Christianity in a diametrically opposite manner, more likely seduced and subverted by the larger culture. Christianity, once the established religion, is now marginalized; the larger society easily ignores or reframes its calls for justice and compassion. Maybe I am oblivious to the real state of affairs, but I am unaware of anyone ever persecuting me for my religious beliefs and only occasionally ridiculing me for those beliefs, to which I respond with bemusement rather than anger.

Third, Christians who focus on readings such as Luke 21:5-19 frequently see the passage as providing clues for the timing of God's activity in the world. For me, not only do I reject an anthropocentric, geocentric view of creation and the idea of culture wars, I also find the idea of attempting to discern God's future timetable a folly against which Scripture and eighteen hundred years of failed predictions should warn us.

So, set aside a literal view of the gospel reading. What, if anything, can we make of this text? I want to suggest two thoughts. First, God remains active in creation. Second, being a Christian is no guarantee or prophylactic against bad things happening to us.

For a fuller development of those thoughts, you may want to read my sermon on Luke 21:5-19 that I preached yesterday in Raleigh.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

With whom should you pray?

With whom should you pray?

Pray with anyone who is willing to have you pray with them.

In spite of that answer seeming obvious and difficult to dispute, some people disagree. My first experience of people refusing to pray with other people – all alleged Christians in this instance – occurred in my second parish. The town's small hospital did not have a chaplain. So some of the town's clergy, including me, initiated an effort to establish a program in which the town's clergy would serve, in rotation, as volunteer chaplains. Most of the fundamentalists and Pentecostals refused to have anything to do with the program. One pastor, whose courage I admired greatly, insisted on participating even though many in his Nazarene congregation and denomination objected. He recognized that talking and listening to God (i.e., prayer) has no doctrinal bounds.

That experience set the stage for another: a chaplain colleague, who was a student with me in the Navy's six-week long Chaplain Basic Course, who refused to pray with any of the other 35 chaplains (including me) in our course. This chaplain would not even pray with another chaplain from his own faith group for fear of doctrinal contamination and of offending God with impure prayers. This chaplain obviously had difficulty ministering in the sea services where he had to learn to cooperate without compromising with clergy and laity from a wide variety of faith traditions and no faith.

Thus, I was not surprised to read recently that ultraconservative Roman Catholics were dismayed when Pope John Paul II prayed in public with Muslims. John Paul II was by all measures a theological and liturgical conservative with whom I generally disagreed. Yet even he recognized that prayer transcends theological differences.

Hardline conservatives have consistently expressed bewilderment and consternation that the Orthodox churches have remained part of the World Council of Churches, a body largely comprised of liberal Protestants and a forum in which the participants inevitably pray together.

There is only one God, by whatever name one addresses or refers to the deity. Malaya has lately attempted to parse language in new and divisive ways, making it illegal for anyone but Muslims to use the Arabic word Allah (English translation: the God) in reference to the deity. That law flies in the face of Arab Christian and Jewish usage. Those two religions, for centuries before (as well as since) the advent of Islam, have consistently referred to the deity, when speaking or writing Arabic, as Allah.
Furthermore, mystics – the people of prayer who journey the closest to the deity – describe their experiences in terms that suggest they, regardless of their faith tradition, experience a single, common ultimate reality. In recent years, prominent mystics such as the Christian Thomas Merton and Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh have explicitly acknowledged this commonality. Theologians, such as John Hick and Paul Knitter, have argued for this position as reinforcing, perhaps experientially validating, some of the basic claims of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

In an era of great polarization and dangerous animosities, joining together in prayer represents a positive, bridge-building resource available to people of faith. Genuine prayer liberates, heals, and creates community, gifts no one should fear. The world needs more of such prayer, not less.

(For a fuller exposition of the themes in this post, placed in the context of how Christianity views other religions, you may want to consult my book, Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Martin and Veterans Day

November 11 is both Veterans Day and the annual commemoration of Martin of Tours, a coincidence that prompts mixed feelings.

On the one hand, many Christian soldiers claim Martin as one of their patron saints. This claim largely reflects an ignorant domestication of Christianity, two terms I use intentionally. On the other hand, I find the real Martin truly a saint, someone whose example and ministry are especially appropriate on Veterans Day.

Born in 315 or 316, Martin is one of the earliest saints about whom we have reasonably reliable information, mostly from a biography written by Sulpicius Severus. Sulpicius had actually met Martin, stunned that the then Bishop of Tours offered him hospitality in the Bishop's residence, which was a monk's cell in the wilderness. Sulpicius reports that Martin washed Sulpicius' hands before dinner and his feet that evening. Even though the biography is clearly a hagiography – a glowing, somewhat fictionalized account designed to prove Martin's holiness by recounting numerous miracles that he allegedly performed – Martin's commitment to following Jesus' example of poverty and to obeying Jesus' command to love one's neighbor as one's self are plainly genuine.

Raised in a pagan family, Martin became a Christian catechumen at age 10 on his own initiative. Apparently forced to join the army at 15, perhaps because of a law requiring the sons of army officers to join the army, he quickly became an officer in a ceremonial cavalry unit assigned to protect the emperor. This unit rarely saw combat. Although a soldier, Martin tried to follow an ascetic, monastic lifestyle, e.g., reversing roles with his appointed servant by cleaning the servant's shoes.

When the threat of barbarian invasion caused the Emperor, Julian, to go to Gaul, Martin and his unit faced the likely prospect of combat. While there, the best-known incident in his life occurred, a paradigmatic event especially beloved by military chaplains. Riding on horseback, Martin spied a shivering beggar; he stopped, used his sword to cut his own cloak in two, and gave one-half to the beggar. That night, in a vision, he saw Jesus wrapped in the piece of the cloak that he had given to the beggar. The etymology of the English words chapel and chaplain recalls that incident, sharing a common root with the Latin word for cloak, cappella. The next day, Martin asked to be baptized. This incident portrays the domesticated Martin, the one who does nice things to help people in need.

What most Christians in the military do not know is that some two years later, on the eve of what was to have been perhaps his first battle, Martin refused to fight. He told his seniors, Put me in the front of the army in harm's way, without weapons or armor; but I will not draw my sword again. I have become a soldier of Christ. Furious over his refusal and believing him a coward, his seniors told Martin that they would grant his wish the following day. They then imprisoned him to prevent his fleeing that night. Defying all predictions, the barbarians unexpectedly sent word the next day that they wanted to negotiate peace. This led to Martin's release from prison and the army. In other words, the patron saint of soldiers refused to fight – he had become a conscientious objector!

I am not a pacifist. On rare occasions, I believe that Christians justifiably use lethal force to stop evil. World War II was morally justified because of the Nazi commitment to exterminating all non-Aryans (Jews, people of color), persons the Nazis deemed social misfits (GLBTs, the mentally and physically challenged), and dissidents. This evil was so pernicious and egregious that committed Christian pacifists including Dietrich Bonheoffer and Reinhold Niebuhr changed their views. More frequently, nations fight wars that are not morally justifiable from a Christian perspective. Incidentally, Just War Theory, the only widely recognized moral framework for assessing the morality of war, represents an important contribution of the Christian tradition to western philosophy and international law.

World War I, the war to end all wars, concluded with a treaty signed the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Four years of war had caused 16 million fatalities and 20 million casualties. The United States established Veterans Day on the 11th day of the 11th month to remember and to honor annually the sacrifices of those who serve or have served in our armed forces.

As a Christian, I find that I best observe Veterans Day by an informed commemoration and emulation of Martin Tours.

First, many veterans resemble the beggar with whom Martin shared his cloak: they have great needs the nation widely and blithely ignores. Disproportionate numbers of the physically maimed, the unemployed, the homeless, and alcoholics are veterans. Many of these veterans suffer invisible wounds, i.e., psychic or spiritual injuries that interfere with the veteran living a normal, healthy life. As a retired chaplain and priest, veterans sometimes honor me by telling me their stories. The injuries are real, the horrors of war brought home from the battlefield. Sometimes the vet knows when and how the injury occurred; sometimes the injury manifests itself in unexpected ways years after the person has returned home. Words of appreciation and one-day discounts are nice, but, like Martin's generous gift to the beggar, our veterans deserve better and need more.

Second, we soldiers of Christ do well when we emulate Martin and courageously refuse to wage war except as a last resort and then only to end an evil that threatens to impose great injustice. Sadly, militarism seems firmly entrenched in the American psyche. Our political leaders generally rely upon the armed forces as the first responder to most international crises. The American "can do" spirit that helps communities and individuals to achieve so much then becomes a liability because we expect that every problem has a solution and that the military should be able to achieve victory (or solve any problem). Unfortunately, that thinking embodies more hubris than realism. The military is not the best "tool" for every problem (no more than a carpenter uses only a hammer) nor can the United States, working unilaterally or multilaterally, solve every global problem.

The military-industrial complex about which President Eisenhower worried has morphed into a military-industrial-political complex in which large defense contractors intentionally site facilities in every congressional district, giving senators and representatives political reasons to support expansive defense budgets. The 2013 sequestration cut defense spending and the impending 2014 sequestration will cut even deeper. However, even if the 2014 cuts occur, the U.S. will still outspend the total amount the next twenty nations spend on defense. If that level of spending is insufficient to fund a reasonable defense in a world in which the U.S. is the lone superpower, something is greatly amiss. Tragically, the defense budget cuts have evoked louder and more numerous protests than have reductions to programs designed to aid our society's most vulnerable and needy among whom, ironically, are many veterans who bear the wounds, visible and otherwise, of their military service.

Hilary of Poitiers ordained Martin a priest sometime between 350 and 353. Martin spent the next two decades as a monastic, establishing monasteries and conducting missions. In 372, to his great dismay, the people of Tours elected Martin their third bishop. During his episcopacy, he worked tirelessly to establish justice and compassion throughout his diocese. The date of his consecration, July 4, Independence Day, is perhaps a chance coincidence, or perhaps a synchronicity, which along with his commemoration on the anniversary of his death (Veterans Day, Nov. 11), calls us to care for veterans better and to rely, as did Martin, on the sword of Christ instead of empire for our security.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Reducing income inequality

John Sutter, an economist who writes for CNN, recently proposed seven ways to reduce the income inequality gap in the United States ("7 ways to narrow the rich-poor gap," CNN Opinion, October 29, 2013):

  1. Break down social barriers: Sutter advocates creating conversations that transcend the socio-economic divide. This puts a face on the poor, the affluent, and can advantageously create sympathetic bonds between them.
  2. Improve public schools; unify them: Voluntarily shutter private schools, reunifying children in the classroom, and promoting the conversations that Sutter advocated in point #1 above.
  3. Raise the minimum wage to 1960s levels, at least: This chart shows how the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is about 25% lower than it was in 1960:

  1. Tax the rich at a reasonable rate: The marginal tax rate, which is the highest rate paid on any part of one's income, on the rich in the early 1920s was 25%; the marginal rate rose to 91% in the 1960s and now sits at 35%. A marginal rate of 50%, at a minimum, seems reasonable.
  2. Give workers a voice in their companies: In other words, bring back unions or give employees an ownership stake in the company. Either option is likely to result in higher wages for the working poor whom we presently subsidize with welfare programs.
  3. Reign in crazy-huge donations to political campaigns: This chart on campaign finance graphically depicts the disproportionate influence of the wealthy on the political process, a problem about which I have previously blogged: 

  1. Give money to the poor – maybe at random: Sutter cites research that supports this proposition, showing that random gifts of money to the poor can permanently improve their lives in unexpected ways.

I find Sutter's seven propositions intriguing for three reasons. First, several of his ideas echo positions that I have previously advocated in Ethical Musings. Second, empirical data supports most of his ideas, i.e., these propositions are more than mere opinion or personal likes. Third, I think his ideas offer a comprehensive option that, if implemented, would reduce income equality. Reducing income inequality will improve the quality of life for both the affluent and the poor. Nations ranging from Sweden to Iran now enjoy substantially greater income equality than does the United States.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Reimagining diocesan convention

In previous Episcopal Café posts (part 1 and 2), I suggested radically reimagining The Episcopal Church's governance and structure. Among the changes I recommended were flattening the structure, eliminating mandatory financial assessments, and relying on electronic voting, virtual meetings, crowdsourcing and outsourcing.

A friend recently sent me his proposal for reducing his diocesan convention to one day from its current two-day format. He advocated that one year the diocesan convention would pass a biennial budget and fill elective positions; in alternate years, the diocesan convention would focus on program elements.

Establishing a one-day format for diocesan conventions has several key advantages:

  1. It would reduce administrative and travel expenses, thereby freeing more money for mission;
  2. It would greatly expand the pool of potential convention attendees to include those otherwise prevented from attending by the need to arrange for overnight child care, cover incidental expenses, or honor work commitments;
  3. It would allow greater numbers of people to attend as observers if not as actual delegates.

As an interim measure, I support my friend's proposal.

However, we should radically reimagine diocesan conventions. A diocese, through canonical changes but without organizational restructuring, could transact all of its business over the internet, using electronic communication, electronic voting, and virtual meetings. Then the annual convention could become a time when people from across the diocese gather, meet one another, celebrate shared journeys, grow spiritually, and become energized for ministry and mission in the year ahead.

One appeal of mega-churches is that their size generates energy and synergy that small congregations cannot. Another appeal of mega-churches is that they have resources to produce programs and worship services (including preaching) of a higher quality than is typically found in a small congregation. Ten percent of U.S. congregations now contain half of all churchgoers.

The Episcopal Church is a denomination of small congregations. Our congregations have an average Sunday attendance of less than 70. Furthermore, the diocese, not the parish or mission, is the basic unit in our polity. Radically reimagining diocesan convention could transform a generally staid business meeting that many clergy and most laity try to avoid into an event for the entire diocese, an annual gathering of a "mega-church." This would both affirm our unity and our ties to the diocese with our bishop as our chief pastor.

Too many congregations view their bishop as an honored guest or even as an intimidating and alien authority figure. Conversely, bishops quickly tire of an endless cycle of parish visits in which they preach, perhaps administer confirmation, perhaps eat well, engage in much polite conversation, and conduct canonically mandated inspections. Instead, we need bishops who provide effective visionary leadership for their dioceses, inspiring and energizing their people for mission.

Concurrently, by changing the format of diocesan conventions and maintaining our generally smallish congregations we would continue to enjoy the multiple benefits of belonging to a small group.

In sum, radically reimagining diocesan convention could give us the best of belonging to both a small and large church; diocesan convention, instead of being an annual burden, might become one of the high points of the ecclesial year. Laity and clergy might even clamor for convention to meet more than once a year!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A modern saint

Is Pope Francis a modern saint, a Christian who is living the Christian life writ large? Consider the following:

  • Francis has chosen to live in a building with other priests rather than the more comfortable, as well as more isolated, Vatican apartment of his predecessors.
  • In a liturgical observance, Francis washed the feet of women and the poor, not just of clergy.
  • Francis has decided to canonize (i.e., formally declare as Saints) both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII (the former beloved by traditionalists and the latter beloved by progressives for the changes made at the Vatican II conclave that he convened).
  • Francis has removed a German bishop from the bishop's see for having an excessively opulent lifestyle, symbolized by the bishop approving a multi-million dollar refurbishment of the bishop's residence.
  • Francis has had unscripted interviews with journalists, even with an atheist; he blesses non-believers silently, respecting their right to their own beliefs.
  • Francis has emphasized that the Church needs to become more open, stop focusing on ideology, and start being less judgmental, e.g., refusing to condemn gay priests.

Nothing that Francis has done suggests that major changes in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are imminent. For example, I do not anticipate that he will permit the ordination of women, declare that using contraceptives is moral, or recognize that marriage does not depend upon the participants' gender.

The changes are notable for two reasons. First, Francis has changed the tenor of life at the center of the institution, which, if Francis has a long tenure as pope, will hopefully percolate throughout the institution. In my lifetime, the tone of the Roman Catholic Church has shifted from open and welcoming to narrow and exclusionary. When I was in high school, church youth groups in my hometown visited each other's churches – including the Roman Catholic – an historical first that broke centuries old proscriptions against entering the buildings, let alone engaging in dialogue with one another about Christianity. The Roman Catholic chaplains whom I met when I joined the Navy in 1981 were almost all molded by the events of Vatican II. However, by the time that I retired from the Navy in 2005, the Roman Catholic chaplains then serving were among the most narrow and conservative chaplains on active duty.

Second, Francis' simplicity and commitment to the most vulnerable emulate what we know of Jesus' own lifestyle. Francis provides a modern example of one way to life the Christian life, challenging many of us to follow his incarnation of Jesus. His integrity and directness have made Roman Catholic traditionalists (and their evangelical Protestant allies) sufficiently wary that they are actually questioning the Pope's catholicity! (Michelle Boorstein and Elizabeth Tenety, "Conservative Catholics Question Pope Francis's Approach," Washington Post, October 14, 2013 accessed at

The ultimate measure of a life is how one lives, not the content of one's ideas (although the latter may influence both how one lives and how one encourages others to live). By this standard, today on All Souls' Day, Francis appears to be a saint – more than merely one of the faithful – who is worth emulating in deed, though not necessarily in word.