Monday, December 29, 2014

Reviewing my predictions about 2014


Making New Year's resolutions is a practice that often seems minimally helpful. After articulating aspirational goals for the year, dedication to achieving those goals seems rather short-lived, e.g., indicative of well-intentioned commitments to get in better physical condition, gym memberships increase sharply in early January but gym visits return to normal levels by February.

Instead of making resolutions about personal improvement, I find it useful to think about what may happen in the year ahead (i.e., make some predictions – my next post) after examining the accuracy of my predictions about the current year.

My predictions for 2014, taken verbatim from my January 6, 2014, Ethical Musings' post, Predictions for 2014, are listed below in bold; the annotations indicate where I was right, wrong, etc.

Five predictions remained unchanged from prior years, which I had mostly right:

  • Iraq continues to be headed toward another dictatorship – it is not entirely evident if this has happened. A new prime minister eventually replaced Maliki, but Iraq is far from a real democracy.
  • Afghanistan will become increasingly dysfunctional, especially after the United States and NATO withdraw – this appears accurate, sadly, although the US and NATO withdrawal won't be complete until sometime after 2015
  • Global warming will become progressively worse (e.g., tides will rise, artic ice decrease, and violent storms increase in frequency and severity) – this has also, sadly, transpired
  • No major war will begin – thankfully, this one was right.
  • The world will not end – I also got this one right.

Seven other predictions were also right:

  • The U.S. economy, and European economies, will continue to improve, slowly clawing their way back from the recession of 2007-2008. The stock markets will have another good year, although not as strong as 2014 was.
  • The U.S. Congress will remain riven by partisanship but avoid a complete federal breakdown by reaching small compromises such as the one that resulted in their passing the first federal budget in years.
  • Digital media will continue to supplant other forms of media; more content will be free or low-cost, e.g., books will continue to migrate from paper to various electronic formats. People will rely more on cloud storage and less on storage that they own, signaling a continuing downward trend in personal computer purchases. Dissatisfaction with brief forms of communication (e.g., Twitter) will begin to develop as people seek richer, deeper relationships.
  • States will continue to liberalize drug laws, especially those outlawing marijuana. Similarly, opposition to other hot-button social issues (abortion, capital punishment, and same sex marriage) will continue to diminish. Opposition to gun control will be the most controversial exception to that generalization.
  • Generalized spirituality will continue to attract adherents from traditional religious groups that remain tied to legacy buildings, doctrines, and practices.
  • Trends toward healthy living (e.g., eating local, slow food, popularity of pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, healthier eating, etc.) will continue, although some unhealthy trends (e.g., working too many hours and sleeping too little) will also continue. Overall, the balance will shift toward healthier living.
  • Syrian President Assad will remain in power. U.S. efforts to broker a peace between Israel and the Palestinians will go nowhere, scuttled, if for no other reason, by Israel continuing to build settlements on disputed land.

These two predictions were only partially correct:

  • Roll out of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) will continue to experience significant problems but foes will fail to muster the votes required for repeal. Instead, small changes will incrementally move the U.S. toward some form of nationalized healthcare, although the nation will not achieve that goal for years. Congress proved sufficiently dysfunctional to prevent enactment of even minor changes to the Affordable Care Act; despite much sentiment in favor of repeal, momentum is slowly growing to improve rather than to repeal the Act.
  • In the 2014 U.S. midterm elections, Republicans will keep control of the House of Representatives; Democrats will retain – barely – control of the Senate with the aid of independents and perhaps with the aid of the Vice President's vote. Republicans not only kept control of the House of Representatives but also took control of the Senate.

This prediction I got wrong:

  • And on a celebratory personal note, readership of Ethical Musings will grow by 50%, as it did in 2013! Ethical Musings' readership grew only 25%, which is not too shabby but not as good as in 2013.

My next post will offer predictions for 2015.

Best wishes for the New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas wish for you


 
In our increasingly secular culture, for many people the meaning of Christmas often has more to do with family than with Jesus. Perhaps that partially explains why so many individuals, particularly those who suffer from depression, find the holidays an especially sad time. Feeling down can leave one feeling out of sync with others; knowing that it is a time when people are supposed to be happy (I'd personally like to know just who is the authority that mandates Christmas be a joyous season), can easily worsen a case of the blues.

Nevertheless, perhaps the expectation that Christmas is primarily about family is right. No family I've ever known has been entirely happy. Real families inevitably experience good times and bad times, ups and downs. Spending time with a sad person at Christmas can be refreshing. Their emotional honesty can shatter the false, glittering fa├žade of the decorations and music that helps us to pretend we live in a world filled exclusively with happy endings.

The biblical story of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, examined after removing one's rose tinted lenses, is certainly not a story intended to give one a warm-fuzzy. What teenage, first-time mother would choose to give birth a long way from family and friends, in a smelly, dirty stable, with only a carpenter to help in delivering her first born? What young couple, no matter how godly, could live through such a stressful time without losing patience, becoming irritable, and lashing out at the other?

Indeed, the more I think honestly and dispassionately about Mary and Joseph's story, the more I like it and the more I think it is a useful lens for understanding Christmas. Christmas is about family, but real families rather than the cardboard and tinsel confections that we too often fabricate this time of year.

The miracle of Christmas—the human experience of God—occurs in every family whenever someone, even for just a moment, sets aside everyday emotions and preoccupations to give another person a special moment of love with the gift of a tender look, an affectionate touch, or a kind word. And the same is true for the larger human family whenever someone, even for just a moment, gives one of those same gifts to a stranger.

Christmas is not about some make-believe utopia. Christmas is about experiencing God's loving presence in the midst of our gritty, grimy world.

Have a real blessed Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

And a star led them


In the couple of weeks before Christmas, a number of events worth noting have occurred:

  • After an exchange of prisoners, facilitated by Pope Francis, President Obama decided to recognize the government of Cuba, changing a policy of non-recognition that dates back to the Cuban revolution. This move predictably angered conservatives, but recognizes that non-recognition has failed to advance US interests and to undermine the Castro regime.
  • In the aftermath of hackers accessing Sony's corporate files and emails, which led to an unsubstantiated threat of violence against persons who dared to attend the soon to be released film, "Interview," many major theater chains have declined to show the film. Their refusal to show the film represents an unabashed act of cowardice, caving to a threat that is tantamount to censorship. An essential antidote to terror threats is courageous resilience on the part of those threatened, demonstrated by bravely persevering with one's life. Conversely, by acquiescing to the threat, the theater chains cede victory to the terrorists and invite similar threats in the future.
  • The Episcopal Church has released a report on its proposed restructuring and the Church of England has nominated its first woman bishop (she will be consecrated January 26, 2015).

Now, you may be wondering, what do these events have to do with the gospel narratives of Jesus' birth?

First, the gospel narrative moves the story of God's loving acts on earth forward, adding a new chapter that emphasizes God's presence in humanity. A modern analogue of that emphasis is evident in two nation states, separated by only 90 miles of ocean, once again taking steps to cultivate a positive, healthy relationship.

Second, the gospel narrative is a story of an uncertain, hazardous existence in which the protagonists persevere. For example, Herod not only threatened to kill the baby Jesus but also actually attempted to do so, prompting Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to flee to Egypt.

Third, whatever the actual events of Jesus' birth, it almost certainly went unnoticed. The Episcopal Church needs to simplify its governance, investing more time and energy in mission and less in internal matters. The Church of England should have consecrated its first woman bishop decades (centuries?) ago. Yet few people, other than Anglicans, will care about either change. God's actions in our midst rarely if ever attract the global media spotlight.

This Christmas, when I see stars in the sky or as part of holiday decorations, I remember with thankfulness that God is at work in our uncertain, unsafe world, in ways that most often go unnoticed and pray that I, like the shepherds, may see and rejoice.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Just Counterterrorism


Terror attacks and threats remain at frustratingly high levels even though governments continue to spend enormous sums on counterterrorism operations by the police, armed forces, and other agencies. The seemingly intractable problem of terrorism often leads people to believe that terrorism has no solution. The actual difficulty is that terrorism has no widely accepted definition. Government officials, scholars, the media, and the public all indiscriminately conflate the violence of non-state terror groups, insurgents, mass murderers, and harsh, non-democratic states into the single problem labeled terrorism.

Good problem solving begins by carefully defining the problem to be solved. My new book, Just Counterterrorism, defines terrorism as violence by non-state actors against innocent people for political purposes. This definition circumscribes a distinct problem for which solutions exist. Just Counterterrorism then analyzes what terrorists want, how terror groups end, and why law enforcement and warfighting models are both inadequate for shaping effective, ethical counterterrorism. These analyses explain the need for a new counterterrorism model that is comprehensive, effective, ethical, and flexible.

The proposed Just Counterterrorism Model's components—Justice for the Attacked, Justice for Terrorists, and Justice for Others—comprehensively address the problem of non-state terrorism. Each component includes a set of criteria for ethically assessing or shaping counterterrorism strategy and tactics regardless of a terror group's composition, ideology, or geography. John Rawls' concept of justice as fairness pervasively informs the Just Counterterrorism Model. Numerous examples, primarily from US and Israeli counterterrorism, mini case studies of extraordinary rendition and targeted killing, and a fuller case study of British counterterrorism in Northern Ireland, demonstrate the Model's potential for shaping effective counterterrorism.

Justice for the Attacked explores how communities when attacked or threatened by non-state terrorists can best respond to minimize terrorist gains in an attack's aftermath and to defend against future attacks. Justice for Terrorists outlines protocols for states to follow in apprehending terrorists where the rule of law prevails, interdicting them elsewhere, and adjudicating and punishing those arrested or captured. Justice for Others sketches the moves that states can implement to sever the vital connections between a terror group and the constituency or constituencies that enable the terror group to pose a viable threat.

Read Just Counterterrorism and discover that effective counterterrorism must be ethical (e.g., torture only makes the problem of terrorism worse), depends upon those attacked responding virtuously, and addresses the underlying problems.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Out of step or marching to a different drummer?


The 12 days of Christmas
Which of these metaphors – out of step or marching to a different drummer – best describes the Church?

Personally, I want the Church to march to a different drummer. The drumbeat that we hopefully seek to hear is the drumbeat of God's Spirit calling us to embody a radically Christian ethic. In particular, the Church follows in Jesus' footsteps by incarnating an ethic of love and care for creation, i.e., practicing a radical hospitality that welcomes all equally and simpler living.

Marching to a different drummer does not connote Christian superiority or exclusivity. Instead, the metaphor connotes Christian uniqueness, rooted in the gospel of Jesus, yet affirming of others who march to their own drummers, following other paths to God, perhaps sometimes intersecting or even sharing the Jesus path.

Marching to a different drummer also does not connote a militant understanding of the gospel. I chose the metaphor in spite of that unfortunate association because the metaphor resonates with my lengthy military service and because of our cultural familiarity with it.

However, I'm afraid that too often we equate the metaphor of being out of step with that of marching to a different drummer. On the one hand, I want the Church to be out of step with our social context because we hear a different drummer (i.e., God's Spirit) and live in ways that constructively differentiate us from others. Unfortunately, statistical evidence relevant to that claim is decidedly mixed. For example, Christians live longer but may have a higher divorce rate.

On the other hand, I don't want the Church to be out of step with our social context because we have become fixated on adiaphora, indifferent things of no ultimate value. Each year, Christmas decorations, music, and advertising appear earlier than they did the previous year. Each year, I hear Christian lamentations about rushing the Christmas season, skipping Advent, and ignoring Thanksgiving. This year, I suddenly realized that these laments are all about adiaphora.

Giving thanks is good, but the holiday of Thanksgiving, regardless of its origin, is really a civic rather than religious feast. I use the word feast intentionally: the average American consumes 4500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner. Interest in sporting events and shopping dwarfs interest in thanking God for one's blessings. Surveys show that fewer than half of all Americans who eat Thanksgiving dinner take time to express their gratitude to God or one another.

The Bible is silent about Advent. The Church created Advent as a season of preparation for its celebration of Jesus' birth. Why have four weeks of Advent? Why not have eight weeks? Maybe the season of Christmas should begin the Sunday after All Saints Day and culminate on December 25. We could then celebrate Epiphany the following Sunday. After all, the early Church took a pagan feast and baptized it, transforming it into the feast of Jesus' nativity. Those early Christians recognized that marching to a different drummer does not always require being out of step with society.

Changing the ecclesiastical year, especially in a Church like ours, would require overcoming significant inertia and major administrative hurdles. The Church, by getting in step with when its neighbors start talking about Christmas, might seem more relevant to people who have no religious preference or who identify as spiritual but not religious.

Alternatively, fiddling with the ecclesiastical year might waste too much time and energy. The change, for better or worse, would further distinguish Episcopalians from Roman Catholics and other Western Christians who observe the liturgical year. In any event, the date of Christmas, as well as the length of Advent and Christmas, is unimportant.

The Church too often focuses on adiaphora. I don't care when Advent starts or how long it lasts. Neither being in nor out of step on those issues communicates clearly and loudly the rhythm of the different drummer to whose beat God calls us to march. So I am very happy to have others, whether ecclesiastical or civic authorities, decide those issues.

Instead, I want to focus on the important stuff, the stuff that really matters to people who are trying to follow the drumbeat of God's Spirit. I think Pope Francis gets this and that is why so many Roman Catholics experience Francis' leadership as a breath of fresh air. I sharply disagree with Roman Catholic teachings on many theological and ethical issues; I doubt that Francis will change these teachings. However, he recognizes that in marching to the drumbeat of God's Spirit the Roman Catholic Church must embody a Christ-like love. His predecessor's emphasis on rigidly and incessantly proclaiming more contentious Roman Catholic teachings frequently put the Roman Church needlessly and unhelpfully out of step with society. We should try to stay in step with culture unless getting out of step is an unavoidable consequence of marching to the different drumbeat of God's Spirit.

The next decade seems likely to be critical for The Episcopal Church's future. We have journeyed through challenging times defined by our increasing commitment to social justice and the full inclusivity of all God's people within the Church. The move has been costly and Episcopalians increasingly live on society's margin. Will we slowly fade into oblivion, out of step but not really marching to a different drummer? Alternatively, will we, hearing the drumbeat of God's Spirit ever more clearly and loudly, move confidently into a new era in which our congregations are centers of life abundant life, radiating God's light and love, transforming their neighbors and the surrounding communities?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Our problem with authority


We Episcopalians frequently have problems with ecclesiastical authority. Here's some anecdotal evidence:

  • Clergy and laity do not want bishops (or, for that matter, any other person or group such as a Canon to the Ordinary or Executive Council) providing authoritative guidance. At every General Convention, diocesan convention, or clergy gathering that I attend, I detect an undercurrent of suspicion directed toward our bishops. Admittedly, a few bishops are inappropriately authoritarian. The suspicion, however, extends to all bishops.
  • When I mention to a clergyperson or layperson that I think we have a problem with authority, the person invariably agrees.
  • The recent brouhaha at General Seminary was at least partially a conflict over authority.
  • Debates about denominational restructuring are frequently couched in the language of power and authority.

More troubling, we Episcopalians often have a problem with biblical authority. We're sure (or at least the vast majority of us are sure) that we reject biblical literalism and idolatry. However, we're often unsure in what sense the Bible is authoritative or how to interpret the Bible authoritatively. Our denominational disputes over questions such as the ordination of women and same-sex marriage reflect this uncertainty and unease with the Bible's authority.

Some of the roots of our discomfort with authority are readily apparent. Stories of clergy abused by a bishop are legion. Seminarians are trained to approach both the Bible and life with a hermeneutic of suspicion, asking, in part, who is exercising power and who stands to benefit from that exercise of power. This emulates important aspects of Jesus' ministry in which he challenged the destructive economic, political, and religious power structures of first century Palestine. Yet this also can breed distrust within the Church. Although we are a connectional Church, congregationalism dominates the American religion scene and increasingly taints The Episcopal Church (TEC). Post-moderns increasingly distrust authority, associating it with a proclivity to corrupt, oppress, and exploit.

Let's be honest. Authority is a form of power. And, like it or not, authority has a place in the Church.

In the absence of authority, we would cease to be both connectional and a Church. In the Navy, I met many Christians (and a fair number of chaplains) who had no understanding of what it means to have a connectional polity. They regard the Church as a gathering of independent, local congregations that have only a nominal (or no) direct relationship with one another. The most extreme version of this idea that I encountered was a chaplain who refused to conduct Communion services with anyone in the military because he believed the only permissible setting for Holy Communion was the local congregation of which he was a member.

Pushed to its logical conclusion, congregationalism becomes individualism: each person is the ultimate arbiter of right thinking, behavior, and relationships. In one respect, individualism is unavoidable because no organization or person can dictate what another person thinks or does. In another respect, however, radical individualism displaces Jesus from the very center of Christian life. This type of radical individualism is anarchistic and therefore anti-communal. Any commitment to be together requires a common ordering of communal life incompatible with radical individualism.

John's image of Jesus as the vine and his people as the vine's branches and Paul's image of Christians as the constituent parts of Christ's body are both inherently connectional. In both images, life flows through Jesus to us. It changes and invigorates us, i.e., the flow has a transformative, authoritative power because it is a metaphor for God at work in us.

One option for ordering our common life as the body of Christ is to make decisions based upon mutual consent. The Quakers have traditionally opted for this approach. Much can be said in favor of consensus, but two key disadvantages are that consensus generally requires a great deal of time to achieve and the larger the group, the longer time required. The largely dysfunctional US Senate, with its rules on filibustering and cloture, reflects problems intrinsic to requiring consensus. In some ecclesial situations, I value consensus; as a rule, I find consensus keeps Church groups from taking timely and effective action.

Another option for ordering our common life as Christ's body is to entrust decisions to an authoritative hierarchy. Few Anglicans, regardless of how much they admire aspects of the Roman Catholic Church, want to be part of a branch of Christianity that has such an authoritative (even authoritarian!) hierarchy.

So, we Episcopalians and TEC, as good Anglicans, seek a middle way. We do not want anarchy, nor consensus (we may pay the ideal lip service, but our actions indicate that we think the cost of always reaching consensus far too high), nor an authoritative hierarchy.

To find and then walk a middle way, we can beneficially:

  • Cherish our theological diversity. In the Anglican tradition, our unity depends upon common prayer and not uniformity of belief. Thankfully, we have mostly abandoned prior generations' efforts to enforce doctrinal conformity.
  • Invest time in developing strong connections. Being a connectional church is costly. The cost that receives the most attention is the money that flows from local congregations to the diocese and from dioceses to the national church. However, the more important cost, all too frequently ignored, is the time required to develop and sustain real connections across congregational and diocesan boundaries. If I spend no time with Episcopalians who are not part of my congregation, then my sense of connection is strictly notional rather than actual. Dioceses typically have a companion diocese in another province of the Anglican Communion. Dioceses could also have companion dioceses within TEC. Similarly, our congregations could engage in real mission partnerships with adjoining TEC congregations. I am willing to bet that currently less than one percent of Episcopalians have any direct involvement or knowledge of either their diocese or the national church. When was the last time that your congregation or diocese initiated a joint meal (aka the Eucharist) with another congregation or diocese? Having failed to spend (invest) the time required to become a connectional Church, we are now reaping a harvest of discontent and disinterest.
  • Stop sweating the small stuff (and it's all, or mostly all, small stuff). Ultimately, TEC, its clergy, and its congregations have little real power. Our unity is more valuable than our differences. We cannot prevent God from acting; we cannot start a war (I'd like to think that we could stop a war, but doubt that we have that much power); we're not going to solve any of the world's major problems in the next triennium (or even three millennia). Therefore, let's value our unity and color our inevitable conflicts with the warm hues of love and mutual respect.
  • Trust those with whom we pray to make good decisions. In healthy, functional couples, each partner makes some of the couple's decisions unilaterally, usually based upon expertise and interest; the couple makes a minority of their decisions jointly. Some couples intentionally choose who will make which decision; other couples establish the pattern of their decision-making more informally. Over time, as circumstances change, the pattern of decision-making will also change. A similar pattern should exist within a healthy, functional community: not every member has an interest in every decision; involving everyone in every decision is too costly and cumbersome; the pattern of decision-making needs to change as circumstances change. My sense is both that TEC's pattern of decision-making has remained stagnant too long and now is out of sync with circumstances and that too few Episcopalians trust one another to make good decisions about our common life. Furthermore, most of our contentious denominational issues, viewed from the broad perspective of God's creation, is small stuff. Generally, the fight is over resources. That battle masks the real problem, our weak commitment to the mission of Christ, our dioceses, and our national church that manifests itself in terms of a low level of proportional giving.
  • Retain only the minimum levels of ecclesial authority compatible with being a connectional Church. What ministries and missions are only possible when we work together? What ministries and missions are best achieved cooperatively? What organizational structures, invested with what authority, will most effectively and efficiently accomplish those ministries and missions? For example, common prayer requires an authoritative set of practices (words and action), i.e., a set of practices actually required and used. This set can encompass a healthy, broad diversity but imposes some limits, e.g., our scriptures are the Bible and not the Koran or the Teachings of the Buddha. Setting these limits does not exalt our practices or demean those of others; instead, boundaries create our identity. The Book of Common Prayer's liturgies are too confining; alternatively, allowing bishops, priests, or congregations to develop their own liturgies would quickly erode both our common prayer and connections. We should keep the Book of Common Prayer and supplement it with a large, fluid collection of resources.
  • Adopt an annual Advent discipline of self-examination to discern your personal level of comfort (or discomfort) with authority. The gospel narrative is ultimately a story about authority and power. Genuine dialogue requires participants try to understand their own issues and motivations. To what extent does the authority of Scripture—however understood—grate? Do you read the Bible in the hope that God will illuminate your life and path? When, for this is something we all do, do you read the Bible seeking to find confirmation of what you believe and how you live? When and why do you resent ecclesial authority?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Living -- and dying -- with no regrets


 
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years providing palliative care to persons in their last three months of life, has compiled a list of the five most common regrets that she observed among the dying:

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I let myself be happier. (Susie Steiner, "Top five regrets of the dying," The Guardian, 1 February 2012)
If you were to die today, what would you regret? If you don't die today (hopefully you won't!), what will you do or change so that when you do die (a fate that comes to all of us), you will not die with that regret?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

President Obama's executive actions on immigration


President Obama recently took several executive actions to alter the US response to illegal immigrants. He tightened border controls. He directed prosecutors and federal administrative agencies to stop deportation proceedings against the parents of young children who are US citizens, and expanded the number of young adults eligible for residency. Collectively, his actions will affect about 5 million of the 11 million people illegally in the US. On a positive note, during the Obama presidency, the number of illegal immigrants entering the US has declined substantially. (For a great chart that summarizes the situation, follow this link. Among my previous Ethical Musings' posts on immigration are Musings about Immigration and Immigration Issues are International.)

Some of my illegal immigrant ancestors (namely, the two who arrived on the Mayflower!) would have probably died without the help of the legal residents, i.e., the Native Americans. Those Native Americans, more than the Christian Pilgrims, actually adhered to the Biblical injunction to welcome the foreigner in one's midst.

The US cannot deport 11 million people. More to the point, few people in the US want to deport all of the 11 million people who are in this country illegally. Most of these 11 million people work hard at manual jobs that few residents would deign to accept. Furthermore, deporting the non-citizen parents of young children who happen to be citizens is a form of cruel and unusual punishment for the children, who themselves are not guilty of any crime.

I am uncomfortable with the growing use of executive action to bypass a stalemated Congress because if unchecked it represents a threat to our democratic governance. Increased reliance on executive action is a bipartisan trend extending over the previous half century.

Nevertheless, I do not fault President Obama for taking actions. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration law over 500 days before Obama acted; in the interim, the House has not voted the legislation even though a majority supports the legislation because passage would depend upon a majority comprised of Republicans and Democrats rather than only Republicans.

This type of extreme partisanship harms both democracy and people. Once again, I think of my illegal immigrant forebears who survived because Native Americans took action. We should do the same: Welcome the stranger, whether an illegal immigrant or a member of another political party!

Monday, December 1, 2014

An Advent journey


Sunday (November 1, 2014) was the first day of Advent, the period demarcated by the four Sundays before Christmas. In Advent, Christians prepare to celebrate Jesus' birth on Christmas Day. Although the biblical account of Joseph and Mary journeying to Bethlehem, where Mary supposedly gave birth to Jesus, is fictional, this year try thinking of Advent as a journey:

  • As with any journey, taking one step at a time can make the seemingly impossible possible and thereby reduce (or avoid) much of the stress people frequently experience in December.
  • Let each step draw you closer to your goal.
    • With each Christmas greeting—whether given verbally, with a hug, by a card, or electronically—offer a brief prayer for the well-being of the person(s) greeted. Prayer draws us into the mystery that is God.
    • Choose gifts evocative of God's gifts of life, love, and light to us, gifts that the story of Jesus' birth symbolizes. Gifts reenact the story of the incarnation as God presence within us becomes more clearly manifest.
    • With each Christmas decoration that you see or display, recall the beauty of life observed in the world of nature, in other people, and in you. Beauty is a sign of God's continuing presence and activity in the world.
  • Pause for refreshment (food, drink, sleep, and time with loved ones) along the way. Nobody runs an ultra-marathon without refreshment; nobody survives Advent without stopping for refreshment and renewal.
  • Choose a destination for your journey charted not by a to do list, but by a firm conviction that the exertions of your journey will forever transform you, increasingly filling you with life and love abundant. The Christian life, far more than a destination, is a journey of becoming more fully the person that God intends one to be.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!



Some years ago, someone sent me the following thoughts in an email:

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep ... you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish somewhere ... you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness ... you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation... you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death ... you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.

If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful ... you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.

If you can hold someone's hand, hug them or even touch them on the shoulder ... you are blessed because you can offer healing touch.

If you can read this message, you just received a double blessing in that someone was thinking of you, and furthermore, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read at all.

Reading those thoughts prompted two musings.

First, I am truly fortunate. I have food, clothing, shelter, money, health, enjoy a safe life in a free land, am happy, literate, and love one who loves me. These are all truly wonderful aspects of life.

Second, I can take little or no credit for most (all?) of those good things. If I had been born in a different place or time, or my parents had had other values, then my life today would be VERY different. Some of the good things in my life may be blessings, i.e., from God. Alternatively, some of the good things in my life may have resulted from random events. I don't know. Philosophical and theological debates rage intensely over that question.

What I do know is that my life is very good. Thanksgiving is a day to pause, to appreciate life's goodness (and I've never known anyone whose life was entirely devoid of goodness, whether a paralytic or a convict or death row), and to thank God for God's blessings (e.g., God's presence, love, light, and life) by caring for other people and the world.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bill Cosby and Forgiveness


An Ethical Musings' reader sent me this question:

Reflecting on the recent public outrage over Bill Cosby's many sexual encounters, I made the comment that "the line would be very long if all men who wined, dined, then had unmarried sex came forward. Sin happens. Jesus said "you hypocrites yea who are without sin, cast the first stone". I being accused of being flippant remarks when I quoted Jesus, an outraged lady said, "There is a huge difference between drugging a woman and 'wining and dining.'" Obviously, Bill Cosby, a great entertainer and a product of the "Playboy" lifestyle, is in serious trouble. Question- Jesus would forgive him. But, would the American people?

God's forgiveness of human sin is certain. Bill Cosby may be guilty of rape or sexual harassment, if current allegations are correct. In any case, he – like the rest of us – is a sinner who sometimes chooses to do evil. Will the American people forgive him?

That apparently simple "yes or no" question actually deserves a carefully nuanced answer.

First, a majority of Americans had enshrined Cosby on a pedestal, admiring his humanity and his humor. To the extent that he had become an icon, or even an idol, people will find it easier to condemn him than to forgive him. Both excessive respect and condemnation are forms of judgment. Jesus encouraged us not to judge others but to love them as one's self. Unfortunately, we generally interpret Jesus' teaching about judgment strictly in negative terms, ignoring that judgment can also result in adulation, infatuation, and idolatry.

Second, an inability to forgive another person often points to the presence of the same sin in one's own life, as Jesus highlighted in his teaching about criticizing the mote in another's eye while ignoring the log in one's own eye. Sexism and its correlates of sexual harassment and sexual exploitation permeate the American culture. (For example, a recent Washington Post article reported men harassing a woman 108 times while she walked around New York City; exploitative sexual images – male and female – dominate advertising.) Sexism is wrong because it reduces another person to an object instead of valuing that person for him or herself. Truly forgiving Cosby would require people to confront the ugliness and pervasiveness of sexism in their own lives.

Third, a prerequisite for forgiveness is the one offering forgiveness recognizing that s/he has been hurt or harmed by the other person's actions. Few Americans will recognize that Cosby's alleged actions – if he committed them, and I am studiously avoiding taking a stance on that issue because this is not a court of law and the court of public opinion is notoriously fallible – hurt or harmed them. Anytime one person in a community is harmed or diminished, all members of the community suffer a loss. When the person doing the hurting or harming is a prominent and respected community leader (this is very different than enshrining the person on a pedestal), then the loss is proportionately greater.

Fourth, forgiving Cosby (if forgiveness is required) would highlight our culpability in his actions. Our celebrity culture, our sexism, and our extreme individualism all contribute to creating and perpetuating social dynamics that make inappropriate or illegal behavior more prevalent. This does not excuse the behavior of anyone who commits inappropriate or illegal acts. This does recognize that bad behavior occurs within a broader context society constructs collaboratively. For example, to the extent that one's actions directly or indirectly hold celebrities to a different standard than everyone else (think of star football players who receive a traffic ticket for a hit-and-run accident), then one is culpable when celebrities sin; forgiveness is impossible until one repents of that personal culpability.

Will Americans forgive Cosby? I suspect that most will answer the question superficially, giving little thought to the spiritual dynamics of forgiveness. His new TV has been cancelled; in an appearance on National Public Radio to promote his new book, he declined to comment about the allegations. Given his age and race (always a factor in the US), I'm guessing that in the eyes of most Cosby fans he has irretrievably fallen off his pedestal. Sadly for Americans and Cosby, this incident appears unlikely to become a moment of grace in which the guilty repent of their sin and experience the transformative power of forgiving and forgiveness.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Each of us has many lives to live … one life at a time


 
Alfred North Whitehead
 
Each of us has many lives to live … one life at a time.
Believers in reincarnation will interpret the previous paragraph in a way contrary to what I mean.
In process philosophy and thought (process philosophy began with the ideas of Alfred North Whitehead; prominent among process theologians are John Cobb, Marjorie Suchocki, and David Griffin) individuals (whether a person, another animal, an inanimate object, or a sub-atomic particle) are events that rather than things. Events have a duration measured in inconceivably small fractions of a second.
Interpreting the cosmos in terms of events rather than things has some important consequences. First, no thing is constant. Every sequence of events incorporates ongoing change. On a sub-atomic level, no particle's location and energy are both fixed. Inanimate objects (think of a rock, for example) constant change, e.g., because of erosion, pressure (if buried underground), etc. Living things change in more obvious ways, though it is worth noting that humans constantly change as both the brain morphs in response to new sensory input and thoughts and most of a human's billions of cells have a seven-year lifecycle. In other words, we are never the same person for more than the smallest fraction of a second.
Second, what we normally regard as things (sub-atomic particles, inanimate objects, all forms of life) is more accurately regarded as a continuing stream of events, the present emerging from the previous and leading to the next. Each of us has many lives to live … one life at a time.
Third, life is sequential rather than repetitive, i.e., unlike what happens in the movie "Groundhog Day," we live each moment only once. Once a moment – a unique set of events has occurred – it will never reoccur. Therefore, it behooves each of us to make every moment count.
Fourth, the cosmos exhibits an increasing complexity indicative of the presence of emergent properties. I, in this millisecond, am an event. But each of my organs and internal systems are also events as are each of my cells, each component of each cell, etc. Properties associated with one level of complexity (e.g., cells that self-propagate) are not necessarily found at other levels (e.g., an atom does not self-replicate). Humans have a level of awareness, because of our relatively high degree of complexity, not found in less complex events.
Fifth, we have the ability to exercise some degree of influence on the formation of some of the events in which we participate. This is an emergent property associated with greater levels of complexity that allow more opportunity to exert that influence. Concomitantly, greater complexity usually diminishes the options that other events and forces, including God, have to exert change.
In sum, process thought offers many people a way to make sense out of life while both incorporating the knowledge gained from science and avoiding the dead end of scientific reductionism that fails to account for life's multiple levels, creativity, and indeterminacy. Concurrently, theologians, biblical scholars, and clergy who utilize process thought provide a positive, constructive alternative to the foolish bibliolatry that sadly dominates so much contemporary thought, e.g., cf. my Ethical Musings' post on Noah's Ark.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Jesus and healthcare - Part 2


 
This is the second of a two-part post on Jesus and healthcare (to read the first part, follow this link). As always, I invite reader questions and comments.

Thus, from the perspective of economics, my reader posed the wrong question. The question is not whether one chooses a healthcare system characterized by capitalism and free markets but what constitutes the preferred form of socialism:

  • What resources (hospital beds, emergency rooms, ambulances, etc.) and how many of them does a community need?
  • How can society minimize administrative overhead?
  • What parts, if any, of a healthcare system lend themselves to free markets, i.e., is a hybrid system possible?
    • One possibility might be the choice of a primary care provider, especially if structural barriers to entry were reduced (cut the cost of medical school, encourage unlimited competition between medical schools, etc.) and non-physician providers (physician assistants, nurse practitioners, midwives, etc.) could easily and legally provide routine care.
    • Another possibility is to nationalize all healthcare research (including on drugs), eliminate patents on all healthcare devices and drugs, and then promote competition between manufacturers. Taxpayers would fund the research, eliminating the outsize profits that private industry demands for engaging in admittedly high-risk research that often has an uncertain payoff.
    • Another possibility might be to segment healthcare, socializing most of it but creating free markets for optional procedures such as most cosmetic procedures.

Of course, funding represents a major obstacle to moving from the cherished illusion of free markets to an openly socialized healthcare system. However, the change should cut the total cost of healthcare in the US, which is now the highest in the world and generally produces mediocre results, even though it occasionally produces exceptional results. The people who would reap financial gains from the change would include most taxpayers; among persons and companies who might lose are shareholders and employees in the nations for profit healthcare companies (hospitals, insurers, physician groups, etc.).

All of which brings me back to Jesus. The most important reason to change the US healthcare industry is Jesus' concern for the most vulnerable and least among us, i.e., the uninsured and underinsured, people who postpone seeking care because they cannot afford it and don't like charity. The second reason to change is that Jesus worked for health and healing, outcomes on which the US approach currently receives very mediocre marks. The third most important reason to change is that Jesus expects us to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to our care. Our healthcare industry is costly and needlessly wasteful. Finally, Jesus sought to create genuine community and honest relationships. Our healthcare industry is divisive and built on a web of misinformation and half-truths that mask the problems I've sketched above as well as others.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Jesus and healthcare - Part 1


 
An Ethical Musings' reader asked for my opinion on the following question: Of which healthcare system might Jesus approve, the US for profit or Canada's socialized?

My answer to that question has two parts. In this, the first, I answer the reader's question, concluding that it is the wrong question to ask. In my next post, I'll ask the right question, offer an answer, and conclude with some thoughts on Jesus' priorities.

First, Jesus' concern would be that everybody – regardless of a person's wealth, social position, race, religion, or other demographic factors – have equal access to quality healthcare. Scripture consistently portrays Jesus as a healer who cared equally for all people.

Second, no healthcare system is – or ever will be – perfect. Healthcare systems are devised and operated by humans. Choosing a healthcare system inevitably requires choosing between sets of tradeoffs. In other words, healthcare debates will generally involve differences of opinion that result from assigning different weights to various values and from different projections about the probability of future outcomes.

Third, the choice between a free market (what my reader termed capitalist and I rephrased as for profit) and socialist approach to healthcare is in many respects an economic decision. As I have previously argued at Ethical Musings, capitalism often has significant advantages compared to other economic systems. However, healthcare poses seemingly insurmountable obstacles on both the demand and supply sides of the market to devising a satisfactory free market healthcare system:

  • On the demand side, sometimes when a person wants (the more accurate verb is needs) healthcare, timing is critical, e.g., in the aftermath of a life-threatening injury or acute medical crisis such as a heart attack. In such a moment, the person requires immediate care and does not have the time, and often not the ability, to choose a supplier. Yet informed consumers are a prerequisite for free markets to function properly. In sum, a free market healthcare system is incompatible with the provision of emergency care. Many communities have recognized this fact, establishing a monopolistic first-responder system and limiting the number of emergency rooms.
  • Also on the demand side, for free markets to function effectively and efficiently consumers must make informed choices about treatment options and suppliers (also known as vendors and healthcare providers). The more complicated a medical issue is, the more costly treatment is likely to be. However, the more complicated a medical issue is, the less likely a consumer will have the time, education, and perhaps intellectual ability to make a rational choice between her/his options. Furthermore, consumers generally have little incentive to acquire the knowledge and skill to make good healthcare choices about complex medical issues because most consumers will not need to make any of these choices for themselves until they near the end of life, when thinking abilities are often degraded. Acquiring such knowledge early is usually pointless: the range of possible medical issues is too huge (which is why physicians specialize) and knowledge about those issues and preferred treatment protocols often change (which is why continuing education is important for physicians). Meanwhile, complicated insurance policies, uncertainty about the future, and consumer optimism about the future (I won't get sick, I'll somehow get by, etc.) discourage individuals from researching insurance options before they buy.
  • Also on the demand side, consumers and their families understandably and generally want the best available care, regardless of price. Healthcare markets, in other words, tend to be inefficient because they are highly inelastic (insensitive to price), which allows suppliers to maximize profits.
  • On the supply side, free markets require multiple suppliers to compete with one another. Yet much of the US healthcare system is currently an oligopoly (few suppliers) or monopoly (one supplier) and not a free market system with many suppliers. Competition does exist between physicians in many places. However, in most markets only a few (three or less, usually) hospitals compete with one another. Population density will often support only one hospital; proximity, as much as anything, will often appropriately dictate which hospital treats a person, meaning that competition is more illusory than real. Similarly, healthcare insurers have succeeded in minimizing competition in many places, sometimes through legislative intervention and sometimes by ruthless competition in a badly regulated market. Regardless, the consumer loses.
  • Also on the supply side, healthcare providers have worked to establish high barriers to entry that effectively limit competition. If the US had twice or three times as many physicians as it does today, those doctors would start to compete on price. Drug patents promote research in the hope that sales of a blockbuster drug will generate massive profits, but do so at the cost of discouraging head-to-head competition between drug companies. This dynamic is especially evident in the resistance of drug companies to consumers buying generic drugs, medicinally the same as the original but manufactured and sold at a far lower price. The pharmaceutical industry has often succeeded in colluding with physicians and pharmacists to minimize use of generics.
  • Also on the supply side, healthcare providers adamantly refuse to provide consumers with price information. When I moved to Raleigh, I wanted to choose a primary care physician based on which doctor would bill my healthcare insurance the least (my copay in all cases would be the same). None of the physicians who accepted my healthcare insurance would tell me the amount that they would bill my insurance. In other words, price competition was impossible. I found the same refusal to provide pricing information when I contacted the three area hospitals about their services. In fact, the people with whom I spoke were first surprised that anybody would ask about price (after all, insurance would pay) and then were offended that I would choose a provider based on price (none of the physicians had had any complaints filed publicly and the hospitals all have great national reputations).
  • Also on the supply side, very profitable private healthcare insurers (think large insurance companies) and the administrative burden associated with funding US healthcare this way represents a de facto surcharge of about 25% to consumers and taxpayers. This extra cost adds little if any value to actual healthcare.
  • Also on the supply side, extensive government regulation (e.g., controls on the number of hospital beds, emergency rooms, costly equipment such as MRI machines, etc.) already recognize that parts of our healthcare are really a monopoly or oligopoly, not a free market.

In other words, significant structural barriers on both the demand and supply sides mean that a free market approach to healthcare will never really exist. The existing US approach is more accurately described as dysfunctional oligopoly than as free market capitalism.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Veterans Day 2014


 
Today is the 239th anniversary of the United States Marine Corps, founded in 1775. Tomorrow is Veterans Day, when the United States honors those who have served in its armed forces. From a Christian perspective, these annual commemorations prompted two musings.

First, Jesus loved all of God's children; we are the branches and he is the vine. The Marine Corps emphasizes from boot camp forward, Once a Marine, always a Marine. In other words, being a Marine (they always capitalize the word) means being a Somebody who belongs to a group larger than self. More broadly, Veterans Day calls us to honor those who have defended our freedoms; we honor them best not with words (Thanks for your service) but with genuine caring through adequate healthcare, pensions, etc. The high rates of homelessness and alcoholism among veterans reflect the large number with invisible wounds whom we too often forget are branches just as we are. Honoring veterans should not be an annual responsibility but a daily privilege. Similarly, being a human means being a Somebody who belongs to a group larger than self.

Second, Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers. The image included with this post is of the Iwo Jima Monument, a WWII victory against the Japanese in which triumphant Marines (one Caucasian, one Native American, and one Afro-American) plant the symbol of freedom atop Mt. Suribachi. Thirty years ago, I saw Iwo Jima. I could see no signs of life, only the rusting hulks of tanks and landing craft. The island was a stark reminder that while war may occasionally be necessary, war never solves our problems. At best, a necessary war creates an opportunity to build peace. Since WWII, the US has sadly become increasingly militaristic, looking to warfighting rather than peacemaking to solve problems. The most recent US misadventure has slowly begun to expand, from airstrikes against the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to inserting ground personnel to advise and to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting against ISIS. The US cannot end this conflict militarily; no matter the extent of any military defeat inflicted on ISIS, it will do little to resolve the underlying problems or to end the violence in that area permanently. Be of good courage; pray for peace; and work to end violence that God will bless you as a peacemaker.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Noah and the ark


 
Well-intentioned but foolishly misguided persons are building what they claim is a replica of Noah's Ark as part of a Christian theme park in Kentucky (this link is for their website).

This effort insults Christianity.

First, the biblical story of Noah and the ark is just that, a story. This story, whatever its origins, is not historical. Neither God, nor any other power, ever flooded the entire world. Life did not continue because two of every species lived amicably together aboard an ark. No archaeological evidence of such a flood exists. The idea of prey and predator peaceably co-existing on an ark is absurd. How would species unique to a limited geographic area (e.g., Australia) get to the ark? How would Noah collect and then co-exist with all viruses, bacteria, and other microscopic organisms unable to live in water and then extant? Why would a wise God establish principles/laws for the functioning of creation and then choose to abrogate them? Accepting the story of Noah and the ark as literal history requires a thinking person to set aside most of what is known about biology, physics, chemistry, etc.

Second, Christianity is not a religion exclusively for the ignorant, whether those ignorant from choice or from a regrettable lack of education. God's creation led to the emergence of thinking persons. We insult God when we refuse to utilize our minds (which are an integral element of who we are) to learn about creation and to advance human understanding.

Third, theology and spirituality are dynamic not static. We can regress. Centuries after Christians stopped reading the Bible literally, we can pretend to do the same. We are pretending and not emulating their example, because Christians in prior centuries read and interpreted the Bible using the best scientific information and theories they had available. Alternatively, we can progress. We can read the Bible in light of the new information and latest theories that the sciences and social sciences have developed. Future generations will inevitably think our views limited and incorrect. But they need not think us foolish or needlessly ignorant. To postulate that people in the twenty-first century can know no more about God or life than did the people of the tenth century BC, or the first century AD, is to reject the insights and wisdom accumulated by intervening generations, often at considerable effort and cost.

The story of Noah and the ark is a great story. Sadly, it is rapidly becoming a bad joke eroding Christianity's diminishing credibility.

Monday, November 3, 2014

VOTE!


Nov. 4 is Election Day in the United States. Voting is projected to be light, as is typical for non-Presidential elections.

I recently read an economic analysis of voting, in which the author suggested that the value of any individual voting in any election was very close to nil. One vote will almost never decide an election, so why bother voting if one's vote will not make a critical difference?

In part, that question points to a flaw in utilitarian ethics and traditional economic analysis that presumes a person always acts out of self-interest. If everybody acted entirely out of self-interest and no one person's vote is likely to be decisive, nobody would vote.

Rule utilitarianism is an alternative to traditional utilitarianism. In rule utilitarianism an individual should follow rules that when applied universally maximize benefits to individuals. Rule utilitarianism would, for example, require everyone to vote because democracy is a superior form of government compared to anarchy and to tyranny, the most probable outcome if nobody voted in any election.

Rule utilitarianism aligns perfectly with deontological ethics with respect to the importance of individuals voting. For people with a theological perspective, voting is an individual's opportunity to exert divine influence on an election's outcome. That is, voting is a religious duty. If a religious voter is upset with the identity of winning candidates or decisions made on referendum questions, then one of three things happened. Perhaps the person misunderstood God's will. Perhaps the person failed to engage the political process with sufficient commitment and ardor to allow God's voice to be heard. Alternatively, perhaps evil triumphed (an outcome that I personally deem unlikely—God depends upon God's people to help move the world in a positive direction.)

For people without a theological perspective, the most common deontological ethic is Kant's categorical perspective, i.e., that one should do that which every person should do in a similar situation. In other words, every citizen should vote.

The cost of voting is VERY low. Voting wisely takes a few moments to review the ballot, to learn something about the candidates and any referendum issues, and then to go to one's local polling place and vote. Incidentally, if I have failed to persuade you to vote, in an election in which few people vote, each vote is proportionately more significant.

VOTE!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hope, the power of positive thinking, science, and All Saints Day


Two conflicting – almost diametrically opposed – news reports recently caught my attention. The first, published in The Atlantic (Maggie Puniewska, "Optimism is the Enemy of Action," October 17, 2014) reviewed scientific research that supposedly demonstrates that positive thinking impedes achievement. The second, published in the New York Times (Bruce Grierson, "What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?" October 22, 2014) argues the opposite, citing research that suggests a person can retard, perhaps even prevent aging, by thinking her or himself young. Both studies are worth a read.

Then I came across an article in Science (Tom Siegfried, "In science, popularity breeds unreliability," October 17, 2014). Siegfried cites research to show that the popular news media tends to feature reports of controversial studies and studies with practical implications, regardless of the quality of the research undergirding the study. That conclusion made sense to me, especially in view of the two news items I had read in the previous hour.

Let me advocate two theses.

First, one cannot use good science to prove anything (unlike the Bible, in which one can find a justification for almost anything!). Unlike biblical interpretation, quality science functions by using standardized principles: articulate a thesis; develop testable predictions based upon that thesis; then test the accuracy of those predictions adhering to recognized scientific methods and protocols.

Incidentally, a scientific approach to biblical study can occasionally be helpful. For example, predictions of the end of the world, based on whatever biblical texts one wishes to consult, represent a thesis (one can predict the end of the world) that is testable (i.e., a prediction of when the world will end). To date, the dozens if not hundreds of specific dates proposed have all proven false. Biblical prophets described God at work in their world; they did not predict the future.

Good science reports that Ebola is transmitted only through body fluids (spit, blood, urine, etc.). Ebola is not transmitted through the air. This is not a matter of opinion or choosing one study over another. There is simply no evidence of airborne transmission of the virus that causes Ebola. Religious leaders of all traditions support people in living abundantly by fighting unfounded fears and promoting courageous living.

Second, positive thinking can enhance one's quality of life but is no substitute for hard work, perseverance, skill, or knowledge. Hope is one expression of positive thinking. If a person has no hope of a better future (or better performance, or positive change – depending upon the specific hope), then the person is unlikely to change, improve, grow, etc. Hope is essential. I have repeatedly witnessed the power of hope to transform life. Among the transformations I have observed are a sick person who believed that they were dying recover hope for healing and return to health, persons in relationships they thought were dead revitalize self and the relationship, and persons who had given up on self experience renewal.

The Bible is an anthology of stories about the power of hope – positive thinking – transforming life, an anthology of windows through which the light of God shines and illuminates our lives. This is not a matter of science, but like science, I have seen the evidence of my thesis (positive thoughts as one walks in God's light) in the lives of changed people.

All Saints Day, celebrated annually on November 1 (many churches may celebrate this year on Sunday, November 2), is set aside, in part, to recall the lives of the countless people in whose lives we can observe God's transformative love and power at work. Who is your hero in the faith? In whom do you see, or have you seen, the light of God shining?