Showing posts from May, 2016

Musings about Elijah, a centurion, Daniel Berrigan, and Memorial Day

In the ninth century BC, the northern kingdom of Israel, unlike the southern kingdom of Judah, lacked Mediterranean frontage. Israel's king, Omri, recognized the economic, military, and political benefits that Israel could obtain if it had easy access to the Mediterranean. So he arranged for his son, Ahab, to marry Jezebel, the daughter of a king who did control a section of Mediterranean coast. Ahab's father apparently failed to see the marriage's potential and probably unintended religious consequences. Jezebel, a non-Jew, understandably wanted to continue practicing her own religion. Thus, Ahab had an altar to Jezebel's god, Baal, constructed. Furthermore, many worshippers of Baal dwelled among the Israelites, giving this new altar rather broad popular appeal. If the biblical portraits of Ahab and Jezebel are credible, both of them relished their power as king and queen, using their positions to enrich themselves at the expense of their people. In very many respec

Musical lessons

I recently attended a hilarious production of the Broadway hit musical, "The Book of Common Prayer." Oops! There is no such musical. However, I did attend the "Book of Mormon," a riotous and poignant musical. Why has nobody written a Broadway musical about The Episcopal Church (TEC) or our cherished Book of Common Prayer? Encouragingly, perhaps few outsiders find us sufficiently obnoxious to be fertile soil for humor. Less encouragingly, in comparison to the Mormons, TEC has a lower public profile, our institutions are less energetic, we expect less from our membership, and our liturgies are more common than unique, representing a (if not the) principal root of most English-language Christian worship. Unexpectedly for a genre that tends toward entertainment rather than theological insight, "The Book of Mormon" left me with three takeaways. First, the musical emphasized the imperative of being relevant to people's needs. The Church of J

Building character the Marine way

This morning's reading from Romans [1] invariably evokes, for me, memories of Marine Corps' Officer Candidates School, where I was the chaplain for almost two years in the early 1980s. The Marine Corps relies upon the Navy to provide both healthcare professionals and chaplains. I don't want to bore you with sea stories about the military, but realized this week that I have spent approximately 40% of my life and almost 60% of my adult years on active duty in the Navy. Unlike OCS for the other armed services that train officers, Marine OCS screens and evaluates candidates to determine if they possess the requisite physical, academic, and leadership qualities to become Marine officers. Only about half of the candidates who begin the course earn a second lieutenant's commission. Many candidates' most difficult physical challenge was the endurance course. The endurance course begins with a standard Marine Corps obstacle course – about two minutes of total physical

Who are you?

When two adults meet for the first time, early in the conversation one or both will often ask, What do you do? A person's career, profession, or employment often defines who a person is, both for the person's own sense of self and for how other individuals perceive the person. When I retired from the Navy in 2005, I left a career in which uniform insignia revealed a person's military specialty, seniority, and some of their experiences. I was tired of my profession, seniority, and experiences defining me. I wanted people to see me for myself. Thus, when new acquaintances asked me in our first conversation what I did, I often answered that I was happily and comfortably unemployed. My response left a majority of inquirers visibly discomfited. These persons seemed unable to cope with someone who refused to define him or herself in terms of career, profession, or employment. Even when I visited my mother in a retirement community and observed residents talk with a


Today is Pentecost. Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which occurs fifty days after Passover. The Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, marked the end of the grain harvest and commemorated God giving the Torah to the Hebrews. [1] In time, as Christianity developed an identity separate from Judaism, Pentecost became the Church's annual celebration of God's gift of the Holy Spirit, which we heard about in today's readings. [2] In the Old Testament, only prophets and prophetic figures – persons like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Deborah, and David – received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In contrast, the New Testament teaches that God gives the Holy Spirit to everyone who walks the Jesus path. This is why, after receiving the sacrament of Holy Baptism, the person is anointed with oil, symbolizing the gift of God's Spirit. The account of Pentecost, as recorded in the Book of Acts, associates the Holy Spirit with three images or symbols: wind, fire, and language.


The photograph above is of Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz' " Homeless Jesus ." Incidentally, the photograph is of the statue in Davidsonville, NC, where St. Alban's Church, of which an Ethical Musings' reader, the Rev. David Buck, is rector, sponsored the temporary installation. The sculpture has caused some outrage, allegedly denigrating Jesus. However, if one accepts as factual the gospel report that Jesus openly said that he had "no place to lay his head," then the inexorable conclusion is that Jesus was homeless. Alternatively, even if Jesus did have a home, if one believes that through Jesus humans experience God's self-revelation, then conceptualizing Jesus as someone who looks or lives as we do represents a healthy theological and spiritual method. Thus, for example, I think it useful to exercise historical license and to depict Jesus as a member of various ethnicities, races, and genders. This is nothing new. Archaeologists ha

Telling Jesus' story

During Marine field training at Parris Island, South Carolina, a drill instructor threw a pinecone among the recruits and yelled, "Grenade!" The trainees immediately turned away and hit the ground. "Just as I suspected," chided the drill instructor. "Not a hero among you. Didn't anyone want to jump on that grenade to save the others?" A little later, the DI again threw a pinecone. This time, all of the recruits but one jumped on the "grenade." "Why," demanded the instructor, "are you still standing there?" "Sir," the recruit replied, "someone had to live to tell about it." [1] Holy Nativity has experienced some very difficult times. You may feel heroic, having survived something equivalent to, or even worse than, a grenade attack. Importantly, you have survived, individually and as a parish and school. So, what is the story you have lived to tell? This morning's gospel reading, [2] Jesus'

Should we support Sunnis or Shiites?

An Ethical Musings' reader inquired: Who are we supposed to support, Sunni or Shiite Muslims? I'm unclear about the antecedent of the pronoun "we" in the foregoing question. The "we" may be Christians or it may be the United States. Regardless, my answer is quite simply; Support both Sunni and Shiite Muslims. First, both Sunnis and Shiites are God's children. The issues that divide Islam's two largest communities are irrelevant to non-Muslims. Controversial issues include whether leadership of the Muslim faith community requires a blood tie to the prophet Mohammed (Sunnis say no, Shiites answer yes), whether Muslims have saints and shrines (Sunnis say no, Shiites say yes), and so forth. Second, Islam in both its Shiite and Sunni traditions is a religion of peace. Islamic extremism has arisen among both Shiites (e.g., Hezbollah) and Sunnis (e.g., al Qaeda). These extremists groups attempt to mobilize Muslims against what they perceive as

Seeking signs of new life

One of the most spectacular natural sights I have seen is watching, from sea at night, Kilauea's molten lava cascade into the ocean. Molten lava usually has a temperature in excess of 1200 F. In addition to a fiery iridescent beauty, its tremendous destructive power indifferently destroys homes and other structures in its path. Once or twice most weeks, I walk in Kewalo Basin Park. For several months I wondered about a large shed with fishing nets prominently posted with signs declaring, " Kupu ." My Hawaiian is extremely limited, but I do know that kapu means keep out or forbidden , so that seemed an unlikely interpretation. Eventually, I saw a young man exiting the shed as I was approaching it. Our eyes met and I seized the opportunity to inquire about the meaning of kupu . He appeared pleased that I would take a moment to inquire and explained that the kupu is a fern, which is often the first plant to grow on freshly cooled lava. Kupu, he continued without embar