Monday, October 16, 2017

Learning to see God

Nick, Jonathan and Diane Kramer’s eldest child, was a happy, energetic kid who’d usually come running or skipping out of school. But one fall day, when Nick was six years old, his dad was parked at the curb when Nick was walking slowly towards the car, his curly head hung low, his mouth turned down, a bunch of papers in his hand. Nick seemed to drag himself along the side-walk. He slowly pulled open the car door and slumped into the seat.
“Hi, Nick. How are you doing?” his dad asked. No response.
“What’s going on? Did something bad happen today?”
Nick slowly nodded yes before turning his face away.
“Oh, come on, Nick. Tell your old dad what’s wrong.”
“I’m bad,” Nick said at last.
“Bad? Why do you say that?”
Nick handed over a crumpled piece of paper. Smoothing it out it revealed rows of math problems. A big red “-3” dominated the top.
“Look,” Nick said, tears running down his cheeks, his lips quivering in an attempt at self-control. He pointed at the glaring red mark. “Look, dad, I got a bad grade.”
After considering for a long moment, his dad said, “That minus three doesn’t mean you’re bad or that you got a bad grade, Nick. It means you missed just three problems on this whole paper. Your teacher wants you to learn from your mistakes. But that’s not all that counts. How many did you get right?”
Nick had no idea so his dad started counting up the correct one’s that weren’t marked, pointing at each one as I went. By the tenth correct one, Nick had joined in the counting, and by the time we’d gotten to 27, Nick’s tear stained cheeks were showing signs of happiness. His dad had him write a big black “+27” next to the red “-3.”
“There. Twenty-seven right.” Nick absorbed the truth for a moment before his usual bright smile reinstated itself on his little-boy-face. The subject was changed and the day went on.[1]
That story encapsulates a fundamental lesson in faith. Far more than a set of beliefs, faith consists of developing a different perspective on life by learning to see God’s presence and activity in our midst. When we make that shift, we become like those considered simpletons in the presence of the allegedly wise or disciples of itinerant rabbi and miracle worker who discover to their amazement that they are able to bring healing just like Jesus did.
I long ago gave up pretending to be able to explain the mystery of the Eucharist, the power of the Holy Spirit in the conversation of two people who are fully present to one another, and so forth. Instead, I invest my efforts in learning to see as Jesus did, that is, in learning to see God’s presence and activity in our midst. Amen

[1] Jonathan Kramer and Diane Dunaway Kramer, Losing the Weight of the World (New York: Doubleday, 1986), pp. 86-87

Monday, October 9, 2017

Responding to the killings in Las Vegas

While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!" (Luke 11:27-28)

A tall, powerfully built basketball player spoke on a radio talk show shortly after his team had captured the championship. The interviewer said, "You are all such talented players. You each have incredible ability. Don't you sometimes want to do your own thing? Isn't it hard for you to do it the coach's way?"
"Oh, no," the player responded, "you see, his way is our way."[1]
The mass killing perpetrated by Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas has dominated this week’s news cycle. To establish the context for that incident, in 2007, the US had 90 firearms per 100 persons, the highest firearm per capita ratio of any nation in the world, including heavily armed countries such as Yemen and Iraq.[2]
I was raised in Maine. As a boy, I enjoyed target and skeet shooting. I have had parishioners who depended upon hunting to feed their families, a commentary on the importance of paying employees a living wage. I served twenty-four years as a Navy chaplain ministering to sailors and Marines. Yet, I remain deeply troubled when I juxtapose the image of a gun toting citizen with that of the crucified Jesus. Events such as the killings in Las Vegas compound my discomfort with guns.
Anglican primates meeting in Canterbury this past week condemned the violence and issued a call for prayer for the casualties, their families, and an end to mass killings.
Prayer is good. Prayer is necessary. But prayer is insufficient. Having heard Jesus’ call to love our neighbor, we need to obey his exhortation. By obeying, his way becomes our way and we receive God’s blessing.
In what additional ways might we respond?
First, we helpfully insist that the bereaved, the wounded, first responders, and others effected by the shooting receive appropriate care and support. Their pain should never justify media or personal voyeurism.
Second, we might act to diminish the probability of similar incidents in the future. As a priest too well-acquainted with human sinfulness and as a counterterrorism scholar, I recognize the impossibility of preventing all incidents, particularly when the perpetrator is a lone wolf like Stephen Paddock. However, we can take steps to reduce the likelihood of such attacks. Constructive, widely supported steps include enacting and enforcing laws against bump stocks and other devices that convert semi-automatic weapons to automatic as well as mandating background checks to disqualify the mentally ill and persons convicted of violent crimes from purchasing guns.
The word blessed, makarios in the Greek text, means happy but even more denotes God extending God’s benefits to the one blessed. Jesus emphasized that the blessed are those who obey rather than simply pay lip service to God’s commands. May we exchange our personal and cultural fascination with guns for a fascination with Jesus; may we obey his call to be peacemakers who trust God rather than themselves for their security. Then we shall truly be blessed. Amen.

[1] The Upper Room, July/August 1994, p. 62.
[2] Newsweek, April 30, 2007 reprinted in Christian Century, May 15, 2007, p. 7

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq

Ken Burns and Lyn Novick’s Vietnam documentary recently broadcast on PBS reveals how US leaders, elected, appointed, or serving in the military, from Kennedy and his administration through to Nixon and his administration deceived the American public. In private, these leaders recognized that the Vietnam war was unwinnable. In public, these same leaders continued to justify their policies by claiming that victory was soon in sight.
Watching the series prompted me to wonder how many US leaders in the administrations of George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump privately recognize that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unwinnable while publicly continuing to voice support for the wars.
The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in US history. The war in Iraq is a close second. The US has spent well over one trillion dollars on those wars, all of which was deficit funded directly increasing the US debt. Future generations of Americans will have to pay for wars that have arguably made the world a less safe place. Assertions that a few thousand more troops or a new training program will enable the Afghans or Iraqis to defend themselves against internal insurrections and terrorists ring hollow and are eerily reminiscent of what US leaders said about pacification and Vietnamization efforts in the Vietnam war.
When the US withdrew from Vietnam, the collapse of South Vietnam was imminent and inevitable.
Postponing the US withdrawal from Afghanistan or Iraq will not alter the ultimate fate of either country. Afghanistan warlords increasingly ignore the central government with impunity; a resurgent Taliban is concurrently defeating Afghan forces and ruling areas. Now that the Kurds have voted for independence, Iraq appears poised on the brink of dissolution; Iran heavily influences Iraq’s Shiite government.

Squandering lives (thousands of US military personnel, hundreds of thousands of others) and treasure (more than $1 trillion) is indefensible and immoral when those sacrifices fail to make the world more just, more peaceful.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Power that gives life

A prior Ethical Musings’ post explored power that corrupts and corrodes. This post explores power that gives life.
Much theology, especially Christian theology, envisions God as almighty. Historically, theologians and church officials insist that almighty is meant literally, i.e., God is omnipotent.
Insisting that God is all powerful presumes that humans can use language to characterize God accurately. That presumption is false. God is the mystery that exists beyond the limits of human language, a view often labelled the via negativa. That is, every statement about who God is can be denied, pointing to a reality that lies beyond human description.
Furthermore, the characterization of God as omnipotent developed in the pre-scientific era, an era dominated by a worldview based upon a three-story universe (heaven, earth, and hell) in which humans were the pinnacle and center of creation. We know now that the cosmos has at least four dimensions, is vaster than humans can measure, and that earth with its human occupants reside not at the center but in a corner of the cosmos. God’s power may be far greater than any human power and thus inspire claims in scripture and other sources that God is all powerful. Nevertheless, human perceptions of God’s power are not logically synonymous with God actually being omnipotent. Thus liturgical, scriptural, and theological assertions of God’s almighty power are best understood as devotional rather than factual statements.
Prayers by faithful people to end, or at least to alleviate, great evils that appear to avail nothing have led theologians since the nineteenth century to argue that God is not omnipotent. Among these evils are the Holocaust, widespread famines, the suffering caused by natural disasters (hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, droughts, etc.), and painful, unwarranted suffering from diseases like pancreatic cancer and childhood blindness.
Some theologians now contend that in creating the cosmos, God surrendered certain powers as a necessary step to infusing creation with a degree of limited autonomy. Other, bolder theologians have proposed that God was never all powerful. These ideas, along with other conceptualizations of a non-omnipotent God, are speculative, an assessment consistent with the via negativa. Nobody can truly know whether God is all powerful.
Critically, for persons of faith, God is active in the cosmos. We may conceive of God as love, light, or more philosophically as the force that lures actual entities towards more abundant life. This is the presence or force to whom Jesus bore witness. This is the presence or force that gives life without corroding or corrupting.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Take a knee

Colin Kaepernick took to one knee during the pregame singing of the national anthem when he played for the San Francisco 49ers in a football game played before the 2016 US election to protest police violence against blacks. Since then, the controversy surrounding Kaepernick’s action has simmered before recently exploding.
For people of faith two elements of any response are clear and a third regrettably muddled.
First, people of faith know that forced religion is false religion. Similarly, forced patriotism is false patriotism. Symbolically honoring the US by standing during the national anthem is meaningless unless done voluntarily. Furthermore, hypocrisy never advances a cause.
Second, people of faith know that blind, unquestioning faith is tantamount to idolatry. Similarly, blind patriotism is tantamount to making an idol out of the object of one’s patriotism. Additionally, free speech and free expression, key components of personal freedom enshrined into law by the US Constitution, are meaningless if one cannot dissent in powerful, symbolic ways. Such means include choosing to kneel rather than to stand during the national anthem, an act akin to flag burning, which the Supreme Court has adjudged protected speech.
The spreading protest ignited by Kaepernick’s action has, however, muddled the issue of exactly what the symbolic action means. Is it a protest against the unjust treatment of blacks by some police officers (the hugely disproportionate number of blacks killed by police officers constitutes prima facie evidence for the claim of unjust treatment)? Is it an attempt to claim what Civil Rights advocated including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saw as the promise of equal rights for all? Is taking a knee and standing with linked arms an effort to stand unified with those who protest, unified in affirming their first amendment rights, or something else?
I for one am unsure what the continuing protests mean. However, I stand united with protests against the continuing racism in the US; I stand united in defense of the first amendment; and I stand united with those who are proud to be US citizens but who also know that the path to true greatness lies in continuing progress toward justice rather than in blind patriotism. This, I believe, is a path that people of faith can and should walk, linking their deepest held religious beliefs with their incidental identity as a citizen of a particular country.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Does Jesus teach that God is unfair?

Life can easily seem unfair. Consider two letters written by children to God:
Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother but what I asked for was a puppy. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up. Joyce
Dear Mr. God, I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart. I had to have 3 stitches and a shot. Janet[1]
Our complaints about life’s unfairness are quite likely different than those. We may point to the death of a spouse, mistreatment at work, illness, or something else. However, almost everybody at least occasionally feels that life is unfair.
Today’s gospel reading appears to endorse unfairness.[2] In a scene evocative of hiring of day laborers in many US mainland cities, the owner of a vineyard goes to the local street corner or marketplace where the unemployed workers gather and chooses from among them those he wishes to hire for the day.
Then the story takes the first of two unexpected twists – unexpected to persons unfamiliar with the parable. The owner returns to hire more laborers not once but three times, at nine, three, and five. Certainly, a farmer would know how much help he or she needs for the day. Day laborers who have congregated in hope of a job usually disperse once potential employers have come and gone.
The second unexpected twist occurs when the time comes for the laborers to be paid. The owner pays them all equally, a deed that feels grossly unfair. Those first hired have performed back breaking work in the hot sun all day, without cold water, sunscreen, or bug repellant. Yet they receive the same amount of pay as the last hired, who have worked only an hour.
Interpreters of the parable have generally gone in one of two directions, both of which have merit.
Some interpreters view the parable as a lesson in distributive justice. Day laborers in Palestine literally depended upon their daily earnings to purchase food and other necessities for themselves and their families. Workers did not have the benefit of minimum wage laws, unions, or other legal protections. No social safety net existed. The plight of first century Palestinian day laborers is strikingly similar to that of undocumented immigrant laborers in the twenty-first century United States.
In this morning’s parable, Jesus teaches that every person has the right to a living wage. Baptismal affirmations of the dignity and worth of every human ring hollow when our actions reflect an indifference to the hunger, thirst, lack of safe shelter, and lack of access to adequate healthcare of our neighbors in Honolulu, the US, and globally. We Christians may disagree in good faith about how to best meet those needs, but the imperative to provide life’s necessities – food, water, shelter, and healthcare – for all is foundational for Christian ethics.
The second direction interpreters of the parable often take involves spiritualizing the text, interpreting “day’s wage” as connoting God’s grace, given equally to all, regardless of whether one arrives early or late to the banquet.
On the one hand, I want to be clear that this is an inadequate reading of the text. Christians tend to ignore both the fact that approximately three-quarters of Jesus’ parables deal with economics and the Bible’s consistent emphasis on economic justice. Christianity must speak to human needs because God cares about our physical existence. Furthermore, spiritualizing the text conveniently ignores the enigmatic statement with which the parable ends: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” That ending points to what Christian theologians call God’s preferential option for the poor.
On the other hand, spiritualizing the parable has just enough truth to be credible. God’s grace is given to all equally, whether they come to the table late or early, and regardless of their social standing, wealth, gender, race, etc.
In the mid-1960s, Woodrow Seal, a U.S. Federal District court judge, founded "The Society of St. Stephen" in a Houston Methodist Church. The Society of St. Stephen is now a national program with the sole purpose of helping the needy.
A congregation invited Mr. Seal to explain how they could begin a Society of St. Stephen chapter. They planned for the Judge to speak on the Society’s various ministries and then to have time for discussion.
The pastor introduced Judge Seal and the Society’s work. Meanwhile, the Judge took some cookies and poured himself some coffee. When the introduction was completed, Judge Seal walked over to the piano, put his coffee cup on top of it, and began to fumble in his coat pockets. Finally, he pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper from which he read the name of a mother and her four children, including their ages and clothing sizes. He noted several other needs this particular family had, said the address was on the paper, and then laid it on top of the piano.
After that, the Judge said, "If you want to start a Society of St. Stephen, you should contact this woman by 11:30 tomorrow morning. If you are not able to help her, don't worry, I'll be in touch with her tomorrow, and get her help by mid-afternoon." With that, Judge Seal remarked, "Now, forgive me, but I really must be going. Thank you for inviting me and for the coffee and the cookies." Then he walked out the door. It all took less than 5 minutes.[3]
The needs of our neighbors may easily feel overwhelming. Honolulu has perhaps five thousand homeless people; tens of thousands of people who live here subsist below the poverty level, many choosing between buying food, shelter, or medicine. In the last two weeks, hurricanes and earthquakes have left hundreds of thousands in the US and elsewhere homeless and without life’s basic necessities. And, of course, there are the continuing needs of millions of people in Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, and lots of other places.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed, we do well to emulate Judge Woodrow Seal in his incarnation of Christian discipleship. God gave him the grace to respond to the neighbors he saw in need. In founding the Society of St. Stephen, Woodrow Seal incarnated the two superficially divergent interpretations of today’s parable. Filled with God’s grace in Christ, he worked to make the world a little more just. Grace never comes to us only for our own sake but also that we might be God’s hand, feet, and voice in meeting the needs of our neighbors.

[1] Source unknown.
[2] Matthew 20:1-16.
[3] Jerald Borgie, Prisoners of Hope: 111 Inspiring Stories (Minneapolis, MN: Mill City Press, 2016), pp. 92-93.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Power that corrodes and corrupts

An understanding of power helpfully informs laments about economic inequality, including those on Ethical Musings (cf. Capitalism and inequality and Economic inequality). The nineteenth century British politician Lord Acton was perhaps the first to comment that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He aimed his comment at the abuse of power by politicians. His observation, however, applies equally to other arenas of life.
Power, according to Henry Kissinger, is the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” Even if power is not absolute, power or the lust for power may still corrode healthy relationships with self, others, creation, and God. Abraham Lincoln insightfully recognized the exercise of power as the true test of a person’s character: “Nearly all men [sic] can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”
Illustratively, absolute (or near absolute) economic power corrupts persons who hold that power. Late nineteenth century US business trusts such as Standard Oil, US Steel, and Hormel meatpackers exemplify the corruption of absolute or near absolute economic power. Working conditions tended to be exceptionally hazardous, products were often unsafe as well as overpriced, market positions were maintained by eliminating competition, and politicians were bought to prevent change. Businessmen, and they were all men, contended that the federal government existed not to promote the common good but to protect their property rights and to defend the nation against foreign enemies.
During the twentieth century, new laws enforced by new federal agencies ended many of those abuses, e.g., the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, anti-trust laws, Social Security, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Federal Election Commission. The federal and state governments began to actively promote the common good.
In the early twenty-first century, new forms of abuse by monopolies or near monopolies have emerged. The diminishing power of unions has allowed large corporations to exercise more power over their workforces, as reflected in the dramatically widening gap between CEO pay and the median compensation of a corporation’s workforce. Privacy has diminished with corporations collecting ever increasing amounts of information about individuals. A push for deregulation that began during the Reagan administration and accelerated under Trump has both shifted power from individuals to corporations and frequently sanctioned environmental harm. The large sums that corporations and the extremely wealthy contribute to increasingly expensive electoral campaigns represent a new form of purchasing politicians. The argument that political contributions purchase access and not influence today rings hollow. Most citizens lack direct access to their elected officials. Well-funded special interest groups publicize the voting records of elected officials, endorsing those who consistently vote in line with the wishes of the special interest and condemning officials who deviate from those wishes.
The former Archbishop of Scotland, the Most Rev. Richard Holloway, correctly observed that power always seeks to justify itself. Oft repeated justifications for unlimited government expansiveness are to protect the common good, safeguard the well-being of all, and to prevent every potential fraud, waste, or abuse of government power or resources. Consequently, the usually well-intentioned but continuously expanding reach of government into personal and business affairs in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has too often favored large corporations and government at the expense of diminishing individual rights and responsibility.
Typically, government tries to achieve zero-defects in most if not all of its laws, policies, and programs. Abuses of any type of government power frequently trigger a media feeding frenzy, reinforcing the commitment of politicians and government officials to zero-defect laws, policies, and programs. Occasionally, a zero-defect standard is important, e.g., in aviation safety. However, most efforts to achieve zero-defects are unnecessary and eventually alienated the majority of citizens and corporations who perceive these efforts as governmental overreach, excessively wasteful and complex, and unnecessarily intrusive.
For example, when I, as an active duty chaplain, wrote the Navy’s first instruction governing the use of and accounting for religious offerings, a frustratingly large number of stakeholders pushed for the instruction to eliminate all possible fraud, waste, or abuse with respect to funds. No number of safeguards can foresee much less prevent all future fraud, waste, and abuse. I insisted that the cost of safeguards should not exceed the cost of potential losses. Unsurprisingly, the first revision of the instruction, prepared after I had moved to a new assignment, incorporated additional safeguards, most of them not cost effective. In spite of good intentions, the complex procedures requiring the involvement of more people that supplanted the original easily implemented, standard accounting protocols failed to decrease the number of thefts or embezzlements.
More generally, well-intentioned but counterproductive government overreach results in needlessly repetitive layers of bureaucracy, excessively detailed procedures and rules, and widespread reluctance to accept responsibility for a decision. All of this is eerily reminiscent of the well-intentioned but ultimately discarded Pharisaical attempts to avoid violating the 613 commandments of the Torah by fencing the Torah with additional rules designed to keep an observant Jew from unintentionally violating the Torah. Similarly, the inherent weakness of any rule-based ethical system is that no set of rules, no matter how comprehensive, can foresee every situation that may arise.
Deceased rock star Jimi Hendrix articulated the basic remedy to the wrongful accumulation and misuse of power: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
In practical terms, distributing and using power to build healthy relationships and promote life abundant entails imposing limits on persons, organizations, and communities that in one or more arenas exercises absolute or near-absolute power. In personal relationships, breaking another’s power over one’s self begins by reclaiming one’s dignity and self-worth and may ultimately require ending the relationship. In the case of a monopoly, this may involve anti-trust cases and legislation. In the case of the US government, actions to limit power may include rebalancing the distribution of power between the three branches (Trump, from this perspective, may be good news if Congress and the Courts reclaim their Constitutional powers), changing laws, and working to elect and then to lobby politicians willing to accept an imperfect and limited government while holding steadfastly to sound values. Finally, each individual must audit their motives to ensure that s/he pursues the power of love instead of the love of power..

Monday, September 18, 2017

When a new rector arrives

I preached this sermon at the Parish of St Clements prior to the arrival of their new rector. Although set within a particular context, the message is broadly applicable to the arrival of a new rector, pastor, or senior minister.
Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister of Great Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s, once claimed that Adam had turned to Eve, as they left the Garden of Eden, and said, “Darling, we live in an age of change.”
St Clements is in a season of change. Liz Zivanov retired as rector at the end of 2015 and Canon Kate began her ministry as interim rector in March 2016. Next Sunday is her last; the Rev. Heather Hill begins her ministry as St Clements’ new rector on October 1.
Despite its inevitability, change, or even the prospect of change, can easily evoke feelings of uncertainty or anxiety
Biblical scholars and church historians believe that the Greek word ecclesia, translated as church, did not enter the Christian vocabulary until decades after Jesus’ death. Furthermore, no evidence exists to show that Jesus formally organized his followers. Hence, the conversation between Jesus and Peter in this morning’s gospel reading[1] post-dates Jesus’ crucifixion.
The conversation reveals Jesus’ disciples’ anxiety about their new community. Dissent, motivated at least partially by the fear of change, appeared as Jesus’ followers developed differing opinions about what being a disciple meant. Being human, Jesus’ followers also said and did things that other of Jesus’ followers rightly or wrongly perceived as harmful or sinful. And so the question arose, how many times should one forgive a sinful brother or sister? The answer was not seven times, but seventy-seven times, i.e., more than one could conveniently track, meaning forgiveness without limits.
Difficulties in coping with changes in their journey as becoming Christians troubled not only Jerusalem’s Jewish-Christian community but also the recipients of Paul’s epistles. His epistles include lots of advice on how nascent Christian communities should deal with conflict and change. In particular, today’s epistle lesson[2] offers four specifics helpful to St Clements as it lives into the next chapter of its life as a gathered community of Christ’s body.
First, welcome persons of little or no faith. Paul actually instructs the Romans to welcome those of “weak faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling.” In this post-religious age, in contrast to Paul’s era of pervasive religious belief, we rightly interpret “weak faith” metaphorically and envision St Clements as a home for spiritual seekers. In some ways, this is already true. St Clements supports twelve step groups, participates in ecumenical and interfaith ventures, and tries to be a warm and accepting community
However, no community ever perfectly embodies the spirit of aloha. Welcoming Heather, Doug, and their twins affords us an opportunity to practice aloha intentionally and then to try to maintain that practice so that nobody ever feels like a stranger in our midst.
Second, non-judgmentally celebrate one another’s faith journeys. Paul’s example of this is anachronistic. None of the meat sold on Oahu is sacrificed to an idol during the slaughtering process. However, individual passions about particular ministries, missions, and parish structures vary. Thankfully, God calls each of us to a unique faith journey. Illustratively, some persons deepen their faith through the four-year Education for Ministry program. Others find a deeper faith by attending Sunday adult forums or Bible workshops. Similarly, some persons find preparing feeding the homeless, working with children and youth, aiding Family Promise of Hawaii, or supporting another mission integral to their faith journey. Together, our separate efforts, like the parts of a body, comprise a whole.
In London about 200 years ago, when the umbrella first appeared on streets, religious groups were irate. They tried to have the new contraption banned. Their argument was simple: "Man is interfering with heavenly design by not getting wet."[3] Living for two years in London taught me the value of a good umbrella.
Jesus never prescribed certain ministries, missions, or structures. Over time, the need for, interest in, and support of various ministries, missions, and structures changes. A new rector’s arrival, with her unique personality, gifts, and priorities, is a good time to assess existing efforts and programs, pruning those whose sale by date has expired and adding new ones to rejuvenate and energize our faith.
Third, embrace liturgical changes and maybe gain a fresh appreciation for our worship. Paul wrote about Christians who worship on different days, either the Jewish Sabbath or the first day of the week, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. A new priest inevitably brings her or his own liturgical emphases and style.
A tourist visited the home of a world-renowned Rabbi. The visitor expected to see an impressive home filled with valuable treasures. Instead, the visitor saw a humble, almost empty home. The shocked tourist asked, “Where are your possessions?” The Rabbi responded, “Where are yours?” “What kind of question is that?” the tourist said. “I’m a visitor here.” “So am I,” the Rabbi replied.
When we possess the liturgy, the liturgy becomes an idol. Instead, regard inevitable if still unknown liturgical changes and spiritual emphases as an opportunity for the liturgy to possess you and for the Spirit to move in your life in new and unexpected ways. As industrialist and inventor Charles Kettering said, "The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress."
Fourth and finally, agree to disagree and forgive real or perceived slights. Paul exhorted the Romans to not pass judgment on one another. The gospel emphasizes our duty to forgive one another without limit. St Clements’ new rector, with your help and God’s, will continue to build on the foundation and achievements of St Clements under the leadership of Kate, Liz, and prior rectors.
When Navy CDR Alan Shepherd, the first American to enter space, was getting for his first space flight, a reporter asked him, "What are you depending on in this flight?"  He replied, "I'm depending on the fact that God's laws will not change."
Be assured that God is and will remain at the heart of St Clements. God will continue to feed and sustain you through the sacrament of Holy Communion; God’s spirit will give you the strength, courage, wisdom, and love to move into the next chapter of St Clements’ existence, drawing you and your new rector, Heather, the parish of St Clements, and those to whom you minister ever deeper into God’s love and the abundant life that is ours in Christ.

[1] Matthew 18:21-35.
[2] Romans 14:1-12.
[3] Neil Eskelin, Yes Yes Living in a No No World (New Jersey: Logos International, 1980), p. 18.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The myth of the American gunslinger culture

Christopher Knowlton in his book, Cattle Kingdom (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) wrote:
In fact, most cowboys did not carry weapons at all. If they did own an expensive six-shooter, it was likely the Colt Single-Action Army, introduced in 1873 and known as 'the Peacemaker.' Its price -- a hundred dollars per pair -- would have been a huge amount of money for a cowboy. The cowboy who did own a revolver usually kept it in his bedroll because a loaded six-shooter worn around the waist was both cumbersome and heavy when riding or walking. And most cowboys knew that wearing a six-shooter in a cattle town was an invitation to gunplay; most preferred to avoid altercations. Cowboys tended to settle a dispute with a fistfight. A revolver was best used to kill snakes, put wounded animals out of their misery, or signal for help. As Leon Clare Metz wrote in The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws, and Gunfighters, 'The image of the ordinary Western cowboy as a fast and accurate gun-fighter has practically no validity.'
Knowlton’s research reveals that far fewer people were killed than is commonly imagined:
Even in Dodge City's worst year, 1878, only five men died in gunfights. The historian Robert Dykstra counted only forty-five homicides in all of the Kansas cattle towns during the cattle era, an annual average of 1.5 homicides. Thirty-nine were from shotguns, and only six from handguns.
Knowlton even observes that some cowboys disliked guns.
Popular contemporary images of the West as a dangerous place in which almost every man was armed have their roots in late nineteenth “dime novels” written by Ned Buntline and others than in actual fact.
Sadly, those false myths about some of the cowboy origins of the US gun culture currently play out in harmful ways. Contrary to popular thinking, widespread gun ownership results in high, easily preventable rates of accidental gunshot wounds (especially by and to children) and deaths (especially in domestic violence incidents).

Jesus was a pacifist who exhorted his disciples to turn the other cheek. In exceptional circumstances, the Christian tradition justifies minimum use of lethal violence to defend others, not one’s self, e.g., to end the Holocaust. Given the more accurate picture of the Old West provided by Knowlton, now is a good time for Christian citizens to rid themselves of handguns and other weapons not used for hunting.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Christians refuse to discriminate against LGBQT persons

A group of religious-right activists just released a new theological statement condemning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and purporting to excommunicate Christians who affirm them.
The so-called "Nashville Statement" not only claims that "it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism" - it says that "such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness."
This statement is making headlines and causing deep pain for LGBT people, so it's time to stand up and show how many Christians repudiate this hateful theology.
As the Episcopal Cafe's Managing Editor, Jon M. White, has noted:
There is no need to counter their statement point by point. It is rooted, in its entirety, in a view of God that denies God’s creative action, that denies the blessedness of all creation, and that ignores Jesus’ own command to love God with our whole selves and likewise to love our neighbors. As well, their beliefs and statements deny God’s own statement that judgment is God’s alone. I do not believe we will be reproved for loving too much, for being too merciful, or for working strenuously to widen the circle of God’s people.

The Nashville Statement was released with 244 signers, but as of right now a whopping 26,000 plus Christians have signed on to reject it. Follow this link to add your name to those who object.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

One challenge of post-theism

Pete recently sent me this comment in response to some of my previous Ethical Musings postings on post-theism (Defining post-theism and Christian, Anglican, Episcopal, and Post-theist):
Thanks, George, for the last several posts on post-theism. I can't think of anything you say that I don't agree with. Yet something seems lacking, and I don't know what it is. Light alone can be cold if it is distant enough. And love in the abstract gets boring fast. "Post" something like "post-modernism" doesn't really identify in a positive manner, and I don't have anything better to suggest. Perhaps the energy of openness to continual discovery is more important, and heart-warming. than nailing anything down (pun not intended but also not rejected).
Pete is right. Post-theistic metaphors for God, such as light, will leave few people feeling warm and fuzzy. Conversely, anthropomorphic images of God may offer many people a warm, fuzzy feeling about God but are off-putting to other people who look at the world through scientific and contemporary philosophical lenses.
If post-theism and a traditional reliance upon anthropomorphic images of God represent opposite ends of a theological-philosophical spectrum, the challenge of living into Christianity in the twenty-first century is to find a place along that spectrum where one is personally comfortable. That spot – a personal happy mean – will tend to shift over time depending upon one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Pete is right about a second point: “the energy of openness to continual discovery is more important, and heart-warming. than nailing anything down (pun not intended but also not rejected).” Because God is ineffable and infinite, our theology (thinking about God) is always in need of revision; Paul Tillich described this as the Protestant principle. Furthermore, because our experience of God builds on those who preceded us, incorporating insights gleaned from science and other disciplines, theology is dynamic and potentially progressive. Static theology inherently points to an idol rather than to the living God.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Good fences don't make good neighbors

Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” is frequently misunderstood as an endorsement of the idea that “Good fences make good neighbors.” Reading that phrase from Frost’s poem in context clearly shows that Frost advocated tearing down rather than constructing walls between neighbors.
Frost wrote, in part:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs.  The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
One on a side.  It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.'
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors?  Isn’t it
Where there are cows?  But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.'
Historically, walls have failed to accomplish their intended purpose. Illustratively, the Great Wall of China did not keep out the barbarians, the Maginot line built by the French failed to keep out the German panzers in WWII, and the wall that Israel is constructing to keep out Palestinian terrorists has proven ineffectual.
Walls have been most effective when supplemented by the use of force. The Berlin Wall, although supplemented with landmines and machine guns, did not end attempts by East Berliners to cross into West Berlin. In spite of the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) demarcating the border between North and South Korea, ten thousand plus North Koreans have found a means to cross (or bypass) the DMZ and receive sanctuary in South Korea. Escapes even occur from maximum security prisons.
Building a wall along the US border with Mexico will neither stop illegal immigration nor make for good neighbors. A wall, by itself or in combination with other barriers and enforcement methods may make illegal crossings more difficult, but humans excel at solving challenges as the preceding survey of the history of walls showed. Furthermore, reinforcing any wall with automatic weapons, mines, etc., would represent an egregious violation of the Laws of War, moves that are inherently incompatible with Christianity’s dictate to love one’s neighbor, and would still prove ineffectual.
At a minimum, building walls produce hard feelings if not hate and racism. Instead of squandering large sums in a vain attempt to eliminate illegal border crossings, the US should expend those efforts and resources on becoming a better neighbor to Mexico, Latin American, Caribbean, and South America states. Such efforts would target the cause rather than the symptom of illegal migration.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The irony of Texas’ response to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey has had the ironic effect of highlighting the dependence of Texas’ allegedly independent citizenry on the rest of the nation:
  • The thousands of stranded persons evacuated by the Coast Guard, National Guard, and others
  • The hundreds of thousands without federal flood insurance, many of whom will seek federal assistance
  • Two million plus lives disrupted trying to restore their lives to some new normal
  • Texas’ conservative Republican governor, Greg Abbott, quickly asked the federal government for assistance
  • The vital roles played by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal entities as well as non-profits with a nationwide reach, especially the American Red Cross with its federal mandate to assist victims of natural disasters

The willingness of Texans and Texas state and municipal officials to reach out for assistance during and after the destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey rightly prioritizes need over an incorrect principle. The request is a poignant reminder that humans are inherently mutually interdependent upon one another as well as all creation. Claims of independence are illusory. At most, humans enjoy a small measure of limited autonomy. Mutual interdependence offers the most accurate lens for understanding human life.
Democratic government and the rule of law represent major advances over tribal or clan life. Democratic government and the rule of law facilitate coordinating the peaceful coexistence and cooperation of larger numbers of people from multiple races, ethnicities, religions, etc. Both democratic government and the rule of law are predicated upon attempting to respect the dignity and worth of all people.
In recent years, Texas has tried to chart a more independent course and sought to restrict those whose dignity and worth the state government respects by:
  • Refusing to honor religious diversity, e.g., striving to outlaw abortion because some religious groups deem abortion a form of murder
  • Minimizing care for the lest vulnerable, e.g., opting not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act
  • Failing to respect ethnic and racial diversity, e.g., efforts to insist on English as the legal language, restrict voting, and strict enforcement of immigration laws.

A further irony of Texas’ situation post-Hurricane Harvey is that the government of Mexico has reached out to the US State Department and offered to assist the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Mexico made this offer in spite of Trump initiating the process to cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that has benefited Mexico and insisting that Mexico pay for a border wall to prevent illegal immigration. At least in this instance, Mexico shines as a more Christlike example, offering aid to a neighbor in need.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Love, don’t hate

"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.  And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."
The Dalai Lama
Loving others, therefore, is not a question so much of 'doing God's will' but, rather, of 'living God's life.'
Paul Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian
Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up.
Dorothy Day
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
Jesus of Nazareth
For Christians, love is the standard against which to evaluate one’s thoughts, words, and actions. Consequently, hate is inimical with Christianity. Violence, unless unavoidable to avert significantly greater harm, is also inimical with Christianity.
Bellicose language, whether directed against North Korea, Iran, or any other state, is therefore inimical with Christianity.
Similarly, all hate groups – including neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, the KKK, white supremacists, and the alt-Right as well as all far-left hate groups and hate groups with any other ideology – are inimical with Christianity.
As an American, I recognize the right of these groups and their members to express their deeply misguided ideas.
However, as a Christian, I unreservedly denounce those opinions. Love is the path that Jesus pioneered and the path that I as a Christian am committed to following. Remaining silent in the aftermath of hate speech, taking no action to end hate, is tantamount to endorsing that message of hate.
To paraphrase the British jurist Edmund Burke, Hate flourishes when good people do nothing.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Further thoughts on clergy transitions in the Episcopal Church

A previous Ethical Musings post that also appeared on the Episcopal Café, Rethinking the transition process, triggered a flurry of responses, pro and con, many of whom recounted personal experiences. Mary Brennan Thorpe’s ensuing contribution to the Café, Transitions – Old Ways, New Ways, Right Ways, Wrong Ways, also received an unusual number of responses (references to Mary Thorpe below refer to that post).

Mary Thorpe is right: Transitions often take too long. However, I disagree with her that generalizations are not useful. Admittedly, characterizing the transition management process as broken is a generalization with notable exceptions. However, this generalization will hopefully be the catalyst TEC needs to address its severe case of transition management arteriosclerosis before the problem becomes fatal. Inertia (we have always done it this away), discomfort with change, fear of the unknown, and the use of theological jargon to masque organizational dysfunctionality are some sources of the plaque clogging TEC’s organizational arteries. My hope is that my two posts and that by Mary Thorpe, as well as the conversations they have triggered, will identify tools for clearing that plaque and restoring the healthy blood flow of smooth, timely leadership changes.

As a prolegomenon to continuing the conversation, these points recapitulate my first post:
  1. Eliminate the frequently intentional long interim periods in congregations (parishes and missions) and dioceses.
  2. Dioceses and congregations should commence transition planning immediately upon an incumbent announcing her/his departure.
  3. Eliminate the preparation and distribution of diocesan and congregational profiles.
  4. Dioceses and congregations should rely on the cadre of professional headhunters that TEC already employs to winnow through potential candidates expeditiously.
  5. Teach the revised search process and transition management to clergy and lay leaders in diocesan forums.

(Parenthetically, I incorrectly referred to the Church Deployment Office. Mea culpa. The CDO was renamed the Office of Transition Management several years ago. That error, however, does not alter the substance of my original post.)

Instead of promoting uniformity, I intended these proposals to aid in shifting the general style and method of transition management, leaving ample room for local adaptations. TEC’s dioceses and 5000 plus congregations obviously require multiple approaches to transition management. One approach will never best suit the diversity, apparent on multiple axes, of all of our varied places and situations. Concomitantly, some dioceses manage transitions more effectively and efficiently than do other dioceses.

The proposed changes to transition management modify praxis, not the canons. Consequently, implementing these changes depends upon altering our existing culture and expectations about when a search process should begin, the need for profiles, reliance upon interims, etc. A diocese may experiment with approaches the diocese deems best tailored to its particular context in searching for a new bishop or new congregational leaders. Dioceses, similarly, may flexibly assist their congregations in calling new leaders. Continuing conversations about transition management in multiple forums will allow transition management staff, dioceses, congregations, and clergy to learn best practices from one another.

The support voiced for congregational profiles surprised me. Correctly preparing a statement of aspirations/expectations inherently entails the calling body developing an understanding of who they are. The current approach, in addition to duplicating information already available elsewhere, too often results in a small number of people who, even if representative, prepare the profile and then fail to communicate the richness of their process and conversations to others. Another problem is that searches currently tend to seek a new leader with the skills and personality characteristics the prior leader lacked rather than strategically seeking to identify the leadership gifts needed to move the congregation/diocese forward in its next chapter. Mary Thorpe identified a related problem: “The focus should be on the gifts and graces that the parish needs in that next chapter of its existence, rather than the externals (i.e., ‘we need a priest with a young family to attract other young families,’ …).” She commended the Office of Transition Management’s online Community Ministry Profile as helpful in supplementing information available on congregational websites and elsewhere. Her experience is that eliminating preparation of a parish profile typically shortens congregational search times by 4-6 months.

No amount of refining transition management processes is a panacea that will ensure every diocese and congregation always calls a leader well suited to lead it into a future congruent with God’s desires. A group in spite of its best, most faithful efforts may call a person ill-suited for the position, applicants may wrongly discern their gifts/calling, the organization may misperceive its culture (e.g., idealizing the prior incumbent), and so forth. These difficulties can occur even in occasionally in the best of circumstances and more frequently in problematic contexts. Additionally, as Fr. Patrick Raymond observed in an email to me, “An extended interim process can unintentionally create congregational expectations about a “fail-safe” process that will result in calling a fabulous rector.”

Tangentially, a current website seems a sine qua non for every congregation and diocese. Many people today search for a congregation using the internet; not having a current website is tantamount to a congregation declaring that growth is not a goal. One vital way dioceses can assist congregations is to provide the staff or financial assistance to create and maintain a current website to congregations who do not have the skilled volunteers or financial means to perform those tasks.

Many of the saints chronicled in Lesser Feasts and Fasts are noteworthy not only for their personal holiness but also their gifts as strategic thinkers who possessed the leadership and management skills to turn vision into reality. TEC now needs clergy characterized by personal holiness and quality ministry to individuals who also have the strong leadership and managerial skills to transform the institution they serve. Diocesan bishops and clergy in charge of congregations are, for better or worse, leaders and managers because dioceses and congregations are organizations with structure, finances, often employees, usually with buildings, and always with volunteers. In general, leading and managing volunteers is more difficult than is leading and managing paid staff. Add theology and spirituality to the mix, and the church, for its size, is arguably among the most difficult of all organizations in which to exercise leadership and management.

Mary Thorpe wrote regarding the interim’s role as congregational change agent:
… where there was no interim, the newly called rector needed to attend to some matters (personnel, liturgical practices, best practices in parish finance) that an interim would normally have taken care of during the transition time; these new rectors had to expend relational capital that might have been better used elsewhere in the parish.
Why should only interims have the privilege and opportunity to resolve those awkward situations? Expending relational capital by skillfully resolving difficult situations is a prime method for generating additional relational capital. Conversely, unused relational capital atrophies. Thus, clergy need to exercise the skill, if not the joy, of stepping into and then constructively resolving awkward situations. Depending upon a trained interim to resolve awkward situations tacitly assumes that other clergy lack the leadership and management skills required to resolve those awkward situations.

Reducing a clerical leader’s role to working with individuals results in the leader functioning as a chaplain instead of an institutional change agent, a diminished role that usually presumes the goal is to preserve the status quo. In other words, clergy who would lead a diocese or congregation generally profit the organization they lead by having a good interim’s skills in strategic thinking and the tactical leadership/managerial skills required to implement those strategic goals.

Interims are not a remedy for clergy who lack those skills. An interim may resolve immediate problems, but new problems inevitably emerge. Instead, clergy lacking these strategic and tactical skills can develop them through continuing education. Alternatively, clergy can team with committed lay leaders who have those skills. This teaming may occur most often (but not exclusively!) in small and pastoral sized congregations. By relying upon mutually complementary lay and clerical skills and gifts to ensure strategic thinking and the tactical leadership/management to achieve strategic goals, congregations move toward health internally and more actively engage in mission outside the congregation.

Clergy seeking and answering a call today increasingly participate in a process that resembles a secular job search. Mary Thorpe’s description of a call as a work of mutual discernment that requires a parish to “be clear on who it is, where it is headed, and what gifts are needed,” equally applies to a secular firm’s sound hiring praxis, except the latter generally avoids employing theological language. The same applies to a family business seeking its next leader, an analogy that John Keydel suggested in a comment to my original post. Adapting proven processes from businesses and non-profits has the potential to dramatically lower the costs and improve the results of TEC transition management.

These ideas do not exhaust options for improving TEC’s transition management. Mary Thorpe highlighted another in her description of the Diocese of Virginia’s use of turnover files that the incumbent prepares for her/his successor, a tool widely used in other contexts. Another improvement might consist of expanded continuing education opportunities for clergy in subjects including organizational dynamics, leadership, strategic thinking, etc. – subjects not traditionally part of seminary curricula. Other people will identify further possibilities.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The love that conquers hate

My mother was from North Carolina and my father from Maine. I have ancestors who fought on each side in the Civil War. I don’t know any details about those who fought for the Union. On the Confederate side, the two of whom I am aware, as much as I might wish that they had become disenchanted with the Confederacy or fought honorably or even suffered from PTSD, instead behaved dishonorably, deserting to escape the monotonous drudgery of life in a military garrison. A couple of generations later, in the 1930s, the KKK threatened my devoutly Christian maternal grandfather for paying his black and white employees equal wages. Somehow, love had begun to erode and then to heal racial differences.
In the first part of today’s gospel reading,[1] Jesus explains that it is not what enters the body that can defile it, but what comes out of the mouth that has the potential to defile. Jesus is answering a question about whether ordinary Jews, mostly peasants, should emulate the Pharisees and practice multiple, daily ritual hand washings. In arid Palestine, those hand washings were widely impractical if not impossible. Jesus seized the opportunity to address the broader question of whether the Pharisees were correct in insisting that Jews observe hundreds of precautionary rules to avoid accidentally violating one of the Torah’s 613 rules.
Jesus’ response is metaphorical, not literal. Even in the first century, people knew that consuming certain substances could be fatal. However, just as obviously we intuitively know that Jesus is right. What goes into the body may cause harm, particularly to self or to one’s relationship with God, but what comes out of the mouth has far greater potential lethality, able to harm not only self but many others. Bullying and verbally abusing family members exemplify this harm. Furthermore, Jesus’ use of the word “mouth” is itself metaphorical. According to the text, Jesus specifically condemns actions such as murder, theft, and adultery.
Today’s gospel set in its historical context provides a vital framework for responding to the recent events surrounding the proposed removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue from the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville.
Lee’s statue is one of more than 700 monuments to the Confederacy in the US. These monuments, unsurprisingly, are mostly located in the states that seceded and adjoining states in which large numbers of Confederate sympathizers lived. Most of these monuments were erected toward the end of the nineteenth century when Civil War veterans were dying and Jim Crow laws were being enacted.[2]
These monuments, allegedly erected to honor Confederate soldiers, actually symbolized resurgent claims of white supremacy. They therefore contribute to perpetuating racial injustice. Prominently displaying such monuments in public spaces morally offends African-Americans, Christ, and all who seek justice.
We cannot erase history. Purging the monuments will not eradicate or transform our tragic national legacy of racism and white supremacism. Trying to ignore that legacy both prevents us from learning from past mistakes and from experiencing healing and reconciliation. When I, as a child, visited Mount Vernon and Monticello, neither site had exhibits on how slaves lived, the essential role that slave labor played in allowing Washington and Jefferson the latitude to pursue American independence, or the evil of slavery. Today, both Mount Vernon and Monticello have such exhibits. Just as it is impossible to rightly understand the gospel apart from its narrative context, it is impossible to rightly understand Civil War and Confederate monuments apart from the full historical context.
Early Christian commentaries tended to gloss over the uniqueness of Jesus’ healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter found in the second part of today’s gospel reading.[3] Thankfully, most modern commentaries emphasize that when Jesus publicly conversed with the Canaanite woman, he transcended culturally constructed, value-laden distinctions of gender, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. That makes this healing unique. We have come to accept, too often belatedly and painfully, St. Paul’s declaration that God “shows no partiality.”[4] Nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, gender orientation, and religion never alter a person’s inherently equal dignity and worth. We reaffirm our commitment to this belief every time we repeat our Baptismal vows. We do so in the expectation that God’s love can and will heal our divisions.
Sadly, a vocal, aggressive, and growing minority in this nation choose hate instead of love. These individuals and groups seek to bend the arc of history back towards injustice instead of forwards toward reconciliation and justice. Too often, this minority turns violent when their rhetoric and threats fall on deaf ears. Public statements and Tweets by some political leaders inflame and encourage these groups. You can probably name these groups as well as I can: the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the alt-Right, anti-Semites, etc. The Southern Poverty Law Center counts 125 new such groups since 2014.
Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel Jesus makes explicit what is implicit in the first part of today’s reading. He said of false prophets, “by their fruit you shall know them.”[5] In stark contrast to words and actions that destroy love and perpetuate hate, Jesus repeatedly exhorted his followers to love their neighbors. Healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter demonstrated love’s power to bring healing across the value-laden, cultural constructs of nationality, gender, ethnicity, and religion. The Buddha connected love as hate’s remedy more directly, saying, "In this world hatred is not dispelled by hatred; by love alone is hatred dispelled. This is an eternal law."[6]
In the hope that God will help us to speak and act with love, bridging divisions, healing brokenness, and establishing justice, our bishop and chief pastor, the Right Reverend Bob Fitzpatrick, has directed that from today until the liturgical year ends on Christ the King Sunday we conclude the Prayers of the People with collects for social justice and global peace. May these be heartfelt prayers that move us to act ever more lovingly and justly; may we join the company of saints in becoming Christ’s beloved community. Amen.
[Sermon preached at St. Clement’s Church, Honolulu, HI, on August 20, 2017]

[1] Matthew 15:10-20.
[2] Kathryn Casteel and Anna Maria Barry-Jester, “There Are Still More Than 700 Confederate Monuments in The U.S.,” FiveThirtyEight, August 16, 2017.
[3] Matthew 15:21-28.
[4] Acts 10:34.
[5] Matthew 7:16.