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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The green face of God – part 2

Part 1 of this two-part post enumerated biblical images of the Holy Spirit as the green face of God that Mark Wallace described in his article, The Green Face of God: Christianity in an Age of Ecocide (Cross Currents, Fall 2000, Vol. 50 Issue 3, 310-331). This point focuses on implications of those images for our ecological stewardship, especially on how human abuse of creation causes God to suffer and the necessity for humans to strive to ameliorate and end that damage as a key reparative element of repentance.
Wallace explained why damaging the biosphere causes God to suffer:
From this viewpoint, as the God who knows death through the cross of Jesus is the crucified God, so also is the Spirit who enfleshes divine presence in nature the wounded Spirit. Jesus' body was inscribed with the marks of human sin even as God's enfleshed presence -- the earth body of the Spirit -- is lacerated by continued assaults upon our planet home. Consider the sad parallels between the crucified Jesus and the cruciform Spirit: the lash marks of human sin cut into the body of the crucified God are now even more graphically displayed across the expanse of the whole planet as the body of the wounded Spirit bears the incisions of further abuse. God is the wounded Spirit even as God is the crucified Christ -- as God suffered on a tree by taking onto Godself humankind's sin, so God continually suffers the agony of death and loss by bringing into Godself the environmental squalor that humankind has wrought.
Genuine repentance always involves a good faith effort to make reparations for the harm that one caused as well as a commitment to cease doing whatever one did to cause the harm. The latter can be difficult with respect to harming the biosphere. Few of us can immediately end all of our reliance upon fossil fuels, depend only upon renewable resources, and so forth. We can, however, commit to an annual self-audit to estimate our carbon footprint and then commit to reducing that footprint over the following year. Low-hanging “fruit” that will reduce one’s carbon footprint include driving fewer miles, wasting less food and other products, buying fewer clothes and other items. Longer term options include living in a smaller dwelling, buying vehicles with higher MPG ratings (or electric vehicles), etc.
Repairing harm done to the biosphere is yet more difficult. Few of us can point to specific harms caused by our individual actions. Incidentally, the weak link between individual actions and ecological damage erodes our motivation to repent, e.g., my driving an extra thousand miles does not cause any measurable environmental harm even though the cumulative effect of all humans with autos driving an extra thousand miles per year does cause measurable harm.
Nevertheless, reparative action remains an essential component of repentance; without reparation, transformation from sinner to saint is retarded if not inhibited. So, what can we do?
Historically, when reparations cannot be made to repair the actual damage a person’s actions have caused, reparations have taken the form of striving to repair similar or associated damage. Consequently, examples of appropriate ecological reparations are:
·       Contributions to and other support of environmental groups’ efforts to reduce ecological harm through lobbying, public advocacy, education efforts, and immersion programs
·       Participation in environment clean up initiatives
·       Replanting cleared areas with trees and lawns with xeriscapes
·       Opposing public policies to expand drilling for oil and natural gas, construction of new coal fired electric generating plants, etc.
All of these actions not only represent small steps to repair ecological damage but are also personally costly because they require expenditure of one’s time and/or leave one with less disposable income.

Wallace ends his article with this prayer, which I very much echo: “May the Holy Spirit, as divine force for sustenance and renewal in all things, come into our hearts and minds and persuade us to work toward a seamless social-environmental ethic of justice toward all God's creatures.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

The green face of God – part 1

A friend recently sent me a link to Mark Wallace’s article, The Green Face of God: Christianity in an Age of Ecocide (Cross Currents, Fall 2000, Vol. 50 Issue 3, 310-331).
Wallace identifies numerous biblical images of the Spirit as an enfleshed aspect of creation:
While some of the biblical writings appear partial to these binary oppositions (for example, Paul's rhetoric of spirit versus flesh), most of the biblical texts undermine this value system by structurally interlocking the terms in the polarity within one another. In particular, on the question of the Spirit, the system of polar oppositions is consistently undermined. Not only do the scriptural texts not prioritize the spiritual over the earthly. Moreover, they figure the Spirit as a creaturely lifeform always already interpenetrated by the material world. Indeed, the body of symbolism that is arguably most central to the scriptural portraiture of the Spirit is suffused with nature imagery. Consider the following tropes for the Spirit within the Bible: the vivifying breath that animates all living things (Gen. 1:2, Ps. 104:29-30), the healing wind that brings power and salvation to those it indwells (Judges 6:34, John 3:6, Acts 2:1-4), the living water that quickens and refreshes all who drink from its eternal springs (John 4:14, 7:37-38), the purgative fire that alternately judges evildoers and ignites the prophetic mission of the early church (Acts 2:1-4, Matt. 3:11-12), and the divine dove, with an olive branch in its mouth, that brings peace and renewal to a broken and divided world (Gen. 8:11, Matt. 3:16, John 1:32). In these texts, the Spirit is pictured as a wild and insurgent natural force who engenders life and healing throughout the biotic order.
Far from being ghostly and bodiless, the Spirit reveals herself in the biblical literatures as an earthly lifeform who labors to create, sustain, and renew humankind and otherkind in solidarity with one another. As the divine wind in Genesis, the dove in the Gospels, or the tongues of flame in Acts, an earth-based understanding of the Spirit will not domesticate the Spirit by locating her activity simply alongside nature; rather, nature itself in all its variety will be construed as the primary mode of being for the Spirit's work in the world. Now the earth's waters and winds and birds and fires will not be regarded only as symbols of the Spirit but rather as sharing in her very being as the Spirit is enfleshed and embodied through natural organisms and processes.
New models of God, especially models of God rooted in biblical imagery are continually necessary because the human context is dynamic, never static. Sallie McFague compellingly makes the case for this proposition in her book, Models of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987).

Conceptualizing the Holy Spirit as the green face of God highlights God’s concern for all creation as well as dramatizing the consequences of human actions that damage creation and human responsibility for striving to end and to repair that damage, both key aspects of repentance’s reparative element, explored in my next Ethical Musings post.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Gratitude and listening to our pain

An Ethical Musings’ reader wrote forwarded this first-person description of a friend’s experience with pain caused by cancer, emphasizing social instead of physical pain:
The after-effects of surgery and radiation for my prostate cancer don't cause pain, but they do interfere with my life in various ways. For example, I dribble urine when I cough. To manage this, I wear a pad and empty my bladder often, but I am forced to wear an adult diaper whenever I catch cold or have hay-fever. On occasion, even these measures don't work well. Embarrassment ensues.
Yes, this situation does increase my identification with people who suffer incontinence or have had to undergo more radical changes to their internal plumbing. I should have had such empathy for them all along, of course.
The experience of cancer has led me (driven me?) to a practice of active gratefulness as exemplified by David Steindl-Rast OSB. Again, perhaps I should have been practicing active gratefulness all along, but now is better than never.
In the depths of my bout with cancer, my mind altered first by the cancer and then by the drugs, there was little gratitude and when in my dulled state I did have strong feelings, they were most often grief. However, as my health improved and I took fewer drugs (i.e., had a clearer mind), I became grateful for my life, those who love me, and much else. That gratitude remains a part of my life.

For what might you become more grateful without requiring pain caused by cancer as a catalyst?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Listening to our pain

The Buddha taught that one of the four basic facts of existence is that suffering is endemic to human life. Some suffering is avoidable, e.g., annual flu shots reduce the likelihood of suffering from the flu. Some suffering is reducible or curable, e.g., apologizing to a friend whom one has alienated by insulting may lead to reconciliation and renewed friendship. Other suffering is inevitable, e.g., the knowledge that death limits life. Consequently, relationships inevitably cause suffering even though life without relationships is empty and itself a source of suffering, as Buddhist and Christian hermits consistently experienced.
Instead of seeking to end all suffering, which the Buddhas identified as the goal of enlightenment, Jesus taught that suffering can be redemptive if one grows through her/his suffering. I have experienced this growth through the suffering caused by my neuropathy.
Neuropathy (a disease or dysfunction of the peripheral nerves – in my case, in my hands, lower legs, and feet) has been an adverse side effect of the chemotherapy that put my cancer into remission. Sadly, chemo is not neuropathy’s only cause. Diabetics, for example, may also suffer from neuropathy.
At times, the pain from my neuropathy has been sufficiently intense to prevent me from sleeping. No cure exists for neuropathy. Instead, the best option is to manage the pain through anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, drugs originally intended to prevent seizures, and narcotics including opioids.
Thankfully, my neuropathy is slowly diminishing and I am using fewer drugs to manage my discomfort. Coping with the neuropathy has prompted two lines of thought.
First, my lower legs, ankles, and feet have felt tightly bound as if by an invisible ace bandage. The feeling triggered an associative jump to the ancient Chinese practice of binding women’s feet to indicate high social status and an inability to move normally. Foot binding is not unlike the contemporary Islamist insistence that women garb themselves completely so that no part of their body is visible other than the eyes. Both practices reduce women to objects possessed by men. These practices are equivalent in meaning to the query in many Christian traditions of asking “who gives this woman to this man?” in wedding ceremonies, a question that today’s clergy rightly refuse to include in wedding ceremonies.
Women are people, fully worthy of the same dignity and respect as men.
Too often, men pay only lip service to that declaration of equality. The President of the US apparently has a personal history of groping women, i.e., treating them as sex objects – the evidence supporting this allegation is very strong even though unproven in a court of law. Concomitantly, women are generally paid less than men for performing the same or comparable work in spite of some progress over the last several decades towards equality.
The discomfort that the neuropathic illusion of having bound feet and ankles has caused me has been a powerful reminder of the injustice that so many women experience daily day.
Second, my neuropathy has caused a variety of problems in my hands. Among these problems have been sharp stabbing pains, constant tingling, severe cramping, loss of control, and a deadening of sensation. In the beginning, the pain substantially disturbed my life, particularly by sharp pain that disrupted or prevented sleep. The problems also partially disabled me, degrading my fine motor control and thereby limiting my ability to write, type, button clothes, etc.
As the pain, tingling, and numbing diminished and I slowly regain some of my lost fine motor control, I have discovered that I am more constantly aware of my body and have increased empathy for people who live with disabilities.
Additionally, my personal appreciation for the idea a person is his or her body has grown significantly. Thoughts, feelings, and physiology are inherently and inseparably linked. Neuropathy has a physical basis (diseased or dysfunctional nerves) that can produce a mental illusion discordant with other perceived aspects of reality. For me, illustratively, this has included not only the sensation of bound feet but also an incapacity to discern by feeling alone whether I have succeeded in picking up a small object or whether an object that I am touching is hot or cold.
Testing the coherence of ideas and feelings with other perceptions of reality arguably allows a person to best conceptualize, albeit tentatively, self and the world. Philosophically this testing is foundational for pragmatism, a view at odds with a priori philosophies that emphasize seeking knowledge solely through cognitive processes.
Pragmatism fits the American ethos nicely, emphasizing the practical instead of an unobtainable ideal. I find the path to the abundant life lies in trying to live in a creative tension between the pragmatism of what is possible and the unreachable ideals (at least in this life) that Christianity identifies as aspects of the perfected life, e.g., perfect love, hope, and faith (the theological virtues) and justice, courage, prudence, and temperance (the cardinal virtues).

Is the suffering that you experience redemptive and the source of growth or does it destructively limit your ability to love and to live joyfully?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Stop the fearmongering!

North Korea allegedly has a missile capable of delivering one of its nuclear warheads to Hawaii.
Some people on the East Coast may be unsure about Hawaii’s status, e.g., Attorney General Sessions’ reference to a federal judge on some island in the Pacific and a New York Times’ headline that worries North Korean missiles will soon be able to reach targets in the US – only in the text of the article is there a clarification that the headline connotes the continental US.
Nevertheless, both the federal and state governments claim that they are taking steps to protect the people of Hawaii. The federal government is accelerating its plans to deploy a missile defense system to shoot down incoming North Korean missiles, or, presumably incoming missiles from other nations. Of course, this missile defense system is unproven and has failed to pass many of the Defense Department’s tests intended to ensure the system’s accuracy and reliability. The missile system, developed and deployed at a cost of billions, is part of the “Star Wars” defense began during the Reagan administration. Hawaii and its people would have benefitted more from better healthcare availability, improved schools, and more affordable housing than from this iffy boondoggle brought to us by the military-industrial complex.
The state government will resume monthly testing of its civil defense warning siren, designed to give citizens a five to fifteen minute warning that a nuclear attack will occur. The siren is a cold war legacy. Civil preparedness officials advise residents of high rises to seek shelter on the building’s ground floor or in a sturdy building. This advice is reminiscent of the civil defense drills in which I participated as an elementary school child: When the siren sounded, students were directed to shelter under their desk. Both then and now, the preparedness plan would achieve little or nothing in the event of an actual nuclear attack.
Arguably, both the federal and state responses are more fearmongering than of any actual benefit to the people of Hawaii. China and Russia have both had the capability of launching a nuclear attack against Hawaii for decades. Yet in neither case has the federal or state government deemed it important to prepare for that possibility by publicly locating a missile defense system in the islands or resuming testing of the civil defense alert siren.
Saber rattling in which the US implies the possibility of waging preemptive war against North Korea is an even more dangerous form of fearmongering. North Korea has too many potential sites with nuclear armed missiles to afford the US a high degree of confidence that any type of first strike would eliminate all of North Korea’s nuclear weapon capability. A first strike’s failure to eliminate all of that capability would almost certainly result in a North Korean nuclear attack on South Korea, Japan, or the US, a devastating blow that although not decisive in the war’s outcome would kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of people.
Instead of fearmongering and financially wasteful, futile defensive efforts, the US and state governments should work to build bridges of peace with North Korea. Illustratively, the US could strive to draw the isolated nation into the global community and take diplomatic steps to assure the North Korean regime that the US will not seek to implement regime change. North Korea’s leader’s need for security and ego stroking is something that President Trump should understand especially well. Failing to respond constructively to those needs only exacerbates international tensions.

Stop the fearmongering now!