Posts

Showing posts from September, 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 Constitutio…

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 ow…

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…

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. Furt…

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 accura…

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 belief…

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…

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 repairWhere 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 acrossAnd eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.He only says, ‘Good fe…