Showing posts from 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

  Two questions I find worth thinking about on Thanksgiving (and also on many other days) are (1) For what am I thankful? Thankfulness or gratitude inherently point to the source or giver of that for which I am thankful. Therefore, (2) to whom (or what) am I thankful? My experience is that by becoming aware of those things for which I’m truly thankful, I: ·        Develop and/or strengthen a positive outlook on life ·        Develop and/or strengthen my appreciation of the source(s) of those things ·        Cultivate an optimistic outlook, diminishing any pessimism I may feel In an era when an unchecked pandemic threatens life and silliness surrounding the recent US election unsettles many in addition to the usual persistent litany of woes (wars, famines, racism, injustice, etc.), a daily practice of thankfulness can help a person to maintain a healthy sense of personal peace and equilibrium.

Post-election blues

 This Veteran’s Day has prompted some musings about the color blue, the election and Veteran’s Day. First, former Vice President Biden is now President-elect Biden. The Democrats, generally depicted by the color blue in color graphics, won the presidential election. The chaos and lack of character widely associated with President Trump will soon vacate the White House. The US has now had both a Black president and a Black woman Vice President-elect. When I was born, both were unimaginable in the segregated Jim Crow south as well as, if we're honest, in the rest of the US. Second, President Trump probably feels depressed, an emotion associated with the color blue. His depression is obvious in his mien. He, from all appearances, is not a person who copes well with losing or rejection. Similarly, other candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike, who invested considerable time, emotion and resources in losing campaigns for office also probably feel depressed. Yet, I’m grateful f

Musings about Amy Coney Barrett and the Supreme Court

Perhaps Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment, and confirmation, to the Supreme Court will be good for the United States’ democracy in a way that President Trump and Barrett’s other supporters never imagined. First, however, I must emphasize my strong disagreement with both how Barrett reads laws, including the Constitution, and her views on abortion, gun ownership, the death penalty and a host of other issues. Barrett has stated that she seeks to read laws literally, taking the law at face value, following in the footsteps of her mentor Justice Scalia and others. This approach to exegeting a document (or law) fixes the document at a particular point in time and thus precludes it becoming a living document, adaptable over time to changing circumstances and values. I object equally strongly to reading the Bible or other sacred texts in a similar manner. But the president, and not I, has the power of appointment. The Senate's Constitutional role is to advise and consent, not to exercis

Trump's Covid-19 response: science or pseudo-science?

  What if Trump’s disregard for masks and social distancing, combined with his demand to reopen the economy, reflects his advisors’ push for developing herd immunity in the U.S.? if so, Trump may think he is acting in accordance with scientific principles in spite of usually disregarding science as fake and fraudulent. Herd immunity implicitly presumes culling the herd of its weaker members, those least able to survive a present threat. This adheres to the evolutionary principle of the survival of those best suited for current conditions. Not wearing masks and not socially distancing allows the Covid-19 virus to spread more easily from person to person. Persons who have an asymptomatic or very mild case are well-suited for survival. Those who develop a serious, life-threatening case are less well-suited for survival. Reopening the economy increases the probability of these cases overwhelming the healthcare system’s capacity. The human herd collectively – in the U.S. and/or on ear

Four theological and ethical musings on the current political campaign

  Here are four brief musings about the current political campaigns. First, honesty – truth telling – is the sine qua non for intelligible public discourse. Without honesty, discourse becomes mere prattling. Of course, thoughtful people change their thinking and opinions over time. Honest people acknowledge these changes. Dishonesty (i.e., lying) entails intentional deception. The intentionality may have its roots in the speaker not wanting to speak the truth, e.g., a spy lies to hide the spy’s espionage. Alternatively, the intentionality may have its roots in the speaker being too lazy to obtain facts, preferring to rely on preexisting biases. Honesty admits mistakes. Honesty in public discourse is also sufficiently broad to include misspeaking in the “heat of the moment.” Honesty similarly allows some degree of exaggeration to emphasize a point or message, without the exaggeration becoming an outright lie. In both cases, the intent to deceive is arguably absent. Honesty is la

Sing to the Lord a new song

  Honolulu is in the midst of its second lockdown / stay at home order. The mayor and state governor gradually lifted the first order when the number of new cases reported per day hovered near zero. They imposed the second order when the number of new cases reported daily spiked to 300 and remained in that range. In the interim between the two orders people were still directed to practice social distancing, wear masks, and wash or sanitize their hands frequently. Restaurants had to have at least six feet between tables, gatherings of more than ten people were prohibited, etc. Unfortunately, people wearied of loving their neighbors. After six months of pandemic driven restrictions on heretofore normal patterns of social interaction, I occasionally note that the failure of people in movies or on TV to practice those protocols feels odd to me, as though life has somehow become disjointed. Then I remind myself that what I’m watching was filmed pre-pandemic. These experiences have pro

Black Lives Matter: Ending systemic racism

  I’ve never understood Matthew’s pairing of the two parts of this morning’s gospel reading. [1] . If another Christian sins against you, confront that person directly. If that fails to fix things, take another one or two Christians with you as witnesses and again confront the person. If that fails, then treat the sinner as a tax collector or Gentile, i.e., love the person from afar, no longer accepting them as a member of Christ's family. Frequently, this latter course of action becomes a hurtful shunning or shaming, whether formalized as the Roman Catholics and Amish do or informally practiced, as we Episcopalians and others have done. The passage begs multiple questions. Who defines sin? What if the alleged sinner is innocent? How serious must a sin be to trigger this process? How can we avoid politicizing or otherwise distorting the process? And, most decisively, if anytime two or three agree in prayer, God will grant their request, why not simply pray for the sinner to repent?

Is prayer efficacious?

  My friend who inquired about God also had questions about prayer. Discussions of prayer often founder from a lack of definitional clarity. “Prayer” denotes intentional efforts to interact with God, God imagined in terms of light, energy, ultimate reality, etc. (cf. the recent Ethical Musings’ post, Musings about God). Prayer, therefore, may take the form of meditation, contemplation, oral statements or thoughts (e.g., the Lord's Prayer or extemporaneous words), and actions meant to express love for God or others (e.g., participating in rituals such as Holy Communion, feeding the hungry, and embracing the hurting). All of these varied activities may afford opportunity to increase one’s awareness of God's abiding presence. Prayer can be efficacious in three ways. Frist, prayer touches the person praying. Prayer may turn the attention of the one praying toward God, thereby potentially increasing the person’s openness to correctly sensing God's nudging or luring. The op

Musings about God

Painting of God in the  Sistine Chapel at the Vatican An Ethical Musings’ reader has asked me to elucidate my understanding / definition of God. She cited a statement in a recent Ethical Musings post as an example of how I understand or define God: “God (the energy, light, love, etc., which permeates all existence).” In her email she also quoted another cleric’s definition of God as “Ultimate Reality,” a phrasing that I sometimes use. She finds those definitions overly vague. She’s also troubled by frequently hearing sermons that suggest God is someone who "loves us", "cares", etc. She wonders how energy, light, or ultimate reality can "love" or "care"? She’s also concerned that characterizing God's actions as loving or caring anthropomorphize God, i.e., attribute human traits or characteristics to God, perhaps most infamously imagining God as a big old man perched on a cloud. Answering her questions requires disentangling several theolo

Covid-19 battle fatigue

  The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disease (PTSD) in the military began with pre-twentieth century militaries executing soldiers who suffered from PTSD as deserters. In World War I, the terminology gradually shifted to “shell shock.” In World War II, Sir Charles Moran, Winston Churchill’s military physician proposed individuals had a supply of courage that, once exhausted, left a soldier psychologically incapacitated. By the end of WWII, the U.S. Army concluded: The army’s experience with psychoneurosis during the war had led it to two sobering conclusions. The first was that even the most psychologically healthy men would almost inevitably break down after long-term exposure to the horrors of modern battle. An investigation by the army’s surgeon general’s office in 1945 concluded that six months of continuous fighting was the maximum that even the “sturdiest and most stable soldier” could endure without breaking. That is, the process of psychological breakdown was actually a nor

Seeking beauty in hard times

A friend, Ray Woo, took this photo from his apartment in the Honolulu building in which we both live. The view is of the Pacific at sunset the night before hurricane Douglas was forecast to strike Oahu. Thankfully, Douglas turned north and veered into open ocean. The beauty of the sunset, however, is striking. Had Douglas struck Oahu, the sunset’s beauty would in no way diminish or justify the harm the winds and rain would have caused. The Bible encourages people to seek the good that may come out of bad things. Yet the Bible never suggests or implies that the good in any way justifies the bad from which the good emerged. Similarly, suggesting that Covid-19 represents God's judgement on certain people, beliefs, or practices shows incredible hubris and terribly distorts who God is. God, in all of the world’s major religious traditions, is good and loving. God never wills bad things for creation nor increases the bad that exists. Metaphysical answers to the perennial question of

Physical distancing

Ujamaa tree of life The “Tree of Life” or “Ujamma” a Makonde term, is carved directly from the ebony wood tree in Tanzania. The outer, original tree bark is sometimes left intact to highlight the work. In general, the tree displays how a typical African village survives by working with nature and by each man supporting one another. The figures: animals, men, women, children, huts, and trees are carved with great detail and vary from tree to tree. The work is exceptional despite the fact that ebony wood is exceedingly dense and very, very hard to carve. Certain trees exhibit a variance in color from light to dark wood which is very attractive. With the ebony tree the further you go from the center core the lighter the wood becomes. These sculptures vary in height from 1 foot to over 6 feet tall. (Photo compliments of Kathleen Norris; text accessed July 18, 2020 at ) The Ujamaa tree of life vividly depicts our

Tribalism and Jesus' parable of the sower

Tribal conflicts characterize contemporary American life. People identify by gender or gender orientation, ethnicity or race, economic strata, by political preference or orientation, and so forth. They then reject or treat as second-rate people from other tribes. Tribal identification and conflict are not new. The Bible's oldest portions are full of tribal conflicts. For example: ·       Abraham’s two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, competed in a conflict that continues today in the enmity between some Jews and some Muslims [1] ·      Abraham’s grandsons and Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau, about whom we heard in this morning’s reading from Genesis, two tribes first identified with Israel and Edom, [2] later identified with the conflict between urban and rural, a conflict that continues today [3] ·      The conflict between the ten northern and two southern tribes of nation of Israel that began when Solomon died, a conflict that first manifested itself in wars between the kingdoms of Is


Facemasks are becoming ubiquitous as people try to avoid catching Covid-19. As anyone who has worn a facemask quickly discovers, the mask traps many of the moist aerosol particles exhaled with every breath. Wearing a non-medical mask may do little to protect the wearer, but offers some measure of protection to persons around the wearer. The more people who wear masks, the more mask wearing is an example of reciprocal altruism in action: I act, not knowing who I may help, trusting others, usually persons unknown to me, to protect me by wearing a mask. Facemasks do hide much of a person’s face, unavoidably diminishing non-verbal communication. Facemasks also seem to diminish whatever propensity people may have to greet verbally persons they pass or see. It is as if wearing a mask creates not only a degree of anonymity but also a barrier that discourages saying hello and other incidental, verbal communication with strangers. This barrier probably represents a lack of trust, a wari

Allowing the ordinary to become extraordinary

In her Pulitzer prize winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek , Annie Dillard wrote about moments of arresting beauty. She remarked to an interviewer, “Consider the lilies of the field” is the only commandment she never broke. “Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there . . . so that creation need not play to an empty house.” [1] However, Dillard also observed and recorded surprising pain. One memorable moment was watching “a small green frog floating on the surface of a pond until suddenly it transmogrifies before her, its skull collapsing inward ‘like a kicked tent,’ its body ‘shrinking before my eyes like a deflating football.’” A giant water beetle had villainously punctured the frog’s belly, poisoned the frog and then sucked out its innards. [2] Even when we spend time in nature’s theater, discerning the sacred in nature, post-Darwin, is no simple task. Evolution’s dependence on the survival of the fittest has perman