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Tribalism and Jesus' parable of the sower

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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 Israel and Judah, then morphed i…

Facemasks

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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 wariness, tow…

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 permanently …

Leadership in a time of crises

Current U.S. crises – the Covid-19 pandemic, endemic racism, burgeoning economic inequality, a looming recession (or even a depression) and a president who appears to prefer tyranny instead of democracy – offer a once in a generation for change. We need leaders who envision what might be rather than attempting to preserve the badly broken and immoral what is.Distress in the U.S. is palpable, caused by 100,000 plus deaths, the murder of unarmed black men and imprisonment of almost 20% of black men under 30 years of age, a 1% whose wealth exceeds the combined wealth of the bottom 80%, unemployment at about 20% and growing, and a president who prefers dictators to democratically elected leaders, militarism to lawful protest, and loyalty to himself over truth and a free press.The current distress offers a unique opportunity for systemic, adaptive change. A national healthcare system would cost less while more effectively prioritizing well-being than does the current broken, exclusionary h…

In praise of simplicity

A tourist stops at the home of the great Rabbi. Since the Rabbi has such a world-renowned reputation the visitor expects to see a great home filled with valuable treasures.; However, he is shocked when he sees a bare home with almost nothing in it. “Where are your possessions?” he asks in astonishment.

The Rabbi responds, “Where are yours?”

“What kind of question is that?” the tourist responded. “I’m a visitor here.”

“I am too,” the Rabbi replied.

Long before Marie Kondo, nineteenth century designer and supporter of the arts and crafts movement William Morris advocated, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”[1] Or, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity."

Stay at home orders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have prompted many people to act on advice. Some are sorting through their possessions, looking at items unused and perhaps unseen f…

Science, morality and the pandemic

Right now, science and the humanities should be in lock step: science producing vaccines, with the humanities stocking leaders and citizens with the capacities of resilience, care and collaboration until they come. But, instead, the humanities are in crisis at the exact moment history is revealing how vital moral formation really is.David Brooks, “If We Had a Real Leader,” New York Times, May 28, 2020

Living daily with suspicion

Response to the Covid-19 pandemic has promoted a culture of suspicion. Who or what might transmit the virus to me? Do I have the virus? Who is the person behind the face mask? What is their facial expression in this moment?

Requiring masks have highlighted a couple of ironies. First, in most locations, patrons do not have to wear a mask when in a bank. Authorities fear that masks may confuse bank personnel about who is and is not a bank robber. Second, in countries like France, that prohibit individuals from wearing facial coverings for religious reasons (primarily niqabs by Muslim women), authorities now struggle with whether to mandate face coverings as a means of preventing Covid-19 from spreading. The prevalence of face masks, including my wearing one, has given me a personal understanding of the pros and cons of wearing a niqab, and I have found no advantage apart from health concerns for wearing a face mask.

Twentieth century liberation theologians introduced a hermeneutic of s…