Showing posts from 2016

Further thoughts on Trump's election - Part 3

This post is the third in a series of musings about Trump's election in which I identify five concerns and then suggest a response to each (follow these links to read the first and second posts). Concerns that Trump's win points toward a fracturing of the Union, e.g., as liberal, more youthful populations, who live along the coasts find themselves increasingly alienated from older, less affluent, less educated, more conservative populations who live in the nation's broad middle (For more on the demographic disparities between Trump supporters and foes, read this article from the Washington Post .) Generational divides are not new. What troubles me about this divide is its geographic component, i.e., the US is increasingly segregated as people choose to live in homogenous neighborhoods defined primarily by shared values. In many respects, this is the most intractable of my list of concerns about a Trump presidency and best addressed through act

The meaning of Christmas

As a progressive, post-theist Christian, I find that two ideas capture the meaning of Christmas. First, Christmas acknowledges that every person, every aspect of the cosmos, is embraced by the light. That light is also called God, Buddha, or ultimate reality. By any name, the light that embraces us nudges or lures one in the direction of more abundant, loving life. The story of Jesus' birth dramatizes that embrace and invites its hearers to live more deeply into the mystery of being embraced by the light. Second, Christmas by inviting us to live more deeply into the mystery of being embraced by the light invites one to recognize and nurture the capacity for being loved and loving that is an integral element of every human. Jesus, embraced by the light, experienced such a powerful awakening of his capacity to love and be loved that people described him as both fully human and divine. So, during these twelve days of Christmas, welcome the light's embrace and then respond

Keeping Christ in Christmas

Few people today know that the Nazis tried to remove Christ from Christmas: For the perfect Nazi Christmas, you had to hang glittering swastikas and toy grenades from the pine tree in the living room and, in your freshly pressed uniform, belt out carols urging German women to make babies for the Führer rather than worship the Jewish Baby Jesus. Then came the moment to light the pagan candleholders — hand-made by laborers at Dachau. (Roger Boyes, " How the Nazis tried to take Christ out of Christmas ," The Times , accessed November 17, 2009.) More surprisingly, significant manifestations of the Nazi efforts to remove Christ from Christmas remained embedded in German culture throughout much of the latter half of the twentieth century. Germans continued to sing carols and hymns, revised by the Nazis to excise references to Jesus and the Christian story, often unaware of how the Nazis had altered the lyrics. For example, Unto Us a Time Has Come became a hymn of praise abo

Further thoughts on Trump's election - Part 2

This post is the second in a series of musings about Trump's election in which I identify five concerns and then suggest a response to each (follow this link to read the first post). 2. Fears that the Trump appointees and policies will trample the rights of women to choose their own healthcare options, discriminate against the LGBT community, implement initiatives that worsen climate change and tear down important environmental safeguards, misunderstand the threats the US faces, favor the rich at the expense of the poor, etc. Donald Trump is a narcissist with an oversize personality who likes to dominate whatever stage he occupies. As President of the US, he may experience a rude awakening. The US political system is not a dictatorship and although the powers of the presidency expanded during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, those powers still face significant limitations. Congress consists of 535 politicians, each of whom has his/her own political base and agen

Further thoughts on Trump's election - Part 1

Recently, my blog has focused primarily on my cancer. However, I've written one post about Trump's victory ( ) . Consternation over Trump's win seems unabated if not growing. That consternation has several, not mutually exclusive, causes including: Objections that the Electoral College ignores the popular vote, which Hillary Clinton won by almost 3 million votes Fears that the Trump appointees and policies will trample the rights of women to choose their own healthcare options, discriminate against the LGBT community, implement initiatives that worsen climate change and tear down important environmental safeguards, misunderstand the threats the US faces, favor the rich at the expense of the poor, etc. Anxiety that Trump's win will directly or even indirectly align itself with a freshly energized white supremacist movement, further exacerb

Rethinking one's use of time

I belong to a generation that sends Christmas cards. While in the Navy, my wife and I seldom wrote more than a few brief lines in the card, if even that much. Instead, we included a form letter describing to family and friends what we had done in the preceding twelve months. Several years into retirement, we stopped writing an annual missive. We wrote a personal note in each card, although we continued to use our printer to address the envelopes. This year, our printer could not accommodate the size of the envelopes that came with our Christmas cards. Moreover, I wanted to practice my penmanship. Never very good, my neuropathy (a side effect of the chemo) has significantly degraded my penmanship. Unable to pursue the activities with which I had planned to fill my life in Hawaii (see the prior Ethical Musings' post for details), I had time over several days to address the envelopes. What initially felt very tedious became an opportunity for fondly remembering shared experiences

Rearranging one's activities following a diagnosis of cancer

Recently, I read some notes that I had made when taking a transition assistance course for senior officers prior to retiring from the Navy. In those notes, I found a list of my hobbies: travel, an active lifestyle that included exercising several times per week and frequent walks with my wife, learning about and enjoying good food and wine, and reading. This autumn, cancer has disrupted all four. My damaged vertebra, caused by my cancer leaching calcium from my spine, no longer permits travel or an active lifestyle. I have gone from comfortably walking ten miles to feeling tired after walking a half-mile. (At times, my oncologist (pro-walking) and my neurosurgeon (anti-walking to avoid damaging my spinal cord) have debated whether I should walk a half-mile.) I'm currently taking eleven different medications, each with its own schedule. Three are for chemotherapy; eight are for coping with side effects that the chemotherapy causes. Even reading is often difficult because the drug

My 2016 Thanksgiving

This year Thanksgiving is special because my cancer has deepened my appreciation for life in several ways. One can give thanks to God (as I do) or to the family and friends with whom one shares mutual love and affection (as I recommended for non-believers in my previous Ethical Musings' post, Rethinking Thanksgiving ). In either case, I hope that my thoughts on giving thanks will help you to give thanks for the good that you enjoy and that enriches your life. First, the treatment of my multiple myeloma is progressing very well and I am nearing remission. I am grateful for all of the persons who made this possible: research scientists and their staffs; the healthcare personnel who administer the treatment to me in a highly professional manner complemented with personal caring; and the healthcare the nation provides to its military retirees. Second, I am similarly grateful for the potential gains to my mobility, comfort, and decreased risk of some of vertebrae collapsing with su

Rethinking Thanksgiving

The historical roots – at least the mythical if not the factual version – of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US are widely known. Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution in England immigrated to the rocky shores of what would become Massachusetts. These pilgrims would not have survived without the assistance, especially gifts of food and agricultural instruction, which they received from the natives. Thanksgiving for these pilgrims, as for many in subsequent observances of the holiday, believed their perceived blessings to be God's gifts. Today, describing our perceived blessings as God's gifts increasingly rings hollow among believers in God, agnostics, and atheists. Scripture reminds us that the rain falls indiscriminately on both the just and the unjust. That is, good and bad things happen to everyone and are not special blessings intended for a select few. We more accurately attribute the pilgrims' perceived blessing of a bountiful harvest to help from their neighbo

Thoughts on Trump's electoral victory

Donald Trump achieved an amazing, unpredicted upset to win election as the next President of the United States. What does his victory portend for life in the US, for the future of the US, and for the world? First, the conciliatory, unifying themes that Trump, Clinton, and Obama adopted in their post-election remarks are encouraging. Democracy entails living with outcomes not of our own choosing and while far from perfect is the best form of government known to humans. I personally wish that the energy devoted to protesting Trump's victory had been expended in working for a Clinton win. But to refuse to accept Trump as President of all US citizens and of the whole nation invites more problems than it resolves. Insisting on the dignity and right of all persons to equal respect and treatment represents a more constructive agenda and one that is likely to resonate with Trump's family if not the President-elect. Second, Trump has provided few specifics about policies and progra

Death and dying

On Tuesday, November 8, Colorado voters approved a measure legalizing assisted suicide, following the lead of Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and a couple of other states in taking this step. A century ago, dying was generally an event or a very quick process. Today, dying is more often a lengthy process than an event. Life support measures such as respirators, intravenous feeding, and hydration can frequently sustain the mechanics of life for long periods, preserving the appearance of life in what is known as a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Medical treatment can concurrently prevent the person dying from a growing array of previously life-threatening diseases and injuries. (For a fuller, clearer exposition of this change, read Haider Javed Warraich's "On Assisted Suicide, Going Beyond ‘Do No Harm’", New York Times , November 4, 2016 at .) In one case that received much media attention, a Florida woman, Karen Ann Quinlan, was kept in a PVS at

Sickness unto Death?

The word c risis appears only once in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (1 Corinthians 7:26). That is one more time than I had guessed. Paul justifies advising the unmarried and widowed to remain celibate and unmarried in view of the impending crisis that will occur when Christ makes his anticipated eschatological appearance. Etymologically, the English word crisis comes from the Greek noun krisis , which means decision, and from the Greek verb krinein , to decide. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines a crisis as a "time of intense difficulty or danger" or "the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death." Organized religion in general and the Christian Church in particular face an existential crisis that threatens their continued existence. Symptoms of the present crisis include continuing numerical decline, growing numbers of people who find any religious faith or spirituality

Lessons from cancer

My fight against cancer has taught, or re-taught, me several lessons. First, science is vitally important. Without scientific advances achieved in the last fifty years, I would be dead today. Science has bought me precious additional years of life. More than ever, I am convinced that competitively juxtaposing science and religion in a win-lose contest is wrong. Truth and reality are singular, i.e., science and religion offer different views of the one reality but are ultimately, when rightly understood, compatible. Second, receiving grace – whether through the professional skill of healthcare providers, the prayers of strangers, or the kindness and love of persons whose life had previously intersected with mine – is transformative. For one who is accustomed to giving rather than to receiving grace, this has been an important reminder that everyone needs grace, true grace is unsolicited and free, and that grace is ultimately a window through which divine light shines. Third, lif

The importance of hope

The cancer with which I live is a chronic, fatal disease, i.e., there is no known cure. To my surprise, I recently saw an article in the popular press that a reported a case in which a woman appears to have been completely cured of multiple myeloma. I've not seen similar reports nor have I seen any scientific evidence that supports the possibility of a complete cure. Is the woman's alleged cure a fluke, a case of remission masquerading as a complete cure in a way that her healthcare providers do not provide, or an actual cure? I don't know. What I do know is that the article added a small amount of light at the end of the dark tunnel (the valley of death?) through which I am currently journeying. As a long-time supporter of the right to die and of assisted living, I have given considerable thought to what happens when life becomes devoid of hope. That, I'm discovering, is not the same thing as valuing hope for the ways in which it strengthens and enriches. In t

Virtual community

An ongoing conversation among many religious bloggers and internet writers about religion is the possibility of virtual community. The number of responses, in various forms ranging from likes to comments, I received following my Ethical Musings' post about having cancer both surprised and encouraged me. The responses were all positive; a majority promised prayers, though none – thankfully – responded with meaningless platitudes about God's healing power. A substantial number of times, the response came from someone with whom I had once worked, whether as his or her boss, his or her priest or chaplain, or his or her colleague or friend. The internet does not have to be a bad, mean, or scary place. Juxtaposing virtual with physical community seems to me to create a false dichotomy. Physical community – actual human contact – is essential. Virtual community can enrich, expand, and extend physical community but is never a substitute for the foundational experiences of actual p

The future of Ethical Musings

As Ethical Musings' followers and subscribers probably know, I have not posted an Ethical Musing since the beginning of September. And from the middle of July, my posts on Ethical Musings consisted of sermons and two articles written for the Episcopal Café. The paucity and nature of my Ethical Musings' posts point to physical problems that I began to experience in the spring and that culminated in a diagnosis of multiple myeloma in September. Multiple myeloma is a relatively rare form of cancer that attacks the blood and for which no cure exists. Chemotherapy can usually achieve a relatively positive short- and mid-term outlook (6 years or more of enjoying a reasonable quality of life), but multiple myeloma is fatal. Multiple myeloma is difficult to diagnose. In my case, pain caused by a collapsed vertebra and cracked ribs, along with several other symptoms (hypercalcemia, poor kidney functioning, and anemia), ultimately pointed to the correct diagnosis after some missteps

Shaped in Jesus' image

I like to watch a potter at work: strong hands, wet and muddy, shaping the clay as it spins on the wheel. I view myself as having little artistic ability, so watching someone transform a lump of clay into an object of use, or beauty, and especially into an object of both use and beauty, fascinates and mystifies me. This is what God is doing with us, making us into objects of use and beauty. The image of God's people as clay being made into pots is found in both the Old and the New Testaments. This morning’s reading from Jeremiah depicts God as the potter. [1] Yet God finds the vessel shaped on the wheel unsatisfactory and so makes it into another vessel. Did God make a mistake? I don’t think so. Instead, I would suggest that two explanations of how the clay was molded into an unsatisfactory pot. First, the clay is imperfect. Most of us do not have to look very hard before we can identify faults with ourselves. Indeed, if anything, some of us are too hypercritical of ourselves.

What Can Anyone Do to Me?

This morning’s epistle reading contains an intriguing question, “What can anyone do to me?” The context makes it obvious that the author refers only to bad things. My immediate reaction to the phrase was a single word, “Plenty!” Although criminals have never violated my person, I have had my house robbed and my car totaled when someone rear-ended mine after I had stopped at a red light. Everyone at least occasionally suffers unfair criticism by others. Illustratively, I once had a parishioner, upset with my insistence on complying with Navy and Marine Corps regulations governing Chapel funds, inform me that I was doing the devil's work when I refused to permit the continued expenditure of funds in good, but explicitly prohibited ways. Reports of financial scams and identity theft are a media staple. One of the enduring harms with which many people now  live as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is an exaggerated sense of vulnerability. Is this morning’s epistle lesson wrong in

Will you choose health or disability?

The Ugly American , a 1958 novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, tells the story of an American engineer, Homer Atkins – a man with an ugly face – whom the military sent to Vietnam to build dams and roads. Homer's wife, Emma, accompanied him to Vietnam. She became curious that every woman over sixty in the village where the Atkins lived had a bent back. Then she noticed that after the monsoon season, older people using a broom with a short handle inevitably swept the debris from the streets. Since wood for longer handles cost too must, Emma found a long-stalked reed and planted shoots from this reed by her door. She tended these reeds carefully. One day when neighbors were in her house she cut a tall reed, bound coconut fronds to it and began to sweep with her back straight. When her guests questioned her about the reed, she told them where it grew. Four years later, after Emma and Homer had returned home to Pittsburgh, they received a letter from the village headman thanki