Posts

Showing posts from 2017

Marian musings

The wonderful Christmas story, which continues to touch, and often to inspire, generations represents the confluence of two significant streams of thought. Jewish scriptures, theology, and beliefs comprise one of these streams. The authors of Matthew and Luke both quote the Jewish Scriptures to prove that Jesus was a descendant of King David, destined to reign forever. However, some of their quotes are so strained as to be almost incomprehensible, e.g., Matthew’s use of the Jewish scriptures to argue that the Messiah would be born in Nazareth. The second stream came from the secular cultures surrounding Jewish communities. These secular cultures generally believed that great men – generals, rulers, and prophets – were born of a woman impregnated by a god.
Out of the confluence of those two streams, Mary’s identity and role within Christianity underwent dramatic changes during Christianity’s two-thousand-year history.
Originally, as scholars learned from close study of the oldest portion…

Let it be with me according to your word

Mary Ann O’Roark was decorating for Christmas, rummaging through packing materials, unable to find the baby Jesus that belonged to the Nativity set from [Israel] given to her by her parents. She was having a hard time getting into the Christmas mood and had hoped that decorating would lift her spirits. Now she couldn’t find Jesus. Finally, she gave up in despair and decided to sit out Christmas – she wasn’t in the mood and, after all, Jesus was missing.
The next morning, walking to work, Mary Ann again noticed the homeless woman with a grimy green hat who had become a regular on her New York City block. This woman often slumped in a doorway or sprawled on the steps of the stone church across the street. Homeless people usually didn’t bother Mary Ann, but the woman in the grimy green hat “was hard to take, cursing passersby and shouting at cars. That day she lurched in front of [Mary Ann], thrusting out a swollen hand, ‘Got any money?’ she rasped.”
With a quick and definitive “No,” Mary …

Making peace not war with North Korea

Fear, hate, and conflict too often operate as a closed, self-reinforcing, repeating cycle. Fear feeds hate; hate feeds conflict; and conflict feeds fear.
Optimally, peacemakers disrupt that destructive cycle before conflict escalates into war. Fear (perfect love casts out fear), hate (love your neighbor), and violent conflict (turn the other cheek and the prioritization of life over property) are all antithetical to Jesus’ teachings.
North Korea and the United States are currently locked in an escalating cycle of fear, hate, and conflict. Briefly recapitulating North Korean and U.S. moves underscores the growing danger this cycle poses if it continues uninterrupted:
·President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Il have repeatedly responded to one another with increasingly bellicose rhetoric. Moreover, the U.S. has heightened its defensive posture, the U.S. Department of Defense is considering ordering family members of military personnel stationed in South Korea to return to the States, and Hawai…

Advent calls us to work for social justice

My reading the past few months has emphasized U.S. political history. Among the books I have read are: Ron Chernow, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance Jean Edward Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II Jon Meacham, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism Robert A. Caro, The Years of LBJ: The Path to Power Barrack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance Chris Whipple, The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency Jay Parini, Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America Michael Eric Dyson, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America Robert A. Caro, Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson II Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate: The Years …

Rethinking TEC's budget

The Most Rev. Michael Curry has been Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church for less than two years. Yet, while attending the Diocese of Hawai’i’s annual convention in October, I was impressed by Bishop Curry’s pervasive influence on the proceedings. His influence was especially noteworthy because Bishop Curry was not present and will not officially visit this Diocese until 2019.


Evidence of his influence included:
A speaker early in the proceedings repeatedly emphasized that one of his favorite quotations was from Bishop Curry (Forgive like Jesus; love like Jesus; serve like Jesus) A video report from the Diocesan youth attendees at the Episcopal Youth Event prominently featured Bishop Curry and his dynamic preaching Several individuals referenced Bishop Curry’s call for Episcopalians to become Jesus people.
More broadly, Bishop Curry’s influence is evident across our denominational structures, organization, and programs. Illustratively, his influence is apparent in the new budget forma…

When history and faith intersect

Image
When a Navy ship passes the ARIZONA Memorial, that ship renders honors as if passing another ship. The bosun of the watch pipes attention to port or starboard, as the case may be, and then everyone on deck on that side of the ship comes to attention and, at the designated moment, renders a hand salute to the ARIZONA. At first, rendering honors to a sunken ship seemed strange. Over time, I realized that the practice honored not only the one thousand one hundred and seventy-seven sailors and Marines killed in the sinking of the ARIZONA but also all who died in the attack on the seventh of December 1941.
The reading from Ecclesiasticus (44:1-15) reminds us to honor not only the famous but also the unknown yet numerous ordinary, godly Israelites whose names are lost to history. This cross, constructed from metal taken from the ARIZONA’s hull, calls us to pause for a moment to honor by remembering with a brief prayer both for those who died on December 7, 1941 and the people who found their…

Not like me

Photos of Donald Trump in group settings greatly disturb me. The people around him all look a lot like he does: older, Caucasian, and male. I don’t have anything older Caucasian males; I myself am one.
However, photos of Trump with groups comprised exclusively, or overwhelmingly disproportionately, of older Caucasian males harken back decades to when such photos were the norm because older Caucasian males dominated most spheres of life (politics, business, etc.) in the United States.
Such photos do not depict who I am as a social being nor do they depict who we are as a people or should strive to be. Diversity enriches politics, business, friendships, and all other spheres of our personal and communal lives.
Where are the women in these photos? Where are the people of color?
Regardless of Trump’s rhetoric, the US under his leadership has moved away from being a government of, by, and for the people. Sadly, his anti-immigrant policies, along with other moves such as the tax cut workin…

SHRINKING CONSUMERISM for CHRISTMAS and Beyond…

Image
A friend, who is also a Christian, a scientist, and an ardent environmentalist, sent me the following: Americans throw away 25% more trash from Thanksgiving to Christmas than the rest of the year. Advent, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, is the time we prepare for the joy of God entering the world as a baby. It is a beautiful reminder to us that God loved the world enough to be part of the created world with us! It can also be a reminder of how we treat the earth that God loves. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. What if we tied a bow around our relationships and experiences to show thanks to God rather than to ribbon? If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. Nearly half the world’s toys are in America, despite making up just over 3% of the global population of children. Let’s show our love of God and our neighbor with less stuff and more love.

Weekly…

Advent thoughts on Cyber Monday

On this Cyber Monday, after the largest sales retailers ever recorded for Black Friday, retailers are working hard to establish another record. The advertising can almost make one feel un-American for not shopping.
Sadly, consumer spending (and to a substantially lesser degree, defense spending) now drive the US economy. Imagine the good that people in the US might achieve if much of their consumer spending and much of the nation’s defense spending were redirected to programs that support human well-being (such as education, nutrition, healthcare, and housing) and programs that benefit all, especially infrastructure improvements.
Musing about these issues reminded me of an Ethical Musings Advent post from 2011, Internet advertising, bibliolatry, and Advent. Advent is an annual reminder that relationships, not spending, lays the foundation for an abundant, fulfilling life.

Thanksgiving

The concept of thanksgiving (or gratitude) implicitly connotes three elements. First, and most obviously, thanksgiving connotes a person giving thanks or being grateful.
The second element of thanksgiving or gratitude is that the person or group giving thanks or being grateful has recognized and appreciated something as good or beneficial. Today, people give thanks for a wide variety of things and on diverse occasions including promotions, completing a project, births (and sometimes a death), anniversaries, a new job, winning the lottery, an unexpected kindness, etc.
However, the third element that thanksgiving or gratitude connotes is both the most important and least recognized. To be meaningful, the person must thank someone.
Consider winning the lottery. Being thankful for winning a game of chance is, at least, a poor choice of terminology and, at worst, completely illogical – unless one believes that the game's outcome resulted not from random chance but an agent's interven…

Fake news versus real news: Is there a difference?

Donald Trump in his presidential campaign last year popularized the practice of labelling news reports with which one disagrees “fake news.” Since then, the practice of calling news reports “fake news” has proliferated, spreading among conservatives and liberals. Is there a difference between “fake news” and “real news”? In answering that question, I want to avoid using the word “truth” and its cognates. Truth has too many meanings to permit easy use in this context. A friend and I had an extended conversation on Ethical Musings some years ago about the nature of truth. He argued that if truth does exist, it is impossible for humans to know truth with certainty, a position akin to that of Hegel’s postmodern individualism. On some issues I agree with my friend. For example, nobody can prove that God (a human word denoting ultimate reality) does or does not exist. Furthermore, given the unknowability of ultimate reality and the limitations of human language, each person lives with her …

Crisis: Danger or Opportunity?

The Chinese character for crisis combines the characters for danger and opportunity. Military veterans, whose service we honor on Veterans Day, appreciate that double meaning. No military effort in war – whether traditional combat such as was fought in WWII, Korea, and the first Gulf War or a less traditional form of war such as was fought in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places – is without danger and an opportunity for potential gain. Great military commanders have the ability to recognize when the potential gain exceeds the danger. Military veterans also know that the military loves a crisis. In the absence of a genuine crisis, leaders from the ranks of NCOs up through four-star officers tend to create an artificial crisis. Crises evoke a sense of urgency that can prioritize the perceived urgent over the truly important. Crises can aid in developing team spirit and teamwork. The stress of artificial crises is one way to prepare military personnel for the actual stress of c…

Hope, positive thinking, science, and All Saints Day

(This post first appeared on Ethical Musings in October 2014).

Two conflicting – almost diametrically opposed – news reports recently caught my attention. The first, published in The Atlantic (Maggie Puniewska, "Optimism is the Enemy of Action," October 17, 2014) reviewed scientific research that supposedly demonstrates that positive thinking impedes achievement. The second, published in the New York Times (Bruce Grierson, "What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?" October 22, 2014) argues the opposite, citing research that suggests a person can retard, perhaps even prevent aging, by thinking her or himself young. Both studies are worth a read.
Then I came across an article in Science (Tom Siegfried, "In science, popularity breeds unreliability," October 17, 2014). Siegfried cites research to show that the popular news media tends to feature reports of controversial studies and studies with practical implications, regardless of the quality of the research …

One person can make a difference

One person can make a difference. When I write this, the Most Rev. Michael Curry has been Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church for less than two years. Yet while attending the Diocese of Hawai’i’s annual convention a couple of weeks ago I was impressed by Bishop Curry’s pervasive influence on the proceedings. This influence was especially noteworthy because Bishop Curry was not present and will not formally visit this Diocese until 2019. Evidence of his influence included: A speaker early in the proceedings repeatedly emphasizing that one of his favorite quotations was from Bishop Curry (Forgive like Jesus; love like Jesus; serve like Jesus)A video report from the Diocesan youth attendees at the Episcopal Youth Event that prominently featured Bishop Curry and his dynamic preachingReferences by several individuals to Bishop Curry’s call for Episcopalians to become Jesus people. What has enabled Bishop Curry, unlike some of his predecessors, to have such an outsize effect on the Epi…

Luther, authority, and Anglicans

Recent commemorations of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation have often highlighted the two central tenets of Luther’s thought: sola fide (salvation is by faith alone, not works) and sola scriptura (scripture is the only source of truth). (For an especially good recapitulation of Luther’s life and work, follow this link to an article in the New Yorker by Joan Acocella, “How Martin Luther Changed the World.”) The second of those tenets – sola scriptura – represents a key distinction between fundamentalists and other Christians. Historically, Anglicans have stood firmly with the majority and opposed fundamentalism. Notably, the largest block of non-fundamentalists and by far Christianity’s largest Church is the Roman Catholic Church that affirms scripture as a source of truth but complements it with the Church’s teaching magisterium. This latter source of authority is most fully embodied in the Pope, particularly in his capacity to spe…

Learning to see God

Nick, Jonathan and Diane Kramer’s eldest child, was a happy, energetic kid who’d usually come running or skipping out of school. But one fall day, when Nick was six years old, his dad was parked at the curb when Nick was walking slowly towards the car, his curly head hung low, his mouth turned down, a bunch of papers in his hand. Nick seemed to drag himself along the side-walk. He slowly pulled open the car door and slumped into the seat. “Hi, Nick. How are you doing?” his dad asked. No response. “What’s going on? Did something bad happen today?” Nick slowly nodded yes before turning his face away. “Oh, come on, Nick. Tell your old dad what’s wrong.” “I’m bad,” Nick said at last. “Bad? Why do you say that?” Nick handed over a crumpled piece of paper. Smoothing it out it revealed rows of math problems. A big red “-3” dominated the top. “Look,” Nick said, tears running down his cheeks, his lips quivering in an attempt at self-control. He pointed at the glaring red mark. “Look, dad, I g…

Responding to the killings in Las Vegas

While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!" (Luke 11:27-28)
A tall, powerfully built basketball player spoke on a radio talk show shortly after his team had captured the championship. The interviewer said, "You are all such talented players. You each have incredible ability. Don't you sometimes want to do your own thing? Isn't it hard for you to do it the coach's way?" "Oh, no," the player responded, "you see, his way is our way."[1] The mass killing perpetrated by Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas has dominated this week’s news cycle. To establish the context for that incident, in 2007, the US had 90 firearms per 100 persons, the highest firearm per capita ratio of any nation in the world, including heavily armed countries such as Yemen and Iraq.

Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq

Ken Burns and Lyn Novick’s Vietnam documentary recently broadcast on PBS reveals how US leaders, elected, appointed, or serving in the military, from Kennedy and his administration through to Nixon and his administration deceived the American public. In private, these leaders recognized that the Vietnam war was unwinnable. In public, these same leaders continued to justify their policies by claiming that victory was soon in sight. Watching the series prompted me to wonder how many US leaders in the administrations of George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump privately recognize that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unwinnable while publicly continuing to voice support for the wars. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in US history. The war in Iraq is a close second. The US has spent well over one trillion dollars on those wars, all of which was deficit funded directly increasing the US debt. Future generations of Americans will have to pay for wars that have arguably made the wo…

Power that gives life

A prior Ethical Musings’ post explored power that corrupts and corrodes. This post explores power that gives life. Much theology, especially Christian theology, envisions God as almighty. Historically, theologians and church officials insist that almighty is meant literally, i.e., God is omnipotent. Insisting that God is all powerful presumes that humans can use language to characterize God accurately. That presumption is false. God is the mystery that exists beyond the limits of human language, a view often labelled the via negativa. That is, every statement about who God is can be denied, pointing to a reality that lies beyond human description. Furthermore, the characterization of God as omnipotent developed in the pre-scientific era, an era dominated by a worldview based upon a three-story universe (heaven, earth, and hell) in which humans were the pinnacle and center of creation. We know now that the cosmos has at least four dimensions, is vaster than humans can measure, and tha…

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…