Thursday, July 29, 2004

What is a Priest?

July 25, the Feast of St. James, was the 15th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. This led to much reflection about this peculiar calling over the last week. Here's a few of my thoughts;

I was sent to seminary by a very Anglo-Catholic diocese. They sent me to
Nashotah House, the most Anglo-Catholic seminary within the Episcopal Church. I was trained to define a priest as a "sacramental person," or, to put it a different way, a priest is one who administers the sacraments. This is probably as good a definition as any, if you consider the three things a priest does that a layperson cannot; blesses, consecrates and offers absolution in the name of God, all sacramental actions.

A priest is not just a sacramental machine, of course. Today I might define the priest as one who represents Christ and Christ's church, and works towards the reconciliation of all people with God and one another. Ideally, this is the vocation of all Christians, meaning that the priest functions as an icon, or an example, of that which we are all called to manifest to the world.

On a day to day basis, a priest lives out his or her vocation in a variety of ways. One of the struggles of many priests in our current culture is being a "generalist" in a world of "specialists." Let me list just a few of the roles that a priest is called to fill;

Spiritual guide; guiding others in the formation of their spiritual lives and the development of their spiritual gifts. Spiritual Director. Retreat Conductor.

Liturgical leader; design, plan and conduct a variety of services of public worship. Be competent and confident within a wide range of worship settings.

Preacher; proclaim the Gospel by combining biblical scholarship and contemporary issues, allowing the Good News to transform lives.

Pastor; nurture members towards growth, respond to those in crisis situations, assist members in facing problems and difficult decisions and challenge the community to live into their Christian faith. Regular visitations to hospitals, nursing homes and homebound members. Training of Christian caregivers. Personal and marriage counselor. Youth advisor.

Teacher; design, plan and implement youth and adult Christian Education programs. Confirmation, Baptism and Marriage preparation. Youth group advisor.

Outreach organizer; develop, organize and support programs and organizations that reach out to the margininalized in our communities. Be an advocate for justice and peace.

Administrator; be responsible for maintaining the records of the church. Manage and support staff members. Chair vestry meetings, and attend other committee/commission meetings when necessary or requested. Facilitate timely completion of correspondence and other communication tools (newsletters, etc.).

Diocesan leader; participate in the life of the diocese by serving in either elected, appointed, or voluntary positions.

There are additional duties that I have not mentioned, but hopefully this gives you some idea of the different "hats" that most priests are called to wear.

None of the above, with the possible exception of the "sacramental person" definition, come close to another aspect of the priesthood that few speak about today; the more "mystical" side, for lack of a better word. I suspect it is not often mentioned because in today's culture there are many STs (sensory-thinking, in the Myers-Briggs terminology) in positions of leadership, and fewer NFs (intuitive-feelers). My experience is that NFs come across as somewhat flaky, or at least in need of better meds, to many STs, so they have learned to remain silent.

I am learning the lesson of silence on this aspect as well. Consequently, I will use the words of another; some quotes from
Ministry and Imagination, by Urban T. Holmes. He was professor of Pastoral Theology at Nashotah House for many years, and went on to be the Dean of Sewanee School of Theology. This book, specifically his chapter entitled "The Priest," played a major role in my decision to attend seminary. He describes the vocation in terms that resonated with my heart. Here are a few of his words from a section in which he is discussing the priest as "mana-person";

It was not until I read Jung that it occurred to me that the term refers to "mana," the extraordinary, supernatural power which religions, particularly primitive religions, attribute to persons and things that are related to the divine. It may be that Francoeur meant manna (with two "n"s), and was speaking of the priest as the person who brings the bread of God, as in the Eucharist, but this would not be unrelated to mana and to his function as one who bears in himself an extraordinary sacral power.

The mana person is related symbolically to the hero, the chief, the magician, the medicine man, the saint, the ruler of the spirits, and the friend of God. He is a person who is able in himself to strike a creative compromise between the conscious world of the ego and the antistructural world of symbol and myth. He is one who travels into chaos and returns to tell of it...

...In a society that domesticates God and craves certitude more than truth, it is very difficult to accept an image of the local pastor who lives poised amid darkly discerned potencies, exhibiting at the same time a kinship to both beasts and God, both the earth and the stars. Yet, I have written elsewhere of the need for the priest to be "creatively weird" and this is the ground for that dimension of personality.

How does one go about achieving this? Certainly he has to know himself. When I have found myself caught in a potentially destructive force within me, I understand it to be the result of living too much on the right hand. In a sense, the good priest is one who has been there before, as Christ has been there. To be an effective pastor we do not have to have done everything everybody else has. We do have to recognize the power that is there, the real possibility of misusing it, as well as appropriately using it, and what the creative use of power looks like when we do. The mana-person knows the diabols, as well as the symbols. As was Jesus, he is on speaking terms with demons (Mark 1:21-26; Luke 8:26-33). He knows them because he knows himself...if we are to be a mana-person, we have to run the danger of being devoured by the diabols and cast ourselves into the unknown.

There is that wonderful concluding passage in Castenada's Tales of Power, which I cited earlier in this book, where Don Juan and Don Genero take Carlos and Pablito to the top of the mesa. Pointing over the edge, Don Juan says, "There is the door. Beyond, there is an abyss and beyond that abyss is the unknown." Castenada goes on, "Then a strange urge, a force, made me run with him (Pablito) to the northern edge of the mesa. I felt his arm holding me as we jumped and then I was alone." So ended the making of a mana-person. Theological education cannot be an exercise is social conditioning, any more than it is spoon-feeding of theological theses. It is the equipping of a man to open doors for others through which he has already gone.
This passage still resonates with me as I read it 18 years later. Holmes goes on to speak of the priest as clown, wagon master and story teller. I commend Holmes' book to all those who may be exploring a vocation to the ordained ministry.

In other news, I saw and heard John Kerry at a rally in Philadelphia Tuesday night. He's an impressive candidate. I can say that, even after standing in the rain for 90 minutes to get through security! I heard Carter, Gore and both Hillary and Bill Clinton Monday night. Great stuff. Carter especially had me springing out of my chair to cheer a number of times, to the horror of the poor cats and pup, who must have thought I'd finally lost it. I missed Obama, but understand it's a speech worth hearing. Our future First Lady offered a fantastic message. John Edwards hit a homerun with his "hope is on the way" theme. Looking forward to hearing Kerry tonight.

I am still taking a break from the internet for awhile. I've been posting almost daily for about four months now. It's time to back away, and focus on things happening in the 3D world, as well as reflect on the nature and purpose of this medium. Thanks to all who have sent messages and left comments. I'll respond to them, and return to Jake's place, in a couple of weeks.



Wednesday, July 21, 2004

An Apology

I apologize to those who left supportive comments on my last post.  I have been advised that it was not "appropriate" to put out on the internet, so it has been deleted.

It seems some think that priests need to hide their personal eccentricities.  I disgree.  I think it is those unique bits that empower the ministry.  It is the willingness to be vulnerable, and dance to a different drummer, that is the gift some have to offer.  But, being an eccentric, I may be wrong.  

The image of the priest as C.E.O. seems to have replaced  the image of the priest as a shaman.   Folks want a chief, not a medicine man, I am told.  I'm not sure why the latter is inappropriate, but it appears that it is.

I think Jake will be taking a break from this world for awhile.  

Peace to all. 


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Kerry on Democracy and Citizenship

The last chapter of John Kerry's book, A Call to Service, is entitled "The Challenge of Reviving Democracy and Citizenship." To some degree, this is a catch-all chapter, as its theme is broad enough to allow Kerry to touch on a number of issues not previously mentioned. I've previously discussed two of these issues; rights for gay and lesbian Americans and his pro-choice position.

He begins by talking about the various responsibilities of citizenship. He speaks of "greater vigilance toward civil liberties." Since the war on terrorism, we have to be vigilant in keeping "a proper balance between our government's responsibility to protect all Americans from violence, and its responsibility to protect all Americans from violations of their constitutional rights." This leads in to his discussion of the Patriot Act;

I voted for the USA Patriot Act in the Senate right after 9/11 to advance our security at home but I am concerned that Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department is abusing the powers conferred on it by this act, especially in targeting immigrants for scrutiny and detention. More generally, I think the Bush administration is relying far too much on extraordinary police powers and not enough on regular policing in its homeland security efforts, a result of its ideologically driven obsession with eliminating federal assistance to local law enforcement.

And I'm genuinely alarmed at what I've seen of the Patriot II Act, which the administration has not formally unveiled as of this writing. One of its provisions would apparently enable federal authorities to strip U.S. citizens of their rights of due process. More broadly, it would create a separate, very shadowy justice system for terrorist suspects in which most of the rights and procedures normally guaranteed criminal suspects can be abrogated at the discretion of the president, I wouldn't propose it, and if it were passed I would veto it.
-A Call
, p. 178.
As you might recall, a draft of the proposed Patriot Act II was leaked, and was so severely criticized by both the right and the left that the Bush administration quickly backed away from it. This doesn't mean it's dead, however. Some suggest that it is quietly being implemented under various new manifestations.

Kerry concludes with "a call to service" to every American;

...we need a seamless web of service in which every American - young and old, rich and poor, of every race, religion, and background - can enlist in a new army of patriots who will serve on all the frontlines of our future. These include guarding our nation from danger abroad, strengthening our homeland security, reducing illiteracy, preserving our environment, providing after-school care, helping our seniors live in dignity, building new homes for those who need them - and through all these activities, building a nation that is truly one America.
-A Call
, p. 190.
He is proposing a number of initiatives to rally volunteers, such as a new "Service for College" program. Personally, I'd like to see such service mandatory for every citizen. I don't think we can attract real diversity with voluntary programs. Why not require two years of civil service for every citizen? No loopholes, no excuses. Is that too much to ask for the privilege of being a citizen of this great nation?

My admiration of John Kerry and my support for his bid for the presidency have been greatly increased by reading this book. Even when you strip away the political propaganda (re-read that last quote; there's a classic "shotgun" approach...shoot off enough issues, and at least one will find its target!), I still see a man who loves his country, and has a vision for America that I can share.

Let me allow Senator Kerry to have the last word in this series;

It was my generation that in its youth heard that call (to service). We did not think we were special; we simply believed in doing our part. And in the end, I suppose that is all any of us can do, and I believe each of us must try.

Our great country, the world's oldest and strongest democracy, can become even greater if we commit ourselves to helping one another here at home and helping others beyond our borders achieve the values of freedom and democracy that we have championed to the envy of the whole world.

This is my call to service and yours.
-A Call to Service
, p. 200.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Kerry on the Environment

John Kerry's next chapter is entitled "The Challenge of Defending the Environment and Achieving Energy Independence." He gives this a high priority, and is quite critical of the current administration's response to environmental concerns;

The president and his appointees are taking this country in the wrong direction on the environment and energy. They are listening to extremist voices - the kind of people who deny, against all evidence, that there's any such thing as global warming and who are willing to gamble the future of the planet and the lives of all those who live on it to prove they are right. The administration is following the advice of narrow interests - especially those associated with the oil industry (from which both the president and the vice president have profited), which view environmental protection and energy independence alike as threats to their bottom line.
- A Call to Service
, pp.148-149.
Kerry goes on to link this cavalier attitude towards the environment to the breakdown in our foreign relations;

The abrupt abandonment of U.S. leadership on these environmental issues has been one of the most disastrous steps taken by George W. Bush's administration, affecting not only our environment but our alliances and our international reputation.

When President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, he made it clear that the rough goals and guidelines it outlined for action by the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions associated with global warming needed to be revised. When President Bush took office in 2001, he had a clear mandate from the U.S. Senate to continue negotiations on this subject. But instead the president unilaterally repudiated the Kyoto Protocol, calling it "dead on arrival," and indicated no interest in an alternative process for reopening negotiations.

His remarks were instantly reported by media around the world, their underlying contempt all too clear even when translated into dozens of languages. Their impact came back to haunt us when we were trying to build a "coalition of the willing" to help us deal with Saddam Hussein. The administration failed to see that Kyoto was not merely a standard diplomatic agreement but an ongoing process that represented the resolve of 160 nations that worked together for ten years, a group that was convened and led by the United States. It was a good-faith effort that the president simply dismissed, with no effort to mend it, seek compromise, or even discuss it.
- A Call,
pp. 155-156.
How does Kerry propose to correct these disastrous steps?

A Kerry administration will put America back into the mainstream of respect for scientific evidence, technological progress, and bipartisan action on energy and the environment. Those who deny our responsibility for stewardship of the earth and its resources will be dismissed from positions of influence. And while there are legitimate differences of opinion on many issues of environmental and energy policies, I will not tolerate, much less invite into the White House to craft policies, special pleaders seeking government-imposed privileges to despoil the earth or control our energy supplies.
- A Call,
p. 149.
To free the U.S. from "excessive dependence on the wrong energy sources, controlled by the wrong people," Kerry is calling for the establishment of a peaceful equivalent of a new Manhattan Project; new investments in research into ways "to harness the natural world around us to light and power the world we live in." Beyond the using the sun, wind, water and various crops as energy resources that will wean us from our dependency on oil, he also wants "to restore the place of coal as a valuable resource and help shed its longtime image of having a negative impact on the environment."

Kerry suggests a number of other ideas, without being too specific concerning any of them. He places his faith in the American people to meet this crisis. He sees his role as giving research and development, incentives for improved energy efficiency, and working with the global community a high priority in his administration, and to continue to hold up our responsibilities of good stewardship before the people;

Most of all, my proposals on both energy and environmental protection will place these subjects back on the front burner of the national debate where they belong and where they will be of integral importance to our budget policy, trade policy, and foreign policy.
- A Call,
p. 172.
By Jove, I think he's got it!


Saturday, July 17, 2004

Kerry on Health Care

The next chapter of Kerry's book, "The Challenge of Creating a Modern Health-Care System," begins with this comment;
...For those who can afford it we have the best health-care system in the world.  But we are the only major industrialized country that does not guarantee every citizen, regardless of income, access to affordable health care...
 -A Call to Service
, p. 123
This brought to mind something I read in Harpers this morning.  It was the transcript of a forum entitled  "Liberalism Regained; Building the next progressive majority."  The specific quote is from Ron Daniels, who was the former director of the National Rainbow Coalition in 1987, an independent candidate for president in 1992 and the current executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights;

We need a transformative vision, one advancing the notion that America can be more than it is today for average, ordinary people.  The Democratic Party should advocate a program of basic rights, like the ones enjoyed by many social democratic countries in Europe.  Americans really feel that they have the best standard of living in the world.  They don't, but they don't know that they don't.  Virtually every nation in Western Europe has universal health care.  In Sweden, Norway, and Holland, the social benefits are so generous that poverty has been practically eliminated.  Wages in most European countries now outpace wages in the United States.
, August 2004, p. 33.

My life experience suggests that this is not extremist talk. In my younger years, when I was trying to raise a family on $300 a week, my children and my wife were denied health care more than once because of our inability to pay. The only option we had was to go to the emergency room, which not only increased the costs, but was an improper use of those facilities. Even later, with health insurance, the high deductible meant that my family could not access proper health care because we could not afford it. Insurance offered us protection in case of a catastrophic emergency, but little else. Surely the wealthiest nation in the world can do better than this?

Here is Kerry's summary of his health care plan;

- All Americans will have access to the same health-care coverage that their members of Congress has today.

- A commitment to work until every American has affordable health insurance-starting with a plan that covers 99 percent of children and 96 percent of all Americans.

-Contain soaring health-care costs by making prescription drugs more affordable, getting rid of frivolous lawsuits, reducing uncompensated care, and giving affordable health-care choices.

-Relief to employers who offer affordable coverage to their employees by covering a portion of their highest cost cases.

-Save costs by cutting bureaucracy; that cuts nearly $350 billion a year out of the health-care system.
-A Call
, pp. 142-143.
Kerry is proposing a mixture of private and public health insurance, to avoid a "one size fits all" health care system. I don't see how this will work. From my perspective, the insurance companies are the problem, as making a profit is their bottom line. To quote Jim Wallis, "a system based on profit cannot address the issues of injustice and inequality in this world." To provide a just health-care system, the insurance companies have to be removed from the equation.

But, if John Kerry can deliver on his promise of a health-care plan that will immediately cover 99 percent of our children and 96 percent of all Americans, I'll support it. I want to see how high the deductible is on these plans, though. It may be hard for many of the middle and upper class to understand this, but a $500 deductible (or even a 20% co-pay) will cause many families to have no access to medical treatment for anything other than extreme emergencies. A plan that includes a high deductible or co-pay feature would be unacceptable, as it would not address the day to day health care needs of the poor.


Thursday, July 15, 2004

Lighten Up!

Every once in awhile I think it's healthy to laugh at ourselves.  Before continuing with John Kerry's book, I thought it might be a good idea to take a break for a bit of comic relief.
Connexions recently offered a link to this piece;
This Land
It takes awhile to download, so be patient.  It's guaranteed to make you smile at least once, regardless of your political inclinations.


Kerry on Being Pro-Choice

In his book, John Kerry does not really discuss his position on abortion, except for one reference. Since it seems to be an issue that some folks here and elsewhere want to discuss, I thought I'd introduce it now, and include some sources beyond his book to facilitate a more informed discussion of the topic.

First, the reference from his book;

...I am equally concerned about a particular threat that we now face to a woman's right to choose. Although they don't often discuss it in mixed company, President Bush and the Republican Party are committed to an exceptionally harsh policy of reversing Roe v. Wade. Some are actually seeking to prohibit abortion and, for that matter, the use of certain birth-control measures by what they call a Human Life Amendment to the United States Constitution.
- A Call to Serve
, p. 181.
He goes on to explain that since neither of these will ever come to pass, the fallback plan is to change the Supreme Court.

His website offers this statement on his position;

John Kerry believes that women have the right to control their own bodies, their own lives, and their own destinies. He believes that the Constitution protects their right to choose and to make their own decisions in consultation with their doctor, their conscience, and their God. He will defend this right as President. He recently announced he will support only pro-choice judges to the Supreme Court. Kerry also believes that we should promote family planning and health plans should assure women contraceptive coverage.
The Washington Post reports the following quotes from John Kerry offered in an interview in Iowa on July 4;

I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception...

... I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America.
For me, the key to understanding this position comes in the following paragraph in the Post's article;

...several parishioners asked him about his position on abortion and his vote against a recent bill that would have banned the late-term procedure opponents call "partial birth" abortion, according to a reporter for the Telegraph Herald who sat behind Kerry's pew. Kerry replied that he would have supported the ban if it had included an exception for the health of the mother.
This is in line with my personal view on this issue. I affirm the sanctity of life. This means I am opposed to war, capital punishment, euthanasia and abortion. That does not mean that I think in every situation that the decision to take a human life is never an option. If an intruder entered my house and threatened my family, I would stop him, using every means at my disposal. I have seen those who are in extreme pain with no hope of recovery. In such cases, I believe that euthanasia might be the most compassionate response.

Every ethical decision has to be considered within the context of its particulars. If carrying a child threatens the life of a woman, I would think that abortion would have to be considered. It's one of those situations where there is no "good" decision. The death of the child or the death of the woman would grieve the heart of God. But not making a decision in such cases would in actuality be a decision, which would result in the death of the woman. So, we make the best decisions we can and ask for forgiveness from God.

I know there are those who will disagree with the idea that life begins at conception, and will object to me referring to a fetus as a child. I think this question, "When does life begin?" does need more attention than it has received. My honest answer is that I don't really know. Claiming that it begins at conception is an assumption I have made; one which might prove to be erroneous.

It is difficult to know where to "draw the line" as to when a fetus becomes a person. For some persons of faith, that line would be the moment of "ensoulment," which is often assumed to coincide with the moment of conception. But does it? Consider the case of a fertilized egg that splits and becomes twins. Did ensoulment happen at conception? If so, do the twins each have half a soul? Or did it occur at some later time after the split? If we accept the latter, then we have to admit that we know of at least one exception, meaning that there might be others. We don't know when ensoulment occurs.

One of the difficulties in discussing ethical issues is that many of us "do" ethics in quite different ways, which I have previously mentioned;

I want to suggest that there are basically two models used when faced with an ethical decision; the deontological model (some things are always right, and some things are always wrong) and the consequentialist model (the greatest good consequence for the greatest number is the right thing).

Both are valid approaches, and people of faith can find precedents for each within scripture and tradition.
The difficulty is that both the deontologists and the consequentialists are so sure their way is "right," that they can't hear one another.

I hesitate to speak on this issue, as it is an ethical situation that I will never personally face, which I suspect makes my thoughts on it a bit too objective to be of any real value. Personally, I believe abortion is the termination of a life. I also believe in some situations, this may be the difficult decision that must be made. Consequently, I oppose legislation that would make such a choice illegal. To use the line I first heard from Bill Clinton, and is now echoed by John Kerry's campaign, abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Kerry on Education

The fourth chapter of A Call to Service by Senator John Kerry is "The Challenge of Creating World-Class Schools." He tosses out a number of suggestions in this chapter, so many in fact that I cannot possibly include them all here. I'll be offering just a taste of a few of his points. I recommend that everyone read the entire book to get a fuller view of Kerry's vision for America.

He speaks of his frustration regarding the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, which he sponsored. Although not perfect, he saw this Act as having the potential to introduce a good bipartisan reform in education. This is how Kerry describes what followed the passing of this act; "But before the ink was even dry on the act, the president abandoned the new bargain by denying states and school districts the promised federal resources."

Here is how Kerry attempts to make sense of this paradox;

...The abandonment of the grand bargain of more resources and flexibility in exchange for results sets up education reform for failure - a failure that could well sour the American people as a whole on the possibility of substantive positive changes in our public schools.

There is no question that there are those in the Administration - and even more so, in the Republican Party - who would applaud this development. Some conservatives openly oppose education reform because they don't consider public schools worth saving. They prefer subsidies to go to private schools that have no accountability for achieving specific educational results, letting market forces dictate what knowledge and skills we want our children to possess. Many Republicans are absolutists when it comes to moral standards of right and wrong but, ironically, are relativists when it comes to educational standards of knowledge and ignorance.
- A Call to Service,
pp. 105-106
I'm pleased to see Kerry come out and say what many know to be true, but rarely hear from Washington; the plan is to force public education into failure by starving it, so a voucher system can be established, which will eventually privatize education, and make it accessible only to those who have the means to pay for it.

Over time, the government will cut back on subsidizing vouchers, because of "budget restraints," which will assure that "those people" will end up where they belong; in privatized prisons, where they will be used as slave labor and be removed from the gene pool. Of course, John Kerry would not use such harsh words, but I have no hesitation in giving them voice.

The right to a public education is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer our citizens. The attempt to make a profit from education while denying it to low income families needs to be called for what it is; capitalism and elitism gone wild.

Much of Kerry's plan to reform education focuses on recruiting and supporting top-notch teachers and stopping the move to micromanage our schools;

First, we need to place more emphasis on teaching and less on bureaucracy. Look at most school boards in this country and you will see a classic industrial-age bureaucracy seeking to own and operate every aspect of public education and to micromanage the activities of everyone working in the schools...many public schools are governed by a system that neither provides effective leadership at the top nor accepts leadership in individual schools or classrooms. The result is that no one is really held responsible for the education of our kids. The managers of our public schools, the superintendents and principals, are often left to be scapegoats for complaints by parents and taxpayers...

...We need to give public institutions more freedom from micromangement in exchange for strict accountability for achieving tangible improvements in knowledge and skills of our children.
_ A Call,
pp. 106-107.
For those wanting a summary in the form of a campaign promise;

If I'm elected president, I will make lifting the performance of public schools and giving them the tools and flexibility to succeed the top educational priority of my administration.
-A Call,
p. 106.
To be continued...


Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Kerry on Rights for Gay and Lesbian Americans

In light of current debate in the Senate, I'm going to jump ahead in Kerry's book. For commentary and links to how you can get involved in opposing this latest bit of tomfoolery brought to us by the right, I commend to you A Religious Liberal Blog.

In Kerry's last chapter, "The Challenge of Reviving Democracy and Citizenship," the following quote can be found;'s long past time that we confer full citizenship rights upon gay and lesbian Americans. And it's important that we perceive the issue in exactly that way - as a simple matter of ensuring that American citizens are treated equally.

Some people - including, unfortunately, the president of the United States - argue that recognizing the rights of gays and lesbians in effect confers special privileges on them. That's just another way of saying that the law will be blind to discrimination if it is based on sexual orientation, and that's simply wrong.

No law can make people approve of gays and lesbians if they believe their moral code forbids them to do so, although as a Christian, I believe that this and every other form of discrimination is opposed to the spirit of the Bible. But if the law cannot command approval, it can demand respect, and that's what I'm calling for in supporting equal treatment of gays and lesbians in employment law and employee benefits, in the right to form domestic partnerships and civil unions, and in the right to raise children.
-A Call to Service,
pp. 178-179.
This is one issue in which John Kerry and George Bush clearly disagree. Consequently, I think it is an issue that helps define the differences in character in these two candidates. Should I vote for the one who champions equality, or the one who opens the door to continued bigotry? Kind of a no-brainer, isn't it?


Monday, July 12, 2004

Kerry on the Economy

The third chapter of Kerry's book is entitled " The Challenge of Expanding our Common Wealth." As economics is a topic that I personally find quite dreary, I must confess that there may be some really meaty stuff in this chapter that I simply skimmed over. Here's a good summary of what he calls the "mainstream principles that can and must power our engines of economic growth;"

- Economic growth is built on the talent and hard work of all our people, not just wealthy elites.

- Both private and public investment play a role in building the infrastructure for growth.

- Government must ensure a fair and honest marketplace for business competition, labor-management cooperation, and investors with enforceable standards for integrity for financial and accounting systems and corporate executives.

- The progressive system of taxes, which distributes the burden of self-government in proportion to the ability to pay, can and should be maintained without discouraging enterprise or wealth.
-A Call
, pp. 67-68.
He expands each of these points in this chapter. An additional issue which he brings up is the current tendency of the feds to shift much of the financial responsibility for federal programs over to the states, which seems contrary to one of the principles of the Republican party; a "respect for the role and capacity of state governments."

One paragraph did leap out at me in this chapter, as it addressed an issue that I do know something about;

Republicans often claim that increasing the minimum wage is a job killer, a burden that business cannot afford. What they won't acknowledge is that the rising living costs constantly erode the purchasing power of minimum wage. In fact, you'd have to raise it to $8.14 an hour to give workers the same purchasing power they had in 1969. I believe that the proposal many of us have sponsored in the Senate - to increase the minimum wage to $7.00 an hour - is a modest and reasonable compromise. Then we should index the minimum wage to inflation so that purchasing power is maintained and so that families struggling to get out of poverty don't have to wait for another fight in Congress just to maintain the most basic standard of living.
-A Call
, p. 76.
A few years ago, I hung up my collar and explored other vocational paths. One of these paths led me to being a staff member at a "transitional living center." This is a fancy name for a long-term homeless shelter. Our focus was on women and families. We only accepted those who were employable. Those with mental health or substance abuse issues were referred to other programs. One of our requirements was that each resident be fully employed within thirty days of entering the program. To accomplish this, I taught an employment class. A part of this class was to help the residents see that taking a full-time minimum wage job was not going to solve their problems. Some basic math makes this clear;

Let's develop a survival budget; just the essentials to function daily in this society for one month;

700 rent
100 utilities (telephone is optional; this is for electricity and heat)
300 food (depending on the number and age of children, this may be low)
100 transportation (public; a car would triple this number)
1200 total

If they are making Kerry's recommended $7.00 an hour, and working 40 hours a week, their monthly income would be, before taxes, $1,260 (7 x 40 hrs. x 4.5 wks. = 1260). Note that the above budget is already in deficit once taxes are taken out, and does not include childcare, medical needs, or a clothing allowance.

One of the critical ways to alleviate poverty in this country is to pay workers a living wage, which I would suggest is a minimum of $10.00 an hour, but more realistically in the area of $12.00 an hour. John Kerry is at least moving in the right direction by insisting that the minimum wage be raised, and connecting it to the actual cost of living. For that he has my support.

To be continued...


Saturday, July 10, 2004

Kerry on Foreign Relations

I'm continuing to read John Kerry's book, A Call to Service. The second chapter is entitled "The Challenge of Protecting America and Promoting It's Values and Interests." Here's a couple of paragraphs;

The president and many of his advisors have forgotten that genuine global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do for other countries. Leading the world's most advanced democracies isn't a matter of mushy multilateralism; it amplifies America's voice and extends its reach. Working through global institutions doesn't tie our hands; it invests our aims in greater legitimacy, brings us vital support, and dampens the resentment that greater power inevitably inspires.

In a world growing more interdependent every day, unilateralism is a formula for crippling isolation and shrinking influence. As much as some in the White House may desire it, America can't opt out of a networked world or simply log in and out of it when the situation suits us. Those who seek to lead have a duty to offer not only a clear vision of how we can make America safer but also how we can make America itself more trusted and respected in the world.
-A Call,
pp. 36-37.
He has the background in foreign relations to accomplish this strengthening of our global ties. He was a "foreign service brat," and spent much time overseas where he was exposed to "a lot of other cultures, languages, political traditions and histories." His father, a foreign service officer, served in Berlin, Norway, and the NATO War College. He also served briefly as a member of the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a freshman Senator, John Kerry passed up Appropriations, to the consternation of his staff, in order to get on Foreign Relations. He has served on that Committee for nearly twenty years.

This doesn't mean he's soft on our European allies, however;

The Bush administration is by no means the only culprit in the breakdown in U.S.-UN relations over Iraq. France, Germany and Russia never supported or offered a feasible policy to verify that UN resolutions on Iraq were actually being carried out. And it's clear that France is flirting with a revival of Charles de Gaulle's fantasy of making Europe an independent counterweight to U.S. power, led, of course, from Paris. As far as Germany is concerned, the neopacifism that underlay its objections to military action against Saddam threatens to make NATO toothless and irrelevant as an instrument for the collective security of the Atlantic Alliance.
-A Call
, p. 50.
So far, I like the cut of this man's jib. Then, he begins to talk about Israel;

Israel is our ally, for it is not just the only real democracy in the Middle East but a bulwark of U.S. security in a region rife with threats. Its future can be best assured over the long term only if a real and lasting peace can be brought to its entire neighborhood.
-A Call,
p. 52.
This raises a caution flag for me. He goes on to support a Palestinian state, but is adamant about ending "state-sponsored support of terrorism against Israel." The terrorism inflicted by the Israeli army is not mentioned. And how shall we bring about this "real and lasting peace"? How will we bring Iran into line, let alone Syria and Saudi Arabia? By following the example of Bush and Sharon; the use of military might? I'll not say more right now, and will acknowledge that this is an area in which I am not well informed. Sitting on the bookshelf next to me is a copy of journalist Richard Ben Cramer's book, How Israel Lost; The Four Questions. Maybe after I've gotten around to reading that, I can respond more informatively on why Kerry's comments on this issue make me uncomfortable. Who knows; maybe by then I'll agree with the Senator.

To be continued...


Who is John Kerry?

To be helpful in electing John Kerry will require that I know more about the candidate than "he is not George Bush" (although, that in itself might be enough). You can cull statements, quotes and speeches online, but I'm of the generation that still struggles with doing "homework" exclusively on the net. I like the feel of paper between my fingers. I like a resource that I can carry around and mark up. So I bought the first book I found by John Kerry, A Call to Service; My Vision for a Better America, which came out in 2003. As I browsed the pages, I found a number of clear statements on a myriad of issues.

I hear over and over again that some folks are hesitant to support Kerry for the same reason that I held back; they don't know much about him. I don't think we can wait for the media to spoon feed us information. I think we're going to have to dig it out for ourselves. To that end, I'm going to offer some of the discoveries I make as I read this book, which is a primary source; the words of Senator Kerry.

Early in the book, I found a reasonable answer to a question that is important to me, although it may not be one of the top questions for others; what is John Kerry's relationship with his religious tradition? Here's what I found;

...I am a believing and practicing Catholic, married to another believing and practicing Catholic. And being an American Catholic at this particular moment in history has three particular implications for my own point of view as a candidate for the presidency.

The first two follow directly from the two great commandments set forth in the Scriptures: our obligations to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The first commandment means we must believe that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. They may not always be that clear, but they exist, and it is our duty to honor them as best we can.

The second commandment means that our commitment to equal rights and social justice, here and around the world, is not simply a matter of political fashion or economic and social theory but a direct command from God. From this perspective "Christian" bigotry and intolerance are nothing less than a direct affront to God's law and a rejection of God's love.

There's a third facet of being an American Catholic that I take very seriously. We've always been a minority in this country, and have sometimes suffered persecution. To a larger extent than Catholics elsewhere, we have supported and relied upon the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state to guarantee our right to worship and our liberty of conscience. That tradition, strongly advanced by John Kennedy in his quest to become our first Catholic president, helped make religious affiliation a nonissue in American politics. It should stay that way.
-A Call to Service
, pp. 23-24.
I realize that those who oppose Kerry can find much in this quote to challenge and pick apart. But as for me, it resonates quite strongly, and is a position that I not only support, but embrace.

I see a man of faith who will not slide into extremism, and will be an advocate for equality and social justice as a response to his faith. The right stuff.

To be continued...


Friday, July 09, 2004

Is Fuzziness a Good Thing?

From Demi, In an English Garden:

...I will say this: the way things were done was not the way Rome, for instance, would have approached it. But that is, to me, one of the primary differences in Roman thinking as opposed to Anglican thinking. They have two very different ways of being.

Hopefully if I'm off-base here, Paul will jump in and straighten this out. But from what I have gathered, there are (at least) two ways to approach the theory of law: Napoleonic and English. Civil law and common law.

From what I have gathered, (and I am painting with a very broad brush here) the English favored an ad hoc process: everything is permitted until it scares the dogs and wakes the children. Once a thing becomes problematic for the community, only then is it allowed but restricted or allowed outright or else forbidden. Experience is what drives the creation of law.

Conversely, the Roman or Napoleonic mode of law-making begins with a first principle, and derives corollaries from that principle. You can see this meta-cognitive difference in the way the two theologies are written: pick up a Roman Catholic catechism, and you'll see a masterwork of formal logic, with syllogisms carefully worked out. The legacy of Aquinas and Aristotle. It's deductive logic: begin with a premise, and work out the corollaries from there...

...Had The Issue arisen in the Roman church, the hierarchy's course of action would have been clear: excommunicate the heretics. They are no longer Roman Catholics. End of story, finito. Roma locuta est, causa finita est: "Rome has spoken; the case is closed." They don't burn heretics at the stake anymore, but they do forbid them to teach in Catholic universities. Then they find jobs in secular or Protestant institutions, who are more than happy to have them, because Romans do a lot of good scholarship. (Celibates who don't have to feed four hungry chillen and a wife have the time and resources to devote their all to their work. Makes sense.)

In any case, the mode of discourse that takes first principles first, and derives all corollaries from those premises is how they do things on the other side of the Tiber.

Well, Anglicans don't do things that way. Try to find a work of systematic theology in that tradition: go on, I dare you. Hooker comes closest, but if you read the Anglican theologians, they are fuzzy fuzzy fuzzy. They're smart people, so you have to assume that they like things this way. Fuzzy...
Hmm, come to think of it, Cantuar does look a bit "fuzzy," doesn't he?

There's much more, including a "colorful" example, and a great analogy drawn from English gardens.

Go read the whole thing. I know I may be biased, since Demi is my lovely bride, but I really think she's on to something here.


Thursday, July 08, 2004

From Ekklesia

Ekklesia is "a not-for-profit think-tank which works to promote theological ideas in the public square...Ekklesia emerged from 'Workshop', a theological training programme that has been running in the UK for 20 years." Among other things, they also produce "a news syndication service which gives a theological perspective on the news." Here are a couple of their recent news items worth noting;

Evangelicals form network to support gay and lesbian Christians:

A new network has been formed by Evangelicals who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships...
This network of evangelicals has a new site up; Accepting Evangelicals. From their home page;

Accepting a network of people who are increasingly uncomfortable with the hard-line statements which are being issued by some Evangelical groups, and the damage which this is causing, both to the church and the mission of the Gospel.

Accepting open both to people who believe that the Bible does not condemn loving, faithful same-sex relationships which are built on mutual commitment and self-giving love...and to people who, although they do not personally hold this view are willing to accept the integrity of those who do.
Looks good. Some "acceptance of integrity" might make it easier to actually discuss things with some folks who seem to have abandoned all semblance of civility with those with whom they disagree. Of course, I may be mistaken. Possibly they are just being honest? Maybe I really am an apostate, heretical, satanic, revisionist who has no right to claim the title of Christian? Hmm...Nah.

Archbishops rebuke Blair over Iraq and warn of Christian Zionism:

The archbishops of Canterbury and York have delivered what is being seen as a rebuke to the Government, over the behaviour of Western security forces in Iraq...

...In a joint letter they also warn about the dangers of Christian Zionism saying that "theological work" needs to be done to "counter those interpretations of Scripture from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land...

...In a guarded reference to the growing influence of the Christian Zionist movement in the US — which takes the view that the restoration of the biblical Israel is necessary to facilitate the Second Coming of Christ — the archbishops admit; “Within the wider Christian community we also have theological work to do to counter those interpretations of Scripture from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land.”
I've mentioned before that I think that Christian Zionism is what is fueling what is going on in the Middle East right now. I'm quite pleased that these Anglican leaders have spoken up. It makes me proud to be an Anglican (well, at least until October when the Lambeth Commission gives us the boot).


Hip Hop; Art or Slang?

Two recent news stories have me slightly confused, as I tend to find myself in agreement and appalled by aspects of both.

First, there is some controversy surrounding recent comments made by Bill Cosby. It appears he shocked some of the members of the NAACP in a speech in which he stated that blacks needed to take responsibility for their economic problems, quit blaming the police, and teach better English in the home;

...Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids - $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics...'

...They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is' ... And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. ... Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. ... You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"
I heard Cosby on NPR after this speech, and he did acknowledge the systemic problems faced by African-Americans in this country, but still insisted that the primary problem continues to be poor parenting. I tend to agree, but am uncomfortable with the elitist feel to his words. Also, my life experience is that anyone can rise above poor parenting if they choose to do so. It's not all the parent's fault, just as it's not all the system's fault.

Juxtaposed against this news item is one from the Episcopal News Service; Roskam Raps at Hip Hop Mass. It appears that Bishop Suffragan Cathy Roskam of New York was the celebrant at the Bronx's third Hip Hop Mass, held Friday, July 2 at Trinity Church of Morrisania. The article describes this as an innovative way to explore alternative forms of worship. A number of the members wrote parts of the liturgy, which are portrayed as art forms. Maybe they are. And, it is certainly time that we begin to look for new ways to meet people where they are in their spiritual lives through alternative worship styles. But, consider some of the innovations;

Psalm 23;
The Lord is all that, I need
For nothing
He allows me to chill.
He keeps me from being heated
And allows me to breathe easy.
He guides my life so that
I can represent and give
Shouts out in his Name.
And even though I walk through
The Hood of death,
I don't back down
For you have my back.
The fact that you have me covered
Allows me to chill.
He provides me with back-up
In front of my player-haters
And I know that I am a baler
And life will be phat
I fall back in the Lord's crib
For the rest of my life
Confession and Absolution;
Merciful God
We confess we have sinned against You and our Neighbor.
We have not done right by You.
We have not done right
by other people.
We are sorry.
We want to change.
Remember Jesus, Your Son.
Have mercy and forgive us.
From now on may we try to do what you want,
To the glory of Your Name. Amen.

It's Cool.
God has forgiven you.
It's a done deal!
And finally, the dismissal offered by the Bishop;
My sistas and brothas, all my homies and peeps, stay up -- keep your head up, holla back, and go forth and tell like it is.
Since I have never lived in the Bronx, I suppose I need to reserve judgment. But I'm more than a bit uncomfortable with some of this. It sounds so much like the ugly stuff in the music I hear the young people listening to today; full of violence, sexism, and a lust for bling-bling.

Is this a generational/cultural dissonance I'm facing? Maybe it is really a grieving over a perceived loss of something I consider beautiful: the English language.


Wednesday, July 07, 2004

That's the Ticket

I'm pretty excited about the choice of Edwards. This looks like a winning ticket.

I will admit that I wasn't as enthusiastic about Kerry as I was about getting Bush out of the White House. But the choice of Edwards as a running mate has caused me to decide to openly support Kerry. I've even added a contribution link to the sidebar.

A word about clergy supporting political candidates; usually, it is a bad idea. Every Episcopal congregation is made up of a mixture of Republicans and Democrats. For the clergy to support one party over the other would alienate a segment of the congregation. Never a good thing.

The truth is that a valid argument can be made for either party affiliation. My father has always been a Republican, based on the old model that "less government is the best government." He recently told me he plans to vote for Kerry, however, because he is sick of Bush. That is but one example of why I think this particular election is about more than party affiliation; it is about issues of honesty, justice, and how the USA will function as a world leader in the future.

Another reason I've chosen to go public with my personal choice is that "Jake" is not a leader of a congregation. Some of you know my real identity. It's not too hard to figure out. I've remained hidden because of a request by a member of my family. Personally, I'm not very comfortable with using a "pen name," but over the months, it's become kind of fun to let "Jake" develop his own character. The point is that "Jake" is not in a "position of authority." He is just another blogger, with an opinion not any more valid than any other blogger. So why not go public with his opinion of the candidates?

The other reason I've decided to support Kerry and work for his campaign locally is that I live about 100 miles from my parish. This gives me the freedom to get involved in the campaign locally, without alienating members of the congregation.

There is one more reason I'm getting involved; a more personal reason. I am being encouraged to move beyond my own introverted nature. Yes, I am an introvert, big time. I like being in my cave with my dog, my puter and my books. When I'm working as a priest, I have to be an extrovert. That means when I get home, I tend to shut down and withdraw. But, such isolation is probably not very healthy. So, I'm going to make an effort to make friends outside the Church, and even (gulp...mutter...sigh) "entertain."

So my latest brilliant idea (or so it seems to me...we'll see) is to get involved in the Kerry campaign, and make friends that I can be assured will at least be Democrats.

But, the most important reason for going public in supporting Kerry is that I feel strongly that Bush has got to go. I continue to be amazed by those who seem oblivious as to how dangerous this man is. Demi and I have had quite serious discussions about what we will do if he is re-elected. As of now, the plan is to move to Canada.

So, remember to register to vote. Then vote for Kerry. Vote early, and vote often.


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

A Chimney in Recovery

I have a confession to make. I am a smoker. A heavy smoker. I've smoked for 35 years. I switched to a pipe for awhile, and even cigars for a brief time, but I've never given up smoking. I really enjoy tobacco. But I know it's time to give it up.

I made a promise to someone close to me that I would stop smoking some months ago. I've not quite accomplished it yet. For a few days, I'll cut way down. But I've never stopped (I'm intentionally using the term "stopped" rather than "quit," thanks to some insights shared by Mumcat).

I've tried to figure out what the attraction is to this nasty habit. I even wrote a little poem about it once;

Ill-begotten bastard
Of past Englishmen's greed
Robber of breath
Comrade of death
You force me, vile habit
To feed my craving need
That captures some of the emotion surrounding stopping this ingrained behavior, but is really an avoidance technique, I suppose. Wasting time writing a poem about it makes me feel like I'm doing something constructive concerning the problem.

Other than the enjoyment of the taste and the ritual, combined with the physical addiction, why is this such a difficult vice to surrender?

A few things come to mind. It's my reward system. I can remember so many unpleasant jobs that I managed to get through by simply telling myself, "Get through this, and then you can have a nice smoke."

Then there is the layer of insulation a cloud of smoke provides. It creates a barrier between me and others. The message is, "Leave me alone; I'm smoking."

There's another thing that I think makes this habit difficult for me to release. It has to do with memories from a time in my life when tobacco was highly valued.

The state of Oregon sent me to McLaren School for Boys on two occasions. It was, and is, the state reformatory. When I was there, it wasn't too bad of a place. It consisted of about eight cottages; each one holding about 30 to 50 boys. Each cottage was designated by county, meaning that the residents of my cottage were mostly boys I knew from school or the street.

The staff were very gentle with us, as long as we stayed within the rules. There were no fences, although I've been told there are now. The school was situated in the middle of a valley of plowed fields stretched out as far as the eye could see. Since we were all placed in the custody of the school by the courts, we could not leave. The plowed fields functioned as our fence. If a boy did run off, there was a security team consisting of about eight guards with half a dozen Dodge Darts with radios that would head out to track you down. They usually brought the boy back. He would spend about a week in Benson Hall, the isolation facility, and then be returned to his cottage.

Since we were all minors, tobacco was contraband. Of course, almost all the boys smoked anyway. Our currency was smuggled tobacco. "Tailors" were worth their weight in gold. Most of us rolled our own, from pouches of tobacco we had smuggled in. We lit them with a small square of flint torn from a matchbook, and a match which had been peeled in half.

There were other ways to get a light when in a pinch. I saw one of the boys in our cottage wrap a metal bread bag tie around a comb, forming two prongs, which he wrapped with toilet paper. He then took the comb and shoved it into an electrical socket. The toilet paper burst into flames. The lights dimmed for a moment as well, alerting the staff that someone had just gotten a light in this manner. I don't recommend trying this, btw.

We had an understanding with the staff in our cottage. There was a large tiled room in the cottage that contained the showers, sinks, and toilets that we called "the flats." During certain times of the day, the staff would not enter the flats, as they knew we were having our morning/afternoon/evening smoke. Since there were only three toilets, only three boys were allowed in the flats at a time. We formed "toking groups;" groups of three that shared their tobacco resources, and smoked together.

My two "residencies" in this "school" totaled about one year; a little over seven months the first time, and about four months the second time. Within that year, I only got in serious trouble twice. Both incidents involved tobacco.

The first one occurred when I got up one morning, got my "flat's pass," and walked in to find a staff member leaning against one of the sinks with his arms folded. This was not one of our regular staff, but a substitute who was filling in for someone who had called out. He didn't know about our "understanding." I wasn't going to get my morning smoke. I blew my top, and called him an s.o.b., and probably a few other things I can't recall. That got me put in Benson Hall for the morning, in a padded cell no less. When the same staff person came to escort me back to the cottage, I apologized during the walk, and that was the end of that incident.

The second bit of trouble involved a common problem when you put a bunch of boys together who have a history of juvenile delinquency. Someone stole a pack of my toking group's tailors from our hidden stash. We happened to be really low on tobacco at the time, and losing that pack of tailors really hurt. We found out who did it; this rather large boy with a reputation of being a bit of a bully. As was the norm, one of the members of our toking group was a "hard guy," a boy who had a reputation for fighting. This was to discourage such robberies. All this guy had to do for free tobacco was protect our stash. Our "hard guy" turned out not to be as hard as we thought. When he confronted the thief, who admitted to the act, and refused to return the treasure, our guy backed down.

I saw red, and confronted the bully myself. Not only did he refuse to return the tailors, he called me a "little punk." I charged, fists flailing. The staff broke it up. I got sent to Benson to cool off for a few hours. But we got that pack of tailors back!

Anyway, a long story to make the point that in my mind, tobacco is something worth taking many risks to enjoy; it's even worth fighting over.

Is it really? Of course not. But unwinding the convoluted patterns of this habit, involving physical addiction as well as psychological dependence, is a quite daunting endeavor.

I know I can do this. I know I must do this. But must I do it today?


UPDATE: Neil offered a link to a good article from The Church Times by the Revd Dr Giles Fraser; Just One More Cigarette. Here is just a piece of it, with which I can identify more than I want to admit;

So strong is the hold nicotine has over my life that it warps my logic. Consider the following, all of which I have believed:

1 I will not be able to think or write without a cigarette.
2 Smoking preserves a vestige of bad-boy credibility in my safe, middle-class existence.
3 Being a smoker makes me more approachable as a priest.
4 Smoking will make me thinner.
5 Smoking is so bound up with my identity that if I give up, I will no longer be me. My demons tell me that without cigarettes, I won’t be clever, sexy, cool or confident.

Like sin, the wages of smoking is death. My grandfather died of lung cancer at 50-something. Giving up begins with the existential drama of facing one’s mortality. Rarely has my inner life been so intense. Yet, to my shame, it took half a packet of fags to write this piece. Karl Marx was right: the point is to change things, not just understand them.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Be a Spoon

Leonard Sweet, a well-known Methodist preacher, tells the story of a little girl who entertained herself while setting the table by bringing the utensils to life;

Her mother listened as knives, forks and spoons carried on conversation and wrestled their way onto the table.

Suddenly the girl looked over at her mother and declared, "If I had to choose, I'd rather be a spoon!"

"A spoon," her mother replied, now intrigued, "Why would you want to be a spoon? What would be wrong with being a fork or a knife?"

"Well," the girl explained, "forks are too grabby, always stabbing stuff and taking it like its theirs. Like in school, I hate it when somebody takes a piece of my desert with their fork and eats it."

"Okay," her mother agreed. "But what about the knife?"

"No, knives are scary, like, they cut things, and you can't really eat with them, just slice stuff up. But spoons! Spoons can scoop up lots of stuff and even pass it around! They're just nice and round and smooth and friendly. I'd rather be a spoon!"
Do you know any forks? These are the folks who never seem to have enough, and so they are constantly looking for something more that they can stab their tines into. For a fork, grabbing all the "stuff" is what life is all about.

Do you know any knives? These folks are control freaks. No matter what it is, it's never quite right. They've got to trim, slice and dissect the heart right out of every idea. For knives, it's all about being in control.

But, spoons...spoons are different. Instead of taking, spoons were designed to serve. The spoon doesn't stab everything in its path and claim it for itself, or trim everything down to fit its own cookie-cutter reality. For spoons, service is what it's all about.

Spoons are also adaptable. They can serve hot soup or they can serve ice cream. If you have to, you can eat steak or spaghetti with a spoon. Have you ever noticed that there is always more spoons than anything else in a silverware set? A service for four includes 4 knives, 4 dinner forks, 4 salad forks, and 8 spoons! The makers know that the spoon gets used in more ways than grabby forks or scary knives.

But a spoon is simply a tool. It can only serve if it is used properly. One vision of hell might be a huge banquet hall full of people sitting at tables overflowing with food. Everyone is wailing and gnashing their teeth, because they can see and smell the food, but can't taste it. You see, in this vision of hell, everyone has huge spoons strapped to each arm, making it impossible to bend the elbow. Those at the banquet in hell can scoop up the food with their spoons, but cannot bend their arms to reach their mouths.

A vision of heaven might be the same banquet room, the same heaping tables, the same giant spoons, but we hear laughter and singing as the people enjoy the feast. In heaven, they don't need to bend their arms. In heaven, they feed one another.

Let us commit ourselves to the servant ministry of Christ. Let us be good spoons, instruments of God's grace in the world, scooping out generous helpings of love and compassion for a hurting world.


Friday, July 02, 2004

Who is My Neighbor?

Candace Chellew-Hodge has written a piece that more or less smacked me alongside the head today; Osama is My Neighbor. Here's a few excerpts;

...We've so domesticated Jesus and his message that we truly don't understand how subversive it was then and still is today. We've made Jesus our buddy, our sort of cheerleader. We ask "What Would Jesus Do?" knowing full well that we'll beg off from acting that way because of course, we're not Jesus. We sing about what a friend we have in Jesus forgetting that our truest friends are the ones who challenge us to be better than we are, not to simply wink and nod at every idea we come up with or condone every action we deem appropriate. But, this is what we have done to Jesus. We've neutered him. Instead of a subversive, dangerous Messiah, he's a puppy dog - loyal and friendly, always ready to be with us when we want him around, but very easy to tie out in the back yard when we don't want to be bothered...
Are you beginning to squirm a bit? I sure am. But there's more;

...Let us not confuse loving our neighbor with liking our neighbor. We are not commanded to like anyone. We do not have to like men like Osama, but we must love them. We must seek to understand them - to discover what makes their hatred so deep and abiding. We must understand that what we have in common with Osama is the very real human condition of suffering. Osama's suffering is just like ours. Out of his suffering he has come to believe that killing others is the solution - that through acts of terror his suffering will somehow be alleviated. He is misguided - he believes that violence leads to peace - just as our government believes the same thing. But as Martin Luther King Jr. understood, "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. [. . .] The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate - must be broken."

As King told his followers, those who perpetuate hate are not evil people, but misguided people, blinded by their own fear. Many of them are good, decent, spiritual people who cannot see past their own prejudices. They simply do not understand - and it is our task to educate them - to show them the grace they refuse to show others. In the words of Jesus, we must love our enemies, do good to them, show them mercy and grace, even as they do evil to us and show us no mercy and no grace. The love we must have is not warm and fuzzy love, but agape love - that "understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill" for all people.

When we look around our world, at all the wars and murders and hungry, desperate people, we may believe that this kind of agape love is impossible and will never, ever happen, but it has! There are many examples of how people have overcome their violent tendencies and have found it within their heart to show mercy instead of demanding sacrifice - to love their neighbor as they love themselves...
Candace concludes with examples of agape in action. I've left out quite a bit. Go read the whole thing.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that...

Pow! Right alongside my head.

Thanks Candace. Personally, I think some time set aside for confession is in order.

Does this mean I have to return my Osama fireworks? (thanks to Gutless Pacifist for the link).


Thursday, July 01, 2004

Global Eye on Sudan

It may be too little too late, but it appears that the global community is finally beginning to pay attention to the horrors happening in Sudanese Darfur.

Terms like "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide" are now being used unapologetically to describe the situation. Satellite photographs show nearly 400 black African villages destroyed, while neighboring Arab villages remain untouched.

The BBC offers a good summary of the situation;

...The conflict began in the arid and impoverished region early last year after a rebel group began attacking government targets, claiming that the region was being neglected by Khartoum.

The rebels say the government is oppressing black Africans in favour of Arabs.

Historically, there has long been tension between the two communities over land and grazing rights.

There are two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), which have been linked to senior Sudanese opposition politician Hassan al-Turabi...

...The government began mobilising a horse or camel-mounted Arab militia - the Janjaweed - to tackle the insurrection.

Now numbering several thousand, this proxy force often carries out attacks on villages and towns taken by rebels shortly after bombings by government aircraft.

Human rights groups have accused the militia of numerous abuses - killing, looting and rape - of the non-Arab residents of Darfur.

The government says it has control of the region, but rebels deny this...
The satellite photos suggest these accusations are well founded.

What is the international community doing about this? U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Sudan's government that he wants to see progress within 48 hours. Secretary of State Colin Powell called on the United Nations to impose an arms embargo and travel ban on Arab militias. Annan and Powell are in Sudan meeting with government leaders.

What can we do? Human Rights Watch offers a number of recommendations, including resources to become better informed, and contacts for humanitarian aid.

We must do what we can do, and then trust God for the rest.

Let us pray;

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people of Sudan, who live with injustice, terror, disease and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon them. Help us to eliminate the cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

UPDATE: Africa Action is calling Annan and Powell's trip to Sudan "dangerously naive." They are offering a petition to sign which summarizes their understanding of the necessary response to these atrocities.

Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, has called upon President Bush to "rise to history's challenge" and implement a comprehensive strategy to end the crisis.