Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Manipulating a Crusade

According to Salon, this picture was posted in the photo gallery of the official U.S. Marine Corps site a few weeks ago, but was recently removed, due to someone finally realizing that it might not be exactly PC (although, today, that all depends on what circles one travels in, it appears). This "intimidating piece of machinery" was named "New Testament." The pic says it all. Unbelievable.

Should we be surprised? After all, it wasn't that long ago that we had General Boykin proudly proclaiming that our enemy is Satan, and we must smite in the name of Jesus. The good General then turns up tangled in the torture techniques of Abu Ghraib. Yet, even after all of that, he is still wearing his Crusader uniform. Just a kook? Moving right along...

In the last few weeks we have heard about the unusual story of cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs being told they must be "born again or burn in hell". Captain Melinda Morton, a Lutheran chaplain at the Academy, objected to this and other forms of forceful proselytizing happening on campus, only to be informed she is being shipped out to a new post. Note where the Academy happens to be located; Colorado Springs, the new Vatican of conservative Evangelicalism. So much for the Constitution's protection of religious freedom.

It seems the theocrats are not content with the Republican party. They want the military as well. Warriors for Jesus. Oh My God.

And then, to top it all off, we have the Downing Street memo; a secret report of a meeting between the British Prime Minister and other British officials, including representatives of British intelligence held in July of 2002. The PM is being informed of information gathered through meetings with the Bush administration. Here's a couple of rather incriminating bits;

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
This was in July of 2002, please note. We invaded in March of 2003. ...Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action... So, they fixed the facts around that policy, and told the UN to go to hell. In other words, they lied.

There's more;

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
Almost a year before the invasion, the plan was in place. The American people were hoodwinked. Tens of thousand of people have died, many of them innocent civilians, because George Bush, for reasons only he will probably ever know, decided to get Saddam Hussein.

Why is there no outrage? Because W's supporters, the conservative Evangelicals, and the crazies like General Boykin, believe he was appointed by God to lead this Holy War against Satan.

If you think this is all conspiracy theory, then please, move along; nothing of interest here. But if you think that just maybe the US has gone off the deep end, and are outraged that we have been manipulated into a war, here's a letter you might want to sign. Or maybe you could write your own.

Let's stop the Crusade now. And let's start by impeaching this lying war criminal, before he soaks both the flag and the cross in more foreign blood.


UPDATE: The Christian Alliance for Progress; The Movement to Reclaim Christianity and Transform Politics, has posted A "Christian" Crusade?, which is related to the topic introduced here. Starting today, I'll be offering commentary over there once a week.

While you're there, take a look around the site. Jeff, from Faithful Progressive and Tim from Public Theologian have also offered some commentary worthy of a read.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Revering Dead Trees

The flushing of the Koran story has got me thinking about the way we treat sacred texts. Regarding the story coming out of Gitmo, the Bush administration and the Pentagon continue to claim it never happened, even when a detainee interviewed by the FBI claims it did. Of course, the Pentagon hauled the detainee in, and after who knows what persuasive tactics, got him to retract the allegation. The latest is that the military has been forced to grudgingly admit that they are investigating a least five instances of "mishandling" the Koran at the Cuban concentration camp, but assure us that it was never flushed. Meanwhile, Amnesty International is describing Gitmo as "the gulag of our time."

Here's what I find to be a very curious thing; that the desecration of a book could cause such outrage, or at least the appearance of outrage, while the physical abuses going on just off the Floridian coast hardly get a mention in the daily newscasts.

I understand that Islam, as well as other faith traditions, cares for their sacred texts with deep reverence. Christians honor the bible in a similar way; in a sacramental way. The words are an outward and visible sign of God's revelation.

But, they are still just books. By themselves, they are just dead trees with squiggly marks on them. The texts come alive when a living being engages them. We are what matters to God, not dead trees.

Islam is not the only faith tradition that takes revering a book to an extreme level. The same attitude can be found among some Christians regarding the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. I refer to this attitude as "bibliolatry;" making the bible an idol. In my tradition, the best example of this is the Gospel procession, in which an ornate book is lifted above the Gospeler's head, and two torches and a thurifer lead the way into the midst of the congregation. The book is censed, and at the conclusion of the lesson, is kissed by the Gospeler. To be quite honest, the whole thing makes me very uncomfortable.

But what most disturbs me is the way the bible, and other sacred texts for that matter, are used as weapons today. If someone quotes enough bible at you, and you continue to disagree with them, then you are not a Christian at best, and the spawn of Satan at worst. The sacred text has become the law, has become God, and its authority has been lifted up to the status of absolute.

Maybe Bishop Spong can better explain my discomfort with giving a book such status;

...Many of the liturgical practices of the church today continue to encourage this premodern mentality. In liturgy, the Bible is carried in procession elevated above the people to elicit acts of devotion. When its words are read in worship they are introduced or concluded with some reference to the claim that they are the "Word of God."

People quote its verses in debate to prove that their perspective is in fact God's will. Hands are laid on this book when we vow to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Today we are experiencing the Bible being used by religious and political leaders to enable them to define the morality of birth control, abortion, racial and sexual discrimination and even acts of aggression against our "enemies."

To oppose this mentality, they not so subtly assert, is to oppose God and thus to be anti-religious. These are nothing less than the steps people take on the road to transforming a democracy into a theocracy, which is to walk in the direction of the cruelest form of government that human beings have devised.

Theocracies always turn demonic because they justify everything in the name of God.

Non-religious people and people whose religious tradition is different from the prevailing point of view should be alarmed at these trends, especially when their voices, raised in protest, are dismissed as anti-Christian.

That is why I urge those who like myself are Christians, steeped in this religious tradition that we love, to speak publicly in powerful opposition to this current use of religious power.

Varied religious voices need to remind the leaders of this nation that no single person speaks for and no single perspective captures the ultimate truth of God.

All any of us can ever do is to "see through a glass darkly." There is no single pathway into the realm of God, and no eternal code of unchanging truth has ever been captured in any revered book of antiquity...
Bishop Spong is a bit of an evangelical, in that he doesn't seem to acknowledge the sacramental nature of the sacred texts. But, at the same time, I think he makes some good points.

There's no excuse for the shameful treatment of the Koran at Gitmo. There is also no excuse for using the scriptures as weapons to beat your opponent into submission. In both cases, the offense is found in the desecration of a living being; the text was simply the implement of abuse. In the end, if we must choose between defending a book or defending the living sacraments, the people of God, I trust that our choice will not be too difficult to make.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Stem Cell Research

The House approved a stem cell research bill, with the vote being 238 to 194, which is less than the two-thirds majority needed to override the President's promised veto.

The President is against embryonic stem cell research, as it will destroy the embryo. He is advocating for more research using adult stem cells. The problem with this is that there is a significant difference between embryonic and adult cells. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they can develop into any other cell in the human body. Adult stem cells are multipotent, meaning that they are specialized; a skin cell will only be skin.

Pluripotent stem cells have the potential to treat or cure Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, spinal cord injuries and burns by replacing diseased or damaged cells with healthy cells. For this potential to be realized, much more research needs to be done.

This costly research is being done, but only in the private sector. The bill that passed the House expands federally funded research. As our tax dollars are now involved in this issue, and a showdown with the President seems unavoidable, the time has arrived for a public discussion.

At first glance, the ethical considerations seem rather obvious. There are two sources for pluripotent stem cells; embryos discarded by in vitro fertilization clinics and aborted fetuses. In regards to the first, surplus embryos are discarded on a regular basis. If they are never to be implanted anyway, why it is unethical to use them for research makes little sense to me. Regarding the latter, the use of an aborted fetus would seem to be no different than using any other cadaver, regardless of your position on abortion.

So, why do some object to this research? I think it is the potential for this to be seen as a slippery slope; that if such research is allowed, it won't be long until such cells will be intentionally "harvested," and our respect for human life will take another step backwards.

On the other hand, if only the private sector is allowed to continue this research, the cost will limit the benefits of such research to those who can afford it.

There are many more ethical considerations worthy of reflection in regards to this issue. For those who are interested, I commend to you this resource, provided by the National Bioethics Advisory Commission; Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research; Volume III, Religious Perspectives.

I am initially inclined to encourage pluripotent stem cell research, as the potential to alleviate human suffering is so great. But, at the same time, I recognize that this is a very consequentialist approach to the ethical question; the ends justify the means. Although this is the approach that we are forced to take when faced with various ethical dilemmas, I'm not so sure this is such a dilemma. I'm uncomfortable with that slippery slope looming before us.

The testimony of Gilbert Meilaender in the NBAC's report includes a quote from C.S. Lewis that dances near my personal discomfort;

We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may "conquer" them. We are always conquering Nature, because "nature" is the name for what we have to some extent conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psycho-analyse her.

The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature. As long as this process stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss.

But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same. This is one of the many instances where to carry a principle to what seems its logical conclusion produces absurdity. It is like the famous Irishman who found that a certain kind of stove reduced his fuel bill by half and thence concluded that two stoves of the same kind would enable him to warm his house with no fuel at all...[I]f man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be.
An example of this that leaps to mind is the way the media speaks about the fatalities in Iraq. We hear about the American casualties, but rarely are the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been killed (23,000 is the mininum estimate, 100,000 the max) or wounded. Are the "conquered" Iraqis now "things," so their cost for this "liberation" is not worthy of being reported? Such subtle shifts in human awareness is how the slippery slope operates.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts regarding stem cell research.


Monday, May 23, 2005

The 6,000 Mile Marathon

My daughter's wedding was wonderful. The "officiant" was the deputy commissioner of something for the state of California. This shot makes him look like a comedian, but he was appropriately serious most of the time.

We left Friday morning, and got stuck in Dallas/Fort Worth for about eight hours that afternoon. I'll never fly "stand by" again! I've never liked Texas to begin with, and this trip accentuated that dislike.

We rented a Volvo. I was not impressed. The gas pedal is difficult to find without hitting the brake, even with my small feet (size 8). The window controls were absurd, and I never did figure out the cruise. Acceleration was adequate, but nothing spectacular. Nice turning radius.

Wonderful accomodations at the Sheraton. We were in the northern part of the state, wine country, which is beautiful this time of year. I was glad Demi got to see this aspect of CA; during our last trip she got her fill of the "golden hills" ("They're not golden," she said, "they're brown, as in dead!")

My daughter and her fiance chose to have an outdoor wedding at a lovely resort. They wrote their own vows, and both got choked up trying to read them.

I was able to visit with members of the family that I haven't seen for a few years. Some healing occurred, some old friendships were renewed, some new ones were made, the California wine flowed freely, and a good time was had by all.

After the "father-daughter dance," (for which she chose a song I used to sing to her when she was a wee lass), Demi and I had to head back to the airport. No problems with the return flight.

My daughter was a beautiful bride, and her husband is a fine young man. I pray their home will be a haven of joy and peace, and that God's blessings will be upon them now and always.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Petition Update and Up, Up and Away!

Daithi of Gaelic Starover just stopped by to tell us that EVERYONE (yes, that means us Prots!) is invited to sign the petition regarding the President's presence at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast tomorrow morning;

...The presence of George W. Bush at the 2nd Annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfastat 8 o'clock on Friday morning, May 20th, 2005, at the Hilton Washington Hotel in Washington, D.C., will cause great scandal throughout the world that is already appalled by the lies and actions perpetrated by this man.

We, the undersigned, urge you to rescind your invitation to George W. Bush, and to support the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church."
So, to you night owls making a late visit to Jake's place, go sign the petition.

I leave before the sun rises tomorrow to ride a steel bird into the Western sky. I'm going home to the Golden State for a few days. My eldest daughter is getting married. She wanted the big wedding, and she's getting it. All the kids, grandkids, and my folks, will be there. It's been a year since I've seen some of them. And, to me, the best thing is I don't have to wear a collar. A few days of just being Dad, instead of "Father Daddy" (my youngest used to call the office and ask for me by that name...so cute!).

See you next week. Until then, noli nothis permittere te terere!


Real ID: Creating a Big Brother Wonderland

From SFGate, They Really Are Watching You;

Congress just passed it and Dubya has promised to sign it and the Homeland Security Department is giddier than Mel Gibson in a nail factory over it and marketers nationwide are salivating at the groin at the prospect of it, and the next big step toward America becoming an even more delightfully paranoid and draconian Big Brother wonderland has now officially been taken.

It's called Real ID. It is, in short, a new and genetically mutated type of driver's license for all Americans, replacing your current license and replacing your Social Security card and replacing your sense of well being and privacy and humanity and part of a new, uniform, deeply sinister, national uniform card system whereby every person living and breathing in these paranoid and tense times shall henceforth be much more traceable and watchable given how we will all soon be required by law to carry this super-deluxe computerized ID card with us at all times, packed as it will be with more personal, digitized info about you than even your mother knows...

...Computer (RFID) microchip? Likely. Digital fingerprint? Sure. Political affiliation? You bet. Web-site-visit log and religious affiliation and recent sperm count and arrest record and drug addictions and medical history and blood type and gender orientation and parent's/children's home address and number of personal blog posts calling Dr. Phil a "slug-licking ego-bitch charlatan" and your recent purchase history on shotathome.com? One guess.

Make no mistake: Real ID, in short, takes us one happy step closer to a total surveillance state, where everyone is stamped and everyone is watchable and everyone is traceable and unless you live way, way off the grid out in the increasingly nonexistent hinterlands, you cannot escape the spazzy and twitchy and paranoid eye of Homeland Security...

...This is the funny thing. This is the sad thing. This is the terrifying thing. We have suffered one major debilitating act of terrorism in this nation and we have recoiled so violently, so rabidly, so desperately that we are still more than willing to give up whatever freedoms necessary in a vain and silly attempt to control chaos and plug every hole, when of course the nation is basically one giant hole to begin with.
So how come we didn't hear about this? Why weren't there any debates in congress? Why did the news media miss it? Because it was buried in an $82 billion military spending bill. Welcome to a brave new world.

This reminds me of a joke that was circulating around last year. The following rendition of it is from When the State Becomes God, by Lee Penn (an article worth taking the time to peruse, btw);

Operator: "Thank you for calling Domino's Round Table Pizza. May I have your national ID number?"
Customer: "Hi, I'd like to place an order."
Operator: "I must have your NIDN first, sir."
Customer: "My National ID Number, yeah, hold on, eh, it's 6102049998-45-54610."
Operator: "Thank you, Mr. Sheehan. I see you live at 1742 Meadowland Drive, and the phone number's 494-2366. Your office number over at Lincoln Insurance is 745-2302, and your cell number's 266-2566. Your e-mail address is sheehan@home.net. Which location are you calling from, sir?"
Customer: "Huh? I'm at home. Where d'ya get all this information?"
Operator: "We're wired into the HSS, sir."
Customer: "The HSS, what is that?"
Operator: "We're wired into the Homeland Security System, sir. This will add only 15 seconds to your ordering time."
Customer: (Sighs) "Oh, well, I'd like to order a couple of your All-Meat Special pizzas."
Operator: "I don't think that's a good idea, sir."
Customer: "Whaddya mean?"
Operator: "Sir, your medical records and commode sensors indicate that you've got very high blood pressure and extremely high cholesterol. Your National Health Care provider won't allow such an unhealthy choice."
Customer: "What?!?! What do you recommend, then?"
Operator: "You might try our low-fat Soybean Pizza. I'm sure you'll like it."
Customer: "What makes you think I'd like something like that?"
Operator: "Well, you checked out 'Gourmet Soybean Recipes' from your local library last week, sir. That's why I made the suggestion."
Customer: "All right, all right. Give me two family-sized ones, then."
Operator: "That should be plenty for you, your wife and your four kids, and your 2 dogs can finish the crusts, sir. Your total is $49.99."
Customer: "Lemme give you my credit card number."
Operator: "I'm sorry sir, but I'm afraid you'll have to pay in cash. Your credit card balance is over its limit."
Customer: "I'll run over to the ATM and get some cash before your driver gets here."
Operator: "That won't work either, sir. Your checking account's overdrawn also."
Customer: "Never mind! Just send the pizzas. I'll have the cash ready. How long will it take?"
Operator: "We're running a little behind, sir. It'll be about 45 minutes, sir. If you're in a hurry you might want to pick 'em up while you're out getting the cash, but then, carrying pizzas on a motorcycle can be a little awkward."
Customer: "Wait! How do you know I ride a scooter?"
Operator: "It says here you're in arrears on your car payments, so your car got repo'ed. But your Harley's paid for and you just filled the tank yesterday."
Customer: "Well I'll be a @#%/$@&?#!"
Operator: "I'd advise watching your language, sir. You've already got a July 3, 2006 conviction for cussing out a cop and another one I see here on September 2 for contempt at your hearing for cussing at a judge. Oh yes, I see here that you just got out from a 90 day stay in the State Correctional Facility. Is this your first pizza since your return to society?
Customer: (Speechless)
Operator: "Will there be anything else, sir?"
Customer: "Yes, I have a coupon for a free 2 liters of Coke."
Operator: "I'm sorry sir, but our ad's exclusionary clause prevents us from offering free soda to diabetics. The National Health Plan prohibits this. Thank you for calling Domino's Round Table Pizza!"

Somehow, it doesn't seem very funny anymore.

But there's more. Why stop at a card when we have the technology for implanting bar coded microchips the size of a grain of rice right under your skin? The FDA just approved the procedure. Now, if I were an End Times fanatic, this would sure be a likely candidate for the mark of the beast, wouldn't you say? The only problem is, it will be used by the administration those same fanatic folks helped vote into office.

My intention is not to breed fear. Rather, I hope to reveal a pattern of behavior; a pattern woven by those convinced that the tools to escape fear, to feel "safe," are force and control. We need to know what is going on, as knowledge is power. But let's not respond in fear; that would be to play right into their hands. Instead, let's inform ourselves, and so be prepared to offer alternative soultions, as well as recognize that not all things are problems that need to be solved. Some things are best simply allowed to be.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

- Rabindranath Tagore

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"Let's Drop the 'Lynch Newsweek' Bull"

If I am understanding the news reports correctly, the terrible thing Newsweek did was report the story of flushing the Koran, because they should have known that such a story would cause riots. So, they retracted the story, no doubt after getting a rather ominous message from on high that they had better eat their words or suffer under the scrutiny of the Gestapo...oh,wrong era; make that Homeland Security (btw, did anyone notice in Negroponte's little speech after being sworn in today that while slipping in all the previous positions he had held, he inadvertently left out Honduras? I guess he didn't want any death squad skeletons rattling around on his day of glory).

What I find troubling is that the media doesn't seem to be talking much at all about what would seem to be the primary issue; is there some foundation of truth in the story? Or, how about a discussion of the justification for the existence of Gitmo itself? We're operating a concentration camp off the coast of Florida, and the media thinks what we want is updates about Michael Jackson. Anything to distract us from the truth about what our government is really up to, I suppose. No doubt most of the media have also been contacted by "Security."

Even with all the attempts to distract the public, stories of torture and abuse have managed to get out anyway. Consider just this one story (more like a nightmare, I'd say), from a year ago, which I highlighted in a piece entitled In the Name of God? It is from the sworn statement by Abu Ghraib detainee Ameen Sa'eed Al-Sheikh;

The night guard came over, his name is Graner, open the cell door, came in with a number of soldiers. They forced me to eat pork and they put liquor in my mouth. They put this substance on my nose and forehead and it was very hot. The guards started to hit me on my broken leg with a solid plastic stick...they stripped me naked. One of them told me he would rape me. He drew a picture of a woman to my back and makes me stand in shameful position holding my buttocks. Someone else asked me, "Do you believe in anything?" I said to him, "I believe in Allah." So he said, "But I believe in torture and I will torture you"...They ordered me to curse Islam and because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion. They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive. And I did what they ordered me...They left me hang from the bed and after a little while I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I found myself still hang between the bed and the floor. Until now, I lost feeling in three fingers in my right hand.
Using one's faith tradition as an implement of torture didn't suddenly spring up from a sidebar in Newsweek earlier this month. It is a technique that shows up in testimony after testimony of former detainees. So, because the Pentagon denies the story of flushing the Koran at Gitmo, should we drop the issue? Or, regardless of the repercussions, should we tell the world what is going on in this American-made hell on earth?

Here's part of Andrew Sullivan's take on this;

...So when we have reports of an alleged desecration of the Koran, whom are we supposed to find credible? Before this war started, I wouldn't have even considered the possibility that the U.S. was guilty. But, given the enormous evidence of abuse that stares us in the face, doubt is now the only operative position to take. The sad truth is: this administration has forfeited our trust in its management of the military's interrogation processes. They forfeited it not simply because of the evidence of widespread abuse and memos that expanded the range of interrogation techniques, but by the record of accountability. Anyone with real power or influence was let off the hook in the Abu Ghraib fiasco; no serious external inquiry was allowed; Rumsfeld wasn't allowed to resign; Sanchez is in place; Gonzales is rewarded for loyalty; the Republican Congress completely looked the other way; last year, John Kerry cowardly avoided the subject. We couldn't even get a law passed forbidding the CIA from using torture. And what I find remarkable is that interrogatory abuse is now taken for granted, even by defenders of the administration. Here's Jonah Goldberg today:

But what on earth was gained by Newsweek's decision to publish the story — whether it was true or not? Were we unaware that interrogators at Gitmo aren't playing bean bag with detainees?
No we were not unaware. We were just looking the other way. So yesterday's outrage becomes today's world-weary assumption. This is how liberty dies - with scattered, knee-jerk applause.
Molly Ivins weighs in with an essay entitled Don't Blame Newsweek;

...The New York Times reported on May 1 on the same investigation Newsweek was writing about and interviewed a released Kuwaiti, who spoke of three major hunger strikes, one of them touched off by "guards' handling copies of the Koran, which had been tossed into a pile and stomped on. A senior officer delivered an apology over the camp's loudspeaker system, pledging that such abuses would stop. Interpreters, standing outside each prison block, translated the officer's apology. A former interrogator at Guantanamo, in an interview with the Times, confirmed the accounts of the hunger strikes, including the public expression of regret over the treatment of the Korans.

So where does all this leave us? With a story that is not only true, but previously reported numerous times. So let's drop the "Lynch Newsweek" bull. Seventeen people have died in these riots. They didn't die because of anything Newsweek did -- the riots were caused by what our government has done.

Get your minds around it. Our country is guilty of torture. To quote myself once more: "What are you going to do about this? It's your country, your money, your government. You own this country, you run it, you are the board of directors. They are doing this in your name. The people we elected to public office do what you want them to. Perhaps you should get in touch with them."
"They didn't die because of anything Newsweek did -- the riots were caused by what our government has done." There it is, plain and simple.

Now what is bothering me is the quick retraction by Newsweek, and the one-sided reporting this story is getting in the media. Has this administration, with its expanded powers to enforce "security," managed to transform our news sources into puppets on a string?


The Prez is Our Savior?

The Gaelic Starover points to a site that I was sure was a joke, except I never found the punch line. It appears these folks are for real. This is a taste of what you'll find over on Bushfish.org;

...If you are tired of secularists telling you that The Lord has no place in our government and our public institutions, then show them that you disagree.

This symbol, this site, and this car magnet have been created for the millions of Americans who support the President and his vision for a government that embraces religion, morality, and family values. It shows worship to the Lord, respect for the President, and hope for all.

Join the millions of Americans who believe that President Bush’s faith-based administration presents the best hope for America’s future. The future is in your hands. Stand up and be counted!...
But no reason to worry; theocracy will never be a threat in the land of the free and the home of the brave...will it?

The Gaelic Starover also points out that it appears our new Savior will be addressing the National Catholic Breakfast this Friday. Now I'm confused. Isn't the Roman Catholic Church against the war in Iraq? But they invite the man responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians to speak?

There's a petition you can sign if you object to George Bush being invited to this event. Although I would assume that this is primarily for Roman Catholics to sign, the site does spell out what I understood to be the RCC's stance on the war in Iraq;

The late Pope John Paul II spoke clearly on the tragedy in Iraq, "When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society... Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man."

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, also has spoke out, "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'"
This is still the official position, isn't it? Have they decided that war isn't as important an issue as, say, abortion or gay marriage? Unless, of course, they also believe that that he is the Prince of Peace returned to earth, in which case they probably figure that he can break the rules if he wants to, since he made them.

We live in bizarre times.


Monday, May 16, 2005

Biblical Family Values?

The following essay, Articles of Faith: Biblical Values for American Families, touches on some of the things I've wondered about when I hear folks speak of "family values based on the scriptures." Usually this is code for the argument that "one woman, one man" is the only model of marriage that is "biblically based." In the end, the author does indeed identify some biblical values;

...First, it's important to recognize that the most common marriage pattern in the Bible is polygamy: not a union of one man and one woman, but a union of one man and as many women as he could afford to keep (see Solomon, and his 700 wives and 300 concubines). In the Christian scriptures, the two primary figures, Jesus and the Apostle Paul, are both unmarried and childless. Based on the model of Jesus and his disciples, the early church developed a radical model of family that broke with ancient kinship patterns in favor of a religious — and nonbiological — church family...

...The structures of biblical families are rooted in ancient cultural practices far removed from the sensibilities of Western society; the authors of the Bible would scarcely recognize the partnership of equals that marks a contemporary American marriage. But this doesn't mean we should abandon the Bible as a guide to family values. As the mutable institution of marriage evolves with shifting cultural norms, the Bible continually calls us back to what truly matters in human relationships. St. Paul wrote about these values, calling them the "fruit of the spirit": "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). Surely these are biblical values every family would embrace. According to Paul, "love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude...It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Even when knowledge and human institutions fail, these values, Paul says, remain constant: faith, hope and love. The greatest of these three, Paul concludes, is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Societal definitions of marriage and family will inevitably change over the course of history. It's clear that what is important in the Bible is not a family structure based on biology or even heterosexuality, but the quality of love exhibited in the relationships. And if same-sex couples exhibit such spiritual values, they deserve the legal protection and civil recognition of marriage. If we have any intention of preserving marriage or protecting families, we must base our support on values that are unchangeable: values such as faith, hope, and love. But the greatest among these — whether the couple is same-sex or heterosexual — is love.
If you want the "more colorful" examples of various relationships found within the scriptures, you'll have to go read the whole thing.

On a personal note, Jay was a senior at Nashotah House when I was a lowly junior. I had heard that he was teaching in the People's Republic of Berkeley, but I thought he was at CDSP. Is Pacific part of the Berkeley consortium? In any case, based on this and some of his other papers I've read, I'm pleased to see him emerging as a first rate theologian.

A quick disclaimer; I don' recommend the House. Women priests are still not allowed to perform any sacerdotal acts on the grounds, as but one example of why I can't recommend the place with a clear conscience. So, if you are considering seminary, my personal recommendation is General.

Now for a slightly tangential discussion...I've heard clergy advocate for the Church getting out of the wedding business altogether. I must admit that I am quite uncomfortable with the whole license business; the couple hands it over to me, and I have to get the required signatures and get it back to the registrar in 5 days. IOW, I am functioning as an agent of the state.

But, on the other hand, I consider Holy Matrimony to a be sacrament; not just a sacramental rite (which is really just Anglican double-speak; a way to remain both Protestant and Catholic, but in actuality, it comes out as just plain fuzzy). The outward and visible signs are the vows and the rings, symbolizing the love and commitment of the couple. Ideally, such a rite manifests God's love to all present in a clear and unique way. Feels pretty sacramental to me.

I think we do need to rethink the sacramental theology surrounding Holy Matrimony. We seem to have done little of this when divorce became more acceptable, to the detriment of the Church, it seems to me. And, if we find we can't adequately explain why we do these rites, and how they manifest God's grace, then maybe it is indeed time to get out of the wedding business.


Sunday, May 15, 2005


The following is the final sermon offered to the parish in which I have served for a little over a year and a half;

Today, we commemorate the beginning of the Church. Today is the Church's birthday. What is the Church? It is much more than a building. It is much more than an institution. The Church is the concrete reality we call the body of Christ. The Church is the presence of Jesus Christ in the world today.

What does it mean for us to call ourselves the body of Christ? Let's look at what happened to the disciples. They are hiding, literally fearing for their lives. Then, suddenly they are out proclaiming the good news in every language, with their fears forgotten, their confidence restored, and joy in their heart. What happened to change them so dramatically?

We have two versions of what happened in this morning's lessons. From the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of a dramatic event, with tongues of fire resting on each disciple, and all of them miraculously knowing a new language. We are told the source of all of this excitement is that they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

What is the Holy Spirit? It is the spirit of the living God. It is God dwelling within the created order. It is Jesus in my heart. The Gospel lesson offers us a more domestic, but equally astounding account. The resurrected Jesus appears before them, breathes on them, and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, it is the addition of the Holy Spirit that made the difference. We need to talk about this spirit for a moment. The disciples had a dilemma. Jesus was gone. Their whole focus had been on following Jesus, being part of his entourage, sharing the excitement, learning at his feet. But now, he is gone. What do they do ?

Some catalyst woke them up to what was going on. Rushing wind, tongues of fire, an appearance of Jesus, something happened that shifted their consciousness, so that they could see the movement of God. And they found God moving all around them. And they found God moving within themselves, at the very core of their being.

How did they explain this phenomenon? Thank goodness, they kept their egos in check. Otherwise, we would have had 12 new Messiahs running around. But that's not what they proclaimed. They shouted to the world, in different languages, the good news of the powerful deeds of God. They had discovered God within them, but they did not claim to be God. The disciples knew that they were created by God, and did not give into the temptation to make themselves God.

We don't deal with being God very well. We don't handle that kind of power very well. Our finite minds and limited awareness assures us that we will botch it all up every time we try to play God.

But we do experience God in our lives. We feel a divine spark within us. The way that the Church has helped us avoid the temptation of imagining ourselves as the supreme being has been to suggest that we were created incomplete, that something was missing when God made us. So, at some later date, if we want it, we are given the divine spark, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.

That way of understanding things protects us from the temptation to make ourselves God. But it doesn't quite work, and is contrary to the experience of some of us, isn’t it? I have met plenty of people who were full of the Holy Spirit but never publicly confirmed this in church through the rites of baptism or confirmation. I’m sure you know folks like this as well. It seems that the wind of the Spirit blows where it will, ignoring our carefully plotted flight plans.

Maybe there’s another way to look at this. Possibly we were created complete. God looked upon creation and said, "It is very good." We were created with the divine spark, but it lies dormant within us, waiting to awakened, waiting to be used. The dramatic events on the day of Pentecost activated the Spirit within the disciples, and they became empowered by God, and witnessed to God's presence within them, and within this world.

The Holy Spirit dwells within each one of you here today. And this spirit of God dwelling within you will manifest herself, in one way or another. You don't have to speak in tongues. You don't have to fall on the floor. You don't have to hand out tracks on street corners. We each have gifts. The spirit will manifest herself in different ways with different people. What are your gifts? What do you do well? What do you enjoy doing? Offer these abilities to God, and allow God to use your unique gifts for the furthering of God's kingdom and to the glory of God.

When we start becoming aware of the Holy Spirit working within us, and all around us, watch out! The wind blows where it will. The Spirit is going to shake us up. And this same Spirit may even cause some havoc within the Church. Often, institutions can kill the spirit. The more organized, the more routinized, the Church becomes, the less room the Spirit has to move. Being full of the Holy Spirit means being willing to give up control, and let God be God. Allowing the spirit to work through us involves an element of risk. Are we up to it? Can we set aside our control needs long enough to allow the Spirit to work through us?

I know you can, and I know you will. This is the challenge for the Church of today; to press on toward the new thing that God’s Spirit is doing in the world. The old is falling away, and behold, the new has come.

Your new Rector will be here in August. We have done what we can do. And we have trusted the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the living God, to guide us. The search process was done well, the selection has been made, and a new chapter in the life of this parish will now begin. I ask you to support your new rector as you have supported me over the last eighteen months.

I have experienced the Holy Spirit in this place. I can feel God’s glory here. That is a special thing. It is not true of all places. Cherish that gift, the gift of God’s presence here among you. And now, I pray that you press on toward the new thing that God is doing in your midst.

May God continue to bless you, my friends, and may God’s Holy Spirit continue to dwell in this place, now and always.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Teach Your Children Well

Hadge Hughes tells of his experience of wandering into an empty Sunday School room and his discomfort with the underlying message contained within some of the artwork and posters displayed in the room;

...Much of this was very subtle of course but the underlying message was clear, and anyone who has even a modicum of understanding about the psyche will know that the message is - 'You are a bad person - but God killed his only Son so that you could be forgiven - and when you are forgiven God will love you'. Stark isn't it? Is this the message we should be giving to our children? (or adults for that matter!)...

...It's time we began instilling some sense of value and self worth in our children. If you grow up believing you are a bad person you grow up with an almost unbearable burden of undeserved guilt - the gospel is about grace not law. It is irresponsible to manipulate children (or adults) into a distorted relationship with God on the basis of a false premise such as - you are bad - he is good - say your sorry! It won't do - but I've said enough for now.
I would suspect that Christian Education is something that many of us take for granted. Do you know what is being taught in your congregation?

Most Sunday School teachers are volunteers. My first assignment as a new member of a parish almost thirty years ago was to teach the 6th grade boys class. I attended the university at night, so the logic was that a student would be a good Sunday School teacher. No one ever asked me what I taught. The rector did drop in one time, but never offered any feedback afterwards.

The messages we pass on to impressionable children may linger for a long time. I think we need to give our Christian Education programs a high priority.

Years ago, the Good News curriculum was popular in the Episcopal Church. New teachers often found it less than adequate, as it required that you be able to quickly adapt when a particular lesson didn't work with your group of students. Lately, I've been pushing the Episcopal Church Curriculum, which seems to me to be solid and offers lots of options. I've never used it as a teaching tool on a regular basis, however. The feedback I've been getting lately from teachers is that it is less than desirable.

The new rector for the parish where I am serving, who will arrive in August, is quite excited about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I'd never heard of it before last night, when the vestry approved sending three members to be trained to teach this program within the parish. It looks like a very innovative approach. Has anyone had any experience with this curriculum?

Do you know what kind of messages are being instilled within the children of your congregation? Is there a particular curriculum you use? What works, and what doesn't?


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Canterbury Forms "Panel of Reference"

The Windsor Report suggested that the Archbishop of Canterbury form a "council of advice," which some suspected was a move towards the development of a magisterium. It appears Dr. Williams is creating such an entity, which he is calling "The Panel of Reference."

What is interesting is that the directive from the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to focus on one primary issue, episcopal oversight;

The functions of the Panel shall be:

1. At my request to enquire into, consider and report on situations drawn to my attention where there is serious dispute concerning the adequacy of schemes of delegated or extended episcopal oversight or other extraordinary arrangements which may be needed to provide for parishes which find it impossible in all conscience to accept the direct ministry of their own diocesan bishop or for dioceses in dispute with their provincial authorities.

2. With my consent to make recommendations to the Primates, dioceses and provincial and diocesan authorities concerned, and to report to me on their response.

3. At the request of any Primate to provide a facility for mediation and to assist in the implementation of any such scheme in his own province.
Even though I'm uncomfortable with the formation of yet another squad of "thought police," it is encouraging to see that the first issue they will take on has to do with the authority of bishops. This is where the crisis is, for Anglicans at least, as I see it. From my American perspective, the slide towards congregationalism, within both progressive and conservative congregations, is quite disturbing.

We hear plenty of stories of conservative congregations in conflict with their bishop. There are other stories, although they are kept quiet, of primarily progressive congregations banding together and forcing their bishop to "retire." It is not always about "issues." Sometimes it is simply that folks don't like their spiritual leader, for one reason or another. Rather than seeking reconciliation, a way is sought to either remove the ecclesiastical authority, or remove the congregation from the bishop's authority.

Although what I am about to say will sound offensive to some, I hope you can recognize some truth in it. I have mentioned before that I believe that most issues are clergy driven. So it is with many congregations within the Episcopal Church regarding their relationship with their bishop. There will always be a sizable percentage of members whose thinking will be something like this; "Fr. Joe doesn't like the bishop. We love Fr. Joe. So there must be something wrong with the bishop." If you then consider that every diocese has a few "cardinal rectors" (frustrated priests who want to be the bishop), you can see that there will always be a few clergy, and so a few congregations, in constant conflict with their bishop.

In the past, there weren't too many options, so usually the diocesan bishop's authority was acknowledged, and folks just grumbled if they didn't like him or her. The new development over the last few years has been the presentation of alternative bishops, often foreign, if one cannot tolerate their diocesan bishop. This alternative is offered primarily by conservatives, and is an integral part of their plan to damage the structure of the Episcopal Church beyond repair, so they can step into the void.

"Where the bishop is, there is the Church." Being a person under authority doesn't include the option of choosing the source of that authority. I suspect those who struggle with such authority figures need to wrestle with their understanding of the Church. Maybe Anglicanism is not the best place for them to grow.


CLARIFICATION: "The Panel of Reference" is the entity specifically recommended by the Primates;

15. In order to protect the integrity and legitimate needs of groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their Provinces, we recommend that the Archbishop of Canterbury appoint, as a matter of urgency, a panel of reference to supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions made by any churches for such members in line with the recommendation in the Primates’ Statement of October 2003 (xii). Equally, during this period we commit ourselves neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions.
As you may recall, the Primates did not recommend the creation of a "Council of Advice," but instead suggested "The Panel" to specifically address the issue of episcopal oversight. In his directive, Dr. Williams refers to The Panel as an "advisory and consultative body," which suggests to me there may be additional future tasks for it to perform, which would make it, for all intents and purposes, the "Council of Advice" recommended by the Windsor Report. The directive limits The Panel to five years, or until Dr. Williams is staisfied that they have completed their task. Future tasks would simply require a new directive.

This is a new creation. If it works, it may be the beginning of a shift in the structure of the Anglican Communion, with more authority moving into the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his advisors. This could be a blessing or a bane.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Future of the Episcopal Church

Here's a couple of perspectives on how things might work themselves out in the Episcopal Church over the next few years.

First, from Bishop William Swing of California, The Mutiny Will Fail; the Church Will Abide;

...There have been people inside the Episcopal Church and outside the Episcopal Church who have been plotting our church's demise long before there was an Episcopal election in New Hampshire: for almost half a century. The plotters have been living in a fury of win-lose for generations. Finally, they have assumed that they cannot win and take control of the Episcopal Church so they seek to destroy it and assume control as the orthodox remnant. Timing is everything for them. They see the present moment as the perfect storm where wealthy American ideologues and angry African bishops and cultural divides and shocked ecumenical and interfaith partners converge to assist their victory.

What they don't realize is that the Episcopal Church has more staying power than they suppose. When our bishops, priests, and deacons took a solemn oath at ordination vowing to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, worship of the Episcopal Church, we meant it. Millions of laity for hundreds of years have confirmed their faith in context of the Episcopal Church -- in good times and bad. Together we gave our sacred honor to the revelation of God in Christ as lived out in the Episcopal Church. Our history has been earned with countless sacrifices. We have all been embarrassed as well as enhanced; won some, lost some. With prayer, sweat, and endurance we have built cathedrals, seminaries, religious communities, youth camps, schools, social ministries, hospitals, and churches. We will abide. Although the Southern Cone finds us unacceptable, we will abide. Even though the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates and Anglican Consultative Council sever us from their fellowship, we will abide. Personally, I don't think that the Archbishop of Canterbury would ever do that, but should he dismiss us, we will abide...
The second item was pointed to by Simeon; a prediction by Thomas Bushnell, BSG, What would +Rowan do?...

...So my prognostication: The General Convention will say that Duncan and Iker can stay if they want, or leave if they want. The General Convention will reiterate and firm up the rule that if you leave you don’t get to ransack the store on the way out and steal the toys. The House of Bishops will make clear that violations of diocesan boundaries will earn trials. No rule will be passed prohibiting the ordination of gay bishops, no liturgy for same-sex blessings will be approved (though it will certainly be reiterated that such blessings are within the bounds of our common life, and it will probably be said further that there is no obstacle to performing them, which may change the policy of bishops like Ihloff).

After General Convention 2006, Akinola and his crowd will throw a holy fit. And the upshot will be two separate Anglican communions. One will include the Churches of England, Ireland, and Wales, the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Churches of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Japan), the Episcopal Churches of Scotland, Mexico, and Brazil, the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (or whatever its new name is, they are apparently changing it). The other pseudo-Anglican communion will include the Anglican Church of Nigeria, the Church of the Southern Cone, and whatever other churches join them. There are some provinces that it’s tricky to predict where they will swing in the end.

In the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, a small minority will leave, take as many toys as they can get their hands on, form jurisdictions, and join up with the new “continuing Anglican communion,” in opposition to the actual See of Canterbury. They will claim, as continuing Anglicans always have, to be "continuing Anglicans" in some curious sense in which "continuing" means "in schism" and "Anglican" means "not connected to the Archbishop of Canterbury."

In other words, we know what +Rowan will do, and there is no reason to think anything other than the following. If there are to be two communions, and each province votes which it will be in, we can already line up pretty much every province (with a few uncertain cases) and see where it will be. And we know, with dead certainty, that the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of Wales, and the Episcopal Church of Scotland (and plenty others) will all be in the same group when push comes to shove.

Duncan and Iker are smart men, and they know as well as I do that this is the upshot when all the dust finally settles. This means that all their noise is not an attempt to achieve some other (essentially impossible) result, but rather an attempt to simply carry away as many toys as they can in the end. It is up to the rest of us, who don’t intend any leaving, to decide how many toys we are willing to let them steal.
Sometimes it is helpful to look at worse case scenarios, so we aren't responding to a fear of the unknown. Although some of these scenarios are quite sad, and even disheartening, in the end, as the bishop has reminded us, we will abide.


Friday, May 06, 2005

"Demoncrats" Excommunicated


Religion and Politics Clash
Religion and politics clash over a local church's declaration that Democrats are not welcome.

East Waynesville Baptist asked nine members to leave. Now 40 more have left the church in protest. Former members say Pastor Chan Chandler gave them the ultimatum, saying if they didn't support George Bush, they should resign or repent. The minister declined an interview with News 13. But he did say "the actions were not politically motivated." There are questions about whether the bi-laws were followed when the members were thrown out.
The video is here. More discussion of this can be found over on Daily Kos.

Let me see if I've got this right. Unless you support a president who invaded another country for no apparent reason, and killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians in the process, you can't be a "real" Christian.

We live in bizarre times.


UPDATE: Further discussion and recommended actions in response can be found here.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Divine Revelation?

Sometimes folks tell me their position on some ethical issue is based on scripture. If I ask them if they have considered if that bit of scripture really applies to the ethical dilemmas we face today, the response is usually some rendition of, "You can't pick and choose your scriptures!" When I hear this, I wonder if these folks have ever read the bible.

For instance, consider this story from the 2nd chapter of 2 Kings;

(Elisha) went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, "Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!" 24When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
Some children tease the prophet, and for this evil deed, they are mauled by bears. What a lovely story. If we must consider all scripture as God-breathed; all scripture as divine revelation, what can we discern from this passage?

Maybe that story is a bit unclear. The blame could be put on Elisha for this atrocity, I suppose. So let's consider a few more examples of divine revelation regarding the nature of God;

Hosea 13:7 - "So I will become like a lion to them, like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and will tear open the covering of their heart; there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild animal would mangle them."

Hosea 13:16 - "Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open."

Leviticus 26:27 - "But if, despite this, you disobey me, and continue hostile to me, I will continue hostile to you in fury; I in turn will punish you myself sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters."

1 Samuel 15:3 - "Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey."

There's plenty more, but I think you get the point. This God is a monster. To not reject such passages as the primitive stories of a primitive people makes those of us who serve this God monsters as well.

What is even more frightening to me is the idea that maybe these folks have indeed read the bible. Maybe this is why they can so easily accept the bombing of innocent civilians. Maybe they really believe that God praises our slaughter. The theocrats certainly believe this.

So, please, don't tell me you don't pick and choose which bible verses are divine revelation. Because, if you don't, I must assume you need to be locked up, to protect the rest of us from your primitive, bloodthirsty ways.


Monday, May 02, 2005

Fair Trade or Free Trade?

Here are some excerpts from a sermon given by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Christian Aid;

...Because the scandal of our current global economy is not simply that it leaves children dying, that it leaves over a billion in extreme need. It is that it reinforces the assumption that trust is not possible and natural; it reinforces a picture of the world in which rivalry or mutual isolation are the obvious forms of behaviour. The rich protect their markets while talking about the virtues of free trade. Global agencies have often held up sustainable economic growth in poor countries by insisting that it can only be allowed to develop in the way they dictate. Debt repayment has constantly distorted the possibilities of stability, let alone growth. The transparency and democracy so desperately needed in many disadvantaged nations are not likely to develop on such soil...

...Christian Aid has learned and shared with the rest of us some of the depth of spiritual liberty and celebration that arises even in the middle of the most appalling privation; it isn't that prosperity makes us godly (you may have noticed). But it is still true that in whole societies poverty is corrosive and so - no less so - is the despairing assumption that the world is organised in the interests of others. We must pray that at least the next sixty years of this body will continue to prod and irritate and inspire all of the churches to work with growing urgency for a joyful world, a world overflowing in expressions of thanks to God. Our hope is the glory of new creation, after all - not justice alone but justice that is constantly being revitalised by the grateful longing to share and to give to others the freedom to give. That is how God has treated us; that is how we are to relate to each other. The bread of God is in our hands; it is given to be broken for the world.
The Globalization Institute's report entitled "Trade Justice or Free Trade?" can be found here. Alex Singleton, of GI, comments on the Archbishop's sermon here. The Times of London is a bit more critical of Dr. William's reservations regarding free trade. You can find more info on the trade justice movement here.

Fair trade vs. free trade; what are your thoughts?


Sunday, May 01, 2005

"Apart From Me, You Can Do Nothing"

What follows is this morning's sermon drawn from the 15th chapter of John. I offer it as a counter to my previous post, Facing Fear. One of the comments pointed out that we cannot fix ourselves. As this sermon will affirm, I agree with that statement.

This sermon and my previous posts are not contradictory, however, from my perspective. My understanding is that the spiritual life of a Christian involves being in a relationship with God. As in any relationship, there's some give and take; actions and reactions. I believe that we are often called to do what we can do, and then trust God to do the rest. In most spiritual struggles that I have encountered, the root of the difficulty lies in one of these two areas; either the person is not willing, or is unable for some reason, to do what they can do, or the person is struggling with trusting God. My previous post focused on the first part, of doing what we can do to face our fears. This sermon considers the latter part; recognizing our dependence on God.

About 20 years ago, my family and I moved to a very small country town. As the Spring thaw began, we decided to plant a garden. We fertilized, tilled, planted and watered. And our efforts were rewarded. We had a jungle in our back yard all Summer. Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, onions, carrots, and of course, the amazing zucchini. We had so much zucchini that I would leave bags of the stuff on our neighbor’s porch just to get rid of it. That garden was the best one we ever planted. I still have fond memories of tending that garden in the early morning hours.
(Note to Annie; the fertilizer was about as organic as you can get. I lined the back of my station wagon with plastic, and loaded it up with manure from the neighbor’s dairy farm. It is what made the garden thrive, but I eventually had to sell the car; the smell of manure never quite left.)

I recall that some of the cantaloupe branches from that garden began to spread out into the lawn. After mowing the lawn, some of these branches were cut. Soon, the small, developing melons on these branches shriveled up, and died. Without being attached to the rest of the vine, they could not draw nutrients and water from the ground. By themselves, they could not survive.

In verse 5 of this morning’s Gospel, Jesus tells us; “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abides in me, and I in them, bears much fruit; because apart from me, you can do nothing.” Apart from me, you can do nothing.

I know that is something I need to hear. Without Christ, I can do nothing. Sometimes I get caught up into the thinking that if humanity could just find the right social program, or the right economic model, we could save ourselves. Or if we had a big enough army, my nation could whip the rest of the world into shape. Or if everyone would just listen to me, I could fix the wounds of this world. But I can’t fix it, and you can’t fix it. History is full of attempts by humanity to pull itself up by its bootstraps and get on with it. And it doesn’t work.

The truth is, whether we like it or not, that we are powerless. There’s a book by Keith Miller that I want to recommend to you, as some may find it helpful. The title is “A Hunger for Healing.” He takes the 12 steps made famous by AA and fashions them into a program for spiritual growth. In the places where the 12 steps mention alcohol, he replaces it with the word sin. So, the first step becomes, “I am powerless over sin, and my life has become unmanageable.” I think that is the truth for each of us.

Maybe you don’t feel it is true for you. Maybe your life doesn’t seem unmanageable. Maybe you do feel safe and secure. Let me simply remind you of your feelings on September 11, 2001. Is our safety and security an illusion? “I am powerless over sin, my own sin, and the sins of others, and my life has become unmanageable.” Even if it makes us feel uncomfortable, I think it is important that we see the truth in that statement.

And what is sin? I think at the root of many occasions for sin is forgetting that God is God and we are not. We cannot stop our sinful ways on our own. Paul cries out, “I do that thing which I don’t want to do!” We cannot stop the sin in this world with social programs, or large armies. We are powerless over sin, and our world is falling apart. We need, we desperately need, a Savior, because we can’t fix it.

I am the vine, Jesus tells us. Apart from me, you can do nothing. If we are connected with Jesus, if we are in relationship with God, if we abide in Christ, we find a hand offered to lift us out of our sinful preoccupations. Then we can see what our true nature, what our true calling has always been. We are the branches. We receive the essence of life itself from the vine. If we desire to truly live, we will abide in Christ, and he in us.

This awareness that we need a savior isn’t all about living happily ever after singing cum baya, by the way. In this morning’s text, we are also told that God is the vinedresser. We are going to get pruned by God, and it might hurt! Some of the things that we really love, might be cut away, because they are stunting our growth. Don’t fight the gardener. He is going to win anyway. Let God be God, and let us get on with our calling, which is to be branches that bear fruit.

Bearing fruit. Now think about that. The vinedresser can’t literally bear fruit. Neither can the vine. When we set aside the illusion this world pushes on us, the illusion that we can be our own God, we see that our true role is pretty awesome in and of itself. We are the ones who are to bear fruit. We are the ones who have the role of feeding this starving world. We are the ones who can offer spiritual sustenance to a world that seems determined to self destruct.

The fruit we bear is life for the world. We are to give it away. Freely have you received, freely give. The zucchini looks beautiful in the morning sun, with the dew glistening on its dark green sides. But laying their in the garden, it is of little use. It must be picked, prepared and eaten if it is to fulfill its purpose. And so the fruit of our life in Christ is to be offered to the world. We proclaim with our every word and deed the good news that we have a savior, and his name is Jesus Christ.

Apart from me, you can do nothing. There is a story told by a veteran of WWII who was in Italy. He passed a statue of Christ that had had its hands blown off by an exploding shell. Someone had penciled a sign and hung it around the neck of this statue...the sign read; “No hands but yours.” Just as we were offered the hand of love by Christ to lift us up to a new life, so we are called to be the hands of Christ in the world today. Let us be the Church, the living hands of Christ, and offer the love of God to a world desperate for healing.