Posted by: dacalu | 15 December 2017

Paradoxical Freedom

I love doors. Strange, but true. Have you ever taken a close look at the mechanism behind a swinging door? They’re wonderfully elegant: two plates, one screwed to the wall and the other screwed to the door, joined by a pin. Remove the pin and you can remove the door. Otherwise, it’s firmly attached and – here’s the exciting part – they open and close, like a movable wall.

When you get a chance, look at a door from the middle ages. Without machined parts, they don’t balance as well or swing as freely.

The door hinge is an example of technology so simple and refined that we no longer think of it as technology. We take it for granted.

A door hinge is also an example of paradoxical freedom. A door lying on the floor has no freedom. It can only sit there. You can move it with effort, but only by lifting the full weight of wood, or awkwardly scraping it along the ground. A door on a hinge moves back and forth, almost effortlessly.

I’ll bet you’ve opened and closed so many doors today you would have trouble counting them.

Human freedom operates the same way.

We’ve become accustomed, in our age of individualism, to thinking of attachments as something that limits freedom. Often, they are. We can be shackled financially and socially as well as physically. Literal shackles use similar pin technology and are one of humanity’s more abused inventions. Attachments can be vile.

And.

And some attachments bring greater freedom. A bungee jumper attaches herself to a bridge so she can jump off safely. A mountaineer attaches himself to a fellow climber and to the mountainside in case of a missed hold.

I spend most of my time connected. I like my communities, including the Episcopal Church and the United States Government because, by being attached, I have greater freedom. I can travel, knowing I have support. I can discuss and argue, knowing that others have agreed to some basic ground rules. I can depend on the basics of communication (language, roads, markets, …) so that I can go on to say and build what I want.

I want my autonomy. I like hinges whose pins I can remove and lines I can unclip. I’ll argue in church and government for the ability to opt in and opt out. Still, I spend most of my time connected.

I stay attached because it brings me greater freedom than being alone. Like a ship at anchor, sometimes I need something to hold me down when the winds of change blow too strongly.

[If you really like mechanical metaphors, check out helicopters, flybars, and gyroscopes. Sometimes the forces that need constraining are internal and subject to feedback loops and other complications. Constraints can save you from yourself as well.]

I’m not going to tell you which constraints are hinges and which are shackles. Each of us must figure that out on her own. In the case of church and state, I think we can all agree that there are aspects of both in each. But, give some thought to things that might be hinges in your life. What are they and how do they work?

And next time you open a door, find a little joy in paradoxical freedom.

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Posted by: dacalu | 4 December 2017

Death, Resurrection, and Return

Today, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. We celebrated the beginning of Advent – the season in the Christian calendar where we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas.  Here is the sermon I shared.

Prayer for the First Sunday in Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings

Isaiah 64:1-9 (“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”)

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 (“show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved“)

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (“He will also strengthen you to the end“)

Mark 13:24-37 (NRSV)

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.’

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Sermon

Near the end of the Eucharistic prayer, we include a “memorial acclamation,”
	that ties together our understanding of Jesus Christ,
	past, present, and future.
I’m betting you know the version from Prayer A:
“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
The whole congregation says it together in Prayers A, B, and C.
Today, we’re using Prayer II, so I say,
	“Now gathered at your table, O God of all creation, 
and remembering Christ, crucified and risen, 
who was and is and is to come, 
we offer to you our gifts of bread and wine,
	and ourselves, a living sacrifice.” (EOW)
It appears in every Episcopal Eucharist,
	and in most versions of Catholic and Orthodox Prayers as well.

The memorial acclamation reminds us of the constant tension we live in as Christians.
	We say that Christ died for us in the past:
		In the Reformation language of Rite I, we say:
		“All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, 
for that thou, of thy tender mercy, 
didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross 
for our redemption; 
who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, 
a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, 
for the sins of the whole world; 
and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, 
a perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice, 
until his coming again.” (BCP’79 p.334)
		Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli,
			leaders in the Protestant Reformation,
			all emphasized that our salvation has already been accomplished
				by God’s action.
	We say that Christ is risen in the present.
		He is seated at the right hand of the Father,
			speaks to us still through the Holy Spirit and Scripture,
			and intercedes for us eternally. (See Romans 8 and Hebrews 4-5.)
		This is why we can pray to Jesus now, in the moment.
		This is why we can speak of him as friend and king,
			and not just as an example or aspiration.
		Jesus is not dead, but alive…now.
		And so, we have hope that we, too,
			may live beyond the normal span of 80 years.

We say that Christ will come again in the future.
		“We believe that he will come again
			in glory to judge the living and the dead
			and his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed)
		Though Christ has died, and though he is risen,
			the world does not seem to be saved.
			We do not feel saved
				from the chances and changes of life.
			We see the innocent suffer and the wicked triumph.
		Seymour Siegel, a Conservative Jewish Rabbi, put it this way.
	“The central problem of Christianity is:
if the Messiah has come, why is the world so evil? 
	For Judaism, the problem is: 
if the world is so evil, why does the Messiah not come?”
		We look for something better.
		“We look for the resurrection of the dead,
			and the life of the world to come.” (Nicene Creed)
		“The creation waits with eager longing 
for the revealing of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19)
		We want justice – though we fear judgment.
		We want consummation – though we fear completion.
		We want truth – though we fear revelation
			(not only the personal hand of God upon us,
			but also the great revealing of the end times).
		The words “apocalypse” and “revelation” both come from
			roots that mean a veil has been lifted and the true world seen.

And so, we live in this strange space of “already and not yet.”
The Kingdom of heaven is somehow 
already established, coming into being, and over the horizon.
That’s what’s at stake in today’s gospel.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: 
as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, 
you know that summer is near. 
So also, when you see these things taking place, 
you know that he is near, at the very gates. 
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away 
until all these things have taken place. 
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

We have been promised that the Kingdom is so close that we can touch it.

Does it feel close to you?
I hope so.
Some days it feels close to me,
	as close as my own heart and breath and life.
Some days it feels impossibly far away.
Jesus says that “this generation will not pass away,”
	and many of his followers, Paul likely among them,
	really believed that the end would come within 80 years.
It did not.
That was a challenge for them, as it is a challenge for us.
“If the Messiah has come, why is the world so evil? 
If the world is so evil, why does the Messiah not come?”
I have tended to answer this question with ideas of eternity.
	It appeals to my Buddhist edges,
		or, if you prefer, my Cappadocian edges,
		for the foremost theologians of early Orthodox Christianity,
			Basil, Gregory, Macrina, and Gregory
		take same approach.
	God saves us outside of time,
		and we, in time, cannot grasp the fullness of God’s action,
		so, we place it in the past or in the future,
		but we must always reach for it in the present.
I still believe that, but today, I’d like to add a little texture.
I’d like to say why, for me, the memorial acclamation is so important.
Jesus reaches out to us through the past, through the present, AND through the future.
Jesus comforts us in what has been done,
	comes to us where we are,
	and calls us into something greater than ourselves.

The collect for the day asks for grace,
	“now
in the time of this mortal life 
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.”
For me, that means the particular grace
	of God in his human particularity
	reaching out to me in my particularity.
Mortal to mortal, flesh to flesh, humanity to humanity.
It does not deny something more.
	Christ has more.
	I aspire to more.
	And yet, here I am in my fleshy, mortal, humanity gazing into eternity,
		gazing into the face of Jesus,
		God incarnate.
Jesus gives us hope that eternity and salvation
	can be seen through visible, tangible, fleshy windows.
The now that surrounds us is not the only now.


So, let me ask you this.
Where are you looking for God to arrive?
	To what do you turn for hope, fulfillment, grace, and peace?
	Where do you look when you hope to be surprised,
		by a world more wonderful than you imagined,
		by power you didn’t know you had,
		by love deeper than you thought possible?
	Do you look to the past, the present, or the future?
	Do you look inside yourself?
		Inside other people?
		In nature?
	Do you look to wealth and power?
	Do you look to institutions, the church or the state?
	Do you look to community?

I can tell you where I look.
I look to faces.
	I look to the Face of God as Father, gazing at the Son.
		“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17:5)
	I look to the Face of God as Son, gazing at his friends.
		“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)
	I look to the Holy Spirit gazing through our faces at the Lord.
		“the Spirit helps us in our weakness; 
for we do not know how to pray as we ought, 
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 
And God, who searches the heart, 
knows what is the mind of the Spirit, 
because the Spirit intercedes for the saints 
according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

I look in God’s face, reflected in nature.
	Just as the light of the sun bounces off objects 
and brings their forms to my eyes,
	so, the light of Christ bounces off spirits,
		the souls of humans,
		the livingness of every living breathing thing,
		and the hard surfaces of the rocks and minerals,
		and brings love to my heart.

I am a scientist because I think that science reveals the truth of the physical world,
	and I love the world as God’s creation.
I do not understand it fully.
I know in part because others have discovered the truth 
and shared it with me.
I know in part because I see with my own eyes.
I know in part because I am willing to let go of all my knowing
	and see again for the first time,
	every time.
	(Or at least some of the time. I’m still working on it.)
I am looking for the coming kingdom,
	as it was, as it is, as it will be.

Nor is my faith different.
It is rooted in the past,
	in what Christ as done for me,
	in what the church has found and what the church has looked for.
It grows in the present, 
in daily interactions with God
	through prayer, and community, and curiosity,
	which are, after all, shades of the same thing,
	the looking face to face
	and trying to see beyond my own expectations.
It reaches for the future,
	in my hope for redemption, salvation, resurrection, life, and grace.
	“Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility”
		and so, I believe, must we visit Christ,
		not resting on the past or present,
		but depending on that future time,
			that relationship that was, and is, and is coming to be.
	“For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face. 
Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, 
even as I have been fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12)

I feel like a broken record,
	citing the same passages of scripture over and over again,
	but I keep finding the same message,
	“do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)
“Let anyone with ears to hear, listen.” (Mark 4:9)
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; 
knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Luke 11:9)
	“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; 
if you hear my voice and open the door, 
I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
It’s not about humility before neighbor or church or doctrine.
It is humility before reality
	and the possibility of God breaking in
	everywhere.
It is about springtime,
	and the flowering of the fig tree.
The leaves do not suddenly spring from branches that remain unchanged.
The whole tree is transformed,
	the invisible metabolism changes the whole visible tree,
	so that water and chemicals flow,
	materials move from roots and trunk into the leaves,
	and reveal within the buds,
		the mysterious invisible process of winter and previous years,
		and the wonderful fruit which is not yet come.
I delight, living in the in-between.
There is so much past and future to celebrate.
There is so much now to revel in,
	if only our eyes, and hearts, and minds remain open.
Though Winter is upon us,
	Spring will come,
	and, eventually, Summer.
Though we feel barren,
	though God be invisible,
	though hope is hard to find,
God comes.
“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”


I do not know where it is that you look,
	or even where you should look.
I know God gave each of us eyes,
So, I suspect we were meant to keep watch in different directions.
I can only say this: Keep awake!

This is the promise of Advent,
and the burden of Christianity:
to be always looking,
in every face, 
in every blade of grass,
in every event—past, present, and future—
for the coming of Jesus Christ in glory.


Posted by: dacalu | 16 October 2017

Joy in Truth

Today, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of University Lutheran (UniLu) in Cambridge, MA at the conclusion of a weekend retreat on knowledge and belief.  You can find the text below and an audio version, here.

 

Readings

Isaiah 25:1-9 (“you have been a refuge to the poor”)

Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”)

Philippians 4:1-9 (“Rejoice in the Lord always”)

Matthew 22:1-14 (The parable of the wedding banquet)

 

Sermon

Each of us carries a little model of the world around with us.
Each of us sees the world through glasses tinted by our own desires and experience.
Each of us, in turn believes we see the world better than anyone else.

And, all too often, we hide behind claims of factuality or revelation or being prophetic.

I am going to speak today about humility in our knowledge, 
	but I want to be very clear.
	I do not do this to deny the importance of truth.
	I do it to defend the truth,
		which is beyond our current understanding,
		and, more importantly, to defend joyfulness in truth.

When is the last time you took joy in the world – just as you found it?
When is the last time you took joy in discovering you were wrong?

One of my favorite poems, L’Envoi by Rudyard Kipling 
speaks of blessedness like this:
“But each for the joy of the working
And each in his separate star
	Shall draw the thing as he sees it
	For the master of things as they are.”

I believe that my picture of the world is partial, 
	but God’s picture is complete.
I believe that Jesus’ reality is infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
I believe that we see now, as in a mirror darkly,
	but then, in the fullness of time,
	we will see face to face.

And so, I delight in disagreement
	when it is honest,
	because seeing you paint the world
		helps me to see it more clearly.
	Seeing your world, helps me to realize that the real world,
		the deeper, fuller, more glorious reality
		is God’s world, rather than mine or yours.

This weekend, I have been speaking on knowledge and belief.
I have encouraged the group to think about 
	why we think the things we do,
	how the world shapes our thoughts,
	and how our thoughts shape us.


If you are like me,
	the worlds seem broken right now.
It feels impossible to understand the way our neighbors think.
In just the last few days, 
I have had some strong debates
on gun control, free speech, the beginning of human life, 
evolution, and sexuality.
Nice relaxing week, right.
I won’t claim they were easy, 
	but I can give thanks
	that people who disagree with me –
	on some fairly fundamental points –
	were willing to engage.
I give thanks because they remind me that the world,
	the real world,
	is bigger than the world I carry in my head.
Because, honestly, I cannot grasp the resurrection.
	I cannot understand the reconciliation and harmony
		of God’s promised world.
	I cannot wrap my head around the fullness of forgiveness.
But, when my eyes are open,
	the world surprises me
	with gifts that defy words.
The world is more wonderful, and more forgiving,
	and more hopeful, than my petty brain and imagination
	could render.
God’s world filled with things both strange and wonderful.
	And people, both strange and wonderful.
I find joy in that truth.

One line from Isaiah really stood out for me this week.
Isaiah speaks of “A Palace of Aliens.”
	A rather colorful phrase – good for a science fiction novel –
		but I think it also speaks to our current discomfort.
	I feel as though my house has been taken over by aliens,
		by people whose goals and motivations I cannot understand,
		but who seem bent on making me feel unwelcome.
	Worse yet, the house is beginning to feel like it was set up for them and not for me.
		They have become comfortable – at my expense.
	It is a palace of aliens and I am an exile here.
Raise your hand if you’ve had this feeling,
	in your country or university or job or even on this planet Earth.
Raise your hand if you know what it feels like to be in a Palace of Aliens.

I know progressives who feel this way about the US Government.
And, I know conservatives who feel this way about US Culture.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you will jump immediately
	to say something like this.
	“But one of those is injustice and the other just common sense.”
	“One of those is about ideology and the other about compassion.”
	“One of those is good and the other is bad.”

That may be true, but it is not enough.
It is not enough, because it is not my house or their house.
	It is God’s house,
	and all of us are guests.
We need to figure out God’s rules.
And we need to correct one another only as one guest corrects another,
	with sympathy and humility,
	lest our host feel we have disrespected the house.
It’s an awkward place to be.
In our society, as conditioned as we are by law and facts and ownership,
	we want to be the authority.
	We want to be the host or the steward or the enforcer.
	But in this life, we are guests.

God promises that the Palace of Aliens will be destroyed,
	that we will find ourselves at home,
	but we will be neither more at home
		or less at home
		than our companions.
We may even have a part to play in the process.
We may be called to make others feel at home in the world.


The parable of the wedding banquet
	has never rested easily with me.
I am troubled by God seeming to be a tyrant,
	burning down cities and casting out guests – 
	perhaps even guests that found themselves there quite unexpectedly.
This week I’m trying out a new interpretation,
	one based on the Palace of Aliens.
I hope you’ll find it interesting and try it out as well.
I hope you’ll help me figure out if it works,
	because I know I can’t figure it out alone.
Sound good?

I suspect that the wedding banquet is God’s world,
	the deeper, fuller, more glorious reality
	that waits just beyond our feeble sight
	and just beyond our tentative fingers.
I believe God reaches out to us,
	in uncomfortable discussions,
	inconvenient truths,
	and in love for our enemies.
God invites us to leave our palaces and come.
God asks that we question ourselves and our truths,
	so that we might find something better.

And we make light of the invitation, ignoring it and going about our business.
We pass by the beggar on the street instead of starting a conversation.
We avoid our friends and co-workers when they talk about things that trouble us.
We conveniently read the parts of the Bible we like
	and skip over the boring bits, 
or the scandalous bits, 
or the truly weird stuff in the back.
(You know what I’m talking about.)
And so we miss the opportunity to come to the banquet.

Or perhaps we blame the messenger,
	lashing out at those who tell us about things we don’t want to hear.
We even blame ourselves sometimes,
	cursing our bodies or our minds for being other than we want them to be.
That can be the worst kind of violence against truth.	

I think God visits us with our just desserts.
You can only ignore reality so long, before reality comes to find you.
You can only put the truth off for so long before the truth catches up with you.

Those who will not come to the banquet, find themselves left out, in the cold,
	where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It’s not a punishment, but it is what happens.
We suffer when we hide from reality.

So far, so good.
I think most Christians – even most people – would agree with me.
Philip K. Dick, who dreamed up Blade Runner, put it this way:
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.”

The next part is harder, because we are not the vicious lords and ladies
	who would not come to the wedding.
We are the clueless beggars, dragged in off the streets.
We have been, and are, much to our surprise, brought face to face with Jesus,
	the way, the truth, and the light.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not here because it is comfortable,
	or easy, or convenient to be a Christian.
I’m here because Jesus showed up and dragged me along.
I have to admit, it was better than what I had planned.

God doesn’t just ask us to be here.
God asks that we be here for one another,
	that we take joy in one another,
	delight in discovery,
	even appreciate the arguments.
God asks us to show up for the banquet
	ready to party
	and ready to help one another take joy in the truth.
Because the truth is amazing.

Reality is wonderful.

Did you know that slime molds can solve math problems?
Or that the planet Uranus spins on its side?

Did you know that there are bacteria that live in boiling water?
	(Don’t worry, they’re not the infectious kind.)
Or that we have already discovered over 3,600 planets orbiting other stars?
And that’s just science!

Sitting around you in the pews there are scads of people,
	each of whom has a world of her own,
	a treasure chest of peculiarities and insights,
	experience and perspective.
Some of them even have a sense of humor.

Did you know laughing with other can make you happier and healthier?

Beyond those doors there are countless more people,
	countless more worlds to explore.
Some of them are strange.
Some are frightening or awesome or alien.
Some – most honestly – are windows into the Divine.

We should be just as excited visiting these worlds
	as we would be to travel to a new planet,
	no matter how dangerous,
	because discovery is a joyful thing.

I don’t underestimate the dangers.
	I know that space is hazardous.
	There are sharp toothed, acid dripping, horrendous aliens out there.
Still, it’s worth it.
There is a banquet of new experiences that will stretch you
	until you are more glorious than you thought you could be.
There is more grace in an alien smile,
	than in a room full of mirrors.
And some of the snarling, menacing, hulking brutes,
	are just waiting for their morning coffee.


People, when you stop believing in them, don’t go away;
	they only become more alien.
That’s why I try so hard to keep believing in people.
That’s why I hope they keep believing in me.

In the past 72 hours, I have found myself quoting
	Philip K. Dick, Jerry Garcia, and Richard Dawkins,
	all undoubtedly geniuses, but not folks I find a lot of common ground with.
	And yet they said interesting things,
		fascinating things,
		useful things that were worth sharing.
	Even Rudyard Kipling, whose work I quite like,
		had some very problematic opinions.
The first step is that readiness to hear truth,
	no matter how unlikely the source.

I won’t tell you it’s easy, showing up in a wedding robe every second of every day.
I won’t say it’s easy to truly listen,
	but it is worthwhile.
Indeed, the older I get the more I think it is the most worthwhile thing in the world,
	to really listen to reality, 
to really listen to one another,
Posted by: dacalu | 7 October 2017

Birth Control and Business

My friend Sam recently asked me to comment on the complicated subject of religious freedom and US business. I thought some others might be interested as well, so here is my answer.

 

Question:

“I wanted to pick your brain on the rolling back of birth control benefits to women in the U.S., and the concept of “religious freedom” as the justification for doing so.”

 

Answer:

There are so many moving parts to this question, it’s tough to know where to start, but let me break it down into manageable pieces.

 

The Morality of Birth Control

I see “birth control” as fundamentally divided into two categories: abortion and contraception. I see them as very different, in both morality and policy.

I am against abortion and am not convinced, on first principles, that it should be legal in the United States. I also recognize that it is currently legal under the heading of “right to privacy” as understood by the Supreme Court.

I favor contraception, as I think it allows humans to have greater and more conscientious control of their own behavior. Thomas Aquinas and countless other theologians argue that we act best when we act under the direction of our intellect. I see no reason why this should not apply to pregnancy. (Note that Thomas disapproves of contraception because he thinks any form of sex that does not result – at least nominally – in reproduction is bad. I believe this is contrary to New Testament ethics.)

There is some question in my mind about the desirability of contraceptive methods that allow fertilization, but not implantation, but that’s a bit more technical of an argument. I’m going to allow them under contraception in the interests of erring toward the mother’s will, noting that the majority of zygotes do not implant in any case. I feel abortion is wrong (accept in cases where either mother or fetus is not expected to survive to birth) because it involves actively choosing the death of an individual.

From here on out, I will use contraception to refer to all other forms of birth control, including the morning after pill, IUD, birth control pills, condoms, spermicides, …

 

The Legality of Birth Control

Within certain broad limits, both abortion and contraception are completely legal in the United States.

To the best of my knowledge, however, no federally funded or federally mandated health insurance coverage includes abortion coverage. (Please comment if you have evidence that I’m wrong on this – but only if you have a specific program with details.) To be clear, many employers are required to provide health insurance to their employees. That insurance does cover some forms of contraception. In no case are employers required to provide health insurance that covers abortion.

If a federal mandate to provide insurance covering abortion were proposed, I would be against it. I do not, however, think it would be unconstitutional.

 

The Religious Liberties of Businesses

Personally, I do not believe that businesses should have freedom of religion. I think the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case is judicial activism and untenable in long term. Let me explain why.

I see neither a natural law nor a social contract argument for why we have a right to form a corporation or other kind of business. Rather, I believe that a business license is a privilege granted by the state. It grants financial privileges; it comes with obligations. I have no inherent right to a driver’s license, a hunting license, or a real estate license. I do, perhaps have a right to a marriage license. (Truthfully, I don’t think I do. I have a right to be married, but not to have the state recognize my marriage. Still, it’s a common legal idea at the moment, so we’ll grant it.) Nonetheless, I accept that marriage comes with conditions and expectations. There is no reason to believe that a business license does not also have conditions and expectations.

So, an individual without a business license has the right to free religious expression. A business might give up that right when hiring an employee. Do they? And should they? I will argue yes.

 

The Civil Ethics of Business

The purpose of a business license is to insure pro-social business practices. The society and the state have an interest in regulated ethical treatment between parties. I view this from a social contract perspective. The government provides vital infrastructure and, more importantly, a stable currency and market for business. Businesses in turn make a commitment to certain minimal regulation that preserves that environment. We can (and should) argue about the extent of this regulation, but I hope we agree that some level of regulation is not only desirable, but necessary.

Trivially, taxes and/or tariffs are necessary to fund the treasury and mint; therefore, businesses commit to honest reporting on income and transactions.

Less trivially, trust and consistency are necessary for market stability (at the most basic level); therefore, businesses commit to refrain from destabilizing and overly predatory behaviors (e.g., counterfeiting, false advertising, breach of contract, child labor, slavery, and prostitution).

 

Different Perspectives on Regulation

One of the major differences between Democratic and Republican perspectives, as far as I can tell, concerns our concept of predatory behaviors. We have consensus that slavery and child labor represent unacceptable monetization of humanity. Market forces should not control their existence and businesses must refrain from both practices. Most people would add prostitution to that list. We consider it a vice, not because sex is bad, but because the sale of sex too often results in the degradation and disenfranchisement of women.

Things become more difficult when we consider other predatory practices. Republicans tend to be concerned about drug sales and pornography. Democrats tend to be concerned about employee and consumer rights. Personally, I am concerned about predatory lending practices, one of the few issues specifically addressed in the Old and New Testaments (note 1), yet seemingly of no concern to Christian politicians.

 

Individual Rights

US business law represents a long struggle over how to regulate business. This is a good thing as it demonstrates social engagement in the government and in the economy. What is the general welfare and how does business promote it?

I do not see the fundamental divide being between business owners and employees, but between capitalists and labor. How does our regulation of business advantage and disadvantage each? Laborers have gained many rights, including freedom from discrimination and harassment. Meanwhile, they have lost many rights to bargain collectively. Capitalists have also gained many rights, including the right to force employees into arbitration and the right to avoid many types of liability by forming corporations. There is clearly a power imbalance here, but we argue about how large and how it should be addressed.

As a student of Adam Smith, I think laborers should have more rights (their interest aligns with market interests) and capitalists should have less (their interests do not).

 

Back to Birth Control

I think that all citizens have a social contract right to health care. I think the most efficient way to provide this would be a single-payer system. I think it should include contraception, because intentional reproduction and sexual health are in the public interest – and because it gives women much greater control over their lives, their health, and their livelihood.

The country does not want a single-payer system. We chose instead to have employers provide health insurance. So be it. We decided that providing health care should be part of the business license contract. We decided that contraception coverage should be part of that insurance. And so, it is. I do not always agree with the decisions we make as a country. I think there are many flaws in this one, but given a choice between guaranteed health insurance through employers and no guaranteed health insurance, I choose the former. Given a choice between contraceptive coverage and not, I choose the former.

You don’t get to pick and choose what you want from your government. All of us either opt in (pay taxes, follow laws, and receive benefits) or opt out (and face the consequences). We each contribute to the character of the contract (voting, etc.), but both benefits and costs reflect a compromise of 200 million people. Trust me, I could really go for cafeteria government right now – please give me the economy with a side of academia, hold the military industrial complex. I’d also be happy with 4/9 Supreme Court Justices and about half of the Congress. It doesn’t work that way.

 

Opting Out for Religious Reasons

Employee benefits are part of the social contract, part of the business contract. They get negotiated at the highest level. But perhaps we can allow people out of them to protect their liberties. It sounds good on the face of it, but it doesn’t work. I am a pacifist. Does that mean I can avoid paying the 16% of my taxes that goes to the military? Sign me up. Does that mean that Christian Scientist employers can avoid providing health insurance all together? What if your religion promotes slavery? American Christianity did only 155 years ago. Perhaps you don’t have to pay some workers at all?

You have a right to your religious beliefs. You also have a right to do business, but only under the conditions set by the law. You do not have a right to do business in accord with your religious beliefs if they contravene the law and – here’s the kicker – take away from the rights of your fellow citizens. My religious liberty ends where yours begins, and vice versa. Thus, Catholic employers do not have a right to impose their beliefs on their employees. Nor, in the US, do they have the right to hire only Catholic employees.

 

Martyrdom

I am a priest. Let me be completely clear. Faith will ask you to go against the social contract, the law, and the society.

I want a society that separates church and state so that my faith is neither privileged nor persecuted. I give up the chance to have my theology dictate the law because I know history. It will always end up with law dictating my theology.

So, when my faith makes me go against the law, I pay the legal consequences – willingly. I have great sympathy for Evangelicals and Catholics who want to preserve their consciences by not providing health insurance with contraception. I have no sympathy for their expectation – either theological or legal – that they can make money while doing so. Our social contract is not set up that way and I, for one, am glad. It sounds too much like fining people for not belonging to your faith.

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

Note 1: Exodus 22:25-27; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Ezekiel 18:5-17; Psalm 15:5; Luke 6:34-35

Posted by: dacalu | 2 October 2017

Two Kinds of Pro-Life

As the country struggles over identity and values, I’ve been thinking about what it means to have Christian values. Following Jesus is important to me and, I think, beneficial to others, but I find that many people use “Christian values” to refer to something quite different. In this post, I talk about two different ways we can be “Pro-Life” and why I am one, but not the other. Pro-Life can mean Anti-Killing or Pro-Begetting.

 

Anti-Killing

The principle is straightforward.  Don’t kill humans. This means:

 

no abortion

no euthanasia

no IVF or stem cell research that kills embryos

no capital punishment

no war

 

The Old Testament is not Anti-Killing. The commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit murder” (Ex 20:13, Deut 5:17). The Hebrew (ratsach), Greek (phoneuseo), and Latin (occido) versions all have a connotation of killing someone unjustly. It does not rule out justified homicide. [The King James Version just gets it wrong. JPS, NRSV, NIV, and NKJV all say “murder.”] So, there is nothing inconsistent about the Israelites slaying the Canaanites. God calls for killing people repeatedly in the Old Testament, mostly for idolatry, murder, and impurity. A casual count yields 41 commands to kill people in the first five books alone (Note 1).

The New Testament is Anti-Killing. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not even to get angry with one another (Mt 5:21-22). Jesus speaks strongly against killing people and advocates love and forgiveness for enemies, even when they harm us (Note 2). Jesus life represents the ultimate act of compassion in the face of physical abuse. Strict Anti-Killing was the dominant position among Christians for the first three centuries. After Christianity became mainstream, self-defense, policing (killing some to protect all), and eventually war (killing some to protect others) were given theological justifications.

I accept that, in limited cases, killing people might be acceptable. The primary of these falls under the head of “secondary effects.” I’m not against stopping pain, preventing death, or stopping aggression in such a way that results in death, but only when all other alternatives have been explored and exhausted. The principle holds, though, and basically beats all other arguments. Don’t kill people. I even go so far as to think carefully and minimize the killing of other animals. The makes me a Pro-Life Anti-Killing advocate.

 

Pro-Begetting

How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.”–Mother Theresa

There is a second kind of Pro-Life that might be called Pro-Begetting or Pro-procreation. Have babies. This means:

 

no abortion

no contraception

no non-procreative sex

 

It also means there is a positive obligation to marry and have children. The Pro-Begetting version of Pro-Life explains why the Boy Scouts of America accepted Muslim, Buddhist, and Atheist troop leaders before accepting gay troop leaders. It also explains why so many Pro-Life advocates see nothing wrong with capital punishment and war (Note 3).

The Old Testament is Pro-Begetting. The Israelites are repeatedly encouraged to get busy begetting. This begins rhetorically at Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply,” but it continues in statements about the obligation to expand the Tribe of Israel through having children (Note 4). Jewish and Christian scholars have interpreted these as commandments – a moral obligation to have children. The mindset is also clear in the numerous prohibitions against anything that wastes Israelite “seed” – masturbation, sleeping with idolatrous women, bestiality, and male homosexual acts (Note 5).

The New Testament praises marriage and states that husbands and wives have an obligation to sleep with one another (I Cor 7:3-5). Nonetheless, the life of Jesus and the statements of Paul make it clear that there is no obligation to marry or reproduce; some are called to singleness (Notes 6, 7, 8). Paul even suggests that it can be better to avoid spouse and children.

I am in favor of begetting for many people. I simply do not believe that there is any immorality in singleness or non-procreative sex. Nor do I think any reasonable argument for such can be made from the New Testament. On the whole, it seems to lean slightly away – something that has been commented on quite extensively in Christian history. Overpopulation and the need for adoptive and foster parents lead me to believe that there are many other ways to express our parental gifts, which should be valued alongside begetting. This makes me think that the Pro-Life Pro-Begetting mindset is not consistent with Christian virtues when extended as I suggest here. Too often it becomes an excuse to judge others. Too often it distracts from the Pro-Life Anti-Killing ethic that, for me, is part of the Gospel.

 

Note 1: Ex 19:12, 21:12-17,29, 22:19, 31:14-15, 32:27, 35:2; Lev 20:2,9-16, 20:27, 24:16-17, 24:21, 27:29; Num 1:51, 3:10, 3:38, 15:35, 18:7, 25:5, 31:17, 35:16-18,21,30-31; Deut 13:5,9, 19:12

 

Note 2: Mt 5:39, 5:44; Lk 6:3, 6:27; Rom 12:17-21; I Thess 5:15; I Pet 3:9

 

Note 3: An argument might be made about the taking of innocent life, but that would be neither Anti-Killing nor Pro-Begetting. It’s simply an Anti-Murder argument. Without either broad principle, it becomes necessary to wade into questions of innocence (what it is and how you judge it), justification (whether criteria exist which justify killing embryos), and personhood (when a person becomes a person). The Pro-Life principle alone does not address the relevant moral issues.

 

Note 4: Gen 9:1,7, 38.8; Deut 25:5-9; Isa 45:18

 

Note 5: Gen 24:3-4, 28:3-4; Ex 22:19, 34:11-16; Lev 18:22-23, 20:13-16; Deut 7:3-4, 27:21; Josh 23:11-13; I Kings 11:2; Ezra 9:12, 10:10-44; Neh 13:23-27

 

Note 6: Mt 10:37, 19:12; Luke 23:29; Acts 8:36-38 (contra. Deut 23:1); I Cor 7:1,6-8,25-28; Rev 14:4

 

Note 7: The only exception I am aware of us I Tim 2:15, women “will be saved through childbearing.” I continue to struggle with this passage as the plain reading seems contrary to I Cor 7 and Gal 3:28.

 

Note 8: This is not in itself an argument for homosexual action or identity; however, it is an argument that there is no positive obligation to heterosexual action or identity in the New Testament.

Posted by: dacalu | 28 September 2017

PDQcharist

Back in 2008, I put together a 5 to 10-minute Eucharistic liturgy to use in a flash-mob.  I do not, in general, advocate abbreviating worship this way, but it was a great exercise and helped me think about what is important as a participant – and as a celebrant. A friend recently asked for it, so I thought I’d share it here.

It went well as a flash-mob and as a Eucharist; those of us who participated felt drawn closer to God and one another.  It may not have worked as well without drawing on many hours of community backing it up…but surely that is true of all Eucharists.

The service was designed with placards to be read by the congregation, so they’d know what was going on and what to say.  [The placards appear in brackets.]

———————————

Priest: Welcome, God is with you.

Many: And you.          [And you]

(Reading: Mark 12:28-31)         [WORD]

Reader: One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’

Stop…Breath…Love…Serve.          [REVERB (Sermon)]

Prayer leader: Let us pray.          [PRAYER]

For the World…(10s)

For the People…(10s)

For the Church…(10s)

For life, for death, for joy, for sorrow…(10s)

For peace, for purpose…(10s)          

For the world to come…(10s)

We confess…(10s)     

We have wandered.          [We have wandered]

Bring us home.          [Bring us home]

Grace, peace, and purpose be upon you.

Greet your neighbors with a sign of peace. (60s)

(Set wine and bread on the table)

         [COMMUNION]

Let us pray

Lift up your hearts, give thanks to God, and sing.

Hosanna          [Hosanna]

Louder!

Hosanna          [Hosanna]

Thanks for making us.

Thanks for taking us.

Thanks for showing us the way.

Really.

Especially for Jesus, who said,

“Take, eat. This is my body given for you.” and

“Take, drink. This is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you.

And for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Spirit,

Bless it,

Bless us,

And all creation.

As it was,          [As it was]

as it is,          [as it is]

as it will be          [as it will be]

By human God,

through abundant God,

to the glory of almighty God,

Amen!          [AMEN]

         [Our Father]

Our Father…

We believe these to be the body and blood of Christ

And so should not be taken lightly.

That said, all who feel called are welcome to receive

The gifts of God for the people of God.

(Presider holds up a roll and a box of wine)

(Presider and others distribute the wine boxes)

 

Let us pray.

Thank you, God,

for being with us.

Seize the day; Serve the Lord.

Alleluia!

Alleluia!          [Alleluia!]

Posted by: dacalu | 11 September 2017

Talking with God

I never cease to be amazed how much we complicate the question of prayer. This subject came up in a conversation recently, so I decided to share it here. It helps to remind me about the basic idea. I hope it will be of use to you as well!

 

What is prayer?

Talking to God. Full stop.

The way you talk to God shapes the relationship you will have. It’s worth asking what kind of relationship you want. For me, close friendship seems most appropriate to Christianity (and Judaism). Of the relationships we have in our culture, that one is most likely to be healthy. We can also think of God as lover or parent, but just putting those two in the same sentence reminds me of the emotional minefields associated with each. Both, I think, work best when they develop into close friendships. Similarly, I might think of God as my King, and yet I have no healthy model of subject/King relationship to reason from. There is a danger of moving from ignorance to ignorance – basing our idea of kingship on God and our model of God on kingship. It seems better to build on what we know. So, I talk to God as I talk to my friends.

I should add that I also think of God as a teacher, but this is because I have had some wonderful relationships with truly wise, compassionate teachers, who, over the course of years, became friends.

What should I say?

Say what you think. There is no true friend who doesn’t want to hear about you.

Say what you want. This is communication 101. With humans, we say that they can’t help you if you don’t share. With God, it’s more complicated, but the basic idea is the same.

If you and God want the same thing, then talking about it can help it happen. If you want something, but think God doesn’t, then you have an opportunity to talk about it. You can convince God you are right or give God an opportunity to convince you. If you don’t talk about it, you’re guaranteed to continue disagreeing.

Say how you feel. Disguised emotions get bottled up and redirected and pop up at the most inconvenient time. Friends do not punish you for honest sharing and no good friend will be happier when you lie.

Do I have to be polite?

No. Good friends respect one another. They care for each other. They don’t try to hurt one another. Still, the closest friends are rarely polite. They say what they think. They tease, joke, and pester. They laugh at one another, just as they laugh at themselves.

Politeness is a necessary tool for people we do not know well. It helps when we feel distant, confused, or afraid. Be polite when God scares or confuses you. Be polite when it helps you understand God, but never feel worried that God won’t understand you. God has practice.

Do I have to be brief?

No. The best conversations last for hours, if not years. Remember, though, that friends don’t monopolize the conversation. It’s rare that I’ll put up with long monologues from anyone. I don’t know why God would put up with them from me. Equal time seems fair.

You can also share silence. I recommend quiet time. Don’t talk. Don’t listen. Just be together.

What if God doesn’t talk to me?

Cool. I can’t get God to shut up.

I’m joking…sort of.

Honestly, the best I get is active listening. (“Hmmn. Tell me more.”)

I’ll give you the same advice I give anyone who has a silent friend.

  • Check to see that you have been quiet enough to hear. It starts when you stop talking, but it also requires an attentive attitude.
  • Check to see that you’ve said what you need to say. Sometimes a friend will wait for you to get the real issue off your chest before piping up. If you have a chip on your shoulder – most of us do – be honest about it.
  • Be patient, be available, and let them take their time. If the relationship is important, keep talking, keep giving them space, and see what happens.

When am I done?

You never stop talking with your friends. Even if you are apart for decades, the next time you see each other, the words flow. Let that happen with God.

Too often we stress out when we don’t have to. (e.g., “Why hasn’t he called?”) It’s okay to have a slow, long-distance relationship with God – if it’s a good relationship. I have had life-altering friendships that consist of only one real conversation. I know serious Christians who’ve only really spoken with God once. It usually develops into something more frequent, but it need not. Nothing good ever came from forcing friends into boxes.

What will God do?

This is both the most important question and the biggest distraction. Let me deal with the distraction first. The surest way to short-circuit real communication and real friendship is to start with an agenda. No one likes being used. Love of God – as friend – must be a goal if the whole thing is to mean anything in the Christian context.

Having said that, friends help us. Sometimes they just listen; sometimes they give advice; sometimes they lend a hand. God does this.

Does God help the way we want and expect? Rarely. Does God help anyway? I think yes, but that’s my relationship with God. It seems surprisingly indirect and I seldom know whether to call it sly efficiency, insightful focus on the important, or slightly obnoxious humor. It’s all three most likely. Prayer will always be something that depends on you and God. Just as every friendship is different, so every prayer life is different. I can only say it’s been worth my time.

My advice:

Talking to God isn’t complicated. Talk and listen and go from there.

Posted by: dacalu | 4 September 2017

Demonstrating Love

This Sunday, I had the pleasure of worshiping with the people of Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett, WA. Here is the sermon I shared. You can also find a video, here.

Prayer for the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings

Jeremiah 15:15-21 (“for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts”)

Psalm 26:1-8 (“Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and my mind”)

Romans 12:9-21 (“Let love be genuine”)

Matthew 16:21-28 (“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering”)

Sermon

Did you catch Jesus’ joke in today’s Gospel?
In last week’s gospel – the passage that comes just before this one,
	Jesus praised his disciple, saying,
	“I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
	Petros, is Greek for stone.
	Jesus gave Simon bar Jonah a new name – solid as a rock –
		and we remember him by that name to this day, St. Peter.
Moments later, Jesus explains what it means to be the Messiah,
	he will go and preach in Jerusalem,
	where the leaders of the city will torture and kill him.
Peter says, “No, don’t do it.”
	And what does Jesus say, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me;”
		Still a rock.
	The same enthusiasm and openness 
that led Peter to proclaim Jesus as Messiah,
led him to cry out against Jesus being persecuted.
	It seems reasonable to me.
		“Stay out of harm’s way.  We don’t want to lose you!”
I don’t think Peter had much of a filter.
	Throughout the gospels, we see him speaking up and jumping in,
		often before he knew what was going on.
My friend, Nadia, put it this way: 
“Peter, dumb as a rock, and on this rock I will build my church.”

Too often, we want to simplify things, make them all good or all bad.
	We want our heroes to be heroic all the time,
		or we want our friends perfectly good
		and our enemies clearly evil.
But it doesn’t work out that way.
	Sometimes unrestrained enthusiasm is right and good and joyful,
		and sometimes it gets in the way.
	Sometimes we must be our fullest selves – completely unfiltered,
		and sometimes discretion is called for.
Peter can be both a foundation and a stumbling block – for similar reasons.
	He is solid, uncomplicated, and honest.

For me, it’s hard to understand the bible without knowing this.
	We hear stories about complex, interesting, and often flawed people
		working out their relationship with God.
	It does not always go well.
	We hear about the ways their virtues bring them closer to God
		and help the people around them.
	We hear about these same traits getting them in trouble.
	And throughout, we hear about God loving them,
		and working to heal the world.

Adam and Eve were curious.
	You have to be at the beginning of the world.
	Their curiosity got them in trouble.
Abraham and Sarah were adventurers.
	They set out for parts unknown, following a God they barely knew.
	They started a new tribe and nation.
	They could also be a bit manipulative,
		even with members of their own family.
Moses had a temper.
It gave him the strength he needed to lead the Israelites out of Egypt,
	but it also turned ugly on occasion.
He lost patience with God one time too many.
They are all heroes, but not because they were perfect.
In the tradition of Greek plays and Shakespeare,
	they were people who made the most of their imperfections.

As Christians, we are trying to be good people.
We are called by God’s name and we try to live up to that calling.
We take all of ourselves – 
	the parts we like and the parts we don’t,
	the parts society approves of and the parts that it doesn’t,
	the parts that have been with us since birth,
		and the parts hard won during life.
– and make them an offering and sacrifice to God.
God is that good that embraces the good of all.
God is love.

It is hard for us to understand that simple statement – God is love.
We have been conditioned by nature and nurture
	to think of love possessively, exclusively, violently.
That is not love.

“Love is patient; love is kind; 
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. 
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor 13:4-7)

The world does not know this.
That is the job of Jesus
	and, because of Jesus, the job of the Church.
Our love does not deny our curiosity, our boldness, or our anger.
It does not demand that we be uncomplicated like Peter, 
or complicated like Paul.
Rather, it looks to the world and asks where our
	curiosity, boldness, and anger might do the most good.
Jesus saw that there was a great gaping need in Jerusalem.
The people of the city,
	the elders, chief priests, and scribes,
	and the commoners as well,
	did not know how to love.
Jesus knew that he could show them the way –
	not with conquest, but with conversation.
Jesus demonstrated love in being subject to the will of God,
	and the will of Jerusalem.
He brought God to them.

God, the Father, also, sent Jesus to be God with us,
	to show us how to love as we did not know how.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, 
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish 
but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God sent Jesus to the last and the least, the lost,
	not because they were perfect, but because they were loved,
	because some aspect of them could be redeemed.

Romans is one of my favorite books of the Bible.
This surprises many of my liberal friends,
	who associate Romans with judgment and condemnation.
I’m afraid it gets used that way far too often.
I encourage you to read it, though,
	and read it beginning to end.
	The context matters, and the whole book is one long argument.
Paul, in his complicated way, is making a very important point.
The first three chapters of Romans are about guilt and hope.
“For there is no distinction, 
since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;
they are now justified by his grace as a gift, 
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. (Romans 3:23)
To be human is suffer this confusion,
	even our virtues can prove harmful,
	even our faults can be productive.
To be human is to be offered redemption.

Do we have good and bad in us? Most definitely.
Do we always know the difference? Not always.
God and Jesus and the Church help us find the difference.
They cannot simply say,
	X is bad and Y is good,
	because we don’t understand what X and Y mean,
	not fully.
Nature and nurture have conditioned us to misunderstand faith, hope, and love,
	to make them commodities or tokens or talismans
	of our true inheritance:
	life together.
God and Jesus and the Church must demonstrate what it means
	to bring all of ourselves to the table,
	to sacrifice for the sake of conversation,
	to think less of ourselves so that we might think well of all,
	and to ask what it is in me that serves the needs of the world.

Paul starts with this judgment about human sin
	so that we can move forward.
You have good and bad in you.
So does your neighbor.

Paul then turns to the stories of Abraham and Adam
	and asks what made them good.
It was not that they were inherently good or did good things.
It was that they were in a relationship with God.
When Abraham chose love of God over boldness,
	or better yet when he chose boldness in the love of God,
	he was counted as righteous.
When Adam chose curiosity over love of God,
	he brought sin into the world.
God tried to mend the relationship.
	Adam and Eve had the opportunity to restore their relationship with God,
	through conversation and, perhaps, through admitting they were wrong.
	Instead they chose blame and denial.
These are not stories about history, 
	though I am not against them being historically true.
They are stories about the human condition,
	about the strange thing called love,
	that causes a human to live beyond her own interests
	and into a larger life.
They are stories about dredging up the deepest parts of ourselves
	and laying them on the table,
	so we, together, can figure out if we have the parts we need
	to save the world.

I wish I had the words for it.
Words are never enough.
Love must be demonstrated.
But we have stories,
	and all of us have examples in our own lives,
	of what it means to love,
	what it means to be reckoned righteous.

After explaining all of this, or trying to,
	Paul turns to concrete advice.
What does it mean to be a Christian, practically?

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
Live in harmony with one another; 
do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; 
do not claim to be wiser than you are. 
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, 
but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

To be a Christian is to go to Jerusalem, with Jesus,
	as Peter did in the end.
To be a Christian is to bend heart and mind and soul and strength
	to the love of God
	and the love of God’s creation.
It doesn’t require starting well.
It doesn’t require ending well.
It only requires being with God, right now.


Do any of you remember the television show MacGyver?
MacGyver was a secret agent, 
who knew so much about science and engineering,
that he could solve any problem with a Swiss Army knife, duct tape,
	and whatever was lying around.
Even if you haven’t seen the show, you’ve heard stories about
	the near magical ability of someone with a little know-how
	and some everyday objects.
Google Life-hack sometime and see all the things people come up with.

My goal is to be a spiritual MacGyver,
	to turn everyday virtues – and vices – into solutions.
It means knowing people, listening to their stories,
	their hopes and fears,
	their strengths and weaknesses.
It means never disregarding someone who doesn’t fit,
	because they seem too simple, too crazy,
	too lost, too certain, or even too evil
	to be worth something.
You never know when a paper-clip could come in handy.
You never know when a personality quirk,
	or odd experience,
	or disagreement
	could be exactly what you need to forge community.

It’s a hard life to live.
So many people are so disagreeable.
	We are selfish, petty, and mean sometimes.
It’s perfectly reasonable to say “No, don’t go to Jerusalem.”
	And sometimes, that’s exactly the right response.
	Sometimes we don’t have the answer.
But sometimes –
	more often than you’d think –
	a little creativity can show us the way.
Sometimes it is good to be unreasonable,
	to offer yourself up
	and let God present a solution
	to a seemingly intractable problem.

We need more of that now.
We need more people willing to listen to the hardships of others,
	to find out their stories,
	no matter how alien and disagreeable,
	and find the pieces necessary for our redemption.
We need people who get angry – for the sake of others.
We need people who are bold and curious – in the context of love.
We need to be exactly who we are,
	only striving to be just a little bit more,
        with God's help.
Posted by: dacalu | 28 August 2017

Listen, Figure, Act

Today, I had the privilege to worship with St. Stephen’s, Seattle.  Here is the sermon I shared.

Prayer for the Day

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings for the Day

Exodus 1:8-2:10 (Moses left by the Nile, adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter)

Psalm 124 (“If the Lord had not been on our side, ...”)

Romans 12:1-8 (“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed” and “we, who are many, are one body in Christ”)

Matthew 16:13-20 (“But who do you say that I am?” and “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”)

Sermon

Have you ever noticed that it’s easy to panic
	when everyone around you is panicking?
Or that it is easier to remain calm
	when everyone else remains calm?
It’s been a bad week for calm.

I have been amazed at just how many people are upset,
	and for how many reasons.
The most airtime seems devoted to free speech and racism,
	but other things are going on as well.
What does it mean for us to be a civil society?
What does it mean to be orderly, just, and compassionate?
Many of my own buttons have been pushed.
I’ve been surprised at my own emotions,
	and the strength of my own emotions.

So, what do we do when the world gets this way?
How do we navigate between the calm of peacemakers
	and the righteous anger of prophets?
Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place; 
for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
He also said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; 
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
Those are both in the Gospel of Matthew by the way.
It’s not an easy question.
When should we be upset and make a fuss,
	and when should we be calm and plug on?
And, above all, what should we be doing right now?

I’d like to suggest a three-part answer:
	First, listen and learn
	Second, figure out what’s important
	Third, act on your convictions
L-F-A: listen, figure, act.
That sounds like pretty generic advice,
	but it can be hard to remember
	when things get rough.
I also think that Christians can, and should,
	Do this in a particular way.
Listen. Figure. Act.

Step one: listen to yourself.
Augustine has a wonderful quote about hope.
“Faith tells us only that God is. 
Love tells us that God is good. 
But hope tells us that God will work God’s will. 
And hope has two lovely daughters: 
anger and courage. 
Anger so that what cannot be, may not be. 
And courage, so that what must be, will be.”
Let me say that again.
“Faith tells us only that God is. 
Love tells us that God is good. 
But hope tells us that God will work God’s will. 
And hope has two lovely daughters: 
anger and courage. 
Anger so that what cannot be, may not be. 
And courage, so that what must be, will be.”
Anger is not evil.
	Anger is our injustice warning system.
I’m not saying it doesn’t go wrong; it goes wrong all the time, 
	but that will be step two.
First, know that you’re angry.
	Give thanks that you can get angry.
	It means you know the difference between the way things are
		and the way things are supposed to be.
	Anger motivates us to fix injustice, to ourselves and to others.

This acceptance of anger comes at a cost, though.
If anger can be a good thing for me,
	it can be a good thing for others as well.
We must listen to others.
We must accept that, often, they are angry, too.
We must note, at least in theory, that their anger is also a sign of some injustice.
Give thanks that others can get angry.
	It means that they know the difference between the way things are
		and the way things ought to be.
	And, let’s face it, much in the world is not as it ought to be.
	There is enough anger to go around.
I find this simple reflection goes a long way
	toward helping me treat my opponent as a neighbor, rather than an enemy.

So far, there is no right or wrong.
There is no good or bad.
There is only the way things are and the way people feel about it.
There is only neighbors disagreeing.
	
Paul put it this way:
“For by the grace given to me 
I say to everyone among you 
not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, 
but to think with sober judgment, 
each according to the measure of faith 
that God has assigned. 
For as in one body we have many members, 
and not all the members have the same function, 
so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, 
and individually we are members one of another.”


Of course, listening to self and others is not enough.
I am not a relativist.
Not all anger is equal, in strength or justice or consequences.
More will be needed.

Step two: listen to God.
Figure out what’s important. 

A quote from Philippians 3:
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection 
and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 
if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 
Not that I have already obtained this 
or have already reached the goal; 
but I press on to make it my own, 
because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 
Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; 
but this one thing I do: 
forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 
I press on towards the goal 
for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 
Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; 
and if you think differently about anything, 
this too God will reveal to you. 
Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.”

What is important?
What are we working for?
Faith, hope, and love.
We work to build relationships, between us and between us and God.
	We work to build people up.
	We work to help the last and the least, to find the lost, and to love them all.
Why are we here?
	We are here to love one another as Christ loved us,
		and gave himself for us, and offering and a sacrifice to God.
When Paul says: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
He means that we, like Jesus, enter into relationships with others
	for their sake,
	and for the sake of God.
It is difficult and painful to move beyond,
	“I am angry” to
	“we are broken.”
But this is what Jesus models for us
	and this is what we are called to do – to love one another.
The anger does not go away, but it gains a concrete purpose.

We turn our anger over to God,
	so that good anger can become courageous action,
	and bad anger – selfish or mistaken anger – can be released.

What is important to me?
	You are.
	Whoever you are.
	Focusing means remembering that the image of God exists in every person.
Then, I can ask concrete questions.
	What can I do that will address my anger, but also serve the needs of the world?
	What can I do that will promote grace, peace, and justice?

And that brings us to step three: act.
Steps one and two are never enough by themselves.
The whole point of anger was that it got us moving.
	It was good because it was productive.
	(Anger that simmers without an outlet is never good.)
You can do something.
You may not be able to change the law or our representatives – 
at least not until the next election.
You may not be able to magically make America great, or kind, or fair.
But, if you were listening, those were not the goal,
	at least not by themselves.

What was the goal? (To love.)

You can love your neighbor, here and now.
You can find someone who doesn’t feel heard and hear them.
You can find someone who doesn’t feel cared for and care for them.
You can speak truth to those who do not know truth (kindly).
You can feed the hungry, tend the sick, support widows and orphans.

We don’t do that for the sake of a better society.
We do that because that is the better society.

Jesus did not die to magically transform the Roman Empire.
	Some of the most profound injustices 
took place in the centuries following his death.
Jesus lived to enter into relationship with the people of Judea.
	God with us.
And those people spread out and created relationships with the people
	of the Roman Empire and the world.
We don’t always get it right.
The world is not magically different,
	but it is different.
It is, I think better, not magically by a Divine wave of the hand,
	but prosaically, doggedly, patiently and diligently,
	by the daily actions of Christ Jesus, working in us, 
	his body in the world.
It is not magical or immediate, but it is miraculous.

What is the goal? (To love.)

You must ask yourself these questions every day.
What do I feel?
What is my focus?
What must I do?

And do it.

“Do not be conformed to this world, 
but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, 
so that you may discern what is the will of God—
what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
“whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, 
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

It is up to you.
Only you know.
Only you can listen to your own heart.
Only you can hear God’s call for you.
And only you can act.

The world will panic when it should be calm.
It will be calm when it should be in an uproar.

You have within you the ability to listen, to focus, and to act.
Posted by: dacalu | 27 August 2017

9 Problems with “Privilege”

Is “privilege” a good way to talk about justice? I recently found myself defending the idea to a friend and realized that we use the word differently. So here is my understanding of privilege and the top 9 mistakes I think people make – progressive and conservative – when talking about it.

 

  1. It’s not about you. It’s about y’all.

Privilege refers to a systematic imbalance within a society. One class of people gets better treatment than another class of people. I’ve found it useful to think about white privilege, male privilege, and straight privilege. They strike me as better terms than racism, sexism/chauvinism, and homophobia/heteronormativity, because they emphasize that the core issue is not confined to one person’s emotions or intentions. Instead, they reflect privileges some groups have that others do not.

It is rarely possible – more rarely productive – to prove that person A is a racist.  It is relatively easy to show that society is set up in a way that white people on average get benefits that black people do not. All other things being equal, black people are more likely to be stopped by the police, charged with a crime, placed in prison, and suffer injury (or death) in the process. Similarly, women on average make less money than men. No opinion is necessary. The data are available.

I don’t care if you personally have privilege. That’s your issue. I do care if our society is unjust and unequal treatment helps us identify where injustice might be occurring.

 

  1. Privilege is not immoral.

You are not a bad person because you are privileged any more than you are a bad person because you live in New Jersey or happen to be left handed. Privilege is a value-free description of the current state of affairs. We can make a discrete claim and test it. One such claim might be that men receive higher scores on teaching evaluations than women. Another might be that women have more close friendships than men. Most classes of people enjoy some privilege and have some constraint. It is not good or bad, it just is. We need the word “privilege” to be neutral so that we can assess whether it exists before asking whether its extent is unjust or its use immoral.

 

  1. Privilege is usually about probabilities.

Bear with me for a moment.

Probability is a wonderful thing. It helps us see when the universe is predictable on the large scale, even when it isn’t predictable for individuals. I can know that one out of every six Americans has blue eyes, even when I cannot tell you the eye color of a specific American. I cannot predict one person’s eye color, but I can give you a probability for a class of people.

We cannot predict how any individual person in the US will be treated, but we can predict how a class of people will be treated. So, I cannot say every white person is treated better than every black person (not enough data) or that any given white person is treated better than any given black person (still not enough data), but I can say that on average, white people receive more benefits. Claims about “all white people” or “all black people” can almost never be justified.

Progressives cannot assume that any individual has a particular privilege just because they belong to a class. They should wait for proof. Conservatives should stop using anecdotes (“But Sandy isn’t privileged”) as arguments against privilege. Larger trends can be proven and are interesting in and of themselves.

 

  1. Privilege need not be exercised.

I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. That means that I can add money to my pension fund, even when I’m not working for the church. No one would deny that I have that opportunity, despite the fact that I might not use it right now. The privilege exists even when I do not exercise it. It may be a useless privilege but usefulness is a separate question.

 

  1. Privilege need not be directly available.

I am a US citizen. The sixth amendment guarantees my right to a trial by jury. I hope I will never be tried for anything, but I still value the privilege. More importantly, I feel freedom to question the law, because I know that, if I am tried, I have protections. Even if privilege is unexercised – even if it could not be exercised unless something unusual occurred – it is still a privilege. It still affects how we think and behave.

 

  1. Privilege is not your fault.

No one person caused American society (or any other). Society represents a complex system of interactions, benefits, and expectations that developed over hundreds of years. Most of the people who set up the system are dead. I’m not going to get any repentance or reparations from them. Nor am I in the habit of blaming children for their parent’s mistakes. You and I inherited a complex system with good parts and bad parts. Our job is to work with what we’ve got. We should not blame others. We should not shame ourselves.

 

  1. You can’t keep score.

Some of us have more privilege than others, but you never know. A man may benefit from being white and straight, but also face challenges as an autistic immigrant. A woman might be a lesbian of color but benefit from a wealthy family and a great education. It’s not the size of your privilege that matters; it’s what you do with it.

Talk about yourself and listen to others. It makes sense to say, “I don’t have such and a such a privilege and that concerns me.” That gives others an opportunity to provide their own context. It also helps to say, “I do have this kind of privilege and I want your help to use it well.”

 

  1. Privilege is your responsibility

I have little control over the kinds of privilege I have, but I do have control over how I use them. I believe that all power comes with responsibility. [Insert Jesus, Spider Man, or JFK quote here.] Privilege is power. When I have opportunities, I am morally obligated to use them wisely and for the common good. When I have more power than other people, I am morally obligated to use the power for their benefit – not just for my own.

Moral use of power demands conscious recognition of it. I need to know my options in order to use them in the service of others. Privilege helps me understand my opportunities as the first step toward using them wisely. I have a brain; it would be a shame not to use it.

Some of the worst injustices survive because they are invisible. The idea of privilege helps us make power more transparent so that we can use it well, discuss it publicly, and learn from one another.

 

  1. You have power.

For me, the concept of privilege is an empowerment. It makes me more aware of how I interact with others. It makes me more aware of how I move in the world. I am a white male. I know that both of those things make it easier on average for me to publish academic papers. Knowing this, I advocate (as a white male) for double blind peer review, where reviewers do not know the name (or sex or race) of the author. I know that whiteness and maleness make it easier to speak up in public. Knowing this, I am more conscious of intentionally yielding the floor to others. I also make a point of teaching martial arts in a way that is inviting to women as well as men so that everyone can be more self-confident, more aware, and more proactive.

On the other hand, I am gay.  I know that I am less able express myself – with regard to attraction, romance, and love – than my straight neighbors. I know that I will find fewer examples to follow and get less advice (or at least less sophisticated advice) on these matters. Knowing this, I can put special effort into finding role models and into being a role model for others.

 

The idea of privilege helps, but it only helps when we use it as a way of understanding the world better. It is not a weapon and it is not a threat. It just is. It gives us a way of talking about systematic biases in our culture. As a way of thinking, it can help us talk, reason, and act to bring about a better society.

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