Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Voice, A Thin Silence

In the back room the washing machine gurgles and agitates. In the back yard a cardinal chirps and trills. At my desk, in the twilight before dawn, I wait for a voice, a thin silence.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

American Exceptionalism?

I find the budget blueprint published today by this administration deeply disturbing. Were it to be enacted, it would result in spending vast amounts of money on means to punish and to kill people, while radically cutting funds for means to foster quality of life and life itself, especially for those on the margins and at risk. Whether at home or abroad, we seem unwilling to commit public programs and money to keep people alive and well, the environment safe, land fruitful, culture vibrant, and peace in process; yet we seem more than willing to spend any amount of public funds to distance, denigrate, and destroy people we consider different and threatening. This will not "make America great again." It will make America a fortress state, diminished in moral compass inwardly and outwardly. It will be a long fall from what was once conceived as "a city upon a hill", a shining example for the world, to a security garrison based on a false and fearful pursuit of strength, absent of compassion, truth, beauty, or goodness. If this is America first, in the end it will be last.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Some Thoughts to a Friend Concerning Suffering and Evil

The subject you raised is such a complex and difficult one. Permit me a few thoughts as part of a conversation we can have; by no means do I think the questions can be fully resolved. Trying to see questions of suffering and evil in a large perspective, I take from God’s story in Scripture that God created the world and us to flourish in love, truth, beauty, and goodness. We turned from God's good intent in creation, and this has led to all manner of ills, suffering, evil, and death — for us and for the created world, animate and inanimate, around us. In response, God both judges and redeems. It can’t be that God simply ignores or excuses our culpability for this mess. Repulsed by the ills and evils we engender, God judges and punishes, or at least allows judgment and punishment to result. This is a holy and just response, analogous to our judgment when people commit wrong and harm others. Yet it also is not the case that God simply judges and condemns. God acts throughout history — supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — to enter into our world, our lives, with good news and hope of salvation and transformation. (In this regard, we keep in mind in particular that “salvation” comes from a family of words meaning “healing,” as in our modern word “salve.”) This is God’s pity, mercy, grace, and love. This, I think, is God’s fundamental intent in our broken and pained world, as grace and love were God's fundamental intent in creation. I take great significance and comfort and hope in the clear New Testament focus that God, even in his just holiness, ultimately enters into our world and our lives to redeem and transform us through suffering love: a cross, not a sword. I don’t know quite how to square this with all of the biblical story: it has something to do with unfolding revelation and deeper and deeper entry into our world by God until the Word made flesh in Jesus, thus suffering love. But that only provides a large framework, not an answer to every question. I always tell people that doing theology (and living the life of faith) is not like doing long division without remainders. Doing theology, doing life itself: there are always remainders. Scripture doesn’t actually spend a lot of time trying to provide a systematic and comprehensive rationale for ills and evil, judgment and punishment, grace and redemption. To a large extent, these things are just assumed to be endemic to existence as created by God, messed up by us, and re-created with a fierce love in the death and resurrection of Jesus by that same God who turned toward us when we turned away from him. The questions then are these: who is God in all of this? What is God doing in all of this to overcome evil and death? What should we do in response to God and what he is doing? In other words, this is God’s story from creation to redemption to consummation. In and with God’s grace and love, how can we be changed from people messing it up to God’s people participating in and furthering God’s story?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Grammar of the Soul

The grammar of worship in the Book of Common Prayer, if put to use regularly, has power to invoke and voice the grammar of the soul in the praying community.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Kingdom Chronicles

Apparently the Vice President-elect on January 20, 2017, purposely will take the oath of office with his hand on a Bible open to 2 Chronicles 7:14. Yet this text cannot, if read properly in its original meaning, be applicable to the context of Christians in the United States, much less to the general population in this country. The United States is not, has never been, and never will become the land of God's people as Israel was the land of God's people at the time these words were written. The United States as a nation-state is not, never has been, and never will become the locus or vehicle of God's redemption of the earth and its people. Following Jesus, the church throughout the world (without identification with and reduction to any one people group or nation) is the locus and vehicle of God's redemption, for all the earth, for all people, with no most-favored nation status. We ill-construe and ill-serve the kingdom of God, our true citizenship, when we misrepresent Jesus and his cruciform re-creation of our world through such poor exegesis and application of God's Word.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Well-Being: Communal Right, Communal Responsibility

If we are social beings living in social matrices, which I think we are (which, as a follower of Jesus and hence a citizen of the kingdom of God, I believe I must think), few things are purely individualistic. While certain health care choices may be largely or even purely elective and thus matters of individual choice and ability to pay, basic well-being and the care to maintain that seem to me basic to being human. We may call this a "right to life." That is, once one is born (at least, and arguably, once one is conceived), which is not a matter of choice for the individual being born, it seems to me that one has a "right to life." That is, I didn't choose to be born, but once born, "life" within me impels my continued existence (unless stopped by lack, illness, defect, or another's wrongdoing), and eventually I mature and choose to live. That entails, where possible, the basic conditions to live, even to thrive (taken in a general sense of life which is more than pitiful struggle and suffering). If we do not have such a right and such means by virtue of being born and being human, is not that the stuff of oppression, tyranny, injustice, callousness? This is not and cannot be a purely individualistic matter. We are social beings, and we live in social matrices. The basic well-being of each of us is of communal concern: my well-being; yours; the stranger's down the street and in the next state. I for you; you for me; we for all. I note that few people, if any, in this conversation and in the Republican Party and in society at large would argue that basic public safety (whether from criminals or from political enemies in other countries) is fundamentally a matter of individual choice, responsibility, and ability to pay. I doubt that many in this conversation and at large would argue that the protection provided by the police and the military should be fundamentally a matter not of shared concern and cost (through social structures such as government and public taxes) but purely or largely a matter of personal choice depending on ability to pay, as well as ability to take care of oneself through training in martial skills and a regimen of physical exercise. (Woe to those too young, too ill, too handicapped, too old to defend themselves from criminals and enemies! But then, why be concerned about them too much, if it's a matter of individual choice, physical fitness, and economic sufficiency? If they can't take care of themselves at the threat of crime or war, why should I care as long as I can take care of myself?) If basic public physical safety is considered a "right," why is basic physical well-being not also a "right"? Better yet, as we are social beings, and some of us are Christian social beings, not so much a "right" as a shared responsibility based on a mutuality of care and cost, even, dare I say it, of love? I don't have children in the public school system anymore. I remain glad to pay taxes to support the public schools and children not my own. Certainly, I wish for greater efficiencies and economies in operations and costs in public services (libraries, schools, roads, police, etc.); certainly I wish all people to be as responsible as they can and should be in contributing to the maintenance of those services, and to be as responsible as they can and should be in the use of those services. By all means let's seek reform and improvement in health care. The Republican Party has not had and still does not have a plan to make this happen; it only has a plan to dismantle what has benefitted people and to return to health-care conditions that were ill-serving so many people. That won't make America great again, because with basic health care in America there is no "before" to be "again." Yet we can make America greater than it has been if we take the ACA and not blindly destroy it but collaboratively make it better: more affordable for all; more health services for all; more well-being for all for all who are human beings in this country.