Please Phone Responsibly

I was watching the World Cup Final with a friend on Sunday, and a commercial came on that was breathtaking in its cynicism. I wish I could find it online.

It involved some sort of smart-speaker set or other home-networking device that was supposed to make a family gathering so much more fun and enjoyable. At the end of the commercial, the family sits down to a huge dinner, and a young woman picks up her phone, then decides to put it face-down on the table and ‘interface’ with her family instead of her device.

Get it? You can make your life revolve around devices, and let them into your home and become an extension of yourself (or are you an extension of them)? But life is still all about family and you can say no whenever you want.

At least cigarette ads have the value of a Surgeon General’s Warning. This ad has the equivalent of ‘please drink responsibly’ at the end of a Captain Morgan ad, which The Onion skewered so completely years ago.

I guess I can dream about a day when all advertisements for electronic media devices and the devices themselves carry warning stickers from the Surgeon General. May be hazardous to your health. Has been proven to cause compulsive, anti-social, and depressive behavior. And, oh yes, it’s addictive and you won’t be able to stop.

 

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July 17, 2018 at 12:04 pm Leave a comment

Elections and Election

The Pastor’s Page from our recently published church newsletter:

PASTOR’S PAGE: Elections and Election

On Tuesday, November 8, Americans will elect a President for the next four years. In reflecting upon our election, it’s instructive to know the Bible and know the history of the ancient world.

First of all, no matter who wins, we can be very grateful for the process in which a President is chosen in our country. In ancient Israel and in other Near Eastern cultures, succession to the throne was often a matter of violence, sometimes a struggle between father and son (think David and Absalom, 2 Samuel 13-19) or between rival sons, generals, mothers and sons, etc. When a king came to power, he had no checks on his power, and he reigned until someone else killed him and took the throne, or he died and his son succeeded him.

It makes our system, no matter how flawed it may be, look extremely good. Our Presidents have checks on their power. They are in office for four years and may be re-elected only once. This, of course, was born out of the experience of Americans under King George III, but also, I believe, through a healthy skepticism of absolute power because all sovereignty belongs to God.

Although we are no longer a religious nation, I believe that it is part of our religious heritage that we have a system in which we live by a Constitution rather than an autocrat. In saying this, of course, I make no statements or assumptions regarding which party or candidate would better live by the Constitution. But I believe that our secular society has inherited this notion of limited, desacralized power precisely from a religious background.

Secondly, Christians are called to pray for whoever is to be our next President, no matter who it is. This may be hard for some of us, but St. Paul tells Timothy, ‘I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may live a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity’ (1 Timothy 2:1-2) Note carefully that Paul does not say that we are to pray ‘to’ the king, as was common in those days for the Romans to pray to the emperor, but ‘for’ the king, as an acknowledgment that God indeed is the sovereign over all sovereigns and sovereignties. Though the governing authorities may not acknowledge the rule of God, yet Christians do, and so they should offer prayer for the government, as we do at the weekly Eucharist.

Finally, the people of America elect a President, but God has elected a people to be his holy ones in the world. We, the baptized people of God, the body of Christ, living members of the Holy Church, anointed with the Spirit, are to be witnesses to his reign to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8). We do not identify the kingdom of God with the administration of a certain President, the rise of a certain majority in Congress, or with the accession of certain individuals to seats on our Supreme Court. Instead, we proclaim the advent of Jesus Christ as the kingdom of God in the midst of a broken and sinful world. God has made himself known in Jesus Christ and will continue to make himself known in the Church, and it is through him that we have true freedom (John 8:34-36).

Let us then go forward with confidence towards Election Day and beyond, trusting not in the powers of the world, but in him who won our freedom on the cross, defeating all evil powers, liberating us from fear and doubt, loosing us from our chains that we may serve him in this world.

 

November 8, 2016 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

What is the chief end of blog?

Thank you for those who encouraged me to keep writing. I probably wouldn’t be had I not received this encouragement, as my default level of self-criticism is off the chart.

Nevertheless, a friend had an interesting question for me – why am I talking about ‘conservatism’ at all?

‘What is the end of goal of defining “conservatism”? It seems to me that it is just a label, and a fairly constricting one at that. I am sure many would describe me as a liberal, but I am not interested in making decisions out of adherence to that definition, whatever it is. Our public policy is much too complex to assume that proper answer to all issues/decisions can be gleaned by asking: what is the conservative/liberal/moderate/libertarian choice? I favor an individualized and context-driven approach to decision-making. If someone wants to attempt to assign a label to my collective decisions/choices, so be it, but that is simply the result of my choices, not the motivation for them.’

It’s a good question, and perhaps it is a valid one from the point of policy. However, I am not a policy-maker. If I had wanted to be, perhaps I would have gotten into politics, but that ship has sailed. I have one vote. I have neither time nor energy to contribute much more, aside from the occasional letter to an elected official or an unasked-for Facebook share.

Perhaps I have simply identified whatever calls itself ‘conservative’ as good and ‘liberal’ as bad, and have tailored my taste in hopes, dreams, and preferred outcomes to that identification. I don’t think this is true.

Maybe you have to start with the label. I feel a disaffection with the label as it is understood through popular culture, a disconnect with it as it is currently defined by its political leaders, and yet asking, is there something good in the ‘concept’ at all? Was there a central reason to adopt a label as appropriate to myself, even when one was uncomfortable with many of its connotations?

I suppose that would be the end goal – to see what is worth ‘conserving’ in the word ‘conservative.’ How does the idea of ‘conserving’ culture lead to renewal of self and a contribution to anyone else? It is being asked not for the sake of policy, because that’s beyond me. It is asked for the sake of the question, how should I live?

November 2, 2016 at 12:07 pm Leave a comment

A renewal

During this insane election year, in which so many assumptions have been turned on their head, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be ‘conservative.’

Of course, I do not primarily identify with the term ‘conservative.’ I am a Christian. I believe that too many people use the term ‘Christian conservative’ in a way that puts politics first and religion second, so that the term ‘Christian’ modifies the word ‘conservative.’

Those who call themselves ‘liberal Christians’ believe they are doing something different, when in fact they are aping the Religious Right and identifying the values of whatever wing of the Democratic Party they happen to belong to with the Gospel. Neither approach is valid.

The Christian message cannot be boiled down to finding one’s own beliefs in Scripture and therefore validating the message of one’s heart or one’s party.

Having safely put myself above the fray, I can proceed to my question about what it means to think ‘conservatively.’

Conservatism does not equal ‘Republican,’ as the media wants us to believe. Why does the media want us to believe this? Because the media is in the business of selling stories, and stories work best (or at least are best in the time-frame the media has) with binaries. Therefore ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ has equaled ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat.’ (Liberals of the Bernie Sanders type understand that ‘liberal’ does not necessarily equal ‘Democrat.’)

Why then am I focusing on the idea of ‘conservatism’ rather than ‘Christian?’

  1. To sort out and discipline my own thoughts about what it means for me to think of myself as a conservative, and to think ‘conservatively.’
  2. To tease out the idea of both ‘Conservative’ and ‘Christian’ from being ‘Republican.’
  3. To think on what values, attitudes, and actions need ‘conserving’ in my own life, the life of the Church, and the life of the culture.

Finally, why me? And will anyone read this? Why should anyone care what I think? Is this just an exercise in pomposity, as some of my friends and family will have no doubt experienced?

My guess is that there is a frustrated public intellectual within me. And with the technology of blogging, I can exercise that frustration. But also there is a thought, or a question: Do I have something to say? And maybe this becomes an exercise in listening as well.

I guess we will find out the answer.

October 26, 2016 at 9:58 am Leave a comment

Bonhoeffer on stupidity (entire quote)

Taken from a circular letter, addressing many topics, written to three friends and co-workers in the conspiracy against Hitler, on the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s accession to the chancellorship of Germany.

‘Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings  at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

‘If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who lives in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

‘Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in must cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really thing are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

‘But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from people’s stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.’

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010.

 

May 11, 2016 at 10:23 am 2 comments

Reflections on Monday Daily Lectionary, Feast Day of St Athanasius

For the first two readings of today (Leviticus 25:35-55 and Colossians 1:9-14), the connecting thread is ‘liberty.’ God liberated his people from Egypt. They therefore are created for freedom. The Israelites are forbidden to lend to the poor at interest, but to take care of those in need. They may not buy each other as slaves, but must hire them, and they will be released at the Jubilee year. (An unsettling note to modern ears attuned to individual rights is that Israelites may buy people of foreign nations as slaves. But in a world of slavery, the notion that the rich could not buy the poor of their own nation as slaves would have been a major advance in the understanding of God’s will.)

The reading closes with the rules for ‘redeeming’ a slave; for buying the slave’s freedom. Here, the connection with Colossians is clear; for 1:14 says, ‘[The Father] has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’ One wonders as we use the word ‘Redeemer’ in referring to Jesus, whether we understand what that means. It cost Jesus his life to buy us back for God.

The people are created for freedom, but what is life in freedom? According to the last verse of our reading from Leviticus, life in freedom is a life of service to God. Slavery to work, to sin, keeps one from serving God. ‘For to me the people of Israel are servants, they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.’ (Lev. 25:55).

 

 

May 2, 2016 at 1:05 pm Leave a comment

Background on Readings, July 12 (Proper 10)

TEXTS: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

Our Gospel lesson today, the amazing story of the state murder of John the Baptist, deserves some background explanation. Herod Antipas (the Herod mentioned in today’s Gospel text) was one of the sons of Herod the Great, the infamous tyrant who ruled over Judea and Galilee as a puppet of the Romans at the time of Jesus’ birth. After the death of Herod the Great, the Romans split his territory between his surviving sons. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea; his brother Herod Philip over what is now southwest Syria, and Pontius Pilate was the Roman Procurator of Samaria, Idumea, and Judea, the area around Jerusalem.

palestemap

On a visit to Philip, Herod Antipas persuaded Herodias to divorce Philip and marry him; probably not because he ‘loved’ Herodias, but because he desired to show up his brother and to prove who was the most powerful of the sons of Herod the Great. Herodias finds her fulfillment as an object of the desire of a powerful man, and is enraged when John the Baptist proclaims that Herod has sinned by marrying his brother’s wife, which is forbidden by Torah (Lev. 18:16; 20:21). She wants John dead.

John is thrown into prison, but not executed, because Herod ‘likes to listen to him.’ The only way Herodias can have John put to death is if Herod is maneuvered into a position where he has no choice. In his rashness and desire to please his guests Herod promises the girl who performed at his party whatever she asks for (the phrase, ‘half my kingdom’ is probably an exaggeration, as when someone says, ‘ask for the moon.’) Herodias’s daughter takes her mother’s order to ask for the head of John literally. Though Herod is shocked by the girl’s request, he cannot take back his promise for fear of looking weak in front of his guests. Such weakness would undermine his position, just as John the Baptist’s criticism undermines Herodias’s. Ironically, Herod’s attempt to avoid looking weak proves his weakness.

John the Baptist Salome

John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, dies like them (and like Jesus his cousin) because his words threaten someone’s power. We see the same theme in the Old Testament reading, where the priest Amaziah wants to muzzle Amos, an itinerant prophet who is preaching against King Jeroboam of Israel. Amos says ‘he is no prophet,’ which seems confusing. What Amos means is that he is not a professional. His vocation is not a family tradition, passed down from father to son, but instead Amos has received a direct call from the LORD. Therefore, he’s not bound by geography nor by the ‘rules.’ He will say what God wants him to say, whatever the consequences.

The introduction of the letter to the Ephesian Christians is a recounting of the story of salvation. God has bestowed grace upon his people through the Beloved, and people receive redemption and forgiveness through his sacrifice on the cross. The apostles received the knowledge of this mystery, and the Ephesians have believed through their preaching, and have received the Holy Spirit, which is a pledge of the whole salvation which they will receive in the fullness of time.

July 9, 2015 at 4:23 pm

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