Archive for January, 2016

Local Paper Endorses Sanders and Kasich

January 31, 2016

Our local, Lee Enterprises owned, newspaper the Quad City Times this morning endorsed Bernie Sanders and John Kasich as their choice for the Democratic and Republican candidates for President. It’s not a great paper and I only read it because of the local coverage, but I think the choices are interesting. Here’s how they explain them:

“Americans are tired of the hollow rhetoric. They’re tired of two parties that, in a lot of ways, mirror each other. Any Democrat looking for a clear choice in the general election should caucus Monday for Bernie Sanders…If the Democratic Party is to move forward, it must abandon its compromised policy and differentiate itself come November. Only Sanders can accomplish that goal.”

“John Kasich is the poster-child for all thinking Republicans left behind by a party over-run by an irrational, seething fringe. The Ohio governor is the antithesis of the shrill, bigoted screaming heads dominating the Republican Party field. He should carry the GOP standard heading into November’s presidential election, if re-injecting reason into GOP rhetoric is of any concern.”

While I prefer Secretary Clinton over Senator Sanders as a Democrat, I certainly understand the appeal of Sanders’ consistent record, clear voice for income equality, and the need for a clear choice. I am also mindful of how many young people have been drawn into the process (as happened with Barack Obama) and how disappointed — perhaps even disillusioned — many of them will be if he does not win the nomination. I still think Hillary is the best prepared person in history to be President, but I absolutely get Bernie’s appeal.

I really hope the Times’ endorsement of John Kasic can move the needle a bit for him. Iowa has a long and laudable history of a kind of “progressive Republicanism” which has all but vanished in today’s GOP. Kasich is no Jim Leech or Maggie Tinsman (fine Iowa Republican legislators in Washington and Des Moines, respectively, in the recent past) but as the Times’ article points out, he is in many ways, “…a model Republican.He’s a thoughtful, pragmatic workhorse, who’s disinterested in mounting divisive social battles that reduce people to political fodder…(and is)…one of the few Republicans in the race who honestly believes in big-tent conservatism.”

Well, we’ll see. Tomorrow the first real “votes” in the nation will be cast here in the Iowa caucuses. Can’t wait to participate…and to see the results!

Hillary and John Wesley

January 30, 2016

Worked an event for Hillary and Bill Clinton last night here in Davenport. I was responsible for seating people in the ADA section so that physically-challenged folks could hear, and at least partially, see this famous couple. And, I’ll be on the phones all weekend and on Monday right up until caucus time to try and get out the vote.

Bill was his usual charming, winsome self describing falling in love with Hillary, the amazing accomplishments she had as a young lawyer, working for the Children’s Defense Fund and to combat segregationist academies throughout the south, long before she ever became First Lady, a Senator from New York, or Secretary of State. He said, “She makes everything she touches better.”

Of course, if you dislike and distrust Hillary Clinton, you will continue to believe that her e-mails reveal that she was, perhaps, a spy releasing classified information to damage the United States. And, that she was personally responsible for the tragic death of  Ambassador Chris Stevens (and the others) in Benghazi. Some protesters across the street from our venue obviously believe that as they lowered a banner reading, “Hillary Lied, Americans Died.” And, you will continue to believe that she is hopelessly compromised by her Wall Street donations.

If you like and trust Hillary Clinton (as I do) you will continue to believe that, however, mistaken she was to use a private e-mail server while Secretary of State, virtually all of the microscopic percentage now marked “classified” were done so long after she sent them (hindsight being 20/20) and that in any case no real harm was done. You can bet she learned from that experience.  It will not happen again!

And, I believe that her personal culpability in Benghazi consisted primarily in being Secretary of State while the kind of tragic event occurred which has happened before, and will happen again, in the dangerous world of international diplomacy. Finally, I believe her when she says she will go after Wall Street excesses using existing laws (and working for new ones, if necessary)  but be realistic to know that not all “Wall Street bankers” are either billionaires or thieves and that the stock market, for better or worse, is an integral part of the U.S. (and world) economy and that it is likely best for a candidate for President not alienate the entire system before even taking office. If you want to get things done and not just posture.

As he introduced her last night, Bill Clinton said that Hillary’s values were formed in that “little Methodist church” she attended and that she was motivated in part by the famous quote often ascribed to Methodist founder, John Wesley, about “doing as much good as you can, for as many people as you can, for as long as you can.” I believe that to be her motivation and her life story makes that clear, if people only knew it in its entirety. That’s why I support her.


Alone In The Universe?

January 29, 2016

It was easy to see the five planets visible in the southern sky around 6:30 while walking Sammie, our Golden Retriever this morning. I understand they are Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. I’ve been fascinated by astronomy and cosmology ever since growing up in Florida, within site of Cape Canaveral and surrounded by enthusiasm for the “space race” in the 1960’s.

My favorite elementary school teacher, Adelaide Davis, and her husband Orville (who was later my high school principle), took a special interest in me and a buddy, Bryan Morris, because we were both “science nerds” and good students. They even took us with them to some meetings of “The Astronomers’ Club” to which they belonged in Orlando.

We spent a number of happy evenings looking through their sophisticated, though amateur-grade, telescopes, peering into the night sky and asking endless questions about what we were seeing. One Christmas I received a “Moonscope” which was an inexpensive, reflective telescope which at least allowed clear visibility of the moon’s surface and the sense that its rugged surface and deep craters were within easy reach.

It is, of course, clear that no “life” as we understand it is present on those five easily visible planets I saw this morning. Equally clear that no such life exists in our solar system. In fact, we seem to have found no real indications of any in our galaxy. I often wonder if we are indeed “alone in the universe.” Of course, given the vastness “of interstellar space” and the possibility that there are even multiple universes, the chances seem quite small.

It would prove no challenge to my faith if we were discover other forms of life, even other religious systems “they” might have developed to understand their place in the universe. But, if indeed, we earthlings are indeed alone in the universe, I would not find that troubling either.

In fact, I would find it…awesome!

All this…and just us?


Remembering The Challenger

January 28, 2016

I shall never forget the day of January 28, 1986. A unique team of astronauts was scheduled to launch into space from the Kennedy Space Center, just north of where St. Mark’s was located and on the north end of Merritt Island where the Epting family now made its home. Launches of the Space Shuttle had not, at that time, become the routine occurrences they were in later years and this one was especially anticipated because one of the astronaut team was a woman named Christa McAuliffe who had been a teacher and special broadcasts were to be made by her from space. Students all over the country were looking forward to following this adventure.

The headmistress of St. Mark’s Episcopal School had decided to send several elementary classes on a field trip to witness this historic occasion since we were so close to KSC and many of the parents and parishioners at St. Mark’s worked at Cape Canaveral and for NASA. It was a fateful decision.

Even though we, as Central Floridians, were completely accustomed to space launches, because our kids were to be on site for this particular one, my secretary Judy McCabe and I had the radio on in the church office so we would know the exact moment of the launch and could step outside and watch the white contrail against the blue sky which was always such a beautiful sight.

As soon as the countdown began, we did indeed go outside with students and faculty who had remained on campus that day onto the playground and gazed across the Indian River to look for the blast-off.  Having seen many before, it did not take any of the adults long to realize that something had gone terribly wrong. There was a huge flash and then multiple contrails began spiraling, not upward toward the heavens, but back to earth.

Some thought it was simply the first stage of the rocket that was blasting away. But I instinctively knew differently and Judy and I rushed back in to hear the tragic news that it appeared the Challenger Space Shuttle had blown up before our very eyes. “Maybe they’ll be able to rescue them at sea,” Judy said with tears in her eyes. But I think we both knew that there would be no survivors from that horrific explosion.

The next consideration was how to tell the students, both those who had witnessed the accident with us from the playground and more importantly those classes who had been on site at the space center.  We hastily arranged for a school assembly in the church and, when the teachers and students returned we held a brief, kid-appropriate kind of memorial service during which I spoke of how astronauts are heroes and how, throughout the ages, pioneers and explorers have been such heroes who have taken risks to expand our horizons and open up new vistas for the future.

After an early dismissal so that students could be with their families on this terrifying day, the telephone started ringing. These calls were from the press who wanted to know if we were going to have any kind of public service that day to acknowledge the fallen. It dawned on me that it was Tuesday and that we had a regularly scheduled midweek Eucharist at 5:30 p.m. every Tuesday at St. Mark’s. When I acknowledged that fact and said that we would be offering special prayers for the victims and their families, every major television network wanted to send cameras and a film crew.

Initially, I said a firm “No” feeling that numbers of our people might show up at the service since many worked at the Cape and our whole community knew so many people who would have been involved. Finally, a local reporter for ABC news said, “But, Father, so many people are trying to process this! Surely it would be helpful for the wider community to know that at least one church was responding quickly to this tragedy.”

I was actually embarrassed that it took a member of the press to remind me of my Christian duty in this regard and eventually worked out a plan for one stationary camera to be in the back of the church and that no one could be approached, on church property, for impromptu “interviews” which might catch people off guard. I doubt if that deal could be struck today, but in 1986 the press still had some respect for the feelings of grieving human beings and they stuck to the terms of our agreement scrupulously.

Across the country that evening on network news was a tastefully done piece, showing only a visual of me preaching a brief homily, and later administering Holy Communion to a grieving crowd. Emblazoned on my memory to this day was sitting in our small chapel, cradling a young woman who worked at the space center and whose job it had been that day to be among those present with the stunned and grieving families of those astronauts as they awaited confirmation of what they all new to be true – that there would be no survivors of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

But I was proud of the way St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and School had played a small role in the healing process. It was testimony to just how important a Christian community could be, not only for its own members, but for the wider populace as well.




The “Hardest” Job in the World

January 27, 2016

“My” candidate for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, often says that the presidency is “the hardest job in the world.” News flash. It is not the hardest job in the world. It is a hard job; no question. But it is not the “hardest” job.  Among the hardest jobs in the world, I would list (in no particular order):

“Doctors Without Borders” working in plague-ridden and war-torn parts of the world…

Coal miners who descend to the lowest parts of the earth, in danger every, single day…

Inner city high school teachers who are expected to be surrogate parents, counselors, role models, and enforcement officers all rolled into one…

Farmers who work 24/7 and are at the mercy of nature’s cycles and whose crops are worth less, the more they grow…

Emergency room nurses who may work swing shifts, for very little money, and must be prepared on a moment’s notice to confront traumatic injury, pain and sudden death…

Construction and power company workers who may be called out at any hour of the day or night in freezing weather or burning heat to repair roads and downed electric lines…

Air traffic controllers on duty in some of the busiest airports in the world and who daily have thousands of lives depending on their skill and judgment…

Almost any single mom who must balance work, parenting, and life itself often making the kind of minimum wage which means that a blown tire can mean the difference between affording dinner and paying the water bill…

And I could go on and on…

The Presidency of the United States?

A hard job.

Not the hardest.


Hybrids and Ethanol

January 26, 2016

According to today’s New York Times, “Barely a month after world leaders signed a sweeping agreement to reduce carbon emissions, the global commitment to renewable energy sources faces its first big test as the price of oil collapses. Buoyed by low gas prices, Americans are largely eschewing electric cars in favor of lower-mileage trucks and sport utility vehicles.”

Well, if you look around, it may be possible to do two things at once. We just bought a 2016 Toyota RAV 4 Hybrid which drives like a dream and gets around 40 mpg on average. This is not a commercial, there are a number of such vehicles on the market. They give you the hauling space you need without guzzling undue amounts of fossil fuel.

I will never forget buying my first hybrid automobile after watching Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” on a long, cross-country flight in the 1990s. It was not that I was unaware of, or unconcerned about, climate change and humankind’s “contributions” toward making it worse before seeing that film. But it simply made the argument in such a cogent and compelling way that I really did begin to make changes in my energy lifestyle after that.

Of course, as Iowans, we also are supporters and users of ethanol. I am not unaware of the debate about its effectiveness, on balance, but until something better comes along (and since most of our Iowa corn feeds cattle not people, directly…and we shouldn’t be eating so much beef anyway!) I feel good about continuing to use ethanol.

So, even though the global warming problem will not be solved by individuals conserving energy, but by real commitments by governments and industry, driving our hybrid on ethanol at least makes a small contribution — and keeps us aware of, and working on, the problem.

Piccolos and Pot?

January 25, 2016

Watched “Mozart in the Jungle” from Amazon last night for the first time (I’m always a little behind on these things). Pretty raw — which always raises the questions about whether film, TV, art, really should be more aspirational or depict life as it “really” is.  I tend to lean toward the latter while freely admitting that particularly gratuitous instances of profanity or violence still sets my teeth on edge. A Huffington Post review of this ten-session, half hour comedic series says this:

The only people who were surprised by the Golden Globe wins for the Amazon series “Mozart in the Jungle” and its star, Gael García Bernal, were those who have not watched the steamy, sharp, and witty show about sex, drugs, and symphonic music. Oboist Blair Tindall wrote the book and is a consultant on the series, which is likely to have a third season.

I did not grow up listening to classical music. It was just not part of our home life — more popular music, big bands, and Broadway scores were what surrounded me as I remember it, before I discovered rock and roll and, later, folk music. Where I was exposed to some of the classics was in the Episcopal church we attended which had a fine organist, choir and music director and drew from the local liberal arts college for talent.

My first exposure to the literature of genuine classical music was in a humanities class at the University of Florida, presided over by a fascinating German professor, Dr. Graeffe. I was blown away! The blend of instrumentation, the harmonies, the various symphonic movements and piano and violin concertos filled not only my mind but my soul…and still can do.

It is a sadness for me that younger people, by and large, do not seem to appreciate such music. Here in Iowa, fortunately, many of our fine colleges and universities still offer opportunities for participation in choirs and orchestras. But, nation-wide, I am afraid fewer and fewer young people are being exposed to, and therefore, appreciate fine music.

I wonder if a show like “Mozart in the Jungle” which depicts young, and not so young, musicians who are “real” people, wrestling with real problems and participating in most of the naughty “sins” du jour that so many other young people are exposed to might serve to “humanize” classical music and invite some of them to give it a listen.

Maybe that’s too lofty a goal for what is essentially a comedy series. At least I can hope.

And, in any case, the characters are well drawn, the plots engaging, the street scenes in New York make me miss the Big Apple where we lived for nine years…

And the music is — Fantastic!


Hard Hats For Hillary

January 24, 2016

Attended a labor union-sponsored rally for Hillary Clinton today in Davenport, Iowa. Two stories: Out of the rough-hewn crowd of carpenters, pipe-fitters and plumbers, teachers and health care workers, one of their elected leaders stood up to testify to the fact that, when his son lost his right eye and right thumb in a IED attack in Afghanistan, Senator Tom Harkin said he could not help in getting him home for surgery, but he knew who could.

A call to Hillary Clinton got the boy home in 48 hours. He is now self-employed, had his surgery in Texas, and is doing well. More to the point: Secretary Clinton spoke of a man she met on the campaign trail recently who had two daughters with cystic fibrosis. He told her that he had tried everywhere, but could not get health insurance for them. She said, “Have you really tried everywhere?” He said, “Yes, and the last insurance agent told me ‘We don’t insure burning buildings.’ Looking up with tears in his eyes, he said, “They told me my daughters were burning buildings!

Today, because of Obama-care, they are insured. There is no longer any exclusion for pre-existing conditions. It is illegal.

If we have achieved 90% of our journey toward universal health care, Hillary said, Why in the world would we want to risk those gains by opening up the debate all over again in the search for a single-payer system rather than building on Obama-care to approach the goal of truly universal health care coverage.

Surely it is better, she said, to close a ten per cent gap than to start all over again and risk throwing the whole thing back to the private insurance companies.

Good point.

As You Prepare To March…

January 22, 2016

“As you prepare to march, ” Dr. Martin Luther King once wrote, “meditate on the life and teaching of Jesus.” This was the title of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon as he kicked off the national conference on race at this year’s Trinity Institute in New York last night.

This annual meeting was once known as a kind of national “clergy conference” for The Episcopal Church, held at the historic Trinity Church, Wall Street. For years now, it has morphed into a nation-wide gathering with streaming down-links in Episcopal churches all across the country.

The 2016 theme is “Listen…For a Change” and is bringing together as speakers… writers, professors, activists and clergy to challenge the church to go even deeper in addressing the sin of racism, this nation’s “original sin.” Topics will include:

What is Race, Anyway?

A People’s History of Race

Soul Searching in a Culture of Control

Listen for a Change

What we can do together

In Michael Curry’s opening sermon he sought, as he always does, to make sure we remember that we are in this fight, not just as social workers and activists, but as followers of what he likes to call “the Jesus Movement.” And so, the citation of Dr. King’s number one “rule of life” imparted to his followers — “As you prepare to march, meditate on the life and teaching of Jesus.”

My guess is, that was an important point to make when addressed by King to his band of civil rights campaigners. If they were to carry out his non-violent approach, they would need to remind themselves of, and be deeply grounded in, “the life and teaching of Jesus.” It was from that life and those teachings that they would draw their extraordinary courage and strength.

Another guess is, Episcopalians at this conference are pretty good at “meditating on the life and teaching of Jesus.”

My question is, are we prepared…to march?

What Kind Of Unity Do We Seek?

January 21, 2016

We are, ironically perhaps, in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Every year from January 18 (the feast of the Confession of Peter) to January 25 (the feast of the Conversion of Paul) Christians around the world are asked to pray for the unity of the church. Historically this observance has had as its intention the reunion of the various separated branches of the church — Catholics with the Orthodox, Anglican with Lutherans, Presbyterians with other Reformed churches, etc.

However, today it must be said that divisions within the churches are more troubling (and seemingly more intractable) than divisions between the churches. Witness the recent meeting of Anglican Primates which called for The Episcopal Church to suffer the “consequences” of our recent move toward marriage equality within the church as well as within the state. Or, the more subtle (but perhaps more worrying) moves by conservative Roman Catholics to sabotage Pope Francis’ progressive agenda, or evangelicals split over everything from immigration to women’s equality.

I have worked for the unity of the church for most of my adult life — as a parish priest, as a diocesan bishop, as our presiding bishop’s deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations. I have sought to do this under the banner of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel according to John (from which the title of this web log is taken):

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20)

A recent commentary on the Fourth Gospel suggests that Jesus’ prayer was not intended for some kind of institutional unity (since it is unlikely that he came to establish a church anyway, but to renew the Judaism of his day) but rather for a kind of mystical oneness with God. With all the language of “mutual indwelling” in this chapter (“I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one…” 17:23), the author may have a point.

Certainly, the main point of Christianity (and all religions, in one way  or another) is that we may be “at one” with God. At its best, that’s what the word “atonement” means — at-one-ment. And Pope Francis has reminded us this week that the closer we draw to God, the closer we will draw to one another.

So, as I grow older I must admit that I am no longer as concerned about, or even interested in, what Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold once called “ecclesiastical joinery.” I am interested in exploring what it means to be “one with God” and, as I live into that reality, to find that I am increasingly “one” with every other human being, every other creature, every other precious part of the created order.

For, as Paul is reported to have preached in Athens, “In (God) we live and move and have our being, as some of your own poets have said.” (Acts 17:28)