Archive for January, 2016

Declaring for Hillary

January 20, 2016

Although I will likely be disowned by my son, after carefully watching all the pre-Iowa-caucus debates and doing research on their platforms on their respective websites, I have decided to switch my support from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton. Mario Cuomo once famously said, “You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.”

Sanders certainly campaigns poetically. I cannot think of one of his positions with which I seriously disagree. I just do not believe that they are realistically attainable. For example, I would dearly love a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health care system in this country. But we do not live in a dictatorship or a monarchy. We live in a representative democracy and the votes are simply not there, likely even in a Democrat-controlled Congress to raise taxes and place the mandates on employers necessary to fund such a program.

Even with Bernie surging in the current polls, I do not believe he is electable nationally at the end of the day. There are those who say he would lose all fifty states in the general election. While it might not be that bad, I remember voting for George McGovern (another poetic liberal) in 1972, the results were almost as discouraging, and we got Nixon again.

Even if he were to somehow win the election, I do not believe Bernie could govern effectively. If we think we have seen gridlock under Barack Obama (and will surely see some under Hillary) I cannot imagine what it would be like with Republicans opposing everything proposed by a “democratic socialist.”

As for Hillary Clinton, there has never been a more-qualified candidate for this office — socially-conscious lawyer, eight years as First Lady, hard-working Senator from New York, Secretary of State. For those who do not ‘trust’ her, I suggest looking at her record; her positions have been remarkably consistent on human rights, the economy, and foreign policy for over forty years. For those who believe she is too cozy with Wall Street or too heavily influenced by big PACs, again I suggest looking at the overall record to see if she has caved in on her core principles because of such influence.

Electing the first woman President would be a huge plus as far as I am concerned and she is supported by some of the most impressive and influential women of our time — i.e. Madeline Albright, Marian Wright Edelman, etc. Obviously, I would support no one simply because of her gender (i.e. Sarah Palin, Carly Fiorina, Michelle Bachman to name a few). But, like Hillary, I am a “progressive who likes to get things done.” Clinton may not always campaign in poetry, but I believe she is certainly capable of governing in prose.

We must find ways to “reach across the aisle” in this country if we are to get anything meaningful done. The Obama legacy may not be all that many of us hoped for, but significant progress has been made on a number of fronts. I am quite happy to sign on to an Obama third term as some are describing a Clinton presidency.

So, next weekend I will be working the phones for Hillary and on February 1, I will caucus for her here in Iowa. Sanders may indeed win in both Iowa and New Hampshire. But I think that will be about it and with her support by women, African Americans, Hispanics, unions and a host of rank and file Americans, I expect that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and the one most likely, in the final analysis, because of organization, experience, and her basic message, to defeat whomever the GOP finally decides to send out there.

Obviously, I am a Democrat. I will happily support, and work for, whomever our Party finally decides upon. But, for now, I have decided to opt for prose over poetry and to work for the candidate I believe to be the most electable and the most qualified to serve.

That candidate is Hillary Clinton.

Wanted: Grown-Ups In The GOP

January 19, 2016

As almost always, conservative commentator David Brooks of the New York Times makes an extremely good point in his column today when he thinks it’s “Time for a Republican Conspiracy!” His point is that it’s time for GOP leaders (i.e. the “Establishment”) to get serious about forming “a grass-roots movement that stands for social conservatism.”

The reality is that”if A (Trump) and B (Cruz) savage each other then the benefits often go to candidate C. But there has to be a C, not a C, D, E, F, and G.” That is absolutely right and the sooner the Republicans realize that, the better it will be for the country. “What’s needed,” says Brooks, ” is a coalition that combines Huey Long, Charles Colson and Theodore Roosevelt: working-class populism, religious compassion, and institutional reform.”

Of the current field, that sounds like a blend of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Rand Paul. But no one of them fills the bill alone. Is there time for one of them to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest Brook’s column and make the necessary mid-course corrections? Would the Republican establishment rally to one of them if he did? Is there time for someone completely new to throw his/her hat in the ring?

I’m a Democrat and will not likely be supporting any Republican candidate this time around. But I am very concerned that, with the anger and rejection of “politics as usual” out there in the electorate, some wing-nut like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz might actually win the GOP nomination and perhaps even the Presidency.

Come on, Republican friends, give us a candidate who can not only conduct a civil and constructive debate with Hillary or Bernie, but could actually provide the kind of leadership that we need in this complex world of the 21st century.

Certainly, your two poll leaders today could not.

 

Do Not Repay Evil For Evil – King’s Legacy

January 18, 2016

As we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I want to focus especially on his commitment to non-violent resistance. I have often wished that the Palestinians had found a champion like Gandhi in India, King in the States, and Tutu in South Africa to lead them in a non-violent campaign against the Occupation and unjust policies of the government of Israel against them.

Naim Ateek and his organization, Sabeel, have tried to apply the principles of liberation theology and non-violence to the situation but, for some reason, it has never caught on with the vast majority of the Palestinian people. Is it because the situation is so much more difficult in Israel/Palestine than it was in India, the U.S., or South Africa? I cannot believe that it is.

Is it because Christian Palestinians are in the minority and non-violence does not find as much support in Islam as in Hinduism or Christianity? Possibly, yet the so-called “Golden Rule” has its place in the Qur’an as well and surely principles which have been imported from one religious tradition to another before (i.e. King studying Gandhi) could make a such a journey once again.

I believe the world (even people here in our country who are so largely “pro Israel” could see even more clearly the justice of the Palestinians’ cause if their witness could be carried out in a non-violent (but persistent and courageous) way.  Some of the most successful “revolutions” of our time have been accomplished, not at the barrel of a gun, but by brave and committed people being willing to risk injury, prison, or even death rather than to “repay evil for evil.”

May Dr. King’s spirit be revived today in all who seek an end to oppression and equal rights for all!

An Unexpected “Sign” of Unity

January 16, 2016

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) This last line of today’s Gospel story of Jesus changing water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana is more important than it seems at first. The Gospel of John never uses the word “miracle” to describe events like this in Jesus’ life. He always uses the code word, “signs.”

There are only seven such “signs” (what we usually call “miracle stories”) in John’s Gospel, beginning with this one and ending with the raising of Lazarus just before Jesus’ own death and resurrection. And the first few signs are actually numbered like this one: this is the first of his signs…this was the second sign that Jesus did…and so on.

This has led scholars to suspect that there was something called “The Book of Signs” which pre-dated John’s Gospel and which he used as a reference to tell his version of the story of Jesus. Whether or not such a book of signs ever existed (it’s never been discovered) it is absolutely the fact that John invariably uses the word “sign” to describe these mighty acts of Jesus.

And the thing about a sign is this: it has two levels of meaning, two levels of importance…one much greater than the other. A sign points to something. Take a stop sign, for example! A stop sign is real, it has substance, it really exists. But the importance of it is not its octagonal shape or its red color. The important thing about a stop sign is what it “signifies,” what it points to – you need to stop!!

It’s the same with this “first of Jesus’ signs, in Cana of Galilee.” The most important thing about it is not that Jesus (as my NT professor used to say) made 180 gallons of wine to keep the party going! The important thing is that the story describes Jesus changing 180 gallons of water intended “for the Jewish rites of purification” (2:6) into something which was described “good wine” (2:10), better than anything the guests had had before!

In other words, Jesus was in the process of transforming the Judaism of his day into something far more than it had ever been. Or, perhaps better said, Jesus was about attempting to renew Israel and call it back to what God had originally intended it to be…a light to the nations! At their best, the Jewish people had always known that they were God’s Chosen People, all right. But that they were chosen not for privilege but for mission!

And that mission was to reveal the One, True God to the whole world! Isaiah says as much in our First Lesson today: “The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.” (Isaiah 62:2) Notice: it’s the nations and the kings of earth that are to see Israel’s vindication and Israel’s glory. So that, they too will be called by a new name – God’s Chosen!

I’ve always considered Christianity to be, not so much a new religion, but (as St. Paul once described it) as a branch grafted onto the roots and trunk of Israel. We are, in a sense, a renewal movement of Judaism!

The Roman Catholic Church recognized that 50 years ago in a document from the Second Vatican Council where they said that the call of God to the Jews was “irrevocable,” could not be revoked, and that they would cease any targeted effort to “convert the Jews” to Christianity, but rather consider them as partners. The document also condemned anti-Semitism and the hatred and persecution of Jews.

Just a few weeks ago, a group of Orthodox rabbis responded in kind. In a statement entitled “To Do the Will of Our Father”, they said “We are no longer enemies, but unequivocal partners in articulating the essential moral values, for the sake and survival of humanity.” They even went further in saying that it was now their understanding that Christianity was “neither an accident nor an error…but is a gift to the nations.” Given the sometimes toxic history between Jews and Christians, a friend of mine – Dr. Eugene Korn – said, “this is unprecedented in Orthodoxy.

What all this really says to me is that none of us are chosen by God for privilege, rather we are chosen by God for mission, to serve Him. In this season of Epiphany, let’s remember that we are called to work alongside all people of good will to let the light of God’s love shine into all the world – by our words and actions, by our support of the Church as it seeks to witness to Christ in the world, by loving God and loving our neighbors (all people!) as we love ourselves.

Then, we – like those water jars at Cana – will be transformed into the wine of new life…to reveal God’s glory in all the world!

Dr. King and the Primates

January 15, 2016

Already much has been written about the recently-completed meeting of Anglican Primates in Canterbury, England.  Some consider it a success because the Anglican Communion avoided a schism; some regard it a failure because the Episcopal Church is likely to be sanctioned because of our approval of official marriage rites for same gender persons, thus (according to them) changing the church’s doctrine of marriage.

There is much hue and cry that the Primates’ meeting has no official right to take this kind of action, since it is not actually a legislative body at all but was originally intended (like the Lambeth Conference, really) to be a rather informal gathering for mutual prayer, study and support. Others, deeply offended and even hurt by the Primates’ decisions shared today officially in a communique, have suggested that we withdraw from the Communion or, at the very least, refuse to continue funding an organization which seems to find us something of an annoyance at the least and a pariah at the worst.

I certainly do not believe that we should withdraw from the Anglican Communion. We are still in communion with the See of Canterbury (which the breakaway groups, including the so-called Anglican Church in North America, are not) and we are still full members of the Anglican Consultative Council, the only official legislative body in the Communion which alone has the power to admit new provinces into the Communion. To my knowledge, there is no mechanism whatsoever for the expulsion of a Province.

Nor do I believe that we should withhold funds from support of the Communion. I have preached and taught for over forty years that good stewardship means giving freely, with no strings attached, and that it is wrong to try and influence decisions or punish those with whom we disagree in the church by threatening to renege on a pledge of support.

I agree with those who believe that the Episcopal Church has been prophetic in a number of the actions we have taken — liturgical revision, the ordination of women, and now the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons. Often, actions we have taken have taken the form of a kind of “civil (or ecclesiastical) disobedience” and any proponent of such a witness will tell you that it is not only expected, but absolutely necessary, to suffer the consequences of such actions. Only then, is the moral authority actually demonstrated.

While painful to say the least (as were the jail cells of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King) the pain can be endured if we are certain of the rightness of our cause and that the ultimate victory will be ours (or, in this case, God’s!). Both Dr. King and Archbishop Desmond Tutu had that kind of confidence…and so should we.

Two quotes from Dr. King (whose day we celebrate today…or on Monday) have provided me with a deep sense of peace in all this. I have used them both before in this very discussion of the Primates’ meeting and its results. I share them again with you, hoping for that same peace:

Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

And

The arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

 

In other words, we should bless those who persecute us, bless not curse. And, although it may take a very long time, one day…in God’s good time…we will…all of us…be one.

 

Visiting Dad (age 94)

January 14, 2016

Pretty amazing guy, actually. Born in the deep South, had a pony as a kid, got his pilot’s license as a teenager in the 1930s, cadet colonel at Clemson (when it was still an A and M military school), B-24 bomber pilot in WW II, married to his high school sweetheart (both of whom had the same birthday on August 12, one year apart).

He was an architect and later a banker, amateur hobbyist, boatman (power boats, mostly in the Inter-Coastal Waterway in Florida), retired now for more years than he actually was in the work force — because he’s 94.

Nowadays, he lives in a retirement community (but independently), still drives a car (only around town and in the daytime, tested every year), in church at St. Mary’s Episcopal every Sunday at 8:30 am, plays bingo on Saturday nights, does a little stretch and flex exercise once or twice a week, goes out with the guys in the “lunch bunch” every week too.

Desperately misses his beloved Maggie, married for more than 70 years…but he gets on with life every day. Demonstrating the same courage with which he led his flight crew four decades ago.

“The Greatest Generation.” How we throw that phrase around so easily.

They really were/are “great.”

What a debt we owe them.

I love you, Dad.

Unarmed Truth and Unconditional Love

January 13, 2016

I wrote yesterday that I hope the Primates of the Anglican Communion can find a way to model for us a way to disagree, but still to be bound together in love. Actually to learn from one another as we remain in dialogue for the sake of finding a deeper truth, a deeper unity.

Last night the President of the United States said, in his final State of the Union address: “Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention.”

And so once again we see how religion and politics are so closely linked. Both the Anglican Communion and the United States of America (and other countries as well) are faced with the challenge of holding together diverse opinions in a single whole. To form “a more perfect union,” to know that we are “one body with many members.”

My fervent hope is that both the church and the nation(s) can find a way forward in this way. The reason for my hope? That both the church and the world are “under God” and that one more citation by the President is profoundly true: “I believe with all my heart that…”unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

 

Not One In View, But One In Heart (#Primates 2016)

January 12, 2016

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has delivered a fine address to open what many expect to be a contentious meeting of Anglican Primates (Archbishops) meeting this week in England. After an honest recounting of the successes and failures of the Anglican Communion throughout its history and the practical reasons for the Communion to find a way to stay together in mission in spite of our many differences, Welby’s main point can be summarized perhaps in this one sentence, “There has never been a time when the church was one in view, but it has often been one in heart.”

I believe that is profoundly true and so important for us to model in our time. At its best, the church can be a sign, an icon of just how it is possible for love to bind us together even when we disagree strongly on important matters. Welby also says, “The idea is often put forward that truth and unity are in conflict, or in tension. That is not true. Disunity presents to the world an untrue image of Jesus Christ. Lack of truth corrodes and destroys unity.”

I disagree partly with this. I believe that truth and unity can indeed be, and often are, in tension. But they need not ultimately be a matter of conflict. It is only when we stay together, in dialogue, in communion, in mutuality that we can find our way to a deeper unity precisely as we learn from each other and “bear with one another in love.” When we walk away from one another we lose the opportunity to forge a greater and deeper unity based on the truth we can discover together.

Let us hope that the leaders of the various Provinces of our Anglican Communion can find a way to model that way of being together this week. Not just for the sake of the church. But for the sake of the world.

Sand In My Shoes

January 11, 2016

Sand in my shoes. That’s an old phrase used by (old) Floridians. In a sentence it would sound like this: “I’ve been gone from Florida for years now, but I guess I still have sand in my shoes.” It’s a loving way of saying that living in this beautiful, ravished, tacky, diverse, corrupt and surprising state leaves something indelible in one’s soul.

I have now lived outside of Florida (39 years) more than I ever lived in the state (30 years). But I grew up here from age nine until age forty-two (interrupted only by three years in Illinois for seminary). I swam and sailed in her ocean, gulf, and lakes; rode horses through her tangled scrub; and feasted on her succulent citrus. I also married my high school sweetheart, graduated from the major state university (the University of Florida!), was called to the priesthood, and served five congregations before being elected Bishop of Iowa and moving to the Midwest.

I don’t think I would ever want to move back here to live permanently. I actually fell in love with the state of Iowa and her people, enough so to plead guilty to the charge of insanity by choosing to retire there rather than Florida when I left my post on the staff of our Church Center in New York in 2009.

But it is painful to return to my self-designated “home state” of Florida and see what greed and over-development, environmental insensitivity and (I said it before) corruption have done to this land of my formation. Read Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen for more on this.

Yet, when I drive or fly back into the sunshine state and see her swaying palms and their luscious intermingling with live oaks (complete with Spanish moss) and azaleas, stand beside the pounding surf, and breathe in the moist tropical breezes, I know that — for better or for worse — I am “home.”  Because, I guess,

I have sand in my shoes.

You are precious…You are mine.

January 9, 2016

An excerpt from my “gospel novel,” John Mark (available on Amazon) as we remember the Baptism of Christ, this Sunday:

“As the waters of the Jordan closed in over his face, he felt that part of him was dying and being buried in that green water. But as John brought him up through the river’s surface it was as if the waters above the firmament as well as the waters below, were torn apart.

It was as if that spirit which had once swept over the face of the primal waters now resided upon and within him. From deep within, or from somewhere far away, he sensed a kinship, a oneness with the source of that spirit, the kind of convergence which says,

‘You are part of all this…your are one with all this…you have a special role to play in all this…You are precious…You are mine.'” (John Mark, page 13)