Archive for April, 2016

Right To Drugs Or Right To Die?

April 30, 2016

Whether or not it proves to be the case that Prince’s death was caused by an overdose of painkillers (like Michael Jackson’s) the problems we have in this country with opioids is massive. It’s a very different, and in someways a more complicated, problem than other kinds of drug addiction like heroin or cocaine. These drugs are often prescribed by doctors and the user becomes addicted slowly while trying to manage the symptoms of real and chronic pain.

We simply have to get on top of this issue because, as more and more of us live longer and longer, more and more families are going to be confronted with the need for so-called palliative care. Failing that, increasing numbers of people are going to join voices as different as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and talk show host, Diane Rehm, who are calling for legislation commonly called “the right to die.” In other words, physician assisted suicide.

I am conflicted personally about that approach. My church, and most others, continues to speak against this kind of suicide, pointing to the value to human life to the very end and to the slippery slope which could lead to elders being taking advantage of by relatives all too happy to speed us on our way. Invariably, they point to such things as hospice care and palliative care (including opioids and other pain killing drugs)as doing away with the need for anyone to suffer unrelenting pain and agony in their last stages of life.

That, however, is easier stated than demonstrated in practice. My wife and I walked with her mother during the last years and months of a painfully degenerative illness which led to her increasing use of oxycodone and other such medications.  At the end, they barely touched her pain and, like Diane Rehm’s late husband, she eventually stopped eating and drinking, we are convinced, in order to hasten her own demise and end the suffering she had to endure for all too long.

For, in order to avoid tragedies like Prince’s, doctors are often extremely careful about how much pain killing medication they are willing to prescribe. The pollyanna view that “no one need die in pain anymore” is simply false.

If, holier than thou religious types wish to pontificate about refusing to support physician assisted suicide, perhaps they had better spend more time at the bedsides and in the homes of, especially, the poor who do indeed continue to die in pain and who wish nothing more than to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who, at the last, “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30c)

Was Jesus An Anti Semite?

April 29, 2016

The following is a Letter to the Editor I submitted to the Quad City Times today in response to a  vitriolic Op Ed piece in support of the Iowa legislature’s recent decision not to support the BDS movement:

Was Jesus An Anti-Semite?

While I too oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against companies doing business in Israel, I completely reject Denise Bubeck’s April 29 op ed piece which describes BDS as “virulently anti-Semitic and call(ing) for the destruction of Israel.” The BDS movement is, rather, a means of peaceful, non-violent resistance to an Israeli government which consistently violates the human rights of Palestinians, ignoring their biblical mandate to care for the stranger and sojourner in the land.

This movement, analogous to the successful protest actions against South Africa which eventually helped to bring down apartheid, is backed by many whom I know personally to love Israel (as Jesus did) but who are willing to criticize her when she falls short of her own noble aspirations as a people (which Jesus also did). Brubeck’s charge of anti-Semitism is typical of those who define any disagreement or opposition to the Israeli government as anti-Semitic. Was Jesus an anti-Semite?

Having said all that, I reiterate that I oppose BDS and do not believe it is a successful strategy, even while having some sympathy with those who, out of frustration and compassion for the Palestinian people, support it. If you too are concerned about the Israel/Palestine issue and want to do something constructive, why not join me as a member of “J Street,” a Washington based pro-Israel, pro peace lobby seeking justice as well as peace in the land of the Holy One. Go to to see more.



Maybe If We Just Shake Things Up, Things Will Get Better

April 27, 2016

“Maybe if we just shake things up, things will get better.” I heard a Trump supporter say that this morning in an interview on NPR. I think there a lot of “Trumpites” who feel that way. And, quite frankly, there are a lot of Bernie Sanders’ voters who would agree with that sentiment.

I can understand how, say, an unemployed or underemployed blue collar worker who just can’t seem to get ahead no matter how hard she or he works might come to that conclusion. And I can understand how a college student, or recent graduate, disillusioned by Barack Obama’s seeming inability to find common ground with Congress to move forward a progressive agenda on raising the minimum wage or reforming the immigration system or getting corporate money out of politics might feel the same way.

And so, “maybe if we just shake things up, things will get better.” Or not. Maybe if we shake things up, things will get worse.

What will happen when Donald Trump cuts taxes but, in order to strengthen what is already the finest and strongest military in the world, increases the Pentagon budget? A George W. Bush style recession, that’s what. What happens when the wall gets built (whether or not Mexico pays for it), when we resume or even increase the levels of torture used against detainees, when we renege on international trade deals and cut back on regulations designed to combat global warming? The United States will become the laughing-stock of the world…and especially of our allies, that’s what.

What will happen when Bernie Sanders tries, and fails, to get a single-payer health care system in this country? The gains made by so-called Obama care will be forfeited as a contentious debate about health care opens all over again, that’s what. What happens when college is deemed free, but the tax cuts on the upper, upper class proposed to pay for it, does not find sufficient votes to pass? A crisis in higher education, that’s what. And just how will those “big banks” get broken up, Bernie? We still haven’t heard.

I could go on and on, but these few examples may serve to illustrate my point. “Maybe if we just shake things up, things will get better?”

Or maybe they will get much, much…worse.



Remembering Mark

April 25, 2016

Lots to think about on this St. Mark’s Day (April 25): The last parish I loved and served before being elected Bishop of Iowa was St. Mark’s Church and School in Cocoa, Florida. Yesterday, I was honored to make an episcopal visitation to St. Mark’s Church in Glen Ellyn IL in the Diocese of Chicago where we had two baptisms, twenty-eight confirmations, and one reception. And, I am remembering writing my first book John Mark (still available on Amazon!).

The liner notes for what my publisher described as a “gospel novel,” read this way: “What would it be like if you could meet one of the authors of the New Testament? In his novel…Christopher Epting gives us that chance. His story is the first gospel ever written, the Gospel of Mark, but told through the eyes, the experiences, the vision of the person who wrote it.”

“In this beautifully narrated version of the life and ministry of Jesus we are invited into the story in an intimate and immediate way. We are given the rare opportunity to walk beside the figures of the Bible, not as icons from the distant past, but as real people, as people we have known and loved, as friends. John Mark is an extraordinary journey, shared by an extraordinary person, the first person ever to write the life of Jesus.”

This little book came to life as a kind of extended “Ignatian meditation” on the first gospel after my first trip to the Holy Land. It marinated in my mind and heart for years, was written over time, and put in final form only after my “first retirement” in 2010. I have always loved the fast-paced, urgent, almost outline account of Jesus’ life and tried to re-capture that by imagining myself as the supposed-author, John Mark. It was fun to write and, some say, fun to read.

Give it a try!




What Was Jesus’ Scariest Commandment?

April 23, 2016

I think in many ways Jesus gives us one of his scariest commandments on the Fifth Sunday of Easter! He says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).

Well, you say, why should that be so scary? Sounds like a simple command to me – love one another.  Of course we should do that!  Yet, it may not be as simple as it sounds when first we hear it.  For one thing, Jesus does not simply say: “Love one another,” does he? He says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

And just how did Jesus love his disciples? Well, he left his home and family in order to prepare himself to give his entire energy and attention to teaching and forming those disciples into the kind of community which could carry on God’s mission when Jesus’ earthly work was done.

He spent three tough years traveling about Galilee and Judea, living on the generosity of strangers, putting himself in jeopardy time and time again by hanging around with people who were unacceptable to “polite society,” teaching a dangerous message about the kingdom of God and, in the process, alienating both the religious establishment and the political “powers that be” because they were so threatened by that message.

Jesus concluded that public ministry by marching into the teeth of the opposition in the holy city of Jerusalem, fully aware that there was a plot against his life and that such public preaching would likely lead to his arrest, “trial”, and execution. And that those twelve disciples he had so carefully and lovingly nurtured would probably cave in and desert him when the going got rough, leaving him a spectacle of failure in the eyes of most people.

That’s how much Jesus loved his disciples! Enough to give himself totally to them, make their education and formation his highest priority, model the kind of life he expected them to live no matter how dangerous that was, and ultimately forgive them for betraying him and running away after all he had done for them!  And that is the kind of love Jesus commands us to have for one another! That’s the kind of love we are to have for one another right here at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church!

But it gets worse than that! For Jesus goes on to say: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another!” In other words, it was not because of their brilliant teaching or miraculous healings that people would know that they were Jesus’ disciples. It was not because of their piety or even their holiness that people would know that they were Jesus’ disciples. It was to be because of how they loved each other that people would know.

I think that must have been in Peter’s mind in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles as he wrestles with whether God could possibly accept these filthy, unclean Gentles also as disciples of Jesus Christ!  All Peter’s life he had been taught that these people were sinners, that they were so unclean that he would be putting himself in jeopardy just by eating with them…or even by eating the same kind of food that they ate! Now, he has become convinced that God is saying ‘not to make a distinction between them and us…and that “what God has made clean” he was not to call profane! (Acts 11: 12, 9)


In other words, he was being asked to love people he never thought he could love because it was only by doing so that they, and people around them, would know that he was a disciple of Jesus! He was beginning to learn that, while John the Baptist, had baptized with water, he and these Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Spirit – with God’s Spirit…with the Spirit of love!

Well, this morning we will be confirming and receiving into The Episcopal Church! And that means that we are going to be praying for the strengthening in their lives of that same Holy Spirit…with God’s Spirit…with the Spirit of love.

And you, members of their families and members of this parish, are going to promise that you will “do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ.” You’re going to promise to pray and to be the kind of witnesses which will help these people grow into the full stature of Christ…and that you are going to support them in their Christian life.

Do you know that that’s going to require of you?  It’s going to require that you make the kind of sacrifices for them and for St. Mark’s, Glen Ellyn that Jesus made for his disciples! You’re going to have to be willing to work and pray and give so that St. Mark’s Church will be around for years and decades to come to nurture these folks in their Christian faith and life.

You’re going to have to build up this community by meeting in small groups and loving one another – through thick and thin, whether you agree with one another or not (frankly, whether you even like one another or not!) – with the kind of love Jesus had for his disciples. Because it is only when people see that kind of love that they will know that you are Jesus’ disciples, and will be drawn to join you here!

Because ultimately, it will not be because of our beautiful liturgy (as much as we love it) that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples. It will not be because of our fine music program (as beautiful as it is!) that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples. It will not be because of eloquent words from this pulpit that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, “Jesus said, “If…you have love for one another!”

What kind of love? Sacrificial, risking, patient, forgiving love – for one another. “Just as I have loved you, “Jesus said, “You also should love one another.”

Remember that, beloved, if you want this church to grow…and to be around…and to make a difference! Love one another. As he loves you!

Good Night, Sweet Prince

April 22, 2016

I did not understand Prince. Not too surprising for an old guy whose musical tastes alternate between the Beatles, Jazz, New Country, and Classical! I found his songs — like so many these days — unintelligible unless you had “liner notes” (now there’s a thing of the past!) and his videos off-putting at best.

Having said that, he was obviously a musical genius of sorts, a prolific composer, incredibly versatile and an accomplished instrumentalist. The outpouring of praise and sadness at his passing is testimony to the fact that what I did not “get,” countless others did. I mourn his sudden and early death, and I hope (though I’m not optimistic) that it was from so-called natural causes.

I struggle with his profession to be a person of faith while marketing (very shrewdly) material that can only be described as salacious. Perhaps, as some have suggested, he came to faith later in life. Fair enough. Many have. Although I do not recall hearing him apologize or be the least bit regretful of some of his earlier work. Perhaps no apology is necessary.

What is interesting to me is his being described as one who sought to hold together the dualities of his life into one. Black and white, straight and gay, blues to psychedelia and everything in between. That is surely something to be celebrated. We have enough divisions and bipolar thinking in this country. Throwing a monkey wrench into some of that would be an accomplishment in and of itself.

His clear holding in tension of sexuality and spirituality (sometimes in the same song) is an important thing to note. Wiser sages than I (or Prince) have often pointed out the relationship of sexuality and spirituality. Both seek a kind of unitive experience, both (at their best) are motivated by love, both are among the most powerful forces which can move human beings. And both are mysteries.

If Prince’s work allows us to wrestle, once again, with the ancient connections between spirituality and sexuality, that will be a good thing. Listening again to his body of work may do this. Discovering “new” material of which there is said to be vaults-full may be another.

And it really won’t matter whether this old guy “gets it” or not. It will nonetheless be part of the legacy of one who left us far too soon.


Play Ball!

April 21, 2016

After what I have often described as “the long, dark season of basketball and hockey,” baseball is back! I am, fortunately, married to a woman who loves our national pastime at least as much as I do. We even root for the same teams — Yankees in the American League, Cubs in the National. Wait, let me explain!

I have been a Yankees’ fan since I played Little League and, at the age of about 11, was able to sit in the dugout at what was then Tinker Field in Orlando, Florida at a Spring Training game between Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees. I sat next to Yogi Berra and was even given a Yankees’ bat boy cap to take home with me. My cousin was sports publicity director for the University of Florida and had arranged this unbelievable opportunity.

Those were the days of Mantle and Maris, Whitey Ford and Yogi, “Moose” Skowron, Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek and so many more. I tracked the box scores every day, knew their batting averages and ERAs. I watched them on TV when I could, listened to the radio when I couldn’t, and got to Spring Training games from the time I was about that age until I took my kids to them in the 1980s.

When I worked for the Episcopal Church in New York for nine years, Susanne and I attended a number of games in the old (and new) Yankee stadium and watched them on the YES television network almost every game. We even kept scorecards in our living room end table. Those were glory days for Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and before A-Rod’s disappointing decline. They were fun to watch.

My grandmother was a devoted Atlanta Braves fan, so I used to root for them while I growing up in Florida and could get the games on the Turner Broadcasting Network easily. That all changed when I went to seminary in Chicago. It was there that I fell in love with the Chicago Cubs. In those days, I listened to Jack Brickhouse broadcast the game when Harry Carey was still the mouthpiece for “those other guys.”

I was also not beyond cutting systematic theology classes to hop the L train to Wrigley Field whenever I could during the season to enjoy them in “the Friendly Confines” and in person. I have never enjoyed watching anyone play the game quite so much as Ernie Banks. Like most Cubs fans, I became accustomed to rooting for the “lovable losers” and joined in the refrain “Wait ’til next year!” every disappointing Fall.

It looks like this year, we may assume the unusual (for us) role of cheering on a winner. The Cubbies’ rebuilding efforts appear to have paid off and, barring injuries, choking, or the famous curse, they may well get into the World Series. We are so hopeful about the season that we have tickets for their last game of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals — in Wrigley Field!

It doesn’t get any better than that.


What Should Bernie Do Now?

April 20, 2016

As expected both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump notched Yyuuugge wins in the New York primary last night. They were both (even the Donald) fairly gracious in their victory speeches with Trump mainly thanking his staff and the voters, Clinton reminding her audience that she and Bernie Sanders have a lot more in common than in difference. Mr. Trump is obviously beginning to listen to his newly-hired handlers in trying to become more presidential. And Sec. Clinton is starting the task of trying to unite the Democratic Party after a couple of contentious weeks on the campaign trail between Sanders and her.

Some postulate that these victories in New York place the two front runners on a pretty easy glide path to victory, perhaps even avoiding a contentious open convention on the Republican side. I think it’s a bit early to predict that, but as Hillary said, “Victory is in sight” at least for her. If that is so, what should Bernie do now?

I agree with those who say that he should absolutely NOT get out of the race (not that there’s much chance of that!). His “movement message” is compelling, exactly what this country needs to hear, and has motivated hordes of younger voters wooed by his idealism and his integrity. Bernie Sanders has been, and will continue to be, a real asset for the Democrats and the nation in general.

I do think he needs to moderate his tone a bit now. Or rather, return to the issue-oriented, non-personal style he began this race with. Advisers who counseled him to “take Hillary on” about Wall Street speeches and shenanigans with the Democratic National Committee were wrong. His appeal is his message and his ability to rise above the petty personal attacks such as we see on the GOP side. He should regain that perspective for the duration of the campaign.

Not only is this the moral and ethical thing for him to do as the most moral and ethical candidate on the trail, but it is smart politics. No matter who wins the nomination, the Democratic Party will need to unite to defeat Donald Trump (who I do not believe will be as soundly defeated as many of the pundits predict — there are a lot of angry people out there). Working now to begin to forge that Democratic unity will guarantee Senator Sanders a large place at the Convention, a speaking role in that gathering, and — most importantly — the ability to influence the platform in a more progressive direction.

Maybe even a Cabinet position. Health, Education, and Welfare?

Heart With Bernie, Head With Hillary

April 19, 2016

As this Tuesday of the New York presidential primary dawns, I continue to be conflicted in my support of the Democratic candidates. The fact that “my heart’s with Bernie, but my head’s with Hillary” is demonstrated by the fact that I continue to support him with a monthly donation (more than his average $27 supporters, but fully aligning with them) while not giving her a cent (because she doesn’t need it) even though I was a delegate for her at our Democratic District Convention here in eastern Iowa.

As a catholic Christian (though not a Roman Catholic one) how could I not love a politician who, according to the National Catholic Reporter, has “embraced decades of Catholic social teaching in a brief visit to the Vatican Friday, lambasting some particularly American aspects of the global market system in a bid to match his voice to Pope Francis’ cry against the ‘new idols’ of money and wealth.”

How could one who has preached and taught and tried to live such social teachings for over four decades not agree with Bernie Sanders when he said, “I am told time and time again by the rich and powerful, and the mainstream media that represent them, that we should be ‘practical’, that we should accept the status quo; that a truly moral economy is beyond our reach”

“Yet Pope Francis himself is surely the world’s greatest demonstration against such a surrender to despair and cynicism,” Sanders continued, “He has opened the eyes of the world once again to the claims of mercy, justice and the possibilities of a better world. He is inspiring the world to find a new global consensus for our common home.”

Wow, preach it, Bernie!

While I continue to believe that Hillary Clinton, should she be elected, is more likely to be able to lead in taking incremental steps toward some of these same goals, I am mightily impressed by Senator Sanders’ integrity and decades-long consistency in his advocacy of economic justice and equality for all. I have said before that I will support him enthusiastically should he win the nomination.

But, as the Supreme Court seems poised to overturn Barack Obama’s signature accomplishment on immigration and as the Congress continues to block any and all progressive moves by the Administration, my fear is that four years of Bernie Sanders will, once again, lead to more gridlock and disillusionment as a Republican legislature will unite in trying to sabotage anything such a liberal President will try to accomplish.

Then again, those same “Hillary haters” may well frustrate her attempts to work across the aisle just as they have President Obama’s. The only real hope is for the Democratic nominee to bring along, on his or her coat-tails, more “down the line” candidates for the Senate and House, actually pulling off the “political revolution” Sanders is calling for. I wish Bernie was working as hard at this as Hillary is (the real purpose of those embarrassing George Clooney fund raisers!)

It’s a quandary.

But I am proud to support a political party which has put forth two candidates — a democratic socialist and a woman with a long history of working for women’s rights and children’s issues along with vast experience in international relations. It goes without saying that either one of these dedicated public servants will serve us better than any of the clowns on the GOP side.

The Mediterranean Sea Should Not Be A Tomb

April 18, 2016

Yesterday I mentioned that the press had generally given short shrift to Pope Francis’ companion on the visit to the Greek island of Lesbos to give comfort and visibility to the many refugees temporarily housed there. This “companion” was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians.

This loosely associated, though theologically connected communion is the second largest Christian family in the world, with the Roman Catholic Church as the largest, Anglicans third in number and Lutherans bringing up a close fourth. Like the Anglicans and Lutherans, but unlike the Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches are autonomous in polity with Bartholomew representing a spiritual, rather than juridical, primacy. Even this is sometimes challenged by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Be all that as it may, Bartholomew is a formidable figure who has made something of a reputation for himself as the “Green Patriarch” due to his passion for the environment and environmental stewardship. I once heard him give a lecture in Cuba (with Fidel Castro in the same audience) when visiting there with the National Council of Churches for the opening of the first Greek Orthodox Church in Havana. He was brilliant!

Last week, Bartholomew was even more blunt in his public remarks about the refugee crisis than Pope Frances. Speaking at the migrants’ camp he said, “The world will be judged by the way it has treated you. And we will all be accountable for the way we respond to the crisis and conflict in the regions that you come from. The Mediterranean Sea should not be a tomb.”

Perhaps emboldened by the Patriarch’s words, Archbishop Ieronymos II, leader of the local Greek church added, “I hope that we never see children washing up on the shores of the Aegean Sea. I hope to soon see them there, untroubled, enjoying life.”

This was — for all its brevity — one of the Christian church’s finest hours in recent memory. For all those, in this country and around the world, who claim the name “Christian” and yet seem to stand for exclusion, fear, and xenophobia, perhaps we could invite them to look at these recent statements as examples of what true “religious values” in today’s world are all about.