Archive for May, 2016

The Age of Aquarius…Delayed.

May 20, 2016

Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.

And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better– much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.

First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.

A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.

The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:

And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:

So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:

We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.

I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna or to minimize the suffering that too may people experience in our nation and world today. But, contrary to Donald Trump and so many others, we are NOT moving in the wrong direction today. We are moving in the right direction!

And what we need is not a generation of whiners and complainers but people who are willing to roll up their sleeves, get involved in health care, education, politics and the environment and continue to work to make the world a better place, to “promote the general welfare and to form a more perfect union.”

When I was young, like many of the Sanders’ supporters, for example, I too wanted to live in the “Age of Aquarius.” And I thought it was actually on the way! Then, I realized that you have to work to build The Age of Aquarius (or the Kingdom of God) and that it is often slow, plodding, and frustrating work at best.

But, dear friends, we are getting better. Despite what looks like, in our media-saturated age, evidence to the contrary, we are getting better!

Power Tends To Corrupt

May 18, 2016

Put out our “Rob Hogg For Senate” yard sign yesterday. He is one of four Democratic challengers for the Iowa Senate seat now (and seemingly forever!) occupied by Charles Grassley. Yes, the one who — single-handedly, really — has prevented the Senate from considering President Obama’s recent pick to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Chuck Grassley has gotten by for years on his original “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” persona. An Iowa farmer who made it a point to visit all 99 counties in the state every year in order to stay in touch with his constituency, he has served in the Senate since 1981! In his early years, Grassley was a pretty effective senator for Iowa. Conservative for sure, but populist and fiercely independent, he was as willing to take on Pentagon spending as he was runaway entitlements.

However, with the move of the Republican Party relentlessly to the Right, in Iowa as across the country, he became captive to the extremist views of the so-called evangelicals and has, for years, ceased to represent the values most Iowans cherish. The more he moved up in the GOP “establishment,” securing among other things the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, the more he lost touch with the real grass-roots in his state. “Power tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Hogg (pronounced “h-oh-gg” –important to point out in Iowa!) faces three rivals for the Democratic nomination on June 7. Two of them are farther to the left than he and the third, a woman who has been state Secretary of Agriculture and Lieutenant Governor in Iowa, is widely perceived to be in the pocket of “agri-business,” no small thing in this farming state. Robb has been a very effective state senator from Cedar Rapids and is a very smart, left of center Democrat. I think he has a pretty good chance. Maybe having to face a run-off with Patty Judge, the former ag secretary I mentioned.

In any event, it would be wonderful to regain the balance Iowa once had in the Senate with liberal Tom Harkin almost always voting against Chuck Grassley (except, of course, when local bread and butter Iowa issues were at stake!). Since our other senator is the infamous Joni Ernst and she is newly elected and quite popular in some circles, my guess is she will be around for a while. Even touted as a possible running mate for Donald Trump!

You remember, Joni was the one whose campaign ads recalled her childhood spent on the farm, castrating hogs (“Send me to Washington, and I’ll make ’em squeal.”)

Hogs…hopefully, not Hogg!


The Children Are Dying

May 17, 2016

Man Found Dead in Crashed Van on I-57; Among 14 People Shot In Chicago

        Police: 3 Killed, 8 Wounded In Monday Shootings Across Chicago

Headlines from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times over the last twenty-four hours. I was in Chicago last weekend on a parish visitation for confirmation. Of course, I saw no shootings, heard no gunfire. Because this particular parish was north and west of the city, although we have plenty on the south and west sides of town where these incidents are most likely to occur.

Most likely indeed. Why? Because of decades and generations of segregation, poverty, unequal education and a lack of job opportunities which,in our day, has led to increasing amounts of drug abuse, gang membership, and an ocean of guns which show no signs of decreasing. The situation is really very little different from when I was in seminary in the late 60s/early 70s and did field work in a Black congregation on the West side and Northwest side parish just getting into Hispanic ministry.

The main difference today is the level of violence because of easy access to high powered weaponry. The virulent racism and rampant disregard for educational and economic equality remains the same. All these years later.

The tragedy and complexity of the situation was highlighted for me because one of the assisting priests in the congregation I visited is also a Chicago policeman. He said that the weekend was among the saddest day of his life, not because of these senseless killings (which he sees all the time and which he seemed almost immune to feeling), but because of a decision by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel to disband the current police oversight board and replace it with “all-civilian” membership.

This priest/officer interpreted this as one more slap in the face of a police force which has been coming under increased scrutiny and criticism in recent years because of incidents of over-reach and even brutality. “Out of the 12,000 officers in Chicago,” my colleague said, “there are maybe 250 who should never have put on a badge. The rest of us are your family members, neighbors, and friends who are working as hard as we know how to keep you safe and be fair to everyone.”

I couldn’t help remarking that 250 “bad apples” can kill a lot of people. But I understood what he was saying. Undoubtedly most members of the Chicago PD are brave and honest people trying to do a dirty job with what feels like little support from the government, from the media, and from the people they serve. Until all of us are willing to make the kind of sacrifices necessary to begin to address the systemic racism and chronic poverty which infect this city, these officers will continue to fight an uphill battle to keep the peace in these neighborhoods.

Please remember such things as you cast your votes in local, state, and federal elections over these next months.

The children are dying.

Mary’s Pentecost

May 14, 2016

She always felt better when she could be with his friends. True, all of them except the young one, John, had deserted him in the end. But she understood that. She’d been afraid too. And she wasn’t even in immediate danger from the Romans like they were. In any case, he had told her just before he died, “Behold your son.” And to John, “Behold your mother.” So, clearly, he wanted her to be part of them.

She really would have preferred to stay in Olivet which is at least a little distance from where it all happened. But, as they gathered there, it was clear that Jerusalem was where he had wanted to go, and Jerusalem was where they must re-assemble as well. So, they crept in, over the course of a couple of days….individually, sometimes two by two…and began meeting in that same upper room where they had celebrated Passover.

Now, it was the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after the ceremony of the barley sheaf during Passover. It had originally been a harvest festival, marking the beginning the offering of the first fruits. She had always loved its celebration as a child…and so had Jesus! She accepted their invitation to be together that morning. There were other women there in addition to his brothers and, of course, the Twelve (and they were 12 again now, with the addition of Matthias – who had, in any case, never been far from their assembly.)

They had just begun to dance…and sing the Hallel – “Hallelujah! Give praise you servants of the Lord; praise the Name of the Lord” Psalm 113:1 – when the wind picked up. It first whistled and then howled through the streets of the old city. And, even though they had been careful to secure the door, suddenly the shutters rattled and blew open.

Strangely, there was no rain or fog as one might expect with the wind, but sunshine – bright glimpses of it, illuminating every face around their make-shift “altar table.” But they were too caught up in their praise dance to worry about open windows now! And the volume of their singing only increased over the noise of the wind:

“Let the name of the Lord be blessed! Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory! How can I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation…Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him all your people!” (Psalm 113-117 passim)

It was their custom, during the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) to gather the poor and the strangers, as well as the priests and Levites, for the great communal meal which was the high point of this great agricultural feast. It was a way of recognizing their solidarity as people of the Covenant, across all the natural divisions of life.

And so, people in the streets were from all over the Mediterranean world. But their racial and ethnic diversity was no barrier to understanding God’s praise that day! She had no idea how it happened, but no matter in what language God’s praise was being spoken or sung, everyone heard it. Everyone “got it” — all of them, from east to west, from the different traditions, ethnic Jews and converts.

And, when the praises began to abate, Mary saw Peter slowly walk to the open window and, flanked by the other Eleven, he said, “People of Judea, and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you…and listen to what I say…” (Acts 2:14)

Well, that may not be exactly how it happened on the first Pentecost. But it must have been something like that.  Clearly, something momentous must have happened to transform that ragtag group of frightened disciples into missionaries and evangelists. Several things happened, of course, to do that…in addition to the miracle of Pentecost.

Their experiences of the Risen Christ, perhaps particularly the one we heard about in the gospel today – the so-called “Johannine Pentecost” from the Gospel of John, with Jesus breathing on them and saying “Receive the Holy Spirit” and empowering them to forgive sins…or to withhold forgiveness. And then, gradually, their discovery of gifts in each other; gifts such as Paul would catalogue years later in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

“Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous works, prophecy, discernment, various kinds of tongues and their interpretation.” (I Corinthians 12:4-11). Those were the kind of qualities they had seen in Jesus, but now began to see in one another! Clearly, they were meant to do the kinds of works he had done…and to do, perhaps, even greater works…as he had promised. What are those works for us today?

Well this morning we will be confirming/receiving people into the Church. Or rather, they will be confirming themselves – confirming (or re-confirming) the vows which were once taken on their behalf at Baptism…making those promises themselves.

And, as Bishop, I will ask them two questions: “Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil?” And, perhaps even more importantly, “Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?” To the first they will answer “I do” and to the second, “I do, and with God’s grace I will follow him as my Savior and Lord.”

They must decide for themselves, and promise for themselves, that they will renounce evil. No one can do that for them! And they must decide for themselves, and promise for themselves, to renew their commitment to Jesus. But there is a helpful reminder tagged onto the end of that second answer: “I do, and with God’s grace, I will follow him as my Savior and Lord.”

Following Jesus, over the course of a lifetime, is much more difficult than promising – or even desiring – to do so. And so, we rely on God’s grace…God’s never-failing love. And the vehicle of that love is the Holy Spirit – the gift we celebrate on this Day of Pentecost.

And so when I lay hands on them, I will pray, “Strengthen, O Lord, these your servants with your Holy Spirit; empower them for your service, and sustain them all the days of their life.” (Or, Defend, O Lord, your servants with your heavenly grace, that they may continue yours forever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until they come to your everlasting kingdom.”

I believe God will answer that prayer…in their lives and in the lives of all of us.

And it all started on Pentecost! “Hail thee, festival day! Blest day that are hallowed forever, day when the Holy Spirit… shone in the world… with God’s grace!” Amen!

Time For A Global Ethic?

May 12, 2016

“Will there be blood?” asks The Miami Herald‘s Leonard Pitts in today’s column. Given the violence at Donald Trump rallies and his apparent endorsing of it, Pitts wonders just how emboldened his supporting bullies might feel to perpetrate such acts on a wide scale should he be elected.

Perhaps even worse, should Trump be defeated, what will his disappointed supporters do if they feel the “rigged system” has let them down once again? Right wing violence has been a problem in this country for decades now. Let we forget, Pitts lists some of them:

“From the Oklahoma City bombing to the Atlanta Olympics bombing to a New York state plot to murder Muslims by radiation poisoning, to a massacre at an African-American church in Charleston, to the attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, to the crashing of an airplane into an IRS office in Austin to a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility to, literally, dozens more.” Frightening to see them all massed together like that. How quickly we forget!

And this on the day when we learn that George Zimmerman is planning to auction off the gun with which he killed Trayvon Martin! No doubt, there will be plenty of potential customers.

So many of Donald Trump’s supporters seem to be white males who are fearful and angry that the world they used to think they dominated (and did, in so many ways) is changing and that power is being taken away from them by African Americans and Muslims and women and big government And this is precisely the demographic most likely to be associated with what I believe is rightly called “domestic terrorism.”

Unless and until we move away from the win-at-any-cost, my-way-or-the-highway, might-makes-right, “get-’em-out-a-here, get-’em-out” ethic that pervades so much of our American society today (and in”deed much of the world, if the truth be known) I am afraid that Leonard Pitts’ troubling scenario is all too likely.

What would we replace this prevailing ethic with? I suggest something very simple. Very simple indeed. Simple enough to be found in every major religion in the world and some which are not so major. Something Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, calls “A Global Ethic.”

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or, negatively stated:

What you do not wish done to you, do not do unto others.

Of course, “simple” does not equate with “easy.” But this global ethic actually works — in domestic policy, in economics, in politics, in religion,  in international relations.

Such an ethic has not been tried and found wanting (as C. S. Lewis once said about Christianity itself). It has simply never been tried.

Perhaps it’s time.

Or, consider the alternative.

Intimidation In Tel Aviv

May 10, 2016

Apparently things have not changed in the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv since my several trips to Israel/Palestine in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Traveling through that airport “last week for a climate justice meeting, World Council of Churches (WCC) staff and partners were detained or deported in a manner that WCC general secretary Rev. Dr. Olav Fykes Tveit terms both unprecedented and intolerable.” Continuing on the WCC website, he writes:

“Members of the WCC’s Working Group on Climate Change from as many as 13 countries reported that they were held for hours of interrogation, including tough intimidation and detention in prison-like conditions for up to three days — a very difficult experience…We believe that it is also in the interest of the government of Israel to address these very unpleasant incidents for future visitors to this country, and to prevent their recurrence,” said Tveit and added, “We are ready to meet and discuss these issues.”

Readers of this blog and my Facebook posts will know that I have a deep commitment to Israel and therefore reserve the right to criticize her government just as I criticize my own, from time to time. I reject the charge that any such criticism is somehow Anti Semitic. I have cast my lot with J Street, the pro Israel, pro peace lobby in Washington DC and consider their positions on most issues related to the Middle East my own.

I well remember receiving the “good cop, bad cop” treatment on various trips through Tel Aviv. A smiling young Israeli woman officer would ask a series of questions while examining my luggage. And then I would be hustled off to a small room where the same questions would be asked in a rough and bullying manner by a team of soldiers, obviously trying to find some inconsistencies in my reasons for travel, etc. They were both rude and abusive.

I am aware that Israel has all kinds of reasons to be hyper vigilant and to maintain high security arrangements. As I’ve written elsewhere, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!” But there is no excuse for belligerent and disrespectful treatment of passengers, be they tourists or pilgrims to the Holy Land.

The United States and other countries also have stringent security arrangements in airports, but I have always found the TSA agents to be civil, if not always kind. The state of Israel enjoys a kind of mindless support in this country, but it is not so around the world.

Just as the Palestinians would garner much more support in this country if they would renounce violence and recognize the state of Israel, so would Israel increase its standing around the world by simply humane treatment of those of us who love her and want only the best for her.

We Don’t Need A Bully In This Pulpit!

May 9, 2016

I have known bullies all my life. I was not particularly “bullied” as a child perhaps because, although I was small for my age, I always fought back when I was. I didn’t often win those brawls (usually behind the gym after school) but the victor would, as often as not, have a bloody nose when it was over. Bullies don’t like being stood up to.

The definition of a bullying is “the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power, which distinguishes bullying from conflict.” (Graham Juvonem’s article in the Annual Review of Psychology, 2014)

By this, or any other definition, Donald Trump is a bully. He threatens and seeks to intimidate and dominate women, Hispanics, Muslims, and anyone he perceives to be his rival. Why? Because he knows there is an imbalance of social or physical power and he seeks to exploit it.

Many, if not most, of Donald Trump’s supporters are also bullies. I hesitate to say it, but most of them are also white and male and many are blue-collar workers. Bullies often share those same characteristics (although clearly not all white, male blue collar workers are bullies).

The people most likely to recognize and stand up to bullies are those who are most often bullied — women, minorities, people with disabilities, and young people. I believe it will likely be a coalition of such persons — women, African Americans and Latinos, students, and those who care for them — who will likely defeat Donald Trump is the general election. Hopefully, we will win that battle.

If not, let us be sure this bully comes away from the November contest with at least a bloody nose!

The “In Between” Time

May 7, 2016

I’ve often wondered how the disciples must have felt on the Sunday we are observing this weekend. They must have been pretty confused.  First, Jesus had called them to leave everything and follow him on his very difficult three-year journey and ministry. Their hopes had been so high in those days!

But then, it had all come crashing down! He’d been arrested, beaten up, convicted of crimes he never committed, and executed like a common criminal!  They were devastated, So, they huddled together for safety and for support, and then some women of their company brought the wonderful news that he was not dead after all…or rather, he was not dead anymore!

At first, of course, the disciples didn’t believe it, but then they too began to experience his risen Presence in a variety of ways and circumstances and they were overjoyed that it wasn’t over after all! Yet, after only forty days, Jesus’ presence was withdrawn from them again. Something about having to return to the Father…described by our Collect today as “being exalted with great triumph to God’s kingdom in heaven.”

But Jesus’ Ascension must not have seemed like “triumph” to them at first. It must have seemed like another defeat…another desertion!  Where was Jesus now? They remembered him saying something about “going where they could not go.” They remembered something about being told that it was to their “advantage” for him to go way; for if he did not, the “Counsel (their Advocate) would not come to them. (John 17:7)

Well, they had no clue what that meant!  All they knew was that Jesus was gone again. So, they did what they had done before – they made their way back to Jerusalem, worshipped with their fellow Jews in the Temple, and met together once again for safety and for support…and to try and figure out what to do next!

Undoubtedly, they would have pored back over his teaching to try and figure out if there were hints about what to expect. Perhaps they would have focused particularly on things Jesus said to them on that last night…at the Supper. They would have especially remembered what he prayed for…what he prayed for them!

“I ask not only on behalf of these,” Jesus had prayed, “but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one.”  So clearly he wanted them to remain together – to be one Body, one community, not to fragment and splinter apart.

“As you, Father are in me and I am in you, “he continued, “may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” So Jesus obviously wanted them to remain connected to him and to his God so that people would believe that Jesus came from God and that he was speaking for God.

And finally, they remembered him praying for something they thought very odd, “Righteous Father, he had said, “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

Somehow Jesus was saying that he wanted them to be filled not only with God’s love, but that they would actually be filled with him!  With his very life!  Well, on the one hand, we don’t want to get too far ahead of the story here! Next week is when we will celebrate just how that “indwelling” happened – by the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on those same disciples on the Day of Pentecost.

On the other hand, we already know “the rest of the story,” don’t we? We live on this side of Pentecost, and we know that it was the pouring out of God’s mighty Spirit on Pentecost that changed those frightened “disciples” (learners) into confident “apostles” (those who were sent)!

Not long ago I published a memoir entitled “With Gladness and Singleness of Heart: A Bishop’s Life in a Changing Church. In that little book, I have tried something of my story. And it is surely the story of one who, by God’s grace, has been changed from a pretty uncertain “disciple,” a seeker and a learner, into an “apostle,” into one who has been sent.

It would have been inconceivable to me – as a young man – that I would have been “sent” to all the places I have been “sent” over these last forty years! Absolutely inconceivable. And yet, taking it one step at a time, responding to God’s call one day at a time, it has seemed as natural a progression as one could imagine.

I hope each of you will continue to be “disciples” because learning is a lifelong experience, and we will never exhaust all there is to know about God and about God’s will for our lives. But I do hope that you will also take your responsibility as “apostles” seriously from this day forward. To know that you are “sent out” from this place to be God’s people in the world!

In the family, in school, at the workplace, in our neighborhoods: we are to do exactly what Jesus prayed for those first apostles to do – to remain united to him through worship and prayer and study…to remain united to one another by faithful attendance at worship and by engaging in some ministry in the community…and to know that Jesus no longer has to be “out there” somewhere, some distant Presence or Power to be obeyed and followed.

But that you can always rely on Jesus’ promise in today’s Gospel: that the love of God we see so clearly in Jesus may actually be “in here”, in our hearts. And, more than that, Jesus himself will be in us…by his spirit!  What a gift!

What a God we have!

Enemy Of My Enemy Not Always My Friend

May 6, 2016

I found myself chuckling a bit yesterday watching House Speaker Paul Ryan on CNN refuse to support Donald Trump in his quest for the White House. “I’m just not ready to do that at this point. I’m not not there right now,” said this highest ranking Republican office holder. And, to his credit, Ryan has openly criticized Trump for some of his more outrageous statements about Mexicans or deporting immigrants or banning Muslims entering the U.S.

But then, I listened more closely and realized just why it is that Ryan disagrees with Trump philosophically and not merely on his bombastic tone.  The Donald has actually had some good things to say about Planned Parenthood; Paul Ryan has not. Trump has recently said he would be open to raising the minimum wage; Ryan has not. Trump wants to continue many entitlements including Medicare, Ryan has called for cuts in benefits in such programs.

Those are among the few things about which I agree with Donald Trump! Paul Ryan’s opposition appears to be less about the blatant racism, misogyny and xenophobia of Donald Trump and more about wanting him to establish his “true conservative” credentials. And he seems to be positioning himself to be a voice for maintaining Republican control of the Senate and House come November.

So, while I welcome any ally in the attempt to scuttle Donald Trump’s march to the White House, I do need to remind myself that “the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.”

Feast of the Ascension

May 5, 2016

Not an “Ascension”

Up, up, up, up and away.

Now he fills all things!