Archive for June, 2016

Grassley Defends Trump

June 9, 2016

So read the unbelievable headline in the Nation/World section of the Quad City Times today citing an Associated Press story! While tons of Republican leaders have disassociated themselves from, and even called racist, Donald Trump’s remarks about District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s inability to be impartial in the law suit against Trump “University” because of his Mexican heritage, our very senior senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley, has defended him.

How? Well, of course, by pointing out that current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor once said that it was her belief that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Now, in his defense of Donald Trump, Grassley has observed, “I didn’t hear any criticism of that sort of comment by a justice of the Supreme Court.” No, I guess not.

Lost on Grassley was the context in which Sotomayor made that claim and the world of difference between someone of a particular ethnic heritage saying something about its significance and a rich, white male making assumptions about an Indiana-born American “with Mexican heritage.” This is not only apples and oranges; it is apricots and orangutans!

So, while Iowans have likely lost the opportunity to oust this pitiful old man from the United States Senate by defeating the young, progressive Cedar Rapids legislator Rob Hogg and choosing instead former state Sec. of Agriculture, former Lieutenant Governor and yesterday’s news Patty Judge, I will support her enthusiastically in her fall campaign against Grassley.

Perhaps other Iowans will wish to join me. If for no other reason than today’s headline: Grassley defends Trump!


“No Good Thing Will The Lord Withhold From Those Who Walk With Integrity”

June 8, 2016

Integrity: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” Sadly, not many politicians of either political party in the United States these days are often described by this particular word. But on this Wednesday after the last Super Tuesday of the primary season, I can point to at least three. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and David Johnson of Iowa.

Lindsey Graham, the US Senator who failed in his bid for the Republican nomination this year, quickly denounced Donald Trump’s clearly racist criticism of the “Judge of Mexican heritage” who is presiding over the law suit concerning Trump “University.” Not only did this conservative, southern lawmaker call the comments what they are — racist — but declared his unwillingness to vote for Donald Trump in November. “I understand why others will still support the presumptive nominee,” he said, “But I just can’t.” Integrity.

A similar declaration was made by Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. Even though he is in the fight of his life for his Senate seat, Kirk said this, “Donald Trump’s latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party’s nominee for President regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party.” Integrity.

Iowa State GOP Senator David Johnson has actually suspended his membership in the Republican Party to protest “the racist remarks and judicial jihad” of Donald Trump. “I will not stand silent if the party of Lincoln and the end of slavery buckles under the racial bias of a bigot,” Johnson said on Tuesday. Integrity.

If these three men, elected legislators of a political party for which I have lost nearly all respect, are not examples of the noble quality of integrity, I don’t know who is these days. I hope none of them will have to pay the ultimate political price for their courage. Even more, I hope that they may hold out some hope that the leadership of a once-great Party can come to their senses before it is too late.

Perhaps uniting to change the rules and stop Trump, even now, from receiving the formal nomination of the Republican Party is too risky and likely to bring even more chaos into the system from Trump’s mindless supporters. But at the very  least, these leaders should call Trump on his outrageous statements at every turn and seek to “hedge him in” with advisers who can try to steer him on to a saner and less dangerous course.

Even if this fails, these three men have shown that it is possible to speak and act with integrity in the midst of a political season which has shown far too little of it.



The Future of Theological Education

June 7, 2016

Andover Newton to move, partner with Yale. So read the headline of the lead news article in the June 8 edition of The Christian Century magazine. Perusal of the article revealed that “the nation’s oldest graduate school of theology plans to relocate from Newton Centre, Massachusetts to New Haven, Connecticut…” where it will function as a kind of “school within a school” becoming the latest of seminary mergings, relocations, and reconfigurations.

This trend is happening, obviously, because of the high cost of seminary education these days due to high priced, tenured faculty; declining enrollments; and the cost of maintaining aging buildings. Of the nine (or so) accredited Episcopal seminaries, only one or two are financially solvent over the long term — Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria and St. Luke’s School of Theology at the University of the South (the latter because of committed support from the owning Southern dioceses and being part of the small, but wealthy college of Sewanee).

Our oldest seminary, General in New York City, is surviving just barely because of having sold off all but a postage stamp sized piece of their property in Manhattan and turning some of the housing over to developers for outrageously priced condos in the rapidly gentrifying area of Chelsea Square. My own seminary of Seabury-Western formerly in Evanston, Illinois sold the whole block to Northwestern University in order to retire their debt and move into a partnership with another struggling seminary, Bexley Hall.

After an abortive attempt to run two small campuses in conjunction with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one in Chicago and another in Columbus, Ohio, Bexley-Seabury has now made a similar move as Andover Newton, nesting within the University of Chicago Divinity School complex in Hyde Park. Shared faculty and cross registration with other seminaries in the consortium will open up ecumenical and interfaith possibilities.

Rather than bemoaning these developments, I actually rejoice in them. We have known for forty years that we have too many denomination-specific seminaries for the number of students who attend. Unfortunately, in the Episcopal Church at least, each of the seminaries was a “stand alone,” private institution with its own uniqueness and loyalties. The usual refrain was, “Yes, we need to close some of these seminaries — any one but mine!” Hence, the situation we find ourselves in today.

I believe that the future of seminaries and theological education will likely be “divinity schools” with denominational distinctives nesting within the Religion/Philosophy departments of major universities and colleges. Cross registration will broaden the academic opportunities for seminarians, expose them to world-class faculties, and make ecumenical/interreligious formation the norm. This, while preserving the need for formation in a particular denominational heritage possible through the smaller divinity school and (as already happens) through extensive field work in local congregations.

It is also my hope that ways may be found for these fewer (but I would argue, finer) theological schools to partner with the many effective diocesan and regional schools to form more effectively lay leaders, deacons, and locally trained presbyters to serve the varying needs of a changing church and world. It will not be the first time that economic realities and financial exigencies have forced the church to do what she should have been doing all along.

God works in mysterious ways…wonders to perform!

Or, “let’s make lemonade out of these sour lemons!”

Vote On June 7

June 6, 2016

Tomorrow is election day. Well, it’s one more of those many “election days” stretching seemingly endlessly across the primary season. Much attention will be placed on California and whether Hillary Clinton wins big enough to clinch the Democratic nomination for President or whether Bernie Sanders will win big enough to continue his relentless march toward what he calls a ‘contested Convention.’

But there are importance races to decide up and down the ballot in many places. Here in Iowa we have to choose the best Democrat to run against the perennial Republican Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley. The two front runners are Rob Hogg, a youngish Cedar Rapids attorney and state legislator who as the endorsement of the Des Moines Register and Patty Judge, a former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Lieutenant Governor in the last Democratic Administration in the state.

I have supported Hogg in a letter to our Quad City Times published on the same day that same paper endorsed Judge. Hogg is the more progressive of the two candidates, extremely strong on the environment and with a proven record of bringing together farmers and environmental activists to find common ground and get things done.

Judge is, in my opinion, much too much in the pocket of “agribusiness” and is also (I know, this is ageism!) is in her 70s and wants to be elected at least to a six year term as senator and presumably would have to serve much longer than that to work her way up to any position of influence in the Senate.

But I encourage any and all to turn out to vote on June 7, and every time we have a chance to make our voices heard at the ballot box. Many have died to give us that privilege. Thousands stand in line in developing countries just for the joy of being able to cast their first actual vote. There is even a theological principle behind the system known as democracy:

That is: the dignity and worth of each individual. Paul says in First Corinthians, chapter twelve  that “there are a variety of gifts but the same spirit.” And that those gifts are given for the common good. Elsewhere, he describes the church as a body with many members and those members, when working properly and working together, helps build the body up in love.

It is not all that different in any community. Power, concentrated in the hands of a few, will inevitably become destructive. But leaders elected with consent of the governed, and presumably, held to account by those same folks, will most likely reflect the values of the community and work for that same common good.

But the system only works if we do.

Our political system is only as effective as we participate in it.

So, vote on June 7.

And every time you are given the privilege.

“The Greatest” Is Gone

June 4, 2016

I can no longer watch boxing. I used to love it and have happy memories of sitting in a South Carolina living room with my grandparents and their friends, eating popcorn and watching the Friday Night Fights. My grandfather always rooted for the white boxer. Appropriate, since he was a virulent racist whom I nonetheless loved deeply in a conflicted way I am probably still sorting out.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I saw Cassius Clay fight. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” does not begin to describe the grace with which he danced about the ring and the striking-snake-like power of his jabs. It is not an exaggeration to claim that he was the greatest boxer who ever lived. Of course, the reason I can no longer watch boxing is, at least in part, because I have watched the slow deterioration of this magnificent athlete from “pugilistic Parkinson’s disease” over many years, leading to his death yesterday. This is not sport; it is society-sanctioned murder.

Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhaammad Ali partially because he became a member of the “Nation of Islam,” like Malcom X under the guidance of Elijah Muhammad, a Black separatist who was later disgraced by allegations of his many love affairs. But it was his other reason for changing his name which captured our attention. “Cassius Clay was my slave name,” he said, enlightening many of us in those days, for the first time, that slave owners had indeed assigned Western names to their chattel human beings further stripping them of any identity or pride.

Ali became a loud and proud spokesman for the Black Pride movement of the 1960s and 70s, but he was an icon for other reasons as well. Convicted as a draft dodger for his principled opposition to the Viet Nam War, this 25 year old fighter was stripped of his World Heavyweight title and denied what would have arguably been his most productive and successful years as a boxer.

But he re-took the title and his bouts with Sonny Liston and George Foreman have become legends. “Rumbles in the Jungle” some were called, fought in Zaire, further advancing the visibility of what it means to be of “African descent” long before other Black leaders were willing to make that claim. The fact that Ali was seen as so often shockingly brash and arrogant speaks volumes to the fact that most of us white Americans in those days expected our “Negro” citizens to show proper respect to the dominant culture and not to “make waves.”

Waves Ali made — in sport and in society. The reason I can no longer watch boxing is that his long, slow decline has been inexorably linked to the nearly 30,000 blows he took to his head. They never marred his handsome face (“Joe Frazier is so ugly,” he often said, “and I am so beautiful!”) but they certainly marred his brain. And led to his death.

Muhammad Ali once said, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it — then I can achieve it.” Thank God Ali’s mind really never lost the ability to conceive things even though the brain itself was so damaged. Certainly his heart never lost the ability to believe in himself and in the equality of all people. And his achievements will likely never again be matched.

Maybe not “the Greatest” as he loved to boast. But certainly one of them. And I will miss him.

Clinton – 1, Trump – Zip

June 3, 2016

Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the speech for which many of us had been waiting yesterday. It was not so much a foreign policy speech which, in any case, she has delivered before and will again before November. It was an artful take-down of the biggest phony ever to run for the office of the presidency of these United States.

Secretary Clinton did not stoop to the Donald’s childish rhetoric by, for example, mocking his ridiculous hair, his checkered marital history, or even his scam “university.” Instead she pointed out that he was “hopelessly unprepared and temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief.”

Listing some of Trump’s foreign policy “proposals,” she rightly pointed out that they were “not really even ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies.” Exactly.

And what was Donald Trump’s thoughtful, measured response to being thus exposed? An elementary-school-level tweet, “Bad performance by Crooked Hillary Clinton! Reading poorly from the teleprompter! She doesn’t even look presidential!”

On the contrary, by all opinions I have seen, Ms. Clinton was poised, steady, funny…and devastatingly eloquent. Completely presidential.  She looked as easily personable, even while on the attack, as she has often looked uncomfortably stiff in some prior addresses. She and her handlers should learn from this fine speech.

This is exactly the way to define her differences with and infinite superiority over Donald Trump’ candidacy. Whether in campaign speeches leading up to November or on the debate stage, she needs to keep her cool, clearly reveal the facts about her unprepared and dangerous opponent, and allow her own rich personal history, government experience, and policy proposals to speak for themselves.

I have said before that I will support whomever the Democratic nominee is this year. But I am more than happy that it will be former child-advocate attorney, first lady, U.S. Senator from New York, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton!



A Faithful Friend, Who Can Find?

June 2, 2016

I went to see my spiritual director yesterday. Actually, she is technically my “former” spiritual director, a 95 year old School Sister of St. Francis whose name is Mary Dingman. When I was elected Bishop of Iowa, I knew that I would need a spiritual companion, preferably one who was “outside the system” of the Episcopal Church. I had been in intentional spiritual direction for over a decade and knew how important such a relationship could be.

One of our priests introduced me to Mary who, at that time, along with a Jesuit colleague ran a small retreat house and spiritual direction ministry in downtown Des Moines called “Emmaus House.” We hit it off immediately and, for the thirteen years I was Bishop of Iowa, we met on a monthly basis, often coupled with a day of reflection on which I would show up at Emmaus House early in the morning (usually on a Wednesday) check into a small room on the second or third floor of the old house), spend the morning in prayer and study, have a simple lunch of bread and soup, spend an hour with Sister Mary in conversation, and wind up the day just before supper time when I would return home.

These days were life-giving for me. Mary saw me through crises of diocesan ministry (including painful instances of disciplining clergy for sexual misconduct), agonizing wrestling with how I would cast a vote at General Convention on some of the most vexing and controversial issues facing the Episcopal Church in those years, and finally walking with me through painful family issues including the death of my first wife in 2000.

Mary  always listened carefully, cared deeply, and was able to bring out of her storehouse of a lifetime of prayer and Bible study just what I needed to hear and learn on a given day — whether that was advice, encouragement, challenge, or counsel simply to “wait on the Lord.” I do not believe I would have been able to survive those difficult years, at least spiritually but perhaps even physically, had it not been for this faithful friend.

She is frail now. And she met me at the door of the modest home next door to a beautiful Roman Catholic Church in the rural village of St. Paul, Iowa where she lives in retirement with her sister. She was wearing a nasal catheter attached to the oxygen supply she now requires after congestive heart failure last year.

But she is as sharp as ever, and we spoke of my life in retirement, the state of ecumenical relations these days, our shared horror at the political situation in our country today, the breath of fresh air Pope Francis is breathing across the church and world, and what it is like to grow old. She said, “You know, one of the hardest things for me entering the convent at 25 was giving up being with my family and living on the farm in southeast Iowa.”

Now, with permission from her order, she is living with her own sister in a tiny community only a mile from the old family farm which her nephew and niece still own and work. “At the end of my life,” Mary said, “God has given it all back — family and the quiet rural life I so loved. Isn’t that amazing?”

“And, you know, even serious illness brings new occasions for prayer, ” she observed, gently touching her oxygen tube, “Before this, I never thought to give thanks for the air.”

Perhaps not, dear Mary, but I have never ceased giving thanks for you.