Archive for October, 2017

Because We Are Already One!

October 30, 2017

Since this little blog is called “That We All May Be One,” I had to share these wonderful thoughts from Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and scientist, from her book The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love.

I got this courtesy of Richard Rohr’s daily e-mail meditations which a number of you likely already receive. But, I just wanted to make sure you saw it!

Every human person desires to love and to be loved, to belong to another, because we come from another. We are born social and relational. We yearn to belong, to be part of a larger whole that includes not only friends and family but neighbors, community, trees, flowers, sun, Earth, stars. We are born of nature and are part of nature; that is, we are born into a web of life and are part of a web of life.

We cannot know what this means, however, without seeing ourselves within the story of the Big Bang universe. Human life must be traced back to the time when life was deeply one, a Singularity, whereby the intensity of mass-energy exploded into consciousness. Deep in our DNA we belong to the stars, the trees, and the galaxies.

Deep within we long for unity because, at the most fundamental level, we are already one. We belong to one another because we have the same source of love; the love that flows through the trees is the same love that flows through my being. . . . We are deeply connected in this flow of love, beginning on the level of nature where we are the closest of kin because the Earth is our mother.”

Isn’t that great?

Summarizing The Law

October 29, 2017

Jesus loved to play theological word games with Pharisees! Often this would happen as a result of the Pharisees asking Jesus a question (usually intended to trip him up, like when they asked him – in last week’s  Gospel — whether they should pay taxes to Caesar or not!). But in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus actually bates them with a question!

So, he asks, “Who is this Messiah you say you’re waiting for? Whose son will he be?”

“The son of David” (of course, you simpleton!) they seem to reply.

“But how then can David in Psalm 110 say, ‘The LORD said to my Lord (the coming Messiah), Sit at my right hand…’ The writer, David, wouldn’t call one of his sons ‘Lord’, would he? That would be against all the customs of our people! Better think again on that!”

And I love the way Matthew closes this little clashing of foils: “No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” No, I guess not!

Now Jesus knew that the Messiah was to be a descendent of King David. At least that was one of the views of the coming Messiah. But he was also sick unto death of the Pharisees’ obsession with purity laws and cleanliness and having the right family tree:  Respecting people because of their lineage, not because of their being created in the image of God.

The Pharisees loved to parse the Scriptures and prove to everybody that they, and only they, knew the correct interpretation; that is, what God really intended. So Jesus shows them the truth of what many of us know today: You can prove anything you want out of Scripture, provided you pick and choose the proof texts which will buttress your own position!

Jesus wanted to show the Pharisees (and us!) that you can get so lost in dogmatic and doctrinal niceties that you lose the very simple and basic message of the Scriptures themselves. Instead of getting sucked into an argument about taxation and just who ought to pay what to whom, Jesus just says “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s!” And then he lets us decide what the implications of that might be.

And today, when they ask him (in the first part of our Gospel reading) which commandment is the greatest, he astounds them all by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment, and a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets!”

First of all, like many of the prophets before him, Jesus pretty well ignores the vast majority of the 613 laws and commandments scholars have identified in the Hebrew Bible in favor of the 10 Commandments, Decalogue, the Ten Words…. And then he even “simplifies” them into two – love God, love your neighbor. That’s a perfect “summary of the law” because the first four of the 10 Commandments have to do with loving God, and the last six have to do with loving one’s neighbor. If you love God, you’ll keep the first four; if you love your neighbor, you’ll keep the last six!

So Jesus draws from the rich tradition of the Hebrew Bible, but he does it in such a way that the few simple verses he cobbles together truly and accurately summarize what the whole Bible is trying to say! The whole history of Israel tells the story of a people struggling to love their God… and gradually realizing, over many centuries, that that also meant loving their neighbor. The first part of the Old Testament describes their up-and-down attempts to be loving and faithful to God; the later Prophets begin to challenge them to show that love by loving their neighbors (which turns out to be — all people!)

The Summary of the Law – so familiar to us Anglicans from the Prayer Book liturgy – is, of course, simple to remember; not so easy to carry out! So many things compete with our loving God and therefore putting God first in our lives these days. But, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind means that God has to be considered, indeed put first, in everything we do.

We need to think about God in our business dealings. We need to think about God in our relationships and family life. We need to think about God in our politics! We have separation of church and state in this country, but there really is no separation between religion and politics, between our faith and how we live our public lives together. And that leads us to consider just how we might love our neighbor as ourselves.

Here we have to distinguish between what we might call “goals” and “strategies.” Christians may disagree about how to do tax reform, for example, but we should not disagree that everyone should pay their fair share for the common good. Christians may disagree about how much humankind is to blame for climate change, but we should not disagree that we should all do what we can to protect the planet, God’s good creation.

Christians may disagree about the scope of the Second Amendment to our Constitution, but surely we can agree that something must be done to curb the scourge of gun violence in our land. Christians may disagree about how to fix a broken immigration system, but we should not disagree that we are called to welcome the stranger and the sojourner and to protect refugees fleeing violence and death in the lands of their birth. We can disagree on the strategies. But not on the goals!

The goals are to love God…and our neighbors as ourselves. We can thank Jesus for “simplifying” the law and the prophets for us. But we will still spend our lifetimes learning specific ways to love our God and love our neighbor. It’s simple… but not easy. After all, it’s much easier to argue about who is “orthodox” or “politically correct” and who is not, than truly to get on with the business of loving our neighbors as ourselves!

No Hate, No Fear; Immigrants Are Welcome Here!

October 20, 2017

Yesterday afternoon I joined a couple of dozen others for a demonstration at the offices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The rally was to “Free Asucena” and the details follow:

Asucena came to the United States for refuge, fleeing severe personal abuse in Guatemala. She turned herself in at the border, and the U.S. government granted her permission to enter and to seek asylum status.

She has cooperated with ICE and is pursuing her asylum case in Iowa. But, at one of her scheduled check-ins, ICE unexpectedly detained her and refused to set bond for release. What shocking and heartless treatment for an abuse survivor seeking asylum, with a clean record and cooperating with the government!

When we arrived for the demonstration (which had been requested by Asucena’s young lawyer) we were delighted to hear that, due to public outcry such as ours, ICE had changed its position and approved her release (after a terrifying night in jail) on a $5,000 bond which she was, fortunately, able to raise. I am sure that it was no easy task putting together even that amount of money from friends and supporters. But she is safely at home this morning.

We marched around the block behind banners and with chants such as the one above, positioned ourselves in front of the ICE office building where we heard an update on her case from the lawyer. Next steps are for her to await a court date (which could be as late as next August!). Can you imagine the anxiety she will experience over those many days, weeks, and months?

Several brief addresses followed. I said something like, “My name is Christopher Epting. I am the retired Bishop of Iowa and I’m here because our faith tradition is sensitive to the plight of the strangers and sojourners in the land and therefore we will always stand with immigrants and refugees such a Asucena. We are sometimes called ‘witnesses of Christ.’ We are also ‘witnesses for Christ’. We are his eyes and ears and we are watching for and with him. ICE, we are watching!”

We must hold our government, and in this case the Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm, accountable to basic values of dignity and fairness. Join us as you can, wherever you are.


October 3, 2017

That was the title of an NPR sequence this morning after the horrendous massacre in Las Vegas. It is an important question which set me thinking. Why are we?

It’s not all about racism (even though, God knows, America’s “original sin” is racism) because lots of the shooters, over the years, have been white and their targets have not necessarily been people of color. It’s not all about poverty (even though income disparity in this country has never been wider) because mass murderers are rarely at the bottom of the income ladder.

It’s not all about mental illness (even though much more could be done in this area — another casualty of our broken health care system) because there is no evidence that Americans have a higher percentage of folks under emotional and mental distress than any other nation on earth.

No, the only unique factor that I can discern leading to the incredibly high number of mass shootings and rampant gun violence in general is the easy availability of firearms and particularly those assault-style weapons only designed to be used in wartime by the military or perhaps in extreme circumstances by a Special Weapons and Tactics unit of local police departments.

Please do not jump to the tired cliche about people killing people, not guns; or the fact that if a nut wants to kill someone, he (and it is almost invariably a “he”) can just drive a vehicle at high speed onto a crowded sidewalk. As true as that is, you cannot kill 60 people with a truck. Nor am I interested in the plea not to become “political” on the day after a tragedy such as this one because our attention should be focused on the victims and their grieving families.

As I stated in yesterday’s Facebook post, “It is possible both to pray for, grieve with, and mourn the victims of the Las Vegas shooting AND, AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME, call for a complete ban on assault-style weapons except for the military and, perhaps SWAT teams on police departments. Prayer and action are not mutually exclusive and this has NOTHING to do with partisan politics unless someone chooses to make it so.”

Chief among those who “choose to make it so” are members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). My wife posted today the amounts of campaign contributions the NRA has given just to Iowa politicians.

  1. Senator Chuck Grassley (R) $27,000
  2. Rep. Steven King (R) $20,403
  3. Sen. Joni Ernst (R) $9,9004
  4. Rep. David Young (R) $9,905
  5. Rep. Rod Blum (R) $8,450

Total  approximately $76,000. And you wonder why we cannot pass common sense gun control in this country? And it is not just the money. Each one of those 76,000 dollars represents a number of vote in Iowa elections, people who support the NRA and its insane p0licies. Our politicians, who desire nothing more than to be re-elected and retain their hold on power are terrified to buck these constituents.

I have spent my entire life trying to win the hearts of men and women to accept the love and grace of the God who created them and to respond to that awareness by loving their neighbors. I have obviously failed in that task as have my sisters and brothers who join me in calling themselves Christians.

Until we can get our act together and find a way to convey the good news of God’s love in such a way that people can actually hear it, can you just help me do something that would at least lessen the impact of our failure?

Get The Guns Off Our Streets, For God’s sake!