Category Archives: episcopal

Arendt’s challenge to churches . . .

img_0503So I am reading a fairly dense essay by Hannah Arendt, “Reflections on Little Rock.”   While I am no expert on Arendt and the broad reach of her writings, I was not surprised to learn this was a controversial piece and was finally rejected for publication by the journal that requested her thoughts on the integration of public schools in Little Rock.  Ultimately, the piece was published in the winter of 1959 edition of Dissent.  Arendt was traversing the razor’s edge between social discrimination and political equality; the classic argument between individual freedom and universal equality.  Arendt argues the role of government is to ensure social discrimination never curtails political equality.  She argues that social discrimination, when allowed legal standing (i.e. discriminatory laws such as miscegenation, restricting voting, etc.), becomes persecution.  However, and to the everlasting frustration of some, she also argues “The moment social discrimination is legally abolished, the freedom of society is violated . . .”  In the complexity of her discourse, she is arguing that social discrimination limiting political/universal equality cannot be affirmed by the legal systems of the state, but the legal systems of the state cannot impede social discrimination as an exercise of individual freedom, no matter its disagreeable nature.  In the social setting, she sees discrimination as an unavoidable human reality; still, it should neither be affirmed or restricted by public law.  Government or, more specifically, the deliberative structures that organize the laws of the land “. . . can legitimately take no steps against social discrimination because government can act only in the name of equality . . .”.  

What?

Ironically, she offers this caveat, “The only public force that can fight social prejudice (i.e. discrimination) is the churches, and they can do so in the name of the uniqueness of the person, for it is on the principle of the uniqueness of souls that religion (and especially the Christian faith) is based.  The churches are indeed the only communal and public place where appearances do not count, and if discrimination creeps into the houses of worship, this in an infallible sign of their religious failing.  They have become social and are no longer religious institutions.”  (P 240, The Portable Hannah Arendt, Penguin Classic, 2003).  In essence, Arendt argues the social context of the human experience is always going to be subject to discriminatory tendencies of one sort or another.  Government, she argues, cannot legislate laws to change this.  On the other hand, she asserts, equality of access to the privileges of citizenship to be an existential reality that constitutes the basic law of the American way of life.  Any effort, legal or societal, to limit such equality of citizenship must be rejected.  Moreover, civil/political equality should be protected by the laws of the land.  In her construction, these two competing realities must be managed independently and without each excluding the other.   EXCEPT, as she states above, in the context of religion, where the ultimate equality of createdness by God transcends all differences that would allow for social discrimination.  Churches are the ultimate moral and ethical voice to challenge the Aristotelian accidents that vex and divide humanity in discriminatory and prejudicial ways.  Obversely, Arendt seems committed to equality as the underlying political and religious essence of the human experience.

At least in this essay, Arendt does not draw any direct conclusion regarding the role of the church in solving the conundrum.  However, she suggests clearly churches should work to reject social discrimination and affirm human equality.  Otherwise, churches should acknowledge, through their inaction or contrary actions, they are “no longer religious institutions.” Seems to me there are a lot of churches that have abandoned what might be thought of as an essential vocation of the church, at least as understood by Hannah Arendt.

Arendt never reads easy; but she always reads deep.

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A Baptismal Proclamation following Charlottesville

Yesterday, at the 10:30 liturgy, we baptized five children, four babies and one toddler. The sacrament of baptism is one of the most powerful liturgies of our church. In the language of the liturgy, we make a powerful declaration of our belief/faith (Credo– “I believe . . . “) in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Such a declaration of belief of faith is an important public proclamation of our understanding of God and God’s saving message to us. But for me, while the declaration of belief/faith is hugely important, it is the series of questions in the baptismal covenant portion of the liturgy that is most profoundly important to me. In essence, this collection of questions asks us, “If we truly believe this, what will we do to make this real in our lives and in our world?” The questions of the liturgy guide us to consider elements of the Christian life and faith that call us to action or, as I so often say, call us to declare publicly we will live our baptism/faith in the world. Those questions are as follows:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the
prayers?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
being?

Notice the action words contained in these questions: continue, persevere, resisting, proclaim, seek, serve, loving, strive, and respect. Our baptismal covenant is not a passive proposition! We are not baptized to sit quietly in our private prayer closet and blissfully ignore the challenges of a broken and sinful world. We are not called into isolated solitude, unconcerned about the challenges and attacks visited upon the least or marginalized among us. We are called, in baptism, to be the Body of Living Christ in the world.

Beyond the action words, these questions of the baptismal covenant call us into the moral and ethical community of the apostles. Baptism calls us to be a living community of grace and love in the world, making the sacrament of our faith, bread and prayers, real and available to all. Baptism calls us to reject evil and confess our failings. Baptism challenges us to evangelism, to make the Gospel, real and palpable in the world. Baptism requires we reach out to all people, standing for justice, peace, and dignity for every human being.

To each of these questions, we respond, “I will with God’s help.”

I will–This is the declaration to action we affirm every time we celebrate a baptism. I will . . .

On Sunday, five young children were welcomed into the Body of Christ. As we presented them, I asked the congregation, on behalf of Christians everywhere, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these children in their life in Christ?”. We replied, “We will.”

On Friday and Saturday, in Charlottesville, VA, our nation and our faith was shattered by unfettered evil, wickedness, and malevolence. The organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the neo-Nazis, the alt-Right, White Nationalists, and other related hate groups, must understand they are completely and totally rejected by the moral and ethical beliefs held by the Body of Christ—the Church. Such rejection must be clear, emphatic, and powerful. In moments like this, the faithful must be unrelenting in their public rejection of such manifestations of hate and evil. The Church has failed this challenge at historic moments in the past. We must not fail in the challenge we face in this present moment.

Five young children baptized on Sunday, with long and full lives before them, should expect us to live the faith we confessed as we presented them for baptism. God heard us when we confessed our belief/faith and responded to each question, “I will.” Each of us affirmed we will “do all in our power to support these children in their life in Christ.”

When my first daughter was born, as I reflected on the broken history into which she was born–of slavery, of the Nazi Holocaust, of the violent rejection by too many of the Civil Rights movement–I committed to never stand passively and allow such evil to progress unchallenged in her world. For each of my daughters, for all the children I have presented for baptism, and for my Lord and my God, I commit to unreserved and active rejection of those who promulgate hate, intolerance, racism, or any form of malignant, vile, and perverted evil.

The Charlottesville event and the rising, unfettered hate-movement reviving in our country is a challenge to the Body of Christ–the Church. Let us with courage, faith, and decisiveness reject the darkness of evil and hate in all its forms. Let us be the light of Christ in the world that overwhelms this present darkness. Let us make our baptismal covenant and our faith real and alive in the world.

Amen.

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Filed under Alt-right, Baptism, Confederate flag, episcopal, Episcopal priest, faithfulness, God's love, Holocaust, Justice, Nazi, racism, terrorism

“Charity is no substitute for Justice” — Tzedakah / Tzedek

This morning I visited, “This is Hunger,” a traveling exhibit created by Mazon, a national Jewish organization addressing issues of food insecurity and justice in the USA. Locally, this exhibit is sponsored by Episcopal Community Services and Jewish Family Services. Temple Beth Shalom in Overland Park is the location of this traveling exhibit. It will be there until July 13. There is more information on our St. Paul’s Facebook page  ( https://www.facebook.com/StPaulsKCMO/ ) about this exhibit and how to get tickets (free), which are required. Please don’t miss this amazing and well designed experience. 

It is the “experience” I want to reflect upon here.  Entering the truck, the group encountered a long table with chairs, really a long dinner table, set up in the middle of the truck. Plates, created by projected lights, marked each “place setting.” We were invited to be seated and to introduce ourselves to those around us. I would estimate there were about 24 of us. After a few moments, the room darkened and only our “plates” remained illuminated. Then one by one the plates disappeared. After a few moments of silence around the darkened table, people, projected on screens at each end of the table, began to “join” us and share their stories of hunger. Young and old, working and retired, healthy and sick, long employed and chronically unemployed . . . each spoke of the difficulties, disappointments, and discouraging realities of their struggle with food insecurity and hunger.  Their stories were honest, compelling, and disheartening. There are embarrassing statistics, embarrassing for our country, attached to all of these stories. But it is the humanizing of these statistics as we heard each story that was so powerful in impact. The video presentation ended with two walls of photos of faces and summaries of the statistics of hunger in the USA. Following this multimedia presentation, a spokesperson for Mazon concluded with this challenging observation—“The challenges of food insecurity are severe in our country and food charity (e.g. soup kitchens, food pantries, etc) cannot fix them. Public policy actions are essential to respond to the challenges of food insecurity and hunger in our country.”

“Food charity.” Our churches have long and arguably successful records in the area of food charity. Food pantries, soup kitchens, neighborhood gardens, and other similar programs represent models familiar to church activism across the country. These food ministries are essential given the increasing costs of food and reduction of public programs of food support available to hungry people. Yet the observation by Mazon of public policy changes needed to respond to the huge dimensions of food insecurity and hunger compels the faith community to re-imagine its limited reactive role and challenges it to a more pro-active role addressing matters of public policy.

It is suggested St. Augustine of Hippo, the great 4th-5th century theologian of the nascent Christian movement, once wrote, “Charity is no substitute for justice.” Surely, in matters of food insecurity and hunger, this observation challenges us to ponder our moral obligation to not only feed hungry people (charity) but our equally important moral and faith obligation to active, public advocacy for more equitable public policy for the food insecure and hungry (justice).  Such  advocacy would seek food/economic independence for many of those currently struggling with food insecurity and hunger. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for charity is tzedakah. The word tzedakah shares an etymological root with tzedek which means justice. Linguistically, this connection suggests charity must be built on a foundation of justice. In the absence of such a foundation, I believe the religious community must be faithful in working to build such a foundation, seeking diligently to create a more just society. Indeed, we should be “doing justice” (Micah 6.8) with the same zeal and energy we expend in our efforts to provide for the acute and immediate challenges of feeding hunger people in our soup kitchens and food pantries.

This is Hunger Video 

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Filed under Augustine of Hippo, Charity, community, episcopal, Episcopal priest, feeding the hungry, Food ministry, food pantry, Justice, Righteousness

The Crumpled

eastern tigerThis week I found a newly “hatched” Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in the garden.  It was working mightily to unfold its newly liberated wings.  I am not sure, but it is possible there was some defect in one wing as it seemed to be excessively crumpled.  The butterfly was struggling to hold on to a leaf while, at the same time, get that one wing to deploy for its intended purpose.  I watched for a few minutes.  It seemed not to be going well.  I wondered how things would work out.  While otherwise robust and healthy appearing, one crumpled wing may be this butterfly’s undoing.  I watched for a while longer and then walked away.  I left the butterfly to its struggle for life on its own.
All around me, crumpled lives are struggling to find a chance in our culture and society to unfold successfully.  Unlike the butterfly in my garden, my faith does not allow me to walk away.  Too often the people I observe are not crumpled by their own doing.  Too often they are crumpled by systemic forces determined to prevent success.  Too often they are crumpled by malevolent powers that purposely seek to prevent success.  Too often they are crumpled by injustices allowed, intentionally or unintentionally, to proliferate in our culture and society, preventing success.  Too often they are crumpled by the denial of access to the resources needed to promote success.  The story of our faith does not offer the option to walk away from the crumpled.  Indeed, as crumpled people ourselves, saved/served by the unmerited grace of God, we are challenged to serve those whose lives are crumpled.
Truly Lord, when did I serve you?  
When you served the crumpled you served me.
What is it God expects of us?  To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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Freedom (see red link below)

It has been an odd few days in time for this pilgrim.
One day this week I was reading a speech given by Congressman Joe Kennedy at “The Summit,” the annual gathering called by Sojourners magazine of faith and justice leaders in our country.  It was a magnificent speech reminding the faith community that it is our lifes’ vocations to pursue justice for all, especially the marginalized and forgotten, the poor and hungry, the persecuted and lost.  In the midst of this, he offered a quote from Augustine of Hippo, the great 4th Century theologian who contributes greatly to the identity of Western Christianity, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”  These words ring true, but for the life of me I could not find validation that they are actually words of Augustine (I chase more rabbits trying to find primary sources of important quotes).  In my searching, I came across another quote attributed to Augustine but equally untraceable, “Hope has two beautiful daughters and their names are Anger and Courage.  Anger at the way things are and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”  I very much appreciate both of these quotes and will continue to seek their origins.  Still, I will attribute them to Augustine, with qualification, as many have, and will use them to challenge us to the baptismal living to which we are called and the life vocations Congressman Kennedy suggests.
I also remembered this week we are remembering the 100th anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Europe to aid the allies in the Great War.  I am reminded of the reality of this war (WW1) every time I walk through the blue hall at St. Paul’s and see the memorial plaque on the wall with the names of 99 parishioners who served, including four who died and six women, in the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe.  The inscription on the plaque reads, “For His name’s sake they went forward that peace and happiness, truth and justice might be established among all nations.”   The peculiarities of wars’ causes, the casus belli, perplex me.  And, though the aforementioned Augustine provided a solution to a war approved by Christianity–that is “just war” ( jus bellum justum ), I remained unconvinced as a person of faith and moral agency that I will ever understand war as other than tragic and reflective of our unwillingness to seek fully God’s vision of the Kingdom. Consequently, for me, war is forever a sign of our obdurate hearts and implacable moral blindness.  However, I do not imagine the soldier bears the burden of these stains on human history.  Rather, in almost every instance, it is that small cabal of powerful and privileged, considering only minimally the human consequences of war, who bear the responsibility, instead seeking more privilege and power to feed their insatiable appetites for both.  Thus, I lament the human pains and sorrows inflicted by war as well as its insult to the human spirit.  It is here I embrace Hope’s two daughters and pledge to never disavow my obligation to stand for the common person, the common soldier, our common humanity, and resist war in every instance.
I was disheartened this week by an advertisement published by the NRA.  There is no explanation for their intent or purpose in this ad other than to incite violence and hate toward Americans who dare to disagree with them.  The venom with which this ad creates a ubiquitous “enemy” to those who are the NRA is frightening and contrary to everything America represents since Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, an American patriot, suggested e pluribus unum ( out of many, one) be the motto on the seal for the Colonial Congress in 1776.  The advertisement ends with an ominous warning, “The only way we stop this (referring to fake news, protest, and civil disobedience), the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth. I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place.”  The ad is being denounced by progressives and conservatives alike as a thinly veiled call to arms and violence.  I was once an active member of the NRA.  I valued its lessons on gun safety, hunting, and wildlife conservation.  No longer.  It is now a vicious and destructive organization that serves no socially redeeming purpose in modern civilization.  While we, the faithful, are called to seek justice, mercy, redemption, reconciliation, and peace, this group is calling its members to prepare for violence and war.
Finally,  last night I attended a rally for the fight for a living wage in Kansas City.  Many parts of the rally were moving, but the highlight was a song sung by a small group of singers.  The song, Freedom,” (click to music) was so filled with hopefulness and joy!  My video can only convey a small part of how beautiful this moment was for me.  August 8, you will have your chance to express your opinion about a living wage in Kansas City.  I hope you consider your vote prayerfully.
So, the journey of the week was a roller-coaster, filled with joys and sorrows.  Still, God was with me all along the way; for that, I am always thankful.

 

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Filed under American history, episcopal, Episcopal priest, freedom, gun violence, Justice, patriotism, US History