Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the Latest ELCA Headlines

In an effort to be fully disclosed--I was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church. Since college, I haven't believed in being a member of a church or of labeling my beliefs. So while I was raised in the Lutheran church, I currently don't label myself "Lutheran." The ELCA does, however, sign my paycheck.

For those in the dark, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has recently voted to accept the ordination of homosexuals in active, monogamous relationships. Previously, homosexuals could be ordained only if they remained celibate.

As you can imagine, this has split the church. While many people agree with the national assembly's decision (and some of those who agree actually surprised me), a sizeable minority disagree with the decision--and many of them vehemently. While I have heard many reasons against the ordination of gays in active, monogamous relationships, all of these reasons have been ideological. I have yet to hear a well thought out theological argument against it. I hope I do, though.

More full disclosure--I am not a theologian. I'm just a dude. I am, however, a sola scriptura dude. When the pastor of my church first told me that the ELCA was considering ordaining homosexuals, my gut reaction was "hell no." Like a good boy, though, I caught myself and decided to check what the Bible said about the issue.

The Bible is almost mute on the issue of ordination of pastors. Aside from the strict rules set out in the Pentateuch, there are very few guidelines on the issue. The Pentateuch's rules are inapplicable today as it is impossible to trace back anyone's ancestry to Aaron for starters. In The Ritual Process, Victor Turner makes a keen observation that the charismatic leaders of religious groups (Jesus, Buddha, St. Francis, etc) are often horrible organizers. The organizing comes from one or more structurally adept disciples. In the case of Christianity, this job falls on Peter and Paul. Turning to Jesus's own words, it is difficult to find direction concering the church in his absence. I was only able to find Jesus's warning of those who would come after him saying "Look here! Look there!" and not all of them would be true teachers. The way to tell true teaching from false teaching is to look at the fruit that they bear. The teaching that bears good fruit is true. I must admit that I don't see how ordaining homosexuals would bear bad fruit, but I will address that a bit more later on.

Since the Bible is silent on the subject of organization, I next looked for sections on homosexuality. As many are well aware, Leviticus speaks quite strongly against homosexuality. Undoubtedly, many of those against the ELCA's decision will point to Leviticus 18 and 20 as proof that homosexuals should not be ordained. Yet they will most likely skip over the same passage that states the punishment for homosexuality is death. If we are going to accept Leviticus as evidence that homosexuals should not be ordained, we must also accept that those same homosexuals should be put to death. That is obviously not an option, thus citing Leviticus in support of a denial of ordination to gays is a bit problematic.

The last point I would like to make concerning the Bible and this issue, and in my opinion the strongest argument to support the ELCA's decision, is that the Bible establishes sin and not-sin. Any human thought or action falls into one or the other category. There is either something that is sinful or something that isn't sinful. We certainly do not expect pastors to be sinless. Christian doctrine is almost uniform in stating that humans are sinners. A person need not be sinless in order to be ordained. The only way I can imagine using homosexuality as a deal-breaker for ordination is to consider it sui generis. For those against the decision, there must be three categories instead of two: sin, not-sin, and homosexuality. There simply is no scriptural basis for this argument.

Now I'll return to the good/bad fruit idea. Many may argue that homosexuality is inherently bad fruit. I am not one of them. Functionally speaking, what is societally important in a relationship is its monogamy. Heterosexually monogamous relationships are important for society because they bear offspring and provide the stability needed for raising those children. Homosexual monogamy may not produce offspring, but it provides the same stability needed for a healthy relationship. In other words, the monogamy of a relationship should be the priority.

This is not a soap box issue for me. I believe the ELCA made the right decision. But what bothers me the most is that those who disagree with the decision are using ideology to argue against it over theology. If the Bible is the book on which Christianity is based, let's use it. If someone has an argument against the decision that is based on scripture, I am sincerely interested in hearing it.

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that Romans 1 deals with homosexuality, but not as it relates to ordination. It seems even Paul himself viewed homosexuality sui generis. As I mentioned before, there is no scriptural basis for this (other than Paul's own assertion). Let us remember that Paul never met Jesus and that his word is human. Lutherans are Christians--not Paulians. It is also worth considering the fruit that the teaching of Romans 1 would bear. And it would most certainly not be good fruit. While Paul stops short of ordering the execution of homosexuals (among others) he clearly wishes death upon them. That is most assuredly bad fruit. There are times when even Paul himself does not meet Jesus's rubric for right teaching.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Myth of the Egalitarianism of Opinion

This topic came up as I was reading "Religion and Alienation" by Gregory Baum. He mentions in passing how, in modern egalitarian society, people feel empowered by the idea that "all Men are created equal." While I wholeheartedly agree with this statement (as evidenced by previous blogs), modern society has made the jump from "all Men" to "the opinions of all Men" being created equal. This is an inaccurate and dangerous concept.

While all Men are truly equal and should have the same rights across the board, it is downright silly to view the opinions of all Men as being equal. To suggest that the technical opinion on John Coltrane of a law school graduate is equal to a music school graduate is ludicrous. This analogy could be substituted with any combinations of educational level and subject matter. In modern society, the distribution of labor has become more and more compartmentalized. The result is a higher and higher degree of specizliation among each individual in society.

I found a good example on Google books speaking directly to this point. "Intellectual Trust in Oneself and Others" by Richard Foley is an epistemlogical look on the subject at hand. He begins by pointing to John Locke, who, in an age where clerical authority was deemed the final answer, called on idividuals to decide their own opinion in defferance to the clerical elite. Foley accurately points out that the society in the time of Locke is not completely analogous to modern society. The questions Locke was calling on individuals to ponder were nowhere near as complex or small in technical scope as ours today.

Foley realizes the importance of the society at large having a say in technical matters. To bridge the gap between the vox populi and the technical experts, Foley suggests it is important for individuals to "form credible opinions about the overall workings of the system that produces specialized knowledge claims." I think we've got a pretty good grasp on this. We are able to ascertain, when we put our minds to it, the sort of person or group of people that come out with a scientific claim. There are various "watchdogs" that are looking into the source of research funding to see if it affected the result of the research, etc.

Foley next points out that modern science is its own corrector. With such a heavy emphasis placed on reproducable experiments and peer reviewed journals, the general public can rest assured that even if mistakes are made, they will sooner or later be corrected. This is all under the caveat that science will be able to continue functioning freely without censorship, etc.

When considering the most important topics at hand that have an expert opinion, I doubt there is any more important than global climate change. Everyone and their dog has an opinion on global climate change; yet few of us even approach the level of technical knowledge needed to form an expert opinion on the subject. Anyone who took a high school chemistry class is (hopefully) able to understand the process behind the "green house effect," regardless if they believe it is happening or not. The fact that it CAN happen is what is important to establish.

Heading to anyone with internet access can read for themselves the report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This organization was sponsored by the World Meterological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program. This organization does not conduct their own research, but serves as a clearinghouse for any research done on global climate change. Here we have a body that provides all the checks and balances Foley mentions when forming expert opinions on technical matters. The first report from the IPCC in 1990 stated that "certain that emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases, resulting on average in an additional warming of the Earth's surface."

Now we arrive at the unfortunate point where this all-too-important topic becomes political. Why on Earth the discussion of whether Mankind has an effect on the environment and thus climate is beyond me. But it unfortunately has happened and become so divisive it makes almost any discussion on the topic impossible.

Now the whole point this post is getting at is: if there are people with Ph.D's doing years worth of research in a field requiring such intense specialization, and these people are coming up with their opinion that it is probable that Mankind is influencing the Earth's climate in a way that could cause irreparable harm, then who the **** are we to disagree? Sure, you could point to the minority of scientists who say that it is impossible, even with all the forests we're chopping down and the sub-$2000 cars that are now available, and the tons of solid waste floating in the ocean between California and Hawaii, that Manking isn't effecting the environment in any detrimental way. I'm sure these scientists have equal Ph.D's and similar numbers of years doing research in specialized fields. So let's agree that there are some scientists on each side.

Now let's return for a second to how science does it's job--it hypothesizes, conducts experiments, and then analyzes the results. What, exactly, would the experiment be to test the hypothesis "Mankind does NOT effect global climates"? Is it "let's wait 50-100 years and see what happens"? I think we can all see the danger in that idea.

Now let's imagine for a second we pluck 100 of these specialists in global climate, and we say "those who think Mankind is causing climate change stand on the left side of the room, those who don't stand on the right." And we end up with 50 scientists on the left and 50 on the right. Then what do we do?

Well the answer seems obvious. If we act based on the opinions of those who believe Man IS causing climate change, then we make changes in energy production and use. We act on deforestation. We become STEWARDS (yes, for those religious people out there--you are commanded to take care of this Earth!) of the environment. And climate change does NOT occur and the tree huggers say "we saved the Earth!" and the rest say "nothing would have happened anyway!" and all is right with the world.

If we act based on the opinions of the scientists who say Man is NOT causing climate change, then we maintain the status quo. We keep going through oil as if it were a renewable resource. We continue to destroy forest. And two possiblilties arise: everything goes on as normal and the tree huggers hide their heads in shame, or . . ..

There seems only one logical choice regardless of anyone's individual opinion OR the scientists expert opinion.

(Google Books link to Foley's work: link )

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

John Wesley's Advice For Church Singing

The June 2009 issue of The American Organist (journal of the American Guild of Organists) ended with 7 tips John Wesley gave for congregation singing. Some of them remain incredibly salient. I'm changing the order and leaving some out.

"Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength."

This is the easiest thing someone can do to make their singing better. I had a professor always say "if you're going to be wrong, be loud and wrong." Everyone knows the "joyful noise" psalm. Do it. I also don't like the excuse "I didn't know that hymn." Most hymns have at least 4 verses. If you're singing with good courage, you will doubtless know the hymn by the last verse.

"Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself."

Every religion in the word has song. God loves song. Wesley ended his advice with this. I'll end with the following:

"Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find a blessing."

Well put Mr. Wesley! If you find singing in public difficult, then you will get that much more out of it when you do it. The most important part of this advice is the word "congregation." Christian faith is built on groups of people worshipping together. Singing is a fundamental part of worship. Not participating in that part of the service means something is lacking.

Why is singing so important? We can start by looking at the roll breath plays in countless religions. Breath is an intergral part of God's creative power. Genesis 1:2states "the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Breath is often symbolic of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 2:7 God had finished creating the form of Man, but Man wasn't alive until God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." Breath is life giving.

So how do we get to singing from breath? The vocalized word is equally powerful. It is breath with the added power of vibration. God did not think, imagine, or will the world into existence. "God said let there be light." The vocalized word is powerful.

The most moving parts of any service are when words are said and sung. There is extra power in these words when we do it together. Don't let embarassment, fear, or lack of courage keep you from sharing in the gift of song.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

With Liberty And Justice For All

This is a sermon given by my great-uncle, Dr. Emmanuel Hoover, on a July 4th many years ago. It was entered into the Congressional record as the text indicates. This was imported to word processor from a scan so there are some anomalies.

Vol. 116 WASHINGTON, FRIDAY, JULY 31, 1970 No. 131
Mr. TYDINGS. Mr. President, at times we must all be reminded of certain fundamental values which become clouded
The Reverend Emmanuel Hoover, pas tor of the Zion Lutheran Church in Middletown, Md., has written a stirring entreaty to all Americans to search their consciences—to see if they are actually the true patriots they claim to be.
He attributes the Nation’s divisions in part to the basic human failing of selfishness—selfishness of those who consider only their immediate group, be it sectional, ethnic, or racial, and not the Nation as a whole.
The Reverend Mr. Hoover’s words move each of us to abandon special interests and to strive toward greater unity.
I ask unanimous consent that the
sermon delivered by the Reverend Mr.
Hoover in the Zion Lutheran Church in
Middletown, Md., be printed in the
There being no objection, the sermon was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (An Independence Day Sunday sermon delivered in Zion Lutheran Church, Middle town, Md., by the pastor, Rev. Emmanuel J. Hoover, S.T.D., July 5. 1970)
Text: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof!” (Leviticus 25:10.)
This weekend we celebrate the 194th anniversary of the founding of our nation with the signing or the Declaration of Independence and the formal beginning of the War for Independence
One hundred and ninety four long years have gone by and America has developed into the World’s greatest nation, having come to be known throughout the world as “the land of the free!”
There have been many American flags dis played this weekend in apparent commemoration of that event of one hundred and ninety four years ago. We have been encouraged to display the flag at our homes and on the rear and side windows of our automobiles in an effort to revive the sagging of patriot ism evident in our land. All of this Is fine, if, when we display we really believe what it represents and symbolizes; otherwise, It is gross hypocrisy and a cover-up!
When we salute the flag we say: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which
it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and Justice for all I” If we really believe those words, then we have a right to fly the flag, and to fly it as briskly and as often as we may desire. But if we do not really believe those words, then we have no right to fly the flag, for then to fly the flag becomes sheer hypocrisy saying by the outward display of the flag that we are believers in what it symbolizes when In our hearts and minds we do not so believe. And this is what the younger generation says concerning many of us of the older generation—that we are guilty of hypocrisy! By which they mean that we say many things we do not do, that we say many things we do not believe, so that they see us as guilty of gross hypocrisy.
Our nation was founded by religious men. If you will study the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and all the early documents leading up to them, you will find in each an overt recognition of the part God plays in the life and destinies of men and nations. God played a most important role in the events which led to the founding of America.
This Leviticus text, perhaps 2800 years old, is the Biblical text inscribed on the Liberty Bell. Our founding fathers took a text from the Bible and had it inscribed on the Liberty Bell when they had it made: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof!” This was not a new idea; it was an old idea, as old as the world because it existed in the mind of God. All men, by God’s Will, are to be free, and nations are to administer justice impartially for the benefit of each individual man. Liberty and justice are not just for a few, a privileged few; they are for all people, for all the citizens of the land, and for aliens too! God revealed those truths 2800 years ago, but it has taken hundreds and hundreds of years f1hé become evident reality for many peoples. America Was probably the first nation, and possibly the only one, to inscribe these words of the next on a bell which was to ring out liberty and justice for all its people!
It required 2800 years for God to develop a nation which came to be known as “the land of the free!” Other nations contributed to this historic development: there were the Greeks with their City States and ideas of freedom, and there were the British with their Magna Carta. But liberty is a precarious business. Nations which have had liberty and freedom can easily erode and vanish. It takes eternal vigilance and the kind of Ingredients which go into the making of true and lasting liberty!
America didn’t Just happen to happen! America became what she is because of the character of the people who founded America and who have kept America and the American dream alive througout one hundred and ninety-four years of history. They were people who believed that in America liberty should be proclaimed througout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof. If everybody in America today believed this, we would not be the divided nation we are. We are a divided nation because there are groups of citizens_who do not believe that liberty should be proclaimed throughout all the land
to all the inhabitants thereof, If the Liberty Bell were to be struck today, many would insist that the Leviticus inscription be eliminated!
Some folks want liberty and justice for themselves but are not In the least concerned about the same for others. There are groups that want liberty and justice to maintain their selfish interests, but who couldn’t care less about liberty and justice for the other groups in our society. Selfish interest groups who look out for their own welfare primarily and who do not consider the welfare of the nation as a whole constitute one of the major weaknesses in our American society today. Lobbies and lobbyists can very easily be dedicated not to what is good for America but solely what is good for the special interest they represent. Lobbying can easily become the most selfish expression of political exploitation. The result of much such selfish expression and self-seeking can be the erosion in liberty and freedom!
The Liberty Bell didn’t ring very long until it suffered a crack, and someone has suggested that we have a crack in the Liberty Bell today! It is quite true; America’s Liberty Bell is cracked for liberty and justice for all! No longer do we seem willing as a united people to proclaim liberty through out all the land to all the inhabitants thereof!
America was known for many years as “the melting pot of the world.” People came here
from all lands and diverse languages and represented differing
cultures. Here in the land of freedom and opportunity, after a generation or two, they were assimilated into our citizenry and many of them came to be recognized for unique contributions they gave to the life of the nation. Among these immigrants ware many of our immediate ancestors.
But we seem to have ceased being the world’s melting pot; instead of being assimilated into a living union and common wealth, we now seem to stand in opposition to one another and to withhold goodwill and opportunity to one another, especially so if the color of our skin is different. There are groups and individuals in America today who, looking back to the past, think of the wonderful life in America of fifty or seventy five years ago, an America which was much differentiated more desirable for living than the America of today, an America in which people did tolerate one another and respected differing opinions; and they wish to go back
to that America, to the manifest patriotism which reigned In those former years. Well. we can go back to that America if we will but fulfill the same conditions which created that America of fifty or seventy five years ago, if we are willing to work together. to understand one another, to love one an other, and if we really will believe with our heart and soul in the freedom and justice for all for which the American flag stands!
There is a consistency between what we say when we repeat this ancient text from Leviticus and when we pledge allegiance to the American flag, and what we confess in both Instances is among the noblest acts and sentiments of man. It represents God as having a position of recognition and honor in the history and life of our nation: “One nation—under God!” Some citizens will hang out the flag on national holidays, affirming that they believe this nation’s life is built on a recognition of God, but they themselves are never found at worship in any house of God helping sustain the godly foundations of the nation—all of which has something of the air of hypocrisy about it! For to say that this is a nation under God and then refuse to do your little bit of this nation is indeed hyprocritical, is to one’s right to dis play the flag, because then one doesn’t really believe in this truth ad ideal which the flag symbolizes.
To display the flag is to believe in the unity of America: “One nation indivisible I” This is to mean that priority is given to the nation above all other national goals or local loyalties. The flag says that America is for “all the inhabitants of the land!” Americans are united regardless of the color of skin, of financial position, or of educational attainment, or of political opinion. All groupings and allegiances are subservient to the unity of the nation. In the true America no distinctions are made where unity, love and loyalty to nation is involved. And this is one of the great things we say when we salute the flag. Groups may separate us, but the nation should unite us. If we are a divided nation, you see, it is because some of us have fallen prey to the temptation to put local, sectional or group interests ahead of national interests, and to the degree we have done this we have violated the pledge of allegiance to the flag and nullified the will of God as set forth in the ancient Leviticus commandment to “pro claim liberty to all the people!”
There is something genuinely un-American about permitting local, sectional or personal interests to divide us as a people. In America there should be no North or South, no capital or labor, no rich or poor, no black or white to disrupt our unity or to delay the achievement of our national goals and idea]s. And we will believe this if we are honest when we salute our flag and seriously consider God’s Will for all men.
To genuinely salute the American flag means to accept the ancient Leviticus text as God’s command to us as a nation: that here liberty and justice shall be proclaimed and administered evenhandedly to all, The flag of our nation was bought with a great price; it is not something cheap, to be spit upon an torn into rags. Men by the thousands have died for the nation, believing in what the flag symbolizes: their blood is represented by the red stripes. The white strips are emblematic of the pure and lofty ideals for which our nation stands. And the blue should represent the loyalty of the living to those ideals for which our dead heroes shed their life blood. A great deal of dedicated living and heroic dying Is represented in the American flag; purchased at such a price, we dare not treat It lightly or desecrate it lightheartedly! Our loyalty does not mean perfect acceptance of the nation as it may be, but rather to the nation’s nigh and lofty ideals towards we should always be striving. It is not a blind loyalty, such as is evident in such catchwords as: “America: Love it or Leave It!” but a loyalty which ever works to make America’s perform more faithfully duplicate and attain its ideals. We dare never forget that America stands under the vast judgment of God just as do individual men, but we seem to have lost this sense of the judgment of God in the affairs of nations. One of the truly great traits of Abraham Lincoln was that he believed devoutly that God sits in judgment upon nations, as well as He sits in judgment upon individual men and women.
We are called upon always to try to make America live up to the high and lofty ideals represented by our flag and historic documents—the ideals that liberty, freedom and justice shall be proclaimed from one end of the nation to the other end, to every single citizen and inhabitant thereof.
There are many American citizens who consume civil, economic and political liberty for themselves, but who are not willing to grant similar liberties to the poor and underprivileged among our citizenry. At times when our government has tried to elevate the living standards and educational opportunities for the thirty million Americans living in Appalachia and in our ghettos, we have found some of our most highly privileged citizens among the most vocal opponents. We are not all equal when ft comes to economic and social opportunity; anyone who has been closely and sympathetically identified with the poor of our land, the depressed of Appalachia, the ill-treated American Indian, or the down-graded Mexican- Americans, knows full well that these in habitants of our land do not have the opportunity. they do not have the freedom, to develop themselves Into the most constructive citizens possible in a worthwhile society, That’s the heart of liberty—not license, not freedom to do as we please, or to be what we want to be—but freedom to become what we ought to be. freedom to become the best we can possibly be, to be elevated in mind, ennobled in spirit, upgraded In character, and motivated to be of positive usefulness in the society of man,
Yes, true Americanism consists in more than the periodic display of the flag. Not everyone who displays the flag is a good American, but only they who work daily in life to make America a better and more democratic society, who strive to assist their fellowmen in realizing the Ideals and hopes expressed in the flag. These ideals, rooted in Jewish and Christian history and teaching, can be summed up in Jesus’ great commandment: “Love God fully and love your neighbor as you love yourself!” Christ’s love consists of goodwill, tolerance and an under standing helpfulness towards our neighbor—. it means liberty, justice, goo and a helping hand for every soul striving to climb upward!
So, to truly obey this Leviticus command and to genuinely display the flag, one must not be viciously opposed to, must not hurt or harm a fellow citizen in any manner, but, as Luther said, must seek to assist him, to understand him, to wish only the best for him, and to put the most charitable construction on what he does and says!
This means that in America we will not call each other derogatory names and separate ourselves into opposing groups; but white and black, rich and poor, citizens and aliens, educated and illiterate, will live and work together, side by side, in understanding helpfulness, living and letting live, striving to achieve together what we cannot achieve alone—the American dream and the dream of God for all mankind!
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which It stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all!”
‘Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof!”
So, if you believe in these American Ideals, go home and display your flag as a testimony to your faith In these Ideals. But If you do not genuinely believe in these ideals, then go home and take down the flag you may be displaying, wrap It up in moth balls and store it In your attic until the time comes when you may be able to truthfully display it. But don’t be guilty of hypocrisy!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

2 Corinthians and Joseph Campbell

For those who don't know it, I am a music director for a Lutheran church. When choosing hymns for each Sunday, I read the lessons for that Sunday and attempt to select hymns accordingly. It doesn't always work out great, but I try nonetheless. One of the readings for this coming Sunday (2 Corinthians) caught my eye.

4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
4:9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed

This lines up perfectly with a quote from Joseph Campbell that has resonated with me for awhile.

The achievement of the hero is one that he is ready for and it's really a manifestation of his character. It's amusing the way in which the landscape and conditions of the environment match the readiness of the hero. The adventure that he is ready for is the one that he gets ... The adventure evoked a quality of his character that he didn't know he possessed.

Campbell later states his message even clearer (although I can't find the direct quote)--the hero is never given a quest that he is not ready for. The importance here is that WE are the hero. Hero myths are life lessons for US—not some washed up story from centuries ago.

Whatever challenge, crisis, or hardship we are facing—it is not one we are incapable of overcoming. God does not give us more than we can handle. We may be struck down, but never destroyed.

Incoming non sequitur. This last Campbell quote may not be directly related to the subject at hand, but is the most meaningful to me and hopefully will have meaning for everyone. It is found in the book version of The Power Of Myth—a series of interviews he had with Bill Moyers.

Moyers: Do you ever have the sense of... being helped by hidden hands?
Campbell: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time — namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gay Marriage and Abortion: Not the Same Thing

Granted, no one has said they ARE the same thing. But lately, with all the press, they often get lumped together. They do share, however, the polemic and caricatures mentioned by President Obama in his speech at Notre Dame. The main difference is that gay marriage is a legal issue, while abortion is an ethical issue. And while I am an admitted absolutist, I only fall on the side of black and white with the former.

For centuries, there have been groups of people with rights that have attempted to withhold those same rights from other groups of people. They have gone so far as to quote scripture in support of their views. Slave owners felt justified in their position by quoting the Bible. God was on their side-at least in their perspective. Luckily, they lost the battle. Later on, men attempted to withhold rights from women. Again quoting the Bible. They lost as well. In the whole of history, the group attempting to withhold rights from another group has always lost. Thank God.

This country is built on the belief that all people are created equal and have the same rights. This is built into our founding documents, reiterated on the battlefield of Gettysburg by one of our greatest Presidents, and is still true today. Everyone is created equal and has the same rights.

Gay marriage is a legal issue and only a legal issue. Some people have the right to marry. Another group doesn't. This is not in line with our belief that everyone has the same rights. Gay marriage must be allowed if we are to believe that all people are created equal and have the same rights. While allowing this, we should not force any organization to marry a couple they have a religious reservation in marrying. But the legality of gay marriage should not be denied.

Some opponents say "Oh, well if we allow gay marriage we will end up having to allow plural marriage or marriage to turtles." This is merely a deflection. And a bad one at that. NO ONE is allowed plural marriage. There is not one group that is allowed plural marriage while attempting to withhold that right from others. Therefore the analogy is moot.

The demand for gay marriage is legally sound. The demand for a woman's right to an abortion or for a ban on abortion is not so simple.

Abortion is an ethical issue. At the foundation of the debate is the answer to the question "When does life begin?" Any performance of an abortion AFTER that point would be, by definition, murder. The anti-abortion group thinks life begins at conception. The pro-choice group thinks it begins later. President Obama was right to conclude that the answer to that question is "beyond his pay-grade." The answer to that question is a personal and individual one. Personally, I believe life begins at conception. This does not, however, make me a hypocrite for wanting to preserve the legal status quo. I admit that other people are allowed a different answer to the question.

Lastly, President Obama's most salient point in his speech at Notre Dame was the call for a decrease in the number of abortions. Regardless of on what side one falls, reducing the number of abortions performed is a common goal everyone can get behind. Abortions for convenience's sake, regardless of one's answer to when life begins, are despicable. End them now. Not through law, however, but through action. Peer pressure is powerful and not always negative. Not violent pressure like screaming at women entering a clinic. "Resist not the evil-doer." But by fair minded words and love.

I will, however, say something the President didn't--if the Catholic Church is going to take such a strong stand against abortion, it is their responsibility to also reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies by removing the doctrine against birth control.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Church-time Distractions

I wrote this for the newsletter of the church I serve as Music Director for. Feel free to steal it. Giving credit, hopefully!

I used to love to go to the movies. Even bad ones. There was something magical about a movie that removed me from my everyday routine and placed me in a magical world. Even though I was aware of sitting in a theatre staring at a screen, the magic of Hollywood was enough to allow me to forget about reality and immerse myself in another world. Movies easily convince the audience to believe in the unbelivable. Dramatic theorists call this the “willing suspension of disbelief.” While being aware that the actions taking place on the screen are at the least improbable, I let it slide for the time being in order to remain in the other-world of the movie. That’s the magic of it.

Church is magical as well. When in church, we remove ourselves from everyday life and place ourselves in a sacred space AND time. Worship service in itself is something out of the ordinary. Whether it takes place in a church or on the beach, the time set aside for worship is magical. Christianity also has its own version of the willing suspension of disbelief. Tell any passerby on the street that you are going to die and rise up again in three days and they will likely keep on walking. This feeling, however, when applied to Christianity, would be more accurately titled a “willing affirmation of faith.” It isn’t a belief in the unbelievable as much as it is a faith in the unprovable. This magical feeling of being in the presence of God and communing with fellow congregants is an important function of the church service.

The question arises, “Why did you USED to love going to the movies?” The magical feeling of the movies is a tight rope act. The slightest nudge in either direction throws you out of the magical world and back into the everyday world. It became too difficult to go to the movies without having that magical feeling interrupted by rowdy teenagers, talkative adults, and ringing cell phones.

Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday gave me a chance to sit with my family in the congregation. The difference between work and worship is a different topic, but along with all the positive aspects of worshipping from the pew instead of the organ bench, I noticed that our congregation is not very good at preventing these distractions from the sacred feeling of church. I was downright embarrassed when (insert your organist's name) started her prelude and I couldn’t hear the organ over the conversations in the pews. The service starts with the Prelude. It is at that point, if not before, that we turn our minds and hearts to worship. The conversations were not, however, limited to just the Prelude. When I was still playing at St. Matthews Episcopal, an interim rector made a point of having the following saying printed at the very top of every bulletin:

Before the service, talk to God.
During the service, let God talk to you.
After the service, talk to each other.

I challenge the membership of (insert your church name here) to follow this simple saying. I don’t think we should expect better behavior from a movie audience than from a worship service congregation.