Men's Discussion Group (2024)

Table of Contents
MEN'S DISCUSSION GROUPTUESDAYS AT 10:00 AMIn-person and on Zoom:​https://zoom.us/j/5955701807 Tuesday, May 14 Tuesday, May 7 Tuesday, April 30 Tuesday, April 23 Tuesday, April 16 Tuesday, April 9 Tuesday, April 2 Wednesday, March 27 - Combined Discussion Group Tuesday, March 19 Tuesday, March 12 Tuesday, March 5 Tuesday, February 27 Tuesday, February 20 Tuesday, February 13 - Combined Discussion Group Tuesday, February 6 Tuesday, January 30 Tuesday, January 23 Tuesday, January 16 Tuesday, January 9 Tuesday, December 19 Tuesday, December 12 Tuesday, December 5 Tuesday, November 28: Combined Men's and Women's Discussion Group Tuesday, November 20 Tuesday, November 14 Tuesday, November 7No Discussion Group Tuesday, October 31​Combined Men's and Women's Discussion Group Tuesday, October 24 Tuesday, October 17 Tuesday, October 10 Tuesday, October 3 Tuesday, September 26 Tuesday, September 19 Tuesday, September 12 Tuesday, September 5 Tuesday, August 28Combined Men & Women's Discussion Group at 10 a.m.​ Tuesday, August 22 Tuesday, August 15 Tuesday, August 8 Tuesday, August 1 Tuesday, July 25 Tuesday, July 18 Tuesday, July 11 Wednesday, July 5Combined Discussion Group at 10:00am Tuesday, June 27 Tuesday, June 20 Tuesday, June 6 Tuesday, May 30 Tuesday, May 16 Tuesday, May 9 Tuesday, May 2 Tuesday, April 25 Tuesday, April 18, 2023 Tuesday, April 11, 2023 One Discussion Group: Wednesday, April 5, 2023 Tuesday, March 28, 2023 Tuesday, March 21, 2023 No Discussion Group March 14th Tuesday, March 7, 2023 Wednesday, March 1, 2023 Tuesday, February 20, 2023 Tuesday, February 14, 2023 Tuesday, February 7, 2023 Tuesday, January 31, 2023 Tuesday, January 24, 2023 Tuesday, January 17, 2023 Tuesday, January 10, 2023 Tuesday, January 3, 2023 Tuesday, December 20 Tuesday, December 13 Tuesday, December 6 Tuesday, November 29 Tuesday, November 7 Tuesday, November 1 Tuesday, October 25 Tuesday, October 18 Tuesday, October 11 Tuesday, October 4 Tuesday, September 27 Tuesday, September 20 Tuesday, September 13 Tuesday, September 6 Tuesday, August 30 Tuesday, August 23 Tuesday, August 16 Tuesday, August 9 Tuesday, August 2 Tuesday, July 25 Tuesday, July 19 Tuesday, July 12

MEN'S DISCUSSION GROUP
TUESDAYS AT 10:00 AM
In-person and on Zoom:

https://zoom.us/j/5955701807

Tuesday, May 14

Our author for this week is Anne Lamott. We have used two of her pieces from the Washington Post and they worked well. This piece is an interview about her newest book, Somehow. She covers grace, forgiveness, parenting, grandparenting, addiction and aging. It is a compelling interview full of plenty of things to talk about.

Love, Sobriety and Aging: A Conversation with Anne Lamott
Katherine Rowland, The Guardian 5.7.24
When I spoke with Anne Lamott, she was in a “hotel-motel” in Ypsilanti, Michigan, halfwaythrough a cross-country book tour, flaunting sparkly pink nails. Lamott has found Christ-likequalities in the abyss of addiction, and even ways to shepherd her own neuroses when they arriveat the writing desk like damaged relatives. I spoke with Lamott over Zoom. This interview hasbeen edited for length and clarity.
Your book launched last month and the next day you celebrated your 70th birthday. Does thatnumber carry any particular significance for you?
Anne Lamott: It certainly sounds old. When I was younger, I really loved drugs andalcohol, and I didn’t think I’d see 18. And then I didn’t think I’d see 21. Then I didn’t think I’dsee 30. Then I got sober when I was 32 – almost 38 years ago – and I thought, oh, I’ve reachedthe mountaintop. Then I had a kid and felt this urgency to try to stay alive, which I hadn’t felt fora long time. Then I saw 50.
But I loved my 60s. I felt at the height of my mental and spiritual and psychologicalwellness. As you get older, you just start throwing stupid stuff off your airplane that kept youflying low for so long. You just think, I don’t have the time. I don’t care anymore. I don’t carewhat my butt looks like. By my age, you’ve seen so many people die, many of them younger.
And so you get serious about understanding we’re all on borrowed time, and that you’ve got tomake a decision about how you’re going to live this one short, precious life.
How does that realization change the stakes when it comes to love?
Over the years, I have picked some terrible but charming and well-known men.
Sometimes attractive and sometimes not. But I always secretly knew that if they were a woman,they wouldn’t be my best girlfriend. And then when I was 62 I met this guy, Neal Allen. And justafter one coffee with him, I realized that if he were a woman, he would be my best girlfriend.
That’s the value I held out for and that’s what I encourage people who still long to find asoulmate to hold out for: it should be a person who you want to talk to for the rest of your life.
In December, you wrote in the Washington Post about the slow descent of “the creaking elevatorsof age”. Apart from death, what awaits you at the end of your ride?
I’m a Sunday school teacher. I teach my kids that death is a pretty significant change ofaddress. And I do believe that the soul is immortal. I don’t know what that will translate into.[The spiritual teacher] Ram Dass said it’s like taking off a pair of really tight shoes. I think Iagree with that.
There is so much money and attention being spent on longevity these days, which, Ithink, entails a certain denial of death. I was chatting a while back with people who work in end-of-life care, and their view was that our fear of death detracts from our ability to live a good life.
There’s an American way of forward thrust: you must always be moving and you must bemoving higher in terms of recognition or acclaim or stature. I developed that toxic self-consciousness. It kept me from being here, breathing it all in and observing with a small degreeof amusem*nt and wonder and tenderness, because I was so fixated on what I looked like andhow I was coming across and how I was doing.
The forward thrust has to do with the fear of death, because if you keep moving veryquickly, then you’re going to outrun the abyss. The abyss isn’t going to open at your feet andswallow you up.
But everything I’ve learned that’s of any importance, I’ve learned because the abyssopened up and swallowed me. Christians call it the dark night of the soul; an alcoholic will call ita bottom. And when you hit that bottom and you have to be in it for a little while, you find outwho you really are.
Your parents were atheists. How did you come to Christianity?
Well, it was really an accident, believe me. I avoided Christianity like the plague. I feelabout Christians the way everybody feels about Christians. I love what Gandhi said, that heloved Christ, but it was Christians he had a problem with, and that’s totally how I feel about it.
And then at the end of my drinking, there was this flea market near this tiny house whereI was living. And I’d go over there because when you’re really hungover you want greasy foodand strong coffee. And I could hear music wafting out of this ramshackle, cruddy looking churchwith a Charlie Brown Christmas tree outside of it. It was the music of the Weavers and Joan Baezand Pete Seeger that my parents had been very fond of. So I just started going over there becauseI loved the music.
For me, one definition of grace is just running out of any more good ideas. So I get mygreasy food and my strong coffee. I was hungover every single day, and I just went and sat down,and they didn’t hassle me. They didn’t try to get me to join them or to figure out anything or totake Bibles. They just got me water. They could see I was a really sad, damaged person.
I always left before the sermon because it was just too ridiculous for words. And then oneday I didn’t, and I experienced saying to Jesus, kind of bitterly: “OK, fine, you can come in.” And I just tried that out, and it was really sweet.
What role did that new faith play in your sobriety?
I converted a year before I got sober. So I had a kind of gap year at church, where I wasvery smelly and weird and arrogant all at the same time. I had terrible self-esteem because of theway I was living and then I was very arrogant because I’ve been raised to think that the Lamottswere better and more educated. I stayed there for a year and then I got sober. Church did not getme sober, but my deterioration did and I finally had no place to go. I would have died, I think.
And so I just gave recovery a shot.
What made you ready for Neal to enter your life?
I was raised in the 1950s and early 1960s to understand that women take care ofeverybody else and that your value comes from being a flight attendant to everybody in theworld. I also have a really warm and open heart and I like to take care of people, but my lifeforce was entirely spent on my son and his little baby and the baby’s mother and everybodyaround me. I was depleted.
And one day, my older brother, who’s a fundamentalist Christian, was staying with meand I said, “I’m just so isolated. I just am so empty right now. I’m all used up.” And he said somesort of happy Christian horsesh*t. I adore him, but it was like a bumper sticker and I was justfurious. I got in the car and started driving and crying and pounding the steering wheel andtelling my son and grandson and the baby mama and my parents and my brothers how much I
hated and resented that they sucked me dry and how sad I was.
Later, I came back to town and I called my mentor, Bonnie, of 38 years. And I said, “I’mnobody’s priority.” And she said, “You’re not anybody’s priority because you’re not your own.You’re going to need to take a few months off to have to have a love affair with yourself. You’regoing to start with getting the overpriced tamales at the health food store and some flowers. Andyou’re going to have to do that every day.”
And I was like, no, no, it’s too California. I’m not going to do that. But when all elsefails, follow instructions. So I did it. And about three months later, I met Neal. There’s a sitecalled OurTime that’s an offshoot of Match for older people. I met him and we had coffee andwe’ve never been apart.
You watched your son battle with addiction. What happened during that time?
Oh, God, it was so awful. He’s got almost 14 years clean and sober now, by the grace ofGod, but at about age 14, he started to get drunk and stoned a lot of the time. He got into methand anything he could get his hands on and it was just terrifying. And I did what you do if you’rea mother. I tried everything. I sent him off to the highest peak of the Allegheny mountains forthree months, and then to an organic tofu farm. And when he came home, he was dealing thenext day. He got his girlfriend pregnant at 19, and they had the baby, and he just got worse andworse.
Nothing I tried worked. Eventually, I left him in jail. The bail bondsman said, “Oh, myGod, Ms Lamott, you’re the first mother in my 20-year history as a bail bondsman who left herchild in jail.” And, you know, I’m not positive he’d still be alive if I hadn’t. And then I said,“You can’t come over. You can’t be on the property wasted.” And he stomped off. I didn’t knowwhen we’d ever talk again. But then about 10 days later, he called to say that he had a week
clean and sober.
If you were to offer advice to those of us who are watching loved ones suffer, what would yousay?
There are these little acronyms in the recovery movement, and one of them is the fiveM’s: We try to manage others. We martyr ourselves, we manipulate them, and we mother themand the entire world. And the fifth one is so awful: we monitor them, like I’m an android orsomething, where I can monitor people’s behavior and the number of drinks they’re having orwhether I can smell pot on them. I just learned to release him. Bonnie taught me this tool, whichwas to close my eyes and picture the person there and to push them away into the arms of theirown destiny.
I had to make peace with the fact that maybe I would lose [my son]. It wasn’t anything but anightmare. Either he would die driving drunk, or he’d commit suicide or he’d overdose. And Ijust had to release him.

Tuesday, May 7

We have two competing pieces on aging. The first one page article is about "super-agers" who are,"Individuals, age 80 and up, but they have the memory ability of a person 20 to 30 years younger."Unfortunately, the research shows very little on how to be a super ager (except for the last sentence of the second to last paragraph which is the reason why we're reading this article).
The second one page article is how to have better brain health. I sure hope drinking coffee and having a weekly discussion about age is on that list. Regardless, I'd like to know what you think.

A Peak Inside the Brains of Super-Agers
Dana Smith, NY Times 4.29.24

When it comes to aging, we tend to assume that cognition gets worse as we get older. Ourthoughts may slow down or become confused, or we may start to forget things. But that’s not thecase for everyone. For a little over a decade, scientists have been studying a subset of peoplethey call “super-agers.” These individuals are age 80 and up, but they have the memory ability ofa person 20 to 30 years younger.
A paper published Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience helps shed light on what’s so specialabout the brains of super-agers. The biggest takeaway, in combination with a companion studythat came out last year on the same group of individuals, is that their brains have less atrophythan their peers’ do. The research was conducted on 119 octogenarians from Spain: 64 super-agers and 55 older adults with normal memory abilities for their age. The participants completedmultiple tests assessing their memory, motor and verbal skills; underwent brain scans and blooddraws; and answered questions about their lifestyle and behaviors.
The scientists found that the super-agers had more volume in areas of the brain important formemory, most notably the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex. They also had better preservedconnectivity between regions in the front of the brain that are involved in cognition. Both thesuper-agers and the control group showed minimal signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains. “By having two groups that have low levels of Alzheimer’s markers, but striking cognitivedifferences and striking differences in their brain, then we’re really speaking to a resistance toage-related decline,” said Dr. Bryan Strange, a professor of clinical neuroscience at thePolytechnic University of Madrid, who led the studies.
No precise numbers exist on how many super-agers there are among us, but Dr. Rogalski saidthey’re “relatively rare,” noting that “far less than 10 percent” of the people she sees end upmeeting the criteria. But when you meet a super-ager, you know it, Dr. Strange said. “They arereally quite energetic people, you can see. Motivated, on the ball, elderly individuals.”
Experts don’t know how someone becomes a super-ager, though there were a few differences inhealth and lifestyle behaviors between the two groups in the Spanish study. Most notably, thesuper-agers had slightly better physical health, both in terms of blood pressure and glucosemetabolism, and they performed better on a test of mobility. The super-agers didn’t report doingmore exercise at their current age than the typical older adults, but they were more active inmiddle age. They also reported better mental health.
But overall, Dr. Strange said, there were a lot of similarities between the super-agers and theregular agers. “There are a lot of things that are not particularly striking about them,” he said. Forexample, there were no differences between the groups in terms of their diets, the amount ofsleep they got, their professional backgrounds or their alcohol and tobacco use. The behaviors ofsome of the Chicago super-agers were similarly a surprise. Some exercised regularly, but somenever had; some stuck to a Mediterranean diet, others subsisted off TV dinners; and a few ofthem still smoked cigarettes. However, one consistency among the group was that they tended tohave strong social relationships, Dr. Rogalski said.
While there isn’t a recipe for becoming a super-ager, scientists do know that, in general, eatinghealthily, staying physically active, getting enough sleep and maintaining social connections areimportant for healthy brain aging.

How to Change Your Mind-Set About Aging
Holly Burns, NY Times 9.20.23

A decades-long study of 660 people published in 2002 showed that those with positive beliefsaround getting older lived seven and a half years longer than those who felt negatively about it.Since then, research has found that a positive mind-set toward aging is associated with lowerblood pressure, a generally longer and healthier life and a reduced risk of developing dementia.Research also shows that people with a more positive perception of aging are more likely to takepreventive health measures — like exercising — which, in turn, may help them live longer. Youcan’t stop the march of time, but you don’t have to dread it. Here are some ways to help shiftyour thinking.
Notice where your age beliefs come from.
From the crotchety neighbor to the clueless Luddite, negative stereotypes of aging areeverywhere. Taking in negative beliefs about aging can affect our view of the process — and ourhealth, said Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale. A 2009 study, for example, foundthat people in their 30s who held negative stereotypes of aging were significantly more likely toexperience a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke, later in life than those withpositive ones. To change your negative age beliefs, you first need to become more aware ofthem, Dr. Levy said. Simply identifying the sources of your conceptions about aging can helpyou gain some distance from negative ideas. “People can strengthen their positive age beliefs atany age,” Dr. Levy said. In one 2014 study, 100 adults — with an average age of 81 — who wereexposed to positive images of aging showed both improved perceptions of aging and improvedphysical function.
Find aging role models.
If you associate aging with only loss or limitation, “you’re not getting the full picture of what itmeans to age,” said Regina Koepp, a psychologist who specializes in aging. Instead, she said,“shift your attention — look around for role models, see who’s doing it well.” Dr. Levyrecommends coming up with five older people who have done something you deem impressiveor have a quality that you admire, whether it’s falling in love later in life, showing devotion tohelping others or maintaining a commitment to physical fitness.
Don’t mistake forced positivity for optimism.
Research suggests that optimistic women are more likely to live past 90 than less optimisticwomen, regardless of race or ethnicity. But thinking more positively about aging doesn’t meanpapering over real concerns with happy thoughts — or using phrases like “You haven’t aged!” asa compliment. Instead, try to look at the honest reality with optimism. If you’re feeling deflatedthat your tennis game isn’t as strong in your 70s as it once was, Dr. Ginne said, remind yourself:“No, I can’t play tennis like I did when I was 50, and I can only play for 10 minutes. But I canstill play.”
Don’t dismiss the benefits.
Focus on what you’re gaining, too. Research has shown, for example, that emotional well-beinggenerally increases with age, and certain aspects of cognition, like conflict resolution, oftenimprove in later life. With time, “we’re likely to develop more resilience,” Dr. Koepp said. Successful aging doesn’t mean you won’t get sick, encounter loss or require care at some point,she said. And no one said that changing any mind-set is easy. But if you can, she added, it mayallow you to see yourself more clearly “as a person with lived experience and wisdom” as you age.

Tuesday, April 30

Are you familiar with Carl Jung? If not, this two page article by Arthur Brooks will introduce you to his five pillars of happy living. Brooks also includes his seven-point summary. I'd like to know what you think. For me, the discussion group is a source of happiness.

Jung’s Five Pillars of a Good Life
Arthur C. Brooks, The Atlantic 4.11.24

In the world of popular psychology, the work of one giant figure is hard to avoid: Carl Jung. Ifyou think you have a complex about something, the Swiss psychiatrist invented that term. Areyou an extrovert or an introvert? His too. When it comes to happiness, though, Jung can seem abit of a downer. “‘Happiness,’” he wrote, “is such a remarkable reality that there is nobody whodoes not long for it.” So far, so good. But he does not leave it there: “And yet there is not a singleobjective criterion which would prove beyond all doubt that this condition necessarily exists.”
Jung is stating the manifest truth that we cannot lay hold of any blissful end state of purehappiness, because every human life is bound to involve negative emotions. Rather, the objectiveshould be progress — or, in the words of Oprah Winfrey, “happierness.”
In 1960, as he neared the end of his long life, Jung shared his own strategy for realizing that goalof progress. Jung believed that making progress toward happiness was built on five pillars.

1. Good physical and mental health

Jung believed that getting happier required soundness of mind and body. His thesis is supportedby plenty of research. For example, the longest-running study of happiness (the Harvard Study ofAdult Development) has shown four of the biggest predictors of a senior citizen’s well-being arenot smoking; drinking alcohol moderately if at all; maintaining a healthy body weight; andexercising. Even more important for well-being is good mental health. Good health practicesseem not to raise happiness, but rather to lower unhappiness. Today, many emotion researchershave uncovered evidence of a phenomenon that Jung did not conceive of: Negative and positiveemotions appear to be separable phenomena and not opposites; well-being requires a focus oneach. Furthermore, researchers have identified how activities such as physical exercise caninterrupt the cycle of negative emotion during moments of heightened stress, by helpingmoderate cortisol-hormone levels.

2. Good personal and intimate relations, such as those of marriage, family, and friendships

The intertwined notions that close relationships are at the heart of well-being and that cultivatingthem will reliably increase happiness are unambiguously true. Indeed, of the four best lifeinvestments for increasing personal satisfaction, two involve family and friendships (the othersare in faith or philosophy, and meaningful work). And as for marriage, an institution that hastaken a beating over recent decades, more and more evidence is piling up from scholars thatbeing wed makes the majority of people happier than they otherwise would be.

3. Seeing beauty in art and in nature

Jung believed that happiness required one to cultivate an appreciation for beautiful things andexperiences. Although this might sound intuitively obvious, the actuality is more complicated.
First, a big difference exists between beauty in nature and beauty in art. Specifically, engagementwith nature’s beauty is known, across different cultures, to enhance well-being. Second, withaesthetic experience, happiness depends on the artistic mood. For example, experiments haveshown that if you listen to happy music on your own, it makes you feel happier; if you listen tosad music while alone, it makes you feel sadder.

4. A reasonable standard of living and satisfactory work

As with physical and mental health, employment and income seem tied more to eliminatingunhappiness than to raising happiness. For one thing, scholars have long shown thatunemployment is a reliable source of misery: Depressive symptoms typically rise when people,both men and women, are unemployed. Work itself helps protect mental health. My ownassessment of the evidence is that money alone cannot buy happiness, nor can spending moneyto acquire possessions make one happy; but having the money to pay for experiences with lovedones, to free up time to spend on meaningful activities, and to support good causes does enhancehappiness.

5. A philosophical or religious outlook that fosters resilience

Jung argued that a good life requires a way of understanding why things happen the way they do,being able to zoom out from the travails of life, and put events (including inevitable suffering) into perspective. The son of a pastor, Jung was deeply Christian in his worldview, but everyone,he thought, should have some sense of transcendent belief or higher purpose. Research clearlybacks up Jung’s contention. Religious belief has been noted as strongly predictive of findingmeaning in life, and spirituality is positively correlated with better mental health; both faith andspiritual practice seem protective against depression.

Taken together, Jung’s ideas about happiness and his five pillars of well-being stand up solidly tomodern research findings. I propose this practical seven-point summary:
1. Do not fall prey to seeking pure happiness. Instead, seek lifelong progress toward happierness.
2. Manage as best you can the main sources of misery in your life by attending to your physicaland mental health, maintaining employment, and ensuring an adequate income.
3. If you’re earning enough to take care of your principal needs, remember that happiness atwork comes not from chasing higher income but from pursuing a sense of accomplishment andservice to others.
4. Cultivate deep relationships through marriage, family, and real friendships. Remember thathappiness is love.
5. If you have discretionary income left over, use it to invest in your relationships with familyand friends.
6. Spend time in nature, surround yourself with beauty that uplifts you, and consume the art andmusic that nourish your spirit.
7. Find a path of transcendence—one that explains the big picture in life and helps youcomprehend suffering and the purpose of your existence.
Beyond the scientific research that supports this strategy, we also have the evidence of itseffectiveness in the example of Jung’s life. He made his list to mark his 85th birthday, which wasto be the last one he celebrated. By all accounts, he made progress toward happiness over his life,had a long and devoted marriage, died surrounded by the people he loved, and was satisfied thathe had used his abilities in a meaningful way that served others. In this world, that sounds prettygood to me.

Tuesday, April 23

We have two, one-page articles for next week. The first one, written by a priest from the Church of England, wonders how God might bless a divided America (and what the Episcopal Church can do to help). The second is written by a Presbyterian pastor who challenges this Sunday's Gospel lesson - about the Good Shepherd - and specifically Jesus' claim that he will lay down his life for the sheep. The author writes the following:A deadshepherd isn’t helpful to anyone, least of all to sheep left vulnerable to predators, starvation, and scattering. What’s a flock to do without the abiding presence of the rod and staff that comfort?
God's blessing to a divided nation and a dead shepherd. Should be an interesting discussion.

How Might God Bless a Divided America
Samuel Wells, Christian Century 4.11.24

It’s hard to know how to ask God to bless America right now. On a recent visit to the East Coast,I found friends and peers in a mixture of panic and denial about the coming November election. Idid one thing on my visit, however, that gave me three thoughts about how not to feel soparalyzed. I went to church.
It was a conventional Eucharist at an Episcopal church. But three moments struck me in a specialway. The first was the prayers of the people. As I reflected on the prayers of the people, Ipondered whether it is too small a thing that such a prayer service be an endorsem*nt of oneadministration. Surely the Holy Spirit could make it an event where a wondrously kaleidoscopicdiversity of Americans each took the microphone to articulate their respective prayers for theensuing years. Maybe America could be offered this invitation:
“Let your heart expand. Let your mind encompass. Let your soul grow, through meeting,enjoying, and embracing one another. We believe we’re going to spend eternity together. Sowe’d best start today. Because Christianity’s about living God’s future now.”
America, like the church, shouldn’t be about where we’re all separately coming from. It shouldbe about where we’re all together going.
The second moment that struck me was the offertory procession, in which the bread, wine, andmoney were brought to the altar. As I saw this taking place, my imagination again went to whatthe liturgy might be saying to this divided country. I thought about Isaiah 2:2: “In days to comethe mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established; all the nations shall stream to it.” Iimagined every tribe and race and people streaming into this church, proudly bearing the trophiesand symbols and glories of their heritage and narrative and dreams — each one saying, Thesearen’t our identities to be protected — these are our gifts to be shared.
Gifts are given to be a blessing. God has blessed America with everything it needs to flourishand to be a blessing to the world. In some kind of national pageant, the whole nation could offerits gifts to bless each other. Identities could be affirmed and transcended. Possessions could beturned into gifts. Differences could become assets. Diversity could enrich. The life of the nationcould become a prayer that the Holy Spirit would turn the water of its existence into the wine ofGod’s essence and turn life into eternal life. Maybe that’s how God could bless America.
My final pondering came during the distribution of communion. I recalled a visit to a conventionin the Deep South. Several congregations were an even split of Democratic and Republican. Butrather than a source of discomfort, tension, and denial, I wondered if it were a holy, rich,important opportunity. So I said, “Your diocese could be a beacon of hope. Because everySunday your congregation comes to that altar rail, and what it is this: we may be divided onculture wars, foreign policy, and migration, but this altar rail reminds us we are one bodybecause we’re members of Christ’s body. And who we are together is more fundamental thanwhat we think apart. The Holy Spirit is giving you the power to witness to the whole world aboutour fundamental identity as Christ’s body, an identity that transcends political divisions.”
There is widespread dismay about the direction the United States is going. The most distressingthing about this is the sense of powerlessness among its people. And when those people areChristians, it’s even more distressing, because in worship those people have in their daily andweekly practice the gifts God gives to reimagine the world. For Christians, politics doesn’t beginor end with our choice on a voting slip but with God’s choice to be with us.

A Dead Shepherd Isn’t Helpful to Anyone
Austin Shelley, Christian Century 4.15.24

In the poem “Introduction to Poetry,” Billy Collins laments his students’ tendency to approach apoem with weapons drawn. The former US poet laureate paints a portrait of the delight he hopesthey will embrace when encountering verse:
I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide or press an ear against its hive.
For months I’ve struggled with this week’s lectionary verses from the Gospel of John. Of all the
gospels, it is the fourth that waxes poetic. From its soaring prologue to its tender post-resurrection breakfast on the shoreline — where Jesus repeatedly asks Peter, “Do you love me?”— metaphor and sensory imagery abound.
Initially lacking a more sensitive approach, I tried unsuccessfully to torture a confession out ofJesus’ insistence that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Does a good shepherdactually do this? Right out of the gate, I questioned Jesus’ assumption. Such a sacrifice seemsboth unnecessary and shortsighted. Fellow interrogators might agree that a dead shepherd isn’thelpful to anyone, least of all to sheep left vulnerable to predators, starvation, and scattering.What’s a flock to do without the abiding presence of the rod and staff that comfort? How are thesheep to remain safe, healthy, and together without the soothing tenor of the trusted voice thatleads them beside still waters and makes them to lie down in green pastures?
The text’s stoic silence in the face of this inquisition pushed me further. And what of these othersheep from another fold? Did Jesus indeed have the power to lay down his life in order to take itup again? Or shall we believe instead a testimony at odds with John’s gospel account, thewitness borne by the epistle to the church at Philippi: “Let the same mind be in you that was inChrist Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God assomething to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in humanlikeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the pointof death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5–8).
Either way, we end up nailing Jesus to a cross to find out what he really means.
Pressing an ear against the Fourth Gospel’s hive may prove to be a more fruitful endeavor. Whatif we as students of scripture were to take into account the time elapsed between the life, death,and resurrection of the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the first circulation of this gospel accountdecades later? What if we were to consider that particular passage of time to be the catalyst fortransforming prose into poetry, for coloring the gospel writer’s memories of the person of Jesuswith the stained-glass hues of the Spirit of Jesus with whom he had abided for many long years?What if, as part of our wrestling this text for a blessing, we were to submit to its strength instead?
If we were to entertain such a nuanced approach, if we were to assume the posture of those wholisten intently to the inner melody the poem hums, if we were to wander into the room of John 10and feel its walls for a light switch — I believe it is entirely possible that we would hear forourselves the voice of the Good Shepherd who knows us as his own. Moreover, we would learnsomething true of him that turns out to be mighty good news: that defying all logic to thecontrary, he laid down his life for the sheep. As the Father commands, may we as the body ofChrist take it up again​.

Tuesday, April 16

Old, retired and apparently invisible. That's the topic for next week. Karen and Stephen Yoder - retired from the Wall Street Journal - wrote an article about what they are dealing with in retirement.
I'd like to know when you feel invisible. Does it get better, or worse; and, are there tips or compassionate ideas you can share with others who have become invisible too.

We’re Old, Retired, and Apparently Invisible
Karen Yoder & Stephen Yoder, Wall Street Journal, 4.3.24

The first couple of years in retirement are often the most difficult. Stephen Yoder, 66, a longtimeWall Street Journal editor, joined his wife, Karen Yoder, 67, in retirement in late 2022. In thismonthly Retirement Rookies column, they chronicle some of the issues they are dealing with inretirement.

Karen

It was a June afternoon in the Rockies just after I retired when we agreed that we must be turninginto ghosts. We had been cycling in the mountains since breaking camp before dawn, and wedecided to splurge on a private room in a hostel. We checked in and headed through to the bike-storage area, walking our rig by young hostelers congregated in the common spaces. We musthave been a sight: two bedraggled 60-somethings pushing a tandem bicycle laden like a packmule. Except no one seemed to see us.
We crossed the living room, where 20-something hikers with ruddy faces studied their computerscreens. No one looked up. We inched through the kitchen, where others were sautéing onionsfor a group meal. “Excuse us. Sorry to interrupt,” one of us said as we squeezed through. “Thatsure smells good.” They turned a bit, giving us space. But not a word. Not a “How’s it going?”nor “Where’d you come from?” nor “Cool rig.” Nor eye contact.
“We’re invisible,” Steve whispered in the hallway. In our room, we plopped on the bed andlaughed. “Nobody even acknowledged our existence,” I said. “We’re too old to see.”
We had noticed a growing feeling of being unseen before, but nothing like this. The episodeinspired our secret code words for similar incidents. “We’re invisible,” one of us whispers, andwe smile wryly as we recall our hostel encounter. It’s a code we’re using more often these daysas we move deeper into retirement and more often sense that younger people in the same roomare looking right through us.
Sometimes the feeling isn’t so much invisibility as irrelevance. I was with some younger gal palsrecently, standing in a tight circle drinking coffee at an event. My friends chattered about theirinsanely busy workweeks, asking each other how they balance their professional lives withraising children and volunteer work.
Nobody turned to me. I had decades of that frenetic pace. I did it; I survived. Perhaps I mighthave had a few tips to share? Nope, I thought silently. I’m retired. Too old to be relevant.Unseen. I’m thinking more often of how my 90-year-old mother must have felt when I pushedher wheelchair into a restaurant. She was sharp mentally but had suffered a bad fall. A restaurantemployee turned to me and asked. “Where would she like to sit?” I turned to my mom, askingher, “Where would you like to sit, Mother?” She wasn’t invisible to me.
To be fair to young people everywhere, not all of them ignore us. At a Montana hostel last year,several geology students about to head into the mountains saw us and eagerly chatted us up inthe common room. We asked about their studies and they grilled us on how we managedlogistics during the bike trip we were on.
Back in San Francisco, we seem quite visible to many good friends young enough to be ourchildren or grandchildren. We have some over at our house nearly every week. A group in theirearly 20s had us over for their Super Bowl party this year.
Maybe we’re at a stage where we need to take more initiative with people much younger thanwe. When I do reach out to younger people and pick their brains, I find they have so much tooffer. How about asking their opinions and seeking their advice instead of waiting for them?
We’re certainly going to need younger people more as we navigate retirement. My dad, wholived to nearly 97, increasingly made friends with younger people as he aged. “My friends dieoff,” he would say, “so I need to make new, younger friends.”

Steve

It happened again at an upscale restaurant near our house recently. It was a rare evening ofdining out, and by evening, I mean 5:30 p.m. There were still many empty tables, yet we werehaving a heck of a time getting our server’s attention—to order drinks, to order food, to requestwater refills. We could see him over there, tarrying cheerfully among young diners at othertables. But my hand gestures had no effect. “How can he not see us?” I said. Karen grinned anduttered the code: “We’re invisible.”
We later couldn’t flag our server down for even the bill, so we vowed to enjoy the restaurant’sambience until he saw fit to free up our table for prime time. It took him about a half-hour. Thatwas plenty of time for us to debate the invisibility theory. Perhaps our server was busy withtables we couldn’t see or had duties other than waiting tables? Maybe the younger tables hadtipped him ahead? Had he pegged us as cheapskates when we didn’t order an entire bottle ofwine?
We’ve added such debates to our protocol. After invoking the invisibility code, we ask: Are weimagining it? Is this, in fact, happening to everyone here and not just us? Have we beenexperiencing this kind of unseen-ness all our lives and are just now discovering it? And thehardest thing to admit: Maybe not everything is about us.
“OK, boomer,” I can just hear it when we lament our newfound invisibility. We’ve gone throughlife thinking we’re special, and are only now discovering we’re not so different after all. We maybe oversensitive because our visibility is part of our continuing quest to find a new post-workplace identity, an existential task many retirees wrestle with after leaving the work world.
If we’re only imagining invisibility, we’re in good company. We polled some retired friends ourage and they quickly vouched for the sense of often being unseen. One observed that thepanhandlers downtown often don’t seem to bother approaching seniors.
And it isn’t just us baby boomers who feel an encroaching irrelevance. A long-retired minister Iknow talks sadly of how church leaders no longer listen to his ideas about the ministry. Severalprofessors emeritus have lamented to me that their college successors didn’t seek their advice.Retired editors know very well that they’re yesterday’s news, but that doesn’t stop them frombemoaning their untapped expertise.
I heard the no-one-listens-anymore refrain so often in the past few decades that I began calling it“The Old Man’s Lament.” That would never be my lamentation, I vowed at the time.

Tuesday, April 9

This week's article is written by a self-identified atheistwho suggests that America needs more people attending Church (or a synagogue or mosque). He writes:
Maybe religion, for all of its faults, works a bit like a retaining wall to hold back the destabilizing pressure of American hyper-individualism, which threatens to swell and spill over in its absence.
The author also highlights that, for as much as the American public has tried, there is no substitute for the communal connections religion makes (again, from an atheist writer). I'd like to know what you think.

The True Cost of Not Attending Church
Derek Thompson, The Atlantic 4.3.24

As an agnostic, I have spent most of my life thinking about the decline of faith in America in mostlypositive terms. Organized religion seemed, to me, beset by scandal and entangled in noxious politics.So, I thought, what is there really to mourn? Only in the past few years have I come around to a different view. Maybe religion, for all of its faults, works a bit like a retaining wall to hold back thedestabilizing pressure of American hyper-individualism, which threatens to swell and spill over in itsabsence.
More than one-quarter of Americans now identify as atheists, agnostics, or religiously “unaffiliated,”according to a new survey of 5,600 U.S. adults by the Public Religion Research Institute. This is thehighest level of non-religiosity in the poll’s history. Two-thirds of nonbelievers were brought up inat least nominally religious households, like me. (I grew up in a Reform Jewish home that I woulddescribe as haphazardly religious.) But more Americans today have “converted” out of religion thanhave converted to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam combined. No faith’s evangelism has been assuccessful in this century as religious skepticism.
As secularism surged throughout the developed world in the 20th century, America’s religiosityremained exceptional. 7 in 10 Americans told Gallup that they belonged to a church in 1937, andeven by the 1980s, roughly 70 percent said they still belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque.
Suddenly, in the 1990s, the ranks of nonbelievers surged. An estimated 40 million people — 1 in 8 Americans — stopped going to church in the past 25 years, making it the “largest concentratedchange in church attendance in American history,” according to the religion writer Jake Meador. In2021, membership in houses of worship fell below a majority for the first time on record.
As the GOP consolidated its advantage among conservative Christians, religion seemed lessappealing to liberal young people. In the late 1980s, only 1 in 10 liberals said they didn’t belong toany religion; 30 years later, that figure was about 4 in 10.
That relationship with organized religion provided many things at once: not only a connection to thedivine, but also a historical narrative of identity, a set of rituals to organize the week and year, and acommunity of families. PRRI found that the most important feature of religion for the dwindlingnumber of Americans who still attend services a few times a year included “experiencing religion ina community” and “instilling values in their children.”
The United States is in the midst of a historically unprecedented decline in face-to-face socializing.For example, young people, who are fleeing religion faster than older Americans, have also seen thelargest decline in socializing. Boys and girls ages 15 to 19 have reduced their hangouts by threehours a week, according to the American Time Use Survey. There is no statistical record of anyperiod in U.S. history where young people were less likely to attend religious services, and also noperiod when young people have spent more time on their own.
A similar story holds for working-class Americans. In 2019, a team of researchers published asurvey based on long interviews conducted from 2000 to 2013 with older, low-income men withouta college degree in working-class neighborhoods around the country. They found that, since the1970s, church attendance among white men without a college degree had fallen even more thanamong white college graduates. For many of these men, the loss of religion went hand in hand withthe retreat from marriage. “As marriage declined,” the authors wrote, “men’s church attendancemight have fallen in tandem.” Today, low-income and unmarried men have more alone time thanalmost any other group, according to time-use data.
Did the decline of religion cut some people off from a crucial gateway to civic engagement, or isreligion just one part of a broader retreat from associations and memberships in America? “It’s hardto know what the causal story is here,” Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU, told me. But what’s undeniable is that nonreligious Americans are also less civically engaged. This year, the PewResearch Center reported that religiously unaffiliated Americans are less likely to volunteer, lesslikely to feel satisfied with their community and social life, and more likely to say they feel lonely.“Clearly more Americans are spending Sunday mornings on their couches, and it’s affected thequality of our collective life,” he said.
Klinenberg doesn’t blame individual Americans for these changes. In his book Palaces for thePeople, Klinenberg reported that Americans today have fewer shared spaces where connections areformed. “People today say they just have fewer places to go for collective life,” he said. “Places thatused to anchor community life, like libraries and school gyms and union halls, have become lessaccessible or shuttered altogether.” Many people, having lost the scaffolding of organized religion,seem to have found no alternative method to build a sense of community.
America didn’t simply lose its religion without finding a communal replacement. Just as America’schurches were depopulated, Americans developed a new relationship with a technology that, inmany ways, is the diabolical opposite of a religious ritual: the smartphone. As the socialpsychologist Jonathan Haidt writes in his new book, The Anxious Generation, to stare into a piece ofglass in our hands is to be removed from our bodies, to float placelessly in a content cosmos, to skimour attention from one piece of ephemera to the next. The internet is timeless in the best and worst ofways—an everything store with no opening or closing times. “In the virtual world, there is no daily,weekly, or annual calendar that structures when people can and cannot do things,” Haidt writes. Inother words, digital life is disembodied, asynchronous, shallow, and solitary.
Religious rituals are the opposite in almost every respect. They put us in our body, Haidt writes,many of them requiring “some kind of movement that marks the activity as devotional.” Religiousritual also fixes us in time, forcing us to set aside an hour or day for prayer, reflection, or separationfrom daily habit. (It’s no surprise that people describe a scheduled break from their digital devices asa “Sabbath.”) Finally, religious ritual often requires that we make contact with the sacred in thepresence of other people, whether in a church, mosque, synagogue, or over a dinner-table prayer. Inother words, the religious ritual is typically embodied, synchronous, deep, and collective.
Making friends as an adult can be hard; it’s especially hard without a scheduled weekly reunion ofcongregants. Finding meaning in the world is hard too; it’s especially difficult if the oldest systemsof meaning-making hold less and less appeal. I’m not advocating that every atheist and agnostic inAmerica immediately choose a world religion and commit themselves to weekly church (orsynagogue, or mosque) attendance. But I wonder if, in forgoing organized religion, an isolatedcountry has discarded an old and proven source of ritual at a time when we most need it.

Tuesday, April 2

This week, let's talk about the wisdom of not knowing. The author, Heidi Haverkamp asks the following:Faith does not entail a search for information or receiving clear answers to life’s persistent questions, although churches and Christians try with things like Bible truths, catechisms, and creeds. I wonder if we often make what we think we know about God into an idol. I'd like to know what you think, or, don't know.

The Wisdom of Not Knowing
Heidi Haverkamp, The Christian Century, 3.28.24

I thought I’d love going to an all-inclusive resort: food and drink around every corner, all thetime, for free. It was like a church potluck had exploded. At first it was a thrill. Then it got dull.
Then it got weird. It all started to look like junk.
In much the same way, it used to be fun to look for the answer to any question I ever wonderedabout, at any moment, on the internet. But in the last couple years, answering all my ownquestions has gotten tedious. An infinite, all-inclusive buffet for the mind is now spread beforeus online. There is more information available to human beings than there has ever been inhuman history. We can find out just about anything we have ever wondered about, at any time,and at almost any place on earth.
The human brain is baited for novelty and the unexpected. Our mental appetite for new ideas andinformation evolved to be insatiable — in order to keep us on guard from danger, as well as toconstantly alert us to new food sources and to learn more about our surroundings to survive. Theavailability of novel information has grown to be constant and plenteous at a level we did notevolve to encounter. So much knowledge, but to what end? Our human desire for searching andlearning can now overwhelm our attention span and immobilize us with distraction. Knowing hasbecome a form of entertainment and compulsion, more like mindless snacking than a purposeful,sit-down meal.
Jesus did not seem to like answering questions much during his time on earth. He did not giveexplanations so much as offer tricky juxtapositions, reject hierarchies, and interrogate religiousrules and regulations. He would turn questions around, dodge them, or answer with anotherquestion. After the crucifixion and resurrection, when he came back to meet his disciples, he didnot explain what had happened or how. Instead, he said things like, “I am risen,” “Don’t beafraid,” “Peace,” and “Do you have anything to eat?”
Belief, for my Protestant ancestors, meant knowing the Bible, knowing what God asked of you,knowing what God wanted you to believe. My great-grandparents were Iowa farmers, and theyread a chapter of the Bible aloud together every night after supper. Knowing the Bible and whatit said — even the boring parts — was central to their relationship to God, to one another, and totheir wider church community. For centuries, the West has valued knowing, comprehending, andsolving. The Reformation put these values at the center of Christian practice, emphasizingpreaching, scripture study, and catechisms — all in the vernacular — as more people learned toread and the printing press placed untold amounts of new information into their hands.
And yet, as technology is again changing our relationship to knowledge and learning, I wonder ifthe good news of the Christian life today is less about knowing than it is about opening ourselvesto relationship and awe. Many churches today describe their mission as “knowing God andmaking God known.” Is there anything wrong with this? Probably not. But how do wesubconsciously understand what “knowing God” means?
While the word know used to mean “to be acquainted with” or “to perceive,” in modern usagethe emphasis has shifted toward having information about something or practical knowledge ofit. The word now implies a sense of clarity and understanding that leaves less room for curiosityor mystery. What can we “know” about God, really? “Si comprehendus, non est Deus,” saidAugustine: if you understand, it is not God. The word know is related to the Old High Germanword bichnāan, to recognize. “Recognizing” God sounds less poetic but makes a humblerconfession than “knowing” in our modern sense.
Of course, what makes faith faith is not that we can claim to know or have comprehended God.
Faith does not entail a search for information or receiving clear answers to life’s persistentquestions, although churches and Christians try with things like “Bible truths,” catechisms,creeds, and books upon books. I wonder if we often make what we think we know about Godinto an idol. When Job wonders why all those awful things happened to him, God does not offeran answer. God tells him that he is unable to know.
Buddhist teachers describe a spiritual practice called “don’t-know mind.” Zen master ShunryūSuzuki writes, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there arefew.” In other words, letting go of our opinions, assumptions, and accrued knowledge frees us tobe more open to reality, new ideas, and compassion. This is not a mind numbing or a dodging ofresponsibility but an invitation to humility and freedom. It is the practice of meeting eachmoment and each person as a beginner or novice, as someone with an open and curiousperspective. Saying “I don’t know” can make a space between my mind and the world, or mymind and the person sitting across from me—whether it’s a close family member, a dear friend,or a total stranger. Then maybe the Spirit can enter into that space and do a new thing.
“I don’t know” might be the truest creed we can confess in our modern age. We know (or thinkwe know) so much. But we cannot really know who God is or why terrible things happen. Wecannot know how to heal the world or save the church. We cannot predict the way anything willturn out, the right decision every time, or how to live our happiest life. To become a more loving,just, and wise people, we may need to let go of needing to know. Not to hide in ignorance but toquit spending our energy grasping after information or defending our rightness andrighteousness.
To say “I don’t know” as a prayer, confession, or meditation is not to give up but to witness tothe gap of unknowing between us and God. A gap not of cold emptiness but of wonder; a gapwhere there is more space for relating to one another and a clearing for the path that leads usback again to the mystery and glory of God.
Jesus does not ask his disciples to know or explain much. He asks them to do things, mostly veryslow-moving things: to listen, to pray, to see, to love, to follow, and to serve the people aroundthem. He leaves them (and us) with teachings and parables that do not give much in the way ofclear answers but are more like spiritual puzzles or invitations to start thinking and talkingtogether. Less like a beautiful, all-inclusive buffet, more like a do-it-yourself potluck.

Wednesday, March 27 - Combined Discussion Group

Next week is Holy Week which means we are meeting on Wednesday as a combined group. There is no Tuesday meeting.
Also, this coming Monday, anyone and everyone is invited to meet in front of the ticket booth at Lecom Baseball Park at noon to watch the Blue Jays and Pirates. We'll purchase tickets in the same section, have lunch inside the park and enjoy the 1:05 start time.
Below is our article for Wednesday; David Brooks is asking for the American people to resist the lure of us-vs.-them thinking. I'd like to know what you think about his article.

Resist the Pull of ‘Us vs. Them’ Thinking
David Brooks, NY Times, 3.20.24

I’ve just finished a book tour, so I’ve been on the road for five months. I’ve probably been to 35or 40 states. And I would say the predominant emotion I have heard when I ask people aboutpolitics during my travels is exhaustion — a sense of fatigue, a sense of discouragement, a senseof passivity, and especially among Democrats, a pessimism about the election.
We’re in the middle of the global surge in populism. Populism is belief that there’s a conflict, aclass conflict. And the conflict is between the real Americans and the globalized elites. And inAmerica, it’s mostly measured by levels of education. So it’s people with a high school degreewho tend to be working class, who feel they are being oppressed, looked down upon, andcondescended to, and morally scorned by members of the highly educated elites who live alongthe coasts.
And so, that’s the populism in America. It’s also the populism in Britain. It’s the populism inFrance, across Europe. In 2002, only 120 million people lived in their countries governed bypopulist parties. By 2019, more than 2 billion people lived under governments governed bypopulist parties. And so, this is surging. And what does global populism have in common? Allthese different national forms of populism, they are all based on zero sum thinking.
If you go back through human history, the human condition is tribal. And so, a zero-sum mindset, an us/them mindset is sort of, I think, woven into our nature.
The zero-sum mindset is the idea that we have a finite amount of goods in the world. And if I’mgoing to improve my lot in the world, I’ve got to take something away from you. And so, thezero-sum mindset is an ancient mindset that is behind most conquest and war.
The positive sum mindset is the idea that we have an infinite, a potentially infinite amount ofgood in the world. And then I can add some good, and you will benefit. When Steve Jobs doesreally well and makes $1 billion, it doesn’t hurt me. I get to enjoy the Mac. I get to enjoy myiPhone. People who work at Apple get to have great jobs. And so, his prosperity is not takingaway other people’s prosperity. It’s mutually advantageous.
And that’s just a better way to live. It’s a better mindset to go through life, that life is not war andwar. Life is competition, creativity, innovation, productivity, and sort of a measured sort ofcompetition to add to each other’s benefit. And in many ways, our politics is a struggle toembrace this liberating idea against the darker angels of our nature, which want to reallyundermine it with us/them thinking.
People broke out of the zero-sum mindset through a series of intellectual revolutions we callliberalism. And liberalism is the belief that we want a society that’s pluralistic, that I want topursue my own eccentric and dynamic life being a writer or being an architect or being a nurse.
And you get to pursue your own life, and the market and democracy are ways to keep ourdiversity coherent, so we can live together in an orderly way, in a safe way, in an affluent way,and liberalism based on respect and dignity for the individual.
And that, I think, is fundamentally different than populism, which is not so much based onrespect and dignity of the individual. It’s based on homage, the bowing down to the leader. If Ihad to try to summarize what I believe, I would say, Mr. President, you’re involved in afundamental and elemental struggle between two mindsets, two cultures, two systems ofgovernment, one of which is liberal and positive sum and growth oriented, and the other which ispopulist and zero sum and threat oriented. And so, we need you to be as big as the situationdemands.
I think it would be wonderful if Biden got out of the role of being president, got out of fancypolicies, and stressed that liberalism and liberal democracy is not just an abstract idea that JohnStuart Mill thought of. Liberal democracy is something we live every day. It involves a concreteset of social actions, like starting a business, building a better school, working together withpeople and companies, rising from poverty to buy a house, raising your children not to be culturewarriors, but to be innovators, to be entrepreneurs.
This is what liberal capitalism is. It’s the stuff we do every day. And it comes under threat whenwe decide to live in a society that’s not liberal, but is authoritarian, and suddenly you don’t havethe freedom to dream what you want to dream because you’re enmeshed in a web of fear.

Tuesday, March 19

I was unsure if we could have a meaningful discussion about hell; but, we did. It seems only fair to have a discussion about heaven next. As such, the article attached is about heaven and where (what) it is.
Also attached are the two documents I shared this week - a quote sheet and the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church description of hell. Lastly, if you are interested in the book I referenced, here is the link(but don't read it at night):www.amazon.com/23 Minutes in Hell

Heaven Comes to Us
Thomas G. Long, Christian Century 5.3.11

For many thoughtful Christians, meaningful language about heaven has fallen steadily from theirgrasp. In a scientific age, "heaven" as a place where God reigns and people go when they die hasgradually slipped the moorings of plausibility. In 1941, Rudolf Bultmann, his sledgehammerpoised against the foundations of the three-story cosmos, confidently said, "There is no longerany heaven in the traditional sense." The official 1930s hymnbook in my denomination includedover a dozen hymns on heaven. The current hymnal's index doesn't even list the category.
Good riddance—at least according to an increasing chorus of voices. N. T. Wright recentlyargued that any thought that Christian hope is about "going to heaven" is biblically unsupported,theologically bankrupt and ethically corrosive. Jesus scholar Marcus Borg once told an audience,
"If I were to make a list of Christianity's ten worst contributions to religion, on that list would bepopular Christianity's emphasis on the afterlife."
More recently, media-savvy pastor Rob Bell published Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell,and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, in which he dismisses traditional evangelicalnotions of heaven and hell, calling them "misguided and toxic." When advance word leakedabout Bell's new book, outraged conservatives pummeled him with what the New York Timescalled "a biblical hailstorm of Twitter messages and blog posts."
Yet the hope of heaven dies hard in the popular imagination. Polls show that nine out of tenAmericans believe in heaven, regardless of religious affiliation, and 85 percent are persuadedthat they "will personally go there."
Even more impressive is the astonishing success of Todd Burpo's Heaven Is for Real, which hastopped the New York Times best-seller lists for several months. Burpo, pastor of a smallNebraska church, tells of how he and his wife nearly lost their three-year-old son Colton becauseof misdiagnosed appendicitis. The couple experienced the fear, rage and anxiety any parentswould feel as their child came perilously close to death—and all of the relief and renewed faithwhen his life seemed to be miraculously spared.
Burpo then describes how Colton began to tell a mind-boggling story of having been transportedfrom the operating table into heaven. He described his great-grandfather "Pop," dead for morethan 30 years, and a sister who died in a miscarriage that Colton had never been told about. Healso encountered John the Baptist and saw God and Jesus sitting on enormous thrones. Heaven,he said, is "for real."
The fact that Colton's heaven has all of the trappings of a fundamentalist vision, including pearlygates and a blue-eyed Jesus, raises a skeptical eyebrow. The fact that the book was ghostwrittenby Lynn Vincent, who penned Sarah Palin's Going Rogue, raises the other eyebrow. Colton, now11, seems like a sweet kid, but I came away from this book thinking that either he was carried inan out-of-body experience to a biblical wax museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or he's beenchanneling images from his father's sermons back to his credulous parents. Cathal Kelly of theToronto Star scoffs that the book is for "the sort of people who see angels in chicken salad.[Colton has] written a book that will be shelved under 'non-fiction' south of the Mason-DixonLine."
But charity should prevail. The book's unexpected popularity tells us something. In sobermoments of reflection, our culture may find talk of heaven implausible, but in moments of need,it finds the hope of heaven irresistible.
All the more welcome, then, amidst these conflicting impulses, to have theologian ChristopherMorse's superb and profound new monograph, The Difference Heaven Makes: Rehearing theGospel as News. Morse combs meticulously through the biblical evidence, observing that in theGospels heaven is mainly "not about blue skies or life only after death." Rather, heaven is the lifethat is now coming toward us from God, the life "of the world to come," a life that overcomesour present age. The opposite of heaven is not hell, but instead the "world that is passing away."
In Acts, when Jesus is "taken up to heaven," this is not a spatial claim, but an announcement thatJesus has been taken up "into the very life that is now forthcoming toward us." Heaven is God'sunbounded love breaking in to every situation, stronger than any loss, even death. We don't go toheaven; heaven comes to us. "In sum," Morse writes, "we are called to be on hand for that whichis at hand but not in hand, an unprecedented glory of not being left orphaned but of being lovedin a community of new creation beyond all that we can ask or imagine."
Some day when Colton Burpo rereads his father's book with adult and perhaps skeptical eyes, Ihope he will know that even if he did not go to heaven as a three-year-old, heaven comes to himevery day and enfolds him in unfathomable love.

Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church Hell
Discussion Group Quote Sheet: Hell

Tuesday, March 12

I can't believe we're going to talk about it but there was an interesting opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal about hell. My thinking is this: if the WSJ can talk about it, why can't we.
As is our Lenten tradition, I'll be offering a short Scripture reading to meditate on. Also, as is our tradition, I expect to have a lively, deep and uplifting conversation (about what is most likely the darkest of subjects).

How We Think About Hell
Lance Morrow, Wall Street Journal 3.7.24

Pope Francis was asked earlier this year what he thinks about hell. “It’s difficult to imagine it,”he replied. “What I would say is not a dogma of faith, but my personal thought: I like to thinkhell is empty. I hope it is.”
It was a pastoral pleasantry, kindly meant but theologically sloppy. It raised interestingquestions: Has the traditional hell—fire and brimstone through all eternity—gone out ofbusiness, either because, as the pope hopes, there are no longer enough customers, or becausehell has become an atavism: medieval, lurid, and not credible to the 21st-century mind? Is theeternal fire a metaphor? If so, what does it mean? Is hell a physical place or a state of mind? Isthere such a thing as eternal life—and if God’s verdict goes against you, does that mean a life ofeverlasting torment? Is it possible to believe in hell if you don’t believe in God, or is hell theterrible solitude of living without God?
Pope Francis himself has defined hell as “eternal solitude.” By contrast, Jean-Paul Sartre, thepontiff of existentialism, wrote that “hell is other people.” Which is it?
Evelyn Waugh proposed a darkly witty version of hell in his novel “A Handful of Dust.” It endswith the hero, an English gentleman lost in the Amazonian rain forest, held prisoner by anilliterate mixed-race Guianan who happens to own a complete set of Dickens and forces hiscaptive to read it aloud, over and over again, without hope of release.
Hell expanded centuries ago from theology into literature. Great writers have had a crack at it.Dante set the standard. Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is magnificent, although, as Samuel Johnsonremarked, “no one wished it longer.” Milton’s fallen Lucifer sounds unexpectedly modern whenhe cries, “Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell.” Is it the case that we make our own hell?
I experienced a shock of recognition when I first read James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as aYoung Man”: The Jesuit retreat master’s hair-raising sermon therein resembled, almost word forword, one I’d heard during a retreat at the Jesuits’ Gonzaga College High School in Washingtonaround 1957. If hell is the unspeakable, those priests managed to give it elaborate articulation:the stench of rotting corpses, the boiling blood and brains of sinners. And “remember, boys, thefire of hell gives off no light.”
Joyce’s novel was published in 1916, the year of the Great War’s Battle of the Somme, aslaughter that killed some 300,000 soldiers and wounded hundreds of thousands more. Aroundthis time notions about hell began to migrate from eternity into history and, simultaneously, from
meaning into meaninglessness.
The old story of hell had been filled with meaning—which emerged from a detailed theologicalformality, a system of sin and condign punishment worked out almost as precisely as Newton’slaws of motion. World War I’s trenches reduced war to meaningless horror. The 20th centuryproceeded along those lines, through a sequence of world-historical hells: the genocidalUkrainian famine inflicted by Stalin in the early 1930s; Hitler’s Final Solution, which killed sixmillion Jews in Auschwitz, Treblinka and other death camps; the urbicidal bombings of WorldWar II; the Cambodians’ hellish mass murder under Pol Pot. On and on.
Hell presents itself in the 21st century, in the events of Oct. 7 in southern Israel and in Israel’ssubsequent leveling of Gaza. Many feel premonitions of a more general hell on Earth, in climatechange, as if the weather were groping toward fulfillment of the Robert Frost poem: “Some saythe world will end in fire / Some say in ice.” Is it sinful to use plastic bags? To fly in a privatejet? Will people who do those things be sent to hell?
In our time, the sense of sin—sin being the reason hell is necessary—has been diminished by thenotion that human behavior and even an individual’s fate are predetermined, written in the genes.This is Calvinism without Calvinism’s saving paradox—that you must act as if. But if a man’sbehavior is out of his hands, he won’t be capable of sinning. Wouldn’t it be an injustice tosentence him to eternal damnation?
The man’s life would resemble nothing so much as the driverless car Elon Musk and the techpriesthood have labored to perfect. If a person isn’t in command of the accelerator, brakes andsteering wheel, how can he be punished if his car’s computers fail and it runs over somebody?
That line of reasoning makes hell seem less plausible, less just, merely contingent.
What will artificial intelligence make of the notion of hell? Will the robots laugh?
Plenty of people, of course, still believe in such a place—literally or metaphorically or in somevague, ingenious fusion of the two: an intuition that, despite its reductive crudity, harbors a basictruth about human nature and its sense of justice.

Tuesday, March 5

Continuing with our Lenten theme of talking about a societal issue and meditating on Scripture, we have an article about how politics had become a false religion and how science and Christianity (and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry) saved her.
Also included is the Scripture sheet I created and showed you last week - it has two stories about Moses and the prophet Jonah and suicide. It also has passages that for centuries (millennia) have helped lift people from the depths of despair. And, as always, if you would like to talk about this individually, please let me know.

The 2016 Election Sent Me Searching for Answers
Carrie Sheffield, Christianity Today 12.22.23

Carrie Sheffield is a policy analyst in Washington, DC. This essay is adapted from her book, MotorhomeProphecies: A Journey of Healing and Forgiveness

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People laugh when I admit this, but my conversion to Christianity resulted from two powerfulforces: science and presidential politics. But before that journey began, I needed distance fromextreme religious trauma. I grew up within an offshoot Mormon cult, living with sevenbiological siblings in various motor homes, tents, houses, and sheds. Besides time spent inhomeschooling, I attended 17 different public schools. When I took my ACT test, we lived in ashed with no running water in the Ozarks.
My father believed he was a Mormon prophet destined to become president. The LDS Churcheventually excommunicated him for heresy. As a child, he was raped by a Mormon babysitterand witnessed the sudden death of a best friend. His children inherited the trauma. I’ve beenhospitalized nine times for depression, fibromyalgia, suicidal ideation, and PTSD.
For years, I assumed I’d never return to belief in God or organized religion. My heart remainedclosed for over a decade because of the evil things I’d seen done in God’s name. To fill the void,I threw myself into work, schooling, dating, friends, and travel as ultimate sources of meaning. Istudied business policy at Harvard and worked as an analyst for major Wall Street firms, earningunthinkable sums for a girl from a motor home. I launched a career in political journalism atoutlets like Politico, The Hill, and the Washington Times. Materially, I was well off. Butspiritually, I felt poorer than ever. I couldn’t help comparing myself to people who appearedmore successful. Over time, I discovered my earthly gifts and accomplishments didn’t offer realfulfillment.
I turned to ancient Stoic philosophy to bring me peace and stability, and in many respects it did.But it wasn’t enough. During the 2016 election, when I felt an existential crisis. I realized that Ihad allowed politics to become a substitute religion. I’d built my career toward working on aRepublican campaign or in the White House. It would be a crowning success. I felt ready. I knewthe economy after managing billions of dollars in credit risk on Wall Street. I’d appeared onCNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, and other networks, even sparring on HBO’s RealTime with Bill Maher.
But I couldn’t endorse what Trump said about women, and I couldn’t abide his lack of public-service experience. I wrote in the then senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, as myprotest candidate. During this crisis of meaning, I felt distraught and adrift. So I turned to church,first to Redeemer Presbyterian, founded by the late Tim Keller, and also to Saint ThomasEpiscopal on Fifth Avenue.
Each week, I generally attended either a Sunday service or a Bible study. There, I encounteredScripture’s answer to career and political idolatry in passages like Mark 8:36–37, which asks,“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will aman give in exchange for his soul?” And I gradually discovered why Christianity supplantedStoicism (and other ancient philosophies).
Like Buddhism, Stoicism teaches detachment to help relieve human suffering. We are in pain,the Stoics say, because we irrationally attach ourselves to things, and true liberation comes fromrefusing to let them control our peace. There is truth in those sentiments, but Stoicism didn’toffer sustaining community, and it didn’t help me comprehend either human depravity or thepossibility of redemption.
I enjoyed Keller’s intellectual approach. His church welcomed skeptics, atheists, and agnosticslike me. He provided a solid answer to my anger at organized religion. I resonated with hisresponse in The Prodigal God to Karl Marx’s charge that religion is the “opiate of the masses.”
As Keller observed: Christianity teaches that God hates the suffering and oppression of thismaterial world so much, he was willing to get involved in it and to fight against it. Properlyunderstood, Christianity is by no means the opiate of the people. It’s more like the smelling salts.
As I studied theology, I also began studying science and metaphysics, discovering abundantevidence for a divine creator that blew away any last vestiges of agnosticism. I embraced aministry called Science + God created by former Harvard physics professor Michael Guillen. Anatheist when he entered Cornell University, he left as a Christian, graduating with three PhDs —mathematics, astronomy, and physics — before teaching at Harvard and joining ABC News aschief science correspondent.
The more I studied science, history, anthropology, and other disciplines, the more my faith inGod and my confidence in Christianity grew. In Mormonism, further study had produced furtherdisillusionment. Studying Christianity felt like uncovering buried treasure discarded byintellectuals who had discounted its scientific and philosophical heft.
I joined the Episcopal Church, having been influenced by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, thepreacher from the royal wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. More than two billionpeople watched his sermon on the power of love. But I already knew the power of this small,bespectacled, energetic man. One of his chief advisors, Chuck Robertson, became a spiritualmentor to me after we met in Manhattan.
Reverend Chuck gave me the bishop’s book Crazy Christians. It’s about love’s power to healracial, socioeconomic, and all other divisions. As an African American, Curry grew up amidsegregation, and his father brought his family to the Episcopal Church because it served the sameCommunion cup to parishioners of all races. Curry saw the truth of Galatians 3:28, that “you areall one in Christ Jesus.” His words touched my heart and encouraged my faith journey.
My baptism day — December 3, 2017 — was the happiest of my life. A group of about 30family and friends watched me vow to “serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor asmyself” and “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of everyhuman being.” More than six years since my baptism, I enjoy a healthier relationship to politics.
I still have strong convictions, which I don’t hesitate to share in columns, speeches, or TVappearances, but I know God is far bigger than any manmade system.
As I returned to a walk with God, I felt enveloped with a sense of peace that surpassedunderstanding. The mission of Christ to unify and heal breathed new life and joy into my bruisedheart. I recovered a sense of confidence, not in myself but in my identity as a child of God.

Depression and the Bible
Numbers 11:10-16
Moses heard the people crying throughout their clans, each at his tent’s entrance. The LORD wasoutraged, and Moses was upset. Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you treated your servant sobadly? And why haven’t I found favor in your eyes, for you have placed the burden of all thesepeople on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say tome, ‘Carry them at the breast, as a nurse carries an unweaned child,’ to the fertile land that youpromised their ancestors? Where am I to get meat for all these people? They are crying beforeme and saying, ‘Give us meat, so we can eat.’ I can’t bear this people on my own. They’re tooheavy for me. If you’re going to treat me like this, please kill me. If I’ve found favor in your
eyes, then don’t let me endure this wretched situation.”
The LORD said to Moses, “Gather before me seventy men from Israel’s elders, whom you knowas elders and officers of the people.

Jonah 4:1-4
But Jonah thought [God saving the people of Nineveh] was utterly wrong, and he becameangry. He prayed to the LORD, “Come on, LORD! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I wasback in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful andcompassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At thispoint, LORD, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die thanto live.”
The LORD responded, “Is your anger a good thing?”

Psalm 40:1-2
I put all my hope in the Lord. He leaned down to me; he listened to my cry for help. He lifted meout of the pit of death, out of the mud and filth, and set my feet on solid rock. He steadied mylegs.

2 Corinthians 4:18
We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things thatcan be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.

Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest foryourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Romans 8:38-39
I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not deathor life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, orany other thing that is created.

Tuesday, February 27

For the Lenten season, we are going to talk about faith and relate it to an event in society. This week, we are going to talk about the rise of suicide. Since there is not one single article that covers this, I took on the role of editor and have combined three stories - from the NY Times, The Christian Century, and Crosswalk (an evangelical publication) which address different aspects of suicide. In particular, the rise in teen suicide and what the Church, and specifically grandparents, can do.

I am available at any time to talk with you about this confidentially and one-on-one. If you are interested in talking about it in a safe group environment, I look forward to seeing you on Tuesday or Wednesday in person or online. And yes, as always, I'll have the coffee ready.

Putting Up and Removing Barriers: A Discussion About Suicide
The Rev. David J. Marshall, Editor, All Angels by the Sea, 2.22.24

Ellen Barry, Mental Health Reporter, NY Times:


“The bridge is sealed up.” Last month, with those words, the general manager of the GoldenGate Bridge announced the completion of a suicide barrier — stainless steel netting that extendsabout 20 feet out from the walkway for the length of the bridge, making a jump into the waterbelow extraordinarily difficult. For decades, friends and family members of people who hadjumped pleaded for a barrier. And for decades, my colleague John Branch recently reported,officials found reasons — the cost, the aesthetics — not to build one.
But something is changing in the United States, where the suicide rate has risen by about 35percent over two decades, with deaths approaching 50,000 annually. The U.S. is a glaringexception among wealthy countries; globally, the suicide rate has been dropping steeply andsteadily.
Research has demonstrated that suicide is most often an impulsive act, with a period of acute riskthat passes in hours, or even minutes. Contrary to what many assume, people who survivesuicide attempts often go on to do well: Nine out of 10 of them do not die by suicide.
For generations, psychiatrists believed that, in the words of the British researcher NormanKreitman, “anyone bent on self-destruction must eventually succeed.” Then something strangeand wonderful happened: Midway through the 1960s, the annual number of suicides in Britainbegan dropping — by 35 percent in the following years — even as tolls crept up in other parts ofEurope. No one could say why. Were antidepressant medications bringing down levels ofdespair? Had life in Britain just gotten better? The real explanation, Kreitman discovered, wasnone of these. The drop in suicides had come about almost by accident: As the United Kingdomphased out coal gas from its supply to household stoves, levels of carbon monoxide decreased.
Suicide by gas accounted for almost half of the suicides in 1960. It turns out that blocking accessto a single lethal means — if it is the right one — can make a huge difference. The strategy thatarose from this realization is known as “means restriction” or “means safety,” and vast naturalexperiments have borne it out.
More than half of U.S. suicides are carried out with firearms. Twenty-one states have passed redflag laws, which allow the authorities to remove firearms temporarily from individuals identifiedas dangerous to themselves or others. A follow-up study found that firearm suicides dropped 7.5percent in Indiana in the decade after the law’s passage; Connecticut saw a 13.7 percent dropover eight years as the state began to enforce the law in earnest. Even brief counseling sessionscan change a gun owner’s habits, trials show. A researcher recalled one subject who wasparticularly dismissive of the counselor’s advice but returned six months later with a differentoutlook. “Since I was last here, I broke up with my fiancé and I let my brother hold my guns. If Ihadn’t done that, I’m pretty sure I’d be dead,” the subject told researchers.

Our Teens Are Not Okay
Editors of The Christian Century, 4.10.23.

A recent CDC report identifies a sharp increase in depression among teen girls. Boys are notdoing well either, but girls are faring worse across nearly all measures. The reasons are unclear.
In his newsletter, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points to the “rewiring of childhood” in the2010s with the widespread use of mobile devices and social media. Girls report experiencingmore online bullying and harassment than boys, and Haidt observes that even those who aren’tchronically online may suffer. When all your peers are posting, you can feel isolated, lonely, anddepressed if you aren’t joining them.
Another study, in the journal SSM-Mental Health, confirms that teen girls are the most depressed— and adds that teens who self-identify as liberal are even more depressed than theirconservative peers. Perhaps liberal teens have a greater awareness of systemic injustice, whileconservatives are more likely to view inequality as a personal failure — and therefore to feel agreater sense of personal agency and hope.
Whatever the causes, the study indicates that the views through which teens process world eventsmatter to their mental health, that teens are increasingly likely to root their personal identity intheir political beliefs. “Young people are experiencing a level of distress that calls on us to actwith urgency and compassion,” said the CDC’s Kathleen Ethier in a press release. She has urgedschools and health-care professionals to take evidence-based steps to improve teen mental health.
Churches can do this, too. Religious practice has proven to be neuroprotective for teens andadults, with higher levels of spirituality and religion associated with lower rates of depressivesymptoms and suicidality. (The SSM study controlled for religiosity for this reason.)
Psychologist Lisa Miller’s research suggests that the teen years are marked by an increasedcapacity and desire for connection with others and with God. The development of healthyadolescent spirituality makes kids happier and can contribute to their lifelong mental health.
We don’t know why girls are doing worse than boys (and it’s possible that boys areunderreporting their depressive symptoms). But churches can make a difference in teens’ livesby helping them cultivate healthy spiritual practices and a sense of belonging. The CDC saysteens need a safe, trusted community that cares about them and their well-being—but the churchcan also be a place that cares about what they care about. Churches can be places where theylearn how to come together to work for justice, rather than scrolling through it alone.

Habits to Talk to Your Grandchildren About Faith,
Annie Yorty, Crosswalk Contributing Writer, June 12, 2023.

Demonstrate your spiritual life with God.
Allow your grandchildren to see you practice your faith – whether it is reflection, in prayer, or inBible study. Invite them to pray with you. At mealtimes, pause to pray, even if no one else joinsyou.
Talk about God in your daily life.
Try using “Here’s what I believe” statements such as these:
Sunday is the best day because I get to go to church and feel better about my week.
When I talk to God, He gives me peace in my heart.
When I have a problem, I read my Bible and talk to church friends to find answers.

Communicate everyday biblical principles without preaching.
Show them patience and kindness. Teach your children about generosity in daily living. And,give them your undivided attention the way that God pays attention to us.
Reinforce the importance of righteousness in every area of life.
When playing games together, say, “We want to do the right thing by following the rules.” At thesame time, help them to see the wisdom of putting others first.
Watch for signs of spiritual readiness.
Sooner or later, your grandkids will display a need to know more about God. Ask God to helpyou perceive their heart needs and be ready with thoughtful questions to lead to opportunities toshare truth.
Demonstrate the love of God through carefully chosen gifts.
If their non-believing parents do not allow you to give an overtly Christian gift, give the gift of time with you because it adds an even better purpose for relationship building. For example, giveyour grandkids a game that promotes open-ended conversation. Then play it with them. Or takethem to a classic play or movie with Christian themes and then talk with them about it.
Offer interesting books that pique spiritual interest.
Perhaps even read them aloud together. Many non-religious preteens enjoy The Lion, the Witchand the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis which contains a Christian theme of love and sacrifice thatmakes for deep conversations.
Endure scoffing with grace.
Your non-believing children, or even your grandkids, may tease or challenge you because ofyour faith. Take on the humility of Christ (Philippians 2:5) rather than taking offense. Forgiveand love rather than defending and arguing. God may use your meekness to prick theirconscience.
Love and encourage your non-believing children.
Build them up by praising their strengths and avoiding criticism. They will not only experiencethe love of God through you, but you will also be maintaining open communication and access toyour grandkids.
Lastly, (and perhaps most importantly), ask God to lead you to step out in faith that passes on arich spiritual inheritance to your grandchildren. Our faithful God may even surprise you bybringing their unbelieving parents along with your grandkids.

Tuesday, February 20

Welcome to Lent - a church season where we take time to do a number of things including meditating on God's holy Word. For the next six weeks, we are going to meditate, and discuss, an aspect of Biblical writing in light of current events. As it happened, the Super Bowl gave us something to talk about. Did you see theHe Gets Usad? Apparently not everyone agreed with it. In our article this week from David French, he asks these questions:
Like Jesus, are you willing to risk shame and isolation for loving those on the other side of the political and religious aisle? Are you willing to love others even if they haven’t repented of what you believe to be grievous sins?

He Gets Us. Do We Get Him?
David French, The NY Times, 2.15.24

During Super Bowl Sunday, a 60-second ad aired about Jesus Christ, and no one seemed angrierabout it than Christians. The ad depicts a series of images of one person washing anotherperson’s feet. Each pairing seems unlikely. An oil rig worker washes the feet of a climateactivist. A cop washes the feet of a young Black man. An older woman washes the feet of ayoung woman outside an apparent abortion clinic, while anti-abortion protesters look on. Apriest washes the feet of a young L.G.B.T.Q. man. As the commercial ends, words appear on thescreen: “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet.”
The ad came from a group called He Gets Us that is running a multimillion-dollar ad campaignwith the aim of essentially reintroducing America to Jesus. The constant theme of the group’sads is that Jesus knows you and loves you. But not everyone loves the ads. First, there’s theentirely fair question of whether it’s appropriate for Christians to spend large sums of money onan ad campaign when it could be spent instead on, for instance, providing food or shelter to thosein need. I’ve had questions about that myself.
He Gets Us has also come under fire from the left. Some people have critiqued the funders(which include a founder of Hobby Lobby), noting that they’ve also funded conservativeChristian legal causes. Americans United for Separation of Church and State goes so far as tocall the ads “a front for Christian nationalism.” Yet if that’s true, someone forgot to tell thereligious right. The most radically right-wing cohort of Christians were furious at the ad, and
they’ve stayed furious for days. The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh called the ads “heretical[expletive]” and said, “Putting out an ad that invites narcissistic, prideful, unrepentant sinners tocome and get their feet washed is bad, actually.” The critiques kept rolling in, and many were notgentle. A Christian writer named Samuel Sey highlighted the segment of the ad that depicts footwashing outside an abortion clinic. The “Christ-like thing to do at an abortion centre isn’t towash an abortion-minded girl’s feet while ignoring their murderous intentions,” Sey wrote. “TheChrist-like thing to do is to call them to repentance.”
But all the right-wing anger at the ad may offer a hint as to its true target. Far from making astealth case for Christian nationalism, the ads are making a rather blatant case to Christians thatperhaps Jesus would not play the culture-warrior role they imagine. This is especially true of theSuper Bowl ad, which refers to a story known primarily to Christians. In John 13, Jesus humbledhimself, washed his disciples’ feet and then instructed them, “you also should wash oneanother’s feet,” an admonition that many Christians take quite literally. Foot washing as ahumbling act is a staple in countless churches.
The best explanation I’ve heard for the ad came from Kaitlyn Schiess, a Christian writer andspeaker and frequent guest on the Holy Post podcast. She argued that the ad asks, “Are youwilling to be shamed for your associations?” In other words, are you willing to risk shame andisolation for loving those on the other side of the political and religious aisle? Are you, likeJesus, willing to love others even if it causes people to hate you? Are you willing to love otherseven if they haven’t repented of what you believe to be grievous sins?
I grew up in a fundamentalist religious tradition. My church placed an enormous emphasis on the“boldly declaring” model – our fundamental job is to preach Christ to the lost. When I left myfundamentalist church and joined an evangelical fellowship in law school, I learned a differentapproach. This model says that there is a difference between declaring your faith anddemonstrating your faith, and that declarations without demonstrations are worthless.
It’s one thing to possess the courage to say what you believe, but it takes immeasurably morecourage to truly love people you’re often told to hate — even and especially if they don’t loveyou back. There is nothing distinctive about boldly declaring your beliefs. Many people do that. But how many people love their enemies? The Super Bowl ad is communicating something radical and valuable: I can love you and serve you even when I disagree with you.
In fact, while Jesus was obviously a preacher and a teacher, scripture is clear that when peoplewere suffering or in peril, time and again Jesus moved to relieve their suffering before he askedthem to follow him. He immediately demonstrated love and compassion when people were underduress. Kindness was not conditioned on first accepting his teaching.
The older I get, the more I reject the “bold declaration” model of Christian engagement in favorof prioritizing courageous demonstration. I’m so weary of Christian scandals that I’m nowinstantly wary in the presence of excessive “God talk.” Whenever a person leads with theirreligiosity, I’m cautious. I’d rather know a person’s faith by their virtues. And we know fromscripture which virtues demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life: “love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Yes, there wereChristians who were offended by the ad. But there are millions of others, like me, who watchedthe ad and felt challenged. We asked ourselves if we were adequately loving and serving ourneighbors.
I was reminded of a story that made an indelible impact on me. When I was a young law student,an evangelist and professor named Tony Campolo came to speak to our Christian fellowship.The story he told helped reframe my life. Campolo was eating out very late in an all-night dinerwhen a group of women who were obviously prostitutes came inside. One of the women, namedAgnes, said her birthday was the next day and observed that she’d never had a birthday party inher life. Campolo overheard the conversation. The next night, Campolo brought some simpledecorations, hung them up and threw Agnes a surprise party in that diner. She cried tears of joyand ended up taking the cake home, untouched. It was the first birthday cake she had everreceived. After she left, Campolo prayed with the people who remained in the diner, and one ofthe employees asked him what kind of church he belonged to. Campolo’s answer was perfect: Hesaid he belonged to the kind of church that gives a party for a prostitute at 3:30 a.m. Not,obviously, because he approved of prostitution. But because he cared for Agnes. He threw thatparty for her before he knew how she’d respond, before he knew whether she’d leave the streetsand before he’d had a chance to say anything at all to her about Jesus. The party itself spoke toher more loudly than any words could have.
I still don’t know how I feel about spending so much money on a Super Bowl ad about Jesus.But I do know that its message is vitally important. Instead of telling our nation, “He Gets Us,” itessentially asks American Christians, do we get him?

Tuesday, February 13 - Combined Discussion Group

The topic is about an ancient Jewish practice from the Mishnah - the power of just showing up. Rabbi Brous writes the following:
Showing up for one another doesn’t require heroic gestures. It means picking up the phone and calling our friend or colleague. It means going to the funeral. It also means going to the birthday dinner. Err on the side of presence.Small, tender gestures remind us that we are not helpless, even in the face of grave human suffering.
On the second page, she talks about the downfall of tribalism:
Our tribes can order our lives, give them meaning and purpose, direction and pride. But the tribal instinct can also be perilous. The more closely we identify with our tribe, the more likely we are to dismiss or even feel hostility toward those outside it.
I'd like to know what you think about this.

The Amen Effect
Sharon Brous, The New York Times 1.24.24

Rabbi Brous is the senior rabbi of Ikar, a Jewish community based in LA, and the author of “The Amen Effect.”

A somewhat obscure text, about 2,000 years old, has been my unlikely teacher and guide for thepast many years, and my north star these last several months, as so many of us have felt as ifwe’ve been drowning in an ocean of sorrow and helplessness.
Buried deep within the Mishnah, a Jewish legal compendium from around the third century, is anancient practice reflecting a deep understanding of the human psyche and spirit: When your heartis broken, when the specter of death visits your family, when you feel lost and alone and inclinedto retreat, you show up. You entrust your pain to the community.
The text, Middot 2:2, describes a pilgrimage ritual from the time of the Second Temple. Severaltimes each year, hundreds of thousands of Jews would ascend to Jerusalem, the center of Jewishreligious and political life. They would climb the steps of the Temple Mount and enter itsenormous plaza, turning to the right en masse, circling counterclockwise.
Meanwhile, the brokenhearted, the mourners (and here I would also include the lonely and thesick), would make this same ritual walk but they would turn to the left and circle in the oppositedirection: every step against the current.
And each person who encountered someone in pain would look into that person’s eyes andinquire: “What happened to you? Why does your heart ache?”
“My father died,” a person might say. “There are so many things I never got to say to him.” Orperhaps: “My partner left. I was completely blindsided.” Or: “My child is sick. We’re awaitingthe test results.”
Those who walked from the right would offer a blessing: “May the Holy One comfort you,” theywould say. “You are not alone.” And then they would continue to walk until the next personapproached.
This timeless wisdom speaks to what it means to be human in a world of pain. This year, youwalk the path of the anguished. Perhaps next year, it will be me. I hold your broken heartknowing that one day you will hold mine.
I read in this text many profound lessons, two particularly pertinent in our time, when so many ofus feel that we are breaking. First, do not take your broken heart and go home. Don’t isolate.
Step toward those whom you know will hold you tenderly.
And on your good days — the days when you can breathe — show up then, too. Because thevery fact of seeing those who are walking against the current, people who can barely hold on,and asking, with an open heart, “Tell me about your sorrow,” may be the deepest affirmation ofour humanity, even in terribly inhumane times.
It is an expression of both love and sacred responsibility to turn to another person in her momentof deepest anguish and say: “Your sorrow may scare me, it may unsettle me. But I will notabandon you. I will meet your grief with relentless love.”
We cannot magically fix one another’s broken hearts. But we can find each other in our mostvulnerable moments and wrap each other up in a circle of care. We can humbly promise eachother, “I can’t take your pain away, but I can promise you won’t have to hold it alone.”
Showing up for one another doesn’t require heroic gestures. It means training ourselves toapproach, even when our instinct tells us to withdraw. It means picking up the phone and callingour friend or colleague who is suffering. It means going to the funeral and to the house ofmourning. It also means going to the wedding and to the birthday dinner. Reach out in yourstrength, step forward in your vulnerability. Err on the side of presence.
Small, tender gestures remind us that we are not helpless, even in the face of grave humansuffering. We maintain the ability, even in the dark of night, to find our way to one another. Weneed this, especially now.
Here’s the second lesson from that ancient text. Humans naturally incline toward the known. Ourtribes can uplift us, order our lives, give them meaning and purpose, direction and pride. But thetribal instinct can also be perilous. The more closely we identify with our tribe, the more likelywe are to dismiss or even feel hostility toward those outside it.
One of the great casualties of tribalism is curiosity. And when we are no longer curious, whenwe don’t try to imagine or understand what another person is thinking or feeling or where herpain comes from, our hearts begin to narrow. We become less compassionate and moreentrenched in our own worldviews. Trauma exacerbates this trend. It reinforces an instinct toturn away from one another, rather than make ourselves even more vulnerable.
The ancient rabbis ask us to imagine a society in which no person is disposable. Even those whohave hurt us, even those with views antithetical to ours must be seen in their humanity and heldwith curiosity and care.
We desperately need a spiritual rewiring in our time. Imagine a society in which we learn to seeone another in our pain, to ask one another, “What happened to you?” Imagine that we hear oneanother’s stories, say amen to one another’s pain, and even pray for one another’s healing. I callthis the amen effect: sincere, tender encounters that help us forge new spiritual and neuralpathways by reminding us that our lives and our destinies are entwined. Because, ultimately, it isonly by finding our way to one another that we will begin to heal.

Tuesday, February 6

This week, we had a great discussion about faith. The opposite of faith, to me, is not un-faith but belief in flukes. For instance, the belief that what occured to make all of living creation is a fluke - a random occurrence. Our author for next week is an expert on flukes. He wrote the following:
When you lose at roulette, you don’t kick yourself for being a failure, you accept the arbitrary outcome and move on. Recognising that often meaningless, accidental outcomes emerge from an intertwined, complex world is empowering and liberating. We should all take a bit less credit for our triumphs and a bit less blame for our failures.
But what about faith - not in the roulette wheel, but in a greater, grander design for our life both individually and corporately. I'd like to know what you think.

What If Every Little Thing You Do Changes History?
Brian Klaas, The Guardian, 1.29.24

Brian Klaas is associate professor in global politics at University College London and the author of Fluke.
When we contemplate travelling back in time, we’re always given the same warning: be sure notto touch anything. Even one squished bug could irrevocably change the future. Why, then, don’twe think like that about the present? If every tiny change from the past creates our present, then
every aspect of our present creates our future, too.
Chaos theory is a definitively established scientific truth about how complex systems aresensitive to tiny changes – that small flukes can have enormous effects. It’s not really a theory;it’s been proved over and over again. It’s why we can’t predict the weather more than a week inadvance. If our calculations are off by even a tiny amount, all bets are off.
Those dynamics are simply ignored when we consider humans instead of physical matter.There’s no good reason for it – we’re subject to the same laws of physics as everything else – butwe just pretend it isn’t true. Perhaps it’s because what might happen to our future selves if wesquished the wrong bug are so overwhelming that it’s easier to pretend the world worksdifferently. But it doesn’t.
That’s why history is often made by seemingly insignificant moments that don’t always makesense. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima rather than Kyoto because a US governmentofficial holidayed in Kyoto 19 years earlier; Trump may have decided to run for president in2016 after Obama publicly humiliated him with one joke in 2011; the Arab spring was sparkedby a vegetable vendor in central Tunisia who decided to set himself on fire. We’re told to focuson big, obvious variables – the “signal” – while ignoring “the noise”. But the noise – the buzz ofthe complexity of society – often profoundly alters our world.
In a broader sense, our species only exists because of a series of flukes. Two billion years ago –and never again – a single bacterium bumped into a prokaryotic cell and ended up inside it. Itevolved into a mitochondrion, making complex life possible, from grass and trees to snails andhumans. One hundred million years ago, a shrew-like creature got infected with a retrovirus,eventually leading to the placenta and, by extension, the reason why we don’t lay eggs. Sixty-sixmillion years ago, a tiny oscillation in the Oort cloud flung an asteroid towards Earth, wiping outthe dinosaurs, allowing mammals to flourish. If the asteroid had been slightly delayed, humanswouldn’t exist. Everything we’ve achieved would be gone, but for a distant oscillation and a
giant space rock. The story of our existence is often written in the margins.
But those are just the examples we can observe. The more profound and bewildering reality isthat we’re living in “sliding doors” moments constantly, totally unaware of how our pathsthrough life – and the trajectory of our societies – are constantly branching, infinitely, as a resultof tiny, accidental shifts. We ignore these invisible pivots, the moments we will never realisewere consequential, the near misses and near hits that are unknown to us because we have neverseen, and will never see, our alternative possible lives. And yet, because our brains have evolvedto detect patterns (a useful trick for keeping us alive long enough to reproduce), we ignore amystifying fact: that our world and our lives are swayed considerably by chance, contingencyand chaos.
Science, especially the field of complex systems, knows this is how the world works. Socialscience mostly ignores it. Instead of facing reality head-on, we’ve invented a fake conception ofour world that writes out all the wrinkles of life because they’re hard to model. A misleadingimage is reflected back at us from these models, from economics to public health to politics. Inmodels – always wrong, but sometimes useful – every cause has a straightforward effect. Everybig event has a big cause, never a tiny bit of “noise”.
But when we live according to models that reduce the complexity of our chaotic existence into aneat and tidy version of it, we start to believe that we have more control than we actually do.Because if it is swayed by a few key variables we can manipulate, then we have control. But ifthe world is swayed by squished bugs and presidents can emerge from a single joke, well, thenwe’re bewilderingly out of control.
It follows that our big decisions are but one factor in the trajectory of our lives. That is aprofoundly uplifting idea. When you lose at roulette, you don’t kick yourself for being a failure,you accept the arbitrary outcome and move on. Recognising that often meaningless, accidentaloutcomes emerge from an intertwined, complex world is empowering and liberating. We shouldall take a bit less credit for our triumphs and a bit less blame for our failures.
And yet, we continue to worship at the Altar of Progress in the Church of Control. We try totame an untameable world, our lives an idealistic quest for ever more efficiency. But when wetry to distil every waking effort into a struggle for control and ratcheting optimisation, it’s theessence of being human that’s dissolved away. That’s why it feels, to many of us, like we areliving “a checklist existence”.
The paradox, then, is that we control nothing, but we influence everything. As chaos theoryproves, in an intertwined system, every action has an unforeseen ripple effect. Nothing ismeaningless. And that yields a profound truth: that everything we do matters.
You are the contingent culmination of the entirety of cosmic history. Everything had to beexactly as it was for you to exist, just as you are, in this precise moment, in this exact world. Thatleads us to a simple, wondrous idea: that we all are the living manifestation of 13.7bn years offlukes.
We will never be able to fully understand our own existence. Nonetheless, Kurt Vonnegut gaveus good advice on how to live fully within that uncertainty: “A purpose of human life, no matterwho is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved."

Tuesday, January 30

What do you believe? How did you come to believe it? Did it accumulate over time or did you have a sudden awareness or understanding?
Next week, let's talk about the nuts and bolts of faith. Our author, one of the foremost Lutheran pastors in the country, writes the following about an encounter he had recently in the I.C.U. with a 44-year-oldadult who had no faith and was watching his mother die.
To someone of unbelief sitting beside you in a hospital waiting room, how do you describe the power of faith, the significance of hope, or the meaning of life? How do you realistically acquaint them with the riches or comfort of faith during a 20-minute sit-down?
The answer: You can’t.

I wonder if that is true. Something that I know to be true is that no matter where you are in faith and your spiritual journey, you have a voice and opinion at our discussion table.

Accumulated Faith
Peter W. Marty, The Christian Century 1.16.24

Peter W. Marty is editor of the Century and senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.
Jason and I retreated to the ICU waiting room to talk about his mother’s precipitous decline. Moments earlier the attending physician had spoken of her imminent death.
“Six to 12 hours—maybe,” he said.
I wanted to chat with Jason. Marie, Jason’s mother, is very familiar to me from our congregation; her son far less so. A well-employed 44-year-old techie, he doesn’t take to religion. Best I can tell, it feels superfluous tohis larger contentment in life.
Because he looked uncomfortable with what was going on that day, I asked him if he was in fact
uncomfortable. “Yeah, I am. I don’t wanna be here.” He replied.
“Why’s that?” I asked. “Are you uncomfortable because we’re in a hospital, or is it the struggleto let Mom go?”
“Both,” he said. “I’ve never been in a hospital, believe it or not, and I don’t like it here. And,yeah, I don’t have any idea what to do with her death. It’s gonna be a huge . . . I don’t knowwhat.” His voice trailed off.
As I looked into Jason’s eyes, it felt like I was peering into a lost soul: a grown man with no ideaof where to turn next or what to do with the death of the one who brought him into this world. The widely divergent trajectories of our two lives suddenly struck me. To someone of unbeliefsitting beside you in a hospital waiting room, how do you describe the power of faith, thesignificance of hope, or the meaning of life? How do you realistically acquaint them with theriches or comfort of faith during a 20-minute sit-down?
You can’t. Faith is a deeply ingrained condition formed through steady habits, disciplinedpractices, and reliable instincts that take shape over long stretches of time. It’s a way of life thatacquires its layers and contours incrementally, developing ever so gradually and oftenimperceptibly. Somewhat like the parent who doesn’t notice her infant’s changing appearanceuntil she comes home from a weeklong trip and can’t believe how much her child has matured inher absence. The Christian life doesn’t emerge overnight any more than friendship does. Theinternal dispositions that form our character establish themselves often unselfconsciously andover the course of many uneventful days.
There have been times in my life when I’ve found it a valuable exercise to imagine myself heldcaptive in deplorable conditions abroad. A damp and windowless cell. Foul air. Meager food. Nocompanionship. Poor sanitation. Days indistinguishable from nights. Zero connection with the
outside world. What might spare me from total despair or insanity?
My hope is that God’s grace would buoy the faith accumulated within me. The countless hymntexts, song lyrics, and musical tunes I know by heart; the numerous Bible stories and passagesI’ve absorbed and committed to memory over a lifetime; the human experiences of a faithcommunity that remind me of all of this — I know of nothing that comes close to this sustenanceof the heart. It’s vast and deep. Encyclopedic. I’d have to retrieve it quite deliberately, of course,but it’s all in there.
Jason appears to me to lead a contented and happy life, at least on days when his mother isn’tdying. But does he live a good life — by which I mean one with transcendent meaning andpurpose? To be clear, it’s not that what I think of as a good life requires one to be Christian, orthat it magically fashions a person into a good Christian, whatever that is.
I’m just convinced that what Hans Küng wrote decades ago remains true: that “being a Christianis a particularly good thing.” However gradually and unceremoniously faith may evolve withinus, it provides a life that can hold and carry us through all kinds of circ*mstances.

Tuesday, January 23

The title of this week's readings says it all: Harmful People with Helpful Ideas.
Harkening back to cancel culture, and tearing down statues of Jefferson and Columbus, the Mennonite minister and author asks if people who have done harm can have good ideas. The author writes:
[Rejecting an artist - like J.S. Bach - because of what he or she did] This is in stark opposition to the 20th-century critical school that emphasized the “death of the author,” maintaining that knowledge of an author’s life and intention was irrelevant to the meaning of a text.

Harmful People with Helpful Ideas
Isaac s. Villegas, The Christian Century 1.8.24

Isaac S. Villegas is an ordained minister in Mennonite Church USA and a PhD student in religion at Duke University.

In a scene early in Todd Field’s 2022 film Tár, eminent composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) isteaching a master class at Juilliard. After extolling the compositions of J. S. Bach, Tár provokesMax, a nervous student, to respond with their musical inspirations.
“I’m not really into Bach,” Max answers.
She prods Max with smug condescension, insisting that they must say something more to defendwhat she considers to be an absurd opinion.
“I’d say Bach’s misogynistic life makes it kind of impossible for me to take his music seriously,”Max replies. “Didn’t he sire like 20 kids?”

That someone would link Bach’s sexual life to his brilliant work offends Tár, who snaps back atMax in front of the class:
“I’m unclear as to what his prodigious skills in the marital bed have to do with B minor.”

In her review of the film for the New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith highlights this back-and-forth between Tár and Max as representative of our current debates about the connectionsbetween a person’s life and work, between personal ethics and creative achievement. “Can an A-minor chord be misogynistic?” Smith asks. She lets her question linger unanswered. Probablybecause there are no answers — no schema for untangling the threads of influence in a work ofart, no solvent to dissolve the contradictions that compose a person’s life.
What seems clear is that we, according to our cultural mores, assume that an artist’s or a writer’slife is present — even if the markings are faint — in their work. The ethical or unethical aspectsof their lives press into what they produce. Their identities and choices are somehow legible tous on the page or canvas. These kinds of ad hominem associations have become culturallyrelevant to our appreciation, enjoyment, and respect. This is in stark opposition to the 20thcentury critical school that emphasized the “death of the author,” maintaining that knowledge ofan author’s life and intention was irrelevant to the meaning of a text.
I don’t think a particular chord can be misogynistic, but that might have more to do with my lackof musical sophistication than anything else. I’d be at a loss if, while listening to a piece ofmusic, I was asked to pick out the indicted chord. But I do share something of Max’s concernswhen I think about my indebtedness to theologies and philosophies that come from the lives ofpeople who’ve hurt others. I still read Martin Luther, despite his vile attacks on Judaism and hisdefense of killing Anabaptists. I still think with John Calvin, despite his active involvement inthe execution of Michael Servetus. I’m troubled by the revelations of Simone de Beauvoir’ssexually abusive relationships with students, but I can’t imagine my own development as a
feminist without what I’ve learned from The Second Sex.
The ideas of people who’ve enacted harm populate my thinking, my theologizing. This situation — our indebtedness to people who’ve violated the lives of others — didn’t seem to troubleAugustine, who in On Christian Teaching encourages his community of learners to gleanknowledge from whomever, regardless of the taint of evil. Because, he argues, “wherever [theChristian] may find truth, it is the Lord’s.” We are like the Hebrews in the story of Exodus,
Augustine explains, who took with them the silver and gold of Pharaoh’s regime upon theirliberation. We plunder the good from wherever we discover it “for the just use of teaching thegospel.”
In 2013, the delegate assembly of my denomination, Mennonite Church USA, appointed me toour national governing body. Our first order of business, I soon discovered, was to commission athorough investigation into John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuse. In the mid-1980s, the theologianwas removed from his seminary position and banned from campus events. A few years later hisministerial ordination was suspended; he soon relinquished it in order to preempt its terminationby the disciplinary committee.
Despite the alert sounded within Mennonite institutions about Yoder’s behavior, he waswelcomed as a professor at Notre Dame and a founding fellow at the university’s peace institute.After his death in 1997, a cloud of vagueness regarding his abusive behavior settled on hislegacy — a haze that allowed many of us to shrug off those untoward stories as rumors, mereallegations, a sideshow to the main event: his landmark contribution to peace theology.
After our denominational investigation made Yoder’s abuse indisputable, I had to rethink myautomatic deference to the Augustinian position I outlined above. The notion that we can makeuse of knowledge wherever we find it, regardless of the oppressions bound to the production ofthat knowledge, doesn’t seem to work for Yoder’s peace theology, at least for me, because of thelinks we can now see that connect his life to his writing, his body to his mind, his deeds to hiswords. Not only how, in places, he developed arguments that justified his behavior. But also howhis peace theology never took into consideration any sustained account of violence againstwomen. Quite convenient for him, and tragic for the women he abused — as well as for the
communities that, guided by his work, didn’t think to worry about intimate partner violence andabusive relationships in church communities because they were taught instead to focus on theethics of warfare and just policing.
My point is not that we should only ever learn from people who align with our moral vision.Again, I still read and think with Luther, Calvin, and de Beauvoir. Besides, none of us is withoutsin. But I do think it’s worthwhile to notice, especially when we’re thinking about Christianethics, if someone’s harmful patterns of behavior have taken up residence in their ideas — tonotice whether a theologian’s destructive inclinations have come along with their arguments likea stowaway. To listen for things we hadn’t heard before: a note, an argument, an idea that nowsounds harmful.

Tuesday, January 16

Ihave been asked that we talk about climate change, hope, loneliness, and tolerance in 2024. To do so, I thought we should tackle vision and our limits. In Rachel Hoskins' article, she draws a distinct parallel between seeing as God does - with charity, kindness, and beauty - and seeing only as humans do.

Driven by status and consumption, organizing for efficiency, and distracted by technology, pleasure, profit, and power, we often choose not what is moral but rather what is right in front of us. Unable to grasp the repercussions of our actions and lifestyles on the planet and its people, we regard the world as an object for our purposes.

Using a healing story from Mark's Gospel, she lays out an interesting argument for how to vision with moralsandwith our own material instincts. I'd like to know what you think.

My Double Vision
Rachel Hoskins, The Christian Century 1.11.24

Jesus and his followers came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and beggedhim to touch the man. So Jesus held the blind man’s hand and led him out of the village. Then hespit on the man’s eyes. He laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see now?” The man looked upand said, “Yes, I see people. They look like trees walking around.” Again Jesus laid his hands on theman’s eyes, and the man opened them wide. His eyes were healed, and he was able to see everythingclearly. Jesus told him to go home. Mark 8:22-26

“Her left eye is too strong,” a doctor told my parents when I was four years old. “It’s blindingher right. To correct it required surgery. After surgery, I wore a patch like a pirate and my visionblurred for days. When it cleared, instead of a world split in two, I saw one.
Vision is a highly complex sense. The mechanical and neurological components of the eyes andbrain work together to produce sight in a delicate dance of light absorption and translation fromrods and cones. When the eyes do not align, the brain may prefer data from one eye over theother. Usually, favor goes to the “clear eye,” the one without deviation, and my case was noexception. If left unchecked, my visual cortex would eventually ignore information from myother eye altogether, in a sense blinding it. Blinding it by ignoring its sight.
All this may be why my favorite healing act of Jesus involves the restoration of vision. In otherhealing stories, Jesus speaks regeneration into being, but in this passage he physically intervenes,like an ancient medical doctor. First, he applies saliva. Then, he covers the man’s eyes with hishands. Then he asks, “Can you see anything?” “I can see people, but they look like trees,walking”, the man says. So, Jesus places his hands over the man’s eyes a second time.
Many readers have been fascinated by this tale of healing in two acts. Some suggest that Jesusengages in something like a first round of partial restoration that requires a second round ofmiraculous power. Others suggest that when Jesus first removes his hands, the man’s visualcortex lacks the ability to translate images harvested from light. Or as Immanuel Kant might putit, he has perception but no concepts to make sense of what he perceives; he is merely seeingabstractions. Either interpretation may be right. But I like to think that Jesus is up to somethingelse. Rather than partial healing or abstracted perception, I like to think Jesus gives the manvision of another kind: to see past the limits of human sight.
The second time I saw double, I was 12 years old. In church, staring at the pulpit, I saw ourpastor split. He duplicated like film exposed twice, layered and skewed. This time, thefragmentation stunned me. Rationalizing with my middle school understanding of biology, Ireasoned: Two eyes, two images, right? Calmed, I experimented with this newfound ability.Shifting my gaze, tilting my head, I sought maximum division, the most double of double views.
But seeing clearly, integrating images into one, required a different kind of adjustment. Back inthe ophthalmologist’s office, the doctor said the severed muscle had grown back. My vision hadregenerated.
My double vision had seemed like a gift, like accessing another sublime plane, where maybepeople did move like trees walking. For Kant and most of us after him, there is no other reality.There is the real as we perceive it — the phenomenal — and there is the “real reality” behind it,the noumenal. They are both essentially the same mundane place, but the noumenal, for the mostpart, is beyond our reach, because the world as we perceive it is interpreted through the self. It’sas if we are wearing human-tinted glasses. Just as we cannot transcend the self to access “realreality,” Kant argues in Critique of Practical Reason, so also we cannot access God. There arelimits to human understanding.
But that does not mean we cannot conceive of an infinitude or limitlessness beyond us. We can.Confronted by cascading mountains, immeasurable stars, and even the immensity ofmathematical equations, we may find ourselves overpowered by their vastness. Our vision toconceive of infinity awes us. We humans are free to reason, and reason greatly. Additionally,that freedom gives us the ability to make moral choices. But we are still hemmed in by the self.We see, but our vision is limited.
Driven by status and consumption, organizing for efficiency, and distracted by technology,pleasure, profit, and power, we often choose not what is moral or reasonable but rather what isright in front of us. Unable to grasp the repercussions of our actions and lifestyles on the planetand its people, we regard the world as an object for our purposes. When we see in this way, wereduce reality to its material pieces and parts. We merely harvest light with rods and cones. Asone eye becomes stronger, the other eye, so to speak—our spiritual vision—becomes weaker.
Like the man from Bethsaida who meets Jesus for the first time and sees people like treeswalking, you will not be able to make sense of it. But it will make sense of you and your place inthis world, and that feeling will free you and raise you altogether above a self-limiting view. You“will see miracles everywhere,” Schleiermacher writes, not just in cascading mountains andstarry skies, but in every humble and overlooked speck of sand, drop of water, and blade ofgrass.
Seeing in this way abounds with ethical implications for our planet and ourselves. Instead ofvaluing a forest as, say, a place for outdoor adventure, a crop of two-by-fours, or a futurebusiness park, we value it for what it is: a home to flora and fauna, a grace-filled sacrament. Nolonger reduced to its material pieces and parts, the universe is revealed as a sanctum that is, inthe language of Genesis, “very good”. Cascading mountains, immeasurable stars, and even theinfinitude of mathematical equations point not to the glories of our own reasoning capacities orto our mastery and domination of the world but rather to the glory of God, as does every humbleand overlooked speck of sand, drop of water, and blade of grass.
Yet, there is another danger here. Focusing on the spiritual becomes problematic if we ignore thematerial. Living in perpetual divine heights ignores the other eye. It too limits our view. We needboth spiritual and material vision, not one ignored for the other, or a split and doubled view. Weneed integration.
And even if it were possible to live on such a transcendent spiritual plane, who could do socontinuously? Who could unendingly see with the eyes of God, as it were, and not becomeunmoored? Without Kant’s human-shaded glasses, reality would shift from the spectrum ofhuman understanding to something like ultraviolet light. Nothing would make sense. Among thebanalities of eating, sleeping, playing, working, and even caring for others, who could functionas a material creature while the immaterial heavens tore open around them? It would disorient us,I think, like having vision with no vision.
If this is the gift Jesus gives the man from Bethsaida on his first round of healing that day, it isone he soon corrects. He does not leave the man to such an ongoing fate, no matter howprofound and revelatory the view. Instead, Jesus places his hands over the man’s eyes a secondtime, and when he removes them, the man’s sight is restored. “He saw everything clearly,” saysMark.
The gospel writer tells us that after restoring his sight, Jesus sends him home. While Mark doesnot tell us more, I like to imagine the man spends his days marveling at each prismatic drop ofwater, veined leaf, and starry sky as though infused with infinity and set on fire. But I wonder ifsometimes he still dreams of people like trees walking and ponders a gift that once was his.
If that is the case, then I can relate to this man from Bethsaida who has his plain sight restored.That day in church when my vision split, not only did the pastor double but the entire sanctuaryfractured. Pews, curtains, crosses, choir, baptismal, and altar reproduced. Light fragmented in amillion sparks of refracted lumens as movement headed into the aisles. People grew long limbs,sprouted and ruptured, swept along by graceful and jagged currents. And I joined too. Down Iwent toward those staggering figures, those points of light. The room filled. My heart and retinasswung open, as the ceiling released and that which I knew not and yet knew as plainly as I knewmyself descended. And for a moment I saw clearly a world valued as good, as very good. For amoment I saw past the limits of human sight.

Tuesday, January 9

I'd like to start this year off with talking about how to bring light into a darkened world. Here is a snippetfrom this week's article by Catherine Price:

What might happen if we committed to a delight practice? How would it affect our happiness and health? And what might it do to the country’s political climate if we paid less attention to the things that divide us and more to the things that spark delight? It’s possible to disagree with people, to acknowledge life’s challenges, to debate, to sit with sadness, grief and fear while marveling at and seeking out simple joys.

I'd like to hear what delights you and what you savor from life. I'd also like to hear what distracts you from delighting and savoring life.

When the World Feels Dark, Seek Out Delight
Catherine Price, NY Times 1.1.24

Ms. Price is the author of the How to Feel Alive newsletter. Her latest book is “The Power of Fun.”

Here’s an idea for the new year: Let’s make 2024 the year of delight. Does that sound ridiculous,given the state of the world right now? Hear me out.
The basic premise of a delight practice (which I learned about in the essay collection “The Bookof Delights” by Ross Gay) is simple: You make a point to notice things in your everyday life thatdelight you. This could be anything — a pretty flower, a smile you share with a stranger, thesight of a person playing a trumpet while riding a unicycle down a major Philadelphiathoroughfare (true story). Nothing is too small or absurd. Then whenever you notice somethingthat delights you, you lift your arm, raise your index finger in the air and say, out loud and withenthusiasm, “Delight!” (Yes, even if you’re alone.) Ideally, you share your delights with anotherperson.
The concept of prioritizing delight may sound silly or almost irresponsible, given the heavinessof current events, feelings of burnout and the upcoming U.S. presidential election, in which itseems democracy itself could be at stake. But this is exactly why it is so important. Far frombeing a frivolous practice, making a point to notice and share things we find delightful canimprove our moods, outlooks, relationships and even physical health.
How? Noticing delights requires us to pay attention, something that is required for our happinessand satisfaction but can be difficult in our increasingly distracted world. Essentially, this is aform of a gratitude practice — i.e., cultivating the habit of noticing and appreciating the thingsfor which you’re thankful.
Gratitude practices are popular for good reason; if you make one a habit, the associated mentaland physical benefits include reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress and (probablyrelatedly) improved biomarkers for heart health.
But if you keep up a gratitude practice long enough, you may find yourself expressing yourappreciation for the same things over and over, almost out of a sense of obligation. You aregrateful for your friends and family. You are grateful that you have enough food. You aregrateful for having a place to live. Eventually, the practice can begin to feel less nourishing andmore like a chore.
In contrast, a delight practice taps into the deep power of gratitude without the risk of becomingtrite. That’s because the things that delight us are often novel — I doubt I’ll see anothertrumpeting unicyclist any time soon.
Noticing and sharing delight is also a form of what psychologists call savoring, the practice ofdeliberately appreciating positive life experiences. Savoring has been shown to boost people’smoods as well as counterbalance our brains’ natural tendency to focus on the things that stokeanxiety and fear. (Being attuned to potentially threatening stressors is helpful from anevolutionary perspective; it takes work to focus our brains on the positive.)
What’s more, the effects of savoring are stronger if you make a point not just to notice positivethings but also to label them and share them. (This is why it’s important to say “Delight!” outloud and put a finger in the air, even if it at first feels silly.)
And that’s perhaps my favorite part of the practice: sharing delights with other people. Start ameeting or a class by inviting people to share one thing that delighted them that day. Use delightsharing as an icebreaker or as a ritual before family meals. I have multiple delight group chats,and every new message boosts my mood, makes me feel more connected to others and inspiresme to notice and share more delights.
For example, a friend once sent me a photo of frost crystals on his windshield with the caption“Delight!” Not only did this make me feel closer to him, but it also made me resolve to try tofind delight in situations (such as having to scrape frost off my car) that might otherwise beannoying.
These moments of connection are good for our physical health. As Surgeon General VivekMurthy’s recent advisory about the nation’s loneliness epidemic noted, a lack of social ties isassociated with increased risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, cognitive impairment,depression, anxiety, Type 2 diabetes and susceptibility to infectious disease. In fact, one well-regarded meta-analysis concluded that the health risks of loneliness and isolation are comparablewith those of smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day.
It makes me wonder: What might happen if we, as individuals and as communities, committed toa delight practice? How would it affect our happiness and health? And what might it do to thecountry’s political climate if we paid less attention to the things that divide us and more to thethings that spark delight? It’s possible to disagree with people, to acknowledge life’s challenges,to debate, to sit with sadness, grief and fear while marveling at and seeking out simple joys.
You may be amazed by how much there is to marvel at. As Mr. Gay writes, “It didn’t take melong to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delightradar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that impliesthat the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.”
This year, like all of them, will be filled with conflict and tragedy. But it will also be filled withdelights. Resolve to notice them.

Tuesday, December 19

This week is our last discussion group of 2023. We will resume in the second week of January.

I pondered what the topic should be for the end-of-the-year. What came up was this: mental health.

Where do you go when feeling anxious or stressed? Many go online. Unfortunately, anxiety has become an online commodity which (ironically) can make us feel more anxious, which causes us to read more, which causes us to feel more depressed. Our author states the following about mental health:

The best thing we can do for ourselves when we’re anxious or depressed is to fight our instinct to avoid and ruminate. The best thing one can do when they’re depressed is to reject the instinct to stay in bed basking in the glow of a phone, and to instead step outside, engage with a friend, or do something else that provides more opportunities for validation and reward.

Some of those opportunities are found within the Church and small groups. I'd like to know what you think.

How Anxiety Became Content
Derek Thompson, The Atlantic 12.13.23
Anxiety has become its own genre of popular content. According to Listen Notes, a podcastsearch engine, more than 5,500 podcasts have the word trauma in their title. Celebrity media areawash with mental-health testimonials, and summaries of those testimonials, including “39Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About Mental Health,” “What 22 Celebrities Have Said AboutHaving Depression,” and “12 Times Famous Men Got Real About Mental Health.”
As anxiety has become content, it’s also become a part of more daily conversations. I’ve spokenwith many parents about my work on America’s mental-health crisis in the past few years, andseveral have noted that their kids share their symptoms and diagnoses in group chats, rattling offthe acronyms OCD, GAD, and PTSD with a casualness once reserved for high-school gossip.
What’s wrong with this? One might think that nothing at all is. Surely the rising volume ofanxiety content partly reflects the rising volume of actual anxiety; the share of teens today whosay that they are persistently sad has never been higher. What’s more, the destigmatization ofdistress can clearly be beneficial. We are finally talking openly about emotional crises that, in thepast, were buried in silence and substance abuse.
But in the past few years, I’ve become more convinced that the way we commonly discussmental-health issues, especially on the internet, isn’t helping us. Watching and listening to somuch anxiety content, which transforms a medical diagnosis into a kind of popular mediacategory, might be contributing to our national anxiety crisis.
The way we talk about the world shapes our experience of the world. In 2022, the researchersLucy Foulkes and Jack L. Andrews coined the term prevalence inflation to describe the way thatsome people, especially young people, consume so much information about anxiety disordersthat they begin to process normal problems of living as signs of a decline in mental health. “Ifpeople are repeatedly told that mental health problems are common and that they mightexperience them … they might start to interpret any negative thoughts and feelings through thislens,” Foulkes and Andrews write. This can trigger a self-fulfilling spiral: Some individuals whobecome hyperaware of the prevalence of anxiety disorders may start to process low levels ofanxiety as signs of their own disorder, which leads them to recoil from social activities andpractice other forms of behavioral avoidance, which exacerbates their anxiety.
Darby Saxbe, a clinical psychologist at the University of Southern California and a mother to ahigh schooler, told me she has come to think that, for many young people, claiming an anxietycrisis or post-traumatic stress disorder has become like a status symbol. “I worry that for somepeople, it’s become an identity marker that makes people feel special and unique,” Saxbe said.“That’s a big problem because this modern idea that anxiety is an identity gives people a fixedmindset, telling them this is who they are and will be in the future.”
On the contrary, she said, therapy works best when patients come into sessions believing thatthey can get better. That means believing that anxiety is treatable, modifiable, and malleable—all the things a fixed identity is not.
When I asked Saxbe whether internet conversations about anxiety might be partly driving theanxiety crisis, she readily agreed. Marshall McLuhan’s observation that “the medium is themessage” has been on her mind as she notes the way that social media takes people out of thephysical world. “We all, and young people in particular, too often use our phones to withdrawand avoid,” she said. “So even if we’re getting insightful therapeutic content, we’re often gettingit while we’re in bed and on our phones.” Of course, she acknowledged, some onlineconversations can feel cathartic and even help people put into words their undeveloped feelings.
But alone on couches and in beds, thin lines separate active reflection (which can be healthy),rumination (less healthy), and outright wallowing (not healthy). “It’s not so different fromlistening to sad songs when you’re sad,” she said. “Of course, I would tell a patient that it can becathartic. But if it’s all you do to cope? That’s bad.”
More deeply, she added, the algorithmic architecture of social media isn’t doing us any favors.
The “If you liked that, you might like this” organization of information on social media meansthat our engagement with certain kinds of content—politics, lifestyle, or mental health—canburrow us deeper into that genre. Rather than allow us to work through our negative feelings andmove on, it can trap us in algorithmic whirlpools of outrage, doubt, and anger. (Anybody whohas doomscrolled through a particularly gruesome news cycle can surely empathize.)
There is also an enormous difference between critiquing therapy itself and critiquing the poppyonline version. “I teach clinical psychology, I am a therapist, and I’m very pro-therapy,” Saxbesaid. But we may have overcorrected from an era when mental health was shameful to talk aboutto an era when some vulnerable people surround themselves with conversations and media aboutanxiety and depression, which makes them more vigilant about symptoms and problems, whichmakes them more likely to problematize normal daily stress, which makes them move toward adeficit model of psychopathology where they think there is always something wrong with themthat needs their attention, which causes them to pull back from social engagement, which causeseven more distress and anxiety.
The solution begins with the principle of opposite action. Saxbe said the best thing we can do forourselves when we’re anxious or depressed is to fight our instinct to avoid and ruminate, ratherthan get sucked into algorithmic wormholes of avoidance and rumination. The best thing one cando when they’re depressed is to reject the instinct to stay in bed basking in the glow of a phone,and to instead step outside, engage with a friend, or do something else that provides moreopportunities for validation and reward. “I would tell people to do what’s uncomfortable, to runtoward danger,” Saxbe said. “You are not your anxiety. You’re so much more."

Tuesday, December 12

We are a group of different (and sometimes unique) views and perspectives. One secular thing that we all share in common, however, is how college has shaped us.
You've seen in the news this week about the presidents of three major universities testified on Capitol Hill about free speech (and what is the line between protected speech and hate and violent speech). There are many news articles about this; but, for us, I'd like to focus on two opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal written by college professors about the state of higher education. The first, from a professor at UC Santa Cruz, is about how higher education has become a threat to America. The second page is from a professor at UC Berkeley which asked students, who were protesting about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, to identify Palestine and Israel on a map. You have to read it to believe it (and then you may still not believe it).
One last thing: University of California, Santa Cruz, has a reputation for being the most liberal, or open-minded universities; UC Berkeley is one of the most competitive - academically speaking - universities to get into.
I'd like to know what you think about these two opinion pieces and when do you think free speech becomes unprotected hate or violence-inspiring speech.

Higher Ed Has Become a Threat to America
John Ellis, Wall Street Journal 12.4.23
Mr. Ellis is a professor emeritus of German literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz andauthor of “The Breakdown of Higher Education.”

America faces a formidable range of calamities: crime out of control, borders in chaos by design,unconstitutional censorship, and a press that does government PR rather than oversight. To thesehas been added an outbreak of virulent antisemitism. Every one of these degradations can betraced wholly or in large part to a single source: the corruption of higher education by radicalpolitical activists.
Children’s test scores have plummeted because college education departments train teachers toprioritize “social justice” over education. Censorship started with one-party campuses shuttingdown conservative voices. The drive to separate children from their parents begins inlongstanding campus contempt for the suburban home and nuclear family. Open borders reflectpro-globalism and anti-nation state sentiment among radical professors. Campus antisemitismgrew out of ideologies like “anticolonialism,” “anticapitalism” and “intersectionality.”
Academia has a monopoly on training for the most influential professions. The destructiveinfluence of campus schools of education and journalism already noted is matched in the law,medicine, social work, etc. Academia’s suppression of the Constitution causes still more damage.
Hostility to the Constitution leads to banana-republic shenanigans: suppression ofantigovernment speech, the press’s acting as mouthpiece for government, law enforcement usedto harass opponents of the government.
An advanced society can’t tolerate the capture of its educational system by a fringe political sectthat despises its Constitution and way of life. We have no choice: We must take back control ofhigher education from cultural vandals who have learned nothing from the disastrous history ofsocieties that have implemented their ideas.
How can this be done? Not by the colleges themselves, which like things as they are. Not bygoverning boards, which ought to safeguard academia but have never had the backbone to do it. Not by superficial reforms. Effective reform means only one thing: getting those political
activists out of the classrooms and replacing them with academic thinkers and teachers. (No, thatisn’t the same as replacing left with right.) Nothing less will do.
But the only real solution is for more Americans to grasp the depth of the problem and changetheir behavior accordingly. Most parents and students seem to be on autopilot: Young Jack is 18,so it’s time for college. His family still assumes that students will be taught by professors whoare smart, well-informed and with broad sympathies. No longer. If enough parents and studentsgave serious thought to the question whether this ridiculous version of a college education is stillworth four years of a young person’s life and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, corruptinstitutions of higher education would collapse, creating the space for better ones to arise.
The biggest threat to our future isn’t climate change, China or the national debt. It is thetyrannical grip that a hopelessly corrupt higher education now has on our national life. If wedon’t stop it now, it will eventually destroy the most successful society in world history.

From Which River to Which Sea?
Ron E. Hassner, Wall Street Journal 12.5.23

Mr. Hassner is a professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley.

When college students who sympathize with Palestinians chant “From the river to the sea,” dothey know what they’re talking about? I hired a survey firm to poll 250 students from a variety ofbackgrounds across the U.S. Most said they supported the chant, some enthusiastically so(32.8%) and others to a lesser extent (53.2%).
But only 47% of the students who embrace the slogan were able to name the river and the sea.
Some of the alternative answers were the Nile and the Euphrates, the Caribbean, the Dead Sea(which is a lake) and the Atlantic. Less than a quarter of these students knew who Yasser Arafatwas (12 of them, or more than 10%, thought he was the first prime minister of Israel). Asked inwhat decade Israelis and Palestinians had signed the Oslo Accords, more than a quarter of thechant’s supporters claimed that no such peace agreements had ever been signed. There’s noshame in being ignorant, unless one is screaming for the extermination of millions.
Would learning basic political facts about the conflict moderate students’ opinions? A Latinoengineering student from a southern university reported “definitely” supporting “from the riverto the sea” because “Palestinians and Israelis should live in two separate countries, side by side.”
Shown on a map of the region that a Palestinian state would stretch from the Jordan River to theMediterranean Sea, leaving no room for Israel, he downgraded his enthusiasm for the mantra to“probably not.” Of the 80 students who saw the map, 75% similarly changed their view.
An art student from a liberal arts college in New England “probably” supported the sloganbecause “Palestinians and Israelis should live together in one state.” But when informed of recentpolls in which most Palestinians and Israelis rejected the one-state solution, this student lost hisenthusiasm. So did 41% of students in that group.
A third group of students claimed the chant called for a Palestine to replace Israel. Sixty percentof those students reduced their support for the slogan when they learned it would entail thesubjugation, expulsion or annihilation of seven million Jewish and two million Arab Israelis. Yetanother 14% of students reconsidered their stance when they read that many American Jewsconsidered the chant to be threatening, even racist.
In all, after learning a handful of basic facts about the Middle East, 67.8% of students went fromsupporting “from the river to sea” to rejecting the mantra. These students had never seen a mapof the Mideast and knew little about the region’s geography, history or demography. Those whohope to encourage extremism depend on the political ignorance of their audiences. It is time forgood teachers to join the fray and combat bias with education.

Tuesday, December 5

The author for this week's article is one of my favorite spiritual/religious writers - Anne Lamott. She is the one who I have quoted many times with this: there are only three categories of prayer we offer to God - Thanks, Wow, Help.
The author is now 69 years old and has a different perspective on life - there is power in the unknown and there is light from above that illuminates the unknown. Using the illustration of Albert Bierstadt’s Western paintings (attached in the reading), she illuminates aspects of aging that are life-giving and beautiful.

At 33, I knew everything. At 69, I know something much more important.
Anne Lamott, The Washington Post 11.20.23
Anne Lamott is an American novelist and nonfiction writer.

Today I woke up old and awful in every way. I simultaneously cannot bear the news and cannotturn it off: It’s cobra hypnosis — Gaza, Israel, the shootings in Maine. The world is as dark as ascarab. I have two memorial services on my calendar this week. A dear friend is in the hospital waiting for a liver, dying. She keeps assuring me, “I ain’t in no ways tired,” and I say, “Oh, stopwith that or I’m not going to visit again.” I’m exhausted just driving 90 minutes to and from SanFrancisco to see her.
My body hurt quite a lot when I got out of bed this morning, and I limped around like GrannyClampett for the first hour, until it unseized. Worse, my mind hurt, my heart hurt and I hatedalmost everyone, except my husband, my grandson and one of the dogs.
I don’t think I could have borne up under all this 20 years ago when I thought I knew so muchabout life. That was not nearly as much as I knew at 33, which is when we know more than weever will again. But age has given me the ability to hang out without predicting how things willsort out this time (mostly — depending on how I’ve slept).
In many of Albert Bierstadt’s Westernpaintings, there is a darkness on one side,maybe a mountain or its shadow. Then towardthe middle, animals graze or drink from a lakeor stream. And then at the far right or in thesky, splashes of light lie like shawls across theshoulders of the mountains. The great
darkness says to me what I often say toheartbroken friends — “I don’t know.”
Is there meaning in the Maine shootings? Idon’t know. Not yet.
My white-haired husband said on our first dateseven years ago that “I don’t know” is theportal to the richness inside us. This insightwas one reason I agreed to a second date(along with his beautiful hands). It was a game-changer. Twenty years earlier, when my brothersand I were trying to take care of our mother in her apartment when she first had Alzheimer’s, wecried out to her gerontology nurse, “We don’t know if she can stay here, how to help her take hermeds, how to get her to eat better since she forgets.” And the nurse said gently, “How could youknow?”
This literally had not crossed our minds. We just thought we were incompetent. In the shadow ofthe mountain of our mother’s decline, we hardly knew where to begin. So we started where wewere, in the not knowing.
In the center of many Bierstadt paintings, you sometimes see animals grazing or drinking.They’re fine, they’re animals; they are just doing animals. But they are not the point — the pointis the light. No matter how low you are, the light can reach you. It falls on animals, including us.This is positively biblical. The animals never seem to have anywhere to go. I used to have lots ofplaces I had to get to. I had to go out for this or that, and it was an emergency — graph paper! Isuddenly, urgently, needed to drive to town for graph paper. Also, in the old days when therewas something to celebrate, I’d go out to a nice restaurant with friends. To celebrate now, Imight exuberantly skip flossing for a night, and maybe if the news is good enough, the hipexercises. Wild times.
In my younger days when the news was too awful, I sought meaning in it. Now, not so much.
The meaning is that we have come through so much, and we take care of each other and, againstall odds, heal, imperfectly. We still dance, but in certain weather, it hurts. (Okay, always.)
The portals of age also lead to the profound (indeed earthshaking) understanding that people aregoing to do what people are going to do: They do not want my always-good ideas on how tohave easier lives and possibly become slightly less annoying. Now there is some acceptance(partly born of tiredness) that I can’t rescue or fix anyone, not even me. Sometimes this affords me a kind of plonky peace, fascination and even wonder at people and life as they tromp on by.
The price of aging is high: constant aches, real pain and barely survivable losses. But each timemy hip unseizes, it reminds me that this life is not going to go on forever, and that is what makesit so frigging precious.
Sometimes at the right or the top center of Bierstadt paintings is a trippy splash of light, often amystical, jagged slash that breaks through dirty-looking or white-fire clouds. There might bebright reflections, or long, slanted fingers of sun shining down with religious airs, organ musicplaying softly in the background. Puffy rainclouds glow. All say, “Yes, there is the deep dark,but we have some light as well.”
Will my brothers or I inherit our mother’s Alzheimer’s? I don’t know. I do know that I recentlyparked in front of my house and sort of forgot to turn off the engine. Three hours later, aformerly standoffish young neighbor knocked on my door to tell me this, and I pretended to haveknown. I said the battery had been low and so I was letting it recharge. “Ah,” she said.
Now she is sweet when she sees me. We wave to each other when we pass in our cars, reflectinga new affection. Reflections say, “In the dark, there’s still some light around. So don’t ever thinkthings are too dark. We’re not going to give you the entire reserve, but we just want you to knowit is there. And more may be on its way."

Tuesday, November 28: Combined Men's and Women's Discussion Group

We're going to discuss a reading about the Hamas/Israel war. In the article, the author, who is an Anglican priest (and Vicar of St. Martin-in-the-fields, London), suggests that the emotion of rage keeps us from having peace. He opines that we should focus instead on anger. In his words:

Anger can be a constructive emotion, stirring us from distraction or self-absorption to an acute awareness of wrongdoing, leading us to a process of restitution or reparation. But rage is something different. Rage names the moment we lose all rational faculties. The red mist descends. We find ourselves incandescent, untrammeled by any restraint. We lose sight of the original wrong done in our rampaging quest for destruction and vengeance. In our rage we tell ourselves we can and should destroy all in our path, for only then can justice be restored and fury satisfied.

The Emotion Standing in the Way of Peace
Samuel Wells, The Christian Century 11.21.23

Samuel Wells is the vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.

The war between Hamas and Israel, with its carnage and hostage taking, has evoked profound,even primal feelings. We could call it accelerated action: a rapid journey from discovery toreaction, from shock to horror, from judgment to anger, from fury to rage.
There’s a liminal moment between anger and rage. Anger can be a constructive emotion, stirringus from distraction or self-absorption to an acute awareness of wrongdoing, leading us to aprocess of restitution or reparation. When directed away from our own pride and towardanother’s well-being, anger can be a means to a healthy end, like a ladder we can kick away oncewe’re truly engaged in seeking the good.
But rage is something different. Rage names the moment we lose all rational faculties. The redmist descends. We find ourselves incandescent, untrammeled by any restraint. We lose sight ofthe original wrong done in our rampaging quest for destruction and vengeance. In our rage wetell ourselves we can and should destroy all in our path, for only then can justice be restored andfury satisfied.
There can be something exhilarating about rage. Our culture prizes both visceral experience andimpregnable righteousness; rage offers a combination of the two, an intoxication of indignantfervor. To be so right that you’re justified in whatever damage you wreak is almost a peakexperience of a society that valorizes both intense passion and moral superiority.
Many people, perhaps most, of us are perennially inhibited by vulnerability, hurt, and fear. Ourthoughts are weighed down and our actions limited by our acute awareness of the other, byanxiety that we may be rejected, humiliated, derided, scorned. To be engulfed by rage is totranscend these negativities and reach a plane of unconquerable passion, like Samson with hishair grown back, destroying more in his death than he did in his life. Which is why rage is soattractive, even addictive, because it so thoroughly dispels, at least for a moment, those restraintsof civility and inhibition.
When Jesus says, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34), I understand that tomean, Don’t seek a sentimental peace, but one with sharp edges. It sometimes sounds facile topray for peace amid the rage of war. But it depends on what you mean by peace. The peace ofstill waters and quiet rest is certainly a fantasy in the midst of widespread horror. But maybepeace is more like the sword that divides rage from anger. Rage inflames and inflates; anger canpinpoint a problem and isolate it, with the precision of a sword.
The way to dispel rage is not to oppose it with alternative rage. The conflict in the Holy Land, inthat sense, amplifies many contemporary disputes, wherein both parties can become sooverwhelmed by wrongs inflicted on them, and so convinced that these wrongs justify a responseof limitless violence, that each side’s rage only amplifies that of their opponents, in an infernothat eventually consumes all their children. Rage is an expression of powerlessness of emotions,words, and actions. The only thing that can dismantle it is the infusion of words and actions thatcan better channel the overflowing emotion.
But it’s sheer denial to imagine that appropriate procedural actions and carefully modified wordscan on their own suffice to dissipate rage. Which is why there’s a place for the curation ofhealthy anger—an emotion that can’t walk past injustice and affront but that has strategies inplace to avoid that transgression evoking explosive fury. Healthy anger doesn’t assume all faultlies with the other party, is still open to re-narrating a story so that not all wrong lies on a singleside, and can energize conflicting parties to say now is the moment to realize we’re all on a pathto mutually assured destruction and we must all take steps to turn our rage back into gesture andwords that are open to rational engagement. Healthy anger is thus almost a prerequisite for truepeace—a peace that doesn’t pretend fury will simply burn itself out, nor presume enmity can beignored or suppressed.
It’s rage, not peace, that’s based on fantasy. Rage assumes a story by which I obliterate you andall is resolved. But it’s not resolved: it’s just stoking up further rage for another explosionsometime later. By contrast anger can stir us to action, such as the brokering of cease-fire, themeasured and evenhanded witness of the wider community, the careful identification of andholding to account for wrongs done, the patient hearing out of resentments and fears, the findingof a path through to mutual security, dignity, understanding, respect, and hope.
That requires everyone involved to de-escalate back through the red mist of rage to theheightened awareness of anger, to set aside the urge to obliterate the other, and to begin to allowtrusted outsiders to modulate the temperature of dispute. Anger can lead toward reason andeventually justice; rage cannot.

Tuesday, November 20

The question for this week: what is worship for? In my recent sermon I mentioned that humans have three distinctive qualities - we are made in God's image; we have free will; we are created to worship something. We are encouraged to worship God (but God is not going to make us do it).
In this article, the author also raises the point that we are wired to worship something. In her own words: We’re wired to ascribe greatness to people, places, ideas, and objects outside ourselves.
We do this with athletes and movie stars, political candidates and pundits. We do it at football games and rock concerts, at car dealerships and open houses. Increasingly, we do it with the little gadgets we hold in our hands and manipulate with our thumbs, allowing these compact miracles of technology to capture our attention for hours each day.
​I am wondering what you think about this; about the rise of Christian nationalism in an increasingly secular society; and what (and who) is worship for?

What is Worship For?
Debie Thomas, The Christian Century 10.11.23

About the Author: Debie Thomas is an author and columnist for The Christian Century. Sheserves as the Minister of Lifelong Formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Palo Alto,California.

Those of us steeped in church life often take churchy things for granted. For me, one of thosethings is worship. Growing up, it never occurred to me to ask why I had to worship God; worshipwas simply a fact of life, as normal and unexceptional as breathing. Many of my childhoodmemories are memories of worship. Of standing next to my mother on Sunday mornings, singinghymns to gorgeous organ accompaniment. Of listening to my father praise God with his handsraised in the air during family devotions. Of gathering around campfires at summer Bible camps,testifying to God’s miraculous work while eating gooey s’mores.
There is no ambivalence in these memories. No sense of weirdness or even curiosity. I was aChristian, Christians were supposed to worship, and so I did. It’s only now, as I spend a lot oftime thinking about what my religious practice looks like from the outside, that thorny questionsemerge: Why do we Christians worship God? Why does God want us to and even command usto? Why is scripture filled with exhortations to give God honor, glory, praise, and adulation?
I suppose the real question here is about God’s character and personality. Does God need ourworship? Is there something missing in God that we human beings supply with our regularcontributions of praise? A more cynical reframing of the question might be: Is God amegalomaniac? Someone who requires the constant ego reinforcement of our adoration? Afterall, we humans tend to recoil from people who insist on receiving steady streams of
compliments. We call them narcissists. We grow weary in their company. Why and how is Goddifferent?
I have a lot of sympathy for these questions. I understand why people who don’t practiceChristianity find Christian worship odd. But I don’t think that God’s desire for human worshipstems from any kind of divine brokenness. In fact, I think that God’s goodness and graciousnesstoward us flow from God’s utter wholeness and self-sufficiency. God is free to love us preciselybecause God is not needy as we are. In the perfect communion of the Trinity, God has everythingGod needs.
Perhaps, then, we are the ones who need to worship God, won’t be whole unless we give Godthanks and praise. Why?
Because worship is far more than expressive; it is formational. It makes us. It focuses ourattention. It orders our priorities. It teaches us what’s important and what isn’t. As Richard Rohrputs it, we have to be careful, because we will always become the God we worship. Our prayer,our devotion, our praise—these rewire us. They enable us to see, hear, and think in new ways.
What we worship makes us who we are.
It’s taken me a while to realize that I’m always worshiping something, whether I notice it or not.If worship is the act of giving honor, reverence, devotion, or admiration to something orsomeone, then worship truly is as natural as breathing. We’re wired to do it: to flock to objects ofdevotion, to pay exquisite and adoring attention to things that draw our gaze and elicit ourrespect, to put pretty things on pedestals. We’re wired to ascribe greatness to people, places,ideas, and objects outside ourselves.
We do this with athletes and movie stars, political candidates and pundits. We do it at footballgames and rock concerts, at car dealerships and open houses. Increasingly, we do it with the littlegadgets we hold in our hands and manipulate with our thumbs, allowing these compact miracles
of technology to capture our attention for hours each day.
What draws my gaze? What holds me captive? What keeps me coming back for more? I am adevotee to these things. A worshiper. These are the things—for better or for worse—that keepme on my knees.
I believe this is why we’re commanded to worship God. This is why the ancient psalmist inviteshis congregants to “worship the Lord in holy splendor” (Ps. 96:9) and tremble before him. WhyJesus reminds his first- century listeners to “worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”(Luke 4:8). Why, in the book that draws our scriptures to a close, St. John of Patmos (author ofthe Book of Revelation) describes heavenly worship at glorious scale: “You are worthy, our Lordand God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will theyexisted and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
If I’m wired and destined to worship, if my worship has the power to make or unmake my heart,then these scriptures make all the sense in the world. They’re reminding me to focus myattention on the only one who is truly good, truly worthy, and truly just. They’re inviting me toalign my loves with the divine love. To walk in the way that is the Way and to live in close andintimate company with the one who is the Life.
To be clear, this God we’re commanded to worship is a servant God, one who grew up a peasantunder empire, washed the feet of his disciples, rode a donkey into Jerusalem, and wept at hisbeloved friend’s graveside. This is a God who “emptied himself,” “humbled himself,” and“became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7–8).
This is no narcissist. This is a God who commands my worship so that my heart can be softenedinto servanthood, gentleness, humility, and love. This is a God who offers me the practice ofworship as a gift. Not for God’s benefit, but for mine.

Tuesday, November 14

The reading for this week is about the uncomfortable intersection of church and state that we seem to find ourselves in. The author, a self-identified evangelical Christian conservative, calls into question a statement made by Mike Johnson, the new Speaker of the House, that government policy decisions are based on his worldview from the Bible.Where is the separation of Church and State? Can the Bible inform us on policy decisions? Does faith direct our personal lives but leaves politics and business out of it? Or, is the separation of faith and politics a fallacy?

Our Broken Christian Politics
David French, The New York Times 11.5.23

There are two moments from Mike Johnson’s early days as speaker of the House that almostperfectly encapsulate the broken way that so many evangelicals approach politics. The firstoccurred just after the House elected Johnson. ABC’s Rachel Scott started to ask Johnson abouthis efforts to overturn the 2020 election. But before she could finish, Johnson’s Republicancolleagues started to shout her down. Johnson simply shook his head. “Next question,” he said,as if the query wasn’t worth his time.
The second moment came in his first extended interview as speaker, when Johnson shared thebasis of his political philosophy with Sean Hannity of Fox News: “Someone asked me today inthe media, they said, ‘It’s curious, people are curious. What does Mike Johnson think about anyissue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it.’ That’s myworldview.”
That quote is less illuminating than many people think. The Bible says a great deal about a greatnumber of subjects, but it is open to interpretation on many and silent on many more. (It saysnothing, for example, about the proper level of funding for the I.R.S., Johnson’s first substantiveforay into policy as speaker.) I know Republicans and Democrats who root their politicalphilosophy in the Bible. I, too, look to Scripture to guide my mind and heart.
Johnson and I have such similar religious convictions that we once worked together at the sameChristian law firm. We worked in different states and different practice groups (I focused onacademic freedom), but we both defended religious liberty, and we’d most likely both say muchthe same things about, say, the inerrancy of Scripture. Yet we’ve taken very different politicalpaths.
It turns out that the Bible isn’t actually a clear guide to “any issue under the sun.” You can read itfrom cover to cover, believe every word you read and still not know the “Christian” policy on avast majority of contested issues. Even when evangelical Christians broadly agree on certainmoral principles, such as the idea that marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and awoman, there is widespread disagreement on the extent to which civil law should reflect thoseevangelical moral beliefs.
Though the Bible isn’t a clear guide for American foreign policy, American economic policy orAmerican constitutional law, it is a much clearer guide for Christian virtue. Here’s one suchvirtue, for example: honesty.
Which brings us back to Johnson’s refusal to answer a question about the effort to overturn the2020 election. There is a reason that effort is called the Big Lie. It was one of the mostcomprehensively and transparently dishonest political movements in American history. AndJohnson was in the middle of it. He helped mobilize support for Texas’ utterly frivolous lawsuitto overturn the Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin elections.
He said there was “a lot of merit” to completely false claims about voting machines being“rigged with this software by Dominion.” Like most House Republicans, he voted againstcertifying the election. In the same interview in which Johnson called out Dominion, he said thatthe Georgia election was “set up for the Biden team to win” through “massive fraud and errorand irregularity.” By whom? The Republican governor and the Republican secretary of state?
Johnson is a very nice person, and he makes his points with a quite reasonable tone of voice. Butpleasant-sounding lies are still lies. I know Johnson to be a smart man and a good lawyer, whichis why I was gobsmacked to see him promote the same theories as some of the most corrupt andincompetent lawyers in American legal life. Former Representative Liz Cheney said that Johnson“was acting in ways that he knew to be wrong.”
Three days after the House elected Johnson speaker, Mike Pence dropped out of the Republicanpresidential primary. The most recent Republican vice president had become a pollingafterthought, and the reason isn’t hard to discern. He’s every bit as faith-forward as Johnson, hewas every bit as loyal to the Trump Administration policy agenda as Johnson, and yet — whenpush came to shove — he could not participate in the Big Lie. He paid an immediate andpermanent price for his honesty, with his approval among G.O.P. voters plunging after the attackon the Capitol.
This should not be.
The Bible that sits on Johnson’s shelf, the one that tells him what to think about “any issue underthe sun,” may not tell us how to formulate immigration policy or how much money to send toUkraine. But it does condemn dishonesty, it does condemn cruelty, and if there is a clear themethat echoes throughout its pages, it’s one that Mike Johnson and his legion of evangelicalsupporters should take to heart: The ends do not justify the means.

Tuesday, November 7
No Discussion Group

No Discussion Group on October 7th.
Here are some links to articles regarding last week's discussion:

During our combined discussion this past Tuesday, Rick brought up the concept of "moral injury". He sent me a link to share with you about it.

Moral Injury: An Increasingly Recognized and Widespread Syndrome

Likewise, Kevin Madden sent me a link that showed the MAID increase in Canada.

Euthanasia Deaths in Canada since 2022

Tuesday, October 31
​Combined Men's and Women's Discussion Group

The topic for Tuesday is about what the author calls medical assisted death. This is a heavy topic. The discussion will be a little longer this time because of the topic and the combined groups.

Medical Assistance in Dying is Not Medicine
Alexander Raikin, The National Review 9.14.23

‘Next question is from Debbie,” the moderator of a discussion on medical decision-makingcapacity said to her fellow physicians. “How would folks interpret someone who has lostcapacity with a waiver in place and is now delirious, shouting, pulling their arm away as onetries to insert the IV to provide MAID?”
Preceding this panel, a training seminar for the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors andProviders (CAMAP) had informed participants that the criminal law on medical assistance indying (MAID) is strict. How strict? On the same day that a patient enters into an optional writtenagreement with only one of his or her two MAID assessors — even if it is unsigned, without anywitnesses, and with no family members having been informed — the clinician can administer thelethal injection without asking for the final consent of the patient.
The asterisk in the law is that the agreement is in place only as long as the patient “does notdemonstrate, by words, sounds or gestures, refusal,” or “resistance to its administration.” If thisdemonstration is “involuntary” and “made in response to contact,” the death of the patient maystill proceed. But consent is a spectrum, and patients with delirium can flicker between havingcapacity and not; patients can also change their minds about dying at the hands of their physicianor nurse.
The hypothetical question posed to the panel was, in effect, whether there is a loophole to getaround the criminal law. The moderator, Ellen Wiebe, is one of Canada’s most prolific “MAIDproviders” and a leader in the MAID community. On request, she has hastened the deaths of atleast 400 people, including some cases that other assessors believed were illegal. She offered ananswer: “I’m guessing I would bring in one of their other providers, you know, palliative care or,or whatever, and get them sedated. But what would you say?”
First to speak was Jim MacLean, who claims that he has performed more than 75 “provisions”since MAID expanded to include non-dying patients. “I don’t think I have any great thoughts onthis one.” Wiebe laughed. “Everyone’s different. I mean, you try to deal with the situation. Calmthe room down. See what you can achieve through conversation and calmness.”
Chantal Perrot is the co-chairman of a clinician advisory council for Canada’s largest pro-MAIDlobby group. She described herself to a parliamentary committee as someone who has “cared forhundreds of patients . . . as they navigated the MAID process.” Responding to Wiebe, she said,“That’s a question. If they’re sedated, then have we sedated them into being accepting of MAID? You know, that’s a whole other question.”
Then comes the ethicist’s turn to speak. Kevin Reel, a senior ethicist at Sunnybrook Hospital inToronto and former president of the Canadian Bioethics Society, answers in part with anotherquestion: “If what we’re doing by trying to honor the waiver is reducing distress for the patientand also for maybe even the family around them, would it be acceptable to do somethingsimilarly covert to keep them from reacting in that way?”
Reel continues, “That might be a way around it, but — ” before being interrupted by MacLean,whose new answer takes the question from the hypothetical to the actual and clarifies what hemeant by “conversation and calmness”: “One waiver I did use, the patient was a little agitated.
So we did give her some subcutaneous hydromorphone” — an opiate ordinarily used for acute-pain control instead of sedation — “before I did the MAID, did the provision. So we did, we diduse it in that situation and it was very helpful.”
“Good,” the moderator says, before moving on to the next question. No one in the panel oraudience objects. The training seminar, recorded in October 2021, marks a milestone in Canada:a documented case of physicians describing the sedation of a patient to obtain her consent to herdeath. CAMAP, the self-styled “clinical subject-matter experts on MAID in CANADA,” is in theprocess of releasing the nationwide training curriculum, funded by the federal government in theamount of $3.3 million, for all MAID clinicians. The first rule of medicine is to do no harm. Thesecond rule in countries that have legalized death care is that the first rule doesn’t matteranymore.
The introduction of death care — in each state of Australia; in Canada, Belgium, and theNetherlands; recently in Spain and soon in France; and in ten states and counting across theUnited States — was meant to provide another treatment option in end-of-life care, another toolfor use by physicians and their patients. At the core of death care is the presumption thatsafeguards work and that consent, the most important safeguard, prevents death care fromslipping into rampant homicide or suicide contagion. Instead, it is turning into the end ofmedicine.
In Belgium last year, after a lethal injection failed to kill a 36-year-old woman with terminalcancer, the presiding physician smothered her with a pillow. In New Zealand and Canada,suicidal patients seeking medical care for suicide prevention were prompted to consider assistedsuicide instead.
In the Netherlands, a similar story of a physician sedating her patient into accepting euthanasialed to the first criminal trial of a euthanasia physician. She was acquitted. The judges said, “Webelieve that given the deeply demented condition of the patient the doctor did not need to verifyher wish for euthanasia,” even though the patient repeatedly attempted to fight off her physician.
I have written previously about how a failed suicide attempt in Canada was completed througheuthanasia, despite concerns of illegality by physicians involved with CAMAP, an organizationthat has held internal seminars on patients requesting euthanasia because of poverty, lack ofmedical care, homelessness, and credit-card debt.
Across jurisdictions that legalized death care, often what started as a choice is now the first oreven the only option left. “We’re now no longer dealing with an exceptional treatment, but atreatment that is very frequent,” Michel Bureau told the Canadian Press news agency thissummer.
Elsewhere, in every jurisdiction, the number of deaths at the hands of physicians or nurses isballooning as safeguards are rescinded. Nearly a decade ago, the rapid increase of hasteneddeaths led a Dutch regulator in charge of oversight to plead for other countries to drop their plansfor legalization. Too few listened. In California, the number of assisted suicides last yearincreased by more than 63 percent. In Canada, the number of deaths by euthanasia is on track toincrease more than 13-fold in just the first seven years of the practice’s legalization. Belgium hasseen a more than twelvefold increase since 2003. In Switzerland, which legalized assisted suicidein 1941, the number of such suicides has doubled every five years since 1999.
Patients with medical conditions that politicians and policy-makers in health care neverconsidered to be valid reasons to die are now being helped by physicians willing to hasten theirdeaths. A sibling found out that his brother’s MAID paperwork in British Columbia listed only“hearing loss” as his qualifying condition. In the Netherlands, dozens of patients qualified foreuthanasia only because of autism. In Canada, “advanced age” helps qualify patients to die, eventhough Quebec cautions that to rely on it as the sole criterion is illegal. Young patients have diedthrough euthanasia in Belgium for a range of reasons, including a botched sex change, sexualexploitation by a psychiatrist, unresolved post-traumatic stress disorder after a terrorist attack,
and again, this time in twins, hearing loss.
The patients I spoke with are equally unsure of their future, whether they will live or die in amedicalized world that asks them — and only them because of their illnesses or disabilities — toconsider their lives not worth living. None of them has a terminal illness. They tell me that theywant to live, but they feel they might not get the chance. One person I interviewed, who recentlyapplied for MAID, said in a social-media post, “If I don’t make it, be sure to say I was murdered,because I didn’t give up, I was pushed.”
[Australia is taking over religious hospitals] Let me begin with Father Tony Percy. “I have beenrunning the charge against the government,” he told me, by way of introducing himself. Whathappened, he says, is “a smash-and-grab.” Over the summer, the government forciblynationalized a Catholic hospital. On Sunday morning, at Mass time, workers entered the hospitalto remove all Christian iconography before the “government . . . could trash them,” he said. Thestatue of Mary, staff memorial stones, the iconic blue cross on top of the façade, and everycrucifix left in the building were taken down. The local archbishop decried these actions as“totalitarian,” but international media largely ignored him. This scene was not in China, not in adictatorship. Rather, it was at Calvary Public Hospital in Canberra.
The reason for this move, as given by the left-leaning government of the Australian CapitalTerritory (ACT), was to improve “ambiguities in clinical governance.” That flatly makes nosense. The secular public hospital that replaced Calvary is one of the most dysfunctionalhospitals in Australia, with rampant complaints of bullying and allegations of misconduct. TheACT government moved at breakneck speed to take over the hospital. In a matter of weeks, ACTlegislators overwrote their own legislation to let them break the hospital’s contract, which had 76years remaining. Two former prime ministers, Tony Abbott and John Howard, condemned theACT’s actions.
CAMAP’s strategy has already succeeded. In 2017, Vancouver Island used to have a Catholichospital and four hospice beds. But as a consequence of a public campaign by death-careadvocates, there are no remaining “MAID-free” spaces on the island. Now it has the world’shighest rate of euthanasia: Over 7.5 percent of all deaths are from MAID — and that number isrising.
Without spaces to practice medicine free from death care, physicians have no adequateprotections to follow their conscience and their faith. “I know I actually can’t kill someone,”Helen Lord, one of the nine palliative specialists in Tasmania, told me. “I can’t do it.” Oncedeath care was legalized in her state, she decided to retire early. “I said I’m not going to have anypart of this. It’s not medicine. It’s just not what we do. . . . Half of the people who came into[my] palliative care were scared that they were going to be euthanized.”
When Lord became outspoken against euthanasia, she was demonized as a “right-wingEvangelical.” She’s not. She’s Anglican — and closer to the left. But because she thinks that“life is precious” and equally that “time is precious,” especially for the dying, she was a frequenttarget of the media. After a complaint that she claims was false was lodged against her, she knewher time was up.
In the first story that I wrote about death care, “No Other Options,” published in the NewAtlantis, I wrote about Rosina Kamis, a 41-year-old Toronto woman with fibromyalgia. Shechose to die from MAID in part because of her inability to access proper medical care. Beforeshe died, she entrusted her friend James, a former neighbor, to represent her as her power ofmedical attorney; since her physicians weren’t listening to her, she wanted to see if someone elsewho has fibromyalgia, as James does, could get her the medical care that she needed. Despite hisefforts, James couldn’t help her — and now, after her death, he can’t get the help that he needs.He messaged me months after our first conversation to tell me that he now sees his own future inwhat happened to Rosina.
James told me that he is living with the specter of an imminent administered death, like Rosina’s. He could decide to stop fighting for the care he needs, too. It seems inevitable. “I’m going totake it one day. That’s how it feels to me. I don’t like that, but to me, the way things are going,this society is really sending us disabled people a message,” James said. “We got that messageeven before MAID. But now it’s codified into law and there’s these processes and resources toexpedite it.”
“I have diagnosed mental-health conditions and I can’t get treatment. I need therapy. My doctorasked me the other day, What do I need? I need therapy. I need a long-term relationship withsomeone. And she told me, she said, That’s impossible.” Instead, he was sent YouTube videoson how to do stretches. He chuckles. “I need actual health care,” James said. Eventually, he tellsme, he’ll get death care instead​.

Tuesday, October 24

This is a short article, but do not judge it by its length. The author asks that we examine closely what it means that Jesus did not have a Roman coin and had to ask to see one (to which he said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar'sand to God what is God's). Is it a simple category - what belongs to the State and what belongs to God? Or, is it messier than that? What does it mean to live faithfully in our present day governmental, economic and social system and try to follow God? Can it be done? Or, should we, like Jesus, carry no secular identity on ourselves. (Or, is it as simple as the Franciscan's would point out that Jesus lived a life of poverty so of course he didn't have a coin). I'd like to know what you think.The Absence of a Coin in Jesus’ Hand
Kerry Hasler-Brooks, The Christian Century 10.16.23

Kerry Hasler-Brooks is associate professor of English at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg,Pennsylvania. She attends a Mennonite church. Here is how the Mennonite tradition understands their commitment to following the way of Jesus Christ: Following Jesus in daily life is a centralvalue. It is possible to follow Jesus as Lord above nationalism, racism or materialism and as apeacemaker. They believe one can follow the way of Jesus’ reconciling love in human conflictsand warfare without having to strike out in fear.

The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesusreplied, “Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. Jesus asked,“Whose image and inscription is this?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said, “Give to Caesar what
belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (based on Matthew 22:15-22)

In my journey as a follower of Jesus, I have moved through and been shaped by very differentChristian communities. These differences have been theological, geographical, socioeconomic,racial, and cultural. I was raised in a small Presbyterian church in New Hampshire; I waseducated at a Baptist high school and a Brethren in Christ college; as a young adult, I matured ina Christian Reformed Church in North Philadelphia; and I am now an active member in a 300-year-old Mennonite faith community.
My reading of scripture today is informed by each of these communities and their theologicalconvictions, even those that I no longer hold or never held myself. I read scripture mindful of thevery different ways people of faith engage, understand, interpret, and live out the sacred text.There is tension and disagreement in these differences, but there is also, for me, a keen sense ofthe need to read in community, to read with an openness to the fullness of possible meanings, ahumility about our own understanding, a wisdom about the cultural biases or blind spots that weall have, and a commitment to the truth. Matthew 22 is precisely this kind of passage. It containssome of Jesus’ most well-known, quoted, and debated words: “Give back to Caesar what is
Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
I recall long-ago sermons on this passage, if not the precise language, then at least the way theyfelt to me. While seemingly about taxes, something I understood little and cared about even less,I understood Jesus’ words to offer a broad framework to navigate the material and the eternal,the sociopolitical and the spiritual, the nation and the church. This passage is linked, for me, withthe morning liturgy in my childhood school, an affiliate of the Baptist church in town. Eachmorning students and staff recited three allegiances: to the American flag, the Christian flag, andthe Bible. These symbols and my allegiances to them were both distinct and compatible. LikeJesus’ words, they were ordered into a tidy parallel structure of God on one side and nation orempire on the other, and I could navigate between them justly, living fully as loyal American andloyal Christian.
I now attend a flagless Mennonite church, and the simple parallel divide between God andempire has not held up in my intellectual logic, personal ethics, or lived practice of faith. AsDavid Cramer writes, “We cannot simply line up two columns and make a checklist of things togive Caesar and things to give God. Our task is to discern together how to be faithful citizens inthe culture and society in which we reside.” The task of discernment begins, I think, with theway we read the passage itself. How we read here — both Jesus’ words and his actions — determines how we live in response.
In the passage, Jesus stymies the Pharisees, cutting through the trap that has been set — “Is itright to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”—with a seemingly diplomatic decree. But beforecoming to this conclusion, an apparently moderate in-between of an answer, Jesus makes asimple but telling request: “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” Jesus himself does notseem to have a Roman coin on hand. As Stanley Hauerwas writes, “He does not carry the coin,quite possibly because the coin carries the image of Caesar.” Hauerwas and Cramer suggest thatJesus lived outside the economics of the empire even as those around him accepted it. So he hasto ask someone for a coin to use as a prop.
When I read Matthew 22, a chorus of radically different voices are in my head. I have come tounderstand Jesus as a loud protester against unjust systems of power, a divine voice for livedpeace and material justice making, a radical lover of people. I take seriously the absence of adenarius in Jesus’ own hand.
And yet, I also understand that many people read this passage very differently than I do. Someread it as a call into godly relationship with nation and empire, others as a call to speak and liveagainst the corruptions of nation and empire. I am concerned with what is right and true aboutthis passage, of course, but I am also concerned about the people who come to this passage. Ithink the important thing is to read this passage in community, open to the possibility of differentmeanings, humble about our own understanding and misunderstanding, and committed to dojustice and love mercy as we follow both the words and the life of Jesus.

Tuesday, October 17

Next week's reading is about the supposed ending of the Long Peace that existed after WWII when the U.S. was the only superpower in the world. We enjoyed a long period of peace that some historians feel may have now ended. One of those historians - Noah Smith - is our discussion group author for the week. Normally our articles come from mainstream sources; this one comes from Substack which is basically a newspaper of blog posts. However, it was quoted at length by an article in the NY Times. This article is more thought provoking than the Times article so we are going with it. I'd like to know what you think of the author's assertion and his analysis of where America is in standing with other nations of the world. Is it really "a new jungle out there where you'd better learn to grow new claws" or is it something we've all seen before?

​The Death of Pax Americana
Noah Smith, Noahpinion on Substack 10.7.23

Noah Smith is an American journalist, and commentator on economics and current events. Smithobtained his doctorate in Economics from the University of Michigan in 2012 and was anassistant professor of Behavioral Finance at Stony Brook University.

Yesterday, Hamas launched a massive surprise attack on Israel, crossing the border from Gazaand seizing or assaulting towns nearby after a huge rocket bombardment. Scenes of Hamassoldiers taking Israeli captives into Gaza have proliferated across the internet. Israel hasresponded by declaring a state of war, and the fighting between the two sides promises to bemore destructive and vicious than anything in recent memory.
As many have pointed out already, this attack is probably an attempt to disrupt the possibility ofan Israel-Saudi peace deal, which the U.S. has been trying to facilitate. If Hamas succeeds inscuttling an Israel-Saudi deal, it will be a blow to U.S. prestige and to U.S. claims to be astabilizing, peacemaking influence. But even if an Israel-Saudi deal eventually goes through, thisattack is a demonstration of America’s decreasing ability to deter conflict throughout the world.
In recent weeks, Azerbaijan has moved to fully reclaim the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh,sending 120,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing for their lives — a massive episode of ethniccleansing. With Russian power waning, Armenia has tried to rapidly pivot to the U.S., but thiswas not sufficient to prevent Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing. Meanwhile, Serbia is building uptroops on its border with Kosovo, whose independence has been in dispute since the U.S.
intervened against Serbia in the 1990s. The U.S. and some of its allies recognize Kosovo asindependent from Serbia, but Serbia, Russia, China, and a few other European countries don’t.
These are just a few signs of an unraveling global order. Pax Americana is in an advanced stateof decay, if not already fully dead. A fully multipolar world has emerged, and people arebelatedly realizing that multipolarity involves quite a bit of chaos.
What was Pax Americana? After the end of the Cold War, deaths from interstate conflicts —countries going to war with each other, imperial conquest, and countries intervening in civil wars— declined dramatically. Civil wars without substantial foreign intervention are very common,but except for the occasional monster civil war in China or Russia, they don’t tend to kill manypeople; it’s when countries send their armies to fight beyond their borders that the big waves ofdestruction usually happen. And for almost 70 years after the end of World War 2, this happenedless and less. Historians call this the Long Peace. The lowest level of interstate conflict camefrom 1989 through 2011, after the collapse of the USSR, when the U.S. became the world’s sole
superpower.
Political scientists and historians have many theories for why the Long Peace happened.Democratic peace theory says that countries fought less because their people brought theirleaders under tighter control. Capitalist peace theory says that the spread of global trade andfinancial links made war less attractive economically; it’s also possible that rich countries aremore materially satisfied and thus less likely to fight. The UN and other international
organizations may have also tamped down conflict.
But the simplest explanation for the Long Peace is that American power kept the peace. Ifcountries sent their armies into other countries, there was always the looming possibility thatAmerica and its allies could intervene to stop them — as they did in the Korean War in 1950, theGulf War of 1991, Bosnia in 1992 in Bosnia, Kosovo in 1999, and so on. Of course, it’s difficultto draw the line between interventions that prevent conflict and interventions that stir it up. Wasthe Vietnam War a U.S. attempt to halt a North Vietnamese takeover of South Vietnam, or was itthe U.S. intervening in an internal South Vietnamese civil war? The answer depends on yourpoint of view. But note that even the possibility of an intervention that ultimately makes aconflict worse can still serve as a deterrent.
The outbreak of interstate conflict in the late 60s and early 70s fits the Pax Americana theoryquite well. The U.S. was absorbed with the war in Vietnam during those years, and thus had farfewer resources and attention available to intervene in other conflicts. The U.S. thus functionedas a global policeman. As long as the U.S. and its alliances were sitting there waiting to throwtheir weight into any interstate conflict, there was inherent risk involved in any sort ofextraterritorial intervention.
Pax Americana died in stages over the last two decades; people have been writing about its deathfor a while now, and there were a number of factors that killed it. First there was the Iraq War,which was a clear-cut case of the U.S. starting a major international conflict rather thaninterceding to stop one. Saddam Hussein was brutal, but after his 1991 defeat he was only brutalwithin his borders. Yet he was attacked anyway; the U.S. behaved like a revisionist power at atime when it should have been guarding the status quo.
At the same time, the U.S. was becoming militarily weaker. The War on Terror reoriented theU.S. military toward counterinsurgency and away from defeating enemy armies. The defense-industrial base was allowed to wither — in 1995, the U.S. could produce about 30 times as manyartillery shells as it can now, and China can produce about 200 times as many ships as the U.S.
This is a catastrophic loss of hard power, and it means that even a modest diversion of U.S.military resources (like the Ukraine War) can largely remove the threat of U.S. interventionelsewhere.
Finally, a new great-power coalition arose that was capable of matching or exceeding U.S.power. China’s massive growth has given it a manufacturing capacity as great as the entire Westcombined, meaning that even if we could fix the problems with our defense-industrial base, we’dbe outmatched in a protracted one-on-one fight.
Real or potential conflict with this New Axis, as I’ve been calling it, now basically absorbs allthe military attention of the U.S. and its allies. The Ukraine War is tying down almost all ofEurope’s military potential and diverting some U.S. resources as well. The threat of a Chineseinvasion of Taiwan is so huge and catastrophic that it will absorb all of the American militaryattention and resources that aren’t going to Ukraine — and even that may not be enough to win.
Thus, it’s little surprise that the threat of interstate conflict is starting to reemerge in Europe andthe surrounding regions. The world is a more ungoverned, lawless place than it was 20, or even10 years ago. I think Zheng Yongnian of the Chinese University of Hong Kong put it best lastyear: “The old order is swiftly disintegrating, and strongman politics is again ascendant amongthe world’s great powers. Countries are brimming with ambition, like tigers eyeing their prey,keen to find every opportunity among the ruins of the old order.”
Like tigers eyeing their prey. The world is starting to revert into a jungle, where the strong preyupon the weak, and where there is an associated requirement that every country build up its ownstrength; if your neighbor is a tiger, you should probably grow some claws of your own. Oldscores that had to wait can now be settled. Disputed bits of territory can now be retaken. Naturalresources can now be seized. There are many reasons for countries to fight each other, and nowone of the biggest reasons not to fight – Pax Americana – has been removed. (This doesn’t meanI’m predicting a return to the levels of interstate conflict that prevailed before 1945; democraticpeace, capitalist peace, low fertility rates, and other factors will still presumably get a say. Butone of the major barriers is now gone.)
Right now, Europe, the Middle East, and the Russian periphery are the locus of conflict. But thebiggest danger may be in Asia, which is engaging in an unprecedented arms race. Despite Putin’saggression, it’s in Asia where the rise of China has disrupted the existing balance of power themost severely. Anyone who is under the illusion that Asia is inherently a more peaceful placethan Europe or the Middle East should read some history from before 1980.
Pax Americana always had an expiration date. If the U.S. had avoided the Iraq War andmaintained its defense-industrial base, it could have prolonged
its hegemony by about a decade,but ultimately the rising power of China would have ensured the return of the multipolarity thatexisted before
World War 2. In any case, it’s over now, and until and unless a new dominantglobal coalition of nation-states can be forged — either a Chinese-led global order or some kindof expanded democratic hegemony that includes India and large other developing nations —we’re going to have to re-learn how to live in the jungle.
Over the past two decades it had become fashionable to lambast American supremacy, to speakderisively of “American exceptionalism”, to ridicule America’s self-arrogated function of “worldpolice”, and to yearn for a multipolar world. Well, congratulations, now we have that world. Seeif you like
​ it better.

Tuesday, October 10

The reading this week - Of One Mind - highlights the Biblical emphasis of healthy relationships in community despite disagreements. The second page consists of three undiscussed points - fear, guilt and public opinion. What often holds us back from achieving healthy relationships has to do with our internalized errors that have to do with what we think others think about us, our own grief and fear. Do you agree with this, or disagree? I'd like to know what you think.

Of the Same Mind

Liz Cooledge Jenkins, Christian Century 9.23.23
In chapter 2 of the Letter to the Philippians, Paul takes an early church hymn extolling Christand repurposes it as a set of instructions for healthy relationships in community. Paul urges hishearers toward an intense, intimate kind of unity: Make my joy complete by being like-minded,having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
The Greek phrase rendered be of one mind could be translated more literally as think the samething. Be like-minded. Be one in spirit. These are strong-sounding words — especially to thoseof us who are wary of authoritarian leadership, leery of what might sound like a push towardconformity. Are there healthy ways of being of the same mind?
The First Nations Version seems to have this meaning in mind when it renders 2:1–2 like this:As you walk the road with the Chosen One, have you gained from him courage for the journey?Have you found comfort in his love? Do you share together in his Spirit? Has his tenderness andmercy captured your heart? If so, then have the same kind of thoughts. Love with one heart. Jointogether in one Spirit. And walk side by side on one path. This will make my heart leap for joy.
The First Nations Version imagines Paul encouraging the Philippians believers not to conform toone particular way of seeing the world but rather to walk side by side. As they journey together,they are to have the same kinds of thoughts, perhaps, as Christ has: thoughts of courage, comfort,sharing. Thoughts of tenderness and mercy. Thoughts of love, connection, joy. Not the exactsame beliefs about everything, but an unshakeable sense of shared life together along the way.
Researcher and storyteller Brené Brown, as she researched the idea of belonging, found thatmany people are experiencing a sense of spiritual disconnection — a diminishing sense of sharedhumanity. According to Brown, people deeply desire to be a part of something and to experiencereal connection with others but not at the cost of their authenticity, freedom, or power. Brownlaments the loss of a spirit of saying, Yes, we are different in many ways, but under it all we’redeeply connected.
I think this is the kind of spirit Paul writes in. It’s a spirit that acknowledges all our manydifferences and does not downplay or deny them — and yet still wants us to think of one anotherwith care and base our interactions on a deep sense of interconnectedness. In a community likethis we are safe to reveal ourselves, secure to humble ourselves, inspired to consider others’needs and not just our own. We are invited to pursue a kind of unity that does not require us toconform but draws out our uniqueness. We are grounded in Christ’s love and fellowship, rooted
in Christ’s example of how we might live.

Fear, Guilt, and Public Opinion from 8 Ways to Banish Misery
Arthur C. Brooks, The Atlantic 9.28.23

Error 5: Coping with fear
Clinical anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders today; according to the NationalInstitute of Mental Health, nearly one-fifth of U.S. adults experienced an anxiety disorder in thepast year. Russell believed that anxiety is rooted in fear of some danger which we are unwillingto face. Our understanding of the disorder today tends to be more biological than this; researchshows that anxiety is associated with involuntary physical stress symptoms such as hyperarousal.
Whether we emphasize the biological or the psychological aspects of anxiety, Russell’s cure forit is that we name our fear and think about it rationally and calmly, but with great concentration,until it has been completely familiar. If we can succeed in doing this, then in the end familiaritywill blunt its terrors. Another way of expressing this would be to recommend exposure therapy,which coaches patients to confront the source of their fears openly so that they start to feel lessthreatened.

Error 6: Senseless guilt
Russell was an avowed atheist who rarely missed a chance to point out what he saw as religion’sweaknesses — principal among them the sense of sin and unworthiness, arguing that thismislabeling of normal behaviors leads to unhappiness.
Whether or not you agree that religion is to blame (personally, I don’t), the more general pointabout guilt is a good one: It’s something we tend to experience when we feel undue privilegecompared with others — a sort of inverse envy, you might say. One version of this is “survivor’sguilt,” which people experience when a misfortune that befalls others passes them by.
Implicitly, Russell urges us to set aside the stigma of unnecessary guilt. A good remedy for thatis simple gratitude. Study after study has shown that gratitude can be practiced even when notfelt, and reliably chases away the blues.

Error 8: Fear of public opinion
A senior citizen I know recently told me that she was much happier since getting older, for onebig reason: She finally didn’t care what others thought of her. Russell put it another way: Oneshould as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keepout of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessarytyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. Easier said than done, ofcourse — research shows that our pain over social exclusion affects us physically. For example,an episode of social rejection can stimulate the anterior cingulate cortex in much the same waythat stubbing your toe does.
Russell’s implication that using reason is the right way to correct the problem now has researchto back it up. That same study showed that the right ventral prefrontal cortex — a brain region used in conscious reasoning — also becomes active when social pain is encountered, andmoderates our distress. Just as you can reason with yourself that a stubbed toe won’t kill you,you can also decide to disregard what others think.

Tuesday, October 3

Is it better to banish misery or strive to be happy? Arthur Brooks tackles this subject (banishing misery/increasing happiness) in the attached article that concludes with a daily affirmation that may help you to do both.
As you can imagine, there is a spiritual aspect to this, especially banishing misery. I look forward to discussing it with you.

Eight Ways to Banish Misery
Arthur C. Brooks, The Atlantic 9.28.23
To achieve greater well-being, you have two tasks. The first is to increase your level ofhappiness; the second is to manage your unhappiness. You might have a pretty good idea ofwhether happiness or unhappiness presents the greater challenge in your life. One person whocertainly did was the eminent 20th-century British thinker Bertrand Russell, who was not only aphilosopher, mathematician, and logician but also a Nobel laureate in literature. “Throughout mychildhood,” he wrote in his 1960s autobiography, “I had an increasing sense of loneliness, and ofdespair of ever meeting anyone with whom I could talk.” Russell’s misery proved to be themother of invention, though: His greatest accomplishment was to help found the field of analytic
philosophy, by which he intended to take the discipline beyond academic chin-scratching andinto the practical realm of solving life problems by breaking them down into manageable pieces.
Russell’s self-cure for unhappiness started with a very strong hypothesis, written in his aptlytitled The Conquest of Happiness: Our misery comes from errors. “I believe unhappiness to bevery largely due to mistaken views of the world, mistaken ethics, mistaken habits of life,” hewrote. From there, he broke down the problem into eight categories of common errors. Thesolution to unnecessary unhappiness, he proposed, was rectifying each one.

Error 1: Fashionable pessimism

Russell believed that people who considered themselves enlightened tended to be negative andpessimistic, and were actually proud of it. They were very focused on all that was wrong in theworld, and believed “that there is nothing left to live for.” Russell mocks this pose as a patheticconceit that should be abandoned. In case you worry that this means abandoning realism aboutthe truth, researchers have shown that pessimism can distort one’s perception of reality.

Error 2: Social comparison

Russell rails against competition, noting that what most people fear is not falling into destitutionbut “that they will fail to outshine their neighbors.” The problem here is not that we arecompetitive per se, but that we assess our worth on the basis of what others have and do. As theold expression (sometimes attributed to Theodore Roosevelt) goes, “Comparison is the thief ofjoy.” Russell implies a solution: Instead of looking at what your neighbor has and feelingresentful, focus on what you have and feel grateful. Failure to do so leads to the next error.

Error 3: Envy

Envy describes the condition of being unhappy not because you have little but because someoneelse has more. Envy is entirely human but, left unchecked, is associated with depression,hostility, and shame. It is also ridiculous, especially when it is directed toward those whoseachievements we admire. And therein lies Russell’s remedy: “Whoever wishes to increasehuman happiness must wish to increase admiration.” In other words, look for people who excelin ways you would like to, and crowd out resentment with frank appreciation.

Error 4: Evading boredom

“We are less bored than our ancestors were,” Russell wrote, “but we are more afraid ofboredom,” which leads us to pursue more and more sources of distraction. If he lived in our time,of course, he might also note that researchers have found a significant increase in boredomamong adolescents from 2008 to 2017—during the explosion of devices and social-media use. The solution we can infer from Russell lies not in more distraction but in less. We need to stopfearing boredom and be comfortable with what is going on around us, whether it’s exciting ornot. This is an argument made eloquently by my colleague Ellen Langer, who definesmindfulness as the practice of actively noticing new things. You can do that only when you arenot distracting yourself.

Error 5: Coping with fear

Clinical anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders today; according to the NationalInstitute of Mental Health, nearly one-fifth of U.S. adults experienced an anxiety disorder in thepast year. Russell believed that anxiety is rooted in fear of “some danger which we are unwillingto face.” Our understanding of the disorder today tends to be more biological than this; researchshows that anxiety is associated with involuntary physical stress symptoms such as hyperarousal. Russell’s cure for it is that we name our fear and “think about it rationally and calmly, but withgreat concentration, until it has been completely familiar.” If we can succeed in doing this, then“in the end familiarity will blunt its terrors.”

Error 6: Senseless guilt

Russell was an avowed atheist who rarely missed a chance to point out what he saw as religion’sweaknesses—principal among them the sense of sin and unworthiness. Whether or not you agreethat religion is to blame (personally, I don’t), the more general point about guilt is a good one:It’s something we tend to experience when we feel undue privilege compared with others—a sortof inverse envy, you might say. One version of this is “survivor’s guilt,” which peopleexperience when a misfortune that befalls others passes them by. A good remedy for that issimple gratitude. Study after study has shown that gratitude can be practiced even when not felt,and reliably chases away the blues. This is also an effective response to the next error.

Error 7: Virtuous victimhood

Russell was critical of what he called “persecution mania,” in which one is “perpetually thevictim of ingratitude, unkindness, and treachery.” One version of this is what some researchershave called “virtuous victimhood,” which they describe as claims of unjust treatment paired withassertions of moral standing. The point is not to deny that some people truly are the victims ofabuse, but to suggest the risk of internalizing that harm in a defining way: When victimhood isfundamentally how you see yourself, Russell argues, that compounds unhappiness. To recognizeinjustice is right and proper, but resisting self-identifying for too long as a victim can be healthy.

Error 8: Fear of public opinion

A senior citizen I know recently told me that she was much happier since getting older, for onebig reason: She finally didn’t care what others thought of her. Russell put it another way: “Oneshould as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keepout of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessarytyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways.” Russell’s implication thatusing reason is the right way to correct the problem now has research to back it up. Just as youcan reason with yourself that a stubbed toe won’t kill you, you can also decide to disregard whatothers think.

One way to apply his eight insights into common mistaken conceptions is to turn them into a set
of affirmations to start the day.

  1. Pessimism won’t make me cool or smart—just wrong and unhappy. I choose to be anoptimistic realist.
  2. My self-worth cannot and will not be measured by what others have.
  3. I will look for people to admire, and my admiration will overcome my envy.
  4. Boredom is nothing to fear. I will not distract myself with mindless diversions from thebusiness of living.
  5. I will name my fears. I will face them with courage and resolve.
  6. When good things happen, I won’t feel guilty. I will enjoy them and be grateful.
  7. Injustice is inevitable, but I will reject a permanent identity of the victim and resist grievance.
  8. The opinions of others—especially those of strangers, and especially about me—aremeaningless, and I will disregard them.

One of the most valuable aspects of Bertrand Russell’s logic is that he doesn’t suggest misery isin itself bad. No doubt he would have acknowledged that unhappiness is an appropriate responseto many situations in life. As regular readers of this column will have heard from me before,negative feelings keep us alive and safe, and even enable us to learn and grow. What Russell issaying is that by correcting errors in our thinking, we can avoid unnecessary suffering.

Tuesday, September 26

I'd like to introduce a word to you: "retcon". It is short for retroactive continuity. The television and movie series, Star Trek, has used "retcon" to rewrite the storyline of Captain James T. Kirk so that they could make new movies.Could retcon, however, be rewriting our own history? The author of the attached one-page editorial thinks so and warns us of it. I'd like to know what you think.
The second page of the article includes responses to the article.
Lastly, I'd like to talk about Scripture and if it has ever gone through retcon (and why I don't think it has).

America in the Age of Retcon
Lance Morrow, Wall Street Journal, 9.20.23

It was only two years ago that the term “retcon,” short for “retroactive continuity,” made it intothe Merriam-Webster dictionary. Odd that it took so long: Retcon for some time has been the21st century’s way of life. According to the dictionary, the word refers to “a literary device inwhich the form or content of a previously established narrative is changed.” It will help if youthink of the 21st century as a comic book. Retcon retrofits the past plot to suit present purposes.
Retcon, in short, is an instrument for editing history to escape its inconvenient implications. Itenables a “general disregard for reality,” allowing the writers to get rid of a plot line that hasgotten boring or to bring back a character from the dead. Merriam-Webster cites an earlyexample: Though Sherlock Holmes died at the Reichenbach Falls, the author, Arthur ConanDoyle, retroactively declared that his death had been staged.
Every presidential race involves a certain amount of this vaudeville. But retcon has come to havemuch broader application. It’s as if the 21st century itself came equipped with an enormousdelete key, which, when you hit it, causes the former world to disappear. You may then fill upthe empty screen with your own alternative reality.
The old binaries were, so to speak, Newtonian. The new categories have all the nuance andunknowability of quantum mechanics. The southern border is secure! It isn’t shoplifting, it’ssocial justice! America itself was formerly a good thing, more or less. “The last, best hope,” asAbraham Lincoln said. That was in the old dispensation. Retcon turns the narrative upside down.
Retcon is pretty sure that Lincoln was a racist and that the U.S. is, if not evil, then at the veryleast wicked to the core. American retcon in one of its moods is paranoid, or infested withnihilistic gloom. The old America was an evil dad and must be murdered. Thomas Jefferson isDarth Vader. The docents at Monticello now speak of him with distaste.
Soviets in the old days practiced brutal retcon. They purged their history books, causingideologically inconvenient characters to disappear from the record. The ineffable Charles deGaulle exercised his mystic retcon when he persuaded the French that they had been the heroesof their own liberation from German occupation. People need the consolation of their myths.
Such revision, quick as the click of a mouse, is the indispensable tool in politics, government,media, popular culture and historiography: a metaphysics of lies and half-truths, or, conversely,of bright new possibilities. Retcon is a reset artist. Whether it’s good or bad depends on yourpolitics. Retcon is a monster and sometimes a creative genius.
Retcon asserts “my truth” and rejects, as necessary, natural law. When out of control, it results ina Tower of Babel — a dynamic of madhouse democracy, as the Founders feared. A fish rotsfrom the head first, and so does a country. Under a regime of pervasive untruth, the leadersbecome worse than their followers. We’re getting there.

Responses to the article:

William Watson
I remember when the debate in historiography was between recognizing the acts of "great men"and focusing on broad economic and social forces. Now it seems the debate has shifted towhether historical figures should be judged by what they were or what they did. It seems likelythat by a reasonable modern definition of racist, Lincoln was a racist, as were almost every whiteperson in the US at the time. He was also a racist who organized winning the Civil War andpersonally took the first significant step toward the abolition of slavery in the US. Which ismore important?

Donald Swanton
History, as someone put it, is the projection of the politics of the present onto the events of thepast.

Raymond Unger
The retcon people forget one thing. Even in Russia, the people know the truth. We all know thethat retcon is just BS. Those elite college professors think they're fooling us, but they're wrong.My grandchildren attended public schools and had to hear their trash and, to get a good grade,they pretended to accept it. But once they graduated, they said their teachers were just idiots.Youth has a way of recognizing baloney and discards it like last week's mildewed pizza.

Dennis Berg
Retcon is just a variation on presentism. These are both lies to influence the general populationto a false narrative that fits an agenda.

Charles Goodwin
This op-ed is a nice illustration of the difference between being clever and being smart. Pivotingon "retcon" is a clever device but the analogy is misplaced and ultimately misleading.Transforming the foundational generation and the framers from humans to gods -- as we havefrom time to time -- would have horrified those men. They sought to create a government oflaws and not of men, themselves included. They understood they were flawed humans, neitherangels, nor prophets, nor demons.

Howard Sears
I'm 75. Happily only a few more years to witness this ongoing tragedy. I cry for my daughtersand grandchildren.

Greg Felicetti
The "history" taught in my well-regarded HS and college was highly incomplete. Some mightcall it "whitewashed". "History" is often in the eyes of the beholders - it's often revised bysomeone else who weighs the evidence a bit differently, considers different sources, etc. Readsome and decide for one's self.

Tuesday, September 19

This week, let's talk about how Rosh Hashana can change your life, even if you're not Jewish.

Rosh Hashana Can Change Your Life(Even if You’re Not Jewish)
David DeSteno, NY Times 9.13.23

Guest essayist Dr. DeSteno is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the hostof the podcast “How God Works: The Science Behind Spirituality.”
Celebrating a new year — as Jews the world over will do this week, when Rosh Hashana beginson Friday at sunset — is all about making changes. It’s a time for new beginnings, for wiping theslate clean and starting over from scratch. In that spirit, on Rosh Hashana Jews say prayers andlisten to readings that celebrate the creation of the world and of human life.
But Rosh Hashana also strikes a different, seemingly discordant note. Unlike so many other NewYear’s traditions, the Jewish holiday asks those who observe it to contemplate death. The liturgyincludes the recitation of a poem, the Unetaneh Tokef, part of which is meant to remind Jews thattheir lives might not last as long as they’d hope or expect. “Who will live and who will die?” thepoem asks. “Who will live out their allotted time and who will depart before their time?”
And we’re not talking about a gentle death at the end of a reasonably long life; we’re talkingabout misfortunes and tragedies that can cut any of our lives short. “Who shall perish by waterand who by fire,” the poem continues, “Who by sword and who by wild beast / Who by famineand who by thirst / Who by earthquake and who by plague?”
This focus on death might seem misplaced, bringing gloom to the party. But as a researchscientist who studies the psychological effects of spiritual practices, I believe there is a goodreason for it: Contemplating death helps people make decisions about their future that bring themmore happiness. This is an insight about human nature that the rites of Rosh Hashana captureespecially well, but it’s one that people of any faith (or no faith at all) can benefit from.
When planning for the future, people typically focus on things that they think will make themhappy. But there’s a problem: Most people don’t usually know what will truly make them happy— at least not until they are older. Across the globe, research shows, people’s happiness tends to
follow a U-shaped pattern through life: Happiness starts decreasing in one’s 20s, hits its nadiraround age 50 and then slowly rises through one’s 70s and 80s, until and unless significanthealth issues set in.
Why the turnaround at 50? That’s when people typically start to feel their mortality. Bones andjoints begin to creak. Skin starts to sag. And visits to the doctor become more frequent andpressing. Death, hopefully, is still a good ways off, but it’s visible on the horizon.
You might think this morbid prospect would further decrease contentment, but it ends up havingthe opposite effect. Why? Because it forces us to focus on the things in life that actually bring usmore happiness. Research by the Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen has shown that as weage, we move from caring most about our careers, status and material possessions to caring mostabout connecting with those we love, finding meaning in life and performing service to others.
That’s a wise move. When people in the Western world want to be happier, research shows, theytend to focus on individual pursuits. But that same research confirms that this strategy doesn’twork well: Pursuing happiness through social connection and service to others is a more reliableroute.
Of course, you don’t have to be old to confront death. During the SARS outbreak and the Covidpandemic, younger adults changed what they valued, research showed. When death suddenlyseemed possible for anyone, even those in the prime of their lives, younger people’s opinionsabout how best to live suddenly began to look like those of seniors: They turned toward familyand friends, finding purpose in social connection and helping others.
You don’t even need to face something as drastic as a pandemic to experience some version ofthese changes. Research shows that simply asking people to imagine that they have less time left,as congregants do on Rosh Hashana, is sufficient.
Rosh Hashana hardly has a monopoly on this insight. Christian thinkers such as Thomas àKempis and St. Ignatius of Loyola urged people to contemplate death before making importantchoices. Stoics like Marcus Aurelius argued that meditating on mortality helped people findmore joy in daily life.
But the particular brilliance of Rosh Hashana is that it combines thoughts of death with a newyear’s focus on a fresh start. As work by the behavioral scientist Katy Milkman and hercolleagues has shown, temporal landmarks like New Year’s Day offer an effective opportunityfor a psychological reset. They allow us to separate ourselves from past failures andimperfections — a break that not only prods us to consider new directions in life but also helps
us make any changes more effectively.
There is a lesson and an opportunity here for everyone. Contemplate death next Jan. 1 (orwhenever you celebrate the start of a new year). Any brief moments of unease will be well worththe payoff​.

Tuesday, September 12

The reading topic for next week is pretty heavy, but important. It is a critique, by David Brooks, of the MAID (assisted-suicide) program in Canada. In the much longer article in the Atlantic, Brooks is against this program and it may have something to do with his religious beliefs. Nevertheless, he steeps his argumentin looking at two different value systems. I'd like to know what you think.

How Canada’s Assisted-Suicide Law Went Wrong
David Brooks, The Atlantic 5.4.23

[Edited from the longer print version of the article in the Atlantic]
When people who were suffering applied to the Canadian MAID (assisted-suicide) program andsaid, “I choose to die,” Canadian society apparently had no shared set of morals that wouldjustify saying no. If individual autonomy is the highest value, then when somebody comes to youand declares, “It’s my body. I can do what I want with it,” whether they are near death or not,painfully ill or not, doesn’t really matter. Autonomy rules. Within just a few years, the number ofCanadians dying by physician-assisted suicide ballooned. In 2021, that figure was more than10,000, one in 30 of all Canadian deaths; only 4 percent of those who filed written applicationswere deemed ineligible.
I don’t mean to pick on Canada, the land of my birth. Lord knows that, in many ways, Canadahas a much healthier social and political culture than the United States does. I’m using thedevolution of the MAID program to illustrate a key feature of modern liberalism — namely, thatit comes in different flavors. The flavor that is embedded in the MAID program, and is prevalentacross Western societies, is what you might call autonomy-based liberalism.
Families have traditionally been built around mutual burdens. As children, we are burdens on ourfamilies; in adulthood, especially in hard times, we can be burdens on one another; and in oldage we may be burdens once again. When these bonds have become attenuated or broken inWestern cultures, many people re-create webs of obligation in chosen families. There, too, it isthe burdening that makes the bonds secure.
You did not create your deepest bonds. You didn’t choose the family you were born into, theethnic heritage you were born into, the culture you were born into, the nation you were born into.
As you age, you have more choices over how you engage with these things, and many peopleforge chosen families to supplant their biological ones. But you never fully escape the way theseunchosen bonds have formed you, and you remain defined through life by the obligations theyimpose upon you.
Autonomy-based liberals see society as a series of social contracts — arrangements people makefor their mutual benefit. But a mother’s love for her infant daughter is not a contract. Gifts-basedliberals see society as resting on a bedrock of covenants. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once captured thedifference this way: “A contract is a transaction. A covenant is a relationship. Or to put it slightlydifferently: a contract is about interests. A covenant is about identity. It is about you and mecoming together to form an ‘us.’”
Autonomy-based liberalism imposes unrealistic expectations. Each individual is supposed todefine their own values, their own choices. Each individual, in the words of Supreme CourtJustice Anthony Kennedy in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, is left to come up with their own“concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, of the mystery of human life.” If your nameis Aristotle, maybe you can do that; most of us can’t. Most of us are left in a moral vacuum, aworld in which the meaning of life is unclear, unconnected to any moral horizon outside the self.
Autonomy-based liberalism cuts people off from all the forces that formed them, stretching backcenturies, and from all the centuries stretching into the future. Autonomy-based liberalism leavespeople alone. Its emphasis on individual sovereignty inevitably erodes the bonds between people.
Autonomy-based liberalism induces even progressives to live out the sentence notoriouslyassociated with Margaret Thatcher: “There is no such thing as society.” Nearly 200 years ago,Alexis de Tocqueville feared that this state of affairs not only makes men forget their ancestors,but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Eachman is forever thrown back upon himself alone and there is a danger that he may be shut up inthe solitude of his own heart.
As Émile Durkheim pointed out in 1897, this is pretty much a perfect recipe for suicide. We nowlive in societies in which more and more people are deciding that death is better than life. Inshort, autonomy-based liberalism produces the kind of isolated, adrift people who are prone tosuicide — and then provides them with a state-assisted solution to the problem it created in thefirst place.
Gifts-based liberalism, by contrast, gives you membership in a procession that stretches back toyour ancestors. It connects you to those who migrated to this place or that, married this person orthat, raised their children in this way or that. What you are is an expression of history.
This long procession, though filled with struggles and hardship, has made life sweeter for us.Human beings once lived in societies in which slavery was a foundational fact of life, beheadingsand animal torture were popular entertainments, raping and pillaging were routine. Butgradually, with many setbacks, we’ve built a culture in which people are more likely to abhorcruelty, a culture that has as an ideal the notion that all people deserve fair treatment.
This is progress. Thanks to this procession, each generation doesn’t have to make the bigdecisions of life standing on naked ground. We have been bequeathed sets of values, institutions,cultural traditions that embody the accumulated wisdom of our kind. The purpose of life, in agifts-based world, is to participate in this procession, to keep the march of progress going alongits fitful course. We may give with our creativity, with our talents, with our care, but many of thegifts people transmit derive from deeper sources.
Sometimes the old and the infirm, those who have been wounded by life and whose choices havebeen constrained, reveal what is most important in life. Sometimes those whose choices havebeen limited can demonstrate that, by focusing on others and not on oneself, life is defined notby the options available to us but by the strength of our commitments.
I recently had a conversation with a Canadian friend who told me that he and his three siblingshad not been particularly close as adults. Then their aging dad grew gravely ill. His care becamea burden they all shared, and that shared burden brought them closer. Their father died but theircloseness remains. Their father bestowed many gifts upon his children, but the final one was thegift of being a burden on his family.
If autonomy-based liberals believe that society works best when it opens up individual options,gifts-based liberals believe that society works best when it creates ecologies of care that helppeople address difficulties all along the path of life. Autonomy-based liberalism is entrenchingan apparatus that ends life. Gifts-based liberalism believes in providing varieties of palliativecare to those near death and buttressing doctors as they forge trusting relationships with theirpatients. These support structures sometimes inhibit choices by declaring certain actions beyondthe pale. Doctors are there for healing, at all times and under all pressures. Patients can trust thedoctor because they know the doctor serves life. Doctors can know that, exhausted and confused
though they might be while attending to a patient, their default orientation will be to continue thestruggle to save life and not to end life.
John Stuart and Harriet Taylor Mill believed in individual autonomy. But they also believed thata just society has a vision not only of freedom but also of goodness, of right and wrong. Humans,John Stuart Mill wrote, “are under a moral obligation to seek the improvement of our moralcharacter.” He continued, “The test of what is right in politics is not the will of the people, butthe good of the people.” He understood that the moral obligations we take on in life — to family,friends, and nation, to the past and the future — properly put a brake on individual freedom ofaction. And he believed that they point us toward the fulfillment of our nature.
The good of humanity is not some abstraction — it’s grounded in the succession of intimates andinstitutions that we inherit, and that we reform, improve, and pass on. When a fellow member ofthe procession is in despair, is suffering, is thinking about ending their life, we don’t provide asyringe. We say: The world has not stopped asking things of you. You still have gifts to give,merely by living among us. Your life still sends ripples outward, in ways you do and do not see.Don’t go. We know you need us. We still need you.

Tuesday, September 5

Continuing our summer discussion about spirituality and different faith traditions, let's take a look at Roman Catholicism, religion/spirituality and U.S. politics. The pope stated that there is a faction in the U.S. House of Bishops that is taking the church "backwards". The House of Bishops, when talking about the pope, have even used the "s" word (schism).
I'd like to know what you think - in particular the role faith, the Church, and spirituality has (or does not have) in politics. Maybe we'll even talk about the difference between influence and power.

Pope Says a U.S. Faction Offers a Narrow View of the Church
Jason Horowitz and Ruth Graham, NY Times 8.30.23

Pope Francis has expressed in unusually sharp terms his dismay at “a very strong, organized,reactionary attitude” opposing him within the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, one that fixates onsocial issues like abortion and sexuality to the exclusion of caring for the poor and theenvironment.
The pope lamented the “backwardness” of some American conservatives who he said insist on anarrow, outdated and unchanging vision. “I would like to remind these people that backwardnessis useless. Doing this, you lose the true tradition and you turn to ideologies to have support. In
other words, ideologies replace faith.”
His comments were an unusually explicit statement of the pope’s longstanding lament that theideological bent of some leading American Catholics has turned them into culture warriors ratherthan pastors, offering the faithful a warped view of Church doctrine rather than a healthy, well-rounded faith. It has become a major theme of his papacy that he sees himself as bringing thechurch forward while his misguided conservative critics try to hold it back.
In 2018, Francis explicitly wrote that caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit asopposing abortion. “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm andpassionate,” he wrote. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, thedestitute, the abandoned.” He has urged priests to welcome and minister to people who are gay,divorced and remarried, and he has called on the whole world to tackle climate change, calling ita moral issue.
For nearly a decade, Francis’ conservative critics have accused him of leading the church astrayand of diluting the faith with a fuzzy pastoral emphasis that blurred the Church’s traditions andcentral tenets. Some U.S. bishops have issued public warnings about the Vatican’s direction,with varying degrees of alarm, and clashed with the pope over everything from liturgy andworship styles, to the centrality of abortion opposition in the Catholic faith, to American politics.
In the preface of a book published this month, Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American formerarchbishop and Vatican official who is considered a leader of Catholic conservatives, wrote thatFrancis risked driving the church into a schism, a definitive rupture. The danger, he wrote, wasan upcoming synod of bishops in October, convened by Francis to promote inclusivity,transparency and accountability, which will include lay people, including some women.
Bishop Joseph Strickland, who heads a small diocese in East Texas and has become one of thepope’s loudest critics, has accused the pope of undermining the Catholic faith and has invitedFrancis to fire him. In a public letter released last week, Bishop Strickland warned that many“basic truths” of Catholic teaching would be challenged at the synod, and hinted ominously at anirrevocable break. Those who would “propose changes to that which cannot be changed,” hewarned, “are the true schismatics.”
Conservative bishops have at times directly confronted American politicians, particularlyCatholic Democrats. In 2021, they pushed to issue guidance that would deny the sacrament ofCommunion to Catholic politicians who publicly support and advance abortion rights, likePresident Biden — a regular churchgoer and the first Catholic president since the 1960s — andformer House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops backed away from a direct conflict on that issue, afterthe Vatican warned against using the Eucharist as a political weapon. Francis has preached thatcommunion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.” But some individual bishopshave persisted. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, an outspoken critic of thepope, said last year that Ms. Pelosi would not be permitted to receive communion in hisarchdiocese unless she was willing to “publicly repudiate” her stance on abortion.
Clashes between the Vatican and conservative American bishops are often amplified andencouraged by conservative media outlets. Popular radio hosts and podcasters regularly questionthe pope’s leadership and raise questions about his legitimacy. Combative independent websiteslike Church Militant and LifeSite News cover Francis’ perceived missteps closely, and skewerchurch institutions they depict as corrupt and profane.
Many of today’s conservative leaders were promoted in the more doctrinaire church of SaintJohn Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. They have accused Francis, an Argentine, of being anti-American and anticapitalist, and leading the church away from its core teachings.
But he has consistently argued in his decade as pope that the church was part of history, and nota fortress from it, and that it needed to open up and be amid the people to reflect and respond totheir challenges. Speaking to the Portuguese priests this month, he noted that over the centuriesthe church had changed its positions on issues like slavery and capital punishment. “The visionof the doctrine of the church as a monolith is wrong,” he said. “When you go backward, youmake something closed off, disconnected from the roots of the church,” eroding morality.
His comments were in response to a question from a Jesuit who said he was taken aback, whenhe spent a year in the United States, by harsh criticism of the pope from some Catholics,including bishops.
To some people, “the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue,” the pope said. “SomeCatholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions.” Butfocusing on issues of sexual morality and downgrading issues of social justice, he said, clasheswith his vision of the true church. “That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing isunderstandable,” he added. “But not a Christian.”
Francis has steadily thinned out and isolated the most vocal, and in some cases aggressive,American conservative clergy, declining to promote some archbishops to cardinals and sodenying them voting rights in the conclave that chooses the pope. In other cases he has simplywaited them out and accepted their resignations when they reached mandatory retirement age. But the American bishops’ conference remains a redoubt of Catholic conservatism, much moreconservative than Francis and many of the other national churches.
On a flight to Africa in 2019, Francis seemed to acknowledge a well-financed and media-backedAmerican effort to undermine his pontificate, saying it was an “an honor that the Americansattack me” when asked about the American conservative-media complex.
On the return flight, he was asked about the sustained opposition from Catholic conservatives inthe United States who had accused him of driving traditionalists to break with the church.Francis said he hoped it didn’t come to that, but wasn’t necessarily terrified at the prospecteither. “I pray there are no schisms,” Francis said at the time. “But I’m not scared."

Tuesday, August 28
Combined Men & Women's Discussion Group at 10 a.m.

This summer we have been discussing various religions of the world. Next week, let's discuss the spirituality of Judaism. Unlike our other studies, this spirituality will sound quite familiar.The upcoming program year will feature some events with our neighbors at Temple Beth Israel. The first one will be a blessing of the animalsevent open to people and pets of all faiths. Prior to our first shared event, I think it is important and neighborly thatwe learn more about the spirituality of the Jewish faith.

What is Jewish Spirituality
Jay Michaelson, My Jewish Learning

Rabbi Dr. Jay Michaelson is the author of nine books. He holds a Ph.D in Jewish Thought fromHebrew University and a J.D. from Yale Law School, and is currently a senior editor for the TenPercent Happier meditation platform and a columnist for New York Magazine.

The French philosopher Michel Foucault defined spirituality as “the search, the practice, theexperience by which the subject operates on himself the transformations which are necessary toaccess the truth.” What I love about this definition is that it accommodates a very wide range ofspiritual orientations, Jewish and otherwise, while maintaining some core features of thephenomenon.
Spirituality is subjective, insofar as spiritual experiences are largely internal and thus differentfor everyone. It is focused on practice and experience — rather than, say, text, dogma, or law. You can no more understand spirituality by reading about it than you can taste a recipe byreading a cookbook. And that means spirituality is pragmatic. Spirituality asks not whether anaction is commanded, or connected to one’s family, or part of an objective moral order. It asks:What does it do? And does it work?
Finally, when taken seriously, spirituality (Jewish or otherwise) focuses not on narcissisticmoments of feeling good, but on transformation and truth. The best way to check the validity ofa spiritual experience is to see what’s changed afterward. Am I kinder? Am I more aware ofwonder? Am I more open to empathy?
If there’s one asterisk I’d place next to Foucault’s definition, it is to note that Jewish spiritualpractice, in particular, can often be social, communal, relational. From congregational prayer tomarching for social justice (“praying with my feet” as Abraham Joshua Heschel once called it) torectifying one’s ethical conduct, both the context and the “truth” of Jewish spirituality are oftenrelational in nature.
Of course, given the subjectivity inherent in spiritual practice, what that “truth” is varies fromperson to person. This doesn’t entail relativism, certainly not in terms of ethical conduct. Onlythat the contextual frame, content, and meaning of spiritual experience will vary from person toperson. For example, many people define the truth of spiritual practice in theistic terms.
Someone might say they feel close to God when they light Shabbat candles, or meditate, or hearthe blowing of the shofar. For others, the truth may be non-theistic. For this sort of non-theisticpractitioner, Shabbat candles may arouse feelings of compassion or wonder, meditation a senseof gratitude, and the shofar a sense of connectivity to the primal rituals of the Jewish people.“God” may not be part of the experience.
Having worked in the field of spirituality for about 20 years, my sense is that, in fact, thesedifferent practitioners – theistic and non-theistic – are reporting similar things. Their worldviewsmay shape the character of the experiences, and they definitely shape their interpretations. Butone of the fascinating paradoxes of spirituality is that while it’s intrinsically subjective, so muchis held in common.

What then makes Jewish spirituality Jewish spirituality? Here are three answers.
First, and most obviously, it utilizes Jewish tools and topics for spiritual practice. One could havea lovely spiritual experience lighting candles on Thursday night, but lighting them on Fridaynight grounds the experience in Jewish folkways, Jewish community, and the Jewish calendar.For me personally, that deepens the experience. My grandmother did this, probably hergrandmother too, and so do many of my friends and fellow community members. We may havedifferent ideas about what we’re doing, but there is a sweet bond in this shared ground ofpractice.
Second, Jewish spirituality has some distinctive characteristics. Unlike some popular forms ofmeditation, for example, it tends to affirm and incorporate a wide range of emotional experience.The Buddha sits in calmness; the Hasid dances with the ups and downs of life. And unlikemonastic asceticism (the removal of all of life’s sensual pleasures), which has only rarelyoccurred in Jewish communities, most Jewish spirituality embraces the sensual world of eating, dancing, having sex, and so on.
Finally, Jewish spirituality is inevitably tied to ethics and social life. Even when, as noted earlier,the spiritual experience is personal, what comes afterward is social. Judaism is a householderreligion, tied to family, community, and society.
It’s notable that perhaps the classic mystical experience in the Bible, Moses ascending MountSinai and communicating directly with God, is barely narrated in the text. We get almost nothingof Moses’s spiritual experience. What we get are the Ten Commandments and all the laws that follow – the fruits of the spiritual experience, not the experience itself.
This “coming down the mountain” is a critical metaphor, and it reappears in different forms inthe mystical experiences of Ezekiel, Elijah, Isaiah, and others. Mystics have their experiences,but what matters is what they learn from them, whether it’s law or prophecy or ethical warningsto Israel.
Ultimately, Jewish spirituality comes down from the mountaintop, back from the experience ofthe sublime. As Heschel described so eloquently, that is where Judaism begins.

Tuesday, August 22

Going back to our discussion group roots, let's take a look at David Brooks' article, How America Got Mean, and discuss 1) what is his argument, 2) is it supported, 3) what part of it do you agree with and/or not agree with, 4) how does this affect your life.
According to Brooks, there is a spiritual aspect to this because the Church is an antidote for society that tends to gravitate towards being mean. Secondly, he asserts that America has lost the ability to hear one another and have meaningful discussions. If Brooks attended any of our discussion groups, he would see that the people at All Angels have not lost the ability to listen, to agree and disagree respectfully, and be enlightened by each other's experiences and beliefs. I look forward to what you have to say.

To start the discussion, here are some thoughts from John Binney, in the U.K.

Whilst I appreciate and understand why the title is referring to America, I do not see America as the sole perpetrator, if that is the case! I would say that most of our 'Western society' is in the same position. It may be that parts of this have particular reference in America, but the discord between various sections of society is similar. Take participation in many 'traditional' groups. Religious groups, Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Masonic etc. All are suffering from maintaining membership and finding new additions. We did vaguely include this in a recent discussion. What do we need, to ignite a new wave of action or people willing to help others and by doing so, help themselves? How much of the new generation understands how much we all need, and rely on each other, in the end?
Who could we point to, to be an example for 'others' to follow?

How America Got Mean
David Brooks, The Atlantic 8.14.23

Over the past eight years or so, I’ve been obsessed with two questions. The first is: Why haveAmericans become so sad? The rising rates of depression have been well publicized, as have therising deaths of despair from drugs, alcohol, and suicide. But other statistics are similarlytroubling. The percentage of people who say they don’t have close friends has increased fourfoldsince 1990. The share of Americans ages 25 to 54 who weren’t married or living with a romanticpartner went up to 38 percent in 2019, from 29 percent in 1990. A record-high 25 percent of 40-year-old Americans have never married. More than half of all Americans say that no one knowsthem well. The percentage of high-school students who report “persistent feelings of sadness or
hopelessness” shot up from 26 percent in 2009 to 44 percent in 2021.
My second, related question is: Why have Americans become so mean? I was recently talkingwith a restaurant owner who said that he has to eject a customer from his restaurant for rude orcruel behavior once a week—something that never used to happen. A head nurse at a hospitaltold me that many on her staff are leaving the profession because patients have become soabusive. At the far extreme of meanness, hate crimes rose in 2020 to their highest level in 12years. Murder rates have been surging, at least until recently. We’re enmeshed in some sort ofemotional, relational, and spiritual crisis, and it undergirds our political dysfunction and thegeneral crisis of our democracy. What is going on?
The most important story about why Americans have become sad and alienated and rude, Ibelieve, is also the simplest: We inhabit a society in which people are no longer trained in how totreat others with kindness and consideration. The story I’m going to tell is about morals. In ahealthy society, a web of institutions — families, schools, religious groups, communityorganizations, and workplaces — helps form people into kind and responsible citizens, the sortof people who show up for one another. We live in a society that’s terrible at moral formation.
Moral formation, as I will use that stuffy-sounding term here, comprises three things.

First,

helping people learn to restrain their selfishness. How do we keep our evolutionarilyconferred egotism under control?
Second, teaching basic social and ethical skills. How do you welcome a neighbor into yourcommunity? How do you disagree with someone constructively?

And third

, helping people find a purpose in life. Morally formative institutions hold up a set ofideals. They provide practical pathways toward a meaningful existence: Here’s how you candedicate your life to serving the poor, or protecting the nation, or loving your neighbor.
For a large part of its history, America was awash in morally formative institutions. Its FoundingFathers had a low view of human nature, and designed the Constitution to mitigate it. If suchflawed, self-centered creatures were going to govern themselves and be decent neighbors to oneanother, they were going to need some training. For roughly 150 years after the founding,Americans were obsessed with moral education. Beyond the classroom lay a host of othergroups: the YMCA; the Sunday-school movement; the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; professionalorganizations, which enforced ethical codes; unions and workplace associations. And of course,by the late 19th century, many Americans were members of churches or other religious
communities. Mere religious faith doesn’t always make people morally good, but living in acommunity, orienting your heart toward some transcendent love, basing your value system on concern for the underserved — those things tend to.
The crucial pivot happened just after World War II. Schools began to abandon moral formationin the 1940s and ’50s, as the education historian B. Edward McClellan chronicles in MoralEducation in America: “By the 1960s deliberate moral education was in full-scale retreat” aseducators “paid more attention to the SAT scores of their students, and middle-class parentsscrambled to find schools that would give their children the best chances to qualify for collegesand universities.”
Over the course of the 20th century, words relating to morality appeared less and less frequentlyin the nation’s books: According to a 2012 paper, usage of a cluster of words related to beingvirtuous also declined significantly. Among them were bravery (which dropped by 65 percent),gratitude (58 percent), and humbleness (55 percent). For decades, researchers have askedincoming college students about their goals in life. In 1967, about 85 percent said they werestrongly motivated to develop “a meaningful philosophy of life”; by 2000, only 42 percent saidthat. Being financially well off became the leading life goal; by 2015, 82 percent of students saidwealth was their aim.
Sadness, loneliness, and self-harm turn into bitterness. Social pain is ultimately a response to asense of rejection — of being invisible, unheard, disrespected, victimized. When people feel thattheir identity is unrecognized, the experience registers as an injustice — because it is. Peoplewho have been treated unjustly often lash out and seek ways to humiliate those who they believehave humiliated them. If you put people in a moral vacuum, they will seek to fill it with theclosest thing at hand. Over the past several years, people have sought to fill the moral vacuumwith politics and tribalism. American society has become hyper-politicized.
Politics also provides an easy way to feel a sense of purpose. You don’t have to feed the hungryor sit with the widow to be moral; you just have to experience the right emotion. You deludeyourself that you are participating in civic life by feeling properly enraged at the other side. Thatrighteous fury rising in your gut lets you know that you are engaged in caring about this country.The culture war is a struggle that gives life meaning.
But, even in dark times, sparks of renewal appear. In 2018, a documentary about Mister Rogerscalled Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was released. The film showed Fred Rogers in all his simplegoodness — his small acts of generosity; his displays of vulnerability; his respect, evenreverence, for each child he encountered. People cried openly while watching it in theaters. In anage of conflict and threat, the sight of radical goodness was so moving.
Healthy moral ecologies don’t just happen. They have to be seeded and tended. So, the questionsbefore us are pretty simple: How can we build morally formative institutions that are right for the21st century? What do we need to do to build a culture that helps people become the bestversions of themselves?

The logic of service:

You have to give to receive. You have to lose yourself in a common causeto find yourself. The deepest human relationships are gift relationships, based on mutual care. Anobvious model for at least some aspects of this is the culture of the U.S. military, which similarlyemphasizes honor, service, selflessness, and character in support of a purpose greater thanoneself, throwing together Americans of different ages and backgrounds who forge strong socialbonds.

Moral organizations.

Most organizations serve two sets of goals—moral goals and instrumentalgoals. Hospitals heal the sick and also seek to make money. Newspapers and magazines inform the public and also try to generate clicks. Law firms defend clients and also try to maximizebillable hours. Nonprofits aim to serve the public good and also raise money.
Early in my career, as a TV pundit at PBS NewsHour, I worked with its host, Jim Lehrer. Every day, with a series of small gestures, he signaled what kind of behavior was valued there and whatkind of behavior was unacceptable. In this subtle way, he established a set of norms and practicesthat still lives on. He and others built a thick and coherent moral ecology, and its way of beingwas internalized by most of the people who have worked there.
Look, I understand why people don’t want to get all moralistic in public. Many of those who doare self-righteous prigs, or rank hypocrites. And all of this is only a start. But healthy moralecologies don’t just happen. They have to be seeded and tended by people who think and talk inmoral terms, who try to model and inculcate moral behavior, who understand that we have tobuild moral communities because on our own, we are all selfish and flawed. Moral formation isbest when it’s humble. It means giving people the skills and habits that will help them beconsiderate to others in the complex situations of life. It means helping people behave in waysthat make other people feel included, seen, and respected. That’s very different from how wetreat people now — in ways that make them feel sad and lonely, and that make them growunkind.

Tuesday, August 15

This week's reading is the last one we will read from (the Rev.) Tish Harrison Warren in the NY Times because it is her last article with that publication. She questions discourse in America and highlights the importance of churches in order to foster conversation. In particular, she discusses how dealing with the Church on the outside can empty a person. But, having spiritual insights, conversations, encounters, and prayer - encountering the Church on the inside - fulfills us and also helps our Republic. I'd like to know what you think and what you have experienced with regards to dealing with the proverbial outside and inside of the Church.

My Hope for American Discourse
Tish Harrison Warren, NY Times, 8.6.23

With this final newsletter at The Times, I want to say thank you and goodbye. And yes, OK, thismay be a little self-indulgent but I feel it is worth sharing in part because some of my reasons forleaving, while personal, touch on larger themes of faith in private life and public discourse thathave featured in this newsletter and that all of us experience in one way or another.
There is a stereotype among some conservative religious people that in media or other public-facing institutions, voices of people of faith are marginalized and unwelcome. I think that thishas some truth to it and have even experienced that in certain settings over the years. I have not,however, experienced this at The Times.
Amid a culture that often embraces hyperpolarization and self-righteous scorn for our politicaland ideological enemies, it takes courage for public-facing institutions to allow for a truediversity of ideas, especially when it comes to matters of faith and identity. It gives me hope forAmerican discourse that in a single year of my tenure at this company, Tressie McMillan Cottomand David French were brought on as columnists — two talented writers who make me think,but who have quite different perspectives on the world. It encourages me that there areinstitutions in America that, however imperfectly, still seek to embody a commitment topluralism and old-school, big-tent liberalism, that allow a wide range of voices at the table, solong as those voices are open to listening to others as well.
Writing publicly about God each week can do a number on one’s soul. Thomas Wingfold, acharacter in a novel by the Scottish minister George MacDonald, said, “Nothing is so deadeningto the divine as a habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things.” Holy things, sacred topics,spiritual ideas, I believe, have power. Dealing with them is a privilege and a joy, but habituallydealing with the outside of them is inherently dangerous.
The “outsides” of holy things, to me, describes the difference between speaking about divine orsacred things and encountering the divine or the sacred directly. We need more and betterreligious discourse in America. I believe that religion and, more broadly, the biggest questions inlife are the driving forces behind much that is beautiful, divisive, unifying, controversial andperplexing about our culture and society.
Yet there is danger in becoming a pundit, particularly on matters of faith and spirituality. It can be deadening. For any person of faith, public engagement must be balanced with times ofwithdrawal, of silence, prayer, questioning and wonder beyond the reach of words. Otherwise,faith with all its strange and startling topology becomes a flat and sterile thing, something to bedissected, instead of embraced. And typically, once something is fit only for dissection, it isdead.
I bring this up because being a pundit is a temptation for all of us now. Digital technology has made us all pundits. We are faced with a constant choice: Every experience, belief, feeling andthought we have can be shared publicly or not. In a single day, we can take in more informationand ideas than was ever possible, yet at the end of the day we can still lack wisdom.
Constant connectivity empties us out, as individuals and as a society, making us shallowerthinkers and more impatient with others. When it comes to faith, it can yield a habitual dealingwith the outsides of holy things, fostering an avoidance of those internal parts of life that aremost difficult, things like prayer, uncertainty, humility and the nakedness of who we most trulyare amid this confusing, heartbreaking and incandescently beautiful world.
Public debate and dialogue are the crux of our democracy and an important way to seek truth. Itis good to speak up and be heard. But speaking up and being heard can be as addictive as a drug. And in our breathless, noisy and contentious society, this addiction must be actively resisted.
There is also a tendency in our moment to prioritize the distant over the proximate and the bigover the small. We can seek to have all the right political opinions and still not really love ouractual neighbors, those right around us, in our homes, in our workplaces or on our blocks.
We become like Linus in the old “Peanuts” cartoons who famously said: “I love mankind. It’speople I can’t stand.” True community, however, is made of real people with names, of friendswith true faults. Don’t get me wrong: Global and national news is important and I will continueto read news and opinion pieces nearly every day. But for me, as for most of us, the places wemeet God are not primarily in abstract debates about culture wars or the role of religion insociety, but in worship on a Sunday morning or in dropping off soup for a grieving friend, in avulnerable conversation, in celebration with a neighbor, or in the drowsy prayers uttered whilerocking a feverish toddler in the middle of the night.
The way to battle abstraction in our time is to embrace the material, the incarnation of our lives,the fleshy, complicated, touchable realities right around us in our neighborhoods, churches,friends and families. And this enfleshed, incarnational part of my life and work deserves someextra attention now, at least for a little while.
So, finally, if you’d indulge me a little more, in Anglican liturgy, we wind up our worshipservice each week with a departure ritual: a closing benediction. So, I want to say to my readers, to those who’ve written and told me about your lives, to those who’ve enthusiasticallyencouraged me or shared my work with others, to those who’ve disagreed with me respectfully,to those who have disagreed with me less respectfully, to those who are struggling and those whoare rejoicing, to those who are afraid or those who are encouraged, to those full of faith and thosefull of doubt and those full of both at the same time: God bless and keep you. You have been agift to me and I am grateful for each of you.

Tuesday, August 8

By popular request we are going to discuss the Atlantic article, The Misunderstood Reason Millions of Americans Stopped Going to Church. I am always interested in hearing what you think on our articles and topics. For this next week, if you were one of the many who sent it to me, I am especially interested in what you read in it. For me, there are some holes in the author's argument. And, as far as why people stopped going to church, I think it's for an entirely different reason (which is felt most especially in the Baptist tradition; the Episcopal Church could boast that we are losing the least amount of people, but, well that's not much to boast about).

The Misunderstood Reason Millions of Americans Stopped Going to Church
Jake Meador, The Atlantic 7.29.23
Forty million Americans have stopped attending church in the past 25 years. It represents thelargest concentrated change in church attendance in American history. As a Christian, I feel thisshift acutely. My wife and I wonder whether the institutions and communities that have helpedpreserve us in our own faith will still exist for our children, let alone whatever grandkids wemight one day have.
This change is also bad news for America as a whole: Participation in a religious communitygenerally correlates with better health outcomes and longer life, higher financial generosity, andmore stable families—all of which are desperately needed in a nation with rising rates ofloneliness, mental illness, and alcohol and drug dependency.
A new book, written by Jim Davis, a pastor at an evangelical church in Orlando, and MichaelGraham, a writer with the Gospel Coalition, draws on surveys of more than 7,000 Americans bythe political scientists Ryan Burge and Paul Djupe, attempting to explain why people have leftchurches—or “dechurched,” in the book’s lingo—and what, if anything, can be done to get somepeople to come back. The book raises an intriguing possibility: What if the problem isn’t thatchurches are asking too much of their members, but that they aren’t asking nearly enough?
The Great Dechurching finds that religious abuse and more general moral corruption in churcheshave driven people away. But Davis and Graham also find that a much larger share of those whohave left church have done so for more banal reasons. The book suggests that the definingproblem driving out most people who leave is that Contemporary America simply isn’t set up topromote mutuality, care, or common life. Rather, it is designed to maximize individualaccomplishment as defined by professional and financial success. Such a system leaves preciouslittle time or energy for forms of community that don’t contribute to one’s own professional life.
Workism reigns in America, and because of it, community in America, religious communityincluded, is a math problem that doesn’t add up. Consider one of the composite characters that Graham and Davis use in the book to describe a typical evangelical dechurcher: a 30-something woman who grew up in a suburban megachurch,was heavily invested in a campus ministry while in college, then after graduating moved into afull-time job and began attending a young-adults group in a local church. In her 20s, she meets aguy who is less religiously engaged, they get married, and, at some point early in their marriage,after their first or second child is born, they stop going to church. Maybe the baby isn’t sleepingwell and when Sunday morning comes around, it is simply easier to stay home and catchwhatever sleep is available as the baby (finally) falls asleep.
In other cases, a person might be entering mid-career, working a high-stress job requiring a 60-or 70-hour workweek. Add to that 15 hours of commute time, and suddenly something like two-thirds of their waking hours in the week are already accounted for. And so when a friend invites them to a Sunday-morning brunch, they probably want to go to church, but they also want to seethat friend, because they haven’t been able to see them for months. The friend wins out.
After a few weeks of either scenario, the thought of going to church on Sunday carries a certainmental burden with it. Soon it actually sounds like it’d be harder to attend than to skip, even ifsome part of you still wants to go. The underlying challenge for many is that their lives arestretched like a rubber band about to snap — and church attendance ends up feeling like an itemon a checklist that’s already too long.
What can churches do in such a context? In theory, the Christian Church could be an antidote toall that. What is needed in our time is a community marked by sincere love, sharing what theyhave, eating together, generously serving neighbors, and living lives of quiet virtue and prayer. Ahealthy church can remind people that their identity is not in their job or how much money theymake; they are children of God, loved and protected and infinitely valuable.
But a vibrant, life-giving church requires more, not less, time and energy from its members. Itasks people to prioritize one another over our career, to prioritize prayer and time readingscripture over accomplishment. This may seem like a tough sell in an era of dechurching. Theproblem in front of us is not that we have a healthy, sustainable society that doesn’t have roomfor church. The problem is that many Americans have adopted a way of life that has left uslonely, anxious, and uncertain of how to live in community with other people.
The tragedy of American churches is that they have been so caught up in this same world that wenow find they have nothing to offer these suffering people that can’t be more easily foundsomewhere else. The difficulty is that many of the wounds and aches provoked by our currentorder aren’t of a sort that can be managed or life-hacked away. They are resolved only bychanging one’s life, by becoming a radically different sort of person belonging to a radicallydifferent sort of community.
In the Gospels, Jesus tells his first disciples to leave their old way of life behind, going so far asabandoning their plow or fishing nets where they are and, if necessary, even leaving behind theirparents. A church that doesn’t expect at least this much from one another isn’t really a church inthe way Jesus spoke about it.
The great dechurching could be the beginning of a new moment for churches, a moment markedless by aspiration to respectability and success, with less focus on individuals aligningthemselves with American values and assumptions. We could be a witness to another way of lifeoutside conventionally American measures of success. Churches could model better, truer sortsof communities, ones in which the hungry are fed, the weak are lifted up, and the proud are castdown. Such communities might not have the money, success, and influence that many Americanchurches have so often pursued in recent years. But if such communities look less like thosechurches, they might also look more like the sorts of communities Jesus expected his followers
to create.

Tuesday, August 1

We had a good week of discussions around the divine spirit in each of us according to the Sikh religion. For many, that particular way of believing didn't have a satisfactory reason or basis for what we see as evil being carried out by humans in the world.
This week, we are going to look at two other belief systems regarding the problem of evil - atheistic neuroscientists and Christian Science. This means there are two readings (sorry!) but I think these two articles will make for interesting conversation partners. Perhaps you will be filled by them or perhaps you will feel, like I do, that theirarguments end up a little empty. Regardless, your views and thoughts are welcome at the discussion table.

Where Does Evil Come From?

Sandy Sandberg, Christian Science Monitor 11.19.20
By way of answering the headline’s question let’s look at an analogy. When we enter a room thatis dark, we don’t try to figure out why it’s dark. We find the light switch and turn on the light.Nor do we concern ourselves with where the darkness went, because we understand that it didn’t“go” anywhere. It was merely the absence of light.
This analogy works pretty well as a starting point for addressing the question of how ChristianScience explains the nature of evil. Instead of trying to figure out where evil came from,Christian Science focuses on understanding the nature of the source of all that is, which is God.
Because God is solely good, goodness has a source, but its opposite, evil, lacks a true source orsubstance – just like the darkness. As we’re receptive to that light, we realize that evil doesn’thave any basis in spiritual reality. We come to understand the nature of Truth as supremelypowerful, omnipresent, and entirely good. Therefore, its opposite is without legitimacy, withoutintelligence – a lie. This is captured in one of the ways Jesus described the devil, or evil. He said,“There is no truth in him ... he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).
It is through spiritual sense that we are able to see and understand the spiritual reality, where allis held in the infinite allness and goodness of God’s being. Referring to God, the Bible puts itthis way: “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Habakkuk1:13). Here the absolute purity of God’s nature as conscious of good and good alone is revealed.God, Truth, alone is ever present.
Christ Jesus lived to present this wonderful light of Truth. He once said: “I am the light of theworld: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John8:12). Indeed, throughout his ministry those who were sick were healed, many entangled in sinwere reformed, several people who had died were restored to life, and multitudes who wereignorant of God’s ever-present goodness had the gospel – the good news of God’s allness –preached to them.
Today, too, each of us can glimpse the spiritual fact of evil’s unreality, whether in the form ofsickness or other obstacles to harmony, and experience healing. In this way we are demonstratingwhat Jesus showed us we could do – we can prove the ever presence and all-power of Truth,whose light is forever shining, dispelling the darkness of evil.

The End of Evil?

Ron Rosenbaum, Slate Magazine 9.30.11
Is evil over? Has science finally driven a stake through its dark heart? Yes, according to manyneuroscientists, who are emerging as the new high priests of the secrets of the psyche, explainersof human behavior in general. A phenomenon attested to by a recent torrent of pop-sci brainbooks with titles likeIncognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. Not secret in most of these worksis the disdain for metaphysical evil, which is regarded as an antiquated concept that’s done moreharm than good. They argue that the time has come to replace such metaphysical terms withphysical explanations – malfunctions or malformations in the brain.
Of course, people still commit innumerable bad actions, but the idea that people make consciousdecisions to hurt or harm is no longer sustainable, say the new brain scientists. For one thing,there is no such thing as “free will” with which to decide to commit evil. Autonomous, consciousdecision-making itself may well be an illusion. And thus, intentional evil is impossible.
Have the new neuroscientists brandishing their fMRIs, the ghostly illuminated etchings of theinterior structures of the skull, succeeded? Have they pinpointed the hidden anomalies in theamygdala, the dysfunctions in the prefrontal lobes, the electrochemical source of impulses thatlead Jared Loughner, or Anders Breivik, to commit their murderous acts?
And in reducing evil to a purely neurological glitch or malformation in the wiring of the physicalbrain, in eliminating the element of freely willed conscious choice, have neuroscientistseliminated as well “moral agency,” personal responsibility? Does this “neuromitigation” excuse— “my brain made me do it,” as critics of the tendency have called it — mean that no humanbeing really wants to do ill to another? That we are all innocent beings, some afflicted with defects — “brain bugs” as one new pop-neuroscience book calls them — that cause the behaviorformerly known as evil?
The new neuroscience represents the latest attempt by science to reduce evil to malfunction ordysfunction rather than malevolence. It’s a quest I examined inExplaining Hitler:the way thevarieties of 20th-century psychological “science” sought to find some physiological,developmental, sexual, or psychoanalytic cause for Hitler’s crimes. It would be consolatory if notcomforting if we could prove that what made Hitler “Hitler” was a malfunction in human nature,a glitch in the circuitry. This somewhat Pollyannaish quest to explain the man’s crimes remainscounterintuitive to many. I recall the late British historian and biographer of Hitler, AlanBullock, reacting to the claims of scientism by exclaiming to me vociferously: “If he isn’t evil,then who is? … If he isn’t evil the word has no meaning.”
Indeed, recent developments demonstrate that evil remains a stubborn concept in our culture. Toread the mainstream media commentary on the Breivik case, for instance, is to come upon, timeafter time, the word “evil.” Not just that the acts were evil, but that he, Breivik was, as a WallStreet Journal columnist put it, “evil incarnate.” But what exactly does that mean? Theincarnation of what? The word “incarnation” implies, metaphorically at least, the embedding of ametaphysical force in a physical body. One can understand the scientific aversion to this as adescription of reality. But evil as a numinous force abides.
Even if it was not surprising for the Pope to name evil, it was surprising to see a devout atheistsuch as my colleague Christopher Hitchens invoke “evil” in his “obituary” for Osama bin Laden.Hitchens admits wishing he could avoid using “that simplistic (but somehow indispensable)word.” But he feels compelled to call whatever motivated bin Laden a “force” that “absolutelydeserves to be called evil.” But what is this “force,” which sounds suspiciously supernatural foran atheist to believe in? Where is it located: in the material or nonmaterial world?
That is the real “problem of evil”. We tend to believe it exists: Popular culture has no problemwith it. But even religious thinkers continue to debate what it is and why a just and loving Godpermits evil and the hideous suffering it entails. If they shift the blame to us (because God gaveman free will to sin) why God couldn’t have created a human nature that would not so readilychoose genocide and torture. (For the record, I’m an agnostic.)
One person whose work on these matters has received considerable attention lately is the BritishProfessor of Psychopathology, Simon Baron-Cohen. He’s the author ofThe Science of Evil,which seeks to dispose of the problem of evil in part at least by changing its name. “My maingoal,” says Baron-Cohen, “is replacing the unscientific term ‘evil’ with the scientific term‘empathy.’” What he means is that instead of calling someone evil we should say they have no
empathy. Baron-Cohen goes to great lengths to posit an “empathy circuit” in the brain whosevarying “degrees” of strength constitute a spectrum, ranging from total, 100 percent empathy to“zero degrees of empathy.” A healthy empathy circuit allows us to feel others’ pain andtranscend single-minded focus on our own.
One troubling aspect of Baron-Cohen’s grand substitution of a lack of empathy for evil is themechanistic way he describes it. He characterizes those who lack empathy as having “a chip intheir neural computer missing.” The big problem here is that by reducing evil to a mechanicalmalfunction in the empathy circuit, Baron-Cohen also reduces, or even abolishes, good. No onein this deterministic conceptual system chooses to be good, courageous, or heroic. They just havea well-developed empathy circuit that compels them act empathetically — there’s no choice orhonor in the matter.
Despite all the astonishing advances in neuroscience, however, we still know woefully littleabout how the brain enables the mind and especially about how consciousness and intentionalitycan arise from the complicated hunk of matter that is the brain. We may know the 13 regions thatlight up on an fMRI when we feel “empathy” (or fail to light up when we choose evil) but thatdoesn’t explain whether this lit-up state indicates they are causing empathy or just reflecting it. The problem of evil — and moral responsibility — is thus inseparable from what is known in thephilosophical trade as “the hard problem of consciousness.” How does the brain, that electrifiedpiece of meat, create the mind and the music of Mozart?
As for evil itself, the new neuroscience is unlikely to end the debate, but it may cause us to bemore attentive to the phenomenon. Perhaps evil will always be like the famous Supreme Courtpronouncement on p*rnography. You know it when you see it. I don’t like its imprecision, but Iwill concede I don’t have a better answer. Just that we can do better than the mechanistic,deterministic, denial of personal responsibility the neuroscientists are offering to “replace” evilwith.
I recall an exchange in my conversation with one of the original neuroskeptics, Daniel S. Reich,now head of a research division on nerve diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Towardthe end of our conversation I asked Reich if he believed in evil. He was silent for a bit and thenstarted talking about Norway. About degrees of evil. About the difference between the typicalsuicide bomber and the Oslo killer. How the former has only to press a button to accomplish hismurderous goal and never has to see the consequences. But on that summer camp island in Oslo,Reich said, Breivik was stalking victims for hours. He’d shoot one or more and, according tosurvivors, not register anything, just continue trudging forward, looking for more.
“He saw the consequences, the blood, heard the screams. He just kept going.” Some will try tosay this is sociopathy or psychopathy or zero degrees of empathy and other exculpatory cop-outs.But fueled by his evil ideas Breivik kept going; if we can’t call him evil who can we?

Tuesday, July 25


​T
his past week, both groups talked about the doctrine of Original Sin which states that we are fallen, sinful humans who basically cannot help ourselves. Some agreed with it; others did not.
Interestingly enough, we have a good summer read this coming week - a book review of The Light We Give by Simran Jeet Singh. This book introduces the reader to Sikh wisdom (an often misunderstood and certainly under-represented world faith tradition in mainstream religious circles).
Sikh wisdom asserts that no one is evil. Period. Putting that belief to the test, he recalls the murder of seven Sikhs in Wisconsin as they worshipped in 2012. The author encourages readers to combat hate with love and empathy rather than perpetuating patterns of disengagement and polarization. Could this be a helpful read for our day; or, is it unrealistic thinking (or both). I'd like to know what you think.

Can People be Evil?
Alexis Vaughan, The Christian Century 7.6.23

A book review by Alexis Vaughan, a Disciples of Christ minister, who serves as director of racialequity initiatives at Interfaith America.

Educator and activist Simran Jeet Singh begins his memoir, The Light We Give, by recalling theracism he experienced as a “turban-wearing, brown-skinned, beard-loving Sikh” growing up inSouth Texas. He recalls distressing interactions with classmates and community members whodiscriminated against him based on his appearance, and he walks readers through the choices hemade to navigate complicated feelings of anger, sadness, and fear. These choices led him toembrace positivity over negativity and to practice his Sikh faith more intentionally. Singh points to three major components of Sikhi that have shaped his outlook:

chardi kala

, a teaching that imbues life with optimism and gratitude even amid pain andsuffering;

ik oankar,

the concept that all people are created with a light of divinity within them, makingeveryone equal and worthy of respect; and

seva

, the practice of expressing love in all things, especially through service.
He calls on readers to seek lives of active empathy, seeing each person — even those who arehurtful — as valuable and worthy of kindness and love. “When we identify our core values andcommitments, and when we begin to put these into practice consistently, then we have setourselves up to engage with the world around us in a way that is rooted not in our emotions andattachments, but in our principles and convictions.”
Singh describes as his greatest test of faith the aftermath of the massacre of seven Sikhs as theyworshiped together in their gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012. While grappling withhis personal anger and sadness following the massacre amid his responsibilities as a publicfigure, he felt the need to speak to diverse audiences about the Sikh faith and the implications ofhate for American society.
One of the most compelling sections of the book follows Singh as he travels to a summer campto speak to Sikh children immediately after the massacre. When he asks the children if theyknow what happened there, a young girl responds, “A bad, bad man came and killed a bunch ofus. He was evil.” Singh wrestles with how to respond because he finds something unsettlingabout naming Wade Michael Page, the shooter, as evil. He explains:
On the one hand, I preferred this framing because it helped make sense of a seemingly senselessmassacre. But on the other hand, hearing a child say these words out loud revealed a truth thatupset me. I took comfort in seeing him as evil. But I don’t believe in evil as a reality of our world,and I certainly don’t believe that people are evil. Damaged and destructive, yes. But evil, no.
Singh goes on to explain that Sikhi “teaches us to see every human being as equally divine and toreject the good-evil binary,” suggesting “that we are all inherently good and embodiments ofGod.” While it would be “emotionally easier” to respond to the children’s anger and sadness bydismissing Page as evil, Singh writes, doing so would dehumanize Page in a way that isultimately unwarranted.
Singh’s reflections remind me of a theology I’ve often encountered in faith-based activism: theaffirmation that every person enters this world created in God’s perfect image, and the bad thingsthat we impose on each other after we’re born are betrayals of that image. Negative emotions —such as shame, anger, grief, and loneliness — are symptoms of those betrayals. These emotions,especially when combined with the idea of evil, have often been used to uphold the powerstructures that exploit the most vulnerable people in our communities.
In my experience, however, it’s hard to combat oppression without the spiritual resources toname where things have gone wrong and process our emotions about it. We all have the capacityand sometimes the impulse to do terrible things in the world — things that I, as a Christian,would call evil. Practicing our faith or ethical commitments on a daily basis is one way we canwork on resisting those impulses. This is something that even children can learn from otherpeople’s egregious acts.
My disagreement with Singh is, at its heart, a disagreement about what it means to be human.Singh desires to escape the good/evil binary because he believes that labeling Page as evil wouldbe an act of “dehumanizing someone who had dehumanized us.” But I believe that our actions inthe world reveal something real about who we are, and the full scope of our humanity includesour capacity to commit heinous acts. Naming that is just as important as recognizing our capacityto overcome those impulses and do good. When Singh reasons Page out of being labeled “evil”by the child at the camp, it feels to my Christian sensibilities like an act of dehumanization.
Singh’s conclusion that we all need to integrate ethical living into our public lives is admirable.He encourages readers to combat hate with love and empathy rather than perpetuating unhelpfulpatterns of disengagement and polarization. For those who are inspired to take on positivechange but don’t know where to begin or how to articulate the impact of their faith on theirworldview, Singh’s work is an excellent model. The Light We Give is not only an accessibleintroduction to Sikh wisdom, it’s a guide for all people who want to be better and do better.

Tuesday, July 18

We had an interesting and lively discussion about A.I. and medicine and religion. In both groups, we talked about Sunday's 60 Minutes segment about A.I. For those who did not see it, here is the YouTube link to that fascinating 27 minute piece.

www.youtube.com/watch

This week, we are going to discuss David French's opinion piece in the NY Times -Who Truly Threatens the Church. He believes Church leaders are no longer looking to be protected from government but rather they are seeking governmental authority. And, in short, he believes that is the greatest threat to the church. I'd like to know what you think.Who Truly Threatens the Church?
David French, NY Times 7.9.23

According to legend, in the early 1900s, The Times of London sent an inquiry to a number ofwriters asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” The Christian apologist G.K.Chesterton responded succinctly and profoundly: “Dear Sirs, I am.” The real story is just asprofound, but less succinct. In 1905 Chesterton wrote a much longer letter to London’s DailyNews, and that letter included this: “The answer to the question ‘What is Wrong?’ should be, ‘Iam wrong.’ Until a man can give that answer his idealism is only a hobby.”
I’ve thought about that Chesterton quote often as I’ve seen the “new” Christian right re-embracethe authoritarianism of previous American political eras. At the exact time when religious libertyis enjoying a historic winning streak at the Supreme Court, a cohort of Christians hasincreasingly decided that liberty isn’t enough. To restore the culture and protect our children, it’snecessary to exercise power to shape our national environment.
And so the conservative movement is changing. When I was a younger lawyer, conservativesfought speech codes that often inhibited religious and conservative discourse on campus. Now,red state legislatures are writing their own speech codes, hoping to limit discussion of the ideasthey disfavor. When I was starting my career, my conservative colleagues and I rolled our eyes atthe right-wing book purges of old, when angry parents tried to yank “dangerous” books offschool library shelves. Well, now the purges are back, as parents are squaring off in schooldistricts across the nation, arguing over the words children should be allowed to read.
Years ago, I laughed at claims that Christian conservatives were dominionists in disguise, thatwe didn’t just want religious freedom, we wanted religious authority. Yet now, such claims arehardly laughable. Arguments for a “Christian nationalism” are increasingly prominent, withfactions ranging from Catholic integralists to reformed Protestants to prophetic Pentecostals allseeking a new American social compact, one that explicitly puts Christians in charge.
The motivating force behind this transformation is a powerful sense of threat — the idea that theleft is “coming after” you and your family. This mind-set sees the Christian use of power asinherently protective, and the desire to censor as an attempt to save children from dangerousideas. The threat to the goodness of the church and the virtue of its members, in other words,comes primarily from outside its walls, from a culture and a world that is seen as worse invirtually every way.
But there’s a contrary view, one that emanates from the idea of original sin, which Chestertonargued was “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” The doctrine oforiginal sin rejects the idea that we are intrinsically good and are corrupted only by the outsideworld. Instead, we enter life with our own profound and inherent flaws. We are all, in a word,fallen. To quote Jesus in the book of Mark, “There is nothing outside a person that by going intohim can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” All manner ofsin and evil comes “from within, out of the heart of man.”
Under this understanding of Scripture, we are all our own greatest enemy. We do not, either asindividuals or as a religious movement, possess an inherent virtue that should entitle any of us torule. We shun the will to power because we rightly fear our own sin, and we protect the liberty ofothers because we do not possess all wisdom and we need to hear their ideas.
One of the best recent books about the American founding is “We the Fallen People: TheFounders and American Democracy” by the Wheaton College professor Robert TracyMcKenzie. In it, he details at length the founders’ own reservations about human nature. AsJames Madison famously wrote in Federalist No. 51: “If men were angels, no government wouldbe necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on governmentwould be necessary.”
This proper skepticism about human virtue pervades the Constitution. At every turn, the powerof government is hemmed in. Each branch checks the other. The people check the government,and the government checks the people. The Bill of Rights attempts to safeguard our mostfundamental human rights from government overreach or the tyranny of the mob. No faction canbe trusted with unchecked authority.
But, as Professor McKenzie argues, this understanding faced an early and serious challenge in apolitical movement that we’d recognize today — Jacksonian populism, the idea that “the people”were, in fact, righteous enough to rule. The very concept was, and is, destructive to its core. The
sense of virtue creates a sense of righteous entitlement. In Christian America, the belief that“we” are good leads to the conviction that the churches will suffer, our nation will suffer and ourfamilies will suffer unless “we” run things. It closes our hearts and minds to contrary voices andopposing ideas.
But one doesn’t have to look to national politics to see that threats can emanate from within thechurch as well as without. One of the most terrifying and poignant parts of the hit Amazon Primedocumentary series “Shiny Happy People” was the story of Josh Duggar, a young man who wasraised in a deeply religious family. He was protected from the corruption of the “outside world”in almost every way that could be devised. He was home-schooled and grew up in a housewithout a cable television and with limited access to media. And yet he was depraved enough tomolest his own sisters.
My wife and I both grew up in a fundamentalist community that tried hard to protect the churchfrom the world. Yet it turned out that my wife needed protection from the church. She’s a victimof child sex abuse. The perpetrator taught vacation Bible school.
This recent legacy of scandal and abuse should be more than enough evidence of the need for humility in any Christian political theology. This is not moral relativism. We still possess coreconvictions. But existential humility acknowledges the limits of our own wisdom and virtue.
Existential humility renders liberty a necessity, not merely to safeguard our own beliefs but alsoto safeguard our access to other ideas and arguments that might help expose our own mistakesand shortcomings.
Who is wrong? I am wrong. We are wrong. Until the church can give that answer, its politicalidealism will meet a tragic and destructive end. The attempt to control others will not preserveour virtue, and it risks inflicting our own failures on the nation we seek to save.

Tuesday, July 11

This week, let's talk about health - physical and spiritual. A.I. is affecting how medicine is practiced and, perhaps, it impacts our spiritual health as well. The main article is my Reflection for this week,Calling Dr. A.I.The supplemental article is what I referenced in that piece - Dr. Daniela Lamas' guest essay in the NY Times.I'm looking forward to talking about health and technology.

​A.I. Will Change Medicine but Not What It Means to Be a Doctor
Daniela J. Lamas, M.D. NY Times 7.6.23

When faced with a particularly tough question on rounds during my intern year, I would runstraight to the bathroom. There, I would flip through the medical reference book I carried in mypocket, find the answer and return to the group, ready to respond. At the time, I believed that myjob was to memorize, to know the most arcane of medical eponyms by heart. Surely an excellentclinician would not need to consult a book or a computer to diagnose a patient. Or so I thoughtthen.
Not even two decades later, we find ourselves at the dawn of what many believe to be a new erain medicine, one in which artificial intelligence promises to write our notes, to communicate withpatients, to offer diagnoses. The potential is dazzling. But as these systems improve and areintegrated into our practice in the coming years, we will face complicated questions: Where doesspecialized expertise live? If the thought process to arrive at a diagnosis can be done by acomputer “co-pilot,” how does that change the practice of medicine, for doctors and for patients?
Though medicine is a field where breakthrough innovation saves lives, doctors are — ironically— relatively slow to adopt new technology. We still use the fax machine to send and receiveinformation from other hospitals. When the electronic medical record warns me that my patient’scombination of vital signs and lab abnormalities could point to an infection, I find the input to beintrusive rather than helpful. A part of this hesitation is the need for any technology to be testedbefore it can be trusted. But there is also the romanticized notion of the diagnostician whosemind contains more than any textbook.
Still, the idea of a computer diagnostician has long been compelling. Doctors have tried to makemachines that can “think” like a doctor and diagnose patients for decades, like a Dr. House-styleprogram that can take in a set of disparate symptoms and suggest a unifying diagnosis. But earlymodels were time-consuming to employ and ultimately not particularly useful in practice. Theywere limited in their utility until advances in natural language processing made generative A.I.— in which a computer can actually create new content in the style of a human — a reality. Thisis not the same as looking up a set of symptoms on Google; instead, these programs have theability to synthesize data and “think” much like an expert.
To date, we have not integrated generative A.I. into our work in the intensive care unit. But itseems clear that we inevitably will. One of the easiest ways to imagine using A.I. is when itcomes to work that requires pattern recognition, such as reading X-rays. Even the best doctormay be less adept than a machine when it comes to recognizing complex patterns without bias.
There is also a good deal of excitement about the possibility for A.I. programs to write our dailypatient notes for us as a sort of electronic scribe, saving considerable time. As Dr. Eric Topol, acardiologist who has written about the promise of A.I. in medicine, says, this technology couldfoster the relationship between patients and doctors. “We’ve got a path to restore the humanity inmedicine,” he told me.
Beyond saving us time, the intelligence in A.I. — if used well — could make us better at ourjobs. Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, the co-director of A.I. in cardiology at the Mayo Clinic, hasbeen studying the use of A.I. to read electrocardiograms, or ECGs, which are a simple recordingof the heart’s electrical activity. An expert cardiologist can glean all sorts of information from anECG, but a computer can glean more, including an assessment of how well the heart isfunctioning — which could help determine who would benefit from further testing.
Even more remarkably, Dr. Lopez-Jimenez and his team found that when asked to predict agebased on an ECG, the A.I. program would from time to time give an entirely incorrect response.
At first, the researchers thought the machine simply wasn’t great at age prediction based on theECG — until they realized that the machine was offering the “biological” rather thanchronological age, explained Dr. Lopez-Jimenez. Based on the patterns of the ECG alone, theA.I. program knew more about a patient’s aging than a clinician ever could.
And this is just the start. Some studies are using A.I. to try to diagnose a patient’s conditionbased on voice alone. Researchers promote the possibility of A.I. to speed drug discovery. But asan intensive care unit doctor, I find that what is most compelling is the ability of generative A.I.programs to diagnose a patient. Imagine it: a pocket expert on rounds with the ability to plumbthe depth of existing knowledge in seconds.
What proof do we need to use any of this? The bar is higher for diagnostic programs than it is forprograms that write our notes. But the way we typically test advances in medicine — arigorously designed randomized clinical trial that takes years — won’t work here. After all, bythe time the trial were complete, the technology would have changed. Besides, the reality is thatthese technologies are going to find their way into our daily practice whether they are tested ornot.
Dr. Adam Rodman, an internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston and a historian,found that the majority of his medical students are using Chat GPT already, to help them onrounds or even to help predict test questions. Curious about how A.I. would perform on toughmedical cases, Dr. Rodman gave the notoriously challenging New England Journal of Medicineweekly case — and found that the program offered the correct diagnosis in a list of possiblediagnoses just over 60 percent of the time. This performance is most likely better than anyindividual could accomplish.
How those abilities translate to the real world remains to be seen. But even as he prepares toembrace new technology, Dr. Rodman wonders if something will be lost. After all, the trainingof doctors has long followed a clear process — we see patients, we struggle with their care in asupervised environment and we do it over again until we finish our training. But with A.I., thereis the real possibility that doctors in training could lean on these programs to do the hard work ofgenerating a diagnosis, rather than learn to do it themselves. If you have never sorted through themess of seemingly unrelated symptoms to arrive at a potential diagnosis, but instead relied on acomputer, how do you learn the thought processes required for excellence as a doctor?
“In the very near future, we’re looking at a time where the new generation coming up are notgoing to be developing these skills in the same way we did,” Dr. Rodman said. Even when itcomes to A.I. writing our notes for us, Dr. Rodman sees a trade-off. After all, notes are notsimply drudgery; they also represent a time to take stock, to review the data and reflect on whatcomes next for our patients. If we offload that work, we surely gain time, but maybe we losesomething too.
But there is a balance here. Maybe the diagnoses offered by A.I. will become an adjunct to ourown thought processes, not replacing us but allowing us all the tools to become better.
Particularly for those working in settings with limited specialists for consultation, A.I. couldbring everyone up to the same standard. At the same time, patients will be using thesetechnologies, asking questions and coming to us with potential answers. This democratizing ofinformation is already happening and will only increase.
Perhaps being an expert doesn’t mean being a fount of information but synthesizing andcommunicating and using judgment to make hard decisions. A.I. can be part of that process, justone more tool that we use, but it will never replace a hand at the bedside, eye contact,understanding — what it is to be a doctor.
A few weeks ago, I downloaded the Chat GPT app. I’ve asked it all sorts of questions, from themedical to the personal. And when I am next working in the intensive care unit, when faced witha question on rounds, I just might open the app and see what A.I. has to say.

Wednesday, July 5
Combined Discussion Group at 10:00am

Our discussion reading is a fascinating piece about blessings and curses: individual behavior and external societal forces, about being made for joy but choosing despair, and the choice to live with gratitude and trust or live with anxiety and dread (there is no middle ground).
​Here is a sample: When we don’t live in joy and gratitude, when we become stingy and mean, the goodness of God becomes blocked and distorted. From the simple failure to heed joy comes deprivation.

Blessings and Curses
Amy Frykholm, The Christian Century 6.28.23

My friend Joanne, who is 88 and the author of more than 20 novels; a former EMT, firefighter,and college professor, she is a master of English and a student of Hebrew; has been translatingDeuteronomy word for word. She and I meet monthly in a group of writers — a mix of Jews and Episcopalians. I don’t think I had given Deuteronomy any thought since high school when I triedreading the Bible cover to cover. By the time I got to Deuteronomy, I’m sure I was skimmingand looking for the good parts. All of that changed in a glance at Deuteronomy 28: the blessingsand the curses. I fell in love.
The blessings last only 15 verses, but the curses rant for 52. On the surface, the chapter feels like
a tiny carrot attached to a great big stick wielded by a God ready to rain blows on our heads at
any moment. This is in fact how fellow group member Marilyn read it. “This chapter is my
father on steroids,” she said. Every imagined imperfection is punished. All love is conditional.
“This is the God I’ve been trying to escape all of my adult life.”
The whole of Deuteronomy is a set of three songs or speeches of Moses before his death, and theblessings and the curses come at the end of the second song. I began to feel drawn at verse 5.“Blessed be your basket and your kneading bowl.” Why, I wondered, start with the basket andthe kneading bowl? What place does the bread basket have in intertribal hostilities or in acovenant between God and God’s people? I didn’t have an answer right away, but I was drawn tothe image. I felt like I could smell the slight oiliness of the kneading bowl and feel its textures —a combination of rough and smooth. I could imagine the yeasty nature of the rising bread andfeel the roughness of the handmade basket into which baked bread was laid. It was the essence of hearth and home. Humans took the elements of earth and added water and then fire. Thisalchemy was the beginning of the first human culture. So, if your blessings start with bread andthe implements of bread, then you are very close to the essence of your civilization. Every act ofkneading, forming, and baking loaves is a blessing, and one that accumulates over time.
It makes sense to me then that this blessing is, in particular, a blessing for women. Womenprepared these loaves for their families, gave these loaves to their neighbors, spread theseblessings across an entire people. Every aspect of this blessing involves human hands, most oftenfemale ones — not only the bread but also the kneading bowl and the basket themselves. Theseare foundational domestic arts.
“If we are going to survive,” I hear this part of Moses’ song saying, “we are going to needblessings on every aspect of our lives.” Such a blessing draws our attention to the mundane, tothe basic work of survival within the human family. Daily actions and daily choices haveconsequences far beyond their seeming simplicity.
If the family doesn’t thrive, so goes the ancient formula, blame the woman at the hearth. Blameher kneading bowl and her basket. The God who is interested in the details of everyday life canjust as easily be a petty tyrant as a loving creator, who punishes every small infraction and whowould just as readily destroy a people as save one. There is no doubt that humans have veryoften used this image of God to control, abuse, and belittle one another.
But if we take the blame out of it for just an instant and imagine that this blessing was spokenthrough love and for the purpose of love, then we have the same words and images with adifferent inflection. “Our lives matter,” this blessing says, right down to their very details. Thiscovenant that the people were making with God was not a covenant with a distant, foreignpower. This covenant enters into the most fundamental aspects of human existence and therhythms of everyday life. It starts, as does so much of human life, in the kitchen. But as withblessings so with curses; they start at the essence of things. Once the basket and the kneadingbowl are cursed in verse 17, the curses proliferate.
I admit, I fell in love with the curses too, in part because they struck me as funny and tender. “Heshall be the head and you shall be the tail,” reads one. Not all of the curses are funny. Some ofthe curses felt all too familiar after multiple years of global pandemic, in the midst of climatechange. Some of them seemed to find a precise language for what we have experienced: theplagues, the loneliness, the sorrow, the emptiness. Barren fields, the dust, the lack of rain, thestorms and their consequences that seem greater than they used to be.
Throughout this chapter runs a tension between collective responsibility and individualresponsibility — the inner person and their relationship to the outer world. They’ve alreadyexperienced plague, exile, loss, and destruction. It’s not theoretical.
Put into the whole context of the Jewish people, Susan Niditch says, we can understand blessingsand curses theology as comments on and evaluations of society: How does a society treat itswidows and orphans? How prevalent is violence, how much honesty can be anticipated, and isleadership fair or tyrannical? How aligned is our society to the will of God? How do wecelebrate joy and offer gratitude to God?
With this in mind, we can return to the kneading bowl and the basket and wonder if we fail toappreciate the simple abundance of our lives, the most basic relationship to the earth and to otherpeople. We don’t give thanks because we owe God our thanks; it isn’t another box to check. It’sbecause when we live in and through abundance, in alignment with the will of God, the goodnessof God flows through us and out into all creation.
When we don’t live in joy and gratitude, when we become stingy and mean, the goodness of Godbecomes blocked and distorted. From the simple failure to heed joy comes deprivation. Theslavery from which you were delivered, the text says, will return to you along with all that camewith it: the labor, the plagues, the suffering.
But once again, the end of the chapter holds a surprise. You would think that after beingdestroyed by every sickness and every plague, the chapter would end with a landscape ofcollective despair. But it doesn’t. Instead it returns to an intimate place, the internal reality of thehuman being instead of the external one. Inside the mind and heart of the human being,Deuteronomy says, dread replaces joy. We are meant to live in joy. We are meant for joy. Andyet we accept dread. I know morning dread and evening dread. I know it can be caused bysomething as simple as a conversation I don’t want to have or the fact that I’ve indulged in myanxiety all day and night. This anxiety is rooted exactly in the place the text identifies it: lack oftrust in God’s covenant with us, which is a little like saying the failure to delight in theordinariness of days, of bread baskets and kneading bowls.

Tuesday, June 27

There were two articles I was particularly interested in this week - one was how ultra-processed foods trick us into eating them. The other article is how our brains are tricked into thinking everything is getting worse. I went with the latter; but, just know, Nestle is out to get us addicted to food. ... too bad, I am already there.
Do you think things are worse now in America, or the world, than when you were born? If so, you are not alone. But, is that thought - that things are worse now - accurate? Take a read and let me know what you think.

Your Brain Has Tricked You Into Thinking Everything is Worse
Adam Mastroianni, NY Times 6.20.23

Guest essayist, Dr. Mastroianni, is an experimental psychologist and the author of the scienceblog Experimental History.

Perhaps no political promise is more potent or universal than the vow to restore a golden age. From Caesar Augustus to Adolf Hitler, from President Xi Jinping of China and President Marcosof the Philippines to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Joe Biden’s “America IsBack,” leaders have gained power by vowing a return to the good old days.
What these political myths have in common is an understanding that the golden age is definitelynot right now. Maybe we’ve been changing from angels into demons for centuries, and peoplehave only now noticed the horns sprouting on their neighbors’ foreheads.
But I believe there’s a bug — a set of cognitive biases — in people’s brains that causes them toperceive a fall from grace even when it hasn’t happened. I and my colleague Daniel Gilbert atHarvard have found evidence for that bug, which we recently published in the journal Nature. While previous researchers have theorized about why people might believe things have gottenworse, we are the first to investigate this belief all over the world, to test its veracity and toexplain where it comes from.
We first collected 235 surveys with over 574,000 responses total and found that,overwhelmingly, people believe that humans are less kind, honest, ethical and moral today thanthey were in the past. People have believed in this moral decline at least since pollsters startedasking about it in 1949, they believe it in every single country that has ever been surveyed (59and counting), they believe that it’s been happening their whole lives and they believe it’s still
happening today. Respondents of all sorts — young and old, liberal and conservative, white andBlack — consistently agreed: The golden age of human kindness is long gone.
We also found strong evidence that people are wrong about this decline. We assembled everysurvey that asked people about the current state of morality: “Were you treated with respect allday yesterday?” “Within the past 12 months, have you volunteered your time to a charitablecause?”, “How often do you encounter incivility at work?” Across 140 surveys and nearly 12million responses, participants’ answers did not change meaningfully over time. When asked torate the current state of morality in the United States, for example, people gave almost identicalanswers between 2002 and 2020, but they also reported a decline in morality every year.
Other researchers’ data have even shown moral improvement. Social scientists have beenmeasuring cooperation rates between strangers in lab-based economic games for decades, and arecent meta-analysis found — contrary to the authors’ expectations — that cooperation hasincreased 8 percentage points over the last 61 years. When we asked participants to estimate thatchange, they mistakenly thought cooperation rates had decreased by 9 percentage points. Othershave documented the increasing rarity of the most heinous forms of human immorality, like
genocide and child abuse.
Two well-established psychological phenomena could combine to produce this illusion of moraldecline. First, there’s biased exposure: People predominantly encounter and pay attention tonegative information about others — mischief and misdeeds make the news and dominate our
conversations.
Second, there’s biased memory: The negativity of negative information fades faster than thepositivity of positive information. Getting dumped, for instance, hurts in the moment, but as yourationalize, reframe and distance yourself from the memory, the sting fades. The memory ofmeeting your current spouse, on the other hand, probably still makes you smile.
When you put these two cognitive mechanisms together, you can create an illusion of decline.Thanks to biased exposure, things look bad every day. But thanks to biased memory, when youthink back to yesterday, you don’t remember things being so bad. When you’re standing in awasteland but remember a wonderland, the only reasonable conclusion is that things have gottenworse.
That explanation fits well with two more of our surprising findings. First, people exempt theirown social circles from decline; in fact, they think the people they know are nicer than ever. Thismight be because people primarily encounter positive information about people they know,which our model predicts can create an illusion of improvement.
Second, people believe that moral decline began only after they arrived on Earth; they seehumanity as stably virtuous in the decades before their birth. This especially suggests that biasedmemory plays a role in producing the illusion.
If these cognitive biases are working in tandem, our susceptibility to golden age myths makes alot more sense. Our biased attention means we’ll always feel we’re living in dark times, and ourbiased memory means we’ll always think the past was brighter.
Seventy-six percent of Americans believe, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center poll, that“addressing the moral breakdown of the country” should be one of the government’s priorities.The good news is that the breakdown hasn’t happened. The bad news is that people believe ithas.
As long as we believe in this illusion, we are susceptible to the promises of aspiring autocratswho claim they can return us to a golden age that exists in the only place a golden age has everexisted: our imaginations.

Tuesday, June 20

My friend Alex (The Very Rev. Alexander Andujar) and I have a weekly podcast where we discuss the upcoming Gospel lesson. There are going to be a number of miracles coming up in the lectionary and we're wondering how to treat them in today's scientifically minded audience. It makes me wonder, what do you think about miracles?
The article for this week is about that very topic. The author, Debie Thomas, is someone who we have discussed before. She shares her thoughts on miracles; I'd like to hear what you think.

Blessings to you!

Why and How I Believe in Miracles
Debie Thomas, The Christian Century 6.9.23

Debie Thomas is minister of lifelong formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto,California, and author of Into the Mess and Other Jesus Stories.

Do you believe in miracles?
I’ve been asked this question many times since leaving the charismatic evangelical faith traditionof my childhood. I have yet to answer it in a way that feels honest and complete. This is partlybecause the question isn’t a straightforward one; it contains a host of questions within it:Do you believe that Jesus literally walked on water and turned water into wine and cured the sickand raised the dead? Do you believe that miracles happen now? Do you pray for them? Have you ever experienced one?
The charismatic evangelical communities that raised me would have answered each with anemphatic and unswerving yes. In fact, they would have insisted that a Christianity stripped of themiraculous isn’t Christianity at all. I agree. But my “yes” is much quieter these days, more tenderand searching.
This isn’t because I have trouble believing in things I can’t explain or understand. I know thateven my most sophisticated theologies won’t contain or exhaust God’s actions in the world. Infact, part of what drew me toward a more progressive and liturgical (Episcopal) expression offaith was my desire to honor mystery, to relate to God with my whole self and not just myintellect. I want to live in an enchanted world — a world shimmering with God’s presence, one Ican’t possibly flatten with my doubt and cynicism.
I’d rather believe that miracles are always possible — perhaps even imminent — than live in auniverse devoid of such mystical richness. I’d rather believe, in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s words,that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
I respect the challenge of affirming the miraculous in our 21st-century context. I know thatChristians can encounter serious credibility issues when we try to make a case for miracles. AndI know that there’s something frightening about a world we can’t control or quantify, a worldthat’s truly open, organic, and strange rather than closed, unvarying, and mechanistic.
On the other hand, to approach the Creator of our unspeakably vast, wild, and elegant cosmoswith anything other than deep epistemic humility strikes me as foolish. C. S. Lewis puts it thisway in Miracles: “It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipatethe bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, which come upon uswhen we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensationsthere is no religion.”
So my struggle with the Gospels’ cures, exorcisms, angelic visitations, and resurrections isn’twith their plausibility. It’s with their consequences. “The problem with miracles,” writes BarbaraBrown Taylor in Bread of Angels, “is that it is hard to witness them without wanting one of yourown.”
Will Gafney makes the point with greater urgency, suggesting that we can’t talk about God’ssupernatural intervention in our world without remembering those who desperately needed amiracle and didn’t get it. Otherwise we “make mockery of their suffering and death as we try tomake meaning of the miraculous stories that are our scriptural heritage. Because, if it is not goodnews — salvation and liberation — for the least of these then, it’s not good news.”
As much as I love and trust the miracle stories in scripture, I’m afraid of the harm we do whenwe read them glibly. I’m wary of reducing them to something formulaic or predictable — or ofassuming that we’re entitled to them or capable of peddling them. Most of all, I’m wary ofappropriating and idolizing them to create dangerous caricatures of God — God as Santa Claus,as a giant gumball machine in the sky.
There is a way of believing in miracles that wounds the brokenhearted. That promotes a toxicpositivity which leaves no room for holy lament. That encourages passivity and apathy. There isa way of believing in miracles that is fraudulent and cruel.
I think we’re on far more solid ground when we respond to miracles as our biblical ancestors did:with awe, silence, and wonder. With the reverent bewilderment of Mary: “How can this be?”
With the penitent humility of Peter: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” With the honest curiosity of the storm-shocked disciples: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the seaobey him?” With the adoration of Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”
I’m also learning to approach miracles not as ends in themselves but as opportunities to discernthe heart and character of God. What kind of God multiplies loaves and fishes for the poorest ofthe poor? What matters most to a God who stops in his tracks to heal a woman ravaged by ahemorrhage? What kind of joyous, celebratory laughter resides in a God who makes the wineflow at a wedding? What kind of tender heart beats in the chest of a God who raises a dead sonand restores him to his widowed mother?
If I’m called as a Christian to walk in the footsteps of this loving, liberating, healing, resurrectingGod, then how should I live? If Jesus’ miracles are about rupture and resistance, if they aresubversive acts of defiance against the world’s sin, suffering, and brokenness, then what will myresistance look like? How will my belief in such miracles translate into Christlike action?
In the Christian tradition, belief is more about trust than intellectual assent. So yes, I believe inmiracles. Which is to say, I surrender in trust to a God who will stop at nothing to bring aboutour salvation. A God who is intimately close, present, and involved. A God who is in all things,interacting with all things, restoring all things in the name of love.

Tuesday, June 6

The reading from next week is thematic to Sunday's Scripture reading from Genesis 1 - In the beginning... God said, "Let there be light" and there was.
The author of the attached article argues that God is transcendent - not us; different than us; way beyond us - and he chooses to trust this transcendent God.

Trusting God’s Transcendence
Ron Ruthruff, Christian Century 5.29.23

Ron Ruthruff is associate professor of theology at the Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.

The book of Genesis is a wide, sweeping narrative. In it we see the origin of all things, Godcreating the universe. The origin of a people, God calling Abraham. Genesis concludes with thestory of Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt. What man intends for evil God uses for good.
Sunday’s texts reflect the power of the Divine and its purpose for humankind.
[In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void anddarkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.]

The creation story in Genesis explores the meaning of the created order — and introduces thetranscendent nature of God.
Transcendence is a theological term, a 25-cent word that simply means the existence beyondwhat is perceived as normal or human. God is other, and this idea of transcendence is a majortheme in our Genesis text. The Divine is different from us humans. God says, “Let there belight,” and there is light — God’s word is creative action. God has the ability to produce light,life, land, and sea with nothing but word. My words do not make things happen—I tell my kids
to pick up their socks, and nothing happens. I am a limited human being.
This concept of transcendence or otherness is challenging for those of us who grew up in theshadow of the Enlightenment and the corresponding advances in scientific discovery. We arethinkers, shaped by René Descartes and his contemporaries. [I think, therefore I am.]
Thinking, knowing, and certainty were the cornerstones of Western thought that made sense ofthe world. We can know, and knowing reflects our identity.
Transcendence sits in contrast to this kind of knowing.
Enlightenment thought tells us what we know, which is a very good thing, but it says little aboutwhat we do not know. I don’t think we can get to the heart of this Genesis text through definitivedoctrines or proof-filled apologetics; both are too invested in modernity. In the end, theyconstruct a concept of God that, as Karl Barth said, is nothing more than man speaking loudly.
So how do we hear this story today, without so easily submitting to literal interpretations that fitGod into a comprehensible box? The composition of this text predates any of the moderncategories people try to use to understand it as a literal retelling of the creation of the world. Howdo we, in the world that you and I live in, embrace the mystery of this story that God is other, notlike us? How do we read it in a way that builds our faith and helps us avoid the way of thinkingthat seeks certainty and control?
If we are to step into the mystery of transcendence, we need the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer.[God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things Ican, and the wisdom to know the difference]
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote this famous prayer as partof a 1926 sermon; years later it was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. Acceptance and serenity
sit in deep contrast to knowing and certainty. Acceptance and serenity embrace the limitations ofbeing human and rely on the otherness of God.
Transcendence simply means God is other. Can we suspend our need for control long enough totrust in that mystery? Can we believe that God is other than us but also “other” for our sake?
This is the journey of faith beyond certainty. It means believing in a divine power greater thanourselves that, from the very beginning, has created with good intentions. God orchestrates aworld where God holds what humans cannot.
I trust in this mystery that reminds me that I am more than what I think, but I am not God. I can’tcontrol it or contain it, but I choose to trust it.

Tuesday, May 30

I am back from a wonderful week-long vacation that included a 4-day cruise. On day two of the cruise, I started to pull up the NY Times app to catch up on the news. Christi said, "What are you doing? We're on vacation."
Thankfully, we invested our attention to each other, to the beautiful Bahamas, to having someone else make our food and clean up afterwards, and to the on-going ocean vista from our cabin'sdeck.
The article for this week is about attention. In it, the author states that, "If we find a way to focus on what matters, we may be spared the need to admit to the generations that follow: We didn't mean for it all to happen. We just weren't paying attention."
So what's the right balance? Going on a cruise - metaphorically speaking - and not paying attention to the news, or getting so caught up in it that we lose our attention to what really matters. I have some thoughts about this and how attention fits into our spirituality. And, I'd like to hear what you think.

The Great Fracturing of American Attention
Megan Garber, The Atlantic 3.5.22

Last month, as Delta Flight 1580 made its way from Utah to Oregon, Michael Demarreapproached one of the plane’s emergency-exit doors. He tugged at the handle that would releaseits hatch. A nearby flight attendant, realizing what he was doing, stopped him. Fellow passengersspent the rest of the flight watching him to ensure that he remained in his seat. After the planelanded, investigators asked him the obvious question: Why? His goal, he said, had been to makeenough of a scene that people would begin filming him. He’d wanted their screens to publicizehis feelings.
I did it for the attention: As explanations go, it’s an American classic.
The grim irony of Demarre’s gambit is that it paid off. He made headlines. He got the publicityhe wanted. I’m giving him even more now, I know. But I mention him because his exploit servesas a useful corollary. Recent years have seen the rise of a new mini-genre of literature: worksarguing that one of the many emergencies Americans are living through right now is awidespread crisis of attention. The books vary widely in focus and tone, but share, at theirfoundations, an essential line of argument: Attention, that atomic unit of democracy, will shapeour fate.
Demarre’s stunt helps to make these books’ case, not necessarily because of a direct threat itposed, but because it is a bleak reminder that in the attention wars, anyone can be insurgent.Americans tend to talk about attention as a matter of control — as something we give, orwithhold, at will. We pay attention; it is our most obvious and intimate currency.
“My experience is what I agree to attend to,” the pioneering psychologist William James wrotein the late 19th century. His observations about the mind, both detailed and sweeping, laid thegroundwork for the ways Americans talk about attention today: attention as an outgrowth ofinterest and, crucially, of choice. James, obviously, did not have access to the internet. Today’snews moves as a maelstrom, swirling at every moment with information at once trifling andhistoric, petty and grave, cajoling, demanding, funny, horrifying, uplifting, embarrassing,fleeting, loud — so much of it, at so many scales, that the idea of choice in the midst of it alltakes on a certain absurdity. James’s definition, at this point, is true but not enough.
Jenny Odell proposes a recalibration in 2019’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the AttentionEconomy. American culture has moved so far from the Jamesian mode of attention — so farfrom the simple dignity of choice — that our lexicon itself can be misleading. Attention, Odellargues, has become bound up in the same apparatus that remade hobbies into “productiveleisure” and that values people’s time only insofar as it proves economically viable. The essentialproblem is not simply the internet; instead the villain “is the invasive logic of commercial socialmedia and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, anddistraction.”
But there is a stark difference between being open to distraction and being driven to it. Doingnothing, in Odell’s analysis, is not the absence of action; it is an act of reclamation. It is anattempt to make free time free again. The challenge is to wander mindfully.
Tim Wu argues in The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads,attention is ours, yes, but it is theirs too — a commodity fought over by corporations that seekever thicker slices of our psyches. Wu’s targets are Facebook, Google, and the many otherbusinesses that reduce humans to sets of “eyeballs” and treat the mind as an extractive resource.
The digital industrialists engage in what Wu calls, in full dystopian dudgeon, “attentionharvesting” — the reaping of people’s time and care, for profit. Wu published The Attention Merchants in 2016. It has earned in the meantime one of the bestdistinctions a book can hope for: It has grown only more relevant. Wu’s ultimate theme, likeOdell’s, is resistance. Distraction, Wu notes, tends to empower the industrialists and demeaneveryone else. If people are to avoid life lived at their mercy, he writes, “we must firstacknowledge the preciousness of our attention and resolve not to part with it as cheaply or
unthinkingly as we so often have. And then we must act, individually and collectively, to makeour attention our own again, and so reclaim ownership of the very experience of living.”
But attention, in these frameworks, is also political. In the aggregate, attention is a collectivegood. A distracted democracy is an endangered one. The authors make liberal use of thecollective we, and the choice functions not as a glib imposition of commonality on a fracturedworld, but instead as a simple recognition: In a shared polity and a shared planet, our fates arebound together. Considered communally, a sense of common destiny might orient our attentionto questions both ancient and newly urgent: What kind of country do we want? What kind ofpeople do we want to be?
If we find a way to focus on what matters, we may be spared the need to admit, to thegenerations that follow: We didn’t mean for it all to happen. But we weren’t paying attention.

Tuesday, May 16

There has been a running question through several of our discussions: what is the efficacy of prayer? Author CS Lewis took a shot at that very question. Thanks to some (heavy) editing by your pastor, it's in an attached two-page article.
You may be surprised by his conclusion. But, he's a fantastic author so I suppose it's in his writing nature. Most importantly, I'd like to know what you think. What is your experience with prayer? Can we determine its efficacy without destroying its nature? Or, is prayer simply a matter of faith; which is believing in things we cannot see (or prove).

The Efficacy of Prayer
C. S. Lewis, The World's Last Night and Other Essays

Some years ago, I got up one morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit toLondon, which was put off. So, I decided to put the haircut off too. But then there began themost unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying: Get it cut all the same.Go and get it cut. In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was afellow Christian. The moment I opened his shop door he said, “Oh, I was praying you mightcome today.” And in fact, if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him. Itawed me; it awes me still.
But of course, one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber’s prayers andmy visit. It might be telepathy. It might be accident. I have stood by the bedside of a womanwhose thighbone was eaten through with cancer and who had thriving colonies of the disease inmany other bones, as well. It took three people to move her in bed. The doctors predicted a fewmonths of life; the nurses, a few weeks. A good man: laid his hands on her and prayed. A yearlater the patient was walking (uphill, too, through rough woodland) and the man who took thelast X-ray photos was saying, “These bones are as solid as rock. It's miraculous.”
But once again there is no rigorous proof. Medicine, as all true doctors admit, is not an exactscience. We need not invoke the supernatural to explain the falsification of its prophecies. Youneed not, unless you choose, believe in a causal connection between the prayers and therecovery. The question then arises, “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?”
The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happenanyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle hadoccurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that a compulsive empirical proof such aswe have in the sciences can never be attained.
Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity of our experiences. The law of gravitation isestablished by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without exception obey it. Now even ifall the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove whatChristians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, asdistinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Beinglistens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant andsometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine atall. It would prove something much more like magic — a power in certain human beings tocontrol, or compel, the course of nature.
I have seen it suggested that a team of people — the more the better — should agree to pray ashard as they knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients in Hospital A and none ofthose in Hospital B. Then you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures and fewerdeaths. And I suppose you would repeat the experiment at various times and places so as toeliminate the influence of irrelevant factors. The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayercould go on under such conditions. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” says the Kingin Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrotswould serve as well as men for our experiment.
You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery.But you can have no motive for desiring the recovery of all the patients in one hospital and noneof those in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering should be relieved; you are doingit to find out what happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of your prayers are atvariance. In other words, whatever your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not praying.
The experiment demands an impossibility. Empirical proof and disproof are, then, unobtainable.But this conclusion will seem less depressing if we remember that prayer is request and compareit with other specimens of the same thing.
Our assurance—if we reach an assurance—that God always hears and sometimes grants ourprayers, and that apparent grantings are not merely fortuitous, can only come in the same sort ofway. There can be no question of tabulating successes and failures and trying to decide whetherthe successes are too numerous to be accounted for by chance. Those who best know a man bestknow whether, when he did what they asked, he did it because they asked. I think those who bestknow God will best know whether He sent me to the barberʼs shop because the barber prayed.
For up till now we have been tackling the whole question in the wrong way and on the wronglevel. The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from theoutset. “Work”: as if it were magic, or a machine — something that functions automatically.
Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons(ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is asmall part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presenceand vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it, God shows Himself to us. That Heanswers prayers is a corollary — not necessarily the most important one — from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.
Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray,must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself,in which alone all finite causes operate.
It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites,people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane isanswer enough to that.
And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian:“I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. Butthey usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian lifeproceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become moreunmistakable, more emphatic.”
Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best?
Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hopeand probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we werestronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far lesshelp, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.

Tuesday, May 9

For this week, here are two competing articles; they are on the same document. The first one,America's Intimacy Problem, talks about isolation and lonelinessin America and postulatesit is on the rise. The second article,They Know Your Face (Maybe Not Your Name)discusses the importance of how peripheral ties to people - classmates, cashiers, gym members, coworkers, etc - are vital to positive moods especially as we age. Such relationships, post-Covid, are on the rise. Can both tenants be correct?
Here is a bonus article that is interesting but has nothing to do with the discussion topic of peripheral friendship and social isolation and will not be a part of the discussion group:The Religion of King Charles III

America’s Intimacy Problem
Isabel Fattal, The Atlantic 4.28.23

When my colleague Faith Hill recently interviewed Michael Hilgers, a therapist with more than20 years of experience, he painted a worrying picture of intimacy in America: “It’s painful towatch just how disconnected people are,” he said. Even when Hilgers can sense that clients dowant to pursue deep social connections, “there’s a lot of confusion and fear in terms of how toget there,” he noted. One might say that America is in its insecure-attachment era.
Let’s back up a little: Insecure attachment is a term used to describe three of the four basichuman “attachment styles” that researchers have identified. Faith lays out the four styles in herrecent article:
People with a secure style feel that they can depend on others and that others can depend onthem too. Those with a dismissing style—more commonly known as “avoidant”—are overlycommitted to independence and don’t feel that they need much deep emotional connection.
People with a preoccupied (or “anxious”) style badly want intimacy but, fearing rejection, clingor search for validation. And people with fearful (or “disorganized”) attachment crave intimacy,too—but like those with the dismissing style, they distrust people and end up pushing themaway.
Over the past few decades, researchers have noticed a decline in secure attachment and anincrease in the dismissing and fearful styles. These two insecure styles are “associated with lackof trust and self-isolation,” Faith explains. She notes that American distrust in institutions hasalso been on the rise for years — it’s well known that more and more Americans are feelingskeptical of the government, organized religion, the media, corporations, and police. But recentresearch and anecdotal evidence suggest that Americans are growing more wary not only of“hypothetical, nameless Americans,” but of their own colleagues, neighbors, friends, partners,and parents.
The root causes of America’s trust issues are impossible to diagnose with certainty, but theycould well be a reflection of Americans’ worries about societal problems. One psychologist whodid research into Americans’ insecure-attachment trend “rattled off a list of fears that people maybe wrestling with,” Faith writes: “war in Europe, A.I. threatening to transform jobs, constantschool shootings in the news,” as well as financial precarity. As Faith puts it: “When societyfeels scary, that fear can seep into your closest relationships.”
Some researchers argue for other likely suspects, such as smartphone use or the fact that moreAmericans than ever are living alone. The decline in emotional intimacy is also happeningagainst the backdrop of a decline in physical intimacy. Our senior editor Kate Julian exploredthis “sex recession,” particularly among young adults, in her 2018 magazine cover story.
All in all, as Faith writes, “we can’t determine why people are putting up walls, growing furtherand further away from one another. We just know it’s happening.” The good news is that ifhumans have the capacity to lose trust in one another, they can also work to build it back up.
“The experts I spoke with were surprisingly hopeful,” Faith concludes: Hilgers [the therapist] knows firsthand that it’s possible for people with attachment issues tochange—he’s helped many of them do it. Our culture puts a lot of value on trusting your gut, hetold me, but that’s not always the right move if your intuition tells you that it’s a mistake to letpeople in. So he gently guides them to override that instinct; when people make connections and
nothing bad happens, their gut feeling slowly starts to change.
As Faith argued in an earlier article, attachment styles are not destiny, despite what the internetmight lead you to believe. “Your attachment style is not so much a fixed category you fall into,like an astrology sign, but rather a tendency that can vary among different relationships and, inturn, is continuously shaped by those relationships,” she wrote. “Perhaps most important, youcan take steps to change it”—and connect with others better as a result.

They Know Your Face, Maybe Not Your Name
Paula Span, NY Times 4.22.23
Victoria Tirondola and Lam Gong first struck up a conversation last spring at the dog run inBrookdale Park in Bloomfield, N.J., when they realized that each owned a dog named Abby. They chatted about dogs at first. Then they learned that they both cooked, so “we talked aboutfood and restaurants.”
Psychologists and sociologists call these sorts of connections “weak ties” or “peripheral ties,” incontrast to close ties to family members and intimate friends. Some researchers investigatingweak ties include in that category classmates, co-workers, neighbors and fellow religiouscongregants. Others look into interactions with near-strangers at coffee shops or on transit routes.
People who cross paths at the dog run, for instance, may recognize other regulars withoutknowing their names (though they probably know their dogs’ names) or anything much aboutthem. Nevertheless, impromptu chats about pets or the weather often arise, and they’reimportant.
Such seemingly trivial interactions have been shown to boost people’s positive moods andreduce their odds of depressed moods. “Weak ties matter, not just for our moods but our health,”said Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in England who hasresearched their impact. “If I asked who you confided in, you wouldn’t mention them,” she said.Yet the resulting sense of belonging that weak ties confer is “essential to thriving, feelingconnected to other people” — even among introverts, which is how Dr. Sandstrom definesherself.
In her early studies, hand-held clickers were distributed to groups of undergraduate students andpeople over 25 to track how many classmates or others they interacted with, however minimally,over several days. Those who interacted with more weak ties reported greater happiness, and agreater sense of well-being and belonging, than those with fewer interactions.
The researchers found “within-person differences,” too, showing that the effects were not a resultof personalities. The same individuals reported being happier on days they had more interactions. One study, published in 2020, followed an older sample of more than 800 adults in metropolitanDetroit over 23 years. The researchers asked subjects (average age at the start: 62) to draw threeconcentric circles, with “you” in the center, and to arrange people in their lives by degree ofcloseness. Those in the innermost circle of close ties were almost always family, said ToniAntonucci, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and senior author of the study. Theweak ties in the outermost circle included friends, co-workers and neighbors.
Over time, the number of weak ties more strongly predicted well-being than the number of closeties. Weak ties “provide you with a low-demand opportunity for interaction,” Dr. Antonucci said.“It’s cognitively stimulating. It’s engaging.” The Covid pandemic, striking when social scientistswere already raising alarms about the health risks of loneliness and isolation for older adults,suspended many of these everyday exchanges.
Seniors often kept in touch with their families, one way or another, but where were the waiterswho knew their breakfast orders, the bank tellers, crossing guards and dog walkers? “I hope itmade people realize how much weak ties matter,” Dr. Sandstrom said. Though they can’t replaceclose ones, “we missed the novelty and the spontaneity,” she said. At older ages, when socialnetworks tend to shrink, people may have to work at expanding them. “Make the effort,” Dr.Antonucci advised. “You can’t create new children at 70, but you can create new weak ties.”
Weak ties, including those developed online, don’t necessarily turn into close ones and don’thave to. Close relationships, after all, can involve conflicts, demands for reciprocity and othercomplications. But sometimes, weak ties do evolve.
The Brookdale Park dog owners, for instance, have become real friends. They go out to dinnertogether and see movies and comedy shows. In bad weather, they walk in a local mall. A bithesitant at first to exchange phone numbers, “we took a giant step,” Ms. Geanoules said, pausingto pat and coo at one of the Abbys. “You can change a lifetime by talking to someone for 10minutes."

Tuesday, May 2

The topic of AI has come up the past couple of weeks. There's really nothing we can do to change AI except for how we respond to it. This week's article, written by NYU business professor, Suzy Welch, compares the grief she feels with technology with the grief she feels about the death of her husband (Jack Welsh). You may find her parallels interesting as well as her response to AI.

How to Deal with AI Grief
Suzy Welch, WSJ 4.26.23

Ms. Welch is a professor of management practice at NYU’s Stern School of Business and asenior adviser at the Brunswick Group.

Isn’t it fun to go out with friends to a buzzy bar in the coolest part of town, order some drinksand pizza, and end up talking about how artificial intelligence is going to make everything fasterand easier but also destroy all that we hold dear? Yes, I love doing that too. I did it the othernight. Good times.
A new era is upon us. The quiet mourning for the death of a world we were barely holding on toby our fingernails anyway.
I’m not talking about AI only with other people my age who only recently figured out how toshare documents on Zoom and have made peace with the prospect of never talking to theirchildren with a phone against their ear again. The angst is generational. Many of my Gen Zstudents at New York University’s Stern School of Business tell me they are in an angsty love-hate relationship with AI. It does their homework but leaves them wondering if their expensivelyeducated brains are special after all. It plans their trips to Europe after graduation, but it also iscreating an economy that makes their future employers so nervous that job start dates are beingdelayed. Their professors—myself included—encourage them to be excited about theopportunities AI will bring someday. Except that the time between now and “someday” feels likea yawning chasm of chaos and uncertainty. It reminds them, they confess, of the pandemic allover again. Even if you generally find yourself annoyed with the Zoomers, you have to admitthey are on to something here.
Because my business-school class is about helping students plan their life journeys, I have foundmyself in an unlikely corner lately, offering advice on how to process “AI grief,” for lack of abetter term. I’ve tried it out on my own boomer friends and colleagues—as I did at that buzzybar. On these occasions, too, the conversation brought a bit of relief. If you’re grappling withyour own small or large dose of “farewell to all that,” some thoughts:
One of the hardest things we ever learn in life is that forever is a long time. With AI, that lessonis upon us. After my husband, Jack, died, another widow I knew called to express hercondolences. Six months had passed, and my grief was still very raw. I asked her when it wouldget easier. She laughed, sadly: “You think the first year is bad? The second year is when yourealize how long forever is.”
So much in our life passes, but we can make sense of it, or even replace it with something better.We lose a job; we get another. We lose our hair and find it never really mattered. But whensomething, or someone, is gone permanently, the grief is dizzying on another level. It feels toobig, unprocessable.
That, I say, is the weird feeling AI is stirring in your chest. There is no antidote. What savesyou—and will eventually tamp down your anxiety—is that knowing that forever stealing thingsfrom us without end makes us better at living and loving in the present. That’s a hard-won gift,but a gift nonetheless.
The second piece of advice I offer is more context than advice. I remind the mourners thatevolutionary psychologists have been telling us for years that we don’t live in the world ourbrains were designed for. We’ve adapted, but research, originally presented by OxfordUniversity’s Robin Dunbar suggests that people function optimally in communities of around 60to 100 — roughly the size, not surprisingly, of the first tribes on the African plains. That’s about
all the input and output we can take, in terms of talking, listening, gossiping, nurturing,managing, predicting and leading. Think for a moment about the number of people in your lifewho pour images, ideas, requests, demands, feelings and noise into your head daily. It’s not 60;it’s probably closer to a multiple of 100.
Where does this context leave us? Maybe simply with a sense of relief that our AI discomfort is,well, human. Technology will change the world in ways that take us even further away from ourbrain’s design. No wonder it feels so overwhelming — and maybe it should prompt us to findsmall communities that offer the “natural” peace the world doesn’t. A church, a neighborhood, aclub, a volunteer organization. They aren’t the cure for what ails us but a comfort and treatment.
My ersatz grief counseling ends with a small admonishment, which someone had the audacity touse on me when, two years after my husband died, I said no to yet another invitation to joinfriends at an event. “The problem with a pity party,” she said, “is that no one comes but you.” Ican assure you my reaction to this comment wasn’t, “Wow, you’re so right, I feel better already.”
But as the weeks went on and I found my persistent sadness isolating me more than ever, Irealized if I wanted to move beyond mourning, I had to will it.
AI grief is like that. You might always carry your angst in your heart, but you also have to decideto embrace the future.
Forever is indeed a long time, and we are all living in a world that demands more of our brainsthan they can reasonably take. But don’t become the person who lets AI ruin a good night outwith friends. To mourn is human — and to make sense of our mourning and move on is morehuman still.

Tuesday, April 25

This week, we're going to talk about aWSJ and NY Times article that shows money is polling up but patriotism and religion are polling down.
At one discussion group, I mentioned an article about AI and policing that arrested the wrong man. There was a WSJ article about 25 questions for AI. Both article links can be found here:

NYT Article
WSJ Article

Money Is Up. Patriotism and Religion Are Down.
Peter Coy, NY Times 3.29.23

“I just want a nice job with a nice amount of money and a nice car and a nice house andstuff like that.” — Nate, 14 years old, in a focus group conducted by The New York Times
Nate, you speak for America. This week, The Wall Street Journal published a survey showingsteep declines since 1998 in the shares of Americans who said patriotism and religion were veryimportant to them. There were also big declines in the value placed on having children and beinginvolved in the community. A nice amount of money, though, is something people can getbehind. “The only priority The Journal tested that has grown in importance in the past quarter-century is money, which was cited as very important by 43 percent in the new survey, up from31 percent in 1998,” The Journal reported.
Equal shares of Democrats and Republicans — 45 percent each — said money was a veryimportant value to them. (I wouldn’t call money a “value,” but that’s the language used in thesurvey, which was conducted for The Journal by NORC at the University of Chicago, a researchorganization.)
The declines in traditional values are startling.
In 1998, 70 percent of Americans said patriotism was very important to them.
In 2023, 38 percent said so.
In 1998, 62 percent said religion was very important to them.
In 2023, 39 percent said so.
Aaron Zitner, who wrote The Journal’s article about the survey findings, was kind enough toshare with me some historical data that didn’t appear in the story. While the declines in theimportance of religion, patriotism and having children were biggest among Democrats, they werealso conspicuous among Republicans. For example, the share of Republicans who said patriotismwas a very important value fell to 59 percent in 2023 from 80 percent in 1998. (For Democratsthe share fell to 23 percent from 63 percent.)
I’m struggling with what to make of this survey. One easy take — which I predict will be heardin houses of worship this coming weekend — is that Americans need to return to traditionalvalues and forsake the glorification of mammon.
But berating people for thinking wrong is itself wrong thinking, not to mention unproductive.Plus, it’s hard to see what exactly is wrong with 14-year-old Nate’s vision for his future: nicejob, nice amount of money, everything nice.
What’s more productive is to figure out why The Wall Street Journal/NORC survey shows suchdramatic changes in values. One factor may be a change in survey methodology, from phone tomostly online polling. People are more willing to express socially undesirable thoughts onlinethan when speaking to another person, as the pollster Patrick Ruffini noted this week (and as myOpinion colleague Ross Douthat also observed). The Wall Street Journal’s article said thatpolling differences “might account for a small portion of the reported decline in importance ofthe American values tested.”
But other polls show similar trends, even if not as extreme. Gallup has found decliningreligiosity, a record low in the share of people who are extremely proud to be Americans, a tail-off in volunteering and an increase in the share of people who say pay is “very important” in anew job (to 64 percent, up from 41 percent in 2015). A January survey by the Pew ResearchCenter found that strengthening the economy — a money issue — was the top priority for voters,far ahead of dealing with climate change or strengthening the military.
Let’s take the questions one at a time: The decline in religiosity is a global phenomenon. TheUnited States is more religious than most other wealthy, industrialized countries, but Americansare also drifting away from religion, especially organized religion. The declining importanceplaced on having children may also be global, judging from falling birthrates. Americans are justgoing with the flow.
Patriotism and community involvement have both declined, and they seem closely related sincethey’re both about participation in something bigger than oneself. Clearly, though, Americansperceive them differently. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to place importanceon patriotism, while Democrats are substantially more likely than Republicans to placeimportance on community involvement.
Now for money, which I write a lot about in this newsletter. Horwitz said that the survey’sresults shouldn’t be taken as evidence that Americans are greedy or care only about money. Sixtypercent of the respondents said their cost of living was rising, and it was creating strains.“Economic precarity is driving this,” she said. “People aren’t trying to get rich. They’re justtrying to get by.”
The simultaneous descent of religion and ascent of money as values in the Journal survey couldleave the impression that religion and capitalism have nothing to do with each another. In fact,religion came before capitalism and has shaped our thinking about it, Benjamin Friedman, aHarvard economist, wrote in a 2021 book, “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.”
The Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who wrote “Deaths of Despair and theFuture of Capitalism,” say there’s a rift between the third of the adult population who have abachelor’s degree or more and the two-thirds who don’t and are faring worse. “Their lives arecoming apart,” Deaton told me on Tuesday. The rift appears in some but not all of the questionsin the Journal survey, according to data Zitner gave me. People with and without bachelor’sdegrees have roughly similar views on patriotism, having children and community involvement.
At the same time, people without bachelor’s degrees are seven percentage points more likely tocall religion a very important value and eight percentage points more likely to say the same aboutmoney.

Quote of the Day
“Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if thetransmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should besavages again.” — Will and Ariel Durant, “The Lessons of History” (1968)

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

I was asked (or tasked) with finding an article that answers this question: Where is God? I currently have 11 tabs open on my browser with articles from the WSJ, The Atlantic, NY Times and the Christian Century answering that question.
Some answers are as follows: God is found in philanthropism, in medical science, in the Eucharist, in Peace, in families, in the heart (and not the mind), in Church, at the gym, in one's own positive mental attitude.
But for you, I thought we should go a little deeper.
The primary article is a one-page piece that quotes letters to God from children. (Dear God, Are you real? Some people don’t believe it. If you are real, you’d better do something quick.)The second article, on pages two and three, discusses a God who hides, intentionally, for God's own reasons and purposes.
I look forward to talking to you about this.

God with Us: Children’s Letters to God
John Buchanan, Christian Century 12.15.09
My favorite Christmas book, which I pull from the shelf every Advent, is Children’s Letters toGod, compiled by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall. A few of my favorites include:
Dear God, Are you invisible or is that just a trick — Lucy
Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. — Joyce
Dear God, Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other if they had their own room. It workswith my brother. — Larry

I discovered Children’s Letters when I heard a superb Advent sermon preached by the lateWalter Bouman, professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. Walt, a big bear ofa man with a wonderful wit, introduced his sermon on Isaiah 64:1, “O that you would tear openthe heavens and come down,” by quoting from the original Children’s Letters:
Dear God, Are you real? Some people don’t believe it. If you are, you’d better do somethingquick. — Love, Harriet Anne

It’s the oldest, most authentic prayer in human history and as current as the latest neo-atheist bestseller. Are you real? Where are you? Why is this happening to me? Please do something.
Isaiah’s version of the prayer comes from the time of exile when the people of God werewrenched from their homes and lived under house arrest in Babylon, separated from beautifulJerusalem and the Temple, the heart of their faith and national pride. We remember them waitingfor God to come every Advent when we sing, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captiveIsrael.”
The actual moment when the prophet prays “if you are real, you’d better do something quick” iswhen the people do return to Jerusalem and find it devastated, destroyed, the Temple leveled.
That is the situation that prompts the desperate human prayer. Human suffering, and God’s rolein it, or God’s absence, is one of the enduring mysteries with which people of faith havestruggled. Elie Wiesel’s question “Where is God now?”—uttered while watching a young boybeing executed by the Nazis—is asked by every human being who has ever suffered deeply.
After the war, François Mauriac interviewed Wiesel and wrote an introduction to Wiesel’sstunning memoir, Night, about his experience in a concentration camp. Mauriac said: “And I,who believe that God is love, what answer could I give my young questioner . . . Did I speak ofthat other Israeli, his brother, the Crucified, whose cross has conquered the world? Did I affirmthat the stumbling block to his faith was the cornerstone of mine and the conformity between thecross and human suffering was in my eyes the key to that improbable mystery?”
That most human question, “Where is God?” prompts the answer of faith: God is there, as peoplereturn to their devastated city, as suffering happens, as innocents die, as disease claims itsvictims. God comes, God is there, in the midst of it all. And that is what lies beneath all theblessed hoopla of Christmas: an idea so big we simply don’t have words adequate to express itand so, gratefully, we turn to art, poetry, music, the letters of children . . .
“Are you real? If so,you’d better do something quick.” And ancient words, more precious every year: “The Wordbecame flesh and dwelt among us.”

Divine Absence and the Light Inaccessible
Fleming Rutledge Christian Century 8.27.18
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Truly thou art a God who hidest thyself ” (Isa. 45:15). ThroughoutChristian history, the question has always been asked: “When terrible things happen, where isGod?” This question becomes more urgent and more agonizing when something happens tochildren; like with the news of the massacre at the Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school,there wasn’t, or shouldn’t have been, a Christian believer in this country who didn’t ask, “Wherewas God? Why does God permit these atrocities?”
This is the question that Christian faith must ask. It’s a very shallow faith if it does not ask.Many people have been conditioned not to ask these kinds of questions. Some worry that askingsuch a question is like opening a door to not believing in God at all. But the people of the Bibledo ask, directly and bluntly. The wonderful little book of the prophet Habakkuk asks it this way:“Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear? Why are you silent when thewicked man swallows up the one more righteous than he?” (Hab. 1:2, 13).
Habakkuk’s questions are part of every believer’s struggle for faith. I suspect that many seasonedchurchgoers have had occasion to ask why God so often seems to be absent. Anyone who has not asked this question hasn’t been fully tested yet.
The hymn by Walter Chalmers Smith says:
Immortal, invisible God only wise
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most gracious, most glorious, the ancient of days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

God dwells in inaccessible light—light that we can’t directly look at. It’s uncreated light thatemanates from God’s very being. This light was already there before God created the light thatwe see — “In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.” This also is a basic biblical idea. God isn’t aproduct of human imagination, a human wish raised to the nth power, or a projection of humanhopes and fears. God is outside and beyond our ideas of God, so we can’t see God from a humanpoint of view at all. Put another way: God is invisible not only to our eyes; God is also invisibleto our imaginations. But how then do we know who God is? How do we even know if there is aGod?
“Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself.” The name for this idea in Latin is Deus absconditus,the hidden God. But that doesn’t quite get at what Isaiah is saying, because God is not justhidden on general principles. If God is hidden, it is because he hides himself. He means to behidden. It is God’s nature to be out of the reach of our senses. There is a distance between Godand ourselves that cannot be bridged from our side.
There are two different ways of asking “Where is God? Why does God hide himself?”
One way is scornful and hostile like the abuse and mockery hurled at Jesus on the cross: “Hetrusted in God to deliver him, so let God deliver him!” The people who yelled that insult thoughtthey knew who God was and what God would and would not do (Matt. 27:43; also Ps. 22:8).
But the other way of asking comes from deep faith. It comes from having at least a partialknowledge of God and of the darkness that opposes God. Anyone who has received even a tinyglimpse of the majesty, holiness, and righteousness of God will have an increased sense of thedarkness, disorder, and malevolence that’s loose in the world. These forces would swallow us uphad not God set in motion his great plan to reclaim his creation.
It was widely noted, and noted with skepticism and even disdain by some, that every one of thefunerals for the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School was held in a house of worship. Thisdoes not answer the question of why God did not stop the shooter when he opened fire at theschool. We do not know why God appeared to be absent. What we do know is that God was present in this way: he was, and is still, present in the coming together of those who grieve withthe families, to bring small lights into the blackness of their grief. They were not alone.
Something or Someone drew the bereaved families deeper into the midst of the communities thatcontinue to trust God even when he has hidden himself. Incomprehensible as it may seem, God isalive in the faith of his people wherever they are and in whatever condition.
The fact that God hides himself in the midst of revealing himself is paradoxically a testimony tohis reality. Presence-in-absence is the theme of his self-disclosure. God isn’t hidden because weare too stupid to find him, or too lazy, or not “spiritual” enough. He hides himself for his ownreasons, and he reveals himself for his own reasons. If that were not so, God would not be God;God would be nothing more than a projection of our own religious ideas and wishes.
The Lord hides himself from us because he is God, and God reveals himself to us because God islove (1 John 4:8). Does that make sense? Probably not—but sometimes Christians must becontent with theological paradox. To know God in his Son Jesus Christ is to know that he isunconditionally love. In the cross and resurrection of his Son, God has given us everything thatwe need to live with alongside the terrors of his seeming absence.
Many churches do not use the phrase “he descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed, but formany who have pondered its meaning, it is a central affirmation. In his death on the cross, Jesusdescended into the hell of the absence of God. That’s what the cry of dereliction on the crossmeans. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He experienced the absence of God hisFather as no one else ever has, not even in the greatest extremity, because he experienced it forall of us. The Son of God underwent the opposite course: he came out from the light and wentinto the darkness . . . to be himself the light in our darkness.
Toward the end of World War II, during the liberation of Europe, Allied troops found a crudelywritten inscription on the walls of a basem*nt in Koln, Germany, by someone who was hidingfrom the Nazi Gestapo. Here’s what it said:
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when feeling it not. I believe in God even when God is silent.
The silence of God descended upon the cross on Good Friday—and on the morning of the thirdday the sun rose upon the empty tomb. As another writer reminds us: “The secret things belongto the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29).

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

This week we are back to our regular schedule. We will be discussing the article Jesus is the Question. The author, an episcopalian, asks good questions about Jesus and his questionsfor us. Did you know the first thing Jesus says in the John's Gospel is a question? I'd like to know what you think about this and whatever else enters into the conversation.
Lastly, Tom Crawford alerted me to a fascinating (and depressing) article in the WSJ about the burnout rate for medical doctors. It's not the type of article for us to discuss but I think it is well worth a read. Here is the link to the (hopefully free) article:
WSJ Article

Jesus is the Question
Debie Thomas, Christian Century 3.23.23
Debie Thomas is minister of lifelong formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto,California, and author of Into the Mess and Other Jesus Stories.

I grew up in the era of evangelistic T-shirts. I was too shy to wear any myself, but I had friendswho did. “WWJD?” “Cross-trained.” “Made to worship.” “Be still and know.” One of the T-shirtslogans I saw often was “Jesus is the answer.” Kids would sport the slogan in bright, colorfulletters, hoping to strike up conversation with peers who weren’t Christians. Their faith wasearnest, and I respected it. But every time I read the words “Jesus is the answer,” I wanted to ask,“What’s the question?” What question is Jesus the answer to?
Being a little church nerd, I would head to my Bible to figure it out. I needed to find a one-linerthat would make sense of the slogan. Something we might now post on Facebook—pithy andclickable. I never found it. Not because I didn’t look hard, but because the Jesus of the Gospelsdoesn’t offer much in the way of tweetable platitudes. He seems far more interested in askingquestions — hard questions. “Who do you say that I am?” “Why are you so afraid?” “Do youwant to get well?” “You don’t want to leave, too, do you?” “Do you love me?”Strange, for a man who’s supposed to be the answer.
Lately I’ve been asking myself the questions Jesus asked and trying to dwell with them one at atime. Most recently, I’ve been sitting with the first question Jesus asks in John’s Gospel. He’sjust been baptized and publicly identified as the Lamb of God by his cousin John. When two ofJohn’s own disciples decide to follow Jesus instead, Jesus turns, looks them in the eye, and asksa question that would have stopped me in my tracks: “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38).
So much for small talk; Jesus goes straight for the jugular. What longings keep you up at night?What hopes and hungers are you afraid to name, even to yourself? What fills you with joy? Whatbreaks your heart? What are you looking for?
I wonder if the two who hear the question have any idea how to answer it. Maybe they don’t.Maybe no one has ever asked them a question so inviting or vulnerable-making before. Maybethey’ve never considered the possibility that their own deep wants matter to God and profoundlyaffect their spiritual well-being and growth.
Maybe that’s why Jesus asks. Because he knows that if they just take in the question, their liveswill change. Their wanting will shape their finding. Their hungers will trigger transformation.
So, I turn the question on myself. What am I looking for? Do I know?
I live in a culture that tries so hard to answer the question for me. For as long as I can remember,I’ve been taught to want certain things fiercely. Success. Independence. Recognition. Security.So I’ve strived and strived, often feeling like a failure because I haven’t attained all the thingsI’m supposed to want.
All the while, deep beneath the surface, Jesus’ question burns hard and bright. What am Ilooking for? What is causing me to move so frantically through the world, one ambition piled ontop of another, no achievement or accolade ever quite enough to calm my anxious heart? Whatam I looking for when I go to church on Sunday? When I pray? When I engage in ministry?
I know that my foundational calling is to look for God. To want God in my life—more than Iwant anything else. But I also know how easily habit, doubt, disappointment, weariness, or justplain boredom can dull my wanting. I know how fast I can step back and choose somethingsmaller and safer. Close off my heart, stick a smile on my face, and go through the motionsbecause I’m too depleted or jaded to yearn for more.
When Jesus asks his two would-be disciples what they’re looking for, they dodge the question byanswering with a question of their own: “Where are you staying?” As in what does your homelook like? Where do you abide? Most importantly, perhaps, what shape will our lives take if we
decide to hang out with you? Jesus’ response is both simple and profound: “Come and see”(John 1:39).
The only way to know where Jesus abides is to follow him all the way home. We can’t know himin the abstract—he won’t fit on a T-shirt. He’s not the type who remains in stasis—he moves.That means we have to move too.
So he invites us to come and see, to walk the path for a while — as pilgrims, not tourists. If thepath feels murky, it’ll get clearer as we walk it. If we don’t know what we’re looking for, ourpatient sitting with the question will reveal what’s hidden. Our wanting will shape our finding.
As I keep asking myself what I want, I realize that the asking itself is at the heart of discipleship.The point is not to rush headlong toward an answer but to undertake a journey in a spirit of holycuriosity and anticipation. To “come and see” over the full arc of my lifetime, cultivating ahunger for God that grows deeper over time.
It’s a generous question, followed by an even more generous invitation. What are you lookingfor? Come and see. Come and discern what you desire most deeply. Come and cultivate thatdesire in the gracious company of a God who welcomes your questions, who holds your longingsclose, who promises to transform you into who you really are.
Maybe Jesus is the answer because Jesus is the question. He’s the beginning and the end of whatwe’re looking for, but it’s okay with God if we can barely wrap our minds around that. We don’tneed to know at the outset. All we need to do is ask the question, to come and see.

One Discussion Group: Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Following our discussion on trust, this week we are going to discuss trust and God. The article, from the Christian Century, is about the gods in which we put our trust (consumerism, the god of the nightly news, the god of the theater of national and local politics) and how those gods fail and betray us. He compares that where Jesus placed his trust as he was marched to Golgatha to be crucified.

The many gods of my own making
Brian Maas, The Christian Century 3.27.23

Brian Maas is vice president of mission and spiritual care at Immanuel, a senior servicesorganization affiliated with the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
If a god is truly that in which you place your trust, as Luther wrote, then the Passion narrativeoffers a veritable pantheon of gods, repositories of trust for the too fallible and too familiarhumans who populate the Passion and show us far more of ourselves than we may be willing tosee.
Here are gods that claim their trust throughout the Passion: the god of violence in the garden ofGethsemane (and in the nightly news), the god of political power in the trial before Pilate (and inthe theater of national and local politics), the god of rationalization in Pilate’s surrender to thecrowd (and in the countless trade-offs of our daily lives). Time and again, trust is placed in godsthat fail and betray.
From the opening verses to the last, the familiar gods of this drama claim and then fail the trustthat’s placed in them. Meanwhile, in the very actions of these graspings for things in which totrust, there are repeated abandonments of the one in whom such trust could rightly and reliablybe placed instead. Again and again these foolish exchanges reveal our own foibles, and in theprocess this drama draws us from being mere spectators into being participants.
Each year it strikes me how powerfully, pitilessly, and painfully the Passion does this to me,stepping into my life to draw me into participation, into recognition of my own life beingportrayed in the action and inaction of others. This year I am especially aware of how the Passionreveals the many fallible entities in which I trust, the many gods of my own making that Iworship.
The opening scene of Matthew’s Passion begins with a jolting act of treachery as Judasapproaches the chief priests to determine the monetary value of delivering Jesus into their hands.This is not merely a common transaction; it’s an act of worship, a proclamation of trust in thegod Mammon.
And what Judas proposes is much more than a mere betrayal. While betray is the word theNRSV uses, a better translation of the verb paradidomi, as New Testament scholar Rick Carlsonfrequently emphasizes, is “hand over.” That verb appears frequently throughout Matthew’sPassion text, and reading it as “hand over” reveals the significant depth and meaning of each act.
In one sense, betrayal is a matter of stepping back away from, whereas handing over involves awillful act of delivering to. Betrayal seems almost passive and incidental in comparison to thedynamic intentionality of handing over.
Again and again characters of the Passion willfully place their trust in gods of their own makingby handing over the one who alone is worthy of their trust. Those of us in Western culturescannot avoid the recognition of our daily reality in Judas’s action. We would never sell out Jesusfor 30 pieces of silver, yet our commitment to live with integrity as his disciples is sold out againand again in our misplaced trust in the illusory security of wealth, possessions, stuff.
And it’s not only Judas and material wealth. All of the disciples, in their “surely not I?”incredulity, and especially Peter in his “even though I must die with you, I will not deny you”brashness, demonstrate a confidence in self-reliance that shatters and scatters in the shadows ofGethsemane and the courtyard of the high priest. What a fallible (if all-American) god this is, theconviction that we are in control, in charge, can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
I write this in the wake of two simultaneous hospitalizations in our household of three. I havebeen the one spared, the one to try to fix things that are utterly beyond my control. I’ve beenforced to recognize that for all of my decades of preaching faith in God, my own prayers are toooften a version of “thanks for everything, Lord; I’ve got it from here.” The experience of thefailure of that self-trust has been desperate, its pain real. I’ve gained humility in shifting my trustfrom myself to God—and a deeper sense of understanding and compassion for Peter in hisfailure and denial.
As mentioned before, other gods claim their trust throughout the Passion: the god of violence inthe garden of Gethsemane (and in the nightly news), the god of political power in the trial beforePilate (and in the theater of national and local politics), the god of rationalization in Pilate’ssurrender to the crowd (and in the countless trade-offs of our daily lives). Time and again, trust isplaced in gods that fail and betray.
Ultimately, however, the Good News is revealed even in this endless series of disappointingdeities. When Pilate commands the guards to make Jesus’ tomb “as secure as you can,” we knowthat that security is a sham, a god of no worth. No devices, no guards, no efforts, not evenconfidence in the finality of death can keep that human security from failing.
And here is the Good News of the Passion. All our human-based gods will fail; our trust in themwill be disappointed. At the end of the story, only one trust remains: the trust of the one whohanded over himself—literally and sacramentally—for us. His trust is in the one who never fails,whose power endures and embraces even beyond the grave. In this God we trust.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The major theme coming out of the discussion groups this past week was about trust. When there is an erosion of trust, we, as Americans, seem to warm up to the idea (or are less suspicious) of surveillance.
The author this week, Uri Friedman, argues that trust is collapsing in America. His opinion is based on a report by a marketing firm, Edelman. Bear in mind, this article is five years old. It was written before the SVB (and subsequent banks) collapse, the invasion of Ukraine, and January 6th. I'd like to know what you think of Friedman's assertions and, frankly, where we are five years later.
Below is the reading and a supplement graphic - Trust Barometer - that shows a graph of (declining) trust.
We also will talk about those things in which we do put our trust.

Trust Is Collapsing in America
Uri Friedman, The Atlantic 1.21.18

“In God We Trust,” goes the motto of the United States. In God, and apparently little else. Only a third of Americans now trust their government “to do what is right” — a decline of 14percentage points from last year [2017], according to a new report by the communicationsmarketing firm Edelman. 42 percent trust the media, relative to 47 percent a year ago. Trust inbusiness and non-governmental organizations, while somewhat higher than trust in governmentand the media, decreased by 10 and nine percentage points, respectively. Edelman, which for 18years has been asking people around the world about their level of trust in various institutions,has never before recorded such steep drops in trust in the United States.
“This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economicissue or catastrophe like [Japan’s 2011] f*ckushima nuclear disaster,” Richard Edelman, the headof the firm, noted in announcing the findings. “In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happeningat a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs.”
“The root cause of this fall,” he added — just days after polling revealed that Americans’definition of “fake news” depends as much on their politics as the accuracy of the news, and aRepublican senator condemned the American president’s Stalinesque attacks on the press and“evidence-based truth,” and a leading think tank warned that America was suffering from “truthdecay” as a result of political polarization and social media — is a “lack of objective facts andrational discourse.”
It used to be that what Edelman labels the “informed public” — those aged 25 to 64 who have acollege degree, regularly consume news, and are in the top 25 percent of household income fortheir age group — placed far greater trust in institutions than the U.S. public as a whole. Thisyear, however, the gap all but vanished, with trust in government in particular plummeting 30percentage points among the informed public. America is now home to the least-trustinginformed public of the 28 countries that the firm surveyed, right below South Africa. Distrust isgrowing most among younger, high-income Americans.
But whereas trust is falling in the United States and a number of other countries with tumultuouspolitics at the moment, including South Africa, Italy, and Brazil, it’s actually increasingelsewhere, most prominently in China. Eighty-four percent of Chinese respondents said theytrusted government — levels the United States hasn’t seen since the early Johnson administration— and 71 percent said they trusted the media. The world’s two most powerful countries, onedemocratic and the other authoritarian, are moving in opposite directions. In each case, thetrajectory is largely being determined by people’s views of government.
Chinese respondents are probably reflecting on the upward mobility and improving quality oflife that their political leaders have helped deliver, David Bersoff, the lead researcher for theEdelman report, told me: “I’m looking at my life now and it looks a lot better than it did before,and I can look forward and still see things that would get even better.” When I asked RichardEdelman why survey participants tended to trust technology companies much more thangovernment, he reasoned that it was because those companies “have products that perform foryou every day — whether it’s your cell phone or your airline.” Chinese respondents might havebeen making a similar statement about the government’s performance.
“There’s a lot of chaos and uncertainty in the world, and when there is chaos and uncertainty inthe world centralized, authoritative power tends to do better,” Bersoff added. (It’s worth notingthat other countries with high trust levels in the report range politically from democratic India tomore-or-less democratic Indonesia and Singapore to the undemocratic United Arab Emirates.)
Why, though, is trust eroding in the United States in the absence of an economic crisis or otherkind of catastrophe? What’s changed, according to the Edelman report, is that it’s gotten muchharder to discern what is and isn’t true—where the boundaries are between fact, opinion, andmisinformation.
“The lifeblood of democracy is a common understanding of the facts and information that wecan then use as a basis for negotiation and for compromise,” said Bersoff. “When that goesaway, the whole foundation of democracy gets shaken.”
“This is a global, not an American issue,” Edelman told me. “And it’s undermining confidence inall the other institutions because if you don’t have an agreed set of facts, then it’s really hard tojudge whether the prime minister is good or bad, or a company is good or bad.” A recent PewResearch Center poll, in fact, found across dozens of countries that satisfaction with the newsmedia was typically highest in countries where trust in government and positive views of theeconomy were highest, though it didn’t investigate how these factors were related to one another.
America actually falls in the middle of surveyed countries in terms of trust in the media, whichemerges from the Edelman poll as the least-trusted institution globally of the four underconsideration. (In the United States, the firm finds, Donald Trump voters are over two timesmore likely than Hillary Clinton voters to distrust the media.) Nearly 70 percent of respondentsglobally were concerned about “fake news” being used as a weapon and 63 percent said theyweren’t sure how to tell good journalism from rumor or falsehoods. Most respondents agreedthat the media was too focused on attracting large audiences, breaking news, and supporting aparticular political ideology rather than informing the public with accurate reporting. While trustin journalism actually increased a bit in Edelman’s survey this year, trust in search and social-media platforms dipped.
In last year’s survey, the perspective that many respondents expressed was “‘I’m not sure aboutthe future of my job because of robots or globalization. I’m not sure about my communityanymore because there are a lot of new people coming in. I’m not sure about my economicfuture; in fact, it looks fairly dim because I’m downwardly mobile,’” Edelman said. Thesesentiments found expression in the success of populist politicians in the United States and
Europe, who promised a return to past certainties. Now, this year, truth itself seems moreuncertain.
“We’re desperately looking for land,” Edelman observed. “We’re flailing, and people can’t quiteget a sense of reality.” It’s no way to live, let alone sustain a democracy.

Men's Discussion Group (1)

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

What is the right balance between freedom and security? How much surveillanceis good; when does it infringe on personal liberties? An article from the MIT Technology Review tackles this important topic with a look at unmannedaerialvehicles (UAVs) in the City of Chula Vista, near San Diego. The article is too long for our purposes; so, I wrote the followingReflection on it. I'd like to know what you think about where the line is between freedom and security.

His Eye Watches the Nations
The Rev. David J. Marshall, 3.9.23

I was on the Safety Commission of the City of Chula Vista, which is the 15th largest city in California.Sandwiched between the second largest city in California, San Diego, and the largest international bordercrossing in the world, life in Chula Vista can be pretty exciting.
Traffic and parking issues in Chula Vista were taking up too much time on the City Council’s monthlyagenda. They created the Safety Commission to handle speed limits, parking rules, curb painting andother traffic abatement issues. During my commission tenure, we also approved the autonomous drivingprogram which is currently being tested there. It is a program to drive seniors to their variousappointments using autonomous vans.
Also, during my tenure, Chula Vista installed traffic lights in the city that reads real-time traffic patternsand autonomously sets themselves for traffic flow. During the traffic light set-up (which involves camerasthat see and read both cars and pedestrians), we discovered every Chula Vista patrol car has a front andrear facing camera that records every license plate it "sees". In just one shift of one patrol car they couldsee a thousand plates; record where and when they saw it too. It was obviously outside of ourCommission to comment on that program but it surprised us nonetheless.
MIT Technology Review recently wrote an article about Chula Vista’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program – 29 drones that respond to 911 calls. On average, an officer can respond to an incidentanywhere in Chula Vista in four minutes; it only takes the UAV 90 seconds. UAV’s can silently follow a
shoplifting suspect, it can listen and see traffic accidents, fires, and emergencies. In the article, ChulaVista is recognized for having the nation’s longest-running drone program.
Because it is a border town, there are a number of agencies working within Chula Vista – Border Patrol(probably the biggest), FBI, ATF and any number of military branches. If the skies over Chula Vista sound crowded, think about this: San Diego has the largest, single-runway airport in the world, Coronado
North Island (just west of Chula Vista) is one of the largest Naval Aviator bases in the world and hoststhe Navy SEAL training program which uses a lot of rotary wing aircraft. 15 miles north is MCASMiramar – the former Top Gun training facility (which was moved inland). The Army has a rotary wingdivision with its own airport (about three miles west). Chula Vista has a municipal airport. And, thelargest airport on the west coast – LAX, and the second largest airport – Tijuana, can also fly over ChulaVista on approach. Throw a bunch of UAVs up there and it is quite a circus!
Privacy and civil liberty groups are raising the question of what happens when drones are combined withlicense plate readers, networks of fixed cameras, and new real-time command centers that digest and sortthrough video evidence. There used to be an unspoken check and balance on law enforcement power:money. Governmental budgets can’t afford to put a police officer on every corner. With these newtechnologies, I wonder if that check and balance has disappeared.
“God’s eyes keep watch on the nations” is an often-quoted psalm. It brings comfort to know God iswatching over all of us. The entire verse reads as follows: God’s eyes keep watch on the nations, let therebellious not exalt themselves. (Ps 66:7) It is interesting that in our day and time we have eyes in the
skies that can literally watch the rebellious. For me, the civil liberty line is not having UAVs do regularsurveillance but rather to assist a patrol officer. As far as 24-hour surveillance goes, I’d just assume weleave that up to God.

Here is the original article:MIT Technology Review

No Discussion Group March 14th

The Marshall family is taking Spring Break next week from Monday through Friday at Crystal River to swim with the manatees. Although we will not miss a Sunday, there will be no discussion group on March 14 and 15.The following week, we will resume our normal schedule with the Men's Group on the 21st and the Women's Group on the 22nd. On a separate email, I will send you that discussion topic.
For this week, however, I can't let it pass without an article. Here is one from the NY Times about the link between exercise and aging. I ran it by Rick Machemer for his input. The main thing is that one who doesn't exercise shouldn't suddenly start. But, slowly and deliberately, one can exercise on a regular basis as long as there is instruction first and then observation. One of the most important factors is balance which is a combination of core muscle strength and training (or retraining) of the inner ear. Tai Chi and Yoga go a long way in helping with this. If you need a Tai Chi instructor, a member of All Angels - Reuben - teaches it here on Longboat.
Here is the article. I hope you all have a great week!

5 Exercises to Keep an Aging Body Strong and Fit

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Since it is Lent, we are going to read a decidedly theological article that asks this question: Is relating to God a fundamental need?
You can imagine that I'll be asking you that very question as well as other related questions like can we relate to God, to what or to whom can we relate, what about the essence of faith which is believing without seeing (and perhaps relating). Do we have a fundamental need of relating to our parents; or, do our children have the need to relate to us?
We are back to our normal schedule of Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 a.m
.

Is Relating to God a Fundamental Need?
Hannah Jones, Book Review Christian Century 2.22.23

Humans need a “second-personal” relationship with God: this is the main claim of God’sProvision, Humanity’s Need by Christa McKirland.
It reminds me of the evangelical emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Sheargues that unless one relates to God “as a subject, not as a list of facts,” they will experienceharm. But McKirland’s aim is not to convince unbelievers that they need Jesus to avoiddamnation. Rather, she joins a long tradition of Christian thinkers working through just how it isthat humans relate to God. Her inquiry reminds me in some ways of Friedrich Schleiermacher,
who famously described Christian piety as “either the consciousness of being absolutelydependent on God, or, being in relation with God, which is the same thing.”
McKirland’s prolonged engagement with scripture will speak to a biblically engaged Christianaudience. Save a single chapter about the theology of Kathryn Tanner, she develops her positionby way of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. She provides a robust understanding ofdivine dependence through a deeply biblical framework, situating herself squarely as a biblicaltheologian. But the burden of the book is not only to demonstrate that the Bible supports a visionof human life as deeply dependent upon God. She also aims to furnish philosopher GarrettThomson’s work on “fundamental need” by reading it theologically.
She begins by defining fundamental need in conversation with analytic philosophy. Fundamentalneeds are ones that are unavoidably necessary in all contexts and without which one cannotflourish. For example, I need clean water to drink, and there is just no avoiding this need.
Further, this need does not derive from anything else. In order to have clean water, I might alsoneed a means to filter the water—but the filter is an instrumental need rather than a fundamentalneed. Clean water itself is the fundamental need, as I need clean water or I’ll die.
According to McKirland, the same goes for God’s presence:
(1) We have an inescapable interest to flourish.
(2) We fundamentally need a second-personal relation to God to flourish.
(3) When that need is not met, we are therefore harmed.
She does not provide much in the way of constitutive descriptions of harm and flourishing, asidefrom mentioning that flourishing is characterized by love of God and neighbor. I was leftwondering about what harm would look like for those who do not relate second-personally to theChristian God. As this is McKirland’s debut book, I am hoping that she will pursue thisquestion—as well as other unanswered questions regarding interfaith engagement, practical
theology, and ethics—in her future work.
What McKirland does well is provide a sustained engagement with scripture, biblicalscholarship, and other biblical theologians to develop her thesis. Whereas in the Hebrew BibleGod’s personal presence is displayed through motifs such as temple, tabernacle, bread, andwater, in the New Testament Jesus comes to be that presence for the new covenant community.
Yet Jesus depends on the Spirit for communion with the Father, and he offers that communion tothe rest of humanity. This communion is the ultimate telos of human beings, and it is deepenedas humans develop greater relational dependence on God. In other words, the need for God’spresence goes further than does a physical need like water, for having this second-personalrelationship with God is the end towards which humans were created.
McKirland is ultimately developing what she calls a “pneumachristocentric anthropology,” onethat explains how it can be that humans are so vitally related to Christ and to the Spirit. Shemaintains the traditional view of Christ’s two natures—divine and human—while showing thatJesus also depends on God’s presence. The Spirit then allows humans to participate in Jesus’own dependence on (or union with) the Father.
In short, McKirland provides a thick and robust description of what it means for humans to needGod, how scripture witnesses to this fundamental need, and what a deeply Christological andSpirit-attuned picture of theological anthropology looks like. Her extensive turn to scripture toprovide the contours of a needs-based, Christologically grounded anthropology will besatisfying, perhaps even edifying, for many Christian readers.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

We will have one combined discussion group meeting on Wednesday, March 1st, and then go to lunch. For those on-line, we are going to work on how to make our in-person voices more readily heard.
For next week, let's talk about happiness and the emptiness of reaching one's goals. That may sound counter intuitive, but, author Arthur Brooks points to the emptiness that achieving goals can bring. Humans, he asserts, are designed for improvement not accomplishment.
To discuss improvement, not accomplishment, seems like a fitting Lenten discourse.

Why Success Can Feel So Bitter
Arthur Brooks, The Atlantic 2.24.23

A few days after she became the first female skater to land a quadruple jump at the Olympics,15-year-old Kamila Valieva fell in her final program, costing her the individual Olympic gold. She wept as she stepped off the ice. Instead of comforting her, her coach berated her. “Why did you let it go?” she asked the young skater. “Why did you stop fighting?” The skaters who wondidn’t seem much happier. After winning the silver medal, Alexandra Trusova was heardscreaming that she hated the sport. The gold medalist, Anna Shcherbakova, said that “this hasbeen what I’ve been working toward every day,” but also that she felt “emptiness inside.”
This kind of pressure might seem inconceivable to you; after all, you probably aren’t an Olympicathlete. But have you ever anchored your happiness in some way to a far-off goal that you couldattain only at significant personal cost, that you thought would deliver to you the satisfaction youseek or the success you crave? Maybe it’s finishing a degree, publishing a book, or making acertain amount of money. Nothing is wrong with these goals per se, but if you place yourhappiness in their attainment, you are setting yourself up for your own version of these bitterOlympic moments. Even if you achieve your goal, you are very unlikely to achieve the happinessyou’re after. And you just might find yourself less happy than you were before you reached the
mountaintop.
Dreams and goals are important because they give us a metric against which to measureprogress; you don’t care if you’re getting closer to Rome unless you are trying to get to Rome.But as I have written before, progress, not meeting a goal, is what brings true happiness.
Researchers have confirmed this time and again. In their 2011 book, The Progress Principle, mycolleague Teresa Amabile and the psychologist Steven Kramer analyzed the day-to-day well-being of 238 employees at seven companies and found that satisfaction was brought about not bybig, audacious wins, but rather by forward momentum in meaningful work. Other psychologistshave found that in life, not just work, progress consistently beats accomplishment when it comesto well-being. Humans are wired, it seems, for improvement.
Goal attainment can even bring problems. Some researchers have argued that when a goal is atrue end point for progress, the cessation of forward motion can lead to a feeling of emptiness,exactly what Shcherbakova described in Beijing. Or as a friend of mine and fellow author toldme, “I always thought that there would be no better feeling than the day I saw I had a No. 1 NewYork Times best seller. And when it finally happened, I felt nothing.”
Worse than feeling nothing, you might subject yourself to what the self-improvement writerStephanie Rose Zoccatelli calls the “post-achievement hangover,” a feeling of restlessness andmild depression in the days after a major milestone, such as graduating from college or gettingmarried. One plausible explanation for this phenomenon has to do with dopamine, aneuromodulator that gives us a sense of pleasurable anticipation of a reward. Dopamine iselevated before you achieve a goal and depleted afterward. This leads to what you might call“anti-anticipation,” or a sense of emptiness. Some scholars have hypothesized that dopaminedepletion underlies the terrible dysphoria experienced by drug abusers when they abstain.
To pursue one big goal in the hope of attaining happiness is, ironically, to set yourself up forunhappiness. Buddhists see such goals as just another kind of worldly attachment that creates acycle of craving and clinging. This principle is at the heart of Buddhism’s first noble truth, thatlife is suffering. This doesn’t mean that you should abandon all goals, however. You just need tounderstand and pursue them in a different way. I recommend that you subject your goals to a bitof scrutiny. Ask yourself three questions.
1. Are you enjoying the journey?
A little voice in your head always tells you that your very special dream, whether it’s Olympicgold or winning the presidency, will bring you bliss, so a lot of misery in pursuit of it isworthwhile. But that isn’t true, and the more emphasis you put on the end state, the moreemotional trouble you will face. Instead of single-mindedly chasing a goal, focus more onwhether you’re getting anything out of your progress right now. For example, about 20 yearsago, I set a goal to get in better shape. At first, working out was hard, especially the weightlifting. But within about two months, I found that I enjoyed it, and it became something I looked forward to each morning. I soon lost track of my initial goal—I think it was to bench-press myweight times my age—and two decades later I rarely miss a day in the gym, because I love it.
2. Do you like pie?
Here’s an existential riddle: What’s usually first prize in a pie-eating contest? Answer: More pie.So I hope you like pie.
The point of a good goal is to improve your quality of life by changing your day-to-day for thebetter, not to limp across the finish line and stop after a terrible ordeal. Working toward a goal isa lot like that pie-eating contest. The reward for quitting the misuse of alcohol is stoppingdrinking and then continuing to live in a healthy way. The reward for getting your M.B.A. isbeing qualified to hold a job that you really enjoy. Make sure you’re really in it for the long haul.
3. Can you take one step at a time?
Researchers have found that frequent, small achievements tend to start a cycle of success andhappiness much more than infrequent, big ones. Make sure you can break your long-term goalsinto smaller chunks—even into goals for individual days, if possible. You can have a victoryeach day and not be dependent on something that might happen years into the future. Point yourefforts toward where you want to be in a year, but don’t dwell on that destination. Rather, enjoythe daily and weekly milestones that you know are getting you down your road to success.
Maybe your goals don’t pass this test. Maybe training to climb Mount Everest would be ajourney that brings you no joy, or actually working as a lawyer after struggling through lawschool doesn’t appeal to you. If that is the case, you must then ask yourself one more question:Why is this my goal in the first place? Maybe you internalized your parents’ dream for yourfuture, or you’re still holding on to one that you came up with when you were very immature. Ifso, it’s time to let the dream go​.

Tuesday, February 20, 2023

This week, we'll talk about Peter Murphy's article about the scandal of the anti-intellectual mind and why many Christians are opposed to science and captivated by conspiracy theories. During the season of Epiphany, we have been reading from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. In it, Paul significantly downplays "wisdom" and lifts up "foolishness". Paul was not anti-intellectual; he was trying to make a point.
However, we - the Christian Church in America - may have missed his point and have decided to be persuaded by foolishness instead.

The Scandal of the Anti-intellectual Mind
Why are so many Christians opposed to scienceand captivated by conspiracy theories?

Peter W. Marty, Christian Century 2.8.23
Peter W. Marty is editor/publisher of the Century and senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Churchin Davenport, Iowa.
Richard Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book Anti-intellectualism in American Life waspublished 60 years ago this month. In it, the historian suggests that American culture has recastthe role of the intellect as a vice instead of a virtue, diminishing expertise while glorifying theplain sense of the common person. Anti-intellectualism, he writes, is “a resentment … of the lifeof the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly tominimize the value of that life.”
Hofstadter saw political, business, educational, and religious leaders prioritizing practicalsuccess over the life of the mind.
Hofstadter distinguished between intelligence and intellect. He described the former as “anexcellence of mind that is employed within a fairly narrow, immediate, and predictable range.”It’s a quality that animals and humans can both possess.
Intellect, on the other hand, is that “critical, creative, and contemplative side of mind” that “looksfor the meanings of situations as a whole.” It’s a “unique manifestation of human dignity.”
In contemporary life, we easily converge intellect with mere access to unlimited information.Citing facts from the internet can make one sound intelligent. Meanwhile, anti-intellectualismhas metastasized across large swaths of American culture. Many Americans today — includingmany Christians — are decidedly hostile to scientific authority, just as they’re enamored withconspiratorial thinking.
Contempt for experts is on the rise, matched only by a growing willingness to dismiss truth andembrace disinformation. Widespread derision of knowledge is commonplace. Ideologicallydriven book-banning efforts seek to close the minds of our youngest generation.
Hofstadter saw American evangelicalism as a chief culprit in America’s lack of intellectual rigor. Mark Noll pondered similar issues 30 years later in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Nollexplores the history of evangelicalism and why so many adherents fail to sustain a seriousintellectual life.
Mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics are hardly exempt from treating the life of the mindlightly in their own pulpits and pieties. But as Noll points out in the preface of a new edition tothe book, “white evangelicals appear as the group most easily captive to conspiratorial nonsense,in greatest panic about their political opponents, or as most aggressively anti-intellectual.”
Cultivating the life of the mind has been fundamental to Christian communities for centuries. Sowhy is critical thinking in such short supply among believers today? Why, to borrow John F.Kennedy’s words, do we so “enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought”?
“God gave us brains and we are supposed to use them,” former senator John Danforth said,reflecting on the words, “love the Lord your God with all . . . your mind” in Matthew 22:37.
“Doing God’s work requires more than a big beating heart.” Dianoia, the Greek word Matthewuses for “mind,” can be parsed as dia (side-to-side, evaluating, weighing) and noieo (to use themind). Thorough reasoning that’s disciplined, analytical, curious, and hungry for truth isindispensable to loving God.
Someone asked me recently what I think Christianity’s biggest challenge is in the comingdecades. I told her that thinking Christians have to get to work. We need to reclaim Christianityfrom the politicized moorings of a mindless caricature of faith that bears little resemblance to theJesus of the Gospels.
So long as Jesus functions mostly as a hood ornament for many Christians — Russell Moore’simage from his most recent book — we can expect growing disillusionment among those whothought faith meant being transformed by the renewal of our minds, not being conformed to thisworld.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

A friend of the family told me the following as I was embarking on my collegiate experience: "There are two ways to be a college student; the smart way and the other way." He went on to say that the smart way is to try something new, to study, to make friends and always remember to make contacts for future employment.
There is a lot of advice for how to do college; but no one tells us how to age. ... until now.
This week, let's discuss the article3 Steps to Age Exuberantlyfrom the NY Times. If you have a friend who could benefit from this discussion, be sure to invite them along.

3 Steps to Age Exuberantly
Jancee Dunn, NY Times 1.23.23

A new book came across my desk recently, with an irresistible title: “The Swedish Art of AgingExuberantly: Life Wisdom from Someone Who Will (Probably) Die Before You.” I was alreadyfamiliar with the astringent humor of the author, Margareta Magnusson, having read her previousbook, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” — a surprise international best seller and acall to, as she put it, “not leave a mountain of crap behind for our loved ones to clean up after wedie.”
I phoned Magnusson, who was an artist before becoming a published author and is now 86 yearsold, in Stockholm, to get some of her best advice on how to make life worth living, no matteryour age.
Magnusson acknowledged that aging is hard. “You cannot stop the passing of time and how itaffects your body, but you can work to keep a clear and positive mind,” she said. “You can beyoung upstairs in your head even if your joints creak.” Here are her top three tips.
Embrace kärt besvär
This Swedish phrase blends kärt, meaning “dear or cherished,” and besvär, which means “pain.” So, one kärt besvär might be paying your bills — an annoying obligation, but you’re still gratefulthat you have the money to pay. Or, it could be taking care of someone who is sick, which I’vebeen doing this week with my flu-addled daughter. When I’m frazzled by her endless requestsfor streaming service passwords and mugs of tea, delivered via text message, I remind myselfthat I’m glad I’m strong enough to take care of her.
As you get older, it’s easy to be frustrated and complain, Magnusson said. But kärt besvär helpsher to live with joy. “There seems to be no other choice than to see every nuisance as somethingthat I must find a way to cherish,” she said.
What I think Magnusson’s getting at is the idea that it’s OK to lean into your emotions --whatever they might be. Laura Carstensen, a psychologist at the Stanford Center on Longevity,who has studied the emotional changes that occur with age, said, “We find that older people aremore likely to report a kind of mosaic of emotions than younger people do.” While youngerpeople tend to be “all positive or all negative,” she said, older people are more able to experiencejoy “with a tear in the eye,” she added.
Surround yourself with the young
This is Magnussen’s simple definition of happiness: being around young people. Not only dothey supply fresh ideas and perspectives, she said, but hearing about their plans and prospects “isa way to stay in tune with the young person you yourself were at some point.” Spending timewith younger people can also benefit your brain, said Vonetta Dotson, a professor of psychologyand gerontology at Georgia State University and author of “Keep Your Wits About You: TheScience of Brain Maintenance as You Age.” There is research to suggest that as you age,especially if you’re starting to experience some cognitive decline, socializing with youngerpeople who are mentally sharp can provide the type of stimulation that helps boost cognitive functioning, she explained.
Yet this blending of generations often doesn’t happen, Becca Levy, professor of epidemiology atthe Yale School of Public Health and author of “Breaking The Age Code,” said. “Because,unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of age segregation in our culture.” Break that barrier by keepingyour door (and fridge) open for grandchildren, if you have them nearby. Make an 8-minutephone call to a younger relative. Volunteer to read to children at your library, or sign up for anorganization like Big Brothers Big Sisters.
And, to keep young people around you, Magnusson writes, “Just ask them questions. Listen tothem. Give them food. Don’t tell them about your bad knee again.”
Say “yes” whenever possible
One of the misconceptions about older people, according to Regina Koepp, clinical psychologistand founder of the Center for Mental Health and Aging in Burlington, Vt., is that “they’re rigidand they’ll never change,” she said. “That’s not true. Older people are not more rigid thanyounger people. Those are personality traits, not age traits.” Yet even older adults haveinternalized this narrative, Dr. Koepp said, “because they’ve heard it their whole life.”
To age exuberantly, you must actively recognize your “internalized ageism” and fight against it,Dr. Koepp said. Saying “yes” as often as you can, she added, “is in effect saying ‘yes’ to life --being curious and exploratory, being part of community.”
Magnusson told me that the older she gets, the more she can vividly recall the things she has said“yes” to, just when she was on the verge of saying no, and how those experiences have made herlife richer. “I’ve found that having a closed mind ages me more quickly than anything else,” shesaid. Before she refuses something — a dinner, an art show, buying a leather jacket — she asksherself: “Is it that I can’t do it, or I won’t?”
“Give it a try, whatever it is,” she said. “Maybe you’ll go to a party and be the last to leavebecause you’re having such a good time.” I asked Magnusson when she last shut down a party.“A week ago,” she said​.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The WSJ ran a fascinatingpiece about the engineer who tried to stop the space shuttle Challenger launch. He failed to stop it and 73 seconds into the launch, it exploded killing all seven members aboard.
I think we all remember this tragedy and some may even remember where they were when it happened.
What happened to the engineer is called a "moral injury". He never worked as an engineer again. I'd like to spend some time talking about this article, about moral injuries, and our ability to rehabilitate.
Page three of the article is from a V.A. Hospital chaplain's manual on Building Spiritual Strength after a moral injury. It is not required reading but I think you may find their findings to be enlightening and hopeful; and, perhaps you'd like to talk about it.

The Man Who Tried to Stop the Launch
Rachel M. McCleary, WSJ 1.27.23

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was preparing the space shuttle Challengerfor launch on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986. It was an unusually cold morning for CapeCanaveral, Fla. — too cold, warned the engineers of NASA contractor Morton Thiokol, builderof the shuttle’s solid rocket motors. The engineers knew that the rubber O-rings on the rocketcould become brittle in cold weather, causing hot fuel gases to leak and potentially causing anexplosion. They were right. Seventy-three seconds after liftoff, the shuttle with seven astronautson board, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, blew up.
The day before the launch, Thiokol engineers and executives met with NASA officials on ateleconference. Roger Boisjoly, the principal engineer on the Thiokol O-ring task force, andArnold Thompson were the most knowledgeable experts on O-rings in the U.S. The twoengineers argued that an ambient temperature below 53 degrees Fahrenheit could prevent the O-rings from sealing properly. A Thiokol engineer reported the anticipated temperature during thefollowing day’s launch time would be around 26 degrees. Erring on the side of caution, Boisjoly,Thompson and other engineers recommended delaying the launch.
NASA officials pushed back. Lawrence Mulloy, NASA solid-rocket booster manager atMarshall Space Center, was particularly angered by the prospect of postponement, which hadalready been done three times.
Thiokol executives requested a private caucus. Boisjoly and Thompson repeated their argumentfor a no-launch decision—to no avail. In what amounted to a “management” decision, engineerswere excluded from the final vote. Returning to the teleconference, Thiokol executives informed
NASA that the launch was approved.
On Feb. 3, just under a week after the failed launch, President Ronald Reagan announced thePresidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident to investigate the disaster. Also known as the Rogers Commission for its chairman, William Rogers, the commissionconcluded that Thiokol engineers had known for months what Nobel physics laureate RichardFeynman, a commission member, demonstrated by famously dropping an O-ring in a glass ofcold water: The rubber substance hardens in cold temperatures and can’t properly seal.
Testifying before the commission, Boisjoly said: “I felt I really did all I could to stop thelaunch.” Boisjoly had done everything in his power to prevent the disaster. “We were talking tothe people who had the power to stop that launch,” he told NPR’s Howard Berkes in 1987.
The commission, relying on Boisjoly’s memos and reports, expanded its inquiry beyondtechnical malfeasance to include management decision-making. Considered disloyal, Boisjolywas removed from Thiokol’s Challenger failure investigation team. Isolated from his colleagueswho were redesigning the O-ring, his self-esteem suffered and destroyed his confidence as anengineer. Boisjoly, who understood the potential consequences of an unsafe launch, had acted onhis conscience in trying to prevent it. But Thiokol executives didn’t respect him as a valuedprofessional. Six months after the disaster, Boisjoly requested an extended sick leave. He neverworked as an engineer again.
Since the Rogers Commission report, an avalanche of published materials has chronicled thetechnological, management and organizational dimensions of the disaster. Yet little attention hasbeen paid to the psychological suffering of the engineers who rightly opposed the launch. Recent
advances in psychology give us insight into their suffering. Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay hasobserved that moral injury occurs when a person in authority disregards a subordinate’sjudgment on the morally correct course of action, thereby violating the subordinate’s trust andself-esteem. Dr. Shay’s definition applies to the Thiokol engineers who challenged theirexecutives to reconsider the launch. By not succeeding, the engineers paid a high psychological
price.
Two years after the Challenger disaster, Boisjoly found redemption as a lecturer at engineeringschools on ethical decision-making and data analysis. He received the American Association forAdvancement in Science Prize for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility in 1988 for hiscontribution to the engineering profession.
When Boisjoly left Thiokol in 1986, the notion of moral injury was a nascent idea in Dr. Shay’smind. Today, interdisciplinary therapies and treatments are available to veterans, doctors,lawyers, teachers and others who suffer from moral injury. On the anniversary of the Challengerdisaster, let us remember Roger Boisjoly along with the seven astronauts whose lives he tried toprotect.
Ms. McCleary is a lecturer in economics at Harvard and a nonresident senior fellow at theAmerican Enterprise Institute. She is writing a book titled “Conscience Explained.”

Intervention Manual. VA System.
Building Spiritual Strength. Section I: Rationale

Introduction
For the vast majority of people, spirituality is an important part of coping with stressful events.Despite this, there is very little research on how people use spirituality to endure, recover, andeven grow in the wake of these events, making it difficult for psychotherapists and pastoralcounselors to help clients use this powerful tool. Using spirituality in coping is complex. Whilemany people find their faith helpful in recovering, a nearly equal proportion struggle with faithwhen confronted by negative life events, and respond by disengaging from their faith and
religious community.
One important way that stressful life events disrupt emotional, psychological, and personalityprocesses is by shattering assumptions about safety, power and control, self, and the world.Spiritual assumptions from the previous relationship with a Higher Power are likely to bedisrupted; beliefs in a benevolent, omnipotent Higher Power may appear inconsistent with lifeevents, and this often precipitates existential crises. Survivors must redefine their worldperceptions at physical, interpersonal, and spiritual levels. Spiritual guidance to restore adisrupted relationship with a Higher Power may be helpful in recovering from negative lifeevents.
People who use prayer for active, rather than avoidant coping, demonstrate lower levels ofanxiety and symptoms. Prayer that seeks to find a way to accept traumatic experiences isassociated with higher levels of posttraumatic growth.
Religious coping research indicates clinically-useful relationships with mental health outcomes.Religious coping strategies predict church members’ adjustment better than non-religious copingstrategies or other aspects of religious beliefs (such as perceptions of Higher Power, religiousorientation, and orthodoxy). Perceiving a Higher Power as benevolent and just, experiencing aHigher Power as supportive, involvement in religious rituals, and seeking support throughreligion predict positive adjustment. Using religion to facilitate avoidance predicts pooreroutcomes.
Using prayer to avoid dealing with a stressor predicts increased distress, while using prayer toactively seek help from a Higher Power, focus coping efforts, or increase one’s personalacceptance of stressful situations predicts decreased distress. Other aspects of religiousfunctioning (feeling alienated from a Higher Power, experiencing religious conflicts with others,and higher levels of fear and guilt in religious life) predict poorer adjustment.
This suggests that fostering a positive relationship with a Higher Power, perceiving one’s HigherPower as benevolent and supportive, (not punishing and condemning), and promoting activerather than avoidant modes of interacting with a Higher Power, should maximize recovery fromstressful life events, and potentially from traumatic ones as well.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

This week's discussion is about the intersection of public health, constitutional freedoms, and individual choice. ... all in one hour! In particular, two issues (for lack of a better term) have arisen in our national and local life - the unthinkable gun violence we have experienced this year and just this past week and the removal of books from the classrooms of Manatee County Schools. As such, there are two readings for you this week- one short one about Manatee schools and a longer one about guns and America.
To read the full article about guns, click here. The NY Times piece has a lot of graphs and charts that did not make it onto the printed sheet.
Lastly, we also will touch on where faith intersects with public safety and individual rights.

Manatee Teachers Forced to Remove “Unvetted” Books

Staff Report, Bradenton Times 1.25.23
Last Wednesday, the Manatee County School District informed district principals of a newpolicy regarding books in classroom libraries. Teachers were then told that, in response to a newstate law, they were to make such "unvetted" books inaccessible to students, as it could lead to athird-degree felony charge.
House Bill 1467, which went into effect in July, was the impetus for the new policy. Because thelaw dictates that parents must be able to see what instructional materials are in their child'sclassroom, the district says it must publish a list of books available in classroom libraries on thatschool's website, a process that is currently underway, after training as to what is and is not"appropriate" began for "certified media specialists" in January.
A memo sent to schools this month gave guidelines for school and classroom libraries inaccordance with the new statute:
Per the new statutory changes to House Bill 1467 - Section 1006.40 (3) (d), F.S. Allmaterial in school and classroom libraries or included on a reading list must be:

  1. Free of p*rnography and material prohibited under S. 847.012, F.S.
  2. Suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.
  3. Appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used andmade available.

Each elementary school must publish on its website, in a searchable format prescribed bythe department, a list of all materials maintained in the schoollibrary media center orrequired as part of a school or grade-level reading list. Penalty for Violating Section847.012, F.S. Any person violating anyprovision of this section commits a felony of thethird degree. To protect librarians and media specialist, it must be clear that a bookdepicting nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement does not meet the tenets of"Harmful to minors”.
Therefore, each district in the State of Florida must comply with these new statutoryrequirements. We are seeking volunteers to assist with vetting and compiling website listso all classroom books can be used by students.
The law is one of several efforts by politicians to combat a range of "woke" ideologies that theyclaim are being used by teachers to "indoctrinate" and "groom" students.
As teachers became informed of the new policy, social media lit up with laments over having topack up their classroom libraries, with some teachers opting to cover up their bookshelves. Aright-wing group called Community Patriots Manatee is currently recruiting so-called "wokebusters" to vet books available in the district and lobby for the removal of ones they deem to beinappropriate. The group recently claimed "victory" when it successfully lobbied to have atemporary display celebrating LGBT milestones removed from the county's Palmetto librarybranch.

A Smarter Way to Reduce Gun Deaths
Nicholas Kristof, NY Times Jan. 24, 2023

Once again the United States is seared by screams, shots, blood, sirens and politicians’ calls forthoughts and prayers. Two shootings in California since Saturday have claimed at least 18 lives,leaving Americans asking once again: What can be done to break the political stalemate on gunpolicy so that we can save lives?
Harm reduction for guns would start by acknowledging the blunt reality that we’re not going toeliminate guns any more than we have eliminated vehicles or tobacco, not in a country thatalready has more guns than people. We are destined to live in a sea of guns. And just as somekids will always sneak cigarettes or people will inevitably drive drunk, some criminals will getfirearms — but one lesson learned is that if we can’t eliminate a dangerous product, we canreduce the toll by regulating who gets access to it.
That can make a huge difference. Consider that American women age 50 or older commit fewerthan 100 gun homicides in a typical year. In contrast, men 49 or younger typically kill more than500 people each year just with their fists and feet; with guns, they kill more than 7,000 each year. In effect, firearms are safer with middle-aged women than fists are with young men.
We’re not going to restrict guns to women 50 or older, but we can try to keep firearms from people who are under 21 or who have a record of violent misdemeanors, alcohol abuse, domesticviolence or some red flag that they may be a threat to themselves or others.
There is one highly successful example of this harm reduction approach already in place:machine guns. It’s often said that machine guns are banned in the United States, but that’s notexactly right. More than 700,000 of these fully automatic weapons are in the United Statesoutside of the military, entirely legally. Most are owned by federal, state or local agencies, butperhaps several hundred thousand are in private hands. In a typical year, these registered
machine guns are responsible for approximately zero suicides and zero homicides. So let’s beginwith a ray of hope: If we can safely keep 700,000 machine guns in America, we should be ableto manage handguns.
Keeping Guns Away From Risky People
In many facets of life, we’re accustomed to screening people to make sure that they aretrustworthy. For example, how to vote: 1. Have your Social Security number or driver’s license2. Print and complete six-question voter registration form 3. Mail or hand deliver 4. Do this atleast 30 days before Election Day 5. Go to polls 6. Produce a photo ID 7. Vote

How to adopt a dog: 1. Fill out 64-question application 2. If renting, landlord is contacted 3. In-person meeting with entire family 4. Yard fencing and security assessed 5. Sleepover visit withpet 6. Pay $125 adoption fee 7. Adopt the dog

How to buy a gun in Mississippi: 1. Pass a 13-question background check. 2. Buy a gun

Why should it be easier to pick up military-style weapons than to adopt a Chihuahua? To keepineligible people from buying firearms, we need universal background checks. (One study foundthat 22 percent of firearms are obtained without a background check.) But the even biggerproblem is that there is no comprehensive system to remove guns from people who becomeineligible. If someone is convicted of stalking or becomes subject to a domestic violenceprotection order, that person should be prevented from owning or having access to firearms —but that rarely happens in fact. California has some of the better policies in this area, and itsoverall smart gun policies may be one reason — despite the recent shootings — its firearmsmortality rate is 38 percent below the nation’s overall. A pillar of harm reduction involvingmotor vehicles is the requirement of a license to drive a car. So why not a license to buy a gun?

Learning to Live With Guns
Harm reduction will feel frustrating and unsatisfying. It means living with a level of guns, andgun deaths, that is extremely high by global standards. But no far-reaching bans on guns will bepassed in this Congress or probably any time soon. Meanwhile, just since 2020, an additional 57million guns have been sold in the United States. So as a practical matter to save lives, let’s focus
on harm reduction.
That’s how we manage alcohol, which each year kills more than 140,000 Americans (often fromliver disease), three times as many as guns. Prohibition was not sustainable politically orculturally, so instead of banning alcohol, we chose to regulate access to it instead. We licensewho can sell liquor, we tax alcohol, we limit who can buy it to age 21 and up, we regulate labels,and we crack down on those who drink and drive. All this is imperfect, but there’s consensus thatharm reduction works better than prohibition or passivity.
Likewise, we don’t ban cars, but we impose safety requirements and carefully regulate who canuse them. Since 1921, this has reduced the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by about 95percent.
Alcohol, tobacco and cars are obviously different from firearms and don’t have constitutionalprotections — but one of the most important distinctions is that we’ve approached them as publichealth problems to make progress on incrementally. Historically, cars killed more people eachyear than firearms in the United States. But because we’ve worked to reduce vehicle deaths andhaven’t seriously attempted to curb gun violence, firearms now kill more people than cars. Oneadvantage of the harm reduction model is that done right, it avoids stigmatizing people as gunnuts and makes firearms less a part of a culture war.
I’m writing this essay on the Oregon farm where I grew up. As I write this, my 12-gauge shotgunis a few feet away, and my .22 rifle is in the next room. (Both are safely stored.) These are thekinds of firearms that Americans traditionally kept at home, for hunting, plinking or targetpractice, and the risks are manageable. Rifles are known to have been used in 364 homicides in2019, and shotguns in 200 homicides. Both were less common homicide weapons than knivesand other cutting objects (1,476 homicides) or even hands and feet (600 homicides).
In contrast to a traditional hunting weapon, here’s an AR-15-style rifle. The military versions ofthese weapons were designed for troops so that they can efficiently kill many people in a shorttime, and they can be equipped with large magazines that are rapidly swapped out. They fire abullet each time the trigger is depressed. In one respect, the civilian version can be more lethal.
American troops are not normally allowed to fire at the enemy with hollow-point bullets, whichcause horrific injuries, because these might violate the laws of war. But any civilian can walkinto a gun store and buy hollow-point bullets for an AR-15; several mass shootings haveinvolved hollow-point rounds.
Now here’s what in some sense is the most lethal weapon of all: a 9-millimeter handgun. Weshould reassure gun owners that we’re not going to come after their deer rifles or bird guns. Thatmakes it politically easier to build a consensus on steps to keep dangerous people from lethalweapons like 9-millimeter handguns. There’s also evidence that gun owners with a military orpolice background strongly believe in safety training and other requirements for people carryinghandguns; any coalition for gun safety needs to work with such moderate gun owners.
No single approach is all that effective. But gun safety experts think that a politically plausibleharm reduction model could over time reduce gun mortality by perhaps one-third. That would bemore than 15,000 lives saved a year.
So let’s learn lessons, for gun violence is at levels that are unconscionable. Just since I graduatedfrom high school in 1977, more Americans appear to have died from guns (more than 1.5million), including suicides, homicides and accidents, than perished in all the wars in UnitedStates history, going back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.4 million). We can do better, andthis is not hopeless. North Carolina is not a liberal state, but it requires a license to buy ahandgun. If we avoid overheated rhetoric that antagonizes gun owners, some progress ispossible, particularly at the state level.
Gun safety regulation can make a difference. Conservatives often think New York is an exampleof failed gun policy, but New York State has a firearms death rate less than one-quarter that ofgun-friendly states like Alaska, Wyoming, Louisiana and Mississippi. Gun safety works, just notas well as we would like.
Harm reduction isn’t glamorous but is the kind of long slog that reduced auto fatalities andsmoking deaths. If gun policy can only become boring, that may help defuse the culture war overguns that for decades has paralyzed America from adopting effective firearms policies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

From reading about "awe" to "kindness", I suppose there was nowhere else to go but to "disappointment". The reading for next week has to do with the inevitable disappointments in life, how important they are, how to deal with them, and how living a life of faith can help with disappointments.
This has been an especially rich week with discussions and also articles. Here are two that we arenotcovering but that I found interesting. The first is from the Episcopal News Service about what the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is doing about affordable housing - giving 25% of its church property to build it.Get ready for an uplifting readPresiding Bishop leads King Day 'Power of Love' celebration, call for housing justice.The second is our on-going view on what is happening in China. It's a well written opinion piece in the NY Times about the "undeniableclaim" that China's economy is sinking. Here is a free link to the article.Opinion: China Population Decline

Giving Disappointments Its Due
Jonathan Tran, Christian Century 1.18.23
Jonathan Tran teaches theological ethics at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is author ofThe Vietnam War and Theologies of Memory and Foucault and Theology.
I once applied for a job I was told was mine to lose. The closer I got to getting it, the more Idreamed—looking at homes to buy and schools for kids to attend, even planning good-byeparties. I imagined a new life. When I didn’t get the job, I was crushed.
The disappointment went on for years. I found myself reliving it over and over, telling anyonewho would listen. Bitterness set in, and a list of enemies grew — all the people who’d torpedoedmy dream. The disappointment changed the way I related to the life I still had, darkening adream job already in place and overshadowing blessings long ago bestowed. I began to regret mysurroundings and resent a life I now felt stuck in. Disappointment did all this. I could not facethe disappointment as disappointment.
Not all disappointments are so devastating or so dramatic. Sometimes it’s less the dream jobtorpedoed and more the slow boil of a career playing out in disappointing ways. You look aroundand realize the life you’re living isn’t the one you signed up for. Well-laid plans fizzle out.Relationships you banked on careen off course. Opportunities dry up. Life happens.
It’s the relational disappointments that hurt most. Jobs, after all, can be changed—or at least leftbehind at the end of each workday. And while you can complain about how much your jobstinks, you don’t (or shouldn’t) feel such license when talking about people you love. It’s onething to feel disappointed about the way life turned out; it’s another to lay that disappointment atthe feet of any one person.
I think disappointment stems from three inescapable features of human life. We are timeboundcreatures, experiencing the world through time. As such, we constantly project ourselves into thefuture—sometimes forgetting both the present right under our noses and the past not far behind.We can’t help ourselves, leaning into a future sometimes a few steps ahead (the delicious dinnerwe’ve planned) and sometimes quite far-off (a job that’s “ours to lose”).
Time and projection then meet a third reality: finitude. Some imagined futures work out. Weenjoy that delicious dinner or get that dream job. Others do not. Many of our projections meetthe buzz saw of finite existence, the harsh reality that not every imagined future gets its way.Much of this is a mercy. No world could survive fulfilling all our dreams. But that’s hardlyconsolation when life sets us up for disappointment.
We might think, Disappointment’s bad, but it ain’t death. But some philosophers argue that deathhas everything to do with disappointment. After all, what is death’s sting other than the loss of animagined future? Time, projection, and fini-tude conspire to punch us in the gut, knocking us off
our feet. Some never get up.
Rarely do people stop to give disappointment its due. Instead, life goes on. Someone else got thejob instead of you. The world doesn’t stop because your life came to a screeching halt. No onemourns your loss like you do. Instead of acknowledging your disappointment, most peoplewould rather deflect it or explain it away: “You dodged a bullet” or “It wasn’t in the cards” oreven “That wasn’t God’s plan.” Our society lacks resources for acknowledging disappointment.We have rituals for mourning death but not for disappointment.
And no one avoids acknowledging our disappointment as much as we ourselves do. It hurts toomuch. It’s easier to store up enemies and resentment. Instead of acknowledging disappointment,we deny the inescapable features of our lives as humans. We deny humanness in the attempt tolive it. Call this our gnosticism, our most intimate heresy.
The things that disappoint comprise a whole litany of life’s failings. Certainly careers and welllaid plans. But also family and friends. Our bodies disappoint us with their aging, ailing, andaddling. Justice disappoints those who give their lives to it only to find freedom forever deferred. And who has not been disappointed by church? To be sure, some of this comes from unrealisticexpectations of something the New Testament promises will disappoint. Still, the church keepsgiving us more reasons for disappointment.
Scripture thematizes the human life in time—with its projections and buzz-sawdisappointments—in terms of faith. And it does not hold back on acknowledgingdisappointment. Adam and Eve’s catastrophic disappointment over the garden. Cain’s murderousdisappointment when God rejects his offering. David’s disappointment when kingdom life turnsout less than kingdom-like. Judas’s disappointment with Jesus. In each case, God turns out to beour greatest disappointment. Is it more heretical to say this or to deny it?
The Bible reserves its greatest disappointments for scenes involving children, the embodiedfuture. Children carry our hopes, bearing the weight of our expectations, fating us and them todisappointment. Through our kids we imagine the future and lose it. When their lives go awrythe earth comes off its axis. I have known people whose disappointments over children—infertility, miscarriage, illness, death—ended their faith. I have known those disappointmentsmyself.
No wonder God’s faithfulness gets laid on the head of a single question: Will God give Sarahand Abraham children, or not? If God does, they will know God does what God promises, is whoGod claims. Conversely, no children, no God.
Refusing to explain things away, much less lie about the conditions setting us up fordisappointment, God’s word acknowledges it. The Spirit hears our disappointments just as theSon bears them, together entreating the Father’s infinite life. Rather than manage expectations byasking less, God risks everything, beckoning us to faith’s end, knowing full well thatdisappointment looms over the razor’s edge between hope and despair.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The discussion topic for this next week involves kindness and how acts of kindness have the potential to change the world we live in.
We will discuss two stories - the first one about a hairdresser who started the Red Chair project in Minneapolis. The second is an adoptive mom who paid for the adoptions for everyone in her area. Both of these two women were helpedby someone who inspired them to help others.Below is the reading. Along with it, I will be showing you the clip (below). The first story begins at 2:30 and the second story begins at 10:00.

You Tube Video - The Gift: Kindness Goes Viral
Additionally, we are going to try a Discussion Group lunch.
On Tuesday, at 11:30, we are going to meet up at La Villa Mexican Restaurant,
5610 GMD Suite #5 (near Harry's).

This does not replace either the Tuesday or Wednesday 10 a.m. discussion. We just thought it would be nice to get out and support a local business.

Offering Free Haircuts to Homeless
Steve Hartman, CBS News 12.30.22

A Minneapolis woman became inspired by a life-changing haircut she got when she wasyounger, and found a way to help others in her community. Katie Stellar said growing up, hermother would cut her hair since she was one of six children. The home haircuts weren't the moststylish. "My mom was awful at it and I have pictures to prove it. But I never really had anydesire to do anything with my hair," she said.
That was until Stellar was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when she was 11 years old,which took a toll on both her body and her hair. She began losing her hair and eyelashes. "Ireally didn't realize how important it was to me until I was losing it," she said. Her mother, JulieStellar, then searched for anything that might make her daughter feel just a little bit better. Shedecided to get her daughter a real haircut with someone who had their license.
For Stellar, the experience was life-changing. She credited the hair stylist for making her feelcomfortable and safe throughout the appointment. "What she did for me was she sat me down inthis chair and talked to me as a person, not as an illness," Stellar said. The experience lit a fire forStellar. She herself became a hair stylist, but one with a mission — to make others feel the wayshe felt that day. She opened a salon, which led to the start of the Red Chair Project.
Stellar said the idea behind the movement came as she was preparing to open her new salon. Shealways wanted red chairs in her salon and wasn't willing to compromise, but the opening of thesalon was delayed, leaving her with a hoard of equipment in her house.
"I remember looking at the chairs and being, like, 'This is kind of a waste,'" she said. "Like, whatif I stuck this in my car and went and offered haircuts." Stellar said she wanted to offer haircutsto anyone who asked, as she's seen people in her community of downtown Minneapolis strugglewith homelessness. "I think Red Chair Project definitely kind of stemmed from that feeling ofwanting to show up for people who might be struggling or being alone," she said.
Stellar would approach anyone she drove past and offer them a haircut. She said while somepeople politely turned down the offer, others were more than eager to get a fresh look, includinga man called Beetlejuice. "The one thing I crave more than anything after being homeless for solong and not having a significant other… it's just that closeness, just human contact," he said.
Throughout Minneapolis, Stellar's Red Chair Project has inspired more stylists with more chairsto give more free haircuts. She said she's happy seeing other people carrying on the work shestarted.
For some, that touch of kindness can be life-altering, just as it had been for Stellar years earlier.CBS News tracked down the stylist, whose name is Amy White, to bring the two together for thefirst time since Stellar got her life-changing haircut. White said she doesn't remember doinganything different during Stellar's visit, but remembered that she was special. Stellar believesthat what White gave her that day was a gift.
"It's one of those things I can never repay," she said. "I can put it forward. How can I use my lifeto alleviate someone else's pain, even just for a moment?"

Adoptive Mom Hatches Plan to Help Others
Steve Hartman, CBS News 12.29.22

After a distant cousin wrote a check to pay for the adoption of a child in Iowa, a woman took itupon herself to help other families seeking to make their family permanent on paper.
Brittany Berrie began watching her adopted daughter, Gracie, when she was just a baby for arelative in a troubled relationship. "When they asked me to watch her for the first time I said,'absolutely,'" Berrie said. She was only 20 years old when she started caring for infant Gracie.
Soon, the mother began leaving her in Berrie's care for longer periods of time. "It was days at a time and then weeks at a time and then months at a time. And then by the timeshe was about 7 months old, it was, 'OK, I'm raising her,'" Berrie said. When Gracie was 4 yearsold, the court granted Berrie legal guardianship. But as time passed, both Berrie and Graciewanted more. "Because she was my baby," Berrie said of why she sought to adopt Gracie. "I
think that even though I didn't birth her, she still grew in my heart… maybe not in my belly, but she was my baby."
The only thing stopping them was the cost. The process of adopting a child can typically cost inthe tens of thousands of dollars, which made it impossible for Berrie. That was until she ran intoa distant cousin, Casie Baddome, at a wedding. "I couldn't believe that was the only thing thatwas keeping them from being able to adopt. I just said, 'Well, I think I can help with that,'"Baddome said. "If that's all I needed to do was, you know, help write a check, I felt like that wasthe least that I could do because that was security for the whole family and for Gracie." Lastyear, thanks to Baddome's gift, 11-year-old Gracie's adoption was finalized.
"I did not know how to thank her," Berrie said of Baddome's donation. "I spent months trying towrite something down or figure out, do I get her something? Like there's no 'thank you' thatexpresses what she did."
Berrie figured out a way to pass on the blessing. With an abundance of donations, she turned hergarage into the Adopted Closet thrift store and hatched a "secret plan" to use proceeds from thestore to pay the kindness forward. "I want to pay for the adoptions on National Adoption Day inScott County, Iowa. All of the remaining balances," Berrie said. That's exactly what she did —pay all the balances on all adoptions in the county.
"People don't understand how expensive adoption can be," said Jodi Siebler, an adopted child'sparent. "We had to wipe out our savings to pay for everything related to this." The one gift ofkindness that made Berrie's family whole did the same for nine other families.
Gracie said she couldn't be prouder of her mother. "It's great knowing that other people can feelthis happiness and feel safe and have all those mothers out there know that their children aretheir children," she said.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

All the earth honors the Lord;
all the earth’s inhabitants stand in awe of him. Psalm 33:8
Used 23 times in the psalms, the word "awe" and "awesome" convey... an awesome experience of God. Did you know thatthere are healthful benefits of feeling in awe? Published in a secular publication, the author and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that a sense of awe is good for us and can be found in some unlikely places. Often I have a sense of awe in our discussion groups.
The Quiet Profundity of Everyday Awe
Dacher Keltner, The Atlantic 1.5.23
Dacher Keltner is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor ofpsychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Awe: The New Scienceof Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.

What gives you a sense of awe? That word, awe — the feeling of being in the presence ofsomething vast that transcends your understanding of the world — is often associated with theextraordinary. You might imagine standing next to a 350-foot-tall tree or on a wide-open plainwith a storm approaching, or hearing an electric guitar fill the space of an arena, or holding thetiny finger of a newborn baby. Awe blows us away: It reminds us that there are forces biggerthan ourselves, and it reveals that our current knowledge is not up to the task of making sense ofwhat we have encountered.
But you don’t need remarkable circ*mstances to encounter awe. When my colleagues and Iasked research participants to track experiences of awe in a daily diary, we found, to oursurprise, that people felt it a bit more than two times a week on average. And they found it in theordinary: a friend’s generosity, a tree’s shadow on a sidewalk, a song that transported them backto a first love.
We need that everyday awe, even when it’s discovered in the humblest places. A survey ofrelevant studies suggests that a brief dose of awe can reduce stress, decrease inflammation, andbenefit the cardiovascular system. Luckily, we don’t need to wait until we stumble upon it; wecan seek it out. Awe is all around us. We just need to know where to look for it.
In our daily-diary studies, one source of awe was by far the most common: other people. Regularacts of courage—bystanders defusing fights, subordinates standing up to abusive powerholders—inspired awe. So did the simple kindness of others: seeing someone give money to abroke friend or assist a stranger on the street. But you don’t need a serendipitous encounter witha Good Samaritan to experience awe. We often find inspiring stories in literature, poetry, film,art, and the news. Reading about moral exemplars, say, protesting racism or protecting theenvironment was a pervasive source of awe for our participants.
Another common source of awe is just … taking a walk. In her cultural history of walking,Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit theorized that walks can produce an awe-like form of consciousnessin which we extend the self into the environment. We can make connections, for example,between our own thoughts and the other human beings we see moving through their day, orpatterns in nature—the movements of wind through trees or the shifting clouds in the sky.
Along with Virginia Sturm, a UC San Francisco neuroscientist, I studied the effects of an “awewalk.” One group of subjects took a weekly walk for eight weeks; the other group did the samebut with some instructions: Tap into your childlike sense of wonder, imagining you’re seeingeverything for the first time. Take a moment during each walk to notice the vastness of things—when looking at a panoramic view, for example, or at the detail of a flower. And go somewherenew, or try to recognize new features of the same old place. All of the participants reported ontheir happiness, anxiety, and depression and took selfies during their walks.
We found that the awe-walkers felt more awe with each passing week. You might have thoughtthat their capacity for awe would start to decrease: This is known as the law of hedonicadaptation, that certain pleasures or accomplishments—a new job, a bigger apartment—start tolose some of their thrill over time. But the more we practice awe, it seems, the richer it gets.
We also found evidence of Solnit’s idea that the self can extend into the environment. In theawe-walk condition, people’s selfies increasingly included less of the self. Over time, thesubjects drifted off to the side, showing more of the outside environment—a street corner in SanFrancisco, the trees, the rocks around the Pacific Ocean. Over the course of our study, awe-walkers reported feeling less daily distress and more prosocial emotions such as compassion andamusem*nt.
The arts, too, can make us feel connected to something boundless and beyond words. In onediary study, many people wrote that music brought them moments of awe and stirred them toconsider their place in the great scheme of life. When we listen to music that moves us,dopaminergic pathways—circuitry in the brain associated with reward and pleasure—areactivated, which open the mind to wonder and exploration. In this bodily state of musical awe,we often get the chills—signs, studies have revealed, that we are collectively engaged in makingsense of the unknown.
Visual art activates the same dopamine network in the brain—and can have the sametranscendent effect. When exposed to paintings, research has found, people demonstrate greatercreativity. One study, which involved more than 30,000 participants in the United Kingdom,found that the more people practiced or viewed art, the more those individuals donated moneyand volunteered two years later.
Nearly three years into a pandemic that’s made many of us feel powerless and small, seeking outthe immense and mysterious might not seem appealing. But often, engaging with what’soverwhelming can put things in perspective. Staring up at a starry sky; looking at a sculpture thatmakes you shudder; listening to a medley of instruments joining into one complex, spine-tinglingmelody—those experiences remind us that we’re part of something that will exist long after us.We are well served by opening ourselves to awe wherever we can find it, even if only for amoment or two.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Merry Christmas! I hope you are enjoying the 12-day season of Christmas. And, I hopeyou have a Happy New Year and that I'll see you on Sunday to celebrate.
I also hope to see you at our next discussion group gathering which will be on Tuesday and Wednesday, January 3 and 4, next week.The reading is from the Bradenton Herald about a coalition of churches that is making a difference. I'd like to know what you think about it.

STREAM – A Coalition of Churches Making a Difference
Ryan Callihan, Bradenton Herald 12.29.22

With key commitments from local leaders, it’s been a victorious year for a religious group thatcame together with the goal of resolving systemic issues in Manatee County.
Stronger Together Reaching Equality Across Manatee (STREAM) made its voice known in2022, rallying several times over the course of the year to push for more affordable housing andbetter criminal justice policies. The group, which is made up of more than a dozen local churchesand their congregations, has brought hundreds of residents together with a common goal.
“You either have money or you have people power. We don’t have lots of money. We’re littlechurches. We organize people to get justice in the community,” said Glen Graczyk, a pastor atSt. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Palmetto and a co-chair of STREAM.
The coalition’s origin dates back to 2019 when local pastors first began kicking the idea around.STREAM was formed with minimal assistance from the Direct Action & Research Training(DART) Center, a national organization that connects clergy to tackle local issues. However, STREAM’s priorities are a direct result of concerns from each of its 15 churchcongregations. After a slight delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization hosted
community meetings throughout 2021 to hear from residents about the issues most important tothem. The priority was clear: Churchgoers are struggling to afford places to live and they’reworried about the lasting impact caused by misdemeanor crimes on an arrest record.
Throughout 2022, STREAM pushed for — and won — some of the policy changes that alleviatethe systemic issues worrying its members. In the process, the group has caught the attention ofManatee County’s top politicians. “I think they’ll get stuff done,” Manatee CountyCommissioner George Kruse said earlier this year after attending a STREAM event. “They’ll bea force to be reckoned with.”
WHAT HAS STREAM ACCOMPLISHED?
STREAM hosted a Nehemiah Action Assembly in April to announce ambitious goals. The event,attended by dignitaries including Manatee County commissioners and local law enforcementofficials, attracted more than 600 people. Church leaders declared the need for 500 newaffordable housing units every year and a pre-arrest diversion program that would keep minorcrimes off an arrest record. STREAM applauded local politicians who were willing to pursuethose goals, but they also plan to hold them accountable. “At our Nehemiah Action in 2022,STREAM won commitments from our sheriff and state attorney to create a new civil citationprogram in Manatee to avoid unnecessary arrests for first-time misdemeanors,” wrote in awebsite update. “Our current work is following up to ensure they follow through on theircommitments.”
Speaking with the Bradenton Herald, Pastor Joreatha Capers said it’s difficult to overstate justhow powerful it felt to have everyday residents come together to push for change. “When I looked at the people gathered, I saw the kingdom of God on earth. We are concernedabout what’s hurting our brothers and sisters,” Capers recalled. “It was a great beginning step. Iwas torn between wanting to cry and wanting to shout.”
In the months since the Nehemiah Action event, Manatee County officials have announced apolicy change that prioritizes affordable housing for lower-income families, and Manatee CountySheriff Rick Wells said he is in the process of training deputies on a pre-arrest diversionprogram.
‘PERSISTENT’ LEADER BROUGHT STREAM TOGETHER
Capers, a longtime activist in the Bradenton area, is also credited with much of the legwork thatbrought 15 different churches under one umbrella. Several pastors interviewed by the BradentonHerald recounted the early stages of STREAM’s formation. Each described Capers as aninspiring, persistent force who they were happy to rally around.
“I would give her the credit,” said Rev. Edward Barthell, of St. Stephen African MethodistEpiscopal Church in Bradenton. “She looked right in your eyes, smiling and being so sweet, butshe presented the idea with persistence. That’s what you have to have to get any group together.”
“It is very obvious that her soul is inspired to help people from the grassroots, so it’s catchy. It’san enthusiasm for justice that just does not have an end,” added Pastor Bobbie Blackburn, ofTrinity Lutheran Church in Bradenton. “She is persistent, not in an annoying way, but in a ‘I’mnot going to give up,’ way. She’s got the fire. That’s all I can say.”
Together with Rev. Lawrence Livingston, founder of Eternity Temple First Born Church in Palmetto, Capers brought clergy leaders together to demand a joint justice ministry. In a matterof months, STREAM had created a diverse coalition of churches from Anna Maria Island toPalmetto to Lakewood Ranch.
WHAT WILL STREAM DO IN 2023?
Earlier this month, the group hosted a Community Action Assembly to determine which issueswill be addressed in the new year. More than 100 people at the meeting voted to continuedemanding more affordable housing options and the official start of Manatee County’s pre-arrestdiversion program, according to STREAM’s website. State Attorney Ed Brodsky has alreadyimplemented similar criminal justice reforms in Sarasota County. “We’ll continue to hold theirfeet to the fire,” Blackburn said.
Once those goals are accomplished, STREAM will return to the drawing board to figure outwhich issues to tackle next. Based on previous conversations with churchgoers, leaders saypushing for more mental health resources could be a future initiative.
“While some would say Jesus has a proclivity for the poor, I think it’s more than that,”Blackburn continued. “When we follow him, we also face our hearts to those in need, andSTREAM is an excellent vehicle for making that happen.”
Visit www.StreamManatee.org for more information about the organization and how to getinvolved.

Tuesday, December 20

This is our last Discussion Group of 2022. I think it is fitting that we discuss the Christmas season. There are two, one-page articles for next week. The first one is the perspective of John the Baptizer who paved the way for Jesus. The author challenges the popular Christmas hymn that suggests the baby Jesus did not cry. The article is tiled, The Crying Messiah.The second article, Joseph's Decision, is viewing Jesus' birth through Joseph's eye and what the law, in his day, would have allowed - to have Mary killed for being pregnant. This, plus everything else associated with Christmas, will be on the table to discuss.

The Crying Messiah
Montague Williams, Christian Century 12.2.22

Montague Williams is professor of church, culture, and society at Point Loma NazareneUniversity and author of Church in Color.

Soon we will celebrate the arrival of the Christ child. The popular Christmas carol suggests hemakes no cries while away and awake in a manger.
The cattle are lowing; The Baby awakes; But little Lord Jesus; No crying He makes
I imagine the writer was focusing on Jesus’ full divinity and was building upon clichés of what itmeans to be “the perfect child.” But let’s be honest (and theologically sound). Jesus is also fullyhuman, and crying is a part of human life. In fact, it is a good thing to hear babies crying. It givesus a clue that they need something. A vulnerable crying baby in need — that’s the Messiah weare waiting for.
Thinking about Jesus’ arrival as a crying baby becomes even more surprising when consideringthe words of John the Baptist, as he seeks to prepare people for the arrival of the Messiah. In theGospel passage in Advent, John warns that Jesus is coming to clear the threshing floor in a whirlof righteous violence. Sometimes a baby’s piercing scream can be quite violent on an eardrum,but that’s a bit different from what John is talking about. He is warning of a Messiah who iscoming to take a public place of authority, whip the people of God into shape, and weed outanyone who is not on board.
Even as John rightly points people to Jesus and the kingdom of heaven, he seems to have somemisguided expectations about how Jesus will establish authority and live in the world.
Ultimately, John is thinking about the Messiah arriving as an adult, not a baby. And at this pointin Matthew’s narrative, he has not encountered any challenge to his assumptions about how theMessiah will bring about righteousness and justice.
However, we present-day readers get to prepare for the Messiah’s arrival with the awareness ofMatthew’s whole Gospel narrative. We know that Jesus teaches us to pray in ways that tradeviolence for forgiveness. We know that as much as Jesus is concerned with living rightly, heembodies a compassionate and wide invitation. Even more, we know that the Messiah arrivesinto this world in a vulnerable way that reveals insight about how God often works in the world.
So, while it is important to pay attention to what John is saying at the Jordan River there in thewilderness, let’s place it alongside what we know about Jesus. For when the Messiah arrives, thefirst things he will do is cry and reach out to be held.

Joseph’s Decision
Christine Chakoian, Christian Century 12.12.22

Christine Chakoian is pastor of Westwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.

It is amazing how fast a person’s role, authority, and identity can be upended. In LA there is noshortage of entertainment royalty appearing for the Emmy, Grammy, or Academy Awards. Andafter each awards show there are myriad A-list parties. Who is recognized and welcomed inspeaks volumes about their status. These stories came to mind as I read Matthew’s account ofJesus’ birth. The Gospel opens by certifying the identity of “Jesus, the Messiah, son of David,son of Abraham.” Then it spells out 42 generations of fathers. Yet one person’s choice coulderase it all: Joseph’s.
Mary is engaged to Joseph. When she turns out to be pregnant—and not by him—it is a colossaldisgrace to him and to his family. He, after all, is among the offspring of Abraham, of the houseand lineage of King David.
He has a massive decision to make. He would have every justification to reject Mary in shame.And what a shaming it would be. The entire village would know she was pregnant out ofwedlock. She would be returned to her father’s household—if he would take her back—andnever be able to have a new life. She could even be executed (see Deut. 22:13–20).
Instead, because Joseph is a righteous man, he chooses the most generous path that the lawallows: not to shame Mary publicly but to send her home quietly, not to have her killed but to lether and her child live.
But even this very high bar of righteousness is not enough. Jesus would still have carried themark of humiliation as Mary’s illegitimate child—instead of being known as the offspring ofAbraham and David. And so God intervenes. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream, appealingto him as “son of David” and then revealing that this child is of an even greater heritage.
Righteous man that he is, Joseph chooses to open his heart to the angel. He chooses not to beafraid and not to prioritize his own identity, all the bona fides as a child of Abraham and David.Instead, Joseph does as he is called to do: to take Mary as his wife and to name this child Jesus,which means “he saves.” Joseph chooses to recognize this child’s true identity.
Which gets us back to the beginning. If it is easy for us to dismiss the identity of famous people,how on earth do we recognize the sacred identity of the vulnerable, the invisible, even thedisgraced? Real righteousness urges us to see every person as a child of God—and to welcomethem into our hearts and homes.
It isn’t easy. It brings to mind a story Kathleen Norris tells in Dakota. An older monk tells ayounger monk, “I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in theworld, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a strangercoming up the road and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?’”
The birth of Jesus was not just one and done. He is still God with us. And he keeps appearing tous over and over again, even if we do not know it.

Tuesday, December 13

This article is about the fading practice of forgiveness within American culture and the poisonous effects that has on the individual and society. The author, a guest essayist for the NY Times and Presbyterian minister, Dr. Timothy Keller outlines the importance of forgiveness for the individual and for society. He asserts that forgiveness has been seen as letting someone off the hook when, in fact, it is our own selves (and society) that we are freeing.

What Too Little Forgiveness Does to Us
Timothy Keller, NY Times 12.3.22
Guest essayist – Dr. Keller is the founder of the Redeemer Presbyterian churches in New York City.

The State of Virginia is reeling from two mass shootings in less than a month in Chesapeake andCharlottesville. From what we know, the races and politics of the two people accused of theshootings were quite different. But there seem to be common threads: They both seemed to havebitter resentment and unresolved anger toward individuals, groups or even society as a whole.The Chesapeake shooter wrote that his former Walmart colleagues “gave me evil twisted grins,mocked me and celebrated my downfall.” The brother of the man accused of the University ofVirginia shooting said he’d been picked on in school and then reached a “breaking point.”
The most common explanations for the root causes of mass shootings — a mental health crisisand overly lax gun laws — have merit. Another factor is the fading of forgiveness in our society.It is no longer valued or promoted as it was in the past. And a society that has lost the ability toextend and receive forgiveness risks being crushed by the weight of recriminations and scoresettling.
Many people committed to justice value forgiveness, but others worry that it lets oppressors offthe hook. Technology also makes a contribution. Social media is a realm in which missteps andwrongful, impulsive posts are never forgiven. Screenshots of every foolish word you have eversaid online can be circulated in perpetuity. And our politics is filled with vitriol. In our culturalmoment a conciliatory, forgiving voice is nowhere to be heard. Calls for forgiveness andreconciliation sound like both-sidesism, a mealy-mouthed lack of principle and courage.
Yet what is the alternative to forgiveness? In the 1970s, I was a pastor in a small town that hadnot a single professional therapist or social worker. I ended up counseling dozens of couples withtroubled marriages. I discovered that those who learned and embraced forgiveness usuallysurvived and those who did not never did. Without forgiveness, no human relationships orcommunities can be sustained. Without forgiveness, centuries-long cycles of retaliation, violenceand genocide repeat themselves. Without forgiveness, you are more subject to heart disease andheart attacks, strokes and depression. We should forgive because it is profoundly practical. Tofail to forgive is to undermine the health and coherence of one’s body, one’s relationships and
the entire human community.
Another reason to forgive is simple fairness. We owe it to others to forgive because we all needforgiveness ourselves. At the end of his parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18, Jesusdescribes God saying to an unforgiving man, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellowservant as I had mercy on you?” Imagine that when Judgment Day comes, you will be evaluatedonly on the basis of all the times you told others, “You ought to” or “You should.” In otherwords, imagine you will be judged only on the basis of your own moral standards. Not a personon earth could pass such a test, and we know it.
So if we should forgive, then how can we?
First, there must be the recognition that forgiveness does not contradict the pursuit of justice.Rather, it is its precondition. Forgiving is not excusing. To forgive something, you must name itas the evil it is. The pursuit of justice and the speaking of truth are necessary. But if you don’tinternally forgive wrongdoers — if you don’t give up your quest to pay back and to make themsuffer as much as you have — you won’t really be seeking justice. You will be seekingvengeance. Vengeance consumes your inward being with anger and hate. If you don’t forgiveinternally, you won’t confront the wrongdoers for justice’s sake or for future victims’ sake or forGod’s sake. You will be doing it for your sake, and the project will go awry. It leaves youinfected with the very hardness and evil that was done to you.
Second, there must be a commitment to renounce revenge and bear the cost of forgiveness.Forgiveness is granted before it’s felt. It is a commitment not to constantly bring up the wrongsto the wrongdoers to punish them or to others to ruin their reputations or to yourself, constantlyreliving the incident in order to keep the anger going. You will find these disciplines to be hardand even costly. But if you pay that cost, you will gradually find yourself escaping the grip ofbitterness. Once forgiveness is granted, it clears the way for justice, possible reconciliation andother forms of restoration.
Finally, forgiveness requires belief in something bigger than ourselves. In October 2006 agunman took hostages in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, shooting 10 childrenages 7 to 13, five of whom died, and then committing suicide. Within hours, members of theAmish community visited the killer’s immediate family and his parents, expressing sympathy fortheir loss. Many in the mainstream press called on others to emulate the Amish and become moreforgiving.
Four years later, a group of scholars wrote that our secular culture was losing the ability toforgive the way the Amish did. Americans, they argued, are committed to self-assertion,believing the interests and needs of the individual come before those of the family, thecommunity or God. The Amish, by contrast, have as one of their core values self-renunciation,with forgiveness being one form of it. The authors concluded that our culture of expressive
individualism is one that “nourishes revenge and mocks grace” and will not produce agents offorgiveness and reconciliation.
What is that higher good necessary for forgiveness? It can be many things; probably the mostnatural one is a willingness to sacrifice one’s interests for the good of the community.Christianity provides a unique resource at this point, unique even in comparison with otherreligions. At the heart of Christian faith is not primarily a wonderful, wise teacher (though Jesuswas that, too) but a man who died for his enemies so that he could secure divine forgiveness for
them. When you embrace the idea that Jesus’ self-sacrifice was done for you, the Crucifixionbecomes an act of surpassing beauty that, when brought into the center of your being, gives youboth the profound humility and towering happiness, even joy, needed to forgive others.
The Christian church today is not the model of forgiveness that it was at times in the past. Goduses kindness to lead people’s hearts to change (Romans 2:4), but taken as a whole, today’sAmerican church does not. Christians like me should repent and renew themselves as membersof communities of forgiveness and reconciliation. When Jesus Christ was dying, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). If he treats hisexecutioners like that, how can those of us who believe in him be cold, caustic or harsh withanyone?
If forgiveness in small things and large were deeply embedded in our culture, it would transformus politically, ending the demagogy that never admits wrongdoing and that mocks and belittlesone’s opponents. It would transform us socially, ending racial stereotyping, discrimination andunwillingness to listen to one another. It would make every movement for justice less likely toburn out, overreach or alienate. It would remake us personally, enabling us to confrontfrustrations and hurts and work through them rather than turn to drugs or guns or otherdestructive ways of dealing with our pain.
Few have the ability to honestly confront their own failings, flaws, self-centeredness — in short,their sin — unless they are assured that grace is ready to meet them. C.S. Lewis put it well: “Tobe a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable inyou."

Tuesday, December 6

I have a gut feeling that the invasion of Ukraine will be somethingthat future historians will highlight as a turning point. We are living, albeit remotely, in it so we may not see the full ramifications of what is happening over there. This article brings attention to drone warfare. It is something we need to know about and discuss. What is lacking in this article is a discussion of values or morals when it comes to machine versus machine in the new era of mechanizedwarfare. Does that change the way the Church views the Just War Theory? I'd like to know what you think.

The Efficient Future of Drone Warfare
Mark Bowden, The Atlantic 11.22.22

Mark Bowden is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the author of Black Hawk Down andThe Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden.
On Saturday, October 29, a Russian fleet on the Black Sea near Sevastopol was attacked by 16drones—nine in the air and seven in the water. Purportedly launched by Ukraine, no one knowshow much damage was done, but video shot by the attacking drones showed that the vesselswere unable to avoid being hit. In response to that and other successful attacks, Russia hasretaliated with scores of missiles and Iranian-built Shahed-136 drones aimed at electrical andwater systems throughout Ukraine. Despite daily reports of lands taken or lands liberated in thenine-month war, the conflict has been largely fought in the air, with artillery shells, rockets,cruise missiles, and, increasingly, drones.
Small, cheap, relatively slow-moving, carrying far less of a wallop than a cruise missile or a 500-pound bomb, the Shaheds in particular have bedeviled Ukraine’s otherwise excellent airdefenses. Preprogrammed with a target and released in groups of five, the triangular, propeller-driven drones are relatively easy to destroy—if you can find them. They fly low and slowenough to be mistaken on radar for migrating birds. If launched in bunches, as the Russians havebeen doing, enough are able to evade even the best defenses to do substantial damage. InOctober, Ukraine estimated that it was shooting down 70 percent or more of the Shaheds, but theones they missed were enough to debilitate the nation’s electrical grid.
The attacks have continued. Intelligence officials say that Russia has sent 400 Iranian-madeattack drones since August. Although that’s a small number relative to the thousands of missilesbombarding the country, intercepting drones flying in bunches can be more difficult. Drones alsocost less to manufacture and can be sent in ever-increasing numbers. By early November,Ukraine was already in danger of running out of air-defense missiles to combat them.
Speaking in mid-November, Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov said, “In the lasttwo weeks, we have been convinced once again the wars of the future will be about maximumdrones and minimal humans.”
What might that future actually look like? For years, military strategists have anticipated thearrival of the so-called drone swarm, a large cluster of small flying machines that will herald anew era of intelligent warfare. Thousands of robotic aircraft no bigger than a starling would beall but invisible when spread out, yet capable of instantly coalescing into a swirling dark cloud,like a murmuration. It would move the way such phenomena move in nature, guided by a kind ofgroup intellect.
“A swarm is an intelligent organism and an intelligent mechanism,” Samuel Bendett, an expert inRussian weapons at the Center for Naval Analyses, told me. “In a swarm—just like in an insectswarm, in a bird swarm, in a school of fish—each drone thinks for itself, communicates with theothers, and shares information about its position in a swarm, the environment that the swarm isin, potential threats coming at the swarm, and what to do about it, especially when it comes tochanges in direction or changes in swarm composition.” The swarm would be capable of reactingto threats without human intervention—changing course, speed, or altitude, maneuvering aroundheavily protected air spaces—and could absorb huge losses without stopping. Machines do not get discouraged and turn back. The weapons deployed in Ukraine by both sides are still far fromthe full nightmare potential.
Such research programs are classified, but many military analysts see them arriving in the nearfuture. A swarm of 103 micro-drones designed by MIT with a wingspan less than a foot long wassuccessfully launched by the U.S. in 2016, a project sponsored by the Department of Defense.The individual drones were so small and flew so fast that a CBS camera crew trying to film theexperiment had a hard time capturing an image of the swarm even with high-speed cameras.
When you consider that a drone swarm consisting of many thousands of off-the-shelf droneswould cost less than, say, one F-35 fighter or a ballistic missile, you have a weapon that wouldgive rogue states or terrorist groups the means to launch devastating attacks or assassinationsanywhere in the world. Since the Korean War, American forces have controlled the skieswherever they have gone into battle. No other nation had the means to compete with it; the cost,the technology, the experience, and the level of training required are beyond the reach of eventhe most affluent nation-states. Drone swarms could end that domination. An aircraft carrier? Acommercial airliner? The White House? The president? Sitting ducks.
Once the technology is within reach, someone, somewhere will build it, and once built, it willfollow the rule of Chekhov’s gun—if it appears, it will be used. AI weapons have already beendeployed—the Israeli Harpy drone, for instance, which loiters in the air over a contested spaceand is programmed to acquire and destroy targets. And although the destructive power of theatom bomb has so far prevented its use in all-out war, a drone swarm will be used oncedeveloped, because it is not a cataclysmic weapon. Although the explosive punch of small, cheapdrones is insignificant compared with that of conventional bombs and missiles, they can be muchmore accurate. One would be enough to kill a person. Precisely targeted, even a small number
could destroy crucial parts of a modern warship’s defenses. The damage done to, say, an aircraftcarrier by a drone swarm might not sink it, but could strip away its sensors and weapons, makingit a fat target for larger munitions.
Of course, what all of these nightmares neglect is the notion of countermeasures, the secondcrucial element in the evolution of warfare. When a new weapon or tactic appears, so will a wayto defeat it. Ukraine has been experimenting on the battlefield with a Lithuanian-designeddefense called SkyWiper, which thwarts drones in flight by jamming their communications.Lithuania’s defense ministry, according to The New York Times, has sent 50 to Ukraine after theembattled nation named them as “one of the top priorities.”
But the most useful tool for Ukraine’s defenders is far less high-tech: machine guns. TheShahed’s propeller makes enough noise to alert ground troops as it passes overhead, and isvulnerable to coordinated fire. The drones have also been destroyed by fighter planes and air-to-air missiles, but that’s like driving a nail with a Cartier watch. The average Shahed costs about$20,000, whereas even the lowest-cost surface-to-air missile (still under development) will runcloser to $150,000, a sum that does not include the multimillion-dollar system required tooperate it. When cheap, off-the-shelf drones fly in large numbers, such cost disparity becomesridiculous and unsustainable.
Last year Congress directed the Pentagon to develop a counterforce for small unmanned aircraftsystems (UAS), and budgeted almost $750 million for them. The newly created office’s director,Army Major General Sean Gainey, has said that the reliance on drones in Ukraine added urgencyto his mission: “I think it’s bringing more to light of what we already know—that when youscale this capability from a small quadcopter all the way up … it really shows the importance ofhaving counter-UAS at scale.”
For its part, the U.S. Army is experimenting with using large airbursts or electromagnetic pulsesto guard against the eventual emergence of the drone swarm. The U.S. Navy’s High EnergyLaser weapons system, and those under development by major defense contractors—Raytheon,Lockheed Martin, and others—use AI to very rapidly target and destroy incoming drones one byone, potentially enough to disable a swarm. Such a weapon would be more useful at sea or overan open battlefield than over cities, where most combat in the modern era takes place. Air trafficover large cities is busy, so pinpointing a relatively small and dangerous intruder withoutknocking down friendly aircraft is hard. To help this effort, the Army’s Joint Counter Small
Unmanned Aerial System Office is looking at ways to adapt existing air-traffic-control networks to spot anomalous flight patterns.
One of these countermeasures, or one as yet unforeseen, will work, and drone swarms are notlikely to wipe out America’s arsenal. They will, however, fundamentally alter the way we fight.
The machine gun did not end war, but it did permanently change it. By World War I, machineguns had driven infantry underground. Armies fought from deep trench networks that spannedthe entire European continent. Eventually tanks, armored vehicles, attack aircraft, and bigchanges in infantry tactics evolved to counter the weapon, but the machine gun is still themainstay of ground combat. The standard-issue infantry weapon worldwide is a machine gun.
Just as militaries adapted to heavy machinery and the trench, they will find a solution here. Oneof the most intriguing drone-swarm countermeasures is being tested by D-Fend, an Israelicontractor. It has been able to hack the guidance software of a small-drone swarm and redirect itharmlessly off course. Software is just code, and code is hackable. This illustrates the principlethat whatever technology emerges, its use, for better or worse, will be determined by humanbeings.

Tuesday, November 29

And we're back...
I'm looking forward to seeing you at our discussion group this week.
A couple of months ago we had a fascinating discussion about the distinction between faith and belief. Attached is the latest article on the topic from the Christian Century. The author, Samuel Wells, takes a different approach - trust. He says we can do without belief but we need trust. I'd like to know what you think.
The Better Part of Faith – It’s possible to stop believing,but we can’t live without trust.
Samuel Wells, The Christian Century 11.18.22

There are two kinds of faith. They sound the same but turn out to be very different. The first isthe desire to attain a level of certainty, conviction, and passion that somehow carries us over thechasm of doubt, distress, and despair. It’s like psyching ourselves up before a game, exam, ordifficult conversation so that we can be transported into a different realm of consciousness andachieve things beyond our normal powers.
This is what I sense is communicated by the word belief. The notion of belief is that we bindourselves to certain extraordinary commitments, rituals, and ideas about reality that may seembizarre to outsiders or locked in an ancient thought world but that give us access to the secretworkings of the true power at large in the universe. We can’t expect to know the logic orunderstand the purposes of that power, but beliefs connect us to it as successfully as is possiblein this existence. To keep the magic at work, we surround ourselves with people who hold theseconvictions more ardently than we do and cultivate experiences that take us to a rarefied form offeeling, so we’re lifted out of our mundane lives where everything feels so fragile andvulnerable.
The interesting thing about this notion of belief is that it seems to be understood in a similar wayby adherents and outsiders alike. It’s common for journalists or courts to refer to a person’sbeliefs, thereby speaking of something beyond the rational, steeped in obscurity, fiercely held,impossible to argue with, and central to identity. Think of parents refusing medical assistance fortheir child when doctors are eager to intervene: we’re told it’s because of their beliefs. But it’salso common for a person to defend their own beliefs as profoundly personal and of greatcomfort, as things that shouldn’t be a reason for discrimination, even if another person findsthem offensive.
What these different understandings have in common is the assumption that belief isfundamentally a form of escape. It’s a magic carpet that lifts you out of the ordinariness andjeopardy of your life and transports you to a realm of miracle, mystery, and cosmic purpose. Themore you can get yourself into a holy reverie to match this grand drama, the more you can befree of your own limitations and the threats of others and thus find something called salvation.
It would be easy to think that what I’ve described as belief is the only kind of faith there is. Butthere is another kind, one that isn’t based on escape.
Imagine a man who develops a life-limiting condition. His wrist starts to swell. The next day hisknee can’t bend. Within days he’s in the hospital with autoimmune arthritis: his immune system is attacking his joint tissue.
After a month his condition stabilizes, and he starts to build his life again. He needs rehab andphysical therapy. He has to learn to walk again. He develops strategies, depends on others, learnsto accept help, does a routine of daily exercises. It’s a complete transformation.
His infant daughter is learning to walk at the same time as he is. He thought his job was to teachher, but now she’s teaching him. It’s humiliating but beautiful. He appreciates the tiniest gifts oflife. He cherishes the people that care for him. He says, “Thank you for walking with me,” andhe means it literally. He’s gradually making progress. But faster than he relearns to walk, he’sbecoming a better person.
If there’s one word that sums up the journey I’ve described, it’s trust. Trust doesn’t assume life isabout overcoming limitations. It’s about finding truth, beauty, and friendship in the midst ofthose limitations. Trust doesn’t think that if you wave a magic wand, things will changeovernight. It finds companionship among the community of the waiting. Trust doesn’t pretendthat if you hold tight to the right things, nothing will ever go wrong. It inhabits the exercises andpatience required to rebuild after matters have been strained or broken. Trust doesn’t use peopleas a means of getting things but places all its energies in making relationships that transcendadverse and depleting circ*mstances. Trust, rather than belief, is the better part of faith.
And it is possible to eradicate belief from your life. You can say you’re not going to commit toanything that isn’t scientifically provable. But you can’t live without trust. When we’ve beenhurt or betrayed, our ability to trust inevitably suffers, but so does the abundance of our life. Thequestion isn’t whether we should trust; it’s who and what to trust. In the face of death, thequestion is what can we trust that will last forever.
There are two kinds of faith, belief and trust. And here’s the irony: God’s faith in us is belief. It’sirrational, far-fetched, and mysterious. There’s no good reason for it, but everything depends onit. Our faith in God is trust. It’s saying, “There are going to be setbacks, misunderstandings, andpatient rebuilding. But I only want to be with you.”
When we think faith is all about belief, we beat ourselves up for not being able to hold togetherall the mysteries and contradictions and far-fetched ideas. But that’s not what Christianity isreally about. The Christian faith is really about trust. It’s not about Jesus the magician whiskingus away on a magic carpet of happiness and glory. It’s about facing the unknown and seeingJesus turn around, offer us his hand, and say, “We’re going to walk across the unknown
together."

Tuesday, November 7

Friendship is the topic for next week. The author of the article, America the Friendless, believes that friendship is one of the most important aspects of a free society; and it's fun!The Church plays a role in this. Speaking of, this next week, we have a fun way to connect with one another. TheFall Fling is on Wednesday starting at 4:30 pm. Come by for some BBQ and friendship. Another way to make friends is through attending a discussion group. :-)

America the Friendless
Adam Carrington, Law & Liberty 10.28.22

Despite being more interconnected than at any time in our history, America is experiencing afriendship crisis. Americans, especially men, have far fewer friends than in decades past. Thenumber of men who say they have no close friends at all has tripled since the early 1990s. Thisdata comports with a recurrent theme in surveys over the past ten years.
Despite these warnings, we have failed as a political community to consider this problem—muchless genuinely address it. We rightly bemoan the downfall of marriages and the broken familiesthey entail, but we must also care about the friendlessness rampant among us because it damagesthe lives of our people and corrodes our polity. John Adams recognized our political duty toaddress this problem: He believed “the divine science of politics is the science of socialhappiness.” Similarly, Cicero observed that “life can never be anything but joyless which is
without the consolation and companionship of friends.”
The present friendlessness has distinctly modern causes. Social media, long work hours, andCOVID-19 lockdowns amplify our feelings of isolation. Moreover, we do not understand thecore political nature and import of friendship. To recognize this, we can draw on the wisdom of
the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who provides a poignant discussion of friendship in hisNicomachean Ethics.
Aristotle highlights the importance of friendship to the individual. Similar to Cicero, he states,“without friends, no one would choose to live, even if he possessed all other good.” The fact that,for Aristotle, politics is the governing science, the one that orders the other sciences in the
context of political community toward human happiness, makes something this fundamentalpolitically salient. Additionally, Aristotle argues that friendship is important because ourcitizenship, rightly understood, includes an element of friendship. Thus, politics’ purpose as the
science of social happiness, as well as the issue of citizenship itself, makes friendship animportant political matter.

Friendships for Use, For Pleasure, Or For Virtue?
Aristotle helps explain why friends matter so much within his division of friendship. Hecategorizes friendships based on either use, pleasure, or virtue. Aristotle sees use-basedfriendship as the lowest kind of friendship. People can attain a level of general civility andbasic, mutual aid with this friendship, but it is the form of friendship most susceptible toselfishness and instability—unraveling the second the use no longer attains. It can thereby teachbad habits for friendship and inculcate perpetual, calculating disloyalty. Such a friendship isbetter than nothing, however, as it at least presents some degree of a hedge against misfortuneand poverty, as well as fulfilling some element of our social nature. In addition, the low can giverise to the high, morally speaking; by bringing people together for mutual needs, those samepersons can begin to develop better forms of friendship.

Friendships of pleasure

present more beneficial opportunities, though this depends on thesource of pleasure. For example, pleasure in the basest of objects does little good and much ill. This point proves especially true in our own day, obsessed as we are with pleasure, especially inthe use of our and others’ bodies. The extreme sexualization of our culture is the mainmanifestation of this point. Better options exist for common satisfaction. True beauty can formbonds, with the friends gaining pleasure in mutually appreciating an excellent film, a lovely
painting, or a perfectly executed play in football.
Finally, Aristotle sees

friendships based on virtue

as the highest kind of friendship. ForAristotle, virtue consists of a disposition toward the good that results in right action. This gooddisposition and consequent deeds divide into a series of characteristics, such as courage, justice,
prudence, and liberality. Friendships based on virtue accentuate those goods by giving commoncompanionship in them. “Iron sharpens iron,” the Bible says in Proverbs 27:17. So too dovirtuous friends encourage and make better each other. In the wider view, virtue-based friendship
benefits nations as a whole; the more friendships based on virtue a country contains, the morelikely that the country will produce persons of noble character. Subsequently, these persons willpractice the virtues in our communities and for those communities’ good.
Citizenship and Friendship
These categories of friendship have political implications. Aristotle believes that citizenshipitself is a form of friendship. He notes that “like-mindedness seems to resemble friendship”because it consists of something two or more people hold in common and from which they either
derive use, pleasure, or in which they see the good. Thus, we need good friendships not justbecause we need to care about our citizens’ happiness. We need strong friendships because ourcitizenship makes up one form of those bonds. Our like-mindedness politically involves sharedprinciples, history, geography, language, and other factors. In this sense, as Aristotle observes,“friendship holds cities together.” If anyone wonders why our partisan divides run so deep, theanswer partly resides in seeing fellow citizens as foes, not comrades.
A patriotism of “pleasure” might love America for the wrong reasons, taking pleasure in itsworst moments or redefining it against its principles. Friendships of virtue, however, avoid all ofthese problems for patriotism. These friendships will promote the country’s best qualities and notit* vices. These friendships will find use and pleasure in America based on her best qualities,such as the manifestations of justice and truth in the country’s founding and throughout itshistory. They are the friends that can sing of America as in the text that concludes the secondverse of “America the Beautiful”:
“God mend thine every flaw / Confirm thy soul in self-control / Thy liberty in law!”
We must encourage the civil associations that Tocqueville celebrated in Americans of the 1830s.Cultivating the mediating “little platoons” found in gatherings of religious groups, book clubs,and hunting associations all can do much good on this project.
Community and Genuine Friendships
Other forms of friendships also present thorny questions for a politics aiming to cultivate thisnecessary good. In particular, popular governments like America must consider wherefriendships undermine or aid their principles of equality and liberty. Slavery, for example, bearsa resemblance to tyranny. It inculcates the demerits of such a regime in the souls of those whoact as masters and as slaves, proving antagonistic to the American regime itself. The relationshipbetween parents and children, on the contrary, appears more like that between monarch andsubject. Since they are temporary and pointed toward cultivating free and equal citizens uponmaturation, this relationship proves necessary even to a political community founded on equality.Thus, civic education begins in the home and the home should receive adequate protection andsupport from the laws.
At the private level, this entails a robust re-founding of community. We must encourage the civilassociations that Tocqueville celebrated in Americans of the 1830s. Cultivating the mediating“little platoons” found in gatherings of religious groups, book clubs, and hunting associations allcan do much good on this project. They can help articulate meaning, worth, and dignity for theindividuals involved. Perhaps the way our tax code aids charitable organizations can beexpanded to other forms of association, giving a financial incentive to start organizations thatwill facilitate common bonds.
At the political level, we must rebuild small towns and neighborhoods. They must become hubsof political activity so citizens can see, talk to, and develop relationships with each other. Theinternet presents a barrier to this needed change. We measure our community too much by thenumber of Twitter likes and Facebook “friends,” creating for ourselves a desert of truecompanionship. Instead, we should move away from our keyboards and toward cultivating realinteractions with real human beings. Reinvigorating federalism would move us in this directionas well, as we find more concrete ways to exercise citizenship and the bonds it entails locally.
Finally, we must work to aid the quality of friendships. Can our education system move awayfrom its focus on creating workers and cultivating humans and citizens? It should do so not onlybecause true education seeks to elevate the soul, not just give skills for employment. That
emphasis also would form more lasting, healthier grounds for friendship. Such friendships wouldhelp us to know ourselves and others in light of what is good, true, and beautiful.
Aristotle’s ancient perspective still applies to our modern context of friendlessness.Accomplishing this goal will be a generational task, but we must urgently work toward it. Whatcountry would want to live otherwise?

Tuesday, November 1

My reflection for this week is about having to unlearn and relearn things in order to survive the 21st century. One of the unlearn/relearn aspects has to do with gender identification and labels, words and/or acronyms. We all want to get it right and not offend, but, things seem to be moving quite quickly and without any sort of direction.
In this week's article, the author shared a clip from CBS Sunday Morning of author David Sedaris' commentary on this topic. In it, he asks these questions: why change the word for same-sex orientation? Who decides these things anyway? Here is a link to that clip:
David Sedaris on coming out all over again
Although the article does not bring up religion, there are aspects I'd like to discuss and what better place to do it than the discussion group.

Opinion: Let’s Say Gay
Pamela Paul, NY Times 10.23.22

The word “gay” is increasingly being substituted by “queer” or, more broadly, “L.G.B.T.Q.,”which are about gender as much as — and perhaps more so than — sexual orientation. The word“queer” is climbing in frequency and can be used interchangeably with “gay,” which itself not so
long ago replaced “hom*osexual.”
The shift has been especially dramatic in certain influential spheres: academia, culturalinstitutions and the media, from Teen Vogue to The Hollywood Reporter to this newspaper. Only10 years ago, for example, “queer” appeared a mere 85 times in The New York Times. As of
Friday, it’s been used 632 times in 2022, and the year is not over. In the same periods, use of“gay” has fallen from 2,228 to 1,531 — still more commonly used, but the direction of theevolution is impossible to miss. Meanwhile, the umbrella term “L.G.B.T.Q.” increased from two
mentions to 714.
“It is quite often a generational issue, where younger people — millennials — are more fine withit. Gen Xers like myself are somewhat OK with it. Some you might find in each category,” JasonDeRose, who oversees L.G.B.T.Q. reporting at NPR, said of the news organization’s move
toward queer. “And then older people, maybe, who find it problematic.”
Let’s be clear: Many lesbians and gay people are fine with this shift. They may even preferumbrella terms like “L.G.B.T.Q.” and “queer” because they include people who identifyaccording to gender expression or identity as well as sexual orientation. But let’s consider thosewho do not, and why. For one thing, “gay” and “queer” are not synonymous, as they areincreasingly treated, particularly among Gen Zers and millennials. Likewise, the term“L.G.B.T.Q.,” which sometimes includes additional symbols and letters, represents so manyidentities unrelated to sexual orientation that gays and lesbians can feel crowded out.
Last week on “CBS News Sunday Morning,” the writer David Sedaris said he was done“fighting the word ‘queer.’” He went on, “Like the term ‘Latinx,’ ‘queer’ was started by somehumanities professor and slowly gathered steam. Then well-meaning radio producers andmagazine editors thought, ‘Well, I guess that’s what they want to be called now!’ But I don’tremember any vote being taken.”
This raises a question for me, a language obsessive and someone interested in the ways wordchoices reflect and drive the culture: Why change the word for same-sex orientation? And toecho Sedaris: Who decides these things anyway?
Let’s start with the basic dictionary-sense differences between the words. “Gay” has a clear,specific meaning that applies to both men and women: “hom*osexual,” which is the first entry inmost dictionaries. “Lesbian,” of course, bears the same meaning, but strictly for women.
Whereas the first definition for “queer,” according to Oxford and Dictionary.com, is “strange,odd.” Another definition refers not only to gay people but also to “a person whose sexualorientation or gender identity falls outside the heterosexual mainstream or the gender binary,”
according to Dictionary.com. That could mean “transgender,” “gender neutral,” “nonbinary,”“agender,” “pangender,” “genderqueer,” “demisexual,” “asexual,” “two spirit,” “third gender” orall, none or some combination of the above. Being queer is, as Bell Hooks once said, not “aboutwho you’re having sex with — that can be a dimension of it — but queer as being about the selfthat is at odds with everything around it and it has to invent and create and find a place to speakand to thrive and to live.” [While we’re here, the Q in “L.G.B.T.Q.” currently can stand for both“queer” and “questioning.”]
Confused? You should be! “Queer” can mean almost anything, and that’s the point. Queer theoryis about deliberately breaking down normative categories around gender and sex, particularlybinary ones like men and women, straight and gay. Saying you’re queer could mean you’re gay;it could mean you’re straight; it could mean you’re undecided about your gender or that youprefer not to say. Saying you’re queer could mean as little as having kissed another girl yoursophom*ore year at college. It could mean you valiantly plowed through the prose of Judith Butlerin a course on queerness in the Elizabethan theater. Given the broad spectrum of possibility, it’sno surprise that many people — gay or straight — have no idea what it means when someoneself-identifies as queer.
But this is important: Not all gay people see themselves as queer. Many lesbian and gay peopledefine themselves in terms of sexual orientation, not gender. There are gay men, for example,who grew up desperately needing reassurance that they were just as much a boy as anyhypermanly heterosexual. They had to push back hard against those who tried to tell them theirsexual orientation called their masculinity into question.
“Queer” carries other connotations, not all of them welcome — or welcoming. Whereashom*osexuality is a sexual orientation one cannot choose, queerness is something one can,according to James Kirchick, the author of “Secret City: The Hidden History of GayWashington.” Queerness, he argues, is a fashion and a political statement that not all gay peoplesubscribe to. “Queerness is also self-consciously and purposefully marginal,” he told me.
“Whereas the arc of the gay rights movement, and the individual lives of most gay people, hasbeen a struggle against marginality. We want to be welcomed. We want to have equal rights. Wewant a place in our institutions.”
Many gay people simply prefer the word “gay.” “Gay” has long been a generally positive term.The second definition for “gay” in most dictionaries is something along the lines of “happy,”“lighthearted” and “carefree.” Whereas “queer” has been, first and foremost, a pejorative. What Ihear most often from gay and lesbian friends regarding the word “queer” is something along thelines of what Sedaris pointed out: “Nobody consulted me!” This wasn’t their choice.
So how did it happen? Partly it’s the force of academic and institutional language, which haspermeated the influential worlds of the arts, Hollywood, publishing and fashion. Another part isgenerational: Gen Zers — 21 percent of whom identify as “L.G.B.T.,” according to Gallup, a
percentage that has nearly doubled in just four years — often use social media to frame theconversation. As the linguist Gretchen McCullough explained in her book “Because Internet,”word shifts take hold much faster these days. “Queer” bobbed around the academy in semiotics
and gender studies classes for decades before activists unleashed it with the help of social mediain the past decade or so. “Queerness” and “queering” now materialize in all manner of contexts,whether it’s queering John Wesley, queering the tarot or queering quinceañeras.
In recent years, other activist terms have followed light-speed trajectories. The term “Latinx”overtook academic institutions and briefly became fashionable in the media, still prevalent insome influential publications, like The New Yorker, even though only 3 percent of Hispanics (or
Latinos, if you prefer) use it. Similarly, the word “fat.” As Sarai Walker, the author of“Dietland,” has written, “fat activists use the word proudly in an effort to destigmatize not onlythe word, but by extension, the fat body.” For her, the word represents not merely acceptance butalso the promotion of body positivity.
To be clear: There’s nothing wrong with embracing a particular word to describe yourself. Theproblem arises when a new term is used in ways that misrepresent or mischaracterize some of thevery people it’s meant to include. This is especially true when people in the population in
question outright reject the fashionable term. Such is the case, it seems, for overweight people,who, according to a number of studies, rank “fat” among their least desirable descriptors. Formany, the word “fat” remains a fourth-grade way to shame someone. Choosing a euphemism like“curvy” need not be denounced as complicity or avoidance. Nor should a medical term like“overweight” be considered verboten, as it is by some activists, because it implies the existenceof a normative weight.
Language is always changing — but it shouldn’t become inflexible, especially when newterminologies, in the name of inclusion, sometimes wind up making others feel excluded. In thecase of “queer,” it’s especially worrisome and not only because it supersedes widely accepted
and understood terms but also because the gay rights movement’s successes have historicallyhinged on efforts at inclusion. Gay people, lesbians and bisexuals fought for a long time to beopen and clear about who they are. That’s why they call it pride.

Tuesday, October 25

As we draw closer to Halloween, here is a rather scary topic - an AI way to communicate with the dead. If you think this is just science fiction, the MIT TechnologyReview would like you to take another look. Recently at Ed Asner's memorial service, attendees were able to "communicate" with the actor through this AI technology.
I am wondering what you think of this and what is the next inevitable evolutionarystep in technology. ... and is it something we should be doing.
Below is a two-page overview of the technology. To read the longer version, here is the link to MIT Technology Review:
www.technologyreview.com

New AI Tools Let You Chat with the Dead
Jennifer A. Kingson, Axios 7.13.22

Creepy or cool? New products that let people keep relatives "alive" via AI are proliferating — offering an interactive conversation with a recently departed dad who took the time to record avideo interview before he passed.

Why it matters:

As interest in genealogy and ancestry proliferates, these tools let familiespreserve memories and personal connections through generations — even giving children a senseof the physical presence of a relative who died before they were born.
The tools are also being used to record the memories of noteworthy people: celebrities,Holocaust survivors, etc. One such tool, StoryFile, was notably used at the late actor Ed Asner'smemorial service, where mourners were invited to "converse" with the deceased at an interactive
display that featured video and audio he recorded over several days before he died.
"Nothing could prepare me for what I was going to witness when I saw it," Matt Asner, theactor's son, told Axios. The "Lou Grant" actor had used StoryFile to record an oral history; theproduct then employs AI to enable "conversations" based on subjects' answers to myriad
questions. At Asner's memorial, "many people just stopped by and asked a question or a couplequestions," including Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" fame, said Matt Asner, a TV and movieproducer who now runs the Ed Asner Family Center, a nonprofit for people with special needs.
"Actually, you can't just ask one question," Alexander observed. "That's the great thing about it,is it draws you in — because the personality is there." Ed Asner, a former head of the ScreenActors Guild, had "covered everything — his childhood, work history, political history, family
life," his son said. While a few mourners were "a little creeped out by it," the conversationalvideo was "like having him in the room," Matt Asner said. "The great majority of people werejust blown away by it."

The big picture:

StoryFile is perhaps the most robust of a growing number of tools that helppeople create interactive digital memories of relatives. Many of them don't require the relative tobe alive during setup.
Amazon recently showed off an experimental Alexa feature that can read books aloud in thevoice of a late relative, extrapolating from a snippet of that person's recorded voice. MyHeritage,the ancestry-tracing site, now offers "Deep Nostalgia," a tool for animating old-timey
photographs of your relatives. HereAfter AI lets you record stories about yourself and pair themwith photographs — so family members can ask you about your life and experiences. Microsofthas obtained a patent to create "chatbots" that mimic individual people (dead or alive) based ontheir social media posts and text messages, per the Washington Post.

How it works

: With StoryFile, a user sits for a video interview and answers a series ofquestions. The company produces an archive that can be watched sequentially or used in a Q&Aformat. When a question is asked, the AI technology retrieves relevant video content to create an
answer, picking out clips from the available footage. The company was co-founded by oralhistorian Stephen Smith, who used to run Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation and specializesin preserving the memories of Holocaust survivors.
"In its most optimal state, the idea of StoryFile is you should be able to speak to anyone,anytime, anywhere that you wouldn’t normally have access to," Smith tells Axios."Maybe you don’t have access to grandma because she’s passed away, but you can still learn herstory, feel a sense of connection to her." StoryFile is also building an archive of public figureswho have sat for interviews. (Try asking a question of very-much-alive William Shatner.)

Between the lines

: These types of programs are already growing familiar through deepfakes,science fiction, and rock concerts that use holograms to bring back dead performers like BuddyHolly. In the Netflix series "Black Mirror," a woman converses with a chatbot version of her latefiancé — and a grieving Canadian man did something similar with his dead girlfriend in real life,the San Fransisco Chronicle reports.

Other examples:

Carrie Fisher being brought back to life as Princess Leia; chef AnthonyBourdain's AI voice being used to narrate a posthumous documentary about himself.

What they're saying:

"When we learn about some very sophisticated use of AI to copy a realperson, such as in the documentary about Anthony Bourdain, we tend to extrapolate from thatsituation that AI is much better than it really is," said Amit Roy-Chowdhury, who chairs the
robotics department at the University of California, Riverside. "They were only able to do thatwith Bourdain because there are so many recordings of him in a variety of situations." "In the future, we will probably be able to design AI that responds in a human-like way to new
situations, but we don’t know how long this will take."

The bottom line:

These kinds of memory-preservation programs "might change the way wecollect history," as Smith put it. "We all have amazing stories to tell, and one of the bigdiscoveries I’ve had in founding this company is how few of us truly understand the importance
of our own story," he said. "We’re quite self-deprecating.

Tuesday, October 18

Ever pause to wonder about the Nicene Creed? What do we actually believe? Our author for this week explores her belief in relation to the creed, starting with these two words: "We believe."
I am interested to hear about what you think and believe.

Believe it or not: My Struggles with the Creed
Amy Frykholm, Christian Century 1.26.15

Long before I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, I told my priest that I had no problems
with the Nicene Creed except for those two little words at the beginning, “We believe.” I lovedreciting “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” I liked saying “one, holy,
catholic, and apostolic church” because that claim seems to fly in the face of all ourdisagreements and declare an impossible but longed-for unity. I joined the church I did becauseof its connection to historical Christianity, but also because it was drawn together less bytheological doctrine than by the worship tradition of the Book of Common Prayer. I felt thechurch would challenge and root me, but also offer freedom.
Yet I have struggled to make sense of the words “we believe.” When the congregation reachesthe point of reciting the creed, I am reminded of the moment in a dance concert where thedancing stops and the director steps out on the stage to explain what the audience isexperiencing. The people may or may not care to have their experience explained.
Many liturgists have argued against reciting the creed during the liturgy for just this reason.Gordon Lathrop quotes a German Lutheran, C. W. Mönnich, who argues that the creed belongsin the celebration of baptism but not in the usual Sunday liturgy, where it too easily becomes “a
sort of shibboleth of stagnant orthodoxy.”
In her book Take This Bread, Sara Miles says she was astonished to discover that mostEpiscopalians say the creed every Sunday. That wasn’t the practice at her parish, St. Gregory ofNyssa in San Francisco. Her friend Paul Fromberg, the priest at St. Gregory, described the creedas a “toxic document” intended to police heresies. Miles found the experience of reciting thecreed something like “saying the Pledge of Allegiance in the third grade.”
I have not exactly found the creed toxic, but it does give me pause. The minute the congregationstarts reciting the creed, I either start arguing with it in my head, parsing individual phrases andwondering if I do in fact “believe” them, or I zone out and stop listening. In an otherwise full-bodied liturgical experience, the creed is a blank spot for me.
I wondered if Miles had come to any new conclusions about the creed or about the recitation ofspecific beliefs. “What do you make of belief as a part of the Christian faith?” I asked her.“Belief,” she answered, “is the least interesting part of faith. I can believe all kinds of stuff, whatever I choose—but what I believe isn’t the point. The point is to live in a relationship withGod that’s not controlled by my own ideas. Faith is about putting my heart and my trust—mywhole life—in God. Christianity is at heart about relationship—and the nature of my faith restsin relationship rather than belief.” That makes sense: belief is just one part, perhaps a small part,of Christianity.
Still, the belief part puzzles me. I keep wondering if other people are doing something when theyrecite the creed—making some kind of internal movement of consent or aligning their hearts andminds around these words—that I am unable to do.
What exactly is belief, anyway? The more I pondered it, the less I understood it.
Andrew Newberg, a medical doctor, neuroscientist, and author of Why We Believe What WeBelieve, says that beliefs are connections between different neurons in the brain. Beliefs havemany different origins: cognitive, emotional, social. And they are maintained, in part, byrepetition.
Newberg defines belief as “any perception, cognition, emotion, or memory that you consciouslyor unconsciously assume to be true.” Conscious and unconscious beliefs are woven into everyword we speak and every action we take. Neurologically speaking, no one can make the choicenot to believe. Not to believe anything would land us in a vegetative state in which neurons stopconnecting with one another.
The implication for religion is significant, especially for someone raised in a particular religionas I was. “Religions are so effective in instilling certain sorts of beliefs [because of] the repetitivenature of the stories, the repetitive readings and prayers,” says Newberg. “The more you focus ona particular concept, the more you come back to it, the more those neural connections strengthenand form in your brain. And that becomes the way in which you see the world and the way inwhich you believe the world works.”
Beliefs are formed, according to Newberg, in part through the workings of dopamine, a pleasurechemical in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter—it helps neurons find other neurons. Itmakes connections. The more pleasure we have in a particular experience that is accompanied bya certain belief, the more likely we are to develop that set of connections and beliefs.
This explains why changing one’s beliefs can be very difficult. Newberg says, “Neurochemicalsand neurons firing in particular ways make it difficult to break beliefs. Whenever someonecomes up with information or data that is contrary to our beliefs, the usual first reaction is to
dismiss it either cognitively or emotionally. We gravitate toward information or data that supportour beliefs. That’s why conservatives watch Fox News and liberals watch MSNBC.”
Newberg’s account does a much better job explaining belief than explaining my struggle withbelief. If Newberg is right, shouldn’t all of these years of repeating the creed in church havereinforced the creed-related neurons and created a believing brain in me? What seems to be
happening instead is that reciting the creed reinforces doubt. I recite the creed and I doubt it atthe same moment. The creed asks for conscious assent. When I recite the creed, I am implicitlysaying yes to something very specific. And yet I find myself also saying, “no,” “maybe,” and “itdepends.” The creed makes a demand, and that conscious demand makes me uncomfortable.
The creeds were written to try to bring order to a diversity of belief and opinion. They were theresult of great battles of the meanings and interpretations of experience, scripture, and tradition.They helped to create a church of great beauty, but the makers also created lists of people toanathematize. They delineated heresies, perhaps because it helped them grasp Truth. But theydidn’t live in my world, where I go for a jog with a Buddhist-Jew at six o’clock in the morning,have breakfast with my agnostic husband, converse with my Muslim friends over e-mail, talk toa Benedictine spiritual director, and plan a trip to visit a santuario in rural Mexico.
In Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass writes that modern Christians have imaginedthat belief must come first in Christian identity. First I believe, then I enter a community of faith.She proposes that the reverse of this is more meaningful for contemporary people. First I enterthe community, then I engage its practices, finally I come to belief.
But can belief and belonging be teased apart like this? Do not truth claims come together withidentity claims? When I believe, I belong. When I belong, I believe. We set out on the risky pathof faith together, learning to trust together, learning to find one another amidst the questions.
In this understanding, the emphasis in my recitation is on the “we” of the “we believe.” Even if Ican make no sense of the “believe” part, I can claim the “we” and allow the community tobelieve along with me or even for me. “We believe” is something we do collectively, not individually. I commit to this community and to its worldview, which I gradually understandover time.
For me, the ongoing challenge is to continue in conversation with the creed, to wrestle with boththe “we” and the “believe.” Two mistakes seem possible. One is to stop saying the creed, and soforsake the challenge it presents and the claims it makes on me. The other is to let the creedreplace my longing for all that it does not and cannot say.
Butler Bass points out that the English word believe comes from belieben, which is from theGerman word for love. Instead of referring to something like “an opinion one holds to be true,”belieben refers to something treasured or held to be beloved. What one believes is what has beeninvested with one’s love. If we were to stand up and say, “We be-love God the Father almighty,maker of heaven and earth,” we might inch closer to an understanding of my own way ofbelieving.

Tuesday, October 11

On the First Sunday after the Hurricane, I took a picture of the sunrise over Jewfish Key on my way to church. Later, I posted it on Facebook. Today (Wednesday after the Hurricane), on the same bridge, in the morning, I thought I should send that photo to Maria to put on the bulletin cover for this Sunday. When I got to church, I pulled up her draft bulletin and there it was - the photo I took last Sunday.
Was that a coincidence? Was it because Maria and I have worked together for ten years? Is it because she is that good at her job? Yes; certainly to the last question and probably to all three.
This week, we are going to talk about the theology of coincidences. There are two, one-page articles discussing the phenomenon. I'm in the camp of thinking that God interacts in our life and, at times, it looks like coincidence. Our two authors this week disagree with me. I'd like to know what you think.
Who’s Responsible for Coincidence?
Peter W. Marty, Christian Century, 9.29.22
Peter W. Marty is editor/publisher of the Century and senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Churchin Davenport, Iowa.

In a 2018 game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions, Bears kicker Cody Parkey hitthe uprights four separate times in the same game, missing two extra points and two field goals.It was a quirky sequence of events that had never occurred before in the NFL.
A 22-year-old waitress serving drinks in a Westlake, Ohio, bar asked for ID from a customer oneday, only to have the 23-year-old patron produce the server’s own driver’s license. The server’swallet had been stolen in a nearby town weeks earlier. Instead of filling a pitcher of beer, theserver called the police, who then arrested the unsuspecting patron.
Minnesota Twins outfielder Denard Span hit a line drive foul ball into the stands in 2010 thatstruck his mother directly in the chest, momentarily knocking her out and requiring fast medicalattention. “What are the odds of that happening?” Twins’ pitching coach Rick Anderson asked atthe time. Welcome to the world of coincidence.
Coincidences fascinate us, and we like to assign meaning to them. Something in the human spiritcraves events that astonish or surprise. For many who like to connect the dots of random eventsand see a reason for everything, God plays the lead role. To them, coincidence is a dirty word,the sign of a godless universe — unless, that is, God can be given responsibility for arranging the
circ*mstances.
But if God had arranged for Cody Parkey to miss those four kicks, what might have been thepurpose of that arranging? Did God have it in for Parkey or the Bears? (The Bears won thegame.) In the case of the waitress’s stolen license, if God set up the memorable circ*mstances forthe license’s retrieval, why doesn’t God make a more concerted effort to find more stolenwallets? As for that batter’s foul ball, are we to conclude that God was looking for a conspicuousway to deepen the bond between mother and son?
Our minds get suspicious when no one is in control of our every circ*mstance. That chance andcoincidence could be part of the fabric of the universe — and one of the by-products of humanfreedom — is simply incomprehensible to many. They go searching for a responsible party and,eager to identify someone who might be in charge, find God to be the go-to choice. “If badthings happen,” observes Roberta Bondi, “it is better to have a God we can’t understand and whohurts us, but is at least in charge.”
Our spiritual lives would grow exponentially if we could step beyond the pious but false notionof God arranging our circ*mstances for the sake of sending good and bad events our way. Goddoesn’t send events into our lives or arrange circ*mstances either to please or disappoint us.What seems to interest God far more is the texture of our souls and the composition of ourcharacter. How we shape these determines how we navigate the various events we encounter. Instead of elevating coincidence to the status of miracle and trying to assign gospel-levelmeaning to every chance event, maybe we can learn to trust God’s constancy in our lives enoughto help us say more comfortably: Whatever happens, happens.

There Are No Coincidences: This Statement is a Paradox
Bernard Beitman, Psychology Today, 7.6.2016
Bernard Beitman, M.D., is a visiting professor at the University of Virginia. He is the formerchair of the University of Missouri-Columbia department of psychiatry.

When uttering the phrase, “there are no coincidences,” the speaker feels fully confident in itstruth. But, just like coincidences themselves, the meaning depends on the beliefs of the personinvolved. Let’s start by looking closely at the word coincidence. Dictionaries usually define it as
two or more events coming together in a surprising, unexpected way without an obvious causalexplanation. Embedded in the definition is a hint that there might be an explanation.
This possibility of an explanation creates the opportunity for saying “there are no coincidences." If a cause can be defined, then there is no coincidence. Many believe that Fate or Mystery, or theUniverse or God, causes coincidences. Their faith in something Greater provides them with acause. Since God causes them, the cause is known. Therefore, there are no coincidences.
Statistically-oriented people believe that coincidences can be explained by the Law of TrulyLarge Numbers, which states that in large populations, any weird event is likely to happen. Thisis a long way of saying that coincidences are mostly random. Because statisticians “know” thatrandomness explains them, coincidences are nothing but strange yet expect-able events that weremember because they are surprising to us. They are not coincidences, just random events.
Those who believe in Mystery are more likely to believe that coincidences contain messages forthem personally. They may think, “It was meant to be," or “Coincidences are God’s way ofremaining anonymous.” Some of those in the random camp can find some coincidences
personally compelling and useful. "Randomness" and "God" Explanations Remove PersonalResponsibility.
Each of these two explanations take responsibility for coincidences away from you! Eachsuggests that you are powerless in the face of inexplicable forces. Randomness says you havenothing to do with creating coincidences—stuff just happens because we live in a random
universe. You think coincidences may have something to do with you, but they don’t. When Godis called in to explain coincidences, you are the recipient of divine grace. If you think you hadsomething to do with it, you are deluding yourself.
Randomness and God are extreme positions in a coincidence dance that usually involves you, tovarying degrees. Probability plays a necessary role. Some coincidences are more unlikely thanothers. Mystery plays a role because our minds cannot grasp the multiple stirrings hidden behindthe veil of our ignorance. Here lies some of the beauty in the study of coincidences. They makeus wonder. How much do we have to do with them, and how much is beyond our current concept of ourselves in the world?
Coincidences exist. Coincidences are real. Saying that there are no coincidences stops inquiry. Challenging the statement forces us to make sense of its ambiguity and explore our potentialinvolvement. You can choose the random perspective and with a wave of a mental hand, dismissmost coincidences as not worth further attention. Or, you can seek out their possible personalimplications and make life into an adventure of discovery both about yourself and the worldaround you. As you explore, you may uncover the latent abilities hidden within you.

Tuesday, October 4

Welcome to the Comfort Station! All Angels has converted into a zone-of-comfortfor LBK residents seeking hot coffee, air conditioning and a way to recharge their cell phone batteries (literally) and their own batteries, too (figuratively speaking). At the same time, we're going to have our Tuesday and Wednesday discussiongroups. At this point, we've had more than ten people through our doors so who knows who is going to show up tomorrow. You might even see one of your neighbors.
The topic of discussion will be Hurricane Ian. We will do a check-in to see where everyone is, we can then talk about the sermon from yesterday - I feel like dancing and crying - and the attached article. Here is the link to Sunday's service:
All Angels Sunday Service, October 2
One major concern of mine is complacency. Since we were spared, or because we were lucky, I am concerned that residents will not take the next hurricane warning and evacuation orders seriously. This article talks frankly about evacuations, what it takes to move 2.5 million people, and who gets left behind.
On page four, I included a short WSJ article for fun. It's called the Waffle House Index and it can, more or less, predict the size and severity of a hurricane by how many Waffle House restaurants are open or closed. We hit the magic number of 21 which means it's a super-bad hurricane. The article also proved what many believe to be true - FEMA uses the Waffle House Index.

Escaping Hurricane Ian
Caroline Mimbs Nyce, The Atlantic, 9.30.22 (The Day After)

This week, Ian slammed into southwestern Florida as a Category 4 (almost 5) hurricane. Thestate is still very much in the process of assessing the damage: Emergency teams have rescuedhundreds of stranded people, while some 1.9 million people remain without power. Officials
have identified as many as 21 dead [it is now 88], and that number may still rise.
Ahead of the storm’s landfall, Florida officials ordered the evacuation of about 2.5 millionpeople. Xilei Zhao, an evacuations researcher, was not one of them. In her role as a professor inthe Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida, she studies and
models people’s behavior during disasters.
I caught up with Zhao by phone to discuss Hurricane Ian and how the science of evacuations isresponding to the threat of bigger storms and wildfires.
Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Caroline Mimbs Nyce: For starters, how are things in Gainesville?
Xilei Zhao: To be honest, there’s nothing happening here in Gainesville. We didn’t even getmuch rain over here. In the beginning, it seemed like the hurricane would go through Tampa,even Tallahassee. Florida State University had already canceled all classes since Tuesday.
However, the hurricane hit Fort Myers and Naples, which are farther south. I think that’s veryunfortunate. People in that area were not well prepared, because of the initial forecasting of thehurricane’s trajectory. People in Tampa were the first ordered to evacuate, but the landfall wasactually in the Fort Myers region.
Nyce: What was it like for you to see the evacuation orders go out for 2.5 million people?
Zhao: I mean, I think that’s tremendous. The Tampa people had more time. They received theorders earlier. There was definitely a lot of congestion going on. The Florida Department ofTransportation actually also opened the shoulder lane from Tampa to Orlando.
Nyce: How much time do people normally need to evacuate?
Zhao: It depends. It depends on how many people are getting on the road within what timeframe. When several million people get on the road around the same time, it’s very hard to get allof them out in a timely fashion.
Nyce: Talk to me a little bit about what a successful disaster evacuation looks like.
Zhao: This is a very big and complicated topic. A lot depends on how orders and warnings areissued based on the forecasting of the hurricane trajectory, and the preparedness of thecommunity. In super-prepared communities, as soon as they hear the orders, they will leave
immediately, and everyone will work together.
I read that some people in Tampa were ordered to evacuate but couldn’t afford it, which is veryunfortunate. One family thought that if all of them evacuated, they’d need to spend at least$1,000 per day. They just don’t have the money to evacuate.
Nyce: Are there things that we could do to better help communities like that get out in time?
Zhao: Definitely. For example, I saw a lot of shelters were open during evacuation. They areproviding the resources needed for those folks that don’t know where to go or can’t afford hotels.Elderly people, especially people who have mobility impairment, may rely on public transit orparatransit assistance during evacuations.
Nyce: Do you think Florida and that southwest region were prepared for a storm like this?
Zhao: I think so. Everyone knows there is a high risk; we are going to get major hurricanessooner or later. So a lot of cities and counties, they have their evacuation plans, they have theirzones, and they also have training, perhaps every year. And they have a lot of protocols in place.
If I remember correctly, Jacksonville has one of the best preparedness plans for things like this.As you know, I’m working on wildfire evacuations. I saw Sonoma County is learning directlyfrom Jacksonville to develop its wildfire-evacuation plan.
Nyce: I know with wildfires, they talk about the time it takes to persuade someone to evacuateand the time of notification. Is it the same with hurricanes, where you have to convince someonethat it’s really happening and they need to go now?
Zhao: The research on this area is actually happening first in hurricanes. Because with ahurricane, you don’t see any environmental cues. It’s just people telling you that the hurricane iscoming. So some people have doubts. One interesting point that I want to study is about the new
residents. In the past several years, so many people have moved to Florida. Many of them havenever experienced hurricanes before. So this would be the first major event that impacts them.They are going to make decisions differently than the residents in the state who have a lot of
experience.
Nyce: If it’s their first time, could they maybe be slower to jump on it?
Zhao: Yeah, I think so. Previous research showed that people who have shorter lengths ofresidency in Florida—those without prior hurricane experience—have more doubt. So that maydelay their decision-making process. But other research also found that more experienced people,
because they have had false alarms in the past, may have more doubt. So it’s hard to say.
One thing I want to add, in terms of the evacuations: Yesterday morning, I saw news channelssaying, “It’s too late to evacuate now. Just stay sheltered. Stay safe inside,” or something likethat. So it seems like at least some people were trying to evacuate yesterday morning. So there
was definitely some delayed evacuation happening during that time frame. But we just don’tknow all that much yet.
Nyce: What’s your biggest worry right now?
Zhao: A lot of senior people live over there in Fort Myers and Naples. Did they get out quicklyand successfully? How can they recover from significant damage? Especially those folks whohave limited ability or who are disabled. It worries me a lot.
They need medicine. They need mobility assistance. They are relying on, for example, theparatransit system. How can the federal government or state government help them quickly?
We’ve seen so much damage over the years that transit or electricity may not come back quickly.
How can people survive a long recovery period? It’s very worrisome.
Nyce: I know this is one of your specialties: How might we use big data to better prepare forsomething like Hurricane Ian?
Zhao: In the past, when we were trying to understand people’s evacuation behavior, we usuallyused surveys. We’d survey people and get a couple hundred responses to build some models.However, there are a lot of things we don’t know with the surveys.
With GPS data generated from apps, cellphones, or smartwatches, we can know how people aremaking decisions on a highly granular level. We know not only when they make the decision toleave and where they go, but when they come back. We also will be able to analyze people’sactivity levels in those regions to essentially help us approximate the economic recovery after adisaster.
Nyce: How have data changed our perception of how people evacuate?
Zhao: I personally haven’t done any GPS-data analysis for hurricanes yet—I mainly work onGPS-data analytics for wildfires. But in the past, we always assumed people take the shortestpath to their destination. However, the GPS data suggests that a lot of people are choosing local
roads to try to avoid congestion.
Nyce: That’s huge.
Zhao: We are also seeing something called self-evacuees or shadow evacuees—essentially, thepeople who are not ordered to evacuate but evacuate anyway. That’s considered bad, especiallyfor hurricane evacuations, because if you are on the road, you are contributing to more
congestion.
Nyce: Is there anything else big-picture you’re thinking about in light of Hurricane Ian?
Zhao: There’s a concept called “digital twin.” Essentially, it’s like a virtual city. It’s like a virtualreplica of the real world that we are trying to merge all different types of data, especially real-time data, into in order to assist real-time decision making.
With technologies like 5G, cloud computing, and edge computing in place, we should be able toachieve a digital twin of the physical—at least the physical infrastructure—of the entire state, sothat we can make better decisions in emergencies like this.
Nyce: Does it feel like, in general, evacuations are becoming more common because of the wayclimate change is potentially making hurricanes and fires bigger?
Zhao: A lot of people are arguing that we need to have better zoning policy, because a lot ofpeople are moving south—moving to Florida, for example. More and more people are moving tothe floodplain, moving to the coastal cities that have more vulnerability and a higher risk of
getting hit by a hurricane.
It’s similar to the wildfire situation. A lot of people are moving to the wildland-urban interface,which has a higher risk of wildfires. So many people are moving into these vulnerable high-riskareas that evacuation becomes much more challenging. We need more study and more researchin this area to help us understand what’s a better way to evacuate, especially while facing moresevere storms and more frequent wildfires in the country.

Waffle House Index, Hurricane Ian
Jennifer Calfas, WSJ 9.25.22 (Day of the Storm)

Waffle House closed 21 locations along the Florida coast ahead of Hurricane Ian—an indicatorfor some of the storm’s severity.
The 24-hour restaurant closed locations along the anticipated path of the hurricane fromBradenton to Naples, said Njeri Boss, vice president of public relations at Waffle House Inc.
Federal emergency officials have warned the storm could cause life-threatening storm surge,heavy rainfall and destructive winds.
“The safety of our employees, their families and our customers remain a high priority as weawait Hurricane Ian’s landfall,” Ms. Boss said in a statement. Waffle House has more than 1,900locations in 25 states including Florida and along the Gulf Coast, which are often affected by
hurricanes.
Some emergency officials have relied on Waffle House closures as an informal indicator for justhow destructive a storm could be.
“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?” Craig Fugate, the former administrator of theFederal Emergency Management Agency, has said. “That's really bad. That's where you go towork.”
The Waffle House closures this week join those across Florida schools, airports and Walt DisneyWorld, where officials have temporarily canceled classes, flights and theme-park visits due to thehistoric storm.
The restaurant chain has historically sought to open quickly after disaster strikes, with plans onhow to do so without electricity, for example.

Tuesday, September 27

It is said that Queen Elizabeth has altered the course and direction of the Commonwealth and the world. Her reign will be talked about in 1,000 years from now as an example on how to lead with virtue.
None of us will be around to see if this comes true, but, virtues are a great topic for us to discuss. The article for next week, from the WSJ, contrasts modern values against the traditional virtues that the Queen Mother exhibited.
I'd like to know if the author successfullymade his argument; specifically, if the values of today are as shifting and baseless as he claims and, as such, was Queen Elizabeth's life countercultural? (There is a surprise rebuke against the Church in this piece; which, on its own merit, is enough to discuss).

The Countercultural Queen
Daniel Henninger, WSJ 9.14.22

Within the hour of her death, Queen Elizabeth II was praised by commentators from left to rightfor representing so many traditional values. Reserve, self-containment, duty, responsibility,modesty of demeanor, graciousness, civility, prudence, fortitude.
For a moment I thought I was back in St. Margaret Mary grade school memorizing the usefulvirtues from the Baltimore Catechism: “The seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are wisdom,understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.” Counsel, as the youngElizabeth surely learned, is “advice, which guides us in practical matters.”
What is most notable is that this instant outpouring of media praise for the queen’s traditional virtues comes amid a contemporary culture that elevates daily, even hourly, a value system ofself-regard, self-promotion, changeability, acting out and anything-goes behavior that is the polaropposite of Queen Elizabeth’s.
The celebration of the queen’s traditional values suggests an unexpected recognition of theextreme artificiality of our now-dominant culture.
“Influencer” is the defining word for our times. An influencer’s success depends one thing: self-promotion accomplished by rising in the hot-air balloons of Instagram, TikTok and other socialmedia. The goal is to marry marketing with fame. Because influencers do it, millions of others,often young women, make preoccupation with themselves the one habit that directs their lives. Aculture of self-aggrandizement, though, is only one half of the shift in values revealed by thecelebration of the queen’s life.
To say that the queen’s values were traditional means they existed for a very long time. Thepoised 14-year-old Elizabeth we heard in news clips reading her first public speech to childrenduring the Blitz of World War II had by then been taught personal virtues held in high regard forcenturies in the West and arguably longer in the East.
In our time, however, personal virtue has been demoted by social virtue.
The week’s recollections of what made the queen’s life exceptional are an opportunity tocompare the merits of virtue earned individually with virtue, or approved behavior, constructedby society.
One effect of giving social responsibility more weight than personal responsibility is that it givespeople a pass on their personal behavior. So long as one’s life is “centered” on some larger socialgood, the conduct of one’s personal life is, well, irrelevant.
Consider this: a difficulty with the theory of decriminalization is that it diminishes almost tonothing responsibility for one’s bad acts, such as shoplifting. Behavior unhinged from norms ofany sort is rampant now.
The queen’s habits were a source of personal stability. Modern values are a source of instability.The habits of behavior associated with her are not about mere goodness but about creating astructure of life inside of which one then can perform successfully as a person, hopefully for thegood. She did that for her country for 70 years.
One cannot discuss what has happened to the culture in the queen’s lifetime without consideringthe changed role of the churches. Gaining momentum, I’d say, with their embrace of the nuclear-disarmament movement in the 1980s, the churches turned most of their energies to teaching thatthe embrace of broad social goals is the first determinant of a moral life. That won’t change, butmaybe it’s time they reset the weekly balance between social-justice homilies and a rediscoveryof personal virtues like the queen’s, which they once taught so well.
Public schools, where children spend six hours of each of their weekdays, were long consideredan invaluable reinforcement of personal self-discipline and character. They also abandoned thatrole to propagandize instead for politicized values. This shift is one reason so many parentsmigrated to charters, school-choice programs and home-schooling.
One has to wonder: Is the praise for the queen’s old-school virtues little more than this week’stalking points, or do her media admirers recognize that something about what we promote now— self-regard, social moralizing — has gone badly off the tracks?
Perhaps this will fade with the queen’s funeral Monday.
We’d be better off if a longer reconsideration of what made Queen Elizabeth’s life exemplarybecame part of the post-pandemic reckoning that is changing so much else about the status quo.

Tuesday, September 20

The topic for this week is to discuss what is happeningin the greater Church - specifically the evangelical side of the House.

​How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church
Tim Alberta, The Atlantic 5.10.22

The movement spent 40 years at war with secular America. Now it’s at war with itself.
Having grown up as the son of a senior pastor, I’ve spent my life watching evangelicalism morphfrom a spiritual disposition into a political identity. It’s heartbreaking. So many people who lovethe Lord, who give their time and money to the poor and the mourning and the persecuted, havebeen reduced to a caricature. But I understand why. Evangelicals—including my own father—became compulsively political, allowing specific ethical arguments to snowball into full-blownpartisan advocacy, often in ways that distracted from their mission of evangelizing for Christ. Tohis credit, even when my dad would lean hard into a political debate, he was careful to remindhis church of the appropriate Christian perspective. “God doesn’t bite his fingernails over any ofthis,” he would say around election time. “Neither should you.”
Brighton, Michigan is a small town, and I knew the local evangelical scene like it was a secondreporting beat. I knew which pastors were feuding; whose congregations were mired in scandal;which church softball teams had a deacon playing shortstop, and which ones stacked theirlineups with non-tithing ringers. But FloodGate Church? I had never heard of FloodGate. Andneither had most of the people sitting around me, until recently.
For a decade, Pastor Bolin preached to a crowd of about 100 on a typical Sunday. Then cameEaster 2020, when Bolin announced that he would hold indoor worship services in defiance ofMichigan’s emergency shutdown orders. As word got around the conservative suburbs of
Detroit, Bolin became a minor celebrity. Local politicians and activists borrowed his pulpit.FloodGate’s attendance soared as members of other congregations defected to the small roadsidechurch. By Easter 2021, FloodGate was hosting 1,500 people every weekend.
Listening to Bolin that morning, I kept thinking about another pastor nearby, one whoapproached his job very differently: Ken Brown. Brown leads his own ministry, CommunityBible Church, in the Detroit suburb of Trenton. I got to know him during the 2020 presidentialcampaign. Brown wrote to me explaining the combustible dynamics within the evangelicalChurch and describing his own efforts—as the conservative pastor of a conservativecongregation—to keep his members from being radicalized by the lies of media figures.
When we finally met, in the spring of 2021, Brown told me his alarm had only grown. “Thecrisis for the Church is a crisis of discernment,” he said over lunch. “Discernment” (one’s basicability to separate truth from untruth) “is a core biblical discipline. And many Christians are not
practicing it.” A stocky man with steely blue eyes and a subdued, matter-of-fact tone, Brownstruck me as thoroughly disheartened. The pastor said his concern was not simply for hiscongregation of 300, but for the millions of American evangelicals who had come to value power
over integrity, the ephemeral over the eternal, moral relativism over bright lines of right andwrong. He made a compelling case.
But in leading their predominantly white, Republican congregations, Brown and Bolin havecome to agree on one important thing: Both pastors believe there is a war for the soul of theAmerican Church—and both have decided they cannot stand on the sidelines. They aren’t alone.To many evangelicals today, the enemy is no longer secular America, but their fellow Christians,people who hold the same faith but different beliefs.
How did this happen? For generations, white evangelicals have cultivated a narrative pittingcourageous, God-fearing Christians against a wicked society that wants to expunge the Almightyfrom public life. Having convinced so many evangelicals that the next election could trigger thenation’s demise, Christian leaders effectively turned thousands of churches into looselyorganized, hazily defined, existentially urgent movement — the types of places where paranoiaand falsehoods flourish and people turn on one another. “Hands down, the biggest challengefacing the Church right now is the misinformation and disinformation coming in from theoutside,” Brown said.
Because of this, the pastor told me, he can no longer justify a passive approach from the pulpit.The Church is becoming radicalized—and pastors who don’t address this fact head-on are onlycontributing to the problem. He understands their reluctance. They would rather keep the peacethan risk alienating anyone. The irony, Brown said, is that by pretending that a clash of Christianworldviews isn’t happening, these pastors risk losing credibility with members who can see itunfolding inside their own church.
If this is a tale of two churches, it is also the tale of churches everywhere. It’s the story ofmillions of American Christians who, after a lifetime spent considering their political affiliationsin the context of their faith, are now considering their faith affiliations in the context of theirpolitics.
The first piece of scripture I memorized as a child is from Paul’s second letter to the earlyChurch in Corinth, Greece. As with most of his letters, the apostle was addressing dysfunctionand breakage in the community of believers. “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is
unseen,” Paul wrote. “Since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Paul’sadmonishment of the early Church contains no real ambiguity. Followers of Jesus are to orientthemselves toward his enduring promise of salvation, and away from the fleeting troubles of
humanity.
The nation’s largest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is bleeding membersbecause of ferocious infighting over race relations, women serving in leadership, accountabilityfor sexual misconduct, and other issues. The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest
denomination, is headed toward imminent divorce over irreconcilable social and ideologicaldivisions. Smaller denominations are losing affiliate churches as pastors and congregations breakfrom their leadership over many of the same cultural flash points, choosing independence overassociating with those who do not hold their views.
Christianity has traditionally been seen as a stabilizing, even moderating, influence on Americanlife. In 1975, more than two-thirds of Americans expressed “a great deal or quite a lot ofconfidence in the church,” according to Gallup, and as of 1985, “organized religion was the mostrevered institution” in American life. Today, Gallup reports, just 37 percent of Americans haveconfidence in the Church. This downward spiral owes principally to two phenomena: theconstant stench of scandal, with megachurches and prominent leaders imploding on what seemslike a weekly basis; and the growing perception that Christians are embracing extremist views.
Meanwhile, other pastors feel trapped. One stray remark could split their congregation, or evencost them their job. Yet a strictly apolitical approach can be counterproductive; theirunwillingness to engage only invites more scrutiny. The whisper campaigns brand conservative
pastors as moderate, and moderate pastors as Marxists. In this environment, a church leader’sstance on biblical inerrancy is less important than whether he is considered “woke.” Hiscommand of scripture is less relevant than suspicions about how he voted in the last election.
More than a few times, I’ve heard casual talk of civil war inside places that purport to worshipthe Prince of Peace. If this all sounds a bit strange—ominous, or even “dangerous,” as one localpastor warned me the night before I visited—well, sure. But strange compared to what? Having spent my entire life in and around the evangelical Church, I had in recent years becomedesensitized to all the rhetoric of militarism and imminent Armageddon.
In a sense, Christians have always lived a different epistemological existence than nonbelievers.But this is something new. But what is left to hold together? When I visited, Aldersgate church—an elegant structure with room for 500 in the sanctuary—was hosting maybe 150 people totalacross two Sunday services. Pastor Bingham is proud to say that he hasn’t driven anyone awaywith his political views. Still, membership has been in decline for years, in part because so manyChristians today gravitate toward the places that are outspokenly aligned with their extra-biblicalbeliefs. For all their talk of keeping Aldersgate unified, the two pastors acknowledged that in afew years’ time, they would belong to different churches. The same went for their members.
When I met with some of the longest-tenured laypeople of the church, almost everyone indicatedthat when the UMC divorce was finalized, they would follow the church that reflected theirpolitical views. It didn’t matter that doing so meant, in some cases, walking away from the
church they’d attended for decades.
“What’s coming is going to be brutal. There’s no way around that,” Bingham told me. “Churchesare breaking apart everywhere. My only hope is that, when the time comes, our people canseparate without shattering.” Ken Brown knows plenty of pastors like Bingham, who refuse to
talk about the very things tearing their churches apart. He knows they have their reasons. Somedon’t know what to say. Others fear that speaking up would only make matters worse. Almosteveryone is concerned about job security. Pastors are not immune from anxiety over theirmortgage or kids’ college tuitions; many younger clergy members, in particular, worry that theyhaven’t amassed enough goodwill to get argumentative with their congregation.
Bolin tells me the church has sold the building we’re sitting in—where the congregation has metsince the 1970s—and purchased a sprawling complex down the road. The pastor saysFloodGate’s revenue has multiplied six-fold since 2020. It is charging ahead into an era ofexpansion, with ambitions of becoming southeast Michigan’s next megachurch.
Bolin says FloodGate and churches like it have grown in direct proportion to how manyChristians “felt betrayed by their pastors.” That trend looks to be holding steady. More peoplewill leave churches that refuse to identify with a tribe and will find pastors who confirm theirown partisan views. The erosion of confidence in the institution of American Christianity willaccelerate. The caricature of evangelicals will get uglier. And the actual work of evangelizingwill get much, much harder.
God isn’t biting his fingernails. But I sure am

Tuesday, September 13

Ever wonder why bankruptcy says on one's credit report for seven years? Why not five or nine? There is a Biblical principle of the Year of Jubilee where one's debts are wiped out after 7 years.
The discussion topic for next week ties in debt and shame in an interesting, if not controversial, way. Throw in some Biblical understanding of both and, well, it will be an interesting discussion.

Debtors, Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Shame
Astra Taylor, NY Times 9.6.22

Conversations about debt are never purely about economics. They are always, also,conversations about power, morality and shame. The debate over President Biden’s student loanrelief plan is no exception.
Immediately after the initiative was announced, opponents of debt cancellation begandenouncing “slacker baristas,” overeducated Ivy League lawyers and impractical “lesbian dancetheory” majors. Immune to accusations of hypocrisy, Republican members of Congress who hadreceived hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars in federal relief castigated student
debtors who might receive $10,000 to $20,000 in aid.
It was a stark reminder that shame, like wealth, is not evenly distributed in our society. Forworking-class people, insolvency is often seen as a sign of profligacy and personalirresponsibility, while large corporations and the wealthy routinely walk away from theirobligations and are celebrated as savvy for doing so. Debts are, first and foremost, financialburdens. But most people in arrears must shoulder a boulder of shame, as well. This is the factormost commentary about Mr. Biden’s student debt relief plan has missed.
The mass cancellation of federal student loans will not only remove a crushing economic weightfor tens of millions of people, it will lift a significant emotional one, too. This psychological shiftcould, in turn, have further political implications, by emboldening those who find their
obligations overwhelming to engage in collective action aimed at winning more relief andchanging the policies that make indebtedness so pervasive.
To understand what a pivotal moment this is, we must first appreciate just how profoundly themoral decks are usually stacked against regular debtors. Even the seemingly innocuous phrase“loan forgiveness” implies culpability and blame, when in reality the majority of debtors are
simply struggling to make ends meet — a problem likely to be most acute for Black and brownpeople, who tend to lack family wealth and access to credit on fair terms.
Why is our society so invested in steeping debtors in shame? The answer lies in debt’s role as acore building block of our economy and unequal social order. Debt is wrapped around everynecessity of life: We use credit to make daily purchases and pay for medical care, take outmortgages, finance our cars, and borrow for college; cities and states issue debt to pay for roadsand schools. Monthly repayments are often a form of wealth transfer to the affluent investorswho hold these debts as assets, fueling inequality.
If debt is a dual source of profit and power, shame is its handmaiden. Shame isolates and divides,making class solidarity more difficult. The kneejerk anger at the idea of student debt cancellationin some circles, while ostensibly about fairness, reflects the common though misguided view thatwhen one persons gains, another loses. Imagining a zero-sum game, some ask why student loanswere eliminated and not, say, medical debt — a reasonable question. But medical debt, too,should be erased, as a way to ease the unjust financial hardship that getting hurt or sick oftenentails. For example, Mr. Biden could, and should, take executive action to cancel all medicaldebt owed to veterans hospitals.
Meanwhile, the fever pitch of opposition to debt cancellation among conservative and centristelites reflects a different fear: that debt’s utility as an instrument of social control may beweakening. Consider the reaction of Representative Jim Banks, Republican of Indiana, to Mr.
Biden’s cancellation news: “Student loan forgiveness undermines one of our military’s greatestrecruitment tools at a time of dangerously low enlistments.” Student debt, or the fear of it, pushespeople into certain careers and limits their life choices.
No wonder soaring student debt became a catalyst for protest, though only after borrowers beganto overcome their shame. Under pressure from a growing coalition that traces its origins directlyto the Occupy Wall Street movement a decade ago, Mr. Biden was forced to act — an outcomethat is all the more remarkable given his previous allegiances. When he was a senator fromDelaware, which is home to the nation’s biggest issuers of credit cards, Mr. Biden tended to sidewith lenders over debtors. He was a driving force behind the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Preventionand Consumer Protection Act, which made it harder for distressed borrowers to discharge theirstudent loans. Now, Mr. Biden appears to be switching sides in time for the midterm elections.
Tweeting moving stories from people eligible to receive loan cancellation, he seemed as thoughhe were hosting a debtors’ assembly — an Occupy-inspired forum where people share theirfinancial tribulations out loud, thus transforming burdens of shame into bonds of empowerment— in the Oval Office.
The president’s actions are certainly a break with the political status quo, but they are notunprecedented. In his groundbreaking work on debt, my friend, the anthropologist DavidGraeber, reported on the periodic debt amnesties, or “jubilees,” of the ancient world. Seeking toquell unrest, Sumerian and Babylonian kings periodically wiped away debts and liberated peoplefrom peonage, often over the objections of creditors. The Code of Hammurabi, written around1750 B.C., proclaims that if a “storm wipes out the grain, or the harvest fails, or the grain doesnot grow for lack of water, in that year he need not give his creditor any grain in payment.” Forthese leaders, debt relief had little to do with the guilt of individual debtors. Jubilees were apractical way to recover from crises and avert societal collapse. Now, as then, inequality andinsolvency imperil economic and political stability. Wiping the slate restores balance.
Many of today’s debtors have more in common with unlucky Mesopotamian farmers, subject toforces beyond their control, than it may initially appear. In a society where the federal minimumwage is stuck at $7.25, public services are paltry, and racial and gender discrimination run
rampant, a majority of Americans have no choice but to borrow to make ends meet. Wherestudent loans are concerned, the steady erosion of state funding for higher education, and theresultant debt-for-degree system, is to blame, not individual borrowers.
Prominent critics of Mr. Biden’s plan have pointed out that granting relief this once will notpermanently solve the student debt crisis nor the attendant problem of rising college costs, andhere they are correct. The only permanent solution to the problem of runaway student debt is tomake public education free for all (a model that was relatively common in the United States afew generations ago, which is why so many older people graduated debt-free). Only then canstudents who lack wealth avoid indenturing themselves for the chance to learn.
Though I believe Mr. Biden’s plan is inadequate in terms of the monetary relief it offers, hisactions have already dealt a blow to debt’s symbolic, shame-inducing power. Everyone nowknows federal student loans can be canceled with the flick of a president’s pen. And instead offeeling guilty and unworthy, millions of regular people suddenly feel entitled to relief, anentitlement previously reserved only for society’s elites.
Hundreds of millions of people are not in debt because they are immoral and live beyond theirmeans, but because they are denied the means to live. Debt jubilees are part of righting thiswrong, but as Mr. Biden’s student debt relief plan shows, they won’t happen unless debtors riseup and demand them. The first step is abolishing the shame that makes us reluctant to fight forwhat we deserve.

Tuesday, September 6

For this week, we will discuss God and culture wars waged in God's name.

The God I Know is Not a Culture Warrior
Tish Harrison Warren, NY Times 8.14.22

Two Sundays ago, my church had a baptismal service. Baptisms at our church are a mixture ofsolemnity and unbridled glee, often full of laughter and tears of joy. Those who were beingbaptized or, in the case of infants, their parents, took vows to put their trust in God’s grace andlove and to renounce spiritual darkness, evil and “all sinful desires that draw” us from the love ofGod. After the baptism, the kids in our service ran forward, giggling, trying to get sprayed withthe baptismal water that our priest, Ryan, slung over the congregation as he called us to“remember your baptism.”
On that Sunday, Ryan invited anyone else who wanted to get baptized to let him know. To mysurprise, after the service ended and we were all mingling, two more people approached Ryanand asked if they could also get baptized. So after a short conversation with them, he hollered forthe congregation to regather and, then and there, two others joined our ranks through baptism.People cheered and applauded as they emerged from the water. I left that service feeling pensive,grateful and in awe of the beauty of God and human lives.
I have thought of that incandescent Sunday a lot the past couple of weeks because there is aperplexing difference between the way we celebrated God that morning and the way I typicallyhear God discussed online and in our broader cultural discourse.
The God of that baptismal service is one of joy, kindness and peace. The God I often hear aboutin American politics, in the news and on Twitter is one of cultural division and bickering. TheGod of that Sunday service seemed powerful and holy, yet gentle and beautiful. The God in ourcultural discourse seems impotent and irrelevant, a mostly sociological phenomenon related topolitical posturing and power plays.
In the news and on social media, God usually shows up when we are fighting about something.
The subject of faith seems most often discussed in conversations about voting patterns andcampaigning. God appears in our public discourse when Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene,a Georgia Republican, calls for Christian nationalism. Or in Twitter debates about whether acoach should publicly pray on the 50-yard line. Or when the former Georgia gubernatorialcandidate Kandiss Taylor painted “Jesus, guns, babies” on the side of her campaign bus.
It’s not that I think God has no place in politics or public discussions. Faith touches all areas oflife, and issues such as abortion, religious liberty and the relationship between church and stateare important. But when we primarily talk about God in the context of political or ideological
debate, believers’ actual experience of God, worship and faith — not to mention spiritual virtueslike humility, gratitude and kindness — often gets lost. God becomes merely another pawn in theculture wars, a means to a political end, a meme to own our opponents online or an accessorydonned like a power tie.
I mentioned my growing frustrations over how we discuss faith in public to my friend MichaelWear, who worked on faith-based initiatives under President Barack Obama. Drawing from thework of the Yale University professor Stephen Carter, Michael made a helpful distinction
between discussing faith publicly and “taking God’s name in vain” in politics. “It’s themanipulation that matters,” he told me. It’s the “disingenuousness of so much religious discoursein politics” that tends to cheapen our spiritual lives, beliefs and experiences.
There are no bright lines here. It’s not always clear when we are honestly explaining how ourheartfelt convictions play out in the public square and when we are “taking God’s name in vain.”Still, on the left, on the right and in my own life at times, I’ve witnessed a subtle shift where the
language of God is used to score points or to grandstand. I’ve seen God flattened into anamalgam of hot takes and personal branding, in ways that seem to track with the increasinglyperformative nature of politics writ large. Algorithms and mediums that reward shallowness,
rage and spectacle inevitably shape how we, as a culture and as individuals, discuss faith. Andthe ways we habitually hear God discussed inevitably shape who we understand God to be.
But how do we repair the damage done? What would truthful, humble and robust public religiousdiscourse look like?
For starters, we must speak proactively and vulnerably about our faith, instead of only in reactionto the latest hot-button issue. There are questions that haunt every human life: How does oneknow what is true and false, right or wrong? Is there a God? If there is, can we interact with him,her or it? If so, how? Can God speak to us? Can God say no to us? What are our obligations toGod and to other human beings? How can we have joy? How can we live well? How can we bewise?
Whether one thinks of oneself as religious or not, unprovable and value-laden assumptions abouttruth and meaning drive our lives, including our politics. Yet these often go unacknowledged.Engaging with the presuppositions and beliefs underneath the loudest cultural debates of ourmoment helps us more fully understand the crux of issues, our true points of disagreement andour common humanity.
Most people’s experience of faith is far more personal, rich, important and meaningful than canbe summed up in our political sparring. We must keep this in mind when writing on, debating ordiscussing religion and spirituality. Part of the purpose of this newsletter is to preserve space toexamine not only faith in public life but also how spiritual practices quietly mold us, ourcommunities and our days.
Churches and other religious groups must continually highlight how our traditions addresspressing issues that will never trend on Twitter or dominate political debates: problems likeloneliness, despair, conflict in families, disappointment, grief, longing, loss and those all-too-human anxieties and insecurities that keep us up at night.
On a more personal note, sometimes I have to retreat from larger media debates over politics andtheology to preserve the honest, tender and fragile heart of faith in my own life.
I often quote the fifth-century ascetic Diadochos of Photiki, who seems shockingly contemporaryin our time of smartphones and social media. “When the door of the steam baths is continuallyleft open, the heat inside rapidly escapes through it,” he wrote. “Likewise the soul, in its desire tosay many things, dissipates its remembrance of God through the door of speech.”
Sometimes, in order to retain a “remembrance of God,” I have to take a break from our societaldiscourse around faith, which can minimize who I imagine God to be. Practices like gatheredworship, silence, reading the Scriptures and prayer remind me that if God is real, there are farmore interesting, lasting and confounding things about God than what can be captured in our
public discourse.
The people who showed up to church two weeks ago and those who decided to be baptized thatday were after something. They were searching for beauty, for truth, for a reality greater than canbe summed up in words — or in voting patterns or in the antics of politicians. And the quest forthat greater reality must also inform how we talk about faith in public life.

Tuesday, August 30

For our discussion tomorrow, the author of the topic,The Rot at the Core, Dennis "Mitch" Maley, will be joining the conversation via Zoom.
For the Women's Discussion Group - you are all invited Tuesday for this special event. We will still have the Women's Discussion Group on Wednesday; but, I wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to discuss the article with Mitch.
The Rot at the Core
Dennis “Mitch” Maley, The Bradenton Times 8.21.22
For the past couple of months, I’ve been deeply immersed in political race analyses followed bya much-needed vacation, which I spent helping my son drive his car across the country to LosAngeles. Road tripping through lower Americana while receiving regular updates on the state ofManatee County government made for an interesting perspective. As we head into Tuesday’selections, this seemed like a good time to reflect on all of it.
One of the most disturbing elements of barnstorming across the I-10 corridor was the realizationthat every state we drove through felt just as broken, divided, and in need of a reboot as home. Infact, the most surprising takeaway may have been that good old Flori-duh, might not be as bat-shxx crazy as I had imagined. Either that, or the entire South had finally caught up. Perhaps it’sthe climate. I’ve long held a theory that our brand of madness is largely owed to people ofEuropean ancestry putting down roots in a climate not suited for their blood, and the one thingthat was constant from coast to coast for the two weeks we were out was that it was blisteringlyhot everywhere.
The first stop was New Orleans, our long-time home away from home. In retrospect, it provided the most comfort in terms of familiarity. Governed by a famously corrupt ruling class, theinfrastructure is still crumbling, potholes are still large enough to swallow compact cars, and
there are still more dangerous to downright deadly areas per square mile than any city not namedChicago. In other words, it has managed to maintain its downward trajectory, which is more thanI can say for most places over the past five to ten years. The jazz music still rings in the air, thefood culture is still the best in the United States, and, as long as you don’t get stabbed in the gutfor pocket change and your iPhone, you can have a good time at a reasonable expense.
Most of the rest of the long drive across God’s Country seemed to have maintained its balance ofold-fashioned (frighteningly) religious conservatism and run-of-the-mill, grease the skids anddivide up the pie, good-old-boy GOP politics that are only unique by way of the cowboy dresscode and empty idioms that sound more profound through a Texas drawl. Nonetheless, thebarbecue and margaritas remain unrivaled and I got to hear Marty Robbins’ El Paso at the oneand only Rosa’s Cantina, so I’d be lying if I were to say it wasn’t my favorite trip to the LoneStar State.
On the heels of an epic drought, monsoon rains chased us across Texas all the way to Phoenix,where we did get enough dry weather for an afternoon trip to Tombstone and the OK Corral,where, about a decade back, I’d first had a shot of Old Overholt at a saloon once owned by DocHoliday. Tombstone is remarkably well preserved and one of the few places where you canforget you are in the Divided States of America, at least until someone brings up politics.
Arizona on the whole, however, is deeply divided, and there were many stretches in which thebillboards reminded you that it was a state in which people were urged to choose a side andchoose wisely. The best part of the trip was losing cell phone service for the couple of days we
spent camping in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s surprising how much of your sanity can berecovered while unplugged from the machine with little more than some primitive camping gear,a cooler of cold ones, and some of the most stunningly-gorgeous natural scenery anywhere on
this big blue ball of mud.
By the third day, however, we were grateful for a hot shower and a cold pool in Palm Desert,where we stopped for a day before heading into Los Angeles for a week. When I was a youngboy, LA was little more than a dream. In eastern Pennsylvania, New York City seemed like areal place. After all, you knew people who’d actually been there, and it was close enough to getto that even desperate circ*mstances never made it feel as though it were out of reach. LosAngeles, on the other hand, might as well have been Mars.
I can still recall lying in my bed, falling asleep to dreams of seeing the place where all of myfavorite reran TV shows had been filmed. When I finally made my way out there in the late ‘90s,California did not fail to impress. I can vividly recall the majesty of the Queen Palms on the
Sunset Strip and the unrivaled views of the city lights from the Hollywood Hills, the spectacularscenes of cliffs abutting the ocean in Malibu, and the way it felt to see the famed Hollywood signup close.
Sadly, I’ve been visiting for nearly a quarter century, and it’s mostly been a slow decline into thesort of place in which the word hellscape doesn’t seem like hyperbole. On so many streets, there are nearly as many squalid tents and decommissioned RVs that have been converted to homes asthere are actual housing units. An enormous population of untreated schizophrenics terrorizeslocals, along with the tourists still willing to slog through the filth and excrement for Instagramselfies at iconic landmarks. Parking lots across the city are littered with the shattered glass ofautomobile break-ins and everything from heroin needles to crack vials can be found in thegutter of just about any neighborhood that isn’t behind a large gate or wall.
The price for all of this bedlam doesn’t end with such intangibles. Gas was still between $5-6 agallon, hotels were two to three times that of any other stop, and meals for two at even the mostmodest hamburger and pizza joints routinely topped $60. In other words, getting a close-up lookat something akin to the fall of Rome doesn’t come cheap.
I realize that there’s much to be said by partisans on red vs. blue states or cities, but as someonewho is sickened by both brands in our co*ke and Pepsi political duopoly, I have to say that notmuch changed from place to place other than it was intensified as you got closer and closer to thebest climate on the planet, a place where too many people want to live for our status quo ofpolitical graft and bureaucratic ineptitude to keep things tolerable, which leads me back toManatee County and our great state of Florida.
The trip at large, along with all of the conversations with various locals that two travelingjournalists were bound to encounter, made one thing crystal clear: polarizing and largelyirrelevant culture war, partisan, and ideological nonsense remains at the forefront of our society,a thin veneer of paralyzing distraction that has rendered us incapable of administering even themost basic and essential elements of bureaucracy that are required of a free society. Some placesare further along in the race toward the bottom, but we’ve all veered dangerously off course andour hatred for the opposition has left us all but blind to the thievery and corruption of those wehail as our saviors.
While I was away, our inept leadership gutted even more of what precious little remains in termsof institutional knowledge within our county government. Our can’t-get-out-of-his-own-waycounty administrator’s ego got him into yet another petty and unproductive squabble, while
accusations of yet another scandal within the Bradenton Police Department surfaced. Meanwhile,our so-called elected leaders put the bulk of their energy into campaigning against theircolleagues, hoping they can assist their special interest paymasters in capturing all of the elected
offices so that they can not only get their way but do it without the affront of a dissenting voiceat the dais.
On Tuesday, we’ll simply learn how much worse our county commission will get, and, as wehead into November, there’s little indication that there will be much (if any) improvement, top tobottom in our state. Like every place I’ve visited over the past two weeks, the future doesn’t lookgreat and the citizens who hold the key to systemic change seem no more up to the task than thepoliticians. The former are getting robbed and the latter are getting fat, yet it seems like all ofthose who've been looted are content to root for their thief. From sea to shining sea, we seem tobe locked into a hopeless death spiral in which Americans do little more than point, scream, andshxx-post on social media.
If we’re to come back from the brink, I’m afraid it will require much, much more than that. Isincerely hope we prove up to the job, but I have to admit that I see little here or anywhere elseto suggest that is the case. Wake up, America. The saviors are not wearing fancy suits andmaking empty promises from a soap box. No, the saviors are your friends and neighbors, and thefact that they sometimes hold different values and opinions does not make them your enemy.
Quite the opposite, our ideological diversity and ability to listen to a different viewpoint withoutdisqualifying the person expressing it used to be one of our greatest strengths back in the daysbefore they managed to pit us against each other quite so savagely.

Tuesday, August 23

How Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-opt the Rosary
Daniel Panneton, The Atlantic 8.14.22

Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosaryhas acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics. On thisextremist fringe, rosary beads have been woven into a conspiratorial politics and absolutist gunculture. These armed radical traditionalists have taken up a spiritual notion that the rosary can bea weapon in the fight against evil and turned it into something dangerously literal.
Their social-media pages are saturated with images of rosaries draped over firearms, warriors inprayer, Deus Vult (“God wills it”) crusader memes, and exhortations for men to rise up andbecome Church Militants. Influencers on platforms such as Instagram share posts referencing
“everyday carry” and “gat check” (gat is slang for “firearm”) that include soldiers’ “battlebeads,” handguns, and assault rifles. One artist posts illustrations of his favorite Catholic saints,clergy, and influencers toting AR-15-style rifles labeled sanctum rosarium alongside violently
hom*ophobic screeds that are celebrated by social-media accounts with thousands of followers.
The theologian and historian Massimo fa*ggioli has described a network of conservative Catholicbloggers and commentary organizations as a “Catholic cyber-militia” that actively campaignsagainst LGBTQ acceptance in the Church. These rad-trad rosary-as-weapon memes represent asocial-media diffusion of such messaging, and they work to integrate ultraconservativeCatholicism with other aspects of online far-right culture. The phenomenon might be tempting todismiss as mere trolling or merchandising, and ironical provocations based on traditionalist
Catholic symbols do exist, but the far right’s constellations of violent, racist, and hom*ophobiconline milieus are well documented for providing a pathway to radicalization and real-worldterrorist attacks.
The rosary—in these hands—is anything but holy. But for millions of believers, the beads, whichprovide an aide-mémoire for a sequence of devotional prayers, are a widely recognized symbolof Catholicism and a source of strength. And many take genuine sustenance from Roman
Catholic theology’s concept of the Church Militant and the tradition of regarding the rosary as aweapon against Satan. As Pope Francis said in a 2020 address, “There is no path to holiness …without spiritual combat,” and Francis is only one of many Church officials who have endorsed
the idea of the rosary as an armament in that fight.
In mainstream Catholicism, the rosary-as-weapon is not an intrinsically harmful interpretation ofthe sacramental, and this symbolism has a long history. In the 1930s and ’40s, the ultramontaneCatholic student publication Jeunesse Étudiante Catholique regularly used the concept to rallythe faithful. But the modern radical-traditionalist Catholic movement—which generally rejectsthe Second Vatican Council’s reforms—is far outside the majority opinion in the RomanCatholic Church in America. Many prominent American Catholic bishops advocate for guncontrol, and after the Uvalde school shooting, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas,lamented the way some Americans “sacralize death’s instruments.”
Militia culture, a fetishism of Western civilization, and masculinist anxieties have becomemainstays of the far right in the U.S.—and rad-trad Catholics have now taken up residence in thiscompany. Their social-media accounts commonly promote accelerationist and survivalist
content, along with combat-medical and tactical training, as well as memes depicting balaclava-clad gunmen that draw on the “terrorwave” or “warcore” aesthetic that is popular in far-rightcircles.
Like such networks, radical-traditional Catholics sustain their own cottage industry of goods andservices that reinforces the radicalization. Rosaries are common among the merchandise onoffer—some made of cartridge casings, and complete with gun-metal-finish crucifixes. One
Catholic online store, which describes itself as “dedicated to offering battle-ready products andmanuals to ‘stand firm against the tactics of the devil’” (a New Testament reference), sellsreplicas of the rosaries issued to American soldiers during the First World War as “combatrosaries.” Discerning consumers can also buy a “concealed carry” permit for their combat rosaryand a sacramental storage box resembling an ammunition can. In 2016, the pontifical SwissGuard accepted a donation of combat rosaries; during a ceremony at the Vatican, their
commander described the gift as “the most powerful weapon that exists on the market.”
The militarism also glorifies a warrior mentality and notions of manliness and male strength.This conflation of the masculine and the military is rooted in wider anxieties about Catholicmanhood—the idea that it is in crisis has some currency among senior Church figures and lay
organizations. In 2015, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix issued an apostolic exhortationcalling for a renewal of traditional conceptions of Catholic masculinity titled “Into the Breach,”which led the Knights of Columbus, an influential fraternal order, to produce a video series
promoting Olmsted’s ideas. But among radical-traditional Catholic men, such concerns take anextremist turn, rooted in fantasies of violently defending one’s family and church frommarauders.
The rosary-as-weapon also gives rad-trad Catholic men both a distinctive signifier withinChristian nationalism and a sort of membership pass to the movement. As the sociologistsAndrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry note in Taking America Back for God: ChristianNationalism in the United States, Catholics used to be regarded as enemies by Christiannationalists, and anti-Catholic nativism runs deep in American history. Today, Catholics are agrowing contingent of Christian nationalism.
Helping unite these former rivals is a quasi-theological doctrine of what Perry and anothersociologist, Philip S. Gorski, have called “righteous violence” against political enemies regardedas demonic or satanic, be they secularists, progressives, or Jews. The hostility toward liberalism
and secularism inherent in traditionalist Catholicism is also pronounced within Christiannationalist circles. No longer stigmatized by evangelical nationalists, Catholic imagery nowblends freely with staple alt-right memes that romanticize ancient Rome or idealize the
traditional patriarchal family.
Some doctrinal differences and divisions remain. Many radical-traditional Catholic men maintainthe hardline position that other forms of Christianity are heretical, and hold that Catholics aloneadhere to the one true Church. Christian nationalism’s nativism and its predilection for “GreatReplacement” theory alienate some radical-traditional Catholics who are not white or who werenot born in the United States, and deep veins of anti-Catholicism persist among far-rightProtestants.
Yet the convergence within Christian nationalism is cemented in common causes such ashostility toward abortion-rights advocates. The pro-choice protests that followed the leaked earlydraft of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which
overturned Roe v. Wade, led to a profusion of social-media posts on the far-right fantasizingabout killing activists, and such forums responded to Pride month this year with extremisthom*ophobic and transphobic “groomer” discourse. Rad-trad networks are also involved inorganizing rosary-branded events that involve weapons training.
Catholics are taught to love and forgive their enemies, that to do otherwise is a sin. But theextremist understanding of spiritual warfare overrides that command. To do battle with Satan—whose influence in the world is, according to Catholic demonology, real and menacing—is to
deploy violence for deliverance and redemption. The “battle beads” culture of spiritual warfarepermits radical-traditional Catholics literally to demonize their political opponents and regard theuse of armed force against them as sanctified. The sacramental rosary isn’t just a spiritual
weapon but one that comes with physical ammunition.

Tuesday, August 16

A Moment of Grace in a Season of Pain
David French, The Atlantic 7.29.22

Earlier this week I witnessed a moment that brought tears to my eyes, exposed the immenseamount of hurt that lies just beneath the surface of American life, and demonstrated the necessityof grace. It involved my wife, Nancy. A local Christian college called Williamson College
invited her to speak to students on the topic of “loving your enemies.” The inspiration for the talkwas a story she wrote for the Washington Examiner last December.
Nancy was slightly apprehensive before the speech. The last time she’d visited a local Christiancollege, a man rushed up to her after she had been honored in the college’s chapel, got in herface, and yelled “[Forget] you and your husband. You’re ruining America.” It was unnerving.
But this was supposed to be a feel-good speech about overcoming political differences. I’d urgeyou to read Nancy’s essay. She is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. A Vacation Bible Schoolteacher molested her when she was 12-years old. It turned out that the man was a serial abuser.
Nancy’s pastor later told her that 15 women in the congregation had complained about him. Yetnothing decisive was done. He was never prosecuted. He left Nancy’s church and later coachedgirls’ basketball at a Kentucky high school.
My wife came of age politically during Bill Clinton’s administration, and she was repulsed byhis sexual scandals. She was disgusted by the Democratic Party’s defense not just of a serialphilanderer but of a man who’d faced his own corroborated reports of sexual assault. She’d
thought the Republicans had a moral spine. After all, they’d impeached Clinton. The SouthernBaptist Convention had passed a resolution in 1998 highlighting the importance of moralcharacter in public officials.
Then came the 2016 election and the blow-back against conservatives who did not support thepresident. She stopped following people on Twitter who were cruel. She started following peoplewho were kind. One of them was a woman named Kathy Kattenberg. But when she followedKathy, she noticed something peculiar. This person who was nice to Nancy went out of her wayto constantly heckle me online. She trolled me constantly. She hated my pro-life positions, andshe hated my defense of religious liberty. She was relentless.
Early in the pandemic, Kathy was in distress. She tweeted that she was having trouble findingfood. It turns out that Kathy is disabled. She lives alone in New York, and she was struggling toget groceries delivered. Markets were out of basic goods. Delivery services were overwhelmed.
So Nancy activated. She worked with a pastor friend named Ray Ortlund and my formerNational Review colleague Kathryn Jean Lopez to find someone, anyone, who could shop forKathy and find her groceries. It took time, but within a week, Kathy’s apartment wasoverflowing with food, and a troll had become a friend. Kathy and Nancy are friends to this day,and I think that maybe (just maybe) Kathy has softened a bit toward me as well.
Nancy told that story Monday night in her speech at Williamson College, and she ended with anexhortation. Civility and tolerance, she said, were milquetoast [mild/weak] compared with actuallove. The lack of love is our nation’s real problem. Incivility is a mere symptom. And when youlove people who seem to be your enemies, she said, it turns out they might not be enemies at all.
I’m biased, but I thought it was a necessary message that was beautifully delivered. Plus, thecrowd seemed to love her. She received sustained, enthusiastic applause. Then the questionscame. A young man went first. I had a hard time hearing what he said, but he sounded oddlyaggressive. Nancy then leaned into the microphone and spoke directly to the questioner. “Sorry,did you just ask me if I love or merely tolerate the Vacation Bible School teacher who molestedme as a kid?”
“Yes,” he responded. That’s exactly what he’d asked.
There was a gasp in the room. A number of women shouted out, “No!” and “You don’t have toanswer.” Nancy absorbed the question like a physical blow. I could see her face change. Shetried to speak, but words wouldn’t come. Was that student trying to humiliate her?
Nancy tried to move on to the next question, but she couldn’t continue. She handed the mic toher host and left the room. Immediately, three women followed her into the hallway. I left also,but by the time I got outside the room, Nancy and the three women were in the bathroom. I couldhear the sound of crying, and it wasn’t just Nancy in tears.
When she came out, she asked for advice. She was embarrassed that she’d left the stage. She toldme that the women who were crying with her were also victims of abuse. I told her that if shecould, she should return to the stage. At the moment, I told her the student was trying to hurt her,and it was important to not let the pain silence her. I had no idea if that was good advice at thetime. But Nancy decided to go back into the room. I knew it took every ounce of courage shehad, because she’d just felt humiliated in front of the entire audience.
I didn’t know what she was going to say. Everyone turned when she walked in the door. Butbefore she could speak, the young man asked for the microphone again. The audience washushed, and they strained to hear what would happen next. However, this time his voice was different. He apologized. He said he hadn’t meant to offend, and his question didn’t come outright.
He paused for a moment. Then he revealed he was a victim of abuse, and he was struggling withhow to read scripture that admonished Christians to love their enemies. He wasn’t a troll at all.
He was a hurting kid who had trouble expressing himself. Nancy responded beautifully. Shedidn’t just forgive him; she honored him. And she turned to the crowd and told them that thereweren’t just hurting people in this room; there were hurting people across the Church—victims
of abuse at every level of Christian ministry. A moment that at first seemed profane and taintedby malice and cruelty turned sacred, enriched by love and compassion.
I’m sharing this story for three reasons. First, because it is profoundly sad that in that relativelysmall crowd, there were multiple women and at least one young man who were survivors ofabuse. They are in every crowd. Christians can’t look at abuse as something that happens in other
places to other people. The survivors are all around us.
Second, it was moving to see the immediate bond between Nancy and the women who comfortedher and wept with her. As one of the women told me, there is a verse in the 42nd Psalm that says“deep calls to deep.” There is a beautiful and terrible fellowship that comes with suffering.
And third, we’re so primed to see evil in others that we can miss their brokenness. In her Twitterpersona, Nancy’s new friend Kathy was an angry troll. In the offline world, she was alone andvulnerable. In his first question, a suffering young man seemed vicious. But he was uncertain. Hedidn’t know how to ask what he wanted to ask, and the question came out wrong.
If Nancy had left—if she hadn’t come back out on that stage and given the mic back to theperson who’d just wounded her—we’d never know that truth. The telling of the story would beentirely different. We’d presume that he was malevolent. But in an act of grace, Nancy gave him
a second chance, and everything changed.
I know there are evil people online. I know there are evil people who are cruel up close and inperson. But sometimes what seems like cruelty is really loneliness, or confusion, or heartbreak.We define each other by our worst moments and withhold forgiveness.
But we should forgive. We must forgive. Otherwise this nation of broken people will keepbreaking each other. Pain can look a lot like anger, and when we know that to be true, we can take risks. We can give second chances, and when we do, we can sometimes see that an enemy
isn’t an enemy at all, but another struggling person who needs healing and grace.

Tuesday, August 9

Are you familiar with the term "gaslighting"? It is a slang term that means to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. Another way to look at gaslighting is when a friend or family member tells you that you don't feel the way that you actually feel or to dismiss something that you think with a phrase like, "It's crazy for you to think that way..." and then they will tell you what to think.
As troubling as that might sound, imagine if that person was your doctor.
The article for next week, from the NY Times, addresses medical gaslighting and what to do about it. Unlike our recent discussions, there is nothing really controversial about this topic, but it is a way for me to tell you that it is happening and to give us some ways to handle it.

Feeling Dismissed? How to Spot ‘Medical Gaslighting’ and What to Do About It.
Christian Caron, The New York Times 7.29.22

Christina, who lives in Portland, Me., said she felt ignored by doctors for years. When she was50 pounds heavier, her providers sometimes blamed her body size when she discussed her healthconcerns. One instance occurred weeks after she had fallen off her bike. “My elbow was stillhurting,” said Christina, 39, who asked that her last name be withheld when discussing hermedical history. “I went to my regular primary care doctor and she just sort of hand-waved it offas ‘Well, you’re overweight and it’s putting stress on your joints.’” Eventually, Christina visited
an urgent care center where providers performed an X-ray and found she had chipped a bone inher arm.
The experience of having one’s concerns dismissed by a medical provider, often referred to asmedical gaslighting, can happen to anyone. A recent New York Times article on the topicreceived more than 2,800 comments: Some recounted misdiagnoses that nearly cost them their
lives or that delayed treatment, leading to unnecessary suffering. Patients with long Covid wroteabout how they felt ignored by the doctors they turned to for help.
Lately, the problem has been drawing attention for disproportionately affecting women, peopleof color, and geriatric patients. For example, studies have found that women are more likely thanmen to be misdiagnosed with certain conditions — like heart disease and autoimmune disorders— and they often wait longer for a diagnosis. And one group of researchers discovered thatdoctors were more likely to use negative descriptors like “noncompliant” or “agitated” in Blackpatients’ health records than in those of white patients — a practice that could lead to health caredisparities. “Gaslighting is real; it happens all the time. Patients — and especially women —need to be aware of it,” said Dr. Jennifer H. Mieres, a professor of cardiology at the Zucker School of Medicine. Here are some tips on how to advocate for yourself in a medical setting.

What are the signs of gaslighting?
Gaslighting can be subtle and isn’t always easy to spot. When seeking medical care, expertsrecommend watching for the following red flags.

  • Your provider continually interrupts you, doesn’t allow you to elaborate and doesn’tappear to be an engaged listener.
  • Your provider minimizes or downplays your symptoms, for example questioning whetheryou have pain.
  • Your provider refuses to discuss your symptoms.
  • Your provider will not order key imaging or lab work to rule out or confirm a diagnosis.
  • You feel that your provider is being rude, condescending or belittling.
  • Your symptoms are blamed on mental illness, but you are not provided with a mentalhealth referral or screened for such illness.

“I always tell my patients that they are the expert of their body,” said Dr. Nicole Mitchell at theKeck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. “We work together to figureout what’s happening and what we can do about it. It really should be a shared decision making.”

What can you do to advocate for yourself?

Keep detailed notes and records. Dr. Mitchell recommended keeping a journal where you logas many details as possible about your symptoms. Her suggested prompts include: “What areyour symptoms? When do you feel those symptoms? Do you notice any triggers? If you havepain, what does it feel like? Does it wax and wane, or is it constant? What days do you noticethis pain?”
In addition to your notes, keep records of all of your lab results, imaging, medications andfamily medical history. It is analogous to seeing your accountant at tax time, Dr. Mieres said:“You certainly do not show up without receipts.”
Ask questions. Then ask some more. Prepare a list of questions that you would like to ask aheadof your appointment, and be prepared to ask other questions as new information is presented. Ifyou aren’t sure where to start, Dr. Mitchell recommended asking your doctor this: “If you wereme, what questions would you ask right now?”
Bring a support person. Sometimes it can help to have a trusted friend or relative accompanyyou, particularly when discussing a treatment plan or difficult medical issue. When people are ill,scared or anxious, it can facilitate “brain freeze,” Dr. Mieres said. “We stop thinking, we don’thear adequately, we don’t process information.” Speak with your support person to clarify theirrole and discuss your expectations, she added. Do you want them to take notes and be a secondset of ears? Or do you primarily need them there for emotional support? Are there times whereyou might prefer that your friend or relative leave the room so that you can discuss privatematters?
Focus on your most pressing issue. Providers are often short on time, and the average primarycare exam is only 18 minutes long, according to a study published in 2021. Dr. Mieresrecommended taking 10 minutes before your appointment to jot down bullet points thatconcisely outline the reason for your visit so that you can communicate with your doctorefficiently.
Pin down next steps. Ideally, you should leave your appointment feeling reassured. Tell yourprovider that you would like to understand three things: the best guess as to what is happening;plans for diagnosing or ruling out different possibilities; and treatment options, depending on
what is found.

If you’re still being ignored, what are your options?
Switch providers. A study using data from 2006 and 2007 estimated that approximately 12million adults were misdiagnosed in the United States every year and about half of those errorscould be harmful. If you are concerned that your symptoms are not being addressed, you are
entitled to seek a second opinion, a third or even a fourth. But in many cases that may be easiersaid than done. It’s not always quick or simple to find another specialist who takes yourinsurance and has immediate appointments available. If possible, try to get an in-network referral
from your current doctor. For example, you can say: “Thank you for your time, but I wouldreally like to seek another opinion on this. Could you refer me to another specialist in yourarea?”
If you don’t feel comfortable asking your doctor for a referral, you can also speak with a patientliaison or nurse manager. Alternatively, you can ask friends and family, or call your insurancecompany to find someone in-network.
Reframe the conversation. If you decide to stick with your current provider, but that person doesn’t appear to be listening, Dr. Mieres recommended that patients try redirecting theconversation by saying something like: “Let’s hit the pause button here, because we have a
disconnect. You’re not hearing what I’m saying. Let me start again.” Or, alternatively: “I’vebeen having these symptoms for three months. Can you help me find what is wrong? What canwe do to figure this out together?”
Look to support groups. There are support groups for a multitude of conditions that mayprovide useful resources and information. Tami Burdick, who was diagnosed in 2017 withgranulomatous mastitis, a rare, chronic, inflammatory breast disease, found help from an online
support group for women with the same condition. Initially, she was referred to an infectiousdisease specialist who dismissed a breast biopsy found to contain bacteria. “I developed horrible,painful abscesses that would open and drain on their own,” Ms. Burdick, 44, said.
In her search for answers she conducted extensive research on the disease. And from the supportgroup she learned of a gene sequencing test that could identify potential pathogens. Ms. Burdickasked her surgical oncologist to order the test and discovered she had been infected with a specific microorganism associated with granulomatous mastitis and recurrent breast abscesses. Ittook seven months of investigating, but she finally had an answer.
Appeal to a higher authority. If you are being treated in a hospital setting, you can contact thepatient advocacy staff, who may be able to assist. You might also address the problem with yourdoctor’s supervisor.
Finally, if you are dissatisfied with the care that you’re receiving, Dr. Mitchell said, you mayconsider reporting your experience to the Federation of State Medical Boards. “Anyinstances of abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, delaying diagnoses — those are reportable events
that providers need to know about,” Dr. Mitchell said. “Doctors need to be held accountable."

Tuesday, August 2

The discussion about nationalism - so-called "Christian" or otherwise - was excellent and I have been asked to continue it. The interim director of Florida's ACLU wrote a piece for the Tampa Bay Times warning us of what she believes is an erosion of our 1st amendmentrights in the statewith a number of recent state legislative actions. I'd like to know what you think of her very strong opinion.
Secondly, I don't know when I'll be able to include the second piece as a topic so I thought I'd send it now. From the WSJ, there is an excellent piece about how to have better conversations. The author believes we have forgotten how to conversate - she blames Netflix - so she has some points for us to use.

Trampling on 1st Amendment Rights in Florida
Amy Turkel, Tampa Bay Times 6.24.22
Guest Columnist, Amy Turkel, is the interim executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

The First Amendment guarantees the rights to free speech, a free press, freedom to assemble andprotest peacefully, the right to petition the government for change and freedom from theimposition of religious beliefs by government.
Over the past three years, the Florida Legislature has restricted Floridians’ First Amendmentrights and repeatedly pushed for laws that violate basic American freedoms.
In the wake of national protests after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis,State government leaders championed the anti-protest bill, House Bill 1. It dictated that anyperson participating in a rally or protest could be charged with a felony if three or more other
people at that event engaged in unlawful activity resulting in imminent danger of damage toproperty or injury to another person. In other words, you could be charged for an offensecommitted by people who were total strangers to you, even if you were protesting peacefully.
In 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker struck down that provision of the law. Walkerstated that HB 1 “could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if notthousands, of law-abiding Floridians. … This violates the First Amendment.”
In this year’s legislative session, representatives pushed House Bill 7, an educational censorshipbill, signed into law in April. That bill prevents content from being taught in schools thatillustrates the discrimination, including race and gender discrimination, that has existed for
centuries in our society.
HB 7 even bans private employers from requiring diversity training or other workshops related torace and gender discrimination, which are often used to create inclusive, productive workenvironments. Worse, the law gives employees the ability to sue an employer for requiring suchworkshops. HB 7 is a clear attempt to whitewash American history and to ban viewpoints someleaders do not like.
The legislature continued to attack Floridians’ First Amendment rights by targeting LGBTQ+youth and families with the “don’t say gay” bill (House Bill 1557). This legislation bans teachersfrom addressing LGBTQ+ topics in grades K-3. It also prohibits such discussions at any grade
level if someone else does not deem them “age-appropriate.”
Any parent who thinks a classroom discussion was inappropriate will be able to sue, a provisionof the law that will end up chilling speech and creating chaos.
On Feb. 17, 2022, twenty-five people were banned from the Capitol for a year, and another wasunjustly arrested and held in jail overnight. All because a few people were chanting in oppositionto the passing of House Bill 5, the 15-week abortion ban. That law is yet another way that a
constitutional right — the right to privacy and bodily autonomy — is under attack in Florida.
In addition, over the past few years, we have witnessed journalists being denied access to officialpress conferences and briefings — attempts to block coverage of critical public matters,including coronavirus updates and bill signings.
There are elected leaders who are waging a terrifying and unconstitutional assault on Floridians’First Amendment rights, and all Floridians should be outraged by the attempts to silence us.
Dissent is patriotic; government censorship is undemocratic, unconstitutional and un-American. We will all do better when we have leaders in Florida who use their power to improve our livesand our livelihoods and are dedicated to making the values of liberty and justice a reality for allof us.

Have Better Conversations with Anyone
Elizabeth Bernstein, WSJ 7.26.22

I was driving with my teenage nephew Noah recently when he blurted out: “Can we talk?”
We were on our way to meet friends, chit-chatting about the music on the radio and where to go
for lunch. Absolutely, I told him. What did he want to discuss?
“Oh, I don’t know,” Noah said. “Just something more interesting.”
It’s time to deepen our conversations.
We’ve talked to fewer people about fewer things in the past two years. Now, many of us arecraving more meaningful conversations–ones that go beyond sharing recommendations for whatto stream on Netflix. Trouble is, we’ve forgotten how to have them.
“Social skills are like muscles,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at theUniversity of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who studies how to find motivation and meaning.
“If you don’t exercise them, they start to atrophy.” People who have more substantiveconversations are happier, research shows. Deep conversations make us feel more connected toothers and help us understand one another. And most of us would like to have more meaningfulconversations, psychologists say. When we do have them–even with strangers–we tend to enjoythem more and find them less awkward than expected, according to research published recentlyin the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. With practice, most of us can get better atmeaningful conversations, psychologists say. Here’s what they recommend.

Pick a partner.
It’s easiest to start with someone you trust. “If you’ve had good conversations with them in thepast, you’re likely to do so again,” says Sean Horan, professor and chair of the communicationdepartment at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. But if you want to expand your world,
branch out. Choose someone you’d like to get to know better, such as a new co-worker. Don’trule out having a deep conversation with someone you just met. You might make a friend orlearn something new.

Share first.
“The most straightforward path to having meaningful conversations is to be willing to sharesomething about yourself,” says Gillian Sandstrom, a senior lecturer at the University of Sussexin England, who studies social interactions. Research shows that when one person sharespersonal details in a conversation, the other person typically responds in kind. Psychologists callthis mutual self-disclosure, and studies show it helps people feel closer to one another.
You don’t have to share intimacies. Start by talking about something you’re excited about or afear or concern. During a turbulent plane ride, I told the woman next to me that I was scared. Weended up having a conversation that was so helpful to both of us that I wrote about it in my
column.

Ask better questions.
Where are you from? What do you do? Managing to stay cool in this heat?
Often, conversation-starters turn out to be dead ends. They can be answered in one word. Andwe’re not asking about anything the other person wants to talk about. Try deeper questions,suggests Wharton’s Dr. Grant. Instead of asking people what they do, ask them what they love todo. It’s exciting to talk about something you’re passionate about, and that energy can fuel aconversation, Dr. Grant says. His other suggestions: “What’s a goal you’re pursuing right now?”“What’s a challenge you’re facing?” “What’s the best change you’ve made during the
pandemic?”
Try an open-ended statement.
“Tell me about your hometown.” “Say more about your day.” “Explain your work to me.”
Statements such as these typically make people want to elaborate, says Jessica Moore, a licensedmarriage and family therapist in Austin, Texas, who studies interpersonal communication. They’re tough to answer with one word. And you can tailor them to the depth of your
relationship. Because these statements are open-ended, they open the door to more interestingconversations. There’s no pressure to talk just about positive things, Dr. Moore says. And on theoff chance you solicit a raised eyebrow, Dr. Moore has a response to suggest: “Tell me about thatlook.”

Become more intimate, slowly.
Years ago, social psychologist and research professor Arthur Aron created a research protocolcalled “Fast Friends” to help two strangers establish interpersonal closeness in a lab in 45minutes. It consists of a list of 36 questions that start out slightly personal and gradually becomemore intimate. Each person answers a question before going on to the next, because any trulydeep conversation is reciprocal. Dr. Aron says that we can use the same concept, which he calls“progressive intimacy,” to deepen conversations. We can begin a discussion by talking aboutrelatively mundane information, such as vacation plans. Once the conversation is going well,gradually move toward more intimate topics.

Show appreciation.
The most important part of a substantive conversation is not the topic, it’s your response,psychologists say. Show the other person that you understand and care for them. You can do thisby saying some version of: “I’m so glad you shared this with me.” When my nephew Noah askedto talk, I suggested high school as a topic. He’s starting his freshman year next month at aboarding school I also attended. To get the conversation rolling, I asked Noah what classes he’slooking forward to and why. I also shared my favorites. We talked about sports–which ones he’llplay and how it can be intimidating when some of your teammates are bigger than you. And wediscussed how it can sometimes get lonesome when you’re away at school and what to do aboutit. When the conversation was over, I told Noah how happy I was that we’d gotten to have a realtalk. “Yeah, that was awesome,” he said.

Tuesday, July 25

Christian Nationalists Are Excited About What Comes Next
Katherine Stewart, NY Times 7.5.22

The shape of the Christian nationalist movement in the post-Roe future is coming into view, andit should terrify anyone concerned for the future of constitutional democracy.
The Supreme Court’s decision to rescind the reproductive rights will not lead America’shomegrown religious authoritarians to retire from the culture wars and enjoy a sweet moment oftriumph. On the contrary, movement leaders are already preparing for a new and more brutal
phase of their assault on individual rights and democratic self-governance. Breaking Americandemocracy isn’t an unintended side effect of Christian nationalism. It is the point of the project.
A good place to gauge the spirit and intentions of the movement is the annual Road to MajorityPolicy Conference. At this year’s event, which took place last month in Nashville, three cleartrends were in evidence. First, the rhetoric of violence among movement leaders appeared to
have increased significantly from the already alarming levels I had observed in previous years.
Second, the theology of dominionism — that is, the belief that “right-thinking” Christians have abiblically derived mandate to take control of all aspects of government and society — is nowexplicitly embraced. And third, the movement’s key strategists were giddy about the legal
arsenal that the Supreme Court had laid at their feet as they anticipated the overturning of Roe v.Wade.
They intend to use that arsenal — together with additional weaponry collected in cases likeCarson v. Makin, which requires state funding of religious schools if private, secular schools arealso being funded; and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which licenses religious proselytizing by public school officials — to prosecute a war on individual rights, not merely inso-called red state legislatures but throughout the nation.
Speakers at the conference vied to outdo one another in their denigration of Democrats who theysaid, are “evil,” “tyrannical” and “the enemy within,” engaged in “a war against the truth.”
​“The backlash is coming,” warned Senator Rick Scott of Florida. “Just mount up and ride to thesounds of the guns, and they are all over this country. It is time to take this country back.”
Citing the fight against Nazi Germany during the Battle of the Bulge, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson ofNorth Carolina said, “We find ourselves in a pitched battle to literally save this nation.” Referring to a passage from Ephesians that Christian nationalists often use to signal theirmilitancy, he added, “I don’t know about you, but I got my pack on, I got my boots on, I got myhelmet on, I’ve got on the whole armor.”
The intensification of verbal warfare is connected to shifts in the Christian nationalistmovement’s messaging and outreach, which were very much in evidence at the Nashvilleconference.
Seven Mountains Dominionism — the belief that “biblical” Christians should seek to dominatethe seven key “mountains” or “molders” of American society, including the government — wasonce considered a fringe doctrine, even among representatives of the religious right. This year,there were two sessions, and the once arcane language of the Seven Mountains creed was onmultiple speakers’ lips.
The hunger for dominion that appears to motivate the leadership of the movement is the essentialcontext for making sense of its strategy and intentions in the post-Roe world. The end of abortionrights is the beginning of a new and much more personal attack on individual rights. At abreakout session called “Life Is on the Line: What Does the Future of the Pro-Life MovementLook Like From Here?” Chelsey Youman, the Texas state director and national legislativeadviser to Human Coalition Action, described the connection between vigilantes and abortion
rights. Instead of the state regulating abortion providers, she explained, “you and me as citizensof Texas or this country or wherever we can pass this bill can instead sue the abortion provider.”
Mrs. Youman, as it happens, played a role in promoting the Texas law Senate Bill 8, whichpassed in May 2021 and allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who “aidsor abets” an abortion. She said, “We have legislation ready to roll out for every single state you
live in to protect life, regardless of the Supreme Court, regardless of your circuit court.” To besure, Christian nationalists are also pushing for a federal ban. But the struggle for the present willcenter on state-level enforcement mechanisms.
Movement leaders have also made it clear that the target of their ongoing offensive is not just in-state abortion providers but also what they call abortion trafficking — that is, women crossingstate lines to obtain legal abortions, along with people who provide those women with services orsupport, like cars and taxis. Mrs. Youman hailed the development of a new “long-armjurisdiction” bill that offers a mechanism for targeting out-of-state abortion providers. “It createsa wrongful death cause of action,” she said, “so we’re excited about that.”
The National Right to Life Committee’s model legislation for the post-Roe era includes broadcriminal enforcement as well as civil enforcement mechanisms. “The model law also reacheswell beyond the actual performance of an illegal abortion,” according to text on theorganization’s website. It also includes “aiding or abetting an illegal abortion,” targeting peoplewho provide “instructions over the telephone, the internet or any other medium ofcommunication.”
Americans who stand outside the movement have consistently underestimated its radicalism.Christian nationalism isn’t a route to the future. Its purpose is to hollow out democracy untilnothing is left but a thin cover for rule by a supposedly right-thinking elite, bubble-wrapped in
sanctimony and insulated from any real democratic check on its power.

Tuesday, July 19

Here is an on-line question that is sparking a lot of discussion: when someone asks, "Please turn down the a/c," does that mean to raise or lower the thermostat? For as much fun as it would be to discuss that, I'd like to take a step inward. I'd like to discuss spiritual detachment - letting go of our desires of what we want to happen and being aware of What Is (capitalized to show the presence of God in any moment and situation, including, of course, death).
Our author this week, Steven Petrow, practiced spiritual detachment with the impending death of his dog. However, he found it much more difficult to do that with his sister. Conversely, I have found that some people can let go of their loved ones easier than letting go of their pets. Regardless, spiritual detachment requires awareness, practice, and, well, discussion. I can't imagine a better place to have that discussion than at All Angels. And, if you find the room too warm, we can figure out if that means to turn up or down the a/c.

My Dog’s Death Taught Me Spiritual Detachment
Then My Sister Got Sick

Steven Petrow, NY Times 7.14.22
Shortly after my parents died in 2017, I nearly lost custody of my dog, Zoe, in my divorce. Whenwe were reunited, I remember telling her firmly, “You cannot die now,” even though she had justturned 15. Not long after, the vet told me that new lab work indicated kidney failure. I was quiteglad then that Zoe couldn’t talk, at least not in the traditional sense. We had no painfuldiscussions about quality-of-life issues or end-of-life concerns.
I approached her final chapter with intention and indulgence, which is to say I followed her lead. I fed her whatever and whenever she wanted. I let her decide whether we’d go for short walks orlonger ones. Before I went to bed, I made sure Zoe had settled into hers. Even as I prepared tolose her, I found myself exulting in our days together. When she died, I consoled myself with thethought that she was never mine to begin with; I was lucky to have known her; we only haveanyone we love for a short time.
As it turns out, it’s much easier to practice spiritual detachment from a Jack Russell terrier whois gone than from my younger sister, Julie, who is here, and called later that same year to tell meshe had ovarian cancer. It was Stage 4, she said, as bad as it gets. Julie was 55, a lawyer and
executive, a wife, and the mother of two daughters, 17 and 21. People with her diagnosis areonly 31 percent as likely as those without cancer to live another five years. A surgeon explainedthat the median life expectancy for someone with her diagnosis was about five years. Meaning,
half of patients live less than five years, half more. Julie is the baby of our family, five yearsyounger than me and three years younger than our brother, Jay. The three of us are best friends,closer still since Julie got sick, but she and I have our own history.
When I had my own bout with cancer in my 20s, she walked laps through the halls of Memorial with me and promised that the chemo hair loss would not keep me from finding a boyfriend. Iwas there when she met her wife and when they welcomed their daughters. When my husband
left me five years ago, Julie flew from New York to North Carolina to help me through thosefirst scary days. She kept our favorite old TV shows on, knowing it would make me feel safe andlike a kid again, while she scrutinized my investment accounts line by line so she couldannounce, after too many episodes of “Bewitched,” that I was financially OK. She was and isfierce, an extrovert among extroverts. We once went on a sunset cruise in Florida, and by thetime we docked three hours later, she had befriended the entire crew and captain, a completestranger who told me as we disembarked, “I love your sister’s zeal for life.” And now she wouldbe lucky to make it to 60.
She started treatment immediately and gradually entered what many cancer patients call “theloop” — periods of treatment, remission, and recurrence that then start all over again. It wasterrible and manageable.
In the meantime, as with Zoe, I focused on indulgence and intention. Our family rented a beachhouse in Rhode Island, a shingled cottage reminiscent of the house where we’d spent childhoodsummers. I traveled from North Carolina. Julie and her family came from New Jersey, and Jayhauled his from Connecticut. After the vacation, which included competitive canoeing, dailycook-offs and a raucous game of Hearts in which Julie was definitely eyeing Jay’s cards, Juliesent an email to the adults. “I sat at the house one night with you all there and imagined the scenewith me just faded from the landscape,” she began.
Looking back, I recognize the gift in that email: She was giving us directions, almost a script, forhow to go on without her. In the moment, though, I volleyed back a reassuring response — shewas always on our minds wherever she was!
Then, after four years, the loop no longer held her. A clinical trial last October offered hope, onlyto dash it within eight weeks. A new chemo regimen held out the possibility of remission, whichdidn’t happen. Julie and I planned a trip to Australia and New Zealand for this fall, the five-year mark, but I didn’t count on it. Julie, always a kidder, began to joke about dying, here and there,seeming to invite a set of conversations I did not want to have. It had not been five years yet. Iwas not ready. But I’d learned during my mother’s bout with lung cancer to follow up on suchopenings. I remember once Mom asked, “Will it be painful to die?” and I replied, “What wouldyou like for dinner tonight, Mom?”
With Julie, I wanted to do better, so I followed her lead. She, Jay and I began to have a series oftalks about finances, medical decisions and what “the end” might be like. She was focused andcalm. I hated every minute. But what I really hated was the virulent cancer.
Julie just turned 60, and even beyond the loop, she is very much alive. She is cycling on LongIsland with her best friend, still planning trips to locales domestic and foreign, researching aHail-Mary-clinical-trial. This past May the entire family spent a week at Nags Head, NorthCarolina, trapped in a creaky old house, while a nor’easter swirled around us. We cooked. Weplayed card games.
But her blood work looks increasingly ominous, she naps more and we are not going to Australiaand New Zealand this fall. Instead, I visit as often as I can, to make as many memories aspossible. As year four becomes year five, I am preparing, finally, to lose Julie, while exulting in
our days together. Some nights, as she shuffles the cards, I want to grab her hand and say, “Youcannot die now.”
But I know better.

Tuesday, July 12

The topic for thisweek is the importance of teaching/learning how to be lazy. Anyone remember number three of the ten commandments - take a day off!! Yep, right up there with not worshipping idols and taking other gods.Wait, you might say,doesn't the Bible condemn laziness?Yes and no - it lifts up the value of workandrest. I'd like to know what you do to rest and relax.
There is another reading,Protect the Sanctity of Every Life,that I'd like youto read. The author is our very own Maria Love - who is All Angels' graphicdesigner, webmaster, and Tidings sender. She had a piece published in the San Diego Union Tribune (the only newspaper in the second largest city in California). It is attached. If you'd like to discuss her thoughts, perhaps I could have her join in the discussion (but I'd have to convince her to wake up early which would go against the theme this week of rest).

Teaching How to be Lazy
Elliot Kukla, New York Times 1.20.22
Elliot Kukla is a rabbi who provides spiritual care to those who are grieving, dying, ill or disabled. He is working on a book about the power of rest in a time of planetary crisis.
“Abba, I have an idea,” says my 3-year-old. “Put on your pajamas and your big mask, turn offthe light, and get into bed.”
“That sounds great,” I say, honestly. I strap on my sleep apnea mask, change into soft, worncotton PJs and crawl under the fluffy white duvet with him. Within seconds, he is lulled to sleepby the familiar gentle wheezing of my breathing machine. He knows the sight and sound of my
sleeping body well; I have lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes chronic fatigue. On a goodday, I can get by on 10 hours or so of sleep. When my condition flares, sometimes for weeks onend, I need to sleep for much of the day and night.
Before my child was born, I was afraid that my fatigue would make it impossible for me to be agood parent. And it’s true that I am often juggling parenting needs and exhaustion. What I didn’tanticipate is that prioritizing rest, sleep and dreaming is also something tangible I can offer mychild.
He sees me napping every day, and he wants in. We build elaborate nests and gaze out thewindow together, luxuriously leaning on huge mounds of pillows. Most 3-year-olds I know fightbedtime, but we snuggle under the blankets on cold winter evenings, sighing in synchronizeddelight.
America in 2022 is an exhausting place to live. Pretty much everyone I know is tired. We’re tiredof answering work emails after dinner. We’re tired of caring for senior family members in acrumbling elder care system, of worrying about a mass shooting at our children’s schools. We’re
tired by unprocessed grief and untended-to illness and depression. We’re tired of wildfiresbecoming a fact of life in the West, of floods and hurricanes hitting the South and East. We’rereally tired of this unending pandemic. Most of all, we are exhausted by trying to keep going as
if everything is fine.
Increasing numbers of people are refusing to push through this mounting weariness: There arecurrently 10 million job openings in the United States, up from 6.4 million before the pandemic.
This trend is being led by young people; millions are planning to leave their jobs in the comingyear. Some middle-aged people decry the laziness of today’s youth, but as a chronically sick GenX parent, and as a rabbi who has spent much of my career tending to dying people as their livesnaturally slow, I am cheering young people on in this Great Resignation.
I have seen the limits of the grind. I want my child to learn how to be lazy.
The English word “lazy” is derived from the German “laisch,” meaning weak or feeble, and theOld Norse “lesu,” meaning false or evil. Devon Price, a sociologist who studies laziness, remarksthat these two origins capture the doublespeak built into the concept.
When we call people lazy (including ourselves), we are often pointing out that they’re too tiredand weak to be productive, while often simultaneously accusing them of faking feebleness to getout of work for malevolent purposes. As Dr. Price puts it, “The idea that lazy people are evilfakers who deserve to suffer has been embedded in the word since the very start.”
Shunning laziness is integral to the American dream. The Puritans who colonized New Englandbelieved that laziness led to damnation. They used this theology to justify their enslavement ofBlack people, whose souls they claimed to have “saved” by turning them into productive
laborers.
This view has endured in American culture. Hundreds of years later, working to the point of self-harm to build the boss’s wealth is still lauded as a “good work ethic” in America, and the word“lazy” is still connected to racism and injustice. It’s poor, unhoused, young, Black, brown,
mentally ill, fat and chronically sick people who are most often accused of sloth. We rarely hearabout lazy billionaires, no matter how much of their fortune is inherited.
For decades, I feared being labeled “lazy” because of my chronic fatigue. I pushed myself pastmy physical limits, all the way to severe illness, to prove my worth. Disabled activism taught methat stigmatizing rest is not just bad for my body, it’s bad for the world. The pandemic has alsoillustrated how respite is not widely available to most essential workers in this country, withtragic consequences for everybody. The lack of sick leave, family medical leave and theopportunity to work from home in essential, low-wage jobs has thrown kerosene on the viral
fires of the pandemic.
Even as we look with hope toward a post pandemic future, we will still be living on a fragile,warming planet with increasing climate disruptions. It’s urgent that we find ways to work less,travel less and burn less fuel while connecting and caring for one another more. In other words,it’s critical that we un-shame laziness if we want our species to have a future. The world is onfire; rest will help to quench those flames.
Right now, as the Omicron variant spreads wildly, the Centers for Disease Control andPrevention has factored keeping people at work into their decisions on guidance, at times makingit more dangerous for immunocompromised people like me to get health care or leave the house.
As a high-risk person, I am painfully aware of how profits and productivity matter more to thosein charge than my survival does. As Sunaura Taylor, a disabled activist, points out, our grindingeconomic system inevitably leads to treating disabled people as disposable, while trapping able-bodied people in dangerous, exploitative jobs. “The right not to work,” says Ms. Taylor, “is anideal worthy of the impaired and able-bodied alike.”
Laziness is more than the absence or avoidance of work; it’s also the enjoyment of lazing in thesun, or in another’s arms. I learned through my work in hospice that moments spent enjoying thecompany of an old friend, savoring the smell of coffee or catching a warm breeze can make eventhe end of life more pleasurable. As the future becomes more tenuous, I want to teach my childto enjoy the planet right now. I want to teach him how to laze in the grass and watch the cloudswithout any artificially imposed sense of urgency. Many of the ways I have learned to live wellin a chronically ill body — by taking the present moment slowly and gently, letting go of lookingfor certainty about the future, napping, dreaming, nurturing relationships and loving fiercely —are relevant for everyone living on this chronically ill planet.
To be sure, it is my privilege that allows me to teach my child to be lazy. Many people in thiscountry and elsewhere spend all their time working, some holding multiple jobs. Many stillstruggle to afford housing and food. For too many, laziness is not an option.
But rest should not be a luxury; our time belongs to us and is not inherently a commodity.Reclaiming our time is an act of sovereignty over our lives, deserved by everyone. “Rest,” saysthe nap bishop, the Black activist Tricia Hersey, “is a radical vision for a liberated future.”
Today, my child and I are playing a game of hill. We are lying under a giant pile of every blanketin the house, pretending to be a hill studded with soft grasses. His warm breath is on my neck,skinny limbs splayed across my soft belly.
“Shh, Abba,” he says. “Hills don’t move or talk … they just lie still and grow things.”
I am teaching my child to be lazy, and so far, it’s going really well.

Protect Dignity and Sanctity of Every Life
Maria Love, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 1 2002.

If you are someone who is cheering the end of abortion, it’s time to stop cheering and get towork proving that this will make our country better. Prove to young women who are terrified ofwhat this will mean to them that their lives are not ruined.
Here’s how:
If you say you are pro-life, then support life in any way you can, including providing food tofamilies who struggle to find enough, access to medical care and life-saving medications topeople who need them, access to housing for people who struggle to put a roof over their child’s
head, access to job training, and support for decent wages so that no child dies from poverty.Don’t forget that environmental issues like clean air and clean water are also pro-life issues, as isgun control.
If you say there’s no reason to have an abortion with all the access people have to freecontraception, then work to make sure that is true.
Many women do not have access tocontraception, and even if they do, it is not always free or even inexpensive. And with theSupreme Court signaling a possibility of removing any right to contraception, it will beextremely important to show young women that we are working to preserve their right tocontraception in order to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. (And if you say, “But wait — contraception is against my religion,” I would remind you that we still have freedom of religionin this country, and absolutely no right to dictate anyone else’s religion or morals.)
If you are someone who says there are plenty of parents who would adopt a baby, then startworking on streamlining the process and pairing pregnant women with families who would adopttheir child. Make sure it’s not just empty words. And if a single mother decides to keep her baby,let’s do everything in our power to make sure she has all the help she needs to raise a healthychild: access to food, housing, child care, medical care and a job that pays a fair wage.
Pro-life doesn’t end with banning abortion. It begins there. It’s time for pro-life people to showthat we are willing to do whatever it takes to protect the dignity and sanctity of every life.

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