Saturday, February 28, 2009

Office Supplies Challenge; Liquid Fuel Rocket

It Just for Fun Saturday. And so, while I haven't built my own Office Supplies Rocket, nor can I encourage anyone to do so, for your amusement, let me offer the following set of instructions. File it away under, "Wow! ain't that cool!" Or, as one of the mothers in a parish I served once said, "We don't do EVERYTHING Fr Gregory says!"

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

H/T: Lifehacker:

We donned our mind-reading helmet here at Lifehacker and have divined the perfect thing for a little Friday Fun: a high altitude rocket made from office supplies.

An inventive user at DIY site Instructables details how to turn a few common office supplies into an impressive rocket. If you can get your hands on a sharpie, a can of compressed air, and an assortment of other office items like tape, rubber bands, and bottle caps, then you're on your way to winning the Office MacGyver award. The parts list has a Leather Multi-Tool as an item but as you'll see in the video below all you actually need are needle nose pliers.

We can't promise you it will achieve low earth orbit or even break low lying cloud cover, but we can promise you'll put your eye out if you're not careful, so unless you want to live out your career known as the One Eyed Pirate of Cubicle Farm Four, we recommend exercising extreme care with your homemade projectiles. (Or just, you know, get your vicarious fix through the video. It's what we're doing.)

Office Supplies Challenge; Liquid Fuel Rocket - More DIY How To Projects
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Natural Law and the Kerygma

Natural law, I would argue, is an important, and much neglected, element of the kerygmatic ministry of the Church. To come back around to Fr George's essay—and the Orthodox resistance to natural law—I think one valuable contribution Orthodox theology might make to natural law theory is helping to deepen the evangelical character of the natural law tradition. Such a work is, after all, certainly compatible with the example of St Paul who offers us an archetypal expression of the kerygmatic or evangelical function of natural law in the opening chapter of his letter to the Church of Rome (1.18-32).

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (vv. 18-23)

The Apostle offers us a biblical sound basis upon which to offer a natural law theory that is anthropologically sound, evangelically relevant and compatible with the patristic understanding of natural contemplation (theoria).

Let me conclude by offering a pastoral, intra-Orthodox, observation. I cannot help but wonder if many of the scandals that have plagued the Orthodox Church in recent years are not the consequence of our theoretical, and more importantly, practical/pastoral, rejection of a Pauline theory of natural law. The Apostle is rather clear that a refusal to be obedient to God as He manifests Himself in the created order brings with it just the kind of division we see in many quarters of the Orthodox Church.

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (vv. 24-32)

If every element of what Paul describes is not seen in our recent scandals, there is enough of a "family" resemblance to make me wonder if we have not failed in at least this one area of our pastoral obligation to "rightly discern" the Word of Truth.

As always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome, they are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You've Got the Time (To Listen to the New Testament During Lent)

Sherry W from Intentional Disciples has posted information about what she describes (rightly I think) "a most encouraging ecumenical Lenten initiative in Houston." What is it you ask? Well, I let Sherry explain:

Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Houston is encouraging parishes to participate in You've Got the Time, a city wide, inter-denominational campaign to listen to audio recordings of the New Testament during Lent.
Sherry continues,
This is part of the Archdiocese' year long campaign, The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.

So far more than 50 parishes have signed up to listen to the whole New Testament in the New American version.

You've Got the Time is a project of Faith Comes by Hearing, a evangelical group that is committed to offering the Bible in a format that will connect with the world's 50% illiterate population. Looking for an audio New Testament in Tiv or Kinyakyusa? (And I knew you were!) This is the place.

What is called "Orality" is a big issue in missions circles these days as the heirs of the Word-driven Reformation wrestle with the reality that 18% (over 1 billion) of the world's population cannot read and write.

But it is estimated that 65% of the American public have never read the new Testament. 60% don't know Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. So what better time than Lent to remedy that situation?
There are, sadly, similar levels of biblical illiteracy among Orthodox Christians.

As we prepare to enter next week into the season of the Great Fast (or for my Roman Catholic and Protestant readers as you prepare to start Lent tomorrow), would you please consider going over to the site, You've Got The Time Houston, and listen this Lent to the New Testament? Alternative, you can click on the banner that will sit on the top of this blog until Pascha.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Criticizing the Critics

Where I would disagree, however, with Orthodox critics of natural law is the tendency to assume—as does Fr George in his essay—that natural law is (1) derived from empirical, scientific observation alone and that (2) the tendency to assume that the use of reason is somehow opposed or harmful to the life of faith.

Yes, certainly, there are those who have advanced an understanding of natural law that is divorced from Christian faith. And yes, some who have done so are themselves Christians. But I think the Orthodox rejection of natural law is (as I alluded to above) a rejection of a particular understanding of natural law that admittedly has deviated from the biblical and patristic tradition. Again, as so often seems to be the case, it is easy to reject a position if I compare my best to your worst. This I think is what has been done with Orthodox critics of natural law.

Pope John Paul II encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (Latin for "The Splendor of Truth"), offers Orthodox critics a biblically and philosophically sound defense of natural law and its relationship to conscience that would serve as a better touchstone for Orthodox critics of natural law. For example, in his reflection on Matthew 19:17 ("If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments"), John Paul writes:

Only God can answer the question about the good, because he is the Good. But God has already given an answer to this question: he did so by creating man and ordering him with wisdom and love to his final end, through the law which is inscribed in his heart (cf. Rom 2:15), the "natural law". The latter "is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation". He also did so in the history of Israel, particularly in the "ten words", the commandments of Sinai, whereby he brought into existence the people of the Covenant (cf. Ex 24) and called them to be his "own possession among all peoples", "a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6), which would radiate his holiness to all peoples (cf. Wis 18:4; Ez 20:41). The gift of the Decalogue was a promise and sign of the New Covenant, in which the law would be written in a new and definitive way upon the human heart (cf. Jer 31:31-34), replacing the law of sin which had disfigured that heart (cf. Jer 17:1). In those days, "a new heart" would be given, for in it would dwell "a new spirit", the Spirit of God (cf. Ez 36:24-28).
At least as articulated by the late pontiff, natural law is not the fruit of human reason operating in isolation, much less opposition, to divine grace. Rather, it is the product of the mysterious interplay of faith and reason. Natural law is born from the convergence of human freedom and creativity, one the one hand, and divine revelation and grace on the other. If the categories used are not immediately familiar to those trained in Orthodox theology, we nevertheless would do well to follow St Basil's observation: "Dogma is one thing, kerygma another; the first is observed in silence, while the latter is proclaimed to the world." (On the Holy Spirit ch. 27(66))

In my next post, I will try and fill in a bit of what I think is the biblical and evangelical character of Christian understanding of natural law.

Until then, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome, they are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Orthodox Criticism of Natural Law

One of the most valuable things, for me at least, about keeping a blog is the questions and criticisms that people offer in response to what I've posted.

Certainly this has been the case with my recent series of posts on the psychology of pastoral leadership. One commentator in particular, David, has offered a number of penetrating observations. (Unfortunately, my shift from Holscan to JSKit for my comments means that David's comments and questions have not shown up here—I suspect I need to go back to Haloscan or possibly move my blog over to Wordpress, but this is for another day.) You can read David's comments here, here and here. (I hope!)

As a recent article in The Tablet suggests (thank you Sr Macrina), one of the difficulties in a discussion drawn from the catholic moral tradition is that most of us are unfamiliar with the philosophical presuppositions that frame the discussion. That is certainly true with my own thoughts on subsidiarity. As I allude to in an earlier post (which can be read in its entirety here), subsidiarity presupposes at least a basic understanding of natural law. But this of course raises another question: Which view of natural law?

Natural law theory has had a much greater influence, I think, in Western Christian theology than in the Eastern Christian theology. Indeed, two contemporary Orthodox theologians—Fr Alexander Schmemann and Vladimir Lossky—seem to reject the idea that natural law has any application in Christian theology since (following ironically enough, an argument which St Augustine, that paragon of Western theology, would have embraced) what is "natural" for human is our state before Adam's transgression. Now what we know about humanity is profoundly unnatural.

In an essay that appeared several years ago in The Word, "Pastoral Considerations on Current Problems: Sex, Natural Law and Orthodoxy,"
Fr. George Morelli, a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist and Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, offers what seems to be a typical criticism of natural law. In response to the idea that extra-marital sexual relations are not contrary to "natural law" Fr George writes:

Extra-marital sex is not against the natural law. In science, when we speak of natural we mean what is in nature. In nature, many types of behaviors exist. There are many varieties that we see in our own culture and even more varieties that we can see in cross cultural comparisons. Sociological and anthropological studies lead the way here. Thus monogamy, polygamy, war, murder, chastity, and homosexuality, etc., are all equally lawful in nature because they all exist. For example, we may observe that in a certain culture, homosexual behavior occurs and thereby deviates from what the average individual does. But that neither makes it unnatural nor immoral. The fact that it exists means it is natural, as natural as a sunrise or an earthquake, a flower or a flood.

Fr George argues that we cannot basis Christian moral norms of empirical science, but only on the Gospel. He goes so on to argue in the above essay that whenever the Church "has based its faith, dogma or morals on science, she has been terribly embarrassed." Precisely because the primary concern for the Orthodox Church is evangelical, Fr George argues that as Christians "We do not obey a proscription, sexual or otherwise, because it adheres to some so-called "pseudo" natural law."

Rather Christian obedience is of a different kind.

We obey according to the measure of our faith. The measure of our faith will be based on the depth of heart and sincerity of our prayer. It would be well to keep in mind what our holy fathers have taught us - obedience leads to faith and prayer, and in turn, faith and prayer lead to obedience. Being excellent psychologists, the fathers tell us that the main pitfalls to prayer and obedience to God's will are forgetfulness, ignorance and laziness. Possibly we could sum up these three categories into two: knowledge and perseverance (or persistence). Real knowledge of the Christian spiritual-moral life can only come from the light of faith in accordance with the Gospels and the guidance of the Church. Persistence in seeking the will of God and obedience to His commandments also comes through faith. Obedience itself makes for even greater love, faith and obedience.

As I said, I think that the above argument is a good, popular expression of the rejection of natural law by many Orthodox theologians. In which the Orthodox criticism asserts, that our knowledge of the spiritual and moral life comes "from the light of faith in accordance with the Gospels and the guidance of the Church," I would heartily concur, as I suspect would most Catholic thinkers.

I will, in my next post, offer a response to the Orthodox rejection of natural law.

Until then, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome, they are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What Doesn’t Work

Fidelity to the personal and communal vocation of the human person requires from those in authority that they are restrained in the exercise of power even as God's is Himself restrained in His relationship with His creation. (While I think this restraint must certainly be personal, i.e., ascetical, reflecting on my own experience as an American, I also think the restraint must also be systemic, i.e., by wise laws and procedures overseen by wise and ascetically self-limiting leaders. But a fuller explication must, alas, wait for another day.) Though not without significant differences, reflecting as they do the relationship of Persons in the Triune God, parish leaders (or really, any human leaders) must as we've seen be characterized by trust. As God trust His creatures so the human leader must trust those he leads.

Practically, this means that as a pastor, my relationship with the parish should largely be "hands off." Just as I ask deference (that is to say, trust) for decisions I make, I should also defer to lay people as they go about their own personal and family lives. While this is relatively simple in personal, one-on-one, relationships, trust becomes more difficult when we speak about the day to day, week to week, year and year out, governance of the parish.

The model that largely structured the life of the parish throughout most of the 20th century is some form of lay trusteeship. Occasionally this model made possible a collaborative and cooperative working relationship between priest and parish. In the main, however, it has taken the form of the priest being responsible for "upstairs" (i.e., the liturgical and sacramental life of the parish) and the laity for "down stairs" (i.e., everything else).

Under this lay trustee model it was not (and in some places still is not) uncommon for the priest to use the sacramental lives of the Church as a means of exercising control over what he saw as a rebellious the laity. And the laity, for their part, were not shy (and still at times, are still not shy) about using the power of the purse to force compliance of what they say to be a stubborn priest. (In both cases, I should add, there was often some justice for the complaints. But just as frequently the matter was (is) simply a desire for power.)

While this approach has the virtue of simplicity, it in fact is grounded in a system of dysfunctional relationships that do not embody or reflect a respectful openness to the uniqueness of others. Much less is it grounded in an imitation of the relationship of Persons in the Holy Trinity. Rather it is a model in which priest and laity seeing each other as competitors who must zealously guard their respective areas of authority from encroachment by the other. Worse, still are those situations where priest and lay leaders collude with each other to maintain a monopoly on power in the parish.

Whether the life of the parish is marked by power struggles (the competitive mode of leadership) or the tight fisted control of the many by the few (i.e., collusion) the life of the Spirit is quenched and the parish dies a slow spiritual death that often takes root years before its numerical death.

In the Tradition of the Orthodox Church the principle of subsidiarity finds its counterpart in terms such as synergia, (i.e., the working together of wills human and divine) syndiakonia (i.e., a co-service of clergy and laity) and symphonia (the working together of Church and State). All of these, I would stress, are grounded in the mutual obedience of all parties involved to the will of God as manifested not only in Holy Scripture and the writings of the Fathers, but also natural law.

While synergia, syndiakonia,
symphonia are all rich terms, where I think Orthodox thought would profit most from Catholic Social Teaching is in the grounding of our understanding subsidiarity not simply Holy Tradition but also natural law. I will in my next post try and offer a bit of an apology for natural law as a useful adjunct to Orthodox theological reflection on Church leadership.

Until then, and as always, your comments, questions and criticism are not only welcome but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Subsidiarity & the Respectful Life

We saw in an earlier post, the more about the practical virtue of respect for an effective leader. To help us now understand more about the character of the respectful leader, I want to borrow a concept from Catholic Social Teaching. Specifically, I have in mind mere the principle of subsidiarity.

The entry on subsidiarity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) begins by pointing out that participate in society and social groups fulfills an essential aspect of human nature even as it "presents dangers." Thinking of the political realm the authors of the CCC identify as the chief danger the "Excessive intervention by the state." Such intervention is deemed excessive when it, or has the possibility to, undermine the "personal freedom and initiative" of its citizens. The Catholic Church "has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity" specifically with an eye to offering a response to the intrusive state. Central to this articulation is the idea that "'a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.'" (#1883)

Moving swiftly from anthropology to theology, the CCC argues that subsidiarity in human society is a reflection of how God relates to His creation:

God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence. (#1884)

Stressing as it does the primacy of human freedom and initiative (what I would call simply, wisdom) in the structuring of our shared life, the "principle of subsidiarity" leads the Christian (and person of good will, since while grounded theologically, subsidiarity is a principle of natural law) to oppose "all forms of collectivism." Continuing, we read that subsidiarity as a principle of social organization necessarily "sets limits for state intervention" and instead leads us to work for a way of a life in which we are able to harmonize "the relationships between individuals and societies." (#1885)

While offered within the context of "establishment of true international order." (#1885), what strikes me as important for parish leadership is the argument that leaders (i.e., the "higher order") should "not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order." Instead the task, dare I say, vocation, of leadership is to serve the "common good." This service, if I've understood what I have read both in the Catechism and more generally in Catholic Social Teaching, is directed not toward the collective, but the person and what Pope John Paul II calls the "community of persons" (i.e., the family, the school, the state, the Church, etc.)

I will, in my next post, contrast the principle of subsidiarity to what I see as the more typical patterns of parochial clerical and lay leadership. Let me add, these patterns are often dysfunction, but they are also (thank God) changing.

Until then, and as always, your comments, questions and criticism are not only welcome but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Response to the American Gnostic (NOT!)

This past week I was in Chicago for our annual clergy conference for the Diocese of the Mid West. Our presenter was Fr Jonathan Tobias, pastor of St John the Baptist Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in East Pittsburgh, PA.

Fr Jonathan gave three talks on what he called American gnosticism. While I though the talks were interesting, I do have my points of disagreement with his presentation. My primarily disagree is that, like many Orthodox Christians in America, Father uses Evangelical Christianity as his touchstone for an Orthodox understanding of American Christianity. While an argument can be made for this position, I think our focus on Evangelical Christianity means that we are always responding to what is least substantial in American religious experience. My own view is that while we must be mindful of Evangelical Christianity, we would also do well to attend to the influence of Catholicism, and especially the effect of the Aritotlean-Thomistic natural law tradition in American political philosophy and culture.

But I digress.

You can find Fr Jonathan's talks,

Prospects, part 1: Ebb Tide
Prospects, part 2: Bad News before the Good
Pospects, part 3: the American Genius
Prospects, part 4: the American Gospel -- Orthodoxy at the End of the Sawdust Trail

on his most excellent blog "Second Terrace."

But, since it is Saturday, the day I try and post something fun, I have for your consideration the Bad Vicar Sketch from from episode 3 of the BBC series That Mitchell and Webb Look. (Warning, harsh language.)

I'll be back to regular postings on Monday.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Monday, February 09, 2009

More on Respect

Previously, I outlined what I would call the anthropological imperative for respect (which I described as "contemplative openness" to the work of God in self and others) as the foundational virtue of leadership. What I will do in this post is sketch out the broad outline of a respectful relationship.

With my own parishioners I am clear (well, I think I'm clear, they are the better judge of my clarity on this issue than am I), I do not want, nor do I deserve, their obedience. What I ask for—and I've discussed this in an earlier post, to read it click here—is deference. By deference I mean that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I want the benefit of the doubt for my views about the direction the parish should take. Of course, in phrasing the matter the way I have, I am also inviting criticism and debate of my views. And why not? I can be—and often am—wrong.

My asking for deference is another way of saying that I wish my parishioners to respect my position as the parish priest. As the pastor, I often have access to information that others in the parish do not. Beyond this, however, even if it is more specialized than is the case with most priests, like most Orthodox priest, I also have a very specialized graduate training that (I think) gives me a particular expertise that most of my parishioners simply do not have.

All that said though, as I think about my own role in the parish, I am mindful of the advice I often give people with critically ill children: Your child's doctor is an expert in all children; you are an expert in your child.

Thought of in this way, pastor and parishioners bring different, and usually complimentary, knowledge sets and skills. While I may be expert in this or that aspect of parish life, I do not have the kind of expertise or depth of knowledge as does someone who has lived his or her whole adult life in the parish. One form of expertise is not necessarily better than another, they are simply different.

What should be clear is that respect cannot simply be a one way street. Clergy must not simply ask for respect, we must also offer it to the laity (and to one another, but that is a topic for another day). But this is difficult if the priest (just to look at one side of the relationship, but what I say is equally applicable to the laity and bishops for that matter) if his relationship with others is not proximately ground a self-respect that finds its more remote ground in appreciative, but critical, self-knowledge that it itself ground in a trust in God and His work in the life of the priest.

More often than not the absence of a healthy sense of self-respect reflects not so much the presence of a psychopathology, but a developmental lack. Self-respect is not spontaneous or natural, but rather learned. Since this learning process necessarily includes moments of failure, it is difficult to grow in a healthy regard for self in a social context that (as I've pointed out earlier) equates leadership with a relatively arbitrary collection of skills.

And again, this doesn't mean the skills are not important, just not primary. And again, no list of skills are exhaustive and any attempt to create one is more likely to foster anxiety and a nagging, but nevertheless debilitating, sense of insufficiency.

How then might we foster respect in self and others?

Developmentally, we come to a sense of our own competency through the twin socialization mechanism of conformity to the expectations of our tradition as mediated by our parents AND the willingness of our parents to affirm us even when our behavior fails to measure up the standards of our tradition.

Between children and parents, this largely happens spontaneously. Where things often go wrong is when the relationship between parent and child grows in complexity and so the possibility of real, substantive, but nevertheless legitimate divergence and disagreements. At this point, the natural, more biologically based relationship, needs to be itself re-oriented through critical reflection.

Put another way, we need to think about why it is acceptable to continue to be affirming and respectful of others even when the exercise of their freedom is an challenge to what was once our undisputed authority in their lives.

Using early childhood development as our model, what we see is just as the parents must continually limit themselves in the face of their child's growing sense of self-mastery and freedom, so too the parish priest needs to see his relationship with his parishioners as an act of kenosis as they become ever more capable of directing their own personal and communal spiritual lives.

At this point I need to introduce the concept of subsidiarity, an idea I am borrowing from Roman Catholic social teaching. I find in subsidiarity a helpful insight in coming to value the different expertise that are brought to the parish. Or as St John the Baptist says of himself relative to Christ, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Jn 3.30)

While such a program of leadership is personally challenging, I would like turn my attention to a more theoretical justification of such an approach. For this reason I will in my next post try and offer a bit of an apology for the principle of subsidiarity as a useful adjunct to Orthodox theological reflection on Church leadership.

Until then, and as always, your comments, questions and criticism are not only welcome but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

An Open Letter to Frank Schaeffer

In the most recent US presidential election a number of Pro-Life advocates came out in support of the Senator Obama. The argument made then was typically some form of the argument made last November by Frank Schaffer in an open letter to President-elect Obama. As I argue below, while I understand why many Americans voted for Mr Obama, I believe those who argue his policies are compatible with a Pro-Life policy position are simply, tragically, wrong. While my letter is address to Frank Schaeffer, I would invite your own thoughts on the matter.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Dear Frank,

On November 12, 2008 you published an open letter to the then newly elected Barack Obama. You title the piece, "An Open Letter to President-Elect Obama About Abortion: From a Pro-Obama and Pro-Life Leader." While I do not dispute your past contributions to the Pro-Life cause, I must take objection to what seems to me to be the faulty moral analysis that underlies your advice to President Obama. To be direct, your argument is neither a Pro-Life argument nor compatible with the historical, Christian faith nor the teaching of the historical Christian Churches, East and West, Orthodox and Catholic. The Church's teaching aside, however, you cannot be, as you claim to be, "pro-life," and argue "that abortion should remain legal." Your arguments are not pro-life but pro-choice.

Let me explain.

You argue that we must reduce the number of abortions, far enough. But you also argue that there is no need for the Democratic Party (and I'm quoting here from your essay) "to give up principles about reproductive rights. In fact, it means that those principles can better be defended in the long term because you will have claimed the moral high ground." In other words, and please correct me if I am wrong here, you argue that reducing the number of abortions is in the service of defending a so called "right to abortion." I'm sorry but this is simply monstrous. In effect your advice to our new president is that he work to help some mothers bring their children to term so that other mothers can maintain the legal right to kill their children!

You agree with President Obama's own argument on the matter, when you say that abortion (and again I'm quoting) "is a moral issue upon which reasonable and honorable people can disagree." Again, this is monstrous—indeed if it were not for the moral horror of this argument it would be laughable. That people disagree over abortion is clear—but it is neither reasonable nor honorable to accept, even regretfully, the proposition that it is morally licit to take an innocent life. And such acceptance is certainly not a pro-life argument.

Let me be clear: Under no circumstance can one sanction the taking of an innocent life. Those who fail to see this, do so because of a grievous moral blindness and hardness of heart.

What I find more is disturbing than intellectual poverty of your moral analysis is your cynical willingness call yourself pro-life while expressing a willingness to sacrifice the lives of the unborn for the sake of national harmony and an end to the culture wars. You contend that, if your advice is followed, the President "will have taken a giant step towards bringing this country together." Whether this is true or not, I cannot say. What I can say is that the willingness to sacrifice innocent lives for the sake of national unity is not the words of someone I can reasonably call pro-life. Your position is morally unacceptable both in light of natural law and the biblical tradition that informs the pro-life opposition to legal abortion.

We cannot as a country simply agree to disagree about the murder of the unborn. To suggest we can is the essence of the pro-choice argument of convenience: "I am personally opposed but…" And yet this is the very argument of you advance when you assure Mr Obama, that (and again assuming he follows your advice) he "will find . . . some new and unexpected allies rooting for [him] on the issues of the economy, service and sacrifice." Specifically you have in mind "millions of Evangelical young people ready to follow your call." That more of these young Evangelical Christians have voted for Mr Obama "than for any Democratic candidate for the presidency post-Roe" is not doubt true. And that many young people, whether Evangelical Christian or not, are "already believe in your vision of service, responsibility and compassion. " Alas, should the president follow your advice, he (and you) can only betray their idealism and desire for service with a false and deceptive hope, since neither he (nor I fear you) take seriously their "moral concern on the issue of life."

Nowhere is the pro-choice character of your argument made clearer than in the parallel you would between President Nixon and President Obama.

In your view of things, abortion can be for Mr Obama his "'Nixon goes to China' moment." You argue that only "a progressive Democrat" (such as President Obama) can "defuse the situation and heal the culture wars in a way that no Republican president has been able to do." How? By using, as you suggest, the presidency as a "'bully pulpit' for life, and a substantive set of a programs to reduce abortions, while also defending Roe. You can do both!"

No, Frank, he can't. Your argument is simply wrong.

Certainly, President Obama's economic plans is something that reasonable and honorable people can disagree over. And while I am willing to entertain the possibility that Mr Obama's policies may, and I must stress MAY, reduce the number of abortions, this is not the salient moral point. But the moral problem does not lie so much with the number of abortions but with the fact that abortion is not only legal in the US but accorded the status of a right. But how can anyone have the right to kill an innocent human being?

Your willingness to accept the continuation of legalized abortion as the law of the land is not compatible with either the Tradition of the Church or natural law; it is certainly not a pro-life position.

I would go further and say that your letter is scandalous. Not only is it such in the popular sense of shocking, but in the technical, theological sense as well. You present yourself as a Christian and a self-professed pro-life leader and yet you offer a public witness that argues for the moral legitimacy of abortion. In suggesting a course of action that allows not only for the upholding of legalized abortion (or as you refer to the euphemistically, "reproductive rights") but also suggests that such a position can reflects "the moral high ground," you are not only morally wrong, but have caused grievous harm to his readers—you have left them with the false notion that a pro-choice position is consonant with the Gospel. It is not.

By all means let us as Christians support Mr Obama when he proposes policies which, to quote His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America, "extend a hand to those suffering from their sins, what ever they are." We have the confidence to do this, no matter what the personal or political cost because by faith we know and proclaim that "There is no sin that cannot be forgiven, save the one we refuse to accept forgiveness for."

At the same time however, we must remind Mr Obama that we cannot simply work to reduce the number of abortions; we must stop abortion. Why? Because as His Beatitude reminds us "Abortion not only destroys the life of the infant; it rips the soul out of the mother (and the father!)," even as our support of abortion has ripped apart the fabric of our society.

From my own pastoral experience I know that abortion is "a sin for which a woman torments herself for years, sinking deeper into despair and self-condemnation and self-hatred. But there is forgiveness, if only she will ask." Sadly your own letter seems to pass over in silence not only the Church's moral witness on this issue. In doing so you minimize the Church's teaching that in Christ those who commit abortion, those who perform abortion and those who—even passively—support abortion "need . . . to repent and accept forgiveness, so that their souls, their memories, and their lives, might be healed."

However well intentioned you might be—and please understand I do not doubt your good intentions—your willingness to support legal abortion is simply wrong.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory Jensen

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Eternal Memory: Michael Dubruiel

Please remember in your prayers Amy Wellborn and her family. Her husband, Michael Dubruiel, died suddenly yesterday morning at the gym. For those that want to help in some way, and honor her husband, she suggested that we purchase: The How To Book of the Mass. All proceeds will go to the children's college funds.

May his memory be eternal!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Respect & the Complexity of our Social Life

eturning to our earlier conversation of the importance of character to effective leadership, what character trait or traits might we look for in those called to a leadership role in the Church? While an argument can be made for the relative primacy of any number of virtues, I increasingly come to think that a key virtue—if not the key virtue—of pastoral leadership is respect. Let me explain.

Both in administrative matters, and especially as it pertains to fostering the spiritual life of parishioners and the whole community, pastoral leadership is (to again borrow from Friedrich Hayek's essay "The Use of Knowledge in Society") a "complex of interrelated decisions about the allocation of our available resources. " Secular "economic activity" and parish leadership are a mode of "planning," that is they are concerned with the allocation of scarce resources. And, just as "in any society in which many people collaborate, this planning, whoever does it, will in some measure have to be based on knowledge which, in the first instance, is not given to the planner but to somebody else, which somehow will have to be conveyed to the planner."

While a concern for skills much be part of how we select both our clergy and lay leadership, the overemphasis on skills leads to (if I borrow again from Hayek) a governance of the parish by "authority," or by a leadership composed "of suitably chosen experts." Ironically, the approach that (tacitly and sometime explicitly) favors skills over character is one that is (in the short term) likely to prove popular and even effective. Why? Because, and again as Hayek observed, "it is today . . . widely assumed that the latter [i.e., 'the experts'] will be in a better position." The Church finds herself in a cultural context in which "one kind of knowledge, namely, scientific knowledge, occupies [a] prominent a place in public imagination."

The adulation of expert knowledge—whether scientific or theological—is possible only to the degree that we "forget that it is not the only kind that is relevant. It may be admitted that, as far as scientific [or really any expert] knowledge is concerned, a body of suitably chosen experts may be in the best position to command all the best knowledge available—though this is of course merely shifting the difficulty to the problem of selecting the experts." And so Hayek concludes, "What I wish to point out is that, even assuming that this problem can be readily solved, it is only a small part of the wider problem."

That wider problem is not one, I would argue, that can be solved since it pertains not to human ingenuity and creativity, but truth. And, as Chesterton reminds us, "truth is stranger than fiction. Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves."

But if the myriad practical problems cannot be solved—since any given solution engenders a new set of challenges—we can respond to the problems in a manner that opens us more fully to divine grace both in our own lives and the lives of those entrusted by Christ to our care. Respect is that practical virtue, I would suggest, that allows us to dwell in the midst of the complexity of life (that Hayek describes so well) with a gentle openness and trust in God.

Etymologically, the word respect literally means to look again (from L. respectus "regard," lit. "act of looking back at one," pp. of respicere "look back at, regard, consider," from re- "back" + specere "look at"). Moving from the literal to the connotative, we can think about being respectful as gazing up or looking at someone or something with appreciation, even admiration.

The respectful person than embodies what Adrian van Kaam calls a "contemplative openness" to the world of persons, events and things. At the heart of this openness is the ability and willingness to see the world not in terms of isolated pieces but as an ever expanding whole that both flows from, returns to, and is sustained by, God.

While Hayek's work might seem itself too theoretical for pastoral ministry, the problem he points to is immediately applicable. We can compare the theoretical posturing of the economist who ignores the practical wisdom of the entrepreneur to the pastoral disrespectful leader. In the latter case we see someone who elevates his own partial vision of the parish at the expense of the whole.
The disrespectful leader is disrespectful because his vision is narrow, static and sectarian rather than holistic, dynamic and catholic. Invariably, if not initially, he will seek to control the life of the parish based upon his own egoic vision of what the community "ought" to be.

Contrast this sense of respect to our typical experience of life as not an ever deepening sense of wholeness and support, but rather increasing fragmentation, isolation and competition. It is this second experience that I would characterize as disrespectful or the tendency to ignore the whole in favor of the part. (It is in this sense that we can talk about the logical priority of charity, but the practical priority of respect. Respect looks beyond itself to charity. A fuller explanation of this will have to wait for another time.)

The respectful leader, on the other hand, understand that—even if he should want to do so—he cannot control the parish in any but the smallest details and only then at the expense of committing an offense against the dignity of the person and the prompting of grace in the person's life.

I will in my next post, look in more detail at the practical virtue of respect. Until then, your comments, questions and criticism are not only welcome, they are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Leadership & the Complexity of Planning

All virtues are, necessarily, situational. This does not mean that morality is not objective, far from it. Rather, it is only to say that the moral law most always been embodied and so, necessarily, to some degree situational.

Aristotle's discussion in the Nicomachean Ethics of temperance and courage as the midpoint between extremes illustrates the importance of context for any consideration of virtue:"First, then, let us consider this, that it is the nature of such things to be destroyed by defect and excess, as we see in the case of strength and of health (for to gain light on things imperceptible we must use the evidence of sensible things); both excessive and defective exercise destroys the strength, and similarly drink or food which is above or below a certain amount destroys the health, while that which is proportionate both produces and increases and preserves it."

But while the principle of balance is for Aristotle is absolute on the theoretical level, in practice it must always take context in to consideration. And so "the man who flies from and fears everything and does not stand his ground against anything becomes a coward, and the man who fears nothing at all but goes to meet every danger becomes rash; and similarly the man who indulges in every pleasure and abstains from none becomes self-indulgent, while the man who shuns every pleasure, as boors do, becomes in a way insensible; temperance and courage, then, are destroyed by excess and defect, and preserved by the mean." (Bk II.2)

If, as I have argued earlier, the character of the leader is primary and concrete skills secondary, to understand the virtues needed for leadership we have to first understand the context within which the leader is called to serve. In his defense of the free market, the Nobel Prize laureate Friedrich Hayek offers us the insight we need.

Hayek argues that the practical problem with a planned economy is a poverty of information. Not matter how well researched, social interactions are simply too complex, the variables too, well varied, to lend themselves to the kind of analysis and understanding that makes accurate prediction of causal relationships possible. Or, as he argues in "The Use of Knowledge in Society," (with my emphasis)

the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is thus not merely a problem of how to allocate "given" resources—if "given" is taken to mean given to a single mind which deliberately solves the problem set by these "data." It is rather a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only these individuals know. Or, to put it briefly, it is a problem of the utilization of knowledge which is not given to anyone in its totality.

Increasingly, I find theoretical work in economics increasingly useful for my own systematic reflections on the pastoral life of the Church since (in both cases) the concern is the practical of how the wealth of the community ought best be used.

And if, as Hayek argues, "This character of the fundamental problem" in economics has "been obscured rather than illuminated by many of the recent refinements of economic theory, particularly by many of the uses made of mathematics," I think the pastoral life of the Church has been harmed by a similar, and equally, unwise use of theology. Just as "many of the current disputes with regard to both economic theory and economic policy have their common origin in a misconception about the nature of the economic problem of society" because economists have narrowed their vision to the mathematical, so too the parish suffers a like harm because often we try and impose on the community our own idiosyncratic, abstract, albeit theologically articulated and justified, vision of human life and society.

For Hayek this epistemological question is central to any consideration of economic planning. I would assert that his insight is more broadly applicable to the actual challenge faced by the leadership of any community. This is especially so with, in the parish where we have not only all the varied factors inherent in any social group, but also the added complexity of attending to the mystery of divine grace in the life of both individual parishioners and the parish as a whole. All of this is captured in "ordinary language . . . by the word 'planning.'" Hayek's view of planning resonates with the challenge of pastoral leadership.

In my next post, I want to look with you a bit more at the complexity of parish leadership in light of Hayek's argument of the complexity of economic planning. As I hope to show, while all the Christian virtues are important to pastoral leadership, it is the virtue of respect that is foundational.

Until then, your comments, questions and criticism are not only welcome, they are actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bernard of Clairvaux on the Beauty of the Church (1090-1153)

Bernard of Clairvaux on the Beauty of the Church (1090-1153)

God placed all things under Christ\'s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23).

“Yet there is one who truthfully and unhesitatingly can glory in this praise. She is the Church, whose fulness is a never-ceasing fount of intoxicating joy, perpetually fragrant. For what she lacks in one member, she possesses in another according to the measure of Christ’s gift and the plan of the Spirit who distributes to each one just as he chooses… although none of us will dare arrogate for his own soul the title of bride of the Lord, nevertheless we are members of the Church which rightly boasts of this title and of the reality which it signifies, and hence may justifiably assume a share in her honor. For what all of us simultaneously possess in a full and perfect manner, that each one of us undoubtedly possesses by participation. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your kindness in uniting us to the Church you so dearly love, not merely that we may be endowed with the gift of faith, but that like brides we may be one with you in an embrace that is sweet, chaste, and eternal, beholding with unveiled faces that glory which is yours in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.” (Conclusion of Sermon 12, Sermons on the Song of Songs)

h/t: Theology of the Body.
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