January 30, 2013

More on Christian Diversity

The Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity has had me thinking about what praying for diversity is all about. I have been asked, for example, “Do you really want Christians not to agree with one another?” Well, not exactly. The Rev. Bosco Peters, who thought up the idea for this week, put his essential insight this way:
The Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity prays that we realise that agreeing to disagree will be the only way forward.
Conflict over doctrine, often doctrine that, in retrospect, is anything but central to the gospel, has bitterly divided Christians over the centuries, has even inspired wars. In our own day, the status of homosexuals in the church and society has been an issue that has seriously divided the Anglican Communion. I feel confident, however, that, in the twenty-second century, homosexuals will no longer be a special group we argue about; they will simply be people like the rest of us (including women, of course), who will routinely marry and be ordained without any special notice. Moreover, the historical arguments within the church about homosexuals will be seen as ignorant and trivial. Agreeing to disagree about homosexuality now—tolerating our present diversity—will get us through our present uncomfortable divisions.

This is not to say that tolerating diversity always leads to an eventual consensus. It does, I think, lead to perspective and, in many cases, to a common view. (One is hard-pressed to find Christian defenders of slavery today.) But there appears to be an inexhaustible source of disagreements among Christians, and, as old debates die down, new ones are born.

There is, however, a positive aspect of diversity. The willingness to articulate unorthodox, even heretical, ideas within the church is necessary for the kind of dialectic that leads to new insights, and, ultimately, to new consensus within the church. Abolitionists within and outside the church, were needed to challenge the orthodoxy of the acceptability of slavery in order to bring the church to a new missional understanding that enslaving our fellow human beings is fundamentally wrong.

We therefore should be praying for a tolerance of diversity to prevent unnecessary and damaging disunity within the church, but we should also be praying that our comfortable but mistaken beliefs will be challenged by those willing to oppose the current orthodoxy.

The forgoing is really an introduction to things I have written over the years which were informed by my work with Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh involving trying to prevent the schism that eventually befell my diocese. This will, I hope, contribute to the commemoration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity.

The first of these compositions is a collect for unity, written in October 2004:
Creator of the universe, who made us different from one another in myriad ways we can see and in more ways we shall never know, yet made us all in your image; fill our hearts with your love and our minds with your wisdom, that we may truly become brothers and sisters of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
More information about this collect can be found on my Web site here.

Next is a poem about Christian unity written even earlier, in September 2002:

Christian Unity

Around the table gathered, we
Are one in sweet community,
For Christ has ransomed one and all
Who answer to his loving call.
We worship God in many ways;
We celebrate on different days;
But Jesus is the guiding star
For Christians near and Christians far.
God’s plan for us is seldom clear;
We may a different drummer hear;
Yet, if we study and we pray,
The kingdom will be ours some day.
So let us vow to never fight
About who’s wrong and who is right
Concerning truths we cannot know
That turn our Christian friend to foe.
And let our worship fit our needs;
Let us unite in Christian deeds;
May we God’s love and mercy show
To those who don’t the Savior know.

More information about this poem is available here.

Finally, there is another poem on the unity in diversity theme, which I wrote in April 2011:

That They All May Be One

“That they all may be one,” they say he said,
But what of us when thus we pray?
Are not our bonds of wine and bread
Sufficient for the Church today?

Must Christians understand as one
The mysteries of God above?
Or should we learn from God the Son
That unity derives from love?

More information about this poem can be found here.

Postscript. It seems only fitting that I should include another poem of mine in this little essay that is actually titled “Diversity.” The poem—a limerick, really—is not about theological diversity, but its subject is not unrelated to ecclesiastical concerns. This poem was written in July 2000 and was tweaked a bit a few years later. More information can be found here. Consider this comic relief.


There once was a priest of St. Mary’s
Who blessed all the dykes and the fairies.
When I asked, “Is that right?”
He said, “Don’t be uptight.
“God gave us a preference that varies!”

I belive in Christian diversity

January 27, 2013

Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity

The Rev. Bosco Peters, an Anglican priest in Christchurch, New Zealand, writes the Liturgy blog. Bosco has declared, unilaterally it seems, the Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity. The week (octave, really) begins today, Sunday, January 27, 2013, and ends next Sunday, February 3, 2013. He writes on his blog
This week acknowledges and is honest about our diversity. In the Northern Hemisphere, Christians have just concluded a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity happens in the Easter Season. Christians cannot even agree when to pray for unity! Let us be honest about our extreme diversity of beliefs. Let us be honest about our enmity—Christian against Christian. Let us be honest about our disagreements. Let us be honest about the diversity of our actions—from some really good stuff, to quite a bit of downright evil. Let us be honest about getting some things right, and quite a bit wrong.
Christian unity is a lovely idea,, but Bosco wisely recognizes that, to many Anglicans, unity means uniformity. Thus, he concluded, we must celebrate Christian diversity explicitly. Bosco is on to something important, and I plan to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity as best I can.

I have adopted Bosco’s badge celebrating Christian diversity. I have reproduced it below, and it now graces every page of my blog. I encourage other bloggers to adopt Bosco’s badge as well.

“That they all may be one” does not mean—should not mean—“that they all may agree.” There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, but that faith is not a large set of propositions on which all Christians must agree. Let us each proclaim and live out the gospel as we understand it and love our Christian brothers and sisters, even when their understanding of the gospel differs from our own.

I belive in Christian diversity

January 24, 2013

Spiking Down the Pages

Many years ago, my aunt gave me a railroad spike. I don’t know the history of the spike, but it is a used one. After it was pulled up, someone had it bronzed, so it doesn’t rust. I have long used this 12 ounce, 6½ inch artifact as a paperweight.

The other day, I was writing in my notebook and having a hard time keeping the book open to the page I was using. The spike was nearby, and I though it might be just the thing to weigh down the page, so that it did not turn on me. As I was putting the spike down, the thought occurred to me to place its head between the left and right pages. It worked perfectly, almost as if the spike had been made for the purpose! (Click on the photo for a larger view.)

Spike holding place in notebook

January 21, 2013

Second Inauguration

I wrote a poem for Barack Obama’s first inauguration. That poem, “Hail Barack Obama,” was perhaps overly optimistic in tone. Four years later, we face President Obama’s second inauguration more soberly, but we must hope that he can help us bring about a better America.

I could hardly help writing a second poem for an Obama second inauguration. That poem—or perhaps only a first draft of it—is below. I began writing it yesterday, the day on which Mr. Obama took the official oath. I finished the poem today as the President was just beginning his inauguration speech.

Second Inauguration
by Lionel Deimel

Once again, Barack Obama,
Hunter of the dread Osama,
Author of Obamacare,
And bane of every billionaire,
Lifts a hand and swears an oath,
And to our Union pledges troth.

Thus begins a second term
In which, perforce, he must be firm
When steering through the rocky shoals
Where Congress often smashes goals—
Progressive measures have no chance
When retrograde ideas advance.

The President must deal with debt,
With war and peace and terror threat;
He must confront the climate’s warming
And how the power grid’s performing:
Guns and jobs and immigration
All will vex Obama’s nation.

Barack Obama, President,
For four more years the resident
In the highest seat of power,
Goes forward from this hour;
Hope abides, and prayers ascend
That change our future may attend.

Obama Forward logo

January 17, 2013

A Contribution to the Gun Discussion

Following the Sandy Hook massacre, everyone seems to be talking about what to do about guns. With President Obama having made his own proposals yesterday, the discussion will only intensify.

Also yesterday, I left a comment on Facebook about gun ownership that I thought needed to be said. It quickly became a mere drop in the wide and fast-moving Facebook river. I decided, however, that the thought required a bit more prominence, so I offer an expanded version of it here.

Many people have suggested that the government ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, or other weapons or accessories. This seems like a commonsense idea, but it is often met with the objection that there is already an unacceptable quantity of such material in the hands of citizens. This is a serious objection.
The proper response to the objection is to make possession of certain materials illegal without grandfathering current owners. In other words, ban not only the sale of, say, assault weapons, but also make possession of them illegal, giving their current owners a reasonable period during which their weapons must be surrendered to or purchased by the government. This, of course, constitutes “taking people’s guns away.” something no one seems to have the courage to suggest might be right and proper. The NRA knows this and is trying to convince us all that “taking people’s guns away” is simply unthinkable. In fact, it is not.

Assault weapon

Some additional thoughts—

The NRA says that if people are forced to surrender their guns, only criminals will have guns. That might be an improvement. Admittedly, it is not a good thing that criminals have guns. It is a much greater problem, at least in public perception, that crazy people have guns.
Apropos of crazy people, I am skeptical of the provision of the law just passed in New York that requires therapists to report threats of gun violence made by their patients. This seems like a good idea, but will be problematic in practice. New York therapists may lose a lot of sleep in the future trying to balance their professional and legal responsibilities and their potential personal liabilities. Therapists are not and should not be expected to be clairvoyant.

There is no silver bullet to fix the crazy mass murderer problem. What we can do is to take steps to improve the mental health of the population generally. This will involve treating mental illness like other illness. It will require removing barriers to obtaining (or obtaining adequate) mental health services and campaigning to remove the stigma often associated with psychological abnormalities.

January 16, 2013

On Expanding the First Amendment

Trends can be hard to spot, sometimes even if you’re caught up in them. Having someone name an ongoing phenomenon of which you have been only subliminally aware, however, can be an epiphany.

I had such an epiphany while reading an article published by Political Research Associates. “The New Religious Freedom Argument: Gay Marriage in the 2012 Election” by Amy L. Stone points out that the religious Right is trying to expand the notion of freedom of religion beyond what is normally thought to be guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The argument recently advanced by Roman Catholic bishops in support of exempting church-related institutions from provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was perplexing to me. It was not at all clear why requiring, for example, Catholic hospitals to provide reproductive services to their employees impinged on the rights of management by requiring them to support something of which they disapprove.

Liberty Bell
The government regulates commerce at many levels. In particular, it has long specified certain terms of employment through such legislation as minimum wage laws. The requirements of the ACA are no different in principle. If a Catholic hospital is required by law to provide no-cost contraception to female employees, how is it complicit in facilitating what the Catholic Church considers a sin? It is simply complying with a law passed democratically to which all employers in the country are subject. If a church-related employer is complicit in sin by providing contraception mandated by the ACA, is it any less complicit if an employee uses her wages to buy birth control pills herself? But the church has not argued that such an employee should not be allowed to buy the pill because it would compromise the church? Of course not; to do so would be ridiculous. It would make employment look more like slavery!

Amy Stone’s paper demystifies the Catholic Church’s argument and those of the likes of Hobby Lobby, a private “Christian” company that is objecting to the ACA requirement to provide reproductive health services to its employees as a restriction on the owners’ freedom of religion. (Hobby Lobby is suing the government over the requirement.) In such cases, the proponents argue that they have a constitutional right to live life in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Although “The New Religious Freedom Argument” focuses on marriage equality, Stone’s larger message is about how the religious Right is pursuing its agenda. She writes, “The Right’s new focus on religious freedom tries to reach a broad audience by using civil rights style language rather than morality to make its claim.” Thus, Hobby Lobby CEO David Green is not arguing that the burden of complying with the ACA should be lifted because complying with the law—and therefore the law itself— facilitates immoral behavior. Instead, he is claiming that religious freedom extends beyond freedom of belief and worship to—Stone quotes Matthew Wilson, associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University here—“the ability to live a life of faith in the world, to act socially, economically, politically, etc. in concert with one’s convictions, without fear of being coerced by government into violating the tenets of faith.”

Moral arguments are unavailing when targeted at people who do not share the underlying belief of those making the argument. By using the rhetoric of civil rights, however, the Right seeks to appeal to a broader constituency concerned about fairness and civil liberties. The hope is that people of good will who are not religious extremists will buy the specious argument that “freedom of religion” should allow everyone to behave in accord with his or her own religious beliefs without concern for others. The religious Right is exhibiting the same attitudes we saw in the opposition to the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Law of 1964, albeit with additional religious dress—“this is my business, and I should be able to run it any way I like, including serving whites only.”

If this expanded view of “freedom of religion” is embraced by a gullible nation—I suspect, or at least hope, that it will not be—it will result in an American society even more contentious and fragmented than it is already. It will not expand liberty, though it may provide more freedom to the wealthy at the expense of the non-wealthy, as if we need more of that in 2013.

It is easy to see what Stone calls the new religious freedom argument as nothing more than a power grab. It is that, of course, particularly on the part of right-wing media agitators. Those people, however, have encouraged the bewildering phenomenon of Christian paranoia. Although, by any practical measure, the United States is the most Christian (or, if you like, Christian-friendly) country in the world, Christians on the right have been convinced that they and their beliefs are under attack. The craziest of the crazies are even planning armed insurrection in defense of their “rights.” God help us.

Some sanity has recently been brought to the matter of religious freedom from, of all places, Europe. The European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday on four cases from the United Kingdom of alleged persecution of Christians. Two cases involved wearing a cross at work, and two cases involved a refusal to perform one’s job when doing so involves serving gay people. The court found in favor of a plaintiff in only one case, that of one Nadia Eweida, an airline employee who wanted to wear a cross on a necklace along with her airline uniform. (The court’s 53-page opinion can be read here.)

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, summarized what the court did and how a democratic society should rationally deal with matters of religious practice. America should pay careful attention to his commonsense wisdom, which suggests what the response should be to the likes of the Roman Catholic Bishops and the CEO of Hobby Lobby. Copson’s statement, except for its British spelling and punctuation, could easily be the opinion of a wise American. He wrote
The European Court applied exactly the same tests and measures that we have been advocating for years. They asked the question “Will this manifestation of a person’s religion interfere with the rights of others?” In three out of the four cases they found it would and rightly dismissed them.

These cases have been repeatedly lost in court after court and have wasted an enormous amount of time just as they have generated a huge amount of unnecessarily divisive feeling amongst the public. The victim narrative that lies behind them, whipped up by the political Christian lobby groups that organise them and the socially conservative media that report them, has no basis in reality. The widespread misreporting of these cases under the guise of “Christian persecution” when they are anything but has undermined the chance of the public to get a really clear understanding of what the issues engaged by these cases really are.

What they describe as discrimination and marginalisation of Christians is in fact the proper upholding of human rights and equalities law and principles – principles which protect all people against unfair treatment – and we are pleased that the court has recognised this. All reasonable people will agree that there is scope in a secular democracy for reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs when that accommodation does not affect the rights and freedoms of others. But if believers try to invoke their beliefs as a defence for treating other people badly – denying them a service because they are gay or claiming a right to preach at them in a professional context – the law is right to prevent them. It’s not persecution of Christians; it’s the maintenance of a civilised society for all.

January 15, 2013

Days for Baptisms

Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany). It is recommended that, as far as possible, Baptisms be reserved for these occasions or when a bishop is present.
— BCP, p. 312

This past Sunday was the First Sunday after the Epiphany, and my church did indeed perform a baptism at the service I attended. Baptisms show up on our worship schedule unpredictably, however. The rector of St. Paul’s does not feel especially constrained by the paragraph above, which begins the Additional Directions that follow the Holy Baptism liturgy in the Episcopal Church prayer book. I have complained about our failure to restrict the times we celebrate Holy Baptism, but I haven’t been given much of a hearing.

The most common reason for holding baptisms at times other than those suggested in the prayer book is the convenience of the family. In this busy age, it may indeed be difficult to assemble all the friends and family who want to be present for a baptism, especially if some are coming from out of town. My rector is hardly the only priest to succumb to the entreaties of the candidate or the candidate’s relatives. On the other hand, I have always suspected that my rector does not take “as far as possible” very seriously and is more interested in receiving another soul into the household of God than in applying at least a little pressure to schedule a baptism on one of the “especially appropriate” occasions.
Baptismal font
I confess that my argument for following the Additional Directions more conscientiously has been primarily as a prayer book wonk. We should be honoring our tradition, even if that tradition may not technically qualify as ancient. I have avoided the argument that going to church and finding Holy Baptism substituted for The Holy Eucharist Rite Two makes me feel like a victim of a bait-and-switch ploy

At Sunday’s service, another reason for restricting the times when our church celebrates baptism occurred to me. Additional Directions suggests that a candle may be given “to the newly baptized or to a godparent.” My church does this, and I do think the candle well serves as a reminder of an important spiritual event. My rector sometimes suggests, when presenting the candle, that it might be lit on the anniversary of one’s baptism. He has suggested that the anniversary be honored on the same date every year, say, on February 3. However, with so many dates to remember—birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and the like—a personal baptism date is likely to be forgotten.

My epiphany was that, although one might not easily remember having been baptized on February 3 in some year in the distant past, it would be easier to remember having been baptized on, say, the Day of Pentecost. If the baptized person regularly attends a liturgical church and is aware of the church calendar, remembering one’s baptismal day becomes significantly more probable, perhaps even an anniversary that will be anticipated in the days leading up to Pentecost or one of the other feasts of the church. One might even be inclined to rummage around in some little used drawer to find that baptismal candle.

This is another, and perhaps better, reason to take the prayer book direction seriously. I might even try out the argument on my rector.

January 12, 2013

Air Force Women

An NPR news story about an Article 32 hearing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland was part of the news summary today at the beginning of All Things Considered. The subject of the hearing is the behavior of Technical Sergeant Jaime Rodriguez, an Air Force recruiter accused of sex crimes  The item was reported by Eileen Pace of Texas Public Radio. (The report updates a story you can read or hear on the TPR Web site.)

I had just returned home after running a few errands and was rather casually listening to the radio, but my ears perked up when I heard this sentence from Pace: “In three days of testimony, four female airmen and the Navy enlistee nervously offered graphic details to the court about the former recruiter.”

Four female airmen? Really? I can’t decide if this locution is sexist or simply clumsy. It is assuredly jarring to someone unused to it. The obvious female equivalent of airmen is airwomen, of course, though this sounds strange to the American ear, and perhaps no one here uses the word. The U.S. Air Force seems to use the term airmen, but not airwomem. A search of the Air Force Web site finds instances of the first word but not the second. There are several references to female Airmen. (Airmen is always capitalized.)

Sometime in the past, female Airmen may have seemed devoid of irony, but not today. I wonder if females in our Air Force object to this term now (or will in the future). Interestingly, the Air Force in Australia (and perhaps in other countries) avoids oxymoronicity—if that isn’t a real word, it should be—by the use of the lowercased airwomen. (See an instance here.)

Do you think that female Airmen is acceptable in 2013 America? If not, what alternative would you like to see? Would Air Force women work?

January 3, 2013

Patti Page RIP

I was saddened today to learn that singer Patti Page died on New Year’s Day. She was 85, having been born Clara Ann Fowler in Claremore, Oklahoma, in 1927.

Over the years, Patti Page sold more than a hundred million records, but she did not always get a lot of respect from music critics. In fact, she was an accomplished singer whose repertoire (and fans) spanned genres. She began as a country singer but is probably best know for her pop hits. Her voice was sure, and she always retained a certain country twang.

Of her well-known songs, “Tennessee Waltz,” “Old Cape Cod,” and “Allegheny Moon.” are my favorites. I am fond of her occasional use of overdubbing, allowing her to act as her own backup singers. (A good example of this technique can be heard in her original recording of “Old Cape Cod.”) “Doggie in the Window” is unforgettable, but a bit cute for my taste.

I own only one Patti Page album, the 1956 In the Land of Hi-Fi (see photo). It is perhaps out of the mainstream of her oeuvre, but it is a prized element of my record collection. My mother bought the album for me along with several other discs to build up my meager LP collection shortly after I got my first phonograph capable of playing LPs.

In the Land of Hi-Fi includes songs by Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, and others. The jazz arrangements on the album are by Pete Rugolo, who also conducts an orchestra of 23 musicians. I have a hard time picking favorite tracks from this album, but I will mention a few favorites: “Love for Sale,” “The Thrill is Gone,” and “Taking a Chance on Love.” This is the album that convinced me that Patti Page was a singer to be taken seriously.

Patti Page was to receive a Grammy for lifetime achievement in February. Unfortunately, the award will be posthumous. I will miss her.

Additional Links:

Patti Page entry on Wikipedia
Discography (Wikipedia)
Official Web site