Resolutions, Judo, and Grace (361)

I’ve never been much on New Year’s resolutions because I’ve had a familiar pattern with them: I make one. I stick with it for a couple of weeks. I begin to make excuses for why I can’t keep it. A few more weeks go by and I then realize I’ve ignored it, mostly. Then the guilt of my failure seeps into my soul. So, I end up worse off than when I started. I haven’t made the change I desired plus I’ve burdened myself with the fact that yet again I’ve failed at keeping a resolution I made. To quote blessed Paul in Romans 7:24: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” The answer, of course, is God’s grace imputed to us through the cross of Jesus. So now, I don’t make resolutions any more, not only because they make matters worse for me, but because they’re counter to inhabiting God’s grace. Resolutions rely on my own capacity to muster enough grit to keep them. I don’t have such capacity and I never will.

What complicates this for all of us is that we often live by God’s grace as if it’s a hobby we choose rather than a worldview we inhabit. I don’t mean to trivialize hobbies in writing that because hobbies are serious business to those who engage in them. Just ask a dedicated “hobbiest” about their hobby and an hour later you’ll have heard as much as you can take. But it’s still a hobby and it doesn’t require the “hobbiest” to inhabit a different worldview. Many of us profess a similar seriousness about God, just as long as God doesn’t require we change our worldview in order to inhabit his grace in our lives. If we don’t inhabit a grace-centered worldview, then our faith becomes similar to being a member of the Optimists Club. If we don’t like what the club is all about, we can always find another hobby that strikes our fancy.

Well into middle-age, I practiced Judo. I still benefit from its wisdom. In Japanese, “Judo” means “the gentle way.” At its core, Judo is practiced, not by brute force, pushing against one’s opponent, but by allowing the opponent’s own force to throw him. Our desire for resolution-inspired change is like pushing against an opponent, hoping we’ll prevail by overpowering what we want to change. From my experience, that rarely works. Inhabiting God’s grace is much like practicing Judo. We can’t do it by will power alone. We have to trust grace as a way of life. Like with blessed Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel: We have to “let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Inhabiting God’s grace as a worldview isn’t like having a serious hobby. It’s more like practicing Judo. Because of God’s grace, when we disagree with another person, we don’t need to push back until the other admits we’re right. As we inhabit grace, we’ll care less about another person’s “tribal” affiliation. We’ll simply care about the person. The more we inhabit God’s grace as a worldview, the less worried we’ll be about the earth’s fate. That’s not to say we’ll be naive. Just because we live trusting God’s grace doesn’t mean we must deny reality. After all, God has never been in denial about the world as it truly is. The cross of Jesus is God’s statement that God has accepted the world on humanity’s terms. And the resurrection of Jesus is God’s declaration that the world’s terms, as they are, are unacceptable to God. In the cross and resurrection, God has exercised God’s own form of Judo, using the force of our sin to bring us new life.



So, This is Christmas? (360)

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

– John Lennon, from his song, Happy Xmas

I first heard this John Lennon song as a teenager in 1972. Although the written lyrics don’t have question marks after the first two lines, I’ve always heard those lines as questions, as in “So, this is Christmas? And what have you done?” Knowing Lennon’s public agnosticism, his questions have always been challenges to me, as in: “If this is Christmas, the birth of God’s Son as all you Christians claim, then has this even changed the way you live your life one bit? Or, is this just about vague, good wishes for peace and love, hoping we’ll all be a little more kind and a little less Scrooge-like with one another in the coming year?” Quite appropriate questions to ask.

Lennon’s song took the pulse of the culture (and it still does 45 years later). If anything, his questions continue to expose an even greater chasm between what we Christians celebrate at Christmas and how we actually incarnate that truth in the way we live. And it’s overly facile for Christians to blame this on the cultural Christmas we’ve come to experience and endure, believing that if we’d all just begin saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays,” then somehow this chasm would be closed. This may make a particular Christian feel good, but it’s really a form of self-distraction leading to an even dangerous form of self-righteousness, vainly believing that by saying those magic words we’re somehow fighting some external “war” on Christmas.

Such distractions and self-righteousness lead us away from the real repentance to which Christmas calls us all. That’s the real “war.” It’s inside of us. It’s us futilely believing that if we just tried a bit harder to be better Christians and fight some external “war,” then somehow everything will be fine. But that’s a fool’s errand. Besides, it fundamentally denies the essence of God’s incarnation in Christ. For what happened at Christmas was actually God saying to us: “You can’t fix yourselves, let alone fix the world. You’re not even self-aware enough to know just how powerful sin’s grip is on your life. I’m therefore sending my son, Jesus, to free you from the consequences of your sin.”

To reference Lennon: Christmas isn’t about what “we have done” or even what we might do. It’s about what God has done. God has shown us mercy in sending Jesus to take on our humanity, to show us God’s very nature through his life and teaching, and then to die for our sins and the sins of the whole world. Our only response then at Christmas is to declare that the “war” is over and we’ve lost it. And when we recognize ourselves to be the real losers we are, then maybe for the first time, we’re capable of trusting that Jesus has won for us what we couldn’t win for ourselves: God’s eternal acceptance, better known as God’s amazing grace. That’s what really makes Christmas “merry” for us all.




“What Aboutism” (359)

What passes for moral discourse in our culture has been eroding for some time. This has led to a lessening in our ability as a society to discern what’s more harmful to others and what’s less harmful. We have come to this place in our culture for many reasons, not the least of which is the lack of any shared narrative about what both Aristotle and St. Paul understood to constitute a “good life,” one that is respectful, compassionate, and just.

This inability to discern the good, to see things clearly, has led to false claims of moral equivalency when someone engages in misbehavior of one kind or another. So, for example, someone like Garrison Keillor, who people have enjoyed listening to on the radio for years, gets fired from his job for sexual impropriety. Rather than acknowledge his misbehavior for what it is – wrong – people often engage in what’s become known as “what aboutism.” So, upon hearing about his misbehavior, they’ll say something like: “Well, what about (fill in the blank with another person in the news)? Isn’t his behavior more awful?” They hope this will create a moral equivalency in people’s minds thereby diluting the perception of misbehavior in their preferred person. I hope we see the problems with this sort of “what aboutism.” It leads, as I wrote above, to a further erosion of any kind of intelligible moral discernment in our culture. It also masks another real issue: Similar misbehaviors aren’t morally equivalent.

For example, in the news recently is the revelation that many Africans are being enslaved in Libya as they seek to immigrate to what they hope will be a better, safer life in Europe. As they make their way north, some are captured in Libya and literally sold into slavery. One commentator replied: “Well, what about the situation with migrant workers in the U.S.? Many of those people live in desperate situations and have their labor exploited for low pay.” This is, of course, true. Many migrant workers are grossly underpaid and live in appalling conditions. But they aren’t enslaved! As wrong as it is for migrant workers to be mistreated, it’s not the moral equivalency to slavery.

Another example: a CEO has a bit too much to drink at an office party and tries to kiss a subordinate against her will. Then the CEO is fired for sexual misconduct. The CEO was wrong and deserved to be fired for such behavior. But that’s not a moral equivalent to a TV star who openly brags about repeatedly grabbing women in their private parts or a Senate candidate who picks up teenage girls at a shopping mall and tries to engage in sexual relations with them. “What Aboutism” is used to make them all morally equivalent and they’re not.

We now have a president who lies on a regular basis (which must be intentional because the alternative is even more troubling). Yet, people will say: “What about other politicians or other former presidents?” Yes, they also lie or have lied at times, but we never, I hope, thought that was a good thing. We never extolled the lying or understood it to be normative. Now, however, lying has become normalized because people can relativize it by saying: “OK, but what about…?” Regardless of our political convictions, we must do our utmost to insist that lying shouldn’t be normal in our common life.


Advent’s Call to Faith, Not Fear (358)

This is the great deed, ordained by our Lord God since before time began by which he shall make all things well. For just as the blessed Trinity made all things out of nothing, so the same blessed Trinity shall make good all that is not well. – Dame Julian

A few years ago, when I was going through a pretty tough time, a friend sent me a note that read: “In the end, everything will be all right. If everything isn’t all right, then it’s not the end.” His words convicted me. I had to ask myself: Did I really believe the things I say when I preside at the Eucharist? If I believe those words to be true, and if I act on them, then the consequences for the way I live each day are profound. If the people, things, and circumstances of my life are on an unstoppable arc toward being made right; and, if that arc is propelled and steered by God, then I’m set free from my recurring and obsessive need to control the details of my life. I’m liberated from my compulsion to seek my own security before I do anything else. I’m free instead to be faithful.

Of course, it’s not always easy to live out this Gospel truth in our lives. The craving to hold on, to watch our backs, and to maintain a vise-like grip on our own security is at the heart of the self-declared rugged individualism of our culture. It’s at the root of the false lessons we learn daily; the rhetoric of self-protection and security that bombards us in all media. Such an atittude leads us to give only a polite nod to God’s providential care for our lives. Faith has its place, we confess, but then we actually live our lives as if things will be made right only when we forcibly make them right from our perspective. Such thinking is fear-based, not faith-based. Now, that’d be an absurd thing for me to write, except for one thing: Jesus is Lord. God became human in a manger, then became a servant. He dined with sinners and washed his follower’s feet. God so loved the world as Jesus reach out from the cross seeking to draw everyone into his saving embrace.

Yet, we ought to be clear about the Gospel’s distinction. It isn’t between fatalism and self-determination. Rather, it’s between the way of Jesus and the way of fear that pervades our culture. God doesn’t call us to abandon life’s concerns. God rather calls us to live life passionately: To do the work we’ve been called to do, to eat and drink with friends, to rest and play, to love and be loved. But God calls us to do all of those things living the Gospel’s truth. That means our futures are secure, not because of the quality of our educations, or the size of our investment portfolios, or how many guns we own desperate to allay our fears, but because Jesus has defeated sin and death. The Gospel proclaims this truth is governed not by cause and effect, but by cross and resurrection.

So, this Advent, let’s live passionately bold lives. Let’s not try to create some more room in our hearts for Jesus. Let’s give our hearts to Jesus. Let’s not try to find some more time for compassion. Let’s learn to live compassionately. Let’s not try to live more peacefully. Let’s become peacemakers. Let’s not try to forgive one another. Let’s learn to embody forgiveness as a way of life. Jesus came over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem to set us free from the consequences of our sin. That means this will always be true: “In the end, everything will be all right. If everything isn’t all right, then it’s not the end.”



Taxes Can Mitigate Sin (357)

Tax cuts are in the air. The political class seems committed to making that happen. I hope we’ll all be skeptical of any politician’s claim about the benefits of their particular tax cut proposal. Regardless of political party, they all seem to make the same mistake: They assume their proposed tax cut will lead people to modify their behavior in a way that’ll benefit both themselves and others. In other words, they assume that if people receive a tax cut, then with the extra money, they’ll make choices that’ll benefit our society rather than be solely selfish. For example, let’s say a politician proposes a particular tax cut. Their rationale for the tax cut is that it’ll do something good, not only for those receiving the tax cut, but also for others as well. So, they say: If we cut this particular tax, then that’ll cause those receiving the tax cut to (and here we can fill in the blank) create jobs, or re-invest the funds in a business, or somehow spur economic growth. Notice the assumption being made: People receiving this tax cut will behave civic-mindedly rather than doing something else that would only benefit themselves.

Richard Thaler, Nobel Prize winning economist and the unofficial “father” of behavioral economics, points out that human behavior’s historical modus operendi shows quite clearly that these assumptions about such civic-mindedness are mostly not warranted. He contends that people, regardless of their income level, simply don’t behave that way in real life. They don’t do what we want them to do (to our great consternation). In the example above, sure, some people might do noble, civic-minded things with their tax cut, but others are just as likely to make choices with those funds that are purely selfish; that don’t create more jobs, build new businesses, and the like.

Human sin being what it is, we all want the benefits of a safe, civilized, and just society we just don’t want to pay for them (or, more truthfully, we want someone else to pay for them). Taxes force selfish, well-off people like me to share so we all can have some semblance of the common good. We’d all like to keep more of what we earn, but such a desire doesn’t account for an honest recognition of human sinfulness. There’d be no need for taxes if everyone, left to their own devices, behaved generously and readily supported the common good. But they don’t and they won’t this side of heaven.

There’s no such thing as a “Christian” tax policy. In fact, the word “Christian” should never be used as an adjective (e.g. “Christian” aerobics?). Still, Christianity’s teaching on human behavior should make us wary of any public policy proposition (concerning taxes or anything else) that assumes people will mostly act selflessly or behave civic-mindedly. Some of us will some of the time, but not often enough for any society to be healthy, safe, and good. So, it’s naïve to make public policy on the assumption that if we’d just leave everyone to their own devices, then we’d have a just, civilized, and safe society. That may be true in a politician’s bar graph, but human behavior in real life disproves it.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously wrote that “taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” True that. I’d add that taxes are the price we pay for an honest recognition of our sinfulness. Taxes should mitigate the worst of our impulses.



Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
– Matthew 5:13-14

To my mind, there’s nothing better on a late summer day than slicing up a freshly-picked, ripe tomato, sprinkling salt all over it, and then savoring each bite as the tomato’s juice dribbles down my chin. Adding the salt makes it special. It just wouldn’t taste as good without it. But I can’t imagine just eating plain salt all by itself. Salt is best used to bring out the flavor in food. It enhances and adds zest to the food we eat.

Likewise, it’s hard to imagine pure, unfiltered light. No one in their right mind stares into a bright light, especially during an eclipse like we just had. Although, some not in their right mind, did just that. Light, like salt, enhances and reveals other things, such as beauty and color. Both salt and light then direct us to other things.

Jesus tells us we’re called to be salt and light to the world.
Our mission as the church then is to make God’s grace visible in a world where it’s not the norm to see it. As Psalm 34 calls us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” As salt and light for Christ, we flavorfully reveal his grace to those who are lonely, lost, and left out by the world.

Such a mission is exhausting at times. We can end up feeling like Don Quixote tilting at windmills if we’re not grounded in something deeper, more eternal than simply the desire to serve those who are lonely, lost, and left out.

That’s why we must ground ourselves in the worship of God. It’s not in caring for the lonely, the lost, and the left out that we come to know we need to worship God. It’s the other way around. It’s through our worship of God that we discover we can do nothing other than humbly minister to those hurting in this world.

As Evelyn Underhill wrote:
One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe and only one’s third duty is service. We observe then that two of the three things for which our souls were made are matters of attitude, of relation: adoration and awe. Unless these two are right, the last of the triad, service, won’t be right. Unless the whole of your life is a movement of praise and adoration, unless it is instinct with awe, the work which the life produces won’t be much good.

Underhill is correct. Adoration and awe must precede service. But such adoration and awe, can’t be all we offer because of one unmistakable truth: The Gospel of Jesus. The adoration and awe of our worship cannot lead us to become as Johnny Cash sang: “so heavenly-minded, we’re no earthly good” If so, we become, as St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, nothing but a “noisy gong” or a “clanging cymbal.”

Our worship of God compels us to love our neighbors. And the most loving way we do that is to share with them the amazing news that God loves them right where they are and just the way they are – no exceptions.
God doesn’t love them after they “clean up their act,” whatever that means. No, God loves them just as they are, even if they never engage in various self-improvement projects suggested by others.

So, evangelism is the most important way we love our neighbors. It’s sharing with them the Good News that through Jesus and his cross, God is loving us all the way into eternity. Nothing will affect the rest of their lives more than that truth.

During this Convention, Carrie Headington has already helped us learn some basic skills for how to invite people into that grace-filled relationship with God. And we’ll learn even more tomorrow. Carrie has helped us with the “Invite” part of “Invite, Welcome, & Connect.” As churches in this Diocese, this can’t be at the bottom of our priority list. It must be at the top, for everything else we do flows from the sharing of the Good News of Jesus.

What happens when it finally washes over a person that they’re totally loved, forgiven, and accepted by God? We have biblical evidence of just that. His name is Zacchaeus. Y’all remember him. He was the grifter that ripped off his own people through a sweet deal he had with the Roman occupation forces. He was like a “Mafia Don” squeezing money out of even the poorest widow.

When Jesus loved and forgave him right where he was and just the way he was, Zacchaeus joyously declared he’d return four-fold all he had defrauded from his people and he’d give half of his wealth to the poor. That’s the kind of reaction that happens to people when it finally sinks into their souls that God loves them no matter what.

And that’s why our evangelism, sharing the Good News of God’s unearned love and grace, and our stewardship are really two sides of the same theological coin. Once God’s grace-filled love has sunk into our souls, we can do nothing other than give generously from what we have.
Our Diocesan ministry around stewardship through Project Resource and our ongoing ministry using Invite, Welcome, & Connect are then really one in the same ministry. They’re about all of us together as the church responding joyously and generously to God’s unearned grace.

God has given us the grace and courage to live into such a life together. I see signs all around the Diocese that many of us are embracing this joy and generosity. And yet, there are still some in their congregations who’d rather spend time blaming others for why they can’t live into such a life. As your Bishop, I must admit there’s little I can do to help those congregations other than to prepare someday to say the Burial Office over them. They have convinced themselves that they’re powerless over their situation. I hear them complain about not having enough money, or enough time, or enough people to do anything.

While I recognize the challenges we all face in living together courageously and gracefully, such complaints don’t make any sense to me.
About not having enough money, I simply ask: “How much does it cost to love your neighbor as yourself? What’s that price tag for that?”

About not having enough time, I ask: “Don’t we always seem to find the time for what we see as important?”

And about not having enough people, I ask: “Isn’t evangelism just sharing in word and deed with another person just how much God loves us? It just takes one person who’s willing to do share that with another person.”

God has given us in this Diocese all we truly need. Sure, like you, I’d love to have more money, and more time, and more people, but we have what we have. To paraphrase the immortal John Prine in his song, Dear Abby, “we are what we are and we ain’t what we ain’t.

So, let’s rejoice that God has already given us far more than we can ask for or even imagine.

Let’s rejoice that young adults at Georgia Southern, Valdosta State, and at Columba House in Savannah and Augusta are hearing from us that God loves them completely no matter what their current GPA is.

Let’s rejoice that homeless persons in Savannah have a worshipping community where they are their own musicians, lectors, and Eucharistic Ministers.

Let’s rejoice that we’re partnering with our Lutheran sisters and brothers, not just at St. Patrick’s Albany, but also now in planting a new church in Grovetown.

Let’s rejoice that we’re training and equipping clergy who are talented and smart and willing to go into new and different places with the Good News of Jesus.

Let’s rejoice that all across this Diocese the hungry are fed, the broken-hearted are consoled, and the poor have good news shared with them.

You’ll recall that when the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus asking on behalf of their imprisoned leader if Jesus were the real deal, Jesus didn’t just say “yes.” He answered them by saying: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11)

So, Jesus is not Lord and Savior because we say so. He is who he is because of what we’re seeing and hearing all around us. From Augusta to Valdosta, from Kingsland to Cordele, the hungry are being fed, the broken-hearted are being consoled, and all kinds of people are having the Good News shared with them.

Brian McLaren in his book The Secret Message of Jesus tells a story about his friend Tony Campolo who was having coffee in a donut shop late one night. While there, he overheard a prostitute who was taking a break between tricks say that the next day was her birthday and that she had never had a birthday party in her whole life.

So, after talking it over with the shop owner and some regular patrons, the next night Tony came back with a cake, candles, and decorations and they all threw a surprise birthday party for the woman. She was deeply moved by this and so were others in the donut shop.

The shop owner, who had figured out that Tony was a pastor of a church, asked him what kind of church he came from. Tony told him: “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” A bystander overheard him and said. “”No, you don’t.” There ain’t no church like that. If there was, I’d join it.”

My hunch is that there’d be a lot of people who would flock to join a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning. And I want to be bishop of a church that does just that. You and I can be that church.

Now wouldn’t that be salty and shine some light on things?


Dr. Benhase’s Prescription for Well-Being (356)

What if loving our neighbor was not only the primary and most important way (as Jesus says) we love God, but also was remarkably good for our personal health and well-being? Consistent research indicates that across all races, ages, genders, income levels, and social classes the lack of regular neighborly connection causes a risk of premature death that’s about twice as threatening to us as being obese or smoking. The research shows the best way we can improve our well-being is to devote ourselves to neighborly relationships like the ones we have with our family, friends, and, well, our neighbors.

And yet. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes what’s called their “Time Use Survey,” which sounds like what it is, a survey of how we use our time. Its survey says that the average American invests a little more than one half hour a day on neighborly interaction compared to three hours watching television and around one hour on personal grooming. We do this even though the overwhelming research about human well-being tells us that the most consistent predictor of our well-being depends on the time we spend on our relationships with others. In other words, if we want to have personal well-being we should really be spending less time alone, not more.

Ruth Whippman, author of America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, writes that the above data is virtually ignored by much of the advice given about well-being found in self-help books, at seminars, or on retreats. She says these mostly pitch well-being as an “inside job,” where we seek to find our “true self” unencumbered by our relationships. We’re urged by these so-called experts to become emotionally independent (not interdependent), diving deep into our souls to “discover” ourselves, thus finding personal contentment and well-being.

On the surface this sounds like a good spiritual exercise. And it can be. Such soulful introspection can help us become more self-aware, thereby understanding ourselves better. But the more self-aware I become, the more I “discover” myself, the more I realize just how awful I can be to other people, how so often I tend to be overly self-focused bordering on self-centeredness. The last thing I need for my well-being then is to become more that way. When I take a deep-dive into my soul, the discovery I make about my “true self” is that I’m, at least in part, a self-absorbed sinner. Not a news flash.

What pulls me out of my self-absorption isn’t more “me” time. It’s the claim my neighbor (i.e., my wife, children, friends, colleagues, community members, etc.) has on me simply by being near me (“neighbor” literally means one who’s “nigh” or near to us). Now we may not like their claim on us. It may seem at times like a burden. It may even appear to us that they only have one goal in mind: making our lives difficult. Still, their claim on our love for them is God-commanded and, as it also turns out, the best thing for our long-term well-being. It seems that God has so ordered the creation that we can only thrive (i.e., have well-being) through the often messy, joyful, and complicated love for our neighbor. So, Dr. Benhase has a prescription for your well-being: “Go, love two neighbors as yourself and call me in the morning!’



Often Our Feelings Trump the Facts (355)

NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard University School of Public Health recently polled a national representative sample of Americans about their experience of being on the receiving end of discrimination when interacting with police, applying for jobs or seeking promotions, renting apartments or buying homes, or when going to a doctor. All minority groups reported some experience of discrimination in those situations. What caught my attention was 55% of white people polled perceived that they too we’re victims of discrimination. Few of those poll respondents, however, could report they’ve experienced it themselves. They just feel it exists. One white man polled said such discrimination has been going on for decades and it’s getting worse. When asked how he knows that to be true he gave an example from his own experience. He said he lost out in a promotion at work when a younger African-American candidate, rather than he, was selected to be a finalist for the promotion. So, the African-American got the job rather than him? No, the promotion eventually went to another white man, but this man still felt he was being discriminated against because he was white.

Even though very clear data show that white people are persistently better off financially and educationally than minority groups, there’s still a feeling among many white Americans that anti-white discrimination is real. Of the poll respondents who insisted this was true, very few of them could point to any specific experience where they or someone they knew experienced it. And even when an example was given, like the one above about a work promotion, it turns out there was no anti-white discrimination occurring – the job eventually went to a white man. But the man still felt like he was a victim of anti-white discrimination. This canard of anti-white discrimination defies credulity. All one must do is look at who leads our government, businesses, and yes, churches, to see there’s no evidence to back this up. We should never be afraid of the facts, come what may, cost what they will, because only then can we address what’s really going on. So, what’s really going on?

Well, one further insight from the poll may shed some light on why this feeling persists among these respondents. Their income level was a great predictor for how they reacted. The lower the white person’s income, the more likely they perceived discrimination in applying for a job, getting a raise or promotion at work, or in applying for college. Former president Lyndon Johnson once observed: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The idea there’s wide-spread and growing discrimination against white people is just another classic misdirection, the kind to which Mr. Johnson referred. Working-class folk see how hard it is for them to make ends meet. They’re being left behind in the economy and educational opportunities are increasingly beyond their financial reach. Rather than address the real wage stagnation these folks are experiencing or their ballooning costs for higher education over the last 40 years, we’re told who to blame: “It’s those darn minorities who are getting all the goodies.” The facts, of course, don’t bear this out, but too often for us our feelings trump the facts.



What’s Killing Us? (354)

When I preached at the closing Eucharist of our recent Cursillo on Sunday, I reminded participants that they’d just been gifted with a cross on which was written: “Christ is counting on you.” I told them (to a few gasps in the congregation) to please forget about that for now. They should rather be “counting on Christ.” Later, when they’re a bit more mature in faith, they could heed the words on their crosses, while never forgetting to always first “count on Christ.” In today’s church, “What have we done for Jesus lately?” seems to be more important than “What has Jesus done for us on the cross?” I say that because much of Christianity today is more and more mirroring the worst parts of our “performacist” culture and that culture is literally killing us.

In the August 2017 issue of the journal First Things, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, wrote an essay we all should read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. His article, Dying of Despair, documents our culture’s state of health. He writes: “Depression is now the most common serious medical or mental health disorder in the United States. Sixteen percent of Americans will have an episode of major depression at some time in their lives, and six percent of all Americans—14 million—have suffered from major depression in the past year. We are witnessing a rising plague of melancholy.”

Along with depression, we’re also experiencing rising rates of suicide and opioid abuse. Dr. Kheriaty connects these to our increased social fragmentation. He writes: “Since the 1980s, reported loneliness among adults in the U.S. increased from 20 percent to 40 percent.” Loneliness increases our risk of heart disease, premature death, and, yes, violent behavior (pay attention to that one). Add to that the declining rates of religious participation and we see why many have lost meaning and hope. Church used to be a place for people to develop not only a relationship with God, but also social cohesion protecting them from the medically-documented disease of loneliness. Today, however, the religiously unaffiliated account for 23% of all adults, up from 16% ten years ago.

But that’s not the most alarming aspect of his essay. Whether we’re referring to wealthy folk in suburbia or poor ones in Appalachia, the message of our “performacist” culture is now this: We’re valuable only when we perform well in this economy. Dr. Kheriaty writes: “When the useful replaces the good and efficiency becomes the highest value, human beings are instrumentalized. Rather than opening new vistas of freedom, economic and social liberation has made [us] subject to a logic of utility.” The social Darwinism of our current socio-economic model is making us sick. Only those with the greatest utility and capability can survive and thrive.

The unmerited grace of the Gospel of Jesus is the only medicine that can cure this socio-economic disease. That Gospel tells us that we’re not valued for what we produce. We’re valued because God graced humanity in Jesus and the imputed righteousness of his cross declares we all have infinite worth. But such a Gospel can only be taught by a church that sees our “performacist” culture clearly. And our culture is literally killing us.



On Being “Too Political” (353)

My last eCrozier addressing the massacre in Las Vegas prompted a lot of responses from those who received it via email and those who read it on social media. I’m used to this. The responses were as varied as I’ve come to expect leading a diverse diocese. I’m very appreciative of people who engage in a thoughtful “give and take” over the profoundly complex moral issues we face as Christians today (I try also to be appreciative of the less thoughtful remarks that tell me I’m an “idiot,” which happen regularly).

One recurring concern people share is that what I write sometimes is “too political.” They suggest I “stay in my lane” limiting my writing to things purely religious. While I understand their concern, it’s impossible to avoid the issues of our common humanity without driving a bit in the “political” lane. I agree that as a bishop I should stay away from political partisanship (I try to be careful to avoid it). I don’t belong to any political party (I confess that I’m not deluded enough to be a Democrat while I’m not rich enough to be a Republican). I also try to avoid ad hominem criticism of elected officials, but I believe it’s imperative that I challenge public policies when those elected officials advocate something that will create an injustice for the poor or fail to “respect the dignity of all people,” to which our Baptismal Vows call us. Of course, I could be wrong about a particular topic I address. That should hardly be a news flash. The potential for any of us to get things wrong is, as the Bible might say: “legion.”

Bishops have a public role as part of their ordinations. There’s a long tradition of this being “political” (look up St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and his excommunication of the Emperor Theodosius for his violent excesses in Thessalonica in 390 AD). At the 1966 Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, Bishop Albert Rhett Stuart, the 6th Bishop of the Diocese, said these words: “Is the Church sent to be a refuge from the world or to transform the world? Is the Church sent to maintain the status quo or to protest evil in this culture or any other? The Church is not a religious club organized by man for pious sentimentality or personal status.” Amen!

For example, recently when I’ve written about our gun violence epidemic, some people replied: “You’re just a liberal Democrat so of course you’re going to say that.” My reply, which often is ignored, is that “I’m not a liberal Democrat. I’m a Bishop of the Church. I don’t take moral positions based on any political party. Gun violence is a sin. Therefore, I must speak against it and try to prevent it. It’s not about being conservative or liberal (whatever those terms even mean these days). It’s about listening and being obedient to the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church.” They usually have stopped listening by then.

Our Anglican tradition teaches that the Church can’t hermetically seal herself off from what goes on in the world. The Church “is not a religious club,” as Bishop Stuart stated. But it’s not a political party at prayer either. The Church and her bishops then, as our tradition teaches, must speak out clearly from the sources that shape our identity. That may make us appear as “too political” for some observers who believe the Church should remain a “religious club” for “pious sentimentality.” So it goes.