Showing items filed under “The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin”

Merry

    I became an Episcopalian in college; only then did I learn that the season of Christmas begins (i.e. doesn’t end) on Christmas Day. Quickly I adapted to my new awareness that “it’s not Christmas until it’s Christmas”: I declined to reply in kind when someone wished me a merry Christmas. My local vicar told me that he would get phone calls from well-meaning Baptist ladies on about, say, January 1, telling him that he may not have noticed but his Christmas decorations were still out on the church lawn. “Yes,” he said of course, “it’s still Christmas.”
     Today I am uncomfortable with my earlier, rather too smug, self.
     For today, in the world we actually live in, there is an allergy even to uttering the word “Christmas.” The school holiday is a winter holiday. The background music is “All I want for Christmas is you” or “The weather outside is dreadful” or “I’m dreaming of a white . . .”  One doesn’t hear about the shepherds or the silent night or the angels we have heard on high. They’re gone, banished to an embarrassed storeroom where we keep things to which we no longer want to admit publicly.
     So I say, bring it on. I’m happy to say Merry Christmas whenever anyone wants to say it to me. Now. Last week. Halloween. Whenever.
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     Why “merry”? It goes back (it seems) to the 12th century, where it was used to indicate that something gave pleasure. “Merry Christmas” as a wish means: may Christmas give you pleasure.
     And that means, methinks, may you find pleasure in the celebration of the Incarnation. May the Word of God’s taking on our human nature be something that gives you delight. May you in fact find delight in Jesus himself.
     Which is a very good wish indeed. So let us all say: Merry Christmas!
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     Out & About. My fall theology lecture—on rules and exceptions, with particular attention to euthanasia and assisted suicide—is now up on the Incarnation website. You can find it here: https://incarnation.org/classes/moral-rules-and-personal-exemptions/
     I will be teaching a Christian ethics class in the new year. It meets on five Saturdays (once a month), from 1 to 4 p.m., with the first class on January 19. This is with the Stanton Center, and the classes will be at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. You can find more information here, including a registration form and a link to the program director: http://www.episcopalcathedral.org/stanton-center/   I can send you a syllabus if you drop me a line.
     The “Good Books & Good Talk” seminars will continue monthly, with the next one on Sunday, January 13, at 6 p.m. The text is C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, and anyone who reads the book is welcome to the discussion at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.

 

Can Clones Be Friends?

We were discussing Never Let Me Go, the haunting novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s an alternative present: a world in which a number of diseases have been eliminated, thanks to the availability of organs from clones. The novel tells of a humane effort to improve their lives, giving these children education and encouraging their artistic abilities. The movers behind the effort were trying to show that the clones had souls, that they were capable of emotions and thoughts just like the rest of us. But the vested interests (in the availability of organs, in the conquering of disease) were too strong to be overcome by such efforts.
     Yet the novel shows that these children (and then young adults) are, apart from their infertility, quite ordinarily human. They have crushes; they have hopes; they try to understand what other people are thinking; they are curious about the world. Their lives are largely insulated from those of normal humans: they live in special homes, they make their “donations” and ultimately “complete” in a world that is kept as separate as possible. And yet . . .
     Some people try to overcome their revulsion towards them. The revulsion is understandable: these children, these people, have been brought into existence only to provide organs for donation; after a few donations, they will “complete” (the euphemism for dying). To allow oneself to touch such a person, to allow oneself to teach, even to care for, such a person, is to make an immense move outside ordinary reality.
     From a moral perspective, I would say, they should not exist: no humans should be brought into existence merely for the advantage of others. Nonetheless, these clones do exist. They are just as individual, just as really human (apart from their engineered infertility) as any person reading these words.
     Can they be friends? Yes: we see them as friends with one another, and they experience, even in their abbreviated lives, such friendship.
     Can they be friends with us? That, it turns out, is the most important question of all.
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     It’s “only” a novel, but it points to many moral and theological questions.
     Can free people be friends with slaves? (Yes, one wants to say, but only by thereby undermining the institution of slavery.)
     Can rich people be friends with poor people?
     Can single people be friends with married people?
     Can Episcopalians be friends with Baptists?
     Can Trumpers be friends with Never-Trumpers?
     Might any human be a friend with any human?

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."