Back to Niebuhr

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So finally (and thankfully) we have reached the end of this election season. Maybe it was my imagination, but my fellow voters yesterday were a subdued and somber lot, as well they should be. There have been not a few moments when our national "vaunt has been stilled."  I would not.  We all must pray for a renewal of the civic virtues presumed to some degree in our system.

At the very least we can say this:  we live in a country where the safeguard of free speech still stands, where the foolish or the venal is protected, even if it is decried. In the halls of academia one can no longer assume the defense of this. And of course across the globe it is endangered - witness say Turkey.  

I have been thinking recently about the specifically Christian support for this liberal aspect of our tradition. I believe it was Reinhold Niebuhr, the unofficial canon theologian of the American Cold War era, who said, in thinking about the dispersion of power, that human beings are good enough to make democracy possible and evil enough to make it necessary. Behind this was a distinctly Christian doctrine of the human person. In this our increasingly conflictual era may we hold on to both the commitment and its theological underpinning.




A Wright Doxology

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I look forward to our Clergy Day in November with Bishop Tom Wright, an Anglican and one of the most renowned New Testament scholars of our time. I have been reading his 'The Day The Revolution Began' and do not want to preempt the conversation over it that will take place.

So let me limit myself to one comment which is congenial to our own liturgical tradition.  Pathology asks the question of health - sin makes us wonder what we are really for. And the majestic framework of the Biblical narrative answers: we are made to worship God. It is built into the creation story. Stewardship implies our role of giving voice to the doxology, the praise of all the cosmos. We are enthralled to forces that require false worship, which is offered in all kinds of personal and political ways. Of course the true and fully worthy worship was offered by Jesus with his whole life and death, and vindicated and opened to us by his resurrection.

In this light what we do Sunday morning is far more than having a certain kind of experience (though we do) or creating group cohesion (though we had better). It is offering our 'bounden duty and service' which is a 'sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving' not just as individuals and parishes but as the ecclesia of God universal and 'for the life of the world.'  The practical calls out for this, the expansive, the mystical, all of it happened in that service of which we are so accustomed.




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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.