Comprehension rather than Division

Sermons and audio

Pexels belle co 1000444The 22nd Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is filled with attempts to trap Jesus into saying something that would create a crisis for him. This week there’s an attempt to create division between him and the Imperial forces. There will be attempts in the coming weeks to create division between him and various branches of the religious community. There will be an attempt to make him either reveal his mission or to risk rejection by the crowds.

In all of these attempts, Jesus refuses to trapped by an arbitrary binary construct. Rather than being “forked” (a chess term) he expands the options and finds a third way.

Perhaps, as we approach a moment of possible political crisis, we too can look for a way to escape traps that are set for us, and find a way to remain a community even as we make a choice that will bring winners and losers.

The Atlantic: Cognitive Dissonance in the Pandemic

Current Affairs

Surgical masks MJN6CpTO

Two social scientists describe how their work on Cognitive Dissonance explains the irresponsible public health behaviors that many humans are exhibiting in this pandemic. After a description of research into the behavior, and a frank admission that this is the way our brains work, they go on to explain how they understand what’s happening.

(I’ll add that they do not mention, but that I suspect, that there are people who know this human mechanism and are exploiting it for personal power and gain.) 

The Role of Cognitive Dissonance in the Pandemic – The Atlantic:

Because of the intense polarization in our country, a great many Americans now see the life-and-death decisions of the coronavirus as political choices rather than medical ones. In the absence of a unifying narrative and competent national leadership, Americans have to choose whom to believe as they make decisions about how to live: the scientists and the public-health experts, whose advice will necessarily change as they learn more about the virus, treatment, and risks? Or President Donald Trump and his acolytes, who suggest that masks and social distancing are unnecessary or “optional”?

The cognition I want to go back to work or I want to go to my favorite bar to hang out with my friends is dissonant with any information that suggests these actions might be dangerous—if not to individuals themselves, then to others with whom they interact.

How to resolve this dissonance? People could avoid the crowds, parties, and bars and wear a mask. Or they could jump back into their former ways. But to preserve their belief that they are smart and competent and would never do anything foolish to risk their lives, they will need some self-justifications: Claim that masks impair their breathing, deny that the pandemic is serious, or protest that their “freedom” to do what they want is paramount. “You’re removing our freedoms and stomping on our constitutional rights by these Communist-dictatorship orders,” a woman at a Palm Beach County commissioners’ hearing said. “Masks are literally killing people,” said another. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, referring to masks and any other government interventions, said, “More freedom, not more government, is the answer.” Vice President Mike Pence added his own justification for encouraging people to gather in unsafe crowds for a Trump rally: “The right to peacefully assemble is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Do follow the link above. The authors go on to discuss ways that leaders have pushed back against the dissonance mechanism.

Part of the reason that it’s so hard for people to walk away from the harmful rationalizations they create is the “sunk cost fallacy”. At some point people figure they’ve already sunk so much of their time or social capital into a set of irrational beliefs that they are unable to walk away without incurring pain. It’s the fear of the pain of rethinking their position (Gk: Metanoia, Eng: Repent) that seems to trap them in their wrong direction (sin).

Perhaps faith leaders have something to say in all this.

Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Sermons and audio

DM 03242016 0289When the people in the wilderness lose patience and just want things to be normal again, they turn from God who expects moral behavior and create a God who extracts wealth to bring prosperity. And when God threatens to let them suffer the consequences of their choice, Moses pleads with God to remember the promises made to Abraham and his descendants who all chose, ultimately to do the moral things that God taught them would bring prosperity and peace.

A single person, pursuing the common good, seeking a moral universe can change the history of an entire nation.

Who’s world is this anyhow?

Sermons and audio

IMG 0838

The words of the Bible are not ours to use as weapon or tool against others, they’re the path we travel to transform ourselves.

When we imagine that we can somehow possess God’s truth exclusively rather then recognize that we are merely tenants in the Lord’s vineyard, we begin to imagine that the world and others are ours to do with as we want. The truth is that we are given a form of stewardship over things that belong to God and others, not to us. And when we recognize that, we can begin to follow a path that leads to our transformation and renewal.

FAQ: How to protect yourself from COVID-19 aerosol transmission

Current Affairs

Graphicstock young scientist studying new substance or virus rXvV2vLGEZIn the absence of clear guidance from US government agencies right now, public minded researchers have created a document that summarizes, in one place, the best information we have. For people like congregational leaders trying to make decisions about worshiping indoors this coming winter, finding good information has been hard.

This is worth bookmarking.

From the beginning of the document:

The goal of these FAQs is to provide information to the general public in an efficient manner about how to prevent aerosol transmission of COVID-19, with the hope that this will allow more informed decision making by individuals or organizations. All of this information has been posted in Twitter and other forums, but can be difficult to find. Having multiple experts working together, and having the ability to update this information also improves its quality. These FAQs represent our best understanding at this time, and should always be similar or more stringent than information provided by CDC, WHO, and most regional & local health authorities. If your authority has a more stringent guideline than discussed here, follow that more stringent guideline.

You can find the full document here: 

Please share this around.

You must choose. Even when you’d really rather not.

Sermons and audio

Pexels karolina grabowska 4468162
There are moments when we are confronted with making a choice. Sometimes those happen in a moment of overwhelming crisis with massive consequences. Sometimes the choices seem small and inconsequential but it turns out that the choice transforms your life.

In this week’s Gospel reading, the religious authorities are confronted with a choice. They reject the choice. And in so doing they turn away from the truth.

Sometimes we have to choose. And God’s grace can overcome a bad choice. Do not fear. Choose as best you can, according to the light given you.


The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sermons and audio

JM Industrial dsc 5337God transforms us in the wilderness as we journey from being in bondage to being the people of the promised land. But the transformation comes with pain and parts of the journey are filled with fear and anxious longing. Out of that fear and pain we look backward, longing for the certainty we had even though we were not free or fully yet the people of God.

It feels like our national journey towards a more perfect union parallels much of the experience of the Hebrew tribes as they were formed into the Nation of Israel in wilderness time. I find hope in that. There is a arc to our journey, an end for us that God is making as our history is transformed and understood in a new way.

Crusty Old Dean: The Episcopal Church’s Lost Causism

Reconciliation / Rhode Island

A friend, Episcopal priest, seminary professor and writer, The Rev. Thomas Ferguson, has a searing essay posted about the historical denial of our denomination’s participation in the evil of White Supremacy:

Crusty Old Dean: The Episcopal Church’s Lost Causism:

Thankfully, there have been a number of really great histories written in the past 25 years, efforts to correct the systemic racism in how we have told our history:  Prichard’s “History of the Episcopal Church,” Hein & Shattuck’s “The Episcopalians” among them.  There has been a number of works specifically on the history of race and racism in the Episcopal Church.  Harold Lewis literally wrote the book on this subject in “Yet With a Steady Beat.”  Gardiner Shattuck’s “Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights” is a conscious effort to right some of the historiographic wrongs I note in this post.

But it’s also clear that we have not done enough.  The sheer number of people who say “The Episcopal Church didn’t split over slavery” and sheer number of people who do not know the Church’s complicity with racism, slavery, and white supremacy are evidence of that.

We must name these aspects of telling our history that fail to challenge or acknowledge our systemic racism.  We have to stop teaching people in confirmation classes “The Episcopal Church never split over slavery.”  One of the reasons statements like these persist, despite the fact that most Episcopal Church historical scholarship for the past 40 years has not said this, is because repeating them has nothing to do with history, and everything to do with something else, mainly, the unwillingness and reluctance to address issues of systemic racism.  (A related issue, for another post, is the continued repeating of the whole “The Episcopal Church Constitution is based on the U.S. Constitution and was written in the same city by some of the same people.”  This is utter nonsense, and persists because it reflects the lust for the Episcopal Church to be a quasi-established national church that was a fever dream of much of the 19th and 20th century.  But again, another post for another time, only reinforcing the notion that the real reasons for the persistence of patently un-historical folk wisdom has nothing to do with history, and everything to do with our own prejudices.)

Professor Ferguson references the work of Professor Shattuck above. Father Tuck (as we know him here) is a priest in Rhode Island. I’m thinking it would be worthwhile to get Tom and Tuck together in front of a camera and ask them to talk about things that Tom is pointing out in the long essay linked above. (There’s much more to it than the short excerpt I’ve quoted. Do read it all.)

Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away

Current Affairs

There are many reasons why there are racial disparities are observed in COVID-19 morbidity. I’ve not heard people talk about the implications of living in a “food desert” as one of them. Grayson Jaggers, USC Asst. Professor has laid out a case of why the worst expression of the western diet is directly causing deaths among people who can’t get health food:

Good nutrition can contribute to keeping COVID-19 and other diseases away:

Scientists know that people with preexisting health conditions are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 infections. That includes those with diabetes, obesity, and kidney, lung or cardiovascular disease. Many of these conditions are linked to a dysfunctional immune system.

Patients with cardiovascular or metabolic disease have a delayed immune response, giving viral invaders a head start. When that happens, the body reacts with a more intense inflammatory response, and healthy tissues are damaged along with the virus. It’s not yet clear how much this damage factors into the increased mortality rate, but it is a factor.

What does this have to do with nutrition? The Western diet typically has a high proportion of red meat, saturated fat and what’s known as “bliss point foods” rich in sugar and salt. Adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is missing. Despite the abundance of calories that often accompanies the Western diet, many Americans don’t consume nearly enough of the essential nutrients our bodies need to function properly, including vitamins A, C and D, and the minerals iron and potassium. And that, at least in part, causes a dysfunctional immune system: too few vitamins and minerals, and too many empty calories.

There’s more at the link above, plus a ton of good links to research.

Maybe more community gardens need to be happening this coming spring?

Political rage is no way to run a democracy

Current Affairs

There likely a whole bunch of reasons we’re all about explode with rage at any provocation, but Steven Webster, a Political Science faculty member at Indiana State University says the way we run political campaigns is a big part of the problem:

Angry Americans: How political rage helps campaigns but hurts democracy:

Anger-filled political rhetoric is nothing new. From Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon to Newt Gingrich, politicians have long known that angry voters are loyal voters. People will support their party’s candidates locally and nationally so long as they remain sufficiently outraged at the opposing party.

While inciting voter anger helps candidates win elections, research from my book, “American Rage: How Anger Shapes Our Politics,” shows that the effects of anger outlast elections. And that can have serious consequences for American democracy’s long-term health.

Getting people to distrust government when their “team” isn’t in power removes the likelihood that the people will ultimately consent to be governed.

Seems sort of obvious. Read more at the link.