Tuesday, August 31, 2004


So, I took a little bit of time, dissected a few other blog sites, made a few notes, and then altered this site's template to include links to our parish web site, and to the Orthodox blogs that I read frequently, and recommend to everyone. The link to the parish site will also, I hope, motivate me to go to the many pages still "under construction" and construct something there!

It's been a good day for coding and decoding; before putting up the links, I was able to decipher the Slavonic Menaion for this Sunday's services. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Controversies Abound: Paul Hamm, Dick Cheney, and More

Should Paul Hamm give back his gold medal? I think not. Oh, to be sure, there’s a part of me that says, “I don’t want something that I got because of a judge’s mistake,” and an acknowledgement that, had everything been done as it should have been done, I would, in fact, have received the silver medal, and not the gold (if I were Paul Hamm). On the other hand, mistakes by officials happen all the time in sports; and once the contest is done, unless the rules provide otherwise, the results are final. I certainly understand the feelings of the athlete from South Korea who would have won the gold medal if the routine had had the same start value in the finals as it had in the preliminary round. Who would willingly accept a bronze medal when “entitled” to the gold? But that’s life. As I always told my students, “Life’s lesson number 17: Life’s not fair. Get used to it.” Oh, and the same goes for Svetlana Khorkina and Alexander Nemov. The competition is over. You didn’t win. Do you have a life away from the field of competition? Then get on with it. (If you don’t, visit your local parish priest. I’m sure he can give you some worthwhile suggests…)

Meanwhile, Vice-President Dick (why isn’t he ever referred to as “Richard?”) Cheney has taken a position on the question of gay marriages that is different from that of President George W. Bush. The Vice-President is reported to have said, “With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone... People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.” He also is reported to have said, “The question that comes up with the issue of marriage is what kind of official sanction or approval is going to be granted by government? Historically, that’s been a relationship that has been handled by the states. The states have made that fundamental decision of what constitutes a marriage.”

What if the nature of the relationship being entered into (and for which the word “marriage” was being claimed) was not a same-sex union, but one of polygamy? I wonder how people would think about the issue if this was the question. (I’m not talking about the practice of groups such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who live “holed up” in the communities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hillsdale, Utah, along the Arizona-Utah border; and “marry” girls barely into their teens to much older men, whether the girls are “ready, willing and able” or not.) What if a state wanted to allow one man to marry more than one woman (polygamy), or one woman to marry more than one man (polyandry), as long as all the parties involved were at or above an age of consent (say, 18 years old), and freely entered into such a relationship, attesting to the same before the solemnization of the union, and with the same “waiting period” required for the purchase of a handgun? Would that definition of a “marriage” be acceptable? Those who remember their U.S. history classes may recall that, as a condition for entry into the United States, the territory of Utah had to amend its constitution to outlaw the practice of polygamy. What if the wraps were taken off? Could the voters of Utah approve a law, under the rationale (which I agree with, for the most part) of state’s deciding questions of this type, making polygamy legal? Where do we go from there?

You may or may not agree with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and their questioning of whether Senator John Kerry, the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States, should have received the decorations and awards that were given to him – including a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts – but there’s more to think about in their latest campaign commercial. Sort through the links on their web site (or just click on the following link here), and read the testimony submitted by Mr. Kerry when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on April 22, 1971, and made claims to have knowledge of, and to have participated in, war crimes during his time of service in Viet Nam. (In an amazing development, Sen. Kerry’s testimony is recalled in an article about the prisoner abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by none other than the Viet Nam News Agency.)

Personally, I find the statement of one of the Swift Vets, Paul Galanti, to be chilling. He points out that he endured, as did others who were also prisoners of war, torture by the North Vietnamese; and that one element being sought by their captors was for the prisoners to sign documents admitting that they had participated in war crimes. Mr. Galanti was a prisoner of war from January, 1966, to February, 1973. He says of the testimony, “John Kerry gave the enemy for free” what he and others refused give even after being tortured. Anyway, it makes me stop and think…

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Some Touching Moments at the Olympic Games in Athens

Ethiopia sent a grand total of three athletes to compete in this year’s Olympic Games, and all three went to compete in a single event: the men’s 10,000 meter run. Among the three is Haile Gebrselassie, who, at the age of 33, is the “old man” of the team. He won the gold medal in this race in both 1996 and 2000; and, if he had won the gold medal this year, would have become the first athlete to win the same individual running event in three Olympics. Also on the team is Kenenisa Bekele, a 22-year old runner who, in a period of nine days in May of this year, broke Gebrselassie’s world records in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. (The third athlete is Sileshi Sihine.)

In the very early stages of the race, it was clear that the goal of the three Ethiopians was to sweep the medals, and they competed as a team. They traded the task of setting the pace, each one moving into the lead for a lap or two, then falling back to “recover” while the next one led the field. At a certain point, the commentators noted that the pace was slower than expected; and just about that time, Gebrselassie took the lead, and increased the pace; with commentator Marty Liquori (himself a talented runner in his day) pointing out that the change of pace so early would increase the pressure on the other runners, forcing them to expend more energy at an earlier time than they might have preferred. Clearly, the Ethiopians had a plan, and were working to execute that plan.

As the race entered the final laps, it was becoming clear that Gebrselassie was having trouble keeping up with his countrymen, in part due to an injury he had suffered in the period just before the start of the Games. Bekele and Sihine did what they could to slow the pace; but each time another athlete would draw into contention for the lead, they would move back out in front. When it became clear that Gebrselassie could not contend for as medal, the remaining two simply increased their speed; and as they came to the final turn and straightaway, Bekele accelerated and ran alone across the finish line to win the gold medal. Sihine finished second, 4.29 seconds behind Bekele, to win the silver medal; and Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea won the bronze medal, finishing 17.47 seconds behind Bekele. Gebrselassie finished fifth, 22.6 seconds behind the winner.

I couldn’t help but notice the care and attention the three runners shared; and how they looked in many ways to the “old man” for guidance in the race. I commented to one of my daughters, watching the race with me, that I had no doubt that, if circumstances allowed it, and the three were alone in the lead at the finish, that the younger men would defer to Gebrselassie, running this, “his” event, for the last time, and allow him to win the gold medal. This was not to be; but, as Bekele was tossed the Ethiopian flag to hold for his victory lap, he was joined by Sihine; and the two ran to Gebrselassie. Bekele tried to get his mentor to take the central position; but Gebrselassie insisted that Bekele take the place of honor, and took instead the corner as the three ran their victory lap. (I couldn’t help but comment to my daughter that, in a way, Ethiopians had won all three medals, as Eritrea was once part of Ethiopia…)

This isn’t in any way a negative reflection on others (and especially some of the Americans who have won medals); but the humility, and the respect, shown by these three Ethiopians… well, I find it to be quite moving. Personal achievement and gain were not the only things on their minds, I think. I wish that I was more like that.

Also inspiring (in a different way) is the story (“Celebrate the Underdog”) of a young woman from Afghanistan who finished second to last in the preliminaries of the women’s 100-meter run.

Let's also note the decision by American swimmer Michael Phelps to give up his place on the 400-meter medley relay team to Ian Crocker, who finished 0.04 seconds behind Phelps in the 100-meter butterfly finals. Normally, the winner of the individual event would swim that leg in the relay; but Phelps, who won his fifth gold medal in this race (along with two bronze medals), said that he wanted Crocker to have an opportunity to swim the finals of the medley event. (Phelps swam in the preliminaries, and so will share in any medals won by the team in the finals.) Crocker, who swam first in the 400-meter freestyle relay several days ago, was the slowest of all in the pool, and this may have caused the Americans to finish third in that event, where the team from South Africa won the gold medal, and the Netherlands won the silver medal. I certainly respect Phelp's action to allow others to enter the spotlight, even if he is not "risking" losing a medal, or the spotlight itself. There's no doubt I could learn a lot from this, as well.

As for Gebrselassie? Now that he's "retired" from the 10-K, he intends to focus on running marathons...

Thursday, August 19, 2004

News and Views: Swift Boats, Troops in Europe, Speed Limits…

The headline reads, “Kerry blasts Bush over veterans' ad.” The sub-headline continues, “Says president allows others to do 'dirty work'.” The ad in question is the one featuring many veterans from the “Swift” boats on which Sen. John Kerry served during his time in Viet Nam, from the same unit, who question Sen. Kerry’s accounts of his actions, including some of those for which he received a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. (You can see the ad here. Copies (in .pdf format) of the actual documents and citations can be found here.)

My point in mentioning all this is not so much to say anything for or against those who support the “Kerry for President” campaign, or those who support the re-election of President Bush. I am not interested in commenting on the veracity of the “SwiftVets for Truth” presentation, or those who challenge them. I’m a bit tweaked at how there are some persons who allege that this is all a “Republican plot” because a principal source of funding has come from a wealthy Texas businessman who happens to support the re-election of President Bush. Apparently, it’s OK for Hollywood stars and rock musicians and rich businessmen to use their access to the media and their money to support Democratic candidates, according to these people; but the reverse is “wrong.” Can you spell, “hypocrisy?”

Meanwhile, I found myself chortling over a paragraph in a report about the proposal made by President Bush to scales down the size of the U.S. military presence in Europe, now that the nature of conflict has changed from the “Cold War” scenario to the “War on Terror.” The paragraph quotes Christoph Zoerb, spokesman for the German city of Giessen, where three of five bases for the 1st Armored Division, with some 1,000 Americans deployed, have been mentioned as slated for being closed as the troop withdrawals begin. Mr. Zoerb said, “We will increase our lobbying efforts and openly call for a re-evaluation of the withdrawal plans.” As government officials on all levels and civic leaders here in the Phoenix area are trying to keep Luke Air Force Base open and operational, including stepping up their lobbying efforts, we know a thing or two about the strategy announced by Mr. Zoerb! Funny: I never thought we’d have to be lobbying against the Germans. A lobbying Olympics, anyone?

The article dances around the central issue without naming it as such: the money that flows into the German economy from the U.S. presence there, which employs several thousands of German people. I find it ironic that the plans for redeployment of many of the “assets” now based in Germany are slated for locations in nations that were formerly members of the “Warsaw Pact”; which our troops were present to engage in the event of another war in Europe. Well, since our dollars made a contribution towards rebuilding Germany after World War II, it only seems fitting that our anticipated relocation to an eastern Europe impoverished in the post-war years will help them to rebuild in a similar way. Who’da thunk it?

Speed limits. If you’ve heard any of my sermons, you know that speed limits are a touchstone; and references to events in traffic a regular illustration of sinful human behavior. Today’s rant was inspired by a trip home in which I’d opted to avoid the freeway, and take surface streets. This particular route runs between a golf course and some apartment complexes, all associated with a major resort property. The road, which was once posted for 30 m.p.h. now has a speed limit of 25 m.p.h. As we made the turn onto this road, there was a good one-eighth mile of space between us and the next car back; so I felt it was “OK” to go the speed limit. It seemed like only seconds later, the gap was gone, and now there was a car so close that I couldn’t see its headlights in my rear-view mirror. Being a curmudgeonly type, I refused to go above “+5”; and I must admit that I sort of “drifted” between lanes as the roadway went from one lane to two approaching the traffic circle there, boxing out the car behind from sliding by until after we had exited the “roundabout.” Seconds later, the car was gone, zipping by in the right-hand lane. I muttered one of my usual complaints about how it must be nice to have received an “invent your own speed limit” card, and then continued on my way.

I think, in part, what gripes me the most about these situations is how I feel forced to violate the principle of obedience to the law, as it is signified in the speed limits. I will admit that I like to drive fast; but I am selective about where and when. Out in a new car, alone on a straight, flat country road, with no driveways or cross streets for miles, and no other cars in view; yes, I’ve said to myself, “OK, let’s see how fast this baby will go.” Driving long distances on the interstate highway in the middle of nowhere – say, between San Francisco and southern Oregon, or SF and Boise, or SF and Phoenix – yes, weather and vision conditions permitting, and other traffic being very slight or non-existent; yes, I’ve violated the “less-than+10” rule, and gone +20, or even +30. But not on city streets; not in traffic; not in bad weather. Oh, and I know darn good and well that, in every situation I’ve described above, going over the speed limit is just plain flat-out wrong.

So, when some bozo tail-gates me, and I’ve already been pushed from the speed limit to the +10 point, there’s a great pressure to accelerate my speed, and I resent that pressure. It makes me angry; and that’s a sin I have to confess, again and again and again… I suppose I should find another way to live with it; but I’m concerned about what seems to me to be a growing sense of lawlessness in our society. Not a breaking of the law by robbing banks, or gas stations, or other types of “major” crimes – although these do happen, and we should, of course, be concerned about this. Rather, it is the “I’m entitled to do what I want to, when I want to” mentality that allows us to ignore the speed limit, or park in a no-parking zone, or run red lights. (The “Red only means ‘stop’ if you want to stop” type of behavior…) As I ponder these things, I keep hearing an echo: “There was no judge in the land, and every man did what was right in his own eyes…”

Monday, August 09, 2004

Privilege, Advantage, and the Christian Faith

I received the following email from a member of my family today. It is provided here (with the sender’s permission) as a reference to the comments which I sent in my reply.
In studying the evolution of our culture, including laws (Jim Crow, Segregation Laws, etc.) and common practices (whites only), I found that it is appropriate to examine how privilege and advantage operate in our society.

The notion that one group who might starve and/or freeze to death would not seize the opportunity to do otherwise (to survive and thrive) - were they given the same rights and privileges as the other group - seems ludicrous.

When our culture is carefully examined, we can conclude that there is more to the story than meets the eye. And beyond the culture, there's the fact that, as the Bible says, "The poor shall always be with us." Shall we not offer charity to them? Shall we not be willing - even eager - to share the incredible wealth with which we have been blessed? Is it ours to question or judge? Isn't that up to God? Isn't that what we are taught?

I'm confused by the story. It sounds as if it were written by someone who has been disconnected from their ability to appreciate the different circumstances others find themselves in. Surely, it was not written by a Christian. At least not a Christian in the way I was raised to believe and understand them to think and to act.

As a recipient of free school lunches for my children when I was struggling financially, I willingly and happily pay my fair share of taxes, in the hope that no child has to go hungry when my stomach is so full. I am grateful that God blessed me with the experience of needing help. It taught me a tremendous lesson - to always speak out in favor of helping others, and never for one minute to question that it is ABSOLUTELY the right thing to do.

I remember hearing a speaker once tell a story about a Minister who was visiting a very sick woman who the doctors had given up on. When hearing of the woman's great suffering, the Minister said, "You are very lucky. I have never received such a blessing." That story changed me forever.

Love to all,

Here is my reply:

I would agree that all persons, given the opportunity (a word left out when mentioning rights and privileges), will opt for survival as opposed to death. Exceptions to this would include those not competent to make such a decision, or to carry out such a decision (and it seems that there are a number of these people on the streets today; some of whom do, indeed, suffer); and those who must choose between surrendering or upholding moral and ethical standards in order to survive. Many Christians (among others) became martyrs because they would not deny their Lord, even when faced with starvation, death by freezing, or other forms of torture and/or execution. This includes many who have suffered in our own lifetime at the hands of the Communists in Russia, eastern Europe, and China.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did, indeed, tell us that we shall have the poor always with us. This does not mean, however, that, because there will always be those who lack material resources, we are free to neglect them. The Fathers of the Orthodox Church teach us that God, in His mercy, allows those of us who have been blessed with material abundance to share from what we have been given with those in need. This saying about the poor does not stand in isolation; the same Lord Who made this statement also taught about the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46), using the imagery of all the people being separated into the sheep and the goats. "Lord, when did we see Thee hungry, and fed Thee; or thirsty, and gave Thee a drink; or naked, and clothed Thee; sick, or in prison, and ministered unto Thee?" His reply: "I tell you the truth, whenever you did this for the least of my brethren, you did it unto Me."

We have the poor with us, not because God desires people to be poor, or suffering, but because of the hardness of our hearts. Yet we can, if we choose, act to soften our hearts, and reach out to those in need around us. The Fathers go farther in their teaching us the Faith: we are not responsible for what the person who receives our charity does with what we have given to them. (OK, if they tell you they want the charity to buy guns/bombs/rockets/WMD, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to help them out.) If a beggar asks for money for food, and then takes what has been offered and buys wine, or liquor, or drugs; well, that's not your choice. So, no, we are not to judge anyone other than ourselves; and, when confronted with an opportunity to be charitable, we must examine ourselves, and then make a choice -- and we will be accountable for that choice on the Day of Judgment!

It has been said above, "Shall we not be willing - even eager - to share the incredible wealth with which we have been blessed?" Note that even what we might claim to have earned is, in fact, a blessing from God. From Whom did the abilities that allow us to earn the means to obtain our daily bread come from? From Whom did our very life come from? So then, we are not meant to be owners, but stewards of what God has provided for us. There is no doubt in my mind that I could do better, live more simply, and so have more that I could use to help those in need; and I suspect this is true of most Americans. This doesn't mean that each and every one of us is meant to sell all that we have, and give to the poor, in order for us to follow Christ; although each of us would find true blessing, and true wealth, if we actually were to do so. The Fathers teach us that our material possessions weigh us down; certainly, this is true spiritually. We are not meant to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust corrupt, and thieves break in and steal -- but rather to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven; and this by our works of charity for those in need (and beyond what is provided from the use of the money we pay in taxes!). In a way, those who are poor (whether by chance or by choice) are closer to God (or, at least, have a better place to be closer) because they are not so tied to the comforts and possessions of this world, and so look instead for the world to come. But again, although some will say that we are then doing the poor a favor by not helping them, this is not the Christian faith or practice.

The Epistle to the Hebrews has a cryptic teaching: that our Lord Jesus Christ was "made perfect" through suffering. The Orthodox Church understands this to mean that the Son of God, already perfect in His Divinity, was made perfect in His humanity by His suffering the Passion. This makes sense for us, when you think about it. First, He said (in effect), "If it happened to me, it will happen to you; if they did it to me, they will do it to you." As such, we know that we also must, if called upon to do so, suffer, in order to be transformed more closely into the likeness of Christ. Secondly, when we suffer, our thoughts turn away from the pleasures and temptations of the world, and draw closer to God; even if this takes the form of anguish on our part. The Fathers teach that we should continually be mindful of the reality of our death; and so be preparing for that time when we shall depart this life, and stand before the Lord to account for our lives. This is easier to do when we are suffering; and much harder to do when we are enjoying the pleasures of life. God, in His mercy, allows us each; but suffering as this is needed, either for our own salvation, or as a way for us to bear witness to others of the grace and mercy of God. All of us know someone who is suffering, or has suffered, in body, mind or spirit; and who, from this suffering, has obtained a wisdom and understanding and peace that this world cannot give or remove. We should not cause others to suffer; and we should do what we can to relieve the suffering of those to whom we can minister. As for ourselves, we do not go looking for opportunities to suffer; but, if such an opportunity comes our way, we do not flee from it.

I hope this makes some sense. If you have any questions or comments, I certainly invite you to reply to me.

with love in Christ, I am
Your unworthy servant in Christ,
Priest John McCuen

Saturday, August 07, 2004

All Work and No Play...

My apologies to those who find some of my recent messages to be too long. As a friend in seminary used to say, "It takes me two pages just to clear my throat..." I'm open to suggestions as to how to cover the same ground, but in smaller bites...

Nothing serious today! But I want to share some funny things that have come my way of late; sometimes we can all use a good laugh.

If you haven't already seen it, the parody of Woody Guthrie's "This Land" is an absolutely wonderful bit of (much-needed) political satire. And it's an equal opportunity offender! (That is, neither candidate is spared...)

Also, if you haven't yet seen any of the "Trunk Monkey" spots, here are the two I think are the best: the "Accident" bit; and the "Car Retrieval" bit. (Please note that these are in the Quicktime format; you can download it here. If you want them in Windows Media format, go to the main site, scroll down, and then click on the Windows Media Player link.)

Finally, check out "The Adventures of Seinfeld and Superman." These are two ads for American Express; but the "plug" for the card is very low-key; and you can bypass the link to sign up for the card and return to the main page without any trouble. (And if you want to apply for an Amex card, it's simple to do so.) I highly recommend watching them in order; as there is material in the second that plays off the first one. Check out also the short bits; the answering machine (you'll see it at the site); and last, but not least, the "playable" sing-a-long.

Well, more serious stuff will undoubtedly come; but in the meanwhile, have fun!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

It’s Time to Put a Stop to Judicial Activism

The Associated Press reports that Judge William L. Downing of the Kings County, Washington, Superior Court has ruled that a Washington state law preventing same-sex marriages does not serve the interests of the state, and deprives same-sex couples of their constitutional right to due process. The judge’s decision must be reviewed by the Supreme Court in Washington state before marriage licenses are issued, according to the report. (Another report, from the Seattle Times, can be found here.)

In a way, this is a “Paul Revere” moment (although those of you who know me -- or have seen me -- will probably hurt yourselves laughing at the image of me on horseback shouting, “To arms! To arms!”): The system is breaking down; and something must be done, now, to put things right. Let’s consider a few things, from what Judge Downing’s ruling is reported to contain.

The right to due process is found first in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides (among other things) that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The first paragraph of the Fourteenth Amendment extends this language from the federal level to the state level, adding as well that each person is entitled to equal protection under the law. Thus, the right to due process is, indeed, a constitutional right. (By the way, an excellent discussion of “due process” can be found at the U.S. Constitution On-line web site. Among other points, the origins of due process are found in the Magna Carta.)

It’s difficult for me (not an attorney) to comment specifically, as I haven’t yet read the actual text of Judge Downing’s ruling. This won’t stop me from going out on a limb! Clearly, a state law prohibiting the recognition of same-sex unions as marriages does not deprive anyone of their life or property; so, if there is a violation of due process, it must be bound up with the deprivation of “liberty.” Here’s where the origins of due process in the Magna Carta takes on some importance.

Today, we tend to equate “liberty” with “freedom.” Quick: think of two or three sentences using the word “liberty.” I’ll bet that you came up with the following (or something very close to them): First, you won’t have a sentence, but a phrase: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (We’ll come back to this one.) Next, “I’m not at liberty to say.” Third, “He was taking liberties with me.” The last, translated, means, “He thought he was free to do what he wanted.” The second, translated, means that you are not free to tell what you know. And the first, a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, shows a division of thought that may be blurred for most of us today: “liberty” is not the same as “the pursuit of happiness.”

Prior to the signing of the Magna Carta, it was sometimes the practice for someone to be arrested and jailed for an indefinite period of time before charges were actually preferred, or trial held. Today’s provisions in law for habeas corpus and the right to a speedy trial (6th Amendment) have their origins in the Magna Carta. It is my sense that “liberty” in this context (that is, of the 5th and 14th Amendments) means that no person shall be imprisoned without due process. Put another way, then, the 5th and 14th Amendments provide that no person shall be put to death, imprisoned, or have their property taken from them without due process of law. Clearly, none of these situations applies in the case of same-sex unions; and so, to me, Judge Downing’s ruling makes no sense.

However, let me try to argue a bit for the other side. First, among the meanings of “liberty” found at Dictionary.com, we find:

1. The condition of being free from restriction or control.

2. The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing.

3. Freedom from unjust or undue governmental control.

Furthermore, from the discussion of due process at the site mentioned above comes a distinction also not immediately obvious: “due process” can be further divided to “procedural due process and substantive due process. The former, concerning itself with “how” a law is enforced, asks questions such as:
+ Is a law too vague?
+ Is it applied fairly to all?
+ Does a law presume guilt?
Substantive due process considers why a law is enforced; and here is where the question of its constitutionality comes into play.

Does a state law prohibiting the recognition of same-sex unions as marriages constitute “unjust or undue governmental control?” In a way, this is asking the question of what is, and is not, in the best interests of the state to regulate – and here we encounter another part of what Judge Downing is reported to have said in his ruling: that preventing same-sex marriages is not in the best interests of the state.

Here’s the Point

A judge is not supposed to have the power to determine what is in the best interests of the state. This power resides in the people themselves; and they act through their representatives in the state legislature, and in the executive branch. If the legislature enacts a measure, and the executive signs it into law, the role of the court with regard to the law is to ensure its constitutionality; and that it is applied equally and with fairness – and nothing more! But the increasing level of judicial activism, and its acceptance (evidenced by the passivity of the masses) is the true danger to our system of government – and as much, or more, of a threat than the issue being advanced by this activism (i.e., same-sex “marriages”).

And so, the “Paul Revere” moment. We need our legislators, and especially those in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, to craft and enact suitable measures (either in law, or as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution) to bring about a limitation on the power of the judiciary to overturn state laws which have been duly and properly enacted. Let’s put our efforts here; and, if we’re successful, there will be no need for a federal “Marriage Amendment” to the Constitution.

To arms! To arms! The judges are coming!

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Protecting Marriage: News “from the Trenches”

Missouri Voters Approve Gay Marriage Ban

Missouri, according to an AP news report, has joined four other states in amending its state’s constitution to limit marriage to being between a man and a woman. Nine, and as many as twelve, additional states have similar measures to amend state constitutions scheduled for a vote later this year. Missouri’s vote is the first since the controversial decision by the court in Massachusetts which required legal recognition in that state of same-sex marriages.

According to the article,

Missouri and 37 other states already have laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. But amendment supporters fear a court could toss aside the state law, and they believe the state would be on firmer legal ground if an outright ban is part of the Constitution.

To me, this is the significant paragraph in the news report. Thirty-eight states already have a law that limits marriage to being between a man and a woman. If I’m not mistaken, the federal government also has such a law: the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996. This Act also provides that states which do not, in their state laws, recognize as “marriages” same-sex unions, are not required to recognize such “marriages”, even if legal in the state where these were performed. Not being an attorney or constitutional expert, I have to wonder whether an amendment to a state constitution has any more power than a state statute, if a federal court rules that such a regulation is unconstitutional with regard to the Constitution of the Untied States – to which all state constitutions must conform.

If, for example, a state constitution could provide some sort of exemption from – or, at least, greater latitude within – the requirements of the federal Constitution, we could amend a state constitution to outlaw abortion. But this isn’t so. And if we cannot use a state constitution to regulate abortion, why makes anyone think we can achieve success by amending a state constitution to protect the definition of marriage? Only such an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, such as the proposed “Federal Marriage Amendment,” can provide the protection that is desired for the legal definition of marriage. (I’ve had a lot to say about this amendment in other postings; so I won’t say more here, except that I’m skeptical about this effort.)

Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not in favor of changing the legal definition of marriage. I believe that it is in the best interests of the state to preserve the definition of marriage as being the union of one man and one woman. I also believe that it is in the best interests of the people of God to be wary of using the power of the state. This is not to say that we are to be silent; there is no reason whatsoever to refrain from contacting your elected officials and informing them of the actions you think are appropriate and necessary. (If you are going to do so, do so in a way that will be effective – the best way being a brief, to-the-point, personal letter or telephone call.) But I cannot help but see any efforts that are directed to the ballot box, either directly (in the form of organizing campaigns designed to “get out the vote’) or indirectly (in the form of organizing campaigns designed to influence elected officials), as being the locus of our activities is a grave mistake.

Bear with me for a moment or two – I’m going to wander a bit, although I hope that, as it wraps up, you’ll see the connection. It’s been said that the attempt to redefine marriage to allow this definition to include same-sex unions is also an assault against the structure of the family. I would submit that this assault is far less significant than what has already taken place with the changes in the laws regarding divorce; and the shifts that have taken place in both society and in the churches of our society. As a young boy in the 1960’s, I remember one member of our neighborhood being treated with an otherwise uncharacteristic distance, because this person was divorced. From this, I was able to understand that divorce was both an undesirable action, and an unusual state. (I’m not advocating a return to stigmatizing persons, as was the case in that day.) Times have changed. This point was brought home to me rather forcefully when our oldest daughter, now 20, was in the sixth grade. Whenever there would be tension between my wife and myself, she would get very nervous, and would ask, “Are you going to get a divorce?” We would explain, over and over, that husbands and wives don’t always agree, and that, while disagreements happen, these can be resolved without divorce – until one day, it dawned on me why she wasn’t being comforted by our explanations. I asked, and found out that the vast majority of her classmates came from divorced families; and so had issues with step-parents, and schedules that had to include visitations with the non-custodial parent, and so on. The “divorced” situation had become the norm in that classroom; and being the child of parents who had been married at the time of her birth, and were still married 10-12 years later, was an unusual situation.

There was a time when it was difficult (or impossible) to be married for a second time in a church. This has also changed; so much so that there really isn’t even a mention of any problem arising from a failed marriage in the past. As an assistant in an Episcopal Church, I was assigned to perform the marriage of a couple who had each been previously married to, and subsequently divorced from, a partner other than the one they now desired to wed. Because I would be doing the wedding, I was also required to do the pre-marital counseling required by the diocese. After a few sessions, I approached the rector who had given me the assignment with my deep misgivings about performing the marriage. My objections were overridden, in part because there was no barrier in the canon laws of the Episcopal Church to performing the wedding. I would be very surprised to find that couple still married to each other today.

In the Orthodox Church, the situation is different. There is a profound difference between the marriage service for those joining together for the first time, and the service for marrying a person who has been divorced. The latter has a much more penitential, and less celebratory, tone. The canons of the Orthodox Church also limit the number of marriages to a maximum of three. (By contrast, there was, at one time, a bishop in the Episcopal Church who had been married five times; a situation those of us holding a more traditional view sometimes uncharitably referred to as “the practice of serial polygamy.”) We can only speculate how our society might be different today had the churches not adopted the practices of the secular world, and turned a blind eye to divorce.

To me, this is the point: as long as we do not live as the people of God, as long as we are indistinguishable from those who do not know God or His ways, we have no power to influence those around us, and lead them to a knowledge of God, and the ways He has established for us to live, and to receive His blessings. We must prepare ourselves to take a stand for what we believe, and do what God would have us do, no matter what the world, or the state, or our neighbors believe, and do. For what has changed, to produce these changes in society that brings us today to the threshold of the legalization by the state of same-sex unions as marriages? Not God. Not the way God has given us to live. So, we must face the unpleasant truth that we have failed to be who we are called to be – the people of God, living in the world, but not of the world.

There was a time when the laws and standards and practices of the state upheld and enforced the ways of God, not because the state was an agency of the church, but because the state, which is embodied to carry out the will of the people, was directed and supported by people who shared a common set of values with the teachings of the Christian faith. If the state no longer values or embodies such values, it is because, to no small degree, the people from whom the state derives no longer share these values – and that is a significant failure on our part, as those who would be known as the followers of Jesus Christ. Now, there’s no doubt that we have a problem today with activist judges; but this is only one part, and not the largest part, of the problem. Maybe what we need, instead of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage, is a way to restrict the ability of a judge, or a small panel of judges, to force a state to accept what it has clearly chosen to reject – so that Massachusetts cannot be forced to accept as marriages same-sex unions by a simple decision of a court. To me, one virtue of this approach is that it would not be an attempt to legislate morality, but would rather be fixing a problem that has arisen in the constitutional process. (I’m not sure how it can be done; but give me a few minutes to think about it!) But even more, we need to return to being bearers of the image of Christ in the world, bringing the light of the Gospel with us by the quality of our lives into every place we go: our homes, our places of employment, where we shop, where we play; to the prisons, to the hospitals, to those in need; not getting in anyone’s face, not pushing our point of view; but being an influence for good, an influence for God – saving our souls, so that thousands around us may also be saved.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

More Thoughts on Tyranny and the Federal Marriage Amendment

Recently, one of our parishioners sent me an email about a conversation we’d had at trapeza about the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, intended to define marriage so as to preclude a state’s legalization of same-sex unions as a “marriage.” With the author’s permission, I have extracted some excerpts, and post these here, together with my reply.
RE imposition of morality as tyranny:
America is ostensibly a republic devolving into a mobocracy; American politics presumably reflect the wishes of the masses which are then imposed nationwide (tenth amendment, R.I.P.). In reality, at least with regard to most domestic issues, the country is an oligarchy.

You're correct -- America has always been ruled by an oligarchy. In the beginning, this was more or less overt: you had to be male, and an owner of a certain minimum amount of land, in order to vote; and you had to be able to vote in order to be elected to office. Over time, the reality of the oligarchy has become less and less obvious; in part, as the right to vote has been extended to a larger and larger circle of people; and, in part, as the ruling class has learned how to manipulate the instruments of power without necessarily having to handle the controls themselves. The truth of the statement "Wealth = Power" has not changed from the earliest days of the American nation.
How is the tyranny of black-robed bureaucrats preferable to the wishes of the masses, particularly considering that many judges are apparently in the thrall of satan? (reference partial birth abortion).

I didn't say that this form of tyranny is acceptable, or preferable. Judicial "activism" is, for the most part, a recent development, although one could credibly argue that it has "venerable" roots, going back to Chief Justice Marshall and his ruling on the Bank of the United States -- the first real occurrence of "judicial activism," in my opinion. My sense of what the "founding fathers" intended for the judicial branch was that of a conservative body, resistant to change, using the standard of law, and especially the Constitution, to determine what was, and was not, permissible. When I taught a class in "American Government," the "bumper sticker" for the three branches was, "The legislative branch enacts the laws, the executive branch enforces the laws, and the judicial branch interprets the laws." We are seeing significant deviation from this on the part of the judicial branch today.

My point regarding tyranny is that our efforts, as Christians, to use the power of the state to enforce a particular morality (ours) is going to backfire; and we will be the ones who will find the power of the state used against us. This does not mean, as you have characterized my position, that we wait until "the sheriff shows up at the door with Adam and Steve." What I said (or, thought I had said) is that a day is coming when the sheriff will show up at the door with Adam and Steve; and we have to be prepared to bear witness in that day for what God has said, and for what God requires of His people – no matter what the state may, or may not, allow or require. Our Lord, confronted by the state, said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." Neither is ours. We are to be obedient to the state, unless the state requires us to violate the way God requires of us; and then we are to remain faithful to God, and, if the state chooses to punish this defiance, so be it. To the extent that we are able to be of influence on the state, by our example, and, when it is possible, by the shaping of policy, glory to God that we can do so. I didn't say that we should not contact our elected officials on the matter of the proposed amendment to the Constitution regarding same-sex marriages; indeed, I discussed the ways that are effective, so as to point out that the on-line signing of a petition is almost totally unlikely to have any effect other than making the signer "feel good" – he has "done something," but only in his own mind. By all means, write to our senators, and your district's representative in Washington, and tell them what you'd like them to do regarding the amendment. You have that right as a citizen of this country; and there is no reason, from the position of the Church,, not to exercise that right. You have the freedom to work to encourage others to do so; and no barriers to this from the Church. All I am trying to say is, don't be surprised if the effort fails; and, if it does, we must soberly consider the reasons for that, and examine ourselves -- for the failure is ours. We are losing our presence in society as "salt and light" -- and the changes in morality are a result of this development. Judicial activism may be accelerating the change; but, in the absence of salt and light, the change is inevitable; only the pace is affected by the actions of these judges. (And a brotherly admonition here: be careful about saying that someone, anyone, is in "the thrall of satan." And pray, fervently, for anyone about whom you think this may be true, asking God to free them and have mercy on their souls.)
The beauty of the amendment process is that it sets a very high threshold for change. If an amendment is successful it will be because 3/4 of state legislatures approve it, a powerful reflection of the will of the people. The alternative - to bow down
to the judges as they impose their edicts - is the essence of subservience to real tyranny. The fact that enough Americans are so morally confused that these judges won't be hunted down makes their redefinition of this basic social institution no less tyrannical. Resistance to tyranny can happen at any step along the road to slavery. You say it should happen when the sheriff shows up at the church doors with Adam and Steve. I want to buy little S. some more time in a sane world.

I understand your desire to protect your precious child. The problem is, the world is insane; and is growing increasingly so. The challenge for you, and for all parents, is, how will you respond to this reality? I cannot recommend looking to the world for the solution to the problem; especially not as the state, as is the case here and now, is moving away from any awareness of the spiritual dimension of its powers and responsibilities, and seeing only temporal power and authority, limited only by its inability to seize and hold more. Probably the last ideal state was found in Israel at the time of the judges (ironically enough). The society was patriarchal in structure, with families being led by their patriarch; and appealing to the judges when unable to resolve internal difficulties, or when a central authority was required because of external circumstances (such as an invasion). The last of the judges, the prophet Samuel, instituted "government" at the request of the people, who asked him to appoint a king for them. He rebuked them, for they had God as their king; and told them, in no uncertain terms, that an earthly king would be a tyrant. Although we have no ostensible king, we have in his place the executive branch, with the president in the place of a king; and the government as a whole has not ceased its tyrannical position. It is true that, on one level, the tyranny is moderated when the central authority is dispersed, and the system of checks and balances operates; but on the other hand, we are only a revolution away from what happened in Russia in 1917, and in the years following. The form, of course, isn't likely to be the same; but the effect will be: and the Church will be the target of the tyrant. Don't forget that the kingdoms of this world are subject to the prince of this world; and he is the enemy of God, and the accuser of the brethren.
To me the most elevated purpose of politics is to help create a world in
which people are not so harried and corrupted by society that they have the chance to contemplate their relationship to their creator. Institutions such as marriage, traditionally understood, represent a reflection of the church, a vehicle to salvation. Retaining it as it has been ordained by God and understood through the ages is a worthy goal. And the nature of our supplication to the robed demigods insures that only a constitutional amendment will resist this insanity.

I agree that retaining marriage as ordained by God is a worthy goal; and that our society will benefit from doing so. The Church will retain this understanding, even if the state does not. Politics will always interfere with the contemplation of God, and our relationship with Him -- that's one reason why monastics withdraw from the world. "Let us who mystically represent the cherubim, and chant the thrice-holy hymn unto the Life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares; that we may receive the King of all, Who cometh invisibly upborne in triumph by the ranks of angels. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia." The challenge for us, called in effect, to be monastics even while still engaged in the world, is to be "in the world, but not of the world" -- to lay aside all earthly cares. The world will never be a place of peace for us; but it isn't meant to be. Judicial activism, when it goes too far, always provokes a response to rein it in. That remains to be seen on this issue. I do not expect to find the necessary number of state legislatures to ultimately approve the marriage amendment, if it is even presented to them. I hope I am wrong.
As for Adam and Steve's union hurting marriage, the institution of gay
marriage and civil unions in European countries has led to more out-of-wedlock births because the threshold of commitment is lowered even more than we have already lowered it with no fault divorce, abortion etc. So yes, by saying, "anyone can do it", we do harm the institution. We cheapen it and make it even more mundane.

The same statistic for out-of-wedlock births is true here, even without same-sex marriages. Our ratio of marriages to divorces is essentially one to one. I must ask, who is "We?" We the people (that is, the state)? Or we, the people of God (i.e., the Church)? We (the Church) cheapen nothing; and, if the people of God will be the people of God when they function as the state, then nothing will be changed. This underlines, once again, my deeper point: we, the American people, have lost the connection between the two forms of our existence; we have separated Church and state in our own thinking and actions; and what is happening now shows the result.

As of now, our dialogue is continuing; and, as my friend raises more issues worthy of note (and this will happen), I will address these in subsequent blogs.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Would Someone Please Explain this to Me?

Much as I hate to do it, I have to admit that I don’t get it. Maybe someone can explain what’s going on; in small, simple words that even someone such as me can understand.

I don’t understand the guys who go to the gym and work out, but don’t have the strength left to close the door to their locker when they’re done. I don’t understand the guys who go to the gym and can’t figure out where the trash can is located, or the bin for used towels, and so they just leave their trash and used towels on the floor, or on the benches in front of the lockers. I don’t understand the guys who leave their empty shampoo and cream rinse bottles in the gym’s showers. What, do their mothers work there to clean up after them?

I don’t understand the jerks who rush down past the squeeze in a construction zone, where two lanes are required to merge into one, and force their way into the car in front of me, rather than pulling into the open space behind me. I really don’t understand when they do this at 15-20 m.p.h. above the speed limit; and then we spend the next 2-3 miles crawling along at 10-15 m.p.h. under the posted speed limit. What, two car lengths makes the difference between arriving early and arriving late?

OK, I realize when I ask this that I’m starting to show my age – and that’s not something I really want to do – but whatever happened to common courtesy? Whatever happened to respect for others? Whatever happened to respect for the law? (Particularly with regard to speed limits; although it’s much larger than that.)

Am I missing something? I just don’t get it…