Friday, January 25, 2013

Integrity, Dignity, and Aristocrats--Dignity

Integrity, Dignity, and Aristocrats
A Sermon Series on Economy

In this year of westward expansion of thought--what we are calling pioneering--not only are we looking at the capacity for opposites to come together for good, but also taking a radical approach to concepts. A radical approach looks at the root (the literal meaning of the word radical is "root", thus the word radish) of a word and concept, how the word has been used, and the outcome of that usage. I want to apply the radical approach to the word dignity.

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This is the slogan of a publication out of the University of Virginia called The Hedgehog Review. In the review, Michael Zuckart unpacks the word dignity.

The Latin root of the word dignity, dignities, means distinction, special merit. Most times, the concept was applied to aristocracy. An aristocrat carries him or herself with an air of distinction. Zuckart writes that dignity is an aristocratic notion, not a democratic one.

Foundational to our nation are the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Frequently, Zuckart writes, the right to property is added to the list. American citizens will consent to a government that exists to protect these rights their its laws. The laws of a government that protect these rights are what Zuckart calls "negative laws." Negative laws are laws that make any action that impedes upon the rights of another as illegal. For example, I am not breaking the laws of the nation unless I take your life, or impede your life in such a way that you cannot survive.

Starting at the end of World War 2, after seeing horrific violations of the integrity of others in Germany, international documents were drafted in which the word dignity started to appear. With the use of the word dignity, also came the mention that there were certain goods that were to be mandated for all people, such as social security, holidays, time for rest.

Zuckart states that mandating goods--that which is perceived to be good, is not the customary negative law as mentioned above, but are positive laws. It becomes the mandate of the government to provide that which is good or good for a person.

The use of the word dignity brings the government into the central role of  authority in human life. We have seen a shift from an economically driven country to a government driven country since the Great Depression. Government has been placed at the center of authority without any parallel institution to challenges its assumptions. We lose sight of the reality that the decisions a government makes will be a functional decision, supported by a majority of people, that may or may not be moral.

There is no common definition of what makes something good. We, at this time in the history of our nation, do not have a common set of criteria to determine what is good. Personally, I think this is at the root of our national divide. The foundational rights are in place, yet the definitions of the criteria for good are as diverse as the ideologies espousing them.

This is where the notion of aristocracy connected with dignity returns. It was Marie Antoinette, when confronted with the hunger of her subjects, who stated, "Let them eat cake." The trap of aristocracy is to draw the conclusion, "If people would just like me, and do what I do, and follow my lead, they would be better off."

This may be the end result of the use of the word dignity, and the reason why I believe that the use of the word integrity is better for our conversation on economy. Integrity, among other things, indicates that I know where I stop and your start, where my needs come to an end and where your needs start. Integrity challenges me to refrain from violating our integrity and calls me to be responsible to challenge and possibly restrain those who would violate the integrity of those who cannot defend themselves. Integrity calls me to clearly define myself, and to be in the world a presence that strives to honor the integrity of others.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Integrity, Dignity, and Aristocrats

Integrity, Dignity, and Aristocrats
A Sermon Series on Economy


We are in a year of pioneering for our congregation. Part of our "heading west" is in the ways we think. In a culture highly divided, we contend as a congregation that the opposites need to stand in tension with each other. Out of the tension, a new thought may be imagined that is a blessing to humanity and creation. Joel Hunter, in his book A New Kind of Conservative, speaks about Salt--also known as sodium chloride. Sodium, by itself is highly harmful to people. Likewise is Chlorine. Brought together, one has a staple of human life and creation.

In the conversation on economy, I want to bring into tension two ideas from Scripture--Hearing and obeying God's commands and Seeing and being in the presence of God. Walter Brueggeman speaks of these two loving responses to a God who engages Israel in his book An Unsettling God. I borrow heavily from Brueggeman below and mark the next paragraphs with quotation marks to indicate that.

"God has initiated a relationship with God's people. There is an imperative dimension to that relationship. God's people are to order their lives in ways that are appropriate to that relationship. The appropriate response is to resonate with the will, purpose, desire, hope, and intention of God. Two appropriate responses are to listen to God and to see God.

This response includes an obligation to listen to God and do justice, as shown in Deuteronomy 10: 17-20. Listening to God is to attend to the needs of those who are too weak to protect themselves. Wealth and social resources are to be managed and deployed for the enhancement of those who are the weakest. See Proverbs 14:31 and 17:5. The weakest are entitled to such treatment for no other reason than that they are part of the community.

This response also includes an invitation to see God and to be holy. In Exodus 24: 3, 7, not only does Israel hear the commands of God, but in 24: 10-11, they see and behold God. So, God's people not only listen to God and do justice, but are to be in the presence of God, see God, and submit to the overwhelming nature of God. This is based on the concept that it is possible to host God, as we read in the Tabernacle and Temple traditions. This hosting of God is done with great care, costly investment, and scrupulous attention to detail. The investment is a purity or holiness code in which God's people engage to avoid defilement and vulgarity.

So, God's people practice justice for the sake of community and order life in such a way that one is qualified to be in communion with God. This creates a setting of opposites. To be with the weakest is many times to be with the unclean, thus violating the purity codes. To be pure and follow the holiness code, one is removed from those who are weakest and not able to engage in acts of justice.

We do not choose one over the other, but allow them to live in tension with one another. Integrity is the outcome of the two opposites living in tension with each other. To have integrity is to be whole, complete, coherent, innocent, unimpaired, and sound. It is to will one thing, living a life that is undivided, unified in loyalty and intention.

One with integrity practices justice with the weakest and lives with passion the disciplines of holiness. See Pslm 25:21 and 26: 1, 11-12. Every aspect of life--personal, public, cultic, economic--shows complete devotion to God." (Brueggeman, An Unsettling God)

This quality of integrity is what is believers bring to life and conversation about any issue that they face. It is my belief that the conversation on economics is best shaped by rooting it in the need to have integrity oneself and to honor the integrity of others.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What then Should We Do? Answering a Question with a Question.

What then should we do? Answering a question with a question.


In a previous blog, I laid my Christian belief over top of the emotions which are a normal and faithful reaction to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Then, I spoke of my Christian belief as a radical (in the sense of getting at the root of the issue) approach to thinking about the shooting.


By laying my belief in God over my emotions and starting my thinking from my faith, I have a truth/authority/axiom that has the capacity to restore wholeness to human life. This truth re-integrates humanity and restores humans to their fullest capacity for good. This truth re-integrates humanity and restores humans through a promise of a time when all is set right. Until that time, while we wait, we believe.


Do you believe? In the story of the death of Lazarus in the Gospel of John, we read that Lazarus has died and has been buried for 4 days when Jesus arrives in Bethany. Immediately, Jesus is confronted by Martha, the sister of Lazarus. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!" Jesus does not answer her accusation by explaining why Lazarus had to die. Instead, he asks a question, "Do you believe?"


As we confront the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, Do you believe that Christ was born for this?


As we find the shock, and fear, and horror well up within us, Do you believe that the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Jesus Christ?


In the face of death, when parents should not have to see their own children die, Do you believe that "nails and spears shall pierce Jesus through, the cross that is borne for me and you.?"


In this Advent and Christmastide, commonly we hear sections of Handel's Messiah. Indeed, it is the more popular of large works for Christmas. But, J. S. Bach was a better theologian. Listen to closing text of his Christmas Oratorio, sung to the musical theme that is used for the Lenten\Good Friday hymn, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded."



9. (62.) Aria T

 Now, you arrogant enemies, you may tremble;

 what kind of fear can you arouse in me?

 My treasure, my sanctuary is here with me.

   You may seem still so horrible,

   threatening to defeat me once and for all,

   yet see! My Savior lives here.



11. (64.) Chorale

 Now you are well avenged

 upon the horde of your enemies,

 since Christ has pulverized

 what was contrary to you.

 Death, devil, sin and hell

 are weakened once and for all;

 the place of the human race

 is next to God.