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May 2012

Social meaning of marriage

A very good essay on the social meaning of marriage.  The author identifies this as the primary concern of conservatives who oppose marriage equality, but then goes further in explaining how these very arguments actually support marriage equality.

Thus, the most important elements of marriage’s social meaning are the assumptions that married life normally involves sexual intimacy, domestic and economic cooperation, and a mutual commitment to sustaining the relationship.

It seems clear that, while the theoretical arguments for same-sex marriage often focus on legal claims, the actual conception of many same-sex couples is broader and includes this social meaning. This broader conception lies behind the emotional appeals that same-sex marriage proponents have so often made, but there is also a more theoretical case to be made as well. Many same-sex couples have the very same interest in having access to an institution that has this social meaning as opposite-sex couples have, affording them the intangible benefit of being able to signal to their community that they wish their relationship to be interpreted in the light of these generally shared assumptions. Given that, it must be unjust for the state to deny same-sex couples the right to marry when this right is made available to other couples who have precisely the same interest in having it.


God as disposition and beauty

Belden C. Lane writing about the theology of Jonathan Edwards:

He preferred to describe God more dynamically as a "disposition" to communicate love.  It is truer, he would have said, to think of God as a communicative "act" than as an existing "thing."  God is not so much a self-contained and static entity as an impulsive beauty delighting more than anything else in sharing itself. . . .  God's essence is a "disposition" to multiply the enjoyment of beauty.

Anti-gay petition drive in Lincoln

Lincoln has a very low threshold for citizens attempting to overturn a city ordinance.  The city council recently passed an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination law by a 5-0 vote.  Lincoln law allows citizens to attempt to block and overturn any ordinance via a petition within the first two weeks of passage.  It appears that opponents have collected sufficient signatures to possibly force the ordinance to a vote.  Thereby violating a core fundamental of American constitutional law -- minority rights are not subject to majority vote.

Ravel/Unravel: Religious and Spiritual Identities

Omaha's Project Interfaith has launched a new web project entitled "Ravel/Unravel" that you might just enjoy.  Here is the opening blurb:

With RavelUnravel, we're exploring the tapestry of religious and spiritual identities that make up our communities and the complexities of how we construct and deconstruct identity.  We invite you to view the stories that make up RavelUnravel and add to the movement by sharing your own.

You can watch a number of videos of ordinary Omahans discussing their faith, from a variety of perspectives.

1 Samuel (Berit Olam Series)

1 Samuel1 Samuel by David Jobling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first picked up this volume six years ago when I was preaching on I Samuel and needed more commentaries on it. At the time I read portions of it and was deeply impressed. It ended up restructuring many of the sermons I had planned for that series.

The lections on early Israel return this summer, and I'm taking another, and more comprehensive, stab at preaching from these stories. This time I wanted to read all the way through this commentary ahead of the series.

And what a rewarding read it was. Jobling engages in "against the grain" interpretations that bring out the issues of class, race, and gender in the stories. The book contains insightful comments on the stories, reflections on the shape of the book and the canon, and exploration of the meta-questions of hermeneutics and how we engage in biblical scholarship. It is brilliant.

Among the interesting insights is his interpretation of the David and Jonathan relationship. He accepts that this is a homoerotic relationship, but points out that the Bible only ever indicates that Jonathan loved David, never the reverse. David, Jobling believes, used the relationship with Jonathan to get ahead, in the same way that David used his relationships with women. Jobling writes that Jonathan fills a similar role in the plot to David's women, and places his interpretation of Jonathan within that rubric.

Jobling also finds the Medium (or commonly "Witch") of Endor to play a key role in interpreting the book. She provides an alternative to the establishment history attempting to be narrated in the book. She is a woman, she lives along the disputed Philistine boundary, and she practices forbidden rituals. But she is able to successfully connect with the idealized past (in the person of Samuel's ghost) and bringing healing to Saul. I have not planned a sermon on her, but I think I'll have to restructure my series to do that.

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Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps (American Lives)

Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian AlpsLocal Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps by Ted Kooser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A church member loaned me this book by the former Poet Laureate. It is not a book of poems. It is gentle remarks on life in Nebraska hills.

Gentle is a good word to describe it. And generous. Kooser observes each season and the people, nature, land, and culture around him. He remarks on events in his life, including a startling section on his cancer diagnosis.

This is one of those books you have lying around and pick up and read a few pages every day or two, rather than reading large chunks in one sitting.

I recommend it for its care, its lack of anxiety, and its simplicity.

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What is religious? More on the bishops lawsuits

First, E. J. Dionne writes about disagreements within the conference of bishops.  He reminds us that the vast majority of bishops have not entered into these lawsuits and that many feel they are politically motivated, participating in Republican attacks on the president.

Cardinal Wuerl writes an op-ed explaining his position in suing the administration.  The essence of the argument is that the government is definining what is and isn't religious and that that should be left to religious bodies.

This seems like a red herring to me.  Let me explain.

The United States has long (for one hundred years) been debating how to improve health care access.  It was a major part of the discussion and debate in the 2008 presidential election.  This led to the Affordable Care Act, passed by the elected representatives of the American people (even if many of us find the final bill flawed and lacking in the broad scope and radical change we had sought).

As part of that decision, we collectively chose that women had a right to access to contraception.  Since our current (still deeply flawed) system is for health care to be provided by employers rather than a single socially supported system, that meant employer-based health insurance systems would have to provide for this right.

This raises issues for religious-based employers, so it was left to the Department of Health and Human Services to decide where to draw the line in what is clearly a gray area.  And that is what the Department did.  You can disagree with how the line was drawn and advocate for a change, that makes sense, but the cardinal's language is overwrought.

The "government" (he sounds like Grover Norquist when he uses the word) is not deciding what is and is not religious.  The Dept. of HHS was making a policy decision of how to apply the religious exemption.  The department is not saying that schools and hospitals and social service agencies are not "religious," only that they do not qualify for the religious exemption from providing this right to their employees.  Government agencies and courts do make these sorts of decisions all the time, and it is not anything radically new.  There are also clearly established constitutional and legal guidelines for adjudicating these things (for example, if there is a "compelling interest," we can do something that violates religious conscience or practice).

And one more point, which I've made before, all of us end up participating in systems and contributing funds to things that violate our consciences.  I believe in non-violence.  My taxes support wars that I believe are immoral.  I cannot seek to opt out of this, nor should I.  And, interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church holds similar positions on war and violence, but you don't hear them making these objections anywhere nearly as big an issue as being told that they must provide what the larger society feels is a right of women's health.