Undoing Babel

Donald Trump is trying to take away our humanity. He is doing this by cutting us off from one another. But Jesus came to make us divine by making us fully human, which requires us to share a commitment to a common world and a common conversation with one another, no matter how strange our voices sound to each other. Look what Trump is doing: he is impeding communication, and thus communion. Whether it be by silencing government employees, defunding humanistic research, building his wall, or blocking immigration and denying asylum. He tells his lies about groups of people so that we will not be able to talk to them or listen to them, and he does it expertly–the Lord rebuke him!

An icon of Pentecost

An icon of Pentecost

 

But all it takes to resist Trump is what those of us who are committed to the Gospel are going to do anyway: we have to refuse division and create communion. When Trump cuts off channels of communication, we have to open new ones. What this means concretely depends on where you are and who you are. But one thing we can all do is pray, including (especially!) for our enemies.

I am currently working on an article that is partly on Augustine’s On Christian Teaching. I was despairing about its relevance or usefulness to our present struggles when I came across this in one of my secondary sources:

Communication is a necessary condition for community; but direct communication between human minds, a transparency of mutual understanding, is not possible in the fallen human condition. Language arises from the conflict of this impossibility with the natural human need for community…For Augustine semantic activity–understanding and communicating through language–was the index of the human need for transcendence in the most general terms: for union with other minds in the very act of understanding a shared world.
-Robert Markus, Signs and Meanings: World and Text in Ancient Christianity (Liverpool University Press, 1996), pp. 110-11

But as Augustine explains in De doctrina and elsewhere, to put a short-circuit what other people and other things mean is to defy the very work of the Incarnation. It is a false judgment that loves and regards others as having no value. It cuts us off from them and them from the beauty and goodness of the whole creation. To use Augustine’s words, it is to fail to see them and thus ourselves as signs.

So the good news: Jesus has already undone what Trump is trying to do. Pentecost undid Babel. Just as we can pray for each other even we really don’t like or understand one another, we can also commit to seeing ourselves as part of the same conversation. For anyone to attain the transcendence which Augustine diagnoses as the basic desire behind all of our communication, we need every human being in on the conversation. This does not mean that we all speak the same language or say the same things. When the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, the first Christians did not all start speaking the same language. They started speaking every language. 

The fullness of conversation is something that will have to emerge amidst all the tensions, failures, and misunderstandings of our glorious cacophony. But to invoke one more Augustinian conviction, there is another voice speaking behind and through ours, enabling understanding to emerge. It is the “light that enlightens all peoples,” the Word of God.

God’s word is not chained. So don’t despair, and don’t believe the lies. Call your representatives, find a march to attend, invite someone different from you to coffee. And for the love of God, pray! Trump may have invoked God in his inauguration speech, but he has actually declared open warfare on everything God is trying to do. He will fail. He will go the way of  Nebuchadnezzar and Nero. He may be saved, but his works will lie in ruin. Sad.

Implications of Fetal Heartbeat Bills for Organ Transplantation

Fetal Heartbeat bills have been making the rounds in conservative states since about 2011. Such bills restrict abortion to the period of time prior to the fetus having a heartbeat. If a heartbeat can be detected, then abortion is illegal. These bills have been proposeohio_heartbeat-bill-300x168d in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, and Wyoming. None of these bills have successfully become law, but in the wake of Trump’s election, the Ohio state legislature decided to test the waters: The House and Senate of that state passed the bill and sent it to the governor. He vetoed it–knowing it would not stand up in court as long as Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land. Continue reading

Titus after Trump

I drew the short straw and had to preach at our weeknight service, and the lectionary was Titus 3:1-7, which begins “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…” You can guess how thrilled I was to have to deal with that the day after Trump won the election. But I like what I came up with, and the congregation was tiny, so I share it here in case it’s what anybody needs to hear. Continue reading

Fragments of Mind-Body Dualism in Organ Transplantation

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Organ transplantation as a process has many players and a lot of moving parts. For example, there is the donor and the donor’s family, the recipient and family, social workers, pharmacists, myriad specialists, surgeons, and the national, regional, and local governing bodies that procure and allocate organs. All of these moving parts lead to significant specialization on the parts of the players involved, while also creating openings for ethical problems at every step in the process. There are questions about who gets listed to get an organ, how they pay for it, where the organ comes from, who isn’t getting the organ, are regions getting similar numbers or organs….I could continue listing questions for paragraphs, but I want to hone in on one question in particular: How are the bodies of donors and recipients conceptualized in this medical setting.

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Break every chain!

This post starts off talking about babies, but it’s really about prisons and what you can do about them. Actionable items at the end!

Our Lord Jesus Christ breaking every chain.

Our Lord Jesus Christ breaking every chain.

Having a baby is an emotional roller coaster, even when you’re not the one whose body was playing host. When our twins were born six weeks early in January, one was in the NICU for one week, one for three. Shortly after the first came home, they moved the little one to a different part of the hospital for babies who were considered low-risk. We did not think much of the low-risk part of the NICU. The main part was a much more loving environment. There were more babies, more family members, and it seemed to us, more attention from the very gifted nurses. The low-risk ward seemed very much like an afterthought. It was a converted patient room on the recovery floor with six or seven babies in incubators tended by two nurses. With a few notable exceptions, we did not find them to be as good as the nurses in the main ward. There were fewer family members coming and going. It seemed that our little baby was just in a glass cage all day, except when we were able to come take him out. I speak of how it seemed, not of how it was. Objectively, the care he received was perfectly adequate. Continue reading

Police Intrusions

police tapeI’ve got several blog posts in progress: two on transplant ethics and one on Between the World and Me, but as you can imagine, today I am thinking about the police, with whom I had only had neutral and positive experiences until Thursday night. And even to claim that experience as mine is pretty far-fetched. It is probably best to call it a glimpse of police intrusions into daily life that I have been shielded from. That being said, I was present, and it made me uncomfortable, and it made me feel less safe. So what happened?

We had dinner plans with a friend. We went to one of our favorite restaurants, which happens to have bad acoustics, and it was very crowded. After we sat down, a non-white family with a small child sat near us. The little boy was about two years old, and he seemed pretty cranky. He let out several unhappy, loud wails; his parents tried appeasing him and comforting him, but he was not having it. The little boy was loud and disruptive to everyone’s meals, but the parents were parenting, and what else can you ask them to do? I felt bad for them.

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Orlando shooting: initial reflections

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Everyday Terror: Initial reflections on the Orlando shooting

Working in a hospital I’ve come to fear the everyday activities that just don’t end well: riding bikes, taking walks, driving, taking the stairs, etc. Any one of these activities can suddenly go awry and land you in the ER. These everyday activities can be punctuated by unpredictability—a car comes out of nowhere and hits a bicyclist, a pedestrian is hit by a car on a routine walk to the grocery store, sock feet on wooden stairs leads to head injuries. I admit, I have not found a good way to cope with these everyday traumas. I’ve put off making my bicycle my primary form of transportation because it just seems too dangerous, I am a more careful driver, and in general I have become more risk averse. I think of this as the effect of seeing and sitting with patients who happen to be the outlying edges of the bell curve with regard to accidental trauma.

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Healing and Hope

Dear Ones:

dance-then-wherever-you-may-be-bannerIn the corridor leading from the classrooms in Demerest Hall to St. John’s Chapel are two banners, right next to one another, that I pass on a daily basis.  One depicts an interracial handshake with the words from the New Testament, “Love casts out fear.”  The other features three dancers beautifully posed in silhouette with a verse from a beloved Shaker hymn, “Dance, then, wherever you may be.”  Their colors have faded with time. Their message of hope is timeless.  Indeed, they took on a deeper meaning for me today when I passed them once again to enter the chapel, light a few candles, and pray for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and all who mourn and care for them.

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The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie poster[Warning: The following post contains spoilers for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, along with serious references to the geography and religions of the Star Wars universe.  Caveat lector.]

I saw The Force Awakens opening night. I liked the movie a lot, but as the credits rolled I was pensive and troubled.

Don’t get me wrong. Unlike so many outspoken critics, I wasn’t bothered by the many parallels between the original Star Wars and this latest installment. Sagas, after all, are often iterative. That’s the nature of human storytelling. I quite enjoyed the mixing of familiar characters and tropes with new characters and twists. So what was my problem?

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