Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Binocular Religious Wisdom: Learning from Multiple Religious Participation

By John J. Thatamanil

I am a Christian theologian who loves Buddhism.

Unlike some who turn to Buddhism because of trauma from a toxic or inadequate version of Christianity, my love for Buddhism is not a product of alienation. My religious family of origin is not ideal—no family is—but my first Christian home, the Mar Thoma Church, and now the Episcopal Church, have done right by me. They both convey to me a progressive, justice-seeking, and reflective Christianity, one that never demands that I sacrifice intellect in order to embrace faith.

So why the fascination with Buddhism?

I am drawn to Buddhist traditions not to correct felt deficits in my own tradition, but to deepen my experience of the world by entering into another way of understanding and living. I seek a new kind of wisdom that our age requires.

In an older era, a person was accounted wise if he or she attained to a practical mastery of one tradition. Think St. Francis of Assisi. But our age requires also (not instead of) a new kind of wisdom: the capacity to see the world through more than one set of religious lenses and to integrate into one life, insofar as possible, what is disclosed through those lenses. Think Mahatma Gandhi. His theory and practice of nonviolent resistance integrated ideas and practices drawn from Jainism, Christianity (Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in particular), and, of course, Hinduism.

For lack of a better phrase, I call this binocular wisdom, an extension from binocular vision, vision generated by both eyes, the only kind that yields depth perspective.

We need the depth perspective of binocular wisdom for many reasons. First, increasingly many among us incorporate into our lives religious practices drawn from more than one tradition. Christians who do vipassana meditation or yoga are increasingly the norm. What is less common is reflection about the meaning of multiple religious participation. Few ask how, for example, the Buddhist wisdom that drives vipassana and Christian wisdom enacted in the Eucharist might be held together.

We also need this kind of wisdom because interfaith marriages are becoming routine. A great temptation here is to downplay religious matters for fear of conflict. Or, the most insistent parent is permitted to win: all right, the kids can go to church and not synagogue. But what about the possibility of thinking about this kind of double life as a source of promise and not a divisive problem? We need binocular wisdom to pull this off.

And, of course, we also need binocular wisdom to address the vast global crises of our time such as the growing gap worldwide between the rich and the poor and ecological problems that no tradition can navigate alone. Christian teaching about the natural world as God’s good creation when taken together with the Buddhist quest to end self-seeking desire promises more than either tradition can offer alone.

How might such wisdom and integration work?

Let’s begin with a small example: “Life hurts.” That is my working, albeit non-standard, translation of the Pali phrase sabbham dukkham, the First of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, which is customarily translated, “All is suffering.” The latter is the more accurate translation, literally speaking, although it suggests that neither pleasure, satisfaction, nor contentment is possible in life. That is a manifestly mistaken reading of Buddhist wisdom. One need only spend a few minutes around Tibetan Buddhist monks or enter a vast lecture hall in which the Dalai Lama is speaking to feel in one’s bones the profound joy that marks the lives of advanced practitioners.

So, what does the First Noble Truth show me as it is lived out in practice?

To say that life hurts is to name a truth that most of us spend every waking moment avoiding. Through mindfulness practice which, counter-intuitively, is the practice of leaning into life’s hurts rather than running away from them, I am coming to see daily just how much time I spend in futile attempts to evade regular visitations of pain. The memory of a lost love, the sudden intrusion into mind of some personal failing, the nagging anxiety of the undone task —mindfulness practice helps me to recognize and abandon my unrealistic quest either to avoid or to anesthetize myself from these jabs of hurt that visit me, often many times a minute.

By holding my aversion to pain in gentle, compassionate, and attentive regard — another way to understand mindfulness — I gain a measure of liberation (the standard translation of “nirvana”) from the conditioned, even addictive patterns that drive my behavior. Still more, the practice of compassionate regard is happily addictive, and it bleeds over into my disposition toward others. I am reminded that others too are making their way through twinges, jabs, and outright blows of suffering. The irritations, failings, and even the flat out nastiness of others are not about me but the disturbing fruit of unaddressed hurt.

What does this practice mean for my Christian life? As my own vipassana teacher, Gordon Peerman, an Episcopal priest who is also an advanced Buddhist practitioner, loves to say, “Buddhist practice enables me to operationalize the Christian calling to love my neighbor.” That sounds exactly right to me because it is confirmed in my experience.

I am no saint. But I am now somewhat less prone to irritation when my tween daughter insists on winning an argument. That is no advanced accomplishment on the road to mystic vision, but it is a lovely gift on the way toward a gentler life, a life that is all the more Christian for being Buddhist.

* John J. Thatamanil is currently Assistant Professor of Theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School. This Summer, he will move to Union Theological Seminary as Associate Professor of Theology and World Religions. He is the author of The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament (Fortress, 2006).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Same Sex Marriage in Sweden

By Ann-Cathrin Jarl

Since November 1, 2009, it has been possible for same-sex couples to get married in the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran church with about 7 million members. Sweden has 9.4 million inhabitants.

The path to this change wasn’t easy. First, the Swedish parliament passed a law allowing same-sex couples to get married, which went into effect on May 1, 2009. The Church of Sweden (CoS) has always had the right to perform marriage under the law, a right that is now extended to other religious communities. When the law was passed, it became possible for CoS to decide to perform same-sex marriages. Five months later, the decision passed the General Synod.

The General Synod allowed for priests who do not want to marry same-sex people to abstain. The vicar in the parish must find a priest for the couple. A small number of priests will not perform same-sex marriages. They are mostly in very traditional parts of the country. But I haven’t heard of any actual incident yet.

Seventy-four percent of the Swedish population are supportive of lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer (LBGTQ) people and hence toward marriage rights. LBGTQ people are allowed to adopt children and to get artificial insemination.

We have come a long way but the road has been bumpy and long. In particular, let us never forget the young people who could not stand the pressure and hence are no longer among us. The LBGTQ movement has found a large percentage of teen suicides to be due to sexual orientation. And let us remember the Matthew Shepards of this world, those who are brutalized and killed for being homosexual.

In 1995 same-sex couples in Sweden were allowed to enter into partnership, which was then legally recognized and almost parallel to marriage. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the bishop’s conference gave advice on spiritual care and blessings for same-sex couples. The issue was discussed repeatedly in the General Synod until the final decision in 2009. This time the CoS, the General Synod, and the Swedish people were really ready. And today there is hardly any discussion.

Unfortunately, the CoS is still the only church in Sweden performing same-sex marriages. The Swedish Covenant Church, which is akin to the Presbyterian Church, has decided to allow pastors and congregations to apply for marriage rights for same-sex couples starting in March 2011.

To be in the forefront of social change means that you take risks. For same-sex marriage, this is true especially within the ecumenical movement. The Russian Orthodox Church has refused to deal with the CoS on a bilateral basis since 1995 when the CoS accepted the partnership law. Some of the CoS partner churches in Africa are posing hard questions for us. The Lutheran World Federation is in a process to study issues relating to human sexuality.

The CoS aims to carefully explain the reasons for its position regarding marriage, but not to convince or propagate its view. Marriage is a function for the couple and for society and not for salvation. Jesus was careful to pledge for the orphans and for the widows. It is a task for the Church to support those who are in need of support. The righteous are unknown to us.

Looking back it is clear that the LBGTQ liberation movement of the early 1970s, which is still going on, has made all the difference. If the LBGTQ people had not argued, fought, demonstrated, written, and demanded full human rights, it would not have happened. The movement is as important today as it ever was, considering how LBGTQ people are still criminalized around the globe.

* The Reverend Dr. Ann-Cathrin Jarl is chaplain to the Archbishop of the Church of Sweden and author of In Justice: Women and Global Economics (Fortress Press, 2003).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Blessings Along The Way: Understanding Righteousness

By James Strader

A priest once told me that one person’s righteousness is another person’s curse.

How regrettable if his statement is true. Righteousness, in a broad sense, is defined as the state of a person who is as she or he, ought to be. A condition acceptable to God. Matthew’s Jesus, as we’re (Re)learning in Lectionary Year A, more so than Jesus in any of the other gospels, focuses on righteousness.

The Greek work for Righteousness appears six times in Matthew. You can’t find it in Mark at all, only once in Luke, and twice in John. Matthew is all on it, this Righteousness theme; why?

It’s akin to reading any other piece of literature, to understand the text you have to understand the author’s context. We Anglicans, incorporate the gift of God-given reason to interpret scripture and consequently seek to live righteous, merciful, peace-loving Christian lives in a complex, and often evil, world.

Matthew’s frame of reference is vastly different than ours, but he’s got one, and the Gospel we have received from him expresses it. It is not a mistake that Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount takes place on a mountain much like the one that Moses came down from when he delivered the Ten Commandments to the Israelites.

Matthew’s goal is to recognize Jesus’ obedience to, and preservation of, Biblical law (Levine, 2001). Jews of Matthew’s context were bound to a covenant with God and by God they were supposed to live perfectly. If the Law of Moses was meant to provide divine guidance for the ancient Israelites then Jesus’ teachings are meant to provide divine guidance for his followers.

There’s one critical issue to keep at the center of our hearts in terms of righteous living. This Kingdom of Heaven of Matthew's Jesus has come near (Matthew 4:17). The Reign of God is a reference to God’s presence on Earth, a universal state of being that God provides, by overthrowing the forces of evil (Ehrman, 2000). It is our responsibility and mission to participate in the in-breaking of Christ’s presence of justice and compassion, today.

It is Jesus’ commandment for us to see his fulfillment of The Law as a means to move past prescriptive law; into living more fully in the state of grace that Christ provides for us.

For centuries, societies have used laws as a means for humans to respect and care for each other. The revolutionary events that we are witnessing in the Middle East, are examples of the  needs people yearn for when they are oppressed under political systems that set aside human dignity and freedom.

Christianity is not merely about social justice. It is not a community organizing effort. Christianity is about living into Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection in spiritual, pastoral, and prophetic ways. It’s about jumping right into messy human relationships and finding Christ there.

Instead of giving ourselves a grade on righteousness, how about we shift focus to what’s going on in the lives of the young or elderly who live in the neighborhoods around us.

How might we better spend our time evaluating the nature of our Christian lives, and gaze on the world through Jesus’ eyes of compassion and mercy? Striving to be dedicated co-creators of Jesus’ Reign here and now, is where and when, we can strive to claim Matthean Jesus righteousness.

There are innumerable opportunities for such Christian righteousness, including the (in)direct support of people close to our homes and around the world who need us to walk two miles, rather than one with them.

*  The Rev. Jim Strader ('03) presently serves as curate at St. George's by the River Episcopal Church in Rumson, NJ. He occasionally blogs at Christian Quandary - Faith for now

Monday, February 14, 2011

What do the words “Jewish” and “Anglican” have in common?

By Larry Wills
Why is religious identity so tightly associated with our titles for things? Is religious identity a timeless and unchanging thing which lies at the core of a people, or does it evolve as a result of changes from outside, and indeed separately, from the titles we apply?
“Anglican” and “Jewish” are adjectives that designate religious bodies, but they have a surprisingly parallel history. Scholars of early Judaism note that Israel was the more common identity term used by those who worshipped God at the Jerusalem temple. There were twelve tribes in all, and the word “Jew” originally meant Judean, one from the tribe of Judah or Judea, where Jerusalem was located.
When the elite among the Judeans were taken away in the Babylonian exile and some of their descendants returned later under the Persians, they insisted that they, and not the people who had remained in the land, were the true Judeans.
So the word Jew or Judean was originally a geographical marker, and probably became an ethnic marker of those who were living in Babylon and Persia, and only when they returned with this marker did it become an affirmation of identity with the center of Israel, the temple in Judah.
But Judean was still not a commonly used marker, and it still had a geographical focus more than a global religious focus. Some Jewish authors used it often, most did not. In the Mishnah, the first collection of rabbinic rulings, it is used only four times. Some texts of the New Testament also use it rarely.
However, globalism influenced the meaning of “Jewish.” When people oriented toward Jerusalem moved out into the larger world (the diaspora) they also identified as Jews or Judeans—those who revered the God worshipped in Judah. Judean was again an ethnic marker but also became a “religious” designation: those whose religion was based on the God worshipped in Judea. One didn’t need to be located in Judea, and one could convert to the religion or leave it behind. So “Jew” began as a geographical term, became an ethnic identifier in the larger world, and only gradually became a term denoting a religion that one could convert to or depart from.
“Anglican” has a strangely similar history. The Christian church in England was called in Latin Ecclesia Anglicana, the English church—a geographical adjective. The Latin term was rarely used, and even after the English Reformation it was more common to say Church of England or even simply the Church. “Anglican” was a geographical term but not very powerful as an identity term.
Globalism affected this term just as it did “Jew.” A new term arose in the 19th century, “Anglicanism,” as a term to distinguish the tradition of the Church of England from other world-wide churches, and it was shifting from a geographical term to an ethnic ideal in colonization, and then to a religious identity in a world of competing global churches.
This situation evidently continued until the 20th century, when an originally colonized group perched at the margins—American Episcopalians—perceived a need to make reference to the distinction between the two groups. In addition, the greater importance of other originally colonized groups perched at the margins—members of the Church of England in Africa, India, and Asia—perceived a need for a word that was more “religious” than merely geographical or ethnic. A new diaspora of people converted through colonization saw in the word “Anglican” a religious identity that it had not formerly had.
The words Jewish and Anglican began as geographical terms, rarely used, with little power as identity markers, but because of ancient and modern colonization were pressed into service, first as ethnic markers and finally with a much stronger religious identity that claimed to transcend the center. From that point the heated debate could be taken up: “What is a Jew?” “What is an Anglican?” And in both cases, various groups within the bodies have claimed to own the true meaning of the term.

* Larry Wills is Ethelbert Talbot Professor of Biblical Studies at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Churches that commune

By Brett Donham

Winston Churchill once said, “Initially we shape our buildings and then, thereafter, they shape us.” This is never truer than with our places of worship. By and large, these buildings, as beautiful as they can be, frustrate the purpose for which they were built, or the purpose for which they should have been built. They can stifle the formation of fully engaged Christians.

Today, in many places, church buildings are being built and existing ones remodeled to serve a new model of “church” (the people gathered), that harks back to the early days of Christianity. In these places people gather in community to offer praise and thanksgiving, to reflect on scripture, to share stories about Jesus Christ and his impact on their lives, to share a commemorative meal, and through this to come into communion with Christ, and with one another. These are communal activities, with many players, several centers of action and movement, and require the ability to see one another and feel as a gathered body.

The traditional forms of church buildings, with everyone facing in the same direction and with the “expert”; the intermediary or interpreter, on a raised stage addressing an audience is the antithesis of gathering in community. The ministry of all the baptized, the gift of the Holy Spirit that says we all have something to contribute, has no acknowledged place in this style of church building. Church as a spectator activity doesn’t engage people in the ongoing work of formation. Only buildings that encourage a sense of community and participation can create the apostles necessary to invigorate the Church.

One such church building is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline, Massachusetts. Originally designed by Richard Upjohn at the high point of the Oxford Movement, that sees the Holy as dark, mysterious and unapproachable; the building was reconstructed after a disastrous fire that left only the four walls and the tower standing. [See the 1849 plan].
1849 Plan
After two years of mourning, reflection, planning and discernment, the building was reconstructed in a centralized form. The former chancel was closed off to make a chapel. The altar which had been set against the east wall was moved a third of the way into the space. Dormers were added to the roof to flood the altar area with natural light, and the seating was wrapped around the altar on three sides with the choir seated on the fourth. [See the new plan].

New Plan

All the congregants are in close relationship to the altar area and members easily come forward to read scripture, assist with Communion and healing prayer, and offer announcements of mission opportunities and parish activities. Intercessory prayer is offered from the seated congregation, but because of the close seating arrangement, all can hear them. The altar, which is movable, sits on a platform around which the congregation gathers for Communion. As worshippers leave the circle to return to their chairs, others take their place. The priest and chalice bearer move around the platform, serving the bread and the wine, until all have received.

My last eight years as a trustee of Episcopal Divinity School, interacting with students and faculty, participating in worship and the classroom, have taught me the centrality of community in forming apostles and faithful people. I believe we need to rediscover our first century roots. Our theology demands it; the future of the Church demands it; creating the Kingdom here on earth demands it. Our designs of spaces for worship need to support it.

*Brett Donham is an architect whose practice includes churches. He is a trustee of Episcopal Divinity School.
(The photo shows St. Paul's Church Brookline, MA)

Monday, February 7, 2011

What we can learn from Afro-Anglican churches

By Charles A. Wynder, Jr.

February 13 is the feast day of Absalom Jones, the first Black priest in the Episcopal Church.* This celebration of Absalom Jones’ life and ministry provides an opportunity for Black Episcopalians to reflect upon the mission, ministry, and leadership of Black congregations in the Episcopal Church. In fact, such Afro-Anglican congregations can teach the wider Episcopal Church how to relate to an increasingly diverse African Anglican Communion in the world.

Predominantly Black congregations in the Episcopal Church survive as a legacy of Absalom Jones. Much like other congregations in the Episcopal Church, these parishes face the challenges and opportunities of a changing world. They must discern their mission and ministry for the 21st century.

The Black presence in the Episcopal Church is truly Afro-Anglican. It is composed of African Americans, Afro-Caribbean, and Africans. This multicultural body of Afro-Anglicans represents a minority of congregations, clergy, and laity inside an overwhelmingly white denomination.

This body mirrors an increasing diversity within the Black community of the United States. Large cities in various parts of the country have an increasingly diverse population of people of African descent. The meaning of Blackness in the United States continues to evolve based on the multiple voices and experiences within communities of African descent. Grappling with issues of identity among diverse people can be particularly challenging. The Afro-Anglican presence in the Episcopal Church is a place for us to discern a way forward.

These congregations bring together people of different histories, cultures, languages, and ideas about governance and worship. They co-locate people with a postcolonial perspective (for example, from Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean) along with people descended from American slavery. How do these people come together to serve God and engage God’s mission?

It is not an easy proposition. It requires this diverse body of God’s people to move to a place of valuing each other. Mutual respect of the multiple histories and cultures can facilitate new understanding among the various communities within the congregations. Looking for and listening to the different voices in the congregation enhance understanding. It is in hearing the multiple voices with different accents and sounds anew that we are able engage in rich dialogue. The dialogue about the mission of God should not, however, take place in one tongue.

A house of prayer for all peoples requires us to fully solicit and embrace the full range of experience, voice, and perspective in the congregation. This process equips Afro-Anglican congregations to understand the multiple centers of power, culture, and meaning within the church. The Afro-Anglican body by definition has more than one culture and understanding of knowing and being.

Effective exercised leadership that is shared by clergy and the laity is not threatened by the multiple voices, power centers, and cultural background. Such leadership builds relationships and engages in dialogue to further understanding, peace, and reconciliation where needed. This type of relational ministry can serve to build up the capacity of congregations to look outside of themselves and embrace the surrounding communities.

Developing the inner capacity and desire to turn outward is key to engaging God’s mission. This is where the discernment of these churches must turn. What is God calling these Afro-Anglican congregations to do in the world? How can they meet the needs of the people in the neighborhood? What type of ministries must they develop to meet the needs of the people in their largely urban context?

Exploring these questions is part of the essential discernment of the vocation of a parish. To envision the mission, leadership, and ministry of Afro-Anglican parishes would be a gift to the larger Episcopal Church. Imagine the possibilities of the Afro-Anglican community in the United States guiding Episcopal Church in discerning in mission, ministry, and leadership in a diverse and largely African Anglican Communion. Let us learn from one another and grow together.

Charles A. Wynder, Jr. is a second year MDiv student at the Episcopal Divinity School.


* Absalom Jones, the first Black priest in the Episcopal Church, participated in establishing St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The admission of St. Thomas into the Episcopal Church in 1794 and Jones’ ordination provided a semi-autonomous space and place for Black Episcopalians.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

But Is That Theological?

By Mark Lewis Taylor
She reaches for the song that gets her through the day.
They break into a chant, and hold on tight as they are arrested together for protesting policies of torture in front of the U.S. White House.
He captures on video the faces of wounded survivors and images of the dead, burned by U.S. white phosphorous bombings in Fallujah, Iraq - galvanizing international critique of U.S. war-making in Iraq.

The years drag on in the refugee camp, but seemingly futureless youth, take up paint and imagination to color the camp walls in murals of fight and freedom.

These gestures of song, chanting with clasped hands, the video image gone viral, refugee youth painting murals on walls – could these be theological?

One early reviewer of my new book, The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World, found the book’s concepts tough-going, but helpful for answering his religious friends who dismiss his dearest language of devotion and struggle with the words: “But is that theological?”

It’s a question I often hear uttered by guardians of official guild Theology, about those who live under imposed suffering, and who find power for living in their arts – poetry, music, painting, and more - catalyzing their hope amid suffering. Is that theological?

Theologians, too, struggle with the question. What is the theological and theology, anyway? When theologians desire to write about what matters amid the unrepeatable tensions of our age, that desire often takes us to theories, arts and genres that are hardly the usual stuff of Theology.

We are led to reflect not simply on sites of suffering in general - anxiety, guilt, sickness, death. When the worlds of suffering are those of politically-sustained, social suffering, the discourses that matter most are often the popular arts. They often rival the seemingly intransigent forces that weigh heavily upon repressed peoples everywhere, who, nevertheless weigh-in with resilience against the everyday, callous mixes of colonialism, modernity and imperial power.

Go to the “Holy Land” to find the theological, I suggest. You won’t find it so much along the ways of the Jesus Inc. shrines and walkways. You’ll find it more among the Palestinian and Jewish artists yearning to end Israel’s illegal occupation and miles of imprisoning wall.

The land is afflicted by a most unholy occupation, dividing and confining Palestinians, cutting across their lands, ruining hopes for jobs, land, a contiguous state, and, often, threatening dignity itself. Achille Mbembe sees Israel’s apparatus of power in Palestine, backed by the U.S. as “the most accomplished form of . . . late-modern colonial occupation.” Jewish historian, Illan Pape, writes of “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”

Yet the theological thrives. Artful gestures of resistance can be seen in the murals of the Dheisheh refugee camp, which I was permitted to visit and photograph. One muralist depicts the overall history, displaying the dates of upheaval that sent Palestinians into the camps or diaspora.

The Israeli caterpillar tractors that raze Palestinian homes are re-imagined as skeletons dealing death, but they too are now dying; they are bony things, confined by their own wall-building addiction. Artists implant these death machines in a cemetery of flowers, portending the death of Israel’s abusive machinations of power.

As in camps and communities of suffering the world-over, it is mothers and children, often together with the aged and the infirm, who suffer most. Yet even they can be conjured by the refugee artist as agents of power. Grasping the uprooted olive trees marking the Nakba,“catastrophic destruction” of homes, lands, and peoples, the mothers shown in the mural draw strength from the land, grasp their children and pose a veritable specter of liberation dwarfing the soldiers who enforce destruction in the name of a gruesome Pax Americana/Israelica.

This art expresses and catalyzes quotidian practices of resistance, in part organized through its Ibda'a Cultural Center (“ibda’a” meaning “creativity”).
It is not the artful gesture alone that liberates. It is the art, intrinsic to a people, that sustains and catalyzes everyday resilience and challenges the powers that would reduce them to mere disposable peoples. That’s the theological.
* Mark Lewis Taylor is Professor of Theology and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary. He took the photographs accompanying this text on a 2007 visit to Palestine and Jordan. His most recent book is The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World (Fortress Press, 2011).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A meditation on change

by Ed Rodman

As a member of Change Team II I am offering this meditation.  As we begin the spring semester in the wake of the Martin Luther King Holiday, it might be helpful to explore the fundamental elements of King’s call to strive for the  “Beloved Community."

The four pillars of the beloved community are history, compassion, vision and sacrifice. They are held together by a basic commitment to the non-violent resolution of conflict and given energy and direction by a group-centered style of leadership. 

It was Malcolm X who noted that “history is the only subject that rewards all research.”  In that vein I invite the community to engage in a simple exercise that I challenged last semester’s Foundation to “try on;” to wit, Google the Know Nothing Party. 

You will find some very interesting parallels to many dynamics that are playing out in our culture today vis a vis the Tea Party and calls for more civil discourse. 

If we are to learn from history with the idea of not repeating our mistakes, it is critical that we have a sound theologically based social analysis that can understand, and not succumb to the passing passions and fads of the day. 

Maya Angelou noted, “history with all of its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again.”  It is the “face it with courage” part that our society has great difficulty with, and therefore is continually replaying the various loops of nativism, mccarthyism, religious bigotry, etc. 

The Know Nothing Party had the best name for it and I am sure that if they had lasted long enough to have a symbol it would have been the ostrich.  As you read up on this period of uncivil discourse and harmful demonizing and polarization, you may have a greater feel for the passions that fanned the flames of the Civil War and many subsequent conflicts, both foreign and domestic.  

As Christians, I believe we are called "conservatives who status quo has yet to be achieved."  Jesus said it better “we are called to be in the world and not of the world.”

* Rev. Canon Edward W. Rodman is the John Seely Stone Professor of Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.