Freedom of Conscience and Health Care Workers

In a society such as our which highly values personal freedoms, individual choice, and following the dictates of one’s conscience, there are going to be many conflicts between the rights of individuals or the right of society over individuals.  Such a conflict is on-going in the health care industry where health care professionals may at times be expected or required to offer services which they find morally reprehensible or even evil.   A 31 July 2008 Washington Post article, Worker’s Religious Freedom Vs. Patient Rights, address this issue and the efforts of the Bush administration to grant some protection to the individual rights of care givers especially as related to reproductive issues.  According to the article:

“The Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing a draft regulation that would deny federal funding to any hospital, clinic, health plan or other entity that does not accommodate employees who want to opt out of participating in care that runs counter to their personal convictions, including providing birth-control pills, IUDs and the Plan B emergency contraceptive.”

We already in our society recognize conscientious objection when it comes to serving in military combat roles.  The thinking of this proposal actually seems to be simply allowing such thinking for health care workers.  Health care agencies would only be required to assure that individual workers have an ability to opt out of being involved in processes or procedures which violate their own conscience.

“Richard S. Myers, a law professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich., said: ‘Religious freedom is an important part of the history of this country. People who have a religious or moral belief should not be forced to participate in an act they find abhorrent.'”

Abortion rights people have objected for years to being forced to advocate sexual abstinence or to have to counsel women against abortions.  The issue is the same – they don’t want anyone to tread on their consciences and they don’t want to have to advocate things they disagree with.  The proposal by Health and Human Services is trying to ensure that the conscience of the individual is respected by private agencies and by the government.

The Opposite of Love is Self-love

The opposite of love is not hate, but rather is self love.

Love is always directed toward another, toward someone else (love God, love neighbor).  It is recognition that others exist, and have a right to exist and that they can have expectations of me.  The other does not exist just to meet my needs, but exists because God has called them into existence.  Love is the basis for all that Christ did.  He is love incarnate.  He practices self emptying, kenotic love.  The Christian is to imitate this love as he/she deals with the world.

Self love is not directed toward the other, but is focused on the self.  Self love is self enclosed and not much concerned about the other, if it even recognizes that others actually exist.

Self love is the basis of much sin – it looks good to me and so I do it.  It is the basis for the sin of Eve.  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6).  Self love does not consider what effect what one does will have on others.  It does not consider what effect what one does will have on one’s relationships.

Love is based in the notion that humans are created by God as and to be social beings.  We are created in relationship to others and for the express purpose of being in relationship with others.  Self love is rooted in extreme individualism which isolates and alienates.

Self love ultimate does not lead to freedom, but rather imprisons the self in itself.  True love is liberating as it helps the self to overcome its limitations and to grow into being all that a human is capable of being including sharing in the blessed life of the Holy Trinity.

Christian Ministry and Homosexual Rights

One of the things I have learned about blogging is that exchanges between persons of different beliefs take place on a level playing field.  I mean by this that no one can assume a position of superiority (moral, truthful, authoritative) on a field in which others do not necessarily recognize the same authorities, or the same scriptures, or the same assumptions.  In this world,  trust and integrity are the real commodities you have, and they are earned based upon your willingness to truly listen and sincerely dialogue even about points of disagreement.

One issue which I think is an important pastoral issue for the Church today is dealing with homosexuals.  On one hand some Christians seem willing virtually to demonize gays as if homosexuality were the unforgiveable sin, yet it isn’t given that status in Scriptures or Tradition.  On the other hand, recognizing that homosexuality may be a tendency not chosen by an individual but somehow part of their personality, can also become an excuse for accepting all/any sexual behavior and in effect approving amorality if not immorality.

Homosexuals are human beings and thus are made in the image and likeness of God and given the same Spirit to breathe that all humans are given.  And they live in the same fallen world as all heterosexuals.   I don’t conceive of homosexuality as a sin because I don’t think heterosexuality is a virtue.  On the other hand I do believe that homosexuals like heterosexuals do sin and can repent, can love, can forgive, can pray, can believe, can do good and can do evil, and can practice self denial and self control. 

The issue of what ministry to homosexuals means, is one of great concern and complexity to me.   I do believe that the Church is to practice a compassionate ministry to each human being.  Our goal in the Church is to help each person be a disciple of Christ, to live the Christian life, to embrace the Gospel.  If people come to the Church to be Christians, then we can walk together toward the Kingdom of God.  But if people come to have their sexuality blessed without the willingness to take up the cross and follow Christ, without the willingness to be disciples and accept the Lordship of Christ, without a willingness to repent and forgive and love others, then we don’t have a lot to talk about.  If people are willing to see themselves first and foremost as Christian, then we can walk together on the road to the kingdom, regardless of their sexuality.   Christian love is the opposite of self love.  Self love is always geared toward satisfying the self and is self oreiented.  But true love, Christian love, is always oriented toward the other and often requires self emptying, self sacrifice and self denial.

To give an idea of the difficulty of understanding what it means to engage in compassionate ministry to homosexuals, I would say to read  The Truth about the Homosexual Rights Movement.    For in this article we see that the sense of what compassion consists can easily be confused or misused.  I think the strong point of the article is that it tells us that a one-size-fits-all thinking in pastoral ministry will not work.   We must be willing to minister to individuals and their needs, concerns, fears and hopes, rather than treat each person as a stereotype.  And we need to engage people from all walks of life and beliefs with respect remembering the goal is their salvation not their condemnation.   Christian mission will at times comfort the afflicted but will at other times afflict the comfortable.    It will do this because it always is seeking to speak the truth in love.

The web is only 5,000 Days old

Big Bang theory says the universe is some 15 Billion years old – 5,475 Trillion days old.

If you read the Bible literally, from the time of Adam there was about 6,000 years – 2.19 million days.

The web is only about 5000 DAYS old.

It took a little less than 15 billion years to produce the first human.  It took the humans about 6000 years to create the web.  Just think how much the web has changed in its first 5000 DAYS and how rapidly change is now taking place.

The Couple Checkup: Strengthening Your Marriage

David H. Olson, Amy Olson-Sigg and Peter J. Larson who develop  the Prepare/Enrich materials to help prepare couples for marriage and to help strengthen marital relations wrote an article,  Find Your Relationship Strengths: The Couple Checkup.  An excerpt from that article appears below.

 “… what we have in America are unrealistic and unhelpful attitudes and relationship norms. We choose our mates based on initial feels of love, assuming love alone will sustain the life of a relationship. We are not committed to making marriages work, evident by the fact that most divorce occurs not because of intense or recurrent problems such as violence or infidelity, but because the relationship is no longer satisfying. Forgetting that relationships are living, growing entities, we make the mistake of assuming that a great relationship will remain great forever. When it doesn’t we forget that we can play an active and assertive role in the outcome. Sometimes we move onto a new relationship, which is often just leaving one set of problems for a set of different ones.  …

Relationships are analogous to bridges, in that they are built to sustain the climate and needs of a couple at a set point in time, but time changes…families grow, transform, evolve. With bridges, weather elements cause erosion and require periodic checks and repair. If relationships are not continually maintained, they, too, erode with the passage of time and internal and external demands on the relationship.

We need to plan for relationships in an intentional and deliberate manner. A life partnership certainly requires more planning than a wedding ceremony. Couples need to commit to marriage, with eyes wide open, knowing there may be moments when it feels as though their commitment is all they have. Couples must conceptualize their relationship as the dynamic, living, growing, changing entity that it is. Hence, they must care for it knowing it is subtly changing and shifting with time.

Prepare/Enrich has developed some new materials to help strengthen couples:  The Couple Checkup.   Any parishioner who would like to strengthen their marital bond can ask Fr. Ted about using these materials.   Fr. Ted has been trained by Prepare/Enrich for use of their materials.

Bearing with the Failings of the Weak

Sermon Notes for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost   July 21, 1996

“We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.  For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”    ….    May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Romans 15:1-7)

In Sigrid Undset’s wonderful trilogy THE MASTER OF HESTVIKEN (VOL 1 THE AXE), Olav had committed himself to marry Ingunn but found she came along with a lot of old baggage and problems, including health problems, some mental health frailties and an illegitimate son. Olav thought his happiness and his love were all that mattered, but he came to a spiritual realization, that the love and happiness which he felt with Ingunn were not the real or even the most important issues; what really mattered was that his commitment to her meant he was going to have to bear with her problems, and to help carry her through them.  Undset wrote in the story:

“Now it was revealed to him that what had happened when he had taken her in his arms, plucked her flower, and breathed its sweetness and its scent, was only something that had chanced by the way.   But what really mattered, when it came to the point, was that she had been placed in his arms in order that he might carry her through everything, take the burden from her and defend her.  That was to be his happiness, the other was no more than passing joys.”

The Transfiguration: Man Fulfilling His Mission

“According to St. Maximus, man’s primary mission was to unite Paradise with the rest of the earth, and thereby to enable all other created beings to participate in the conditions of ParadiseThus Adam was to enable all other creatures to participate in the order, harmony and peace of which his own nature benefitted because of its union with God, and this included the incorruptibility and immortality he received.  But once Adam turned away from God, nature was no longer subject to him.  Following Adam’s sin, disorder established itself between the beings of creation as it did within man himself.”   (Jean-Claude Larchet, THE THEOLOGY OF ILLNESS)   This thinking is most interesting because it suggests that the earth itself was outside the boundary of Paradise and did not originally share in the blessed life of God’s Garden of Delight.  God gave humans the task of transfiguring and transforming the earth so that it too could participate in the conditions of Paradise once humanity had so transformed the earth.  Thus sin, the human fall, did not take Paradise away from the earth as it did for Adam and Eve, but rather it prevented the earth from becoming what God intended it to be because humanity had forsaken its role to connect earth to paradise and to garden the earth to transform it into paradise.  God apparently intended the humans to have the power to transform earth into paradise – He shared His creative power with the humans.  Humanity however rebelled against this role, and in rejecting God’s Lordship also lost the power to transfigure and transform the earth.  The earth remained un-transfigured and the humans powerless to transfigure it until the Word became flesh and Christ re-instituted the transfiguration of the world which God intended for humans to accomplish from the beginning. Christ came into the world to unite paradise to earth and earth to heaven.    “What is it, we ask, that links Paradise in the past (Genesis 1-2) with Paradise in the future (Revelation 21-22)?  There is but one answer: the Cross.  Without cross-bearing, there can be no cosmic transfiguration.”    (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia)   Christ in the incarnation, by uniting creation to divinity, and by restoring the union of God with human nature, once again makes it possible for humans to transfigure the world.  Christ restores to humanity the very role and power God intended us to have from the beginning.   The Feast of the Transfiguration is the Feast celebrating not only God transfiguring the world, but God restoring to humans the power to transfigure the world.  Christ reveals not just God’s humble power, but how God had exalted humans from the beginning.

See also my blog:  Tablets of Stone: Do not Petrify the Word of God

Democracy in America

As I heard on the Writer’s Almanac today (Tuesday, July 29, 2008) :

 Today is the birthday of Alexis de Toqueville, French aristocrat who in 1835 wrote DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA after touring the United States.  

What impressed Toqueville the most was that American democracy actually worked.  He wrote, “America demonstrates invincibly one thing that I had doubted up to now: that the middle classes can govern a State. … Despite their small passions, their incomplete education, their vulgar habits, they can obviously provide a practical sort of intelligence and that turns out to be enough.”

Gospel Lessons: Never Simply Bare Historical Facts

“As I have explained and shown … the evangelists always included stories in their Gospel books for the purpose of conveying a message, never simply to record bare historical facts.”  (Fr. Paul Tarazi,   THE NEW TESTAMENT INTRODUCTION: JOHANNINE WRITINGS, p 199)

This truth was always known by the Church.  However, because at times Christians in search of that deeper message of the scriptures became somewhat fanciful in their interpretations of various passages, there occurred a reaction against such messages during the Protestant Reformation.   The Reformation challenged the deeper messages which the Catholic Church saw in the scriptures, but then during the Enlightenment the Reformation itself was challenged by the demands of scientific rationalism for absolute “scientific” and historical facts rather than lessons of faith.  This movement pushed Protestantism toward greater biblical literalism and the reduction of the Gospel lessons themselves to bare historical facts.  While biblical literalists claim to be seeking and teaching “the truth” they in fact accept the secular scientific definition of truth and forced the Word of God to become a scientific text book.   This is biblical reductionism.

Treating the Gospel books as mere historical facts, causes people to lose sight of the meaning of miracles for example.  The miracles are presented in the Gospel books as signs of the kingdom of God.  But when we forget that message, we reduce the miracles from signs of God’s kingdom to perks and benefits in this world and lose the full power and meaning of the Gospel lessons.  One need only remember John 6:26-27:  

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” 

When we reduce the lessons of God’s kingdom to bare historical facts, we also end up turning the Lord God into a menial servant whom we feel we should be able to order about and demand from him to do for us everything we want – we think God is to work for us and be our servant.  And it causes people not to seek out a relationship with God, but to seek out miracles that give us what we want.  We end up seeking out the gifts rather than the Giver.

Reductionism in interpreting the scriptures – the Word of God – leads to reducing the Word of God, the Lord of the Universe, to some kind of servant genie.

St. Paul Parish Icon Project

St. Paul Orthodox Church, Dayton, OH, which is celebrating with all of Christianity The Year of St. Paul in honor of the 2000th Birthday of St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations is also preparing for its 25th Anniversary as a parish community in 2010.  As part of the celebration, the community is adding some icons to the sanctuary.  You can view the Icon Project.   Your prayers for our community are always appreciated.   If you would like to contribute to the Icon Fund go to the Icon Project Web Page for information about where to send your donation.