Are Gay Rights Rules Limiting Religious Freedom?

The headline at the New York Times web site is: Bishops Say Rules on Gay Parents Limit Freedom of Religion.

But the telling line in the story is: "Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government in 2010, about 62 percent of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion.  Only 3 percent came from churches in the diocese (the rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations)."

First off, only 3%!  But lets put that in context, that is still $140,100,000.  If you give everything you can, everything you have, then another comes along and gives ten times as much, that does not diminish what you have done.  What we don't know is how that 140 million compares to the rest of the churches budget.  That would be the truly telling number.


A Prayer by Oscar Romero

A few weeks ago, Professor Schiltz who I had for contracts, read the prayer below at the start of class.  That got me looking for more information about the person the prayer was attributed to.  Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 due to his support of the poor and down-trodden amidst the civil war in El Salvador.  His views were characterized as supporting communism, and the assassination was quite possibly carried out by U.S. trained para-military forces apposing communism.  One can read more about Romero at this site maintained by U.S. Catholic and at Wikipedia.

While reading about Romero I discovered that he may not have written the prayer that follows, but regardless of who wrote the prayer, I love the humility and frankness with which the author writes.

I think the prayer can be especially powerful for those in the midst of starting a new thing, or those looking to create systemic change in the way the world around them operates.

A Prayer by Oscar Romero
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

Networked Blogs

A little test run here with networkedblogs.  I want to see if this blog post gets automatically posted to facebook. If you use networked blogs, how do you like it?


The Communion of Saints

Today I enjoyed an interesting dialog between Mark Osler and Susan Stabil on prayer and intercession from their respective Christian traditions. They were comparing and contrasting Stabil’s Catholic view on intercession and praying to the Saints, with Osler’s Protestant/Ana-Baptist view on intercession.  You can listen to the conversation here.

For Osler, the idea of asking anyone, much less a dead person or Saint to intercede on our behalf was, while not heretical, simply not necessary in light of Christ’s work on the cross and our ability to come freely before the throne of God. That said, Osler none-the-less enjoys learning about the Saints and the role-models they provide for us, sometimes in what not to do.

For Stabil on the other hand, asking others to intercede on her behalf was nothing new, and the fact that a person had passed on to the other side changed nothing, accept maybe that person’s free time and ability to intercede on our behalf, (that last part being said in jest, sort of.) Just as we might ask a trusted friend or family member to intercede for us on our behalf while we are together on earth, we can continue to ask our community, this great cloud of whiteness, Sainted or not, to intercede on our behalf even after they have passed on. Stabil said it is a bit like when you were a child and in trouble. You might ask your friend to go with you to talk to you parents, and in the same way, you and your grandmother might go and talk to Saint Peter, and together you might speak with Christ, asking him to intercede with God the father.

My initial question, which I think I framed rather poorly was, “how much does reality matter?” In other words, what happens when we die? Maybe what I should have asked was “how much does metaphysics matter?” In any case, the question rooted in my somewhat fundamentalist upbringing was this: after we die, can we know and understand what is going on down below, allowing us to intercede on our loved-ones behalf? Can the Saints really pray for us, or are their souls in some kind of soul sleep, awaiting the resurrection of the dead?


What did you learn in law school today Daddy?

Kids and law or hilarious.  I often ask my five-year-old Nicholas what he learned in school today.  So when he turned it around and asked what I learned in [law] school.  I had to think for a second.

"Suppose you have a sucker and I take it away.  Then mommy gives you a new sucker because I took yours.  Should I have to give your sucker back, since you already have a new sucker" I asked. (The collateral source rule)

"No," he says.

"Why not" I ask, going all socratic on him.

"Because that would be too much sugar." (What is wrong with this kid!)

"What if you get to save the second sucker for later?" I ask.

"Yes, then you have to give me back my sucker."

"Well that's what I learned in school today" I replied.


Finding Purpose

About a month ago I attended a lecture by Michael Schutt on the “drudgery of law school.”  He was discussing the endless reading, writing and fact checking and the mundaneness of it all, and how we can respond.  During the lecture he highlighted four issues: dualism, sloth, pride, and as mentioned, drudgery, that is, being frustrated and not enlivened by what we do.

Dualism is that habit we all have of separating our professional life from our spiritual life or values.  There is no separation between what we eat and how that impacts our life, and in the same way, there is no separation between what goes into our spiritual life (or not) and the telling results.  If we pursue professional goals that are at odds with what we say our ethical values are, there will be consequences, not just outwardly, but in our inner life as well.  That does not mean all lawyers should be doing public interest law, not at all.  Only that there has to be consistency between what we believe, whatever that is, and what we do.


Doing the math on Obama's new student debt rules

I came across this article in USAToday on one of the new options on student loan repayment that Obama is implementing through executive order.  While students will still have more traditional options, he is replacing an option that required graduates to pay 15% of discretionary income over 25 years, with a plan that requires 10% over 20 year.  In both cases, any remaining balance is forgiven.  Some question the wisdom of forgiving loans when the government is in debt up to it's eyebrows.  But as you can see below, far from costing the government money, most of the time we the people will actually be making money.


On the militeristic language of scripture

There is a good blog post by Susan Stabil over on her blog which sets up this blog post.  I initially posted this as a response there.

The issue is this: is it ok to use the militaristic language found in the Bible when we pray?  Generally no.  While it might be acceptable on occasion, it is right there in the Bible after all, generally speaking, citizens of the greatest military war machine ever, should not conflate the violent language in scripture with the real world violence that is antithetical to the ways of Christ.  Why?  Because this conflation has led to innumerable exercises in military might when there might have been alternatives.  Paramount to understanding this position is a recognition that in war, it is not just the guilty who die but always the innocent as well.  If we believe the myth that modern warfare is clean and surgical, we will never understand the problem.  But when we come face to face with the reality of war, the real men women and children affected, we come to realize the increasing need for the transforming values of Christ, contrasted to the myth of peace through might which primarily brings suffering.


Troubling Comments at GOP Debates

There have been some troubling comments by the audiences at the recent GOP debates.  No matter one's vision of the greater good, these kind of attitudes detract from the humanity in all of us.

On Texas Executions 
On September 7, when asked about the number of Texas executions, there was wide-spread applause, and excited shrieks. (video)

On the Uninsured
On September 12, in response to a question about an uninsured 30 year-old patient on life support and who should pay, Ron Paul danced around the question, when the moderator followed up with "are you saying we should just let him die" several in the crowed yelled "yes!" (video)

On Gay Soldiers
On September 22, following a gay soldier's question on the repeal of "don't ask don't tell", the soldier was roundly booed. (video)


Justice like a River: Why development needs justice

Moving stuff in this article, Justice like a River: Why development needs justice by Jamie McIntosh and Hiroko Sawai

For those of you interested in international law or development, this is both interesting and saddening.  The article lays out several different areas where a lack of justice leads to increased poverty and suffering.  Fortunately it goes on to describe some of the solutions as well.  The authors have found that the case model, working with people at the ground level, is having a significantly better effect than broad efforts at judicial training and reform.  It seems these efforts are often a mile wide and an inch deep, whereas getting into the details of specific cases helps to establish precedent and makes an example for others to follow... or rightfully be afraid of.

Selected excerpts.

Without legal protection from violence, the lives and the livelihoods of the global poor are at perpetual risk. Four billion people on our planet live in that risk.


"Torts", "Civ Pro", Say What?

Law school naturally has its own lingo, and short hand.  This semester I'm taking four classes.  Torts, Civil Procedure, Contracts, and Lawyering Skills.  So what exactly am I studying?  Here is a brief overview.


Why Law School - The Honest Version

The following appeared on this blog in a post titled On Church and Public Policy, What is the Church's Role, and is probably a more accurate reflection of why I am going to law school.

"So in all honesty, part of my decision to attend law school is born out of my dissatisfaction with the ability of the church to effect real change.  I'm probably a little jaded in this area, but I think statistics concerning behavior of church attenders and non-church attenders would back me up."
"That said, in-spite of everything, I believe in the church.   I love the church, and despite my reservations, I know that it can be a change agent in the culture and in public policy."


Why Law School - The Polished Version

So how is law school going?  Good.  I have been here for a couple of weeks, and thus far it has been a positive experience.  I enjoy the rigors of thinking critically about tough issues, and the fact that at St. Thomas, issues of justice and equity are usually not far off.  There is a healthy sense of community here.  While law schools are not always the most friendly environments, as one of the proffs put it, "You have both scissors and a needle in hand.  You can knit a stronger community, or cut it apart.  It is up to you." Here at St. Thomas, there seems to be more of the latter.  Each new class has to decide for itself what kind of community it will be, and how it will integrate itself into what has come before.  While things are not perfect, I have seen more positive indicators than not, suggesting this will be an enjoyable, and supportive community of learners, thinking critically about law and life.


On Rob Bell's Love Wins and Other Thoughts

Recently there has been quite the brew-ha-ha over Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins.  Here, I want to share some of the Biblical passages that cause me to be cautiously open to Bell’s take on these things.  Open in the sense of being willing to converse.

What we preach is clear, Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 1:23)  But when we do theology, we are venturing into a speculative human enterprise. 


On Jesus and Political Advocacy

Many of you know my basic approach is to say hey, we need to advocate for the values of Jesus when it comes to public policy. (however imperfectly)  But as I'm reading in a book by Eugine Peterson titled The Jesus Way, it is not enough to believe in the theology or the values of Jesus. We need to behave like Jesus, we need to follow the way of Jesus. We have to do the right thing, the right way. (obviously)  For that reason, Eugine quickly moves beyond personal lifestyle questions, (who doesn't think they ought be like Jesus) and starts asking hard questions about how we do life in community, how we lead church, and how we live in a pluralistic democracy.  What Peterson goes on to illustrate is that there is a tension between standing up for what is right and how that is done.  For example, contrast the following two passages.


On Church and Public Policy : What is the Churches Role?

So in all honesty, part of my decision to attend law school is born out of my dissatisfaction with the ability of the church to effect real change.  I'm probably a little jaded in this area, but I think statistics concerning behavior of church attenders and non-church attenders would back me up.

That said, in-spite of everything, I believe in the church.   I love the church, and despite my reservations, I know that it can be a change agent in the culture and in public policy.

So what is the churches role?  I do think that in many respects the church has a separate and distinct mission.  But at the same time, the ultimate aims of public policy and church often overlap.  What follows are several ways I think that churches can contribute to the health of their communities by contributing to the dialog on public policy in constructive ways.