Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent Begins Today


Lent begins today. Today is a day of ashes, of reflection, of Holy Communion. Ash Wednesday. Lent begins today.

This will be an odd season of Lent for me. I’m only going to be at my church for the first three Sundays of Lent, and then I am off for my Sabbatical. In 30 years I have never missed Easter Sunday at Worship as the pastor of the church. This year I will be visiting my daughter in North Carolina and sitting in a pew celebrating the resurrection of Christ.

I’ve never quite figured Lent out. We give things up, but that never seems to really be impactful. It’s a great idea, especially if it’s something we really ought to give up, but I wonder if it’s really the point of Lent.

A friend of mine wrote on Facebook to not give up butter; if we give up butter we give up the churning. I like that image. It is a season of churning. Things within us are turned upside down and we church with new and interesting things and we churn in new and fascinating ways. I do appreciate the imagery of that.

Funny thing about today, however, is that our church is abuzz with activity. We are having our second night, ever, of Logos, and in the next few minutes a bunch of kids will be here and having fun. We will pray, play, eat, sing, and Worship together. There will be a lot of laughing and joking and fun for everyone. It seems so very unlike Lent----but on the other hand, maybe it really is what Lent is all about. People of faith coming together, being together, growing together, and nurturing one another.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sermon Audio February 10, 2013

Being Astounded by the Greatness of God

Luke 9:28-43

Rev.Dr. John E. Manzo

February 10, 2013


Audio Sermon February 3, 2013

Loving One Another

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

February 3, 2013

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Legal, Ethical, and Wise. Ethical?


I’m troubled.

“These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise. The US government takes great care in deciding to pursue an Al Qaeda terrorist, to ensure precision and to avoid loss of innocent life.” Thus were the words of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during a briefing in Washington. The response was about using the drone technology in the war on terror.

I am not an attorney or know enough about the law to have some sort of idea if this is legal or not. As for wise, maybe, maybe not. I’m thinking it is logically wiser to kill people remotely without putting American troops in harm’s way, but I’m also thinking that we are not going to be the only nation able to kill others by way of drones. Maybe I am na├»ve in thinking this, but it seems to me that we are inviting others to participate in this process.

President Obama is on the receiving end of a great deal of rhetoric about being weak in terror and unwilling or unable to be a good Commander in Chief because he is so weak. He was, after all, opposed to invading Iraq. Wise? I don’t know, but that’s not my topic of discussion.

Jay Carney, when you remove the other verbiage is saying that drone strikes are ethical. The United States, he is saying, has an ethical right to track down people we perceive to be dangerous to us. That ethical bearing comes on foreign lands, and people of any race or nationality. It is ethical for us to unilaterally kill people we perceive to be our enemies.

Is it ethical? I have my doubts. To be honest, I’m being mild when I say I have my doubts. I think Carney and the President are flat out wrong. Sadly, this is not the first time we have seen the word ‘ethics’ thrown around flippantly.

I’ve always thought Thomas Aquinas’ Just War Theory is a good foundational document as it does require serious reflection before making war. It went something like this:

Just cause

The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life.

Comparative justice

While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to overcome the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other.

Competent authority

Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war. "A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice.

Right intention

Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.

Probability of success

Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;

Last resort

Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. It may be clear that the other side is using negotiations as a delaying tactic and will not make meaningful concessions.


The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms.

In modern terms, just war is waged in terms of self-defense, or in defense of another (with sufficient evidence).

According to the American Constitution the Congress has the right to ‘declare war.’ The last declared war the United States has actually fought in was World War II. It seems to me that we have given virtually every American President the right to wage war as he sees fit, since the last time Congress actually declared a war. Everyone has claimed it to be ethical.

Our most recent wars have been in Afghanistan and Iraq. One can make a coherent and ethical argument for our original endeavor into Afghanistan. I believe the argument gets diluted in time and our continued efforts in that region have, at least in my mind, less than ethical. The war in Iraq, the second war, seems, from any ethical premise, to have been very much unethical. That is not a defense of Hussein, he was horrible. I just do not believe we had a right to unilaterally invade a nation under what proved to be false premises. Additionally, the United Nations inspectors were demonized for finding nothing----and they were proven to be right. They found nothing as there was nothing to find.

And now we have drone attacks.

At face value, there is something good about these. American troops are not in harm’s way. The drones are controlled from places far, far away from the action. This is even safer than high flying aircrafts or missiles fired from ships. Those have to be somewhat in the region----but the drones are controlled from far away.

In seeing how the drones work, I was struck by how much it seemed like a video game. There were pictures on a screen, a comfortable seat, a control stick, and then you shoot. The difference is, however, that in a video game one gets points. In a drone attack people die. The ‘killer’ never sees the faces of the victims, never sees the blood. He or she simply goes home and eats dinner, watches television. Another day at the office is completed.

These attacks are on people deemed to be threats to the United States. What happens if the intelligence is wrong? How are we different from the terrorists? I truly grapple with this.

It may be legal. It may or may not be wise. Decreeing something to be ethical does not make it so.

Ethics seems to have morphed into an election of sorts. Majority rules. If the majority of people say something is ethical, then it is ethical. Or, if a person in power decrees something to be ethical, it is ethical. Or, if a church decrees something to be ethical or unethical, then that church is right and that church’s opinion should be respected over everyone else. And, if one church is bigger than another church that disagrees, the bigger church is right.

This kind of logic consistently gets us in trouble. Ethical behavior is not about majority rule; it’s about finding and living with time honored principles. And, yes, sometimes those time honored principles are inconvenient or disagree with our political perspectives.

But if we want to call ourselves an ethical people, we should live it even when it is amazingly inconvenient.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Reflections on Mea Maxima Culpa---the documentary


The other night on HBO I watched the devastating documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. The story focused on St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, and Rev. Lawrence Murphy who abused a number of boys at the school. The scandal of this and the inaction of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the further lack of action from the Vatican made this into a legendary scandal.

The documentary also delved into the story of Rev. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ and a personal friend and favorite of Pope John Paul II. Maciel abused a significant number of young people and fathered children. His notoriety was legendary and ignored by the Pope. It was not until after John Paul’s death that Pope Benedictine XVI finally took action against him.

It would be easy to dismiss this documentary has a hack job against the Roman Catholic Church. When the director of the movie, Alex Gibney, appeared on Bill Maher, Maher’s classically snarky comments were very hack oriented. I regret that Gibney appeared on the show----but it was probably more a promotion piece than anything else, as both Maher’s show and the documentary are on HBO. It also gave Maher plenty of ammunition for his anti-religion crusade.

Gibney, however, had a couple of people who were very, very credible on the show. Richard Sipe, a former monk and psychotherapist is probably the leading expert on the subject, and Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Dominican priest, is the foremost Canon Lawyer on the subject. Add Patrick Wall, another former monk and expert on the subject, and you have a formidable group grappling with a dreadful subject.

The story of abuse is an ugly one. At first it was seen as an American problem and the media was being blamed for making it a bigger story than it really was. As it turned out, the media merely scratched the surface of a very deep, very tragic, very ugly chain of events. It then began to be obvious that it was not an American problem and not a media issue. Molestation is worldwide and, while present in all walks of life, it has been more common in the Roman Catholic Church than in any other denomination at this point.

Jesuit priest, later Cardinal, Avery Dulles wrote a landmark book, Models of the Church, and one of the models he listed was “The Church as Institution.” In many ways, that model proved to be the most dangerous of the models. It is often the prevailing model of not only the Roman Catholic Church, but many churches and institutions.

The dilemma is, when things go horribly wrong, to protect the institution first and foremost. Penn State University did this. Joe Paterno did this. They looked first to protect the University and the football program and overlooked the kids Jerry Sandusky molested. It did not end well for anyone. The children were victimized first by Sandusky, but then again by the institution protecting itself.

Sadly, I think this is part of the dilemma within Roman Catholicism. There was (and is) a reaction to first protect the institution from the scandal. The tragedy was there were victims of the priests who were devastated.

Additionally, my heart goes out to many of the priests who molested children. I went to school with a lot of these guys. We drank beer, ate pizza, discussed philosophy and theology and ministry. We all went on and lived our lives and in later years I read of absolutely horrible stories of my friends and classmates molesting children. What they did was monstrous. They were, not, however, in the days of our youth, monsters. They were ill, they were disturbed, and often their cries went unheard and their illness went undiagnosed and untreated. They were repeatedly placed back in positions of power to victimize others.

The real tragedy took place in the hierarchy. They sought first to protect the institution and did not take care of the victims, the victimizers, and were often the obstacles for justice and healing. And it was ugly and, frankly, downright evil. Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston was one of the worst defenders of the institution and chances were good that he was going to be arrested for obstruction of justice. He should have been. Instead, Law was REWARDED and brought to Rome by John Paul II where Law also was given diplomatic immunity. Maciel victimized so many people and John Paul ignored all the evidence and did nothing to stop it.

Some Bishops did well. Some stepped in and addressed problems and were as open and transparent as they were allowed to be. Rome, however, consistently blocked any hopes of healing. The institution had to be protected at all costs.

To his credit, Benedict XVI addressed the Maciel issue and seminaries are now beginning to deal with this in the education of priests. Accusations are taken seriously now, with priests being removed upon the accusation. It is actually probably unfair now, as priests are left in incredibly vulnerable spots. The Bishops, however, for their part, have excluded themselves from accusations and protect the institution at all cost. Benedict has dealt with his predecessor’s cold indifference to molestation by fast-tracking John Paul’s canonization. The horror of this is, in my opinion, unfathomable.

I do find great hope in the words of Rev. Thomas Doyle. He has been the Canon Lawyer for many, many victims and prosecuted dioceses. He has often been a witness against the institution. Yet, he states that he is never against the church, but always for it. In searching for truth and healing, he sees himself as doing the ministry of Jesus Christ.

I keep reminding myself that the church of Jesus Christ was never meant to be an institution, but a living, breathing movement of God’s people gathered in faith. The Head of the church is always Jesus Christ, always Jesus Christ, always Jesus Christ. When we fail to serve Jesus, when we seek to feed the institution first and foremost, we forget to do the ministry of Christ.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Censorship at the Super Bowl


There is a company named Sodastream and they make a device called Sodastream Jet Starter Kit that sells for under $100.00. It enables a home user to make soda or sparkling water. Add water and it will put the CO2 into the mix and allow a person to make their own carbonated beverage. The benefits are, of course, that it is cheaper than purchasing soft drinks and it enables people to choose their own flavors. It is also green. Coca Cola and Pepsi account for an incredible amount of the garbage we see in our landfills. It’s a neat idea.

Sodastream decided to make a national sales’ pitch and sought to purchase airtime for the Super Bowl. CBS turned them down and refused to allow them to purchase airtime for a commercial. Ultimately their reasoning was simple. Coca Cola and Pepsi purchase a great deal of airtime from them and they don’t want to offend these two companies.

For a nation that promotes ‘freedom of speech’ and decries ‘censorship’ we sure do tolerate a great deal of censorship or we practice selective censorship.

I am amazed, for example at the lack of censorship during election cycles. There has become an increasing amount of fact checkers and many election ads do poorly in the fact checking department. Very poorly, in fact. Many of the ads do not ‘ring false’ but are blatantly bogus. Yet, they are run in the name of free speech. We cannot deny these ads to run because we believe in freedom of speech, even if it’s a flat out lie.

The reality isn’t that they believe in freedom of speech, they believe in freedom of commerce. If they are paid enough money and it benefits them financially, they will run anything. We have all purchased products that were heavily advertised and those products proved to be awful, and the ads were actually pretty deceiving. They might not have been the outright bogus facts used in political ads, but they were close. Lots of amazingly delicious food we have heard about on television wasn’t nearly as delicious at home when we ate it. Many of those soups that were ‘chock full’ of delicious things weren’t nearly as chock full as we thought. Networks did not turn the ads down because there was a lot of money to be made.

I am not particularly interested in purchasing a Sodastream Jet Starter Kit. I go through stops and starts with soda; sometimes I buy it and drink it, other times, not so much. Frankly, and probably sadly, if I want it I don’t want to go through the effort of making it myself. Sodastream is probably not marketing to me, however. They are marketing to people who would be actually very interested in this. Sodastream can be fun and it is very green and will not pollute the earth with the garbage others do. They do, however, have a right to promote their product.

During the Super Bowl Mercedes Benz has an ad of a young model washing a car. She is dressed in short shorts and the ad is being promoted as too sexy for the Super Bowl. Go-Daddy will have multiple tasteless ads. They are spending lots of money and CBS is hungrily willing to take as much dollars as they can. But Sodastream in an ad that actually makes fun of Coke and Pepsi and is totally harmless is banned.

In 2006 the major networks censored someone else. They censored the United Church of Christ. Our denomination ran an ad campaign with the tagline, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” There was a bouncer outside a church and he was telling people they were welcome, or not. A gay couple was denied admission to the church. There was tumult and outrage. The United Church of Christ was being offensive and this blatantly open welcoming of gay people was so disruptive in society that the commercial was deemed too offensive to show most people.

Some claimed the ad was untrue as no church would deny people admission. They may not have bouncers at the front doors, but I know enough people who have felt unwelcome in churches that they know they do not belong. It is made clear.

And there were those offensive words, repeated every Sunday at my church and, I suspect, many other United Church of Christ congregations, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

The ad was censored.

When you are watching the Super Bowl and enjoying the commercials, be aware that censorship is alive and well. You are fine unless you have the audacity to provide alternatives to soft drink giants or promote churches that take welcoming serious.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Friday Randomness

Today it is cold.  I stopped to get gas for my car and the gas pumps were very slow and it took forever.  I finally sat in the car and waited for the car to fill up with gas.  I’m hardly ever cold and today it was cold.  I figured I need to share this incredible insight with everyone.

The other day I saw a billboard about a controversial topic and the topic, at least to me, takes a backseat to the billboard which proclaimed that there is ‘no gray.’  Answers are black and white.  I wish this was true.  The older I get and the more life I have experienced, one thing I have learned is that there are considerably few black and white answers to questions.  The world we live in is very, very gray.  I wish this was not the case, but it really is.  I suspect this was why Jesus was so adamant about not judging others.  We really don’t know what we are talking about.  Most of us learn this from better experience that we don’t know what we are talking about. 

I watched some of Chuck Hagel’s testimony before the Senate.  He was remarkably unimpressive.  I suspect he’s competent and was simply unwilling to take a lot of the questions head on, but it was not really an impressive performance.  The really sad thing was that a lot  of the questions were softballs from supporters and pitbullish by those who do not like him.  Senator John McCain’s insistence on a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is not really relevant in a hearing.  That  is a legal tactic (which is a lousy tactic) in a court of law, but in a Senate hearing?   No one distinguished himself or herself.

Mayor Ed Koch died.  He was an amazing man.  A truly amazing man.  Koch was a truth teller in a profession of people who posture for a living.  He was one of New York City’s greatest majors and his legacy will live on forever.