Monday, 27 March 2017

Night and Day: Mazatlan, March 2017

Awake at night and scrolling in a screen
is not the joy that moms and babies share;
our fathers' laughter echoes far away,
their stories told by tongues of men and fire.
And days devoted for a future time
with study or some work – well spent but still
accommodating dark, unclearing clouds,
the old arrangements – join together. Then
life! It's here! In seven days I glimpse it:
a flaming, dancing days of work and play,
the sand and brick all inched along in light
and seven times stars' spin spans brass; trumpet
sounds drift around and knock at dreams to say
"All rest is full and peace is loud and bright!"

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Should the United States Wage War Against ISIS? - A Response to Bruce Ashford

In an article on his website, Bruce Ashford argues that the United States must wage a more wholehearted and comprehensive war against ISIS.  I encourage you to read the article yourself to see how he states the reasons that support this conclusion.  I summarize them as follows: 1) ISIS and other jihadists are murdering American citizens and people of nations allied to the US by the tens of thousand; 2) there are no nonviolent ways of stopping ISIS from doing this; and 3) the US is already involved in a war with ISIS but would likely be more successful if involved more thoroughly.

Here is why these reasons do not justify his conclusion.

1) If this author successfully showed that an immediate, more comprehensive, and wholehearted war against ISIS met the criteria that are necessary for a war to be just, this would not show that the US MUST engage in this war. Meeting the criteria for just cause does not entail a duty on any legitimate authority to engage in a war; it rather means that it is justifiable to engage in war. At least in traditional just war theory, 'a more precise phrasing would label it justifiable war rather than just war. War is not good or righteous in itself; it is a regrettable evil, justifiable only under certain circumstances. Just war theory is a concession, not an approval, not an obligation, and not a mandate' (Yoder, Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution, 84). So the reasons he gives, even if they were sufficient to establish a just war, are not enough to support his strong conclusion about what the US must do.

2) The author does not defend all the relevant criteria for a just cause. The criteria the author defends (in my own wording) are 1) that ISIS is accountable for a substantial, verifiable offense of substantial national importance to the US, 2) that this action is a last resort, 3) that the amount of evil that would be stopped by engaging in this war is so great that it would undoubtedly outweigh the amount of evil caused by the war, and 4) that the US will probably be successful in bringing about its purpose. (I find his fourth reason 'We are already at war with ISIS' to be irrelevant on its own terms; but in his explanation of it, he urges that we must act more decisively quickly because this will increase the likelihood of success. And this is relevant to the criteria of probable success.)

The way the article is written could suggest to the reader that these reasons pile up on each other like finger prints on a lock, a bloody weapon, and a motive pile up in a case of identifying a murderer. However, the just war criteria do not pile up this way, but only support the conclusion that a war is justifiable when they are all met. That war is made as a last resort does not matter very much if there has not been a legitimate offense. That there has been a legitimate offense does not matter very much if there is not much hope of winning the war. The premises in the argument give support together but not individually. And some of the required premises which are missing are: 1) A concrete war aim, detailed enough to be held accountable to, and with reasonable conditions so that the enemy can sue for peace, 2) an objectively right intention which includes the enemy's best interests, 3) a subjectively right intention (how do we know we have the right motives), 4) Waging the war must respect international law, treaties, and agencies. Without a defense of these premises the reasons he gives do not hold much weight.

3) He does not convincingly defend the criteria of last resort, proportion, or probable success. In order to defend his claim that there are no nonviolent solutions to the problem he appeals to ISIS' beliefs about what they are doing. But we actually have to try nonviolent solutions first in order for the criteria of last resort to be met. We can't just reason a priori that they would never respond to nonviolent measures (especially if we are Christians who have reasons to hope for the reconciliation of all people). We have to actually try negotiation, mediation, international tribunals, warnings and declarations of war, and other pressures short of war. In regards to proportion, the author describes the evil being committed by ISIS currently but does not consider the amount of evil caused by a 'comprehensive' and 'wholehearted' war. This is certainly impossible to predict, but may be huge. He at least needs to consider it. Finally, while he asserts that the US will probably be successful, there is an inductive case against the probability of this because of the US's failure to be successful in previous similar campaigns. The probability that the US will be successful in reaching a better peace than before they engage in a war in the Middle East is lowered by their failures to accomplish this in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

4) The assumption that meeting the just war criteria make a war justifiable can also be questioned. To use John Howard Yoder's terms, Just War theory is a compromise between an ethic of 'effectiveness' and an ethic of 'faithfulness.' According to an ethic of effectiveness, our task is to move history in the right direction by getting ahold of power for ourselves. It relies on two questionable assumptions: 1) that history is sort of thing that we can manage, and 2) that we are in a position to know what the right direction is. According to a (Christian) ethic of faithfulness, our task is to be faithful to the example of Jesus, exhibiting his characteristics in the new situations we face. Just war theory is a compromise between the two because, on the one hand, it allows us to come to our own conclusions about the direction history should go and allows us try to be effective in moving history in this direction, but it puts limits on both of these things that come from the perspective of an ethic of faithfulness. I think it is better and more consistent to just pursue an ethic of faithfulness.


Five propositions about gender and feminism

1.) Many of the grievances of feminists about how women have been treated by men through history, ex. that they have not been held to be knowers equal to men and have been excluded from positions of power, are correct.

2.) Having certain characteristics, roles, tendencies, etc associated with manhood and womanhood is a good gift from our ancestors insofar as people voluntarily use them to understand themselves, grow in character, structure their experience, and enjoy other's company and friendship.  In my judgment, for the great majority of people -- even those who do not limit themselves to either the traditional womanly or manly set of associations -- it is a net good.

3.) That which is associated with womanhood and manhood should be subject to careful reform when it is shown by feminists or others to be unjust.

4.)  It is wrong to act coercively to make someone think of themselves in terms of womanhood or manhood, or adopt roles associated with being a woman or a man, when they do not wish to do so.

5.)  The roles, characteristics, etc associated with being a woman or being a man do not hold ultimate significance.  For example, as in the case of Dorcas in the Book of Acts providing for the poor and oppressed outside her household, one may be called to eschew traditional gender associations in order to pursue some greater good.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Easter Reflections on the Meaning of Life and the Death of God's Son


Delivered at The Heritage Village on March 20th, 2016

Psalm 31:9-16
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Luke 23: 26-49

In his book 'Cross-shattered Christ,' Stanley Hauerwas helps us think about the Cross by making it very hard to apply to our own lives. He does this because he thinks that we should be wary of making Jesus' crucifixion all about us. Reading the story of the Cross in a way that makes it about us is what Hauerwas calls 'sentimentality.' As he writes, 'Sentimentality is the attempt to make the gospel conform to our needs, to make Christ our “personal” savior, to make the suffering of Christ on the cross but an instant of general, unavoidable suffering' (Hauerwas 16). In order to appreciate the terrifying truth that the Son of God died on a cross all those years ago, we must learn to give up the sentimentality of making the Cross all about us. Only when we come to terms with the fact that the Son of God was crucified will this story transform our lives.

All the readings from this week describe incredible suffering. The reading from the Psalms appears to express our own suffering. We cry out to God with the psalmist, 'Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief' (Psalm 31:9). This prayer is made in the midst of a life of suffering ('My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning' (v. 10)), rejection and loneliness ('I am forgotten as though I were dead' (v. 12)), and threats of violence ('They conspire against me and plot to take my life' (v. 13)). We can identify with this prayer of David, as people who have spent some time on this Earth.

If we are Christians, we will also confess with the psalmist: 'But I trust in you Lord; I say “You are my God”' (v. 14). Even while reading a psalm which we assume is about us and our suffering, our attention is directed toward the God in whom we trust.

However, we do not realize the extent to which this Psalm directs us toward God until we read the story of the crucifixion in Luke. By reading the story in Luke, we realize that the God who we are trusting also prayed this psalm. As Luke narrates, 'Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' This is the first verse of Psalm 31 that we read this afternoon. Maybe this psalm is not about our suffering. Maybe it is about the suffering of Jesus on the Cross.

By leading us away from a reflection about our own painful experiences I am not denying their reality. Rather I am trying to help us to anticipate Easter as Christians. Christians are a group of people who – for some strange reason – take the time out of lives full with their own troubles to remember the story of the Cross. It does not make sense to most people to spend time telling the story of the Cross. There are enough things to occupy our time already. We only have so much time to live, they reason, and so we do not have time to occupy ourselves with this strange and terrifying story. That is, the way that they live their lives is shaped by their own deaths. They think that if they can only live out the story they have chosen for themselves before they die, they will make their lives meaningful. People who are busy with this task do not have time to hear about God dying on a cross. The lives of Christians, on the other hand, while they are also shaped by our deaths – how could they not be? – are also shaped by the death of Christ. Like the psalmist, we trust that our times are in God's hands (Psalm 31:15), and so we take the time to see this God revealed at the Cross.

The passage from Isaiah draws us nearer to the Cross. Here we read how God's servant is obedient 'morning by morning' (v. 4), through humiliation, 'mocking and spitting' (v. 6), and accusations (v. 8, 9). Similarly, in Luke we read, 'When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with ... criminals' (Luke 23:33). The people and the soldiers then mocked him: “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:37). Even 'One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”' (Luke 23:39). The criminal's situation being more desperate than the soldier's, he adds the words 'and us' to his mocking challenge.

Isaiah leaves us with God's servant – his face set like flint (Isa. 50:7) – resolutely meeting the challenge before him, in spite of this mockery. He shouts: 'He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other' (Isa. 50: 8)! The Gospel of Luke brings us to the terrifying twist in the story: 'It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last' (Luke 23:44-46).

What does it mean for God's servant to have died? This is a death unlike any other death. It is not simply a poignant example of our inevitable deaths as men and women. 'As Bonhoeffer observed, Jesus's death and resurrection is not the solution to the problem of death. Rather this is the death of the Son of God' (Hauerwas 29).

'[H}ere we first and foremost see God' (Hauerwas 28). I recently read through the Gospel of Luke. What struck me most is how confrontational Jesus was throughout his ministry, and how He seems to becomes more gentle and understanding at his trial and crucifixion. Jesus argues fiercely with the teachers of the law and the keepers of the Temple throughout the whole Gospel. At his first sermon in Nazareth, he upsets those who knew him so much that they try to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:30). And yet, hanging on a cross, Jesus is no longer the relentless debater he was throughout the Gospel. We can see this in the three words he speaks from the Cross, as recorded in Luke. They are: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (v. 34); “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43); and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (v. 46). Is this the same Jesus who left teachers of the law speechless, and drove out the merchants in the Temple?

Why is Jesus so fierce with Israelites who are ready to listen to Him, and so tender when we reach the point of greatest conflict in the Gospel – at the Cross? I think that the reason that Jesus is so hard on the teachers of the law and the keepers of the Temple is revealed at the Cross. Jesus desires that they be forgiven; he desires that they be with him in Paradise; he desires that they pray the psalm with him: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” This love, which fights so hard for those who opposed him in his life is fully revealed in Jesus' death. As John Howard Yoder writes: 'Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe for those who took his cloak, who prays for those who despitefully use him' (61). This is the God revealed to us at the Cross.

In applying the story of the Cross to our lives, Paul does not allow us to think about our own suffering. The passage from his letter to the Philippians calls us to 'have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had' (Phil. 2:5), and then immediately directs our attention to Christ himself. He draws our attention to Jesus' willing rejection of his status and power as God, and his acceptance of servanthood. Jesus' servanthood and humility reaches its climax at the Cross. God's servant, described in Isaiah as faultlessly obedient, did not turn away (Isa. 50:5) but became 'obedient to death – even death on a cross' (Phil. 5:8). By doing so, God raised him up so that 'every tongue [will] acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord' (Phil. 5:11).' What does Paul mean by directing our attention to the Cross in this way? When do we get to take something from this story and apply it to our lives in an attempt to make them meaningful?

Those seeking to take something from this story to address their own needs are falling into the trap that Hauerwas calls 'sentimentality.' What is asked of us is simply to remember this story, and let it transform our lives.

This story helps us to confess with the psalmist that our time is in God's hands. Our time is in His hands because at the Cross Jesus has been made the Lord of history. As Paul reminds us, because Jesus accepted death on a cross, 'God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow' (Phil. 5:9,10). In the end, everyone will confess that Jesus is Lord. Because of this, we have all the time in the world to be humble. We have all the time in the world to be patient with one another and forgive each other. We even have the time to love our enemies.

Because Jesus is made Lord by being crucified – was made Lord, not by grasping power for Himself but by accepting servanthood and death – we are not destined to spend our time trying to make our lives meaningful through our own power. Rather, we are called to be faithful to Jesus' example of humility, forgiveness and love displayed at the Cross. By making our attitudes like that of Jesus, we know that we are becoming more like the one who has been made Lord of history. By following Jesus' example at the Cross, we know that we are following after the one who will remain victorious when this world passes away. Our destiny is to become like this God who submitted to death on a cross by imitating Him in our lives. This is why Christians take the time at Easter and throughout the year to remember the story of the Cross.

Hauerwas, Stanley. Cross-shattered Christ. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2004.

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.

Quotations from the Bible are from the TNIV.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Some thoughts about friends

Friend,

Your presence is pleasurable, all the way down.

Friend,

Your love and courage are better than mine.  I am challenged and sustained by them.

Friend,

We know each other well.  You understand my meaning more articulately than I could ever express it.

Friend,

It is hard to be with you.  You have a sadness I do not know.  It makes my hopefulness hokey and grasping.  It scrutinizes my faith, revealing its falseness.  I am out of sorts when I am with you.  

I long to be with you the most deeply; to talk with you the most freely; to laugh with you the most carelessly.

------

"What then is it in the soul which causes it to take more pleasure in things which it loves when they are found and recovered than if it has always had them?  There are other examples which attest this fact, and everyday life is full of instances where the evidence cries out: 'This is the case.'  A victorious emperor celebrates a triumph.  He would not have conquered if he had not fought.  The greater the danger in the battle, the greater the joy in the triumph.  A storm throws people about on a voyage and threatens shipwreck.  All grow pale at the imminence of death.  Sky and sea become calm, and the relief is great because the fear has been great.  A dear person is sick, and his pulse reveals he is in a serious condition.  All who wish him to recover his health feel sick in mind at the same time.  He takes a turn for the better and, although he may not walk with his former strength, yet now there is joy as there was not before when he walked in good health and strength....  The same phenomenon appears in acts which are demeaning and execrable, in acts which are allowed and lawful, in the sincerest expressions of honourable friendship, and in the case of the one 'who was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.'"

--St. Augustine, Confessions, VIII, iii., 7, 8

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Growing Old and Being a Child of God: A Short Devotional

Delivered at the Bradley Centre on January 3rd, 2016

For this devotional I am using the passages assigned for New Year's day in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 8
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:15-21

What does it mean for the name of God to be majestic in a world in which we grow old and live in retirement homes? What does it mean to be God's children when we are no longer children, and, in fact, find ourselves a long way away from our childhood memories and childhood friends?

Stanley Hauerwas and Laura Yordy describe what it is like to be old in the world today. According to Hauerwas and Yordy, growing old in our time and place often means growing more isolated from the people we once knew – including the person we used to be. They write: 'To grow old is to lose our acquaintances and lifelong friends to distance, illness and death' (170). Furthermore, 'as our friends move away or die we lose the confirmation of our own life stories and identities' (170). When the people who really know us are gone, it can become more difficult to remember who we really are. As Hauerwas and Yordy explain, 'The stories that make up our lives, that constitute who we are, are in many ways too rich to be told. So our telling them can increase our loneliness because the telling is always less than the life shared or lived' (Hauerwas and Yordy 170).

Our inability to capture the richness of our lives for those around us when we grow old is demonstrated by the way that obituaries are written. These are usually written by someone who was not with us during our lives, and 'consist in a standard line or two – “'a loving woman,' 'will be missed by family, friends, and staff.'” Some attempt is usually made to say something of the person's individuality but not much can be said – “'a lover of plants,' an avid bingo player,' 'enjoyed children'” (Hauerwas and Yordy 172). A painful truth about growing old is being unable to share the full richness of our lives with those around us.

This description of growing old is true, but it is not the whole truth. The passages we read this afternoon tell us that our lives are ultimately determined, not by our own ability to be who we once were, but by the grace of God. The people of Israel required the blessing of God for their existence. That is why Aaron is told to pray for Israel, that God would bless them and turn his face toward them. As a people, they needed to be shone upon by the face of God.

According to Psalm 8, our lives on earth are determined by God. The psalmist writes that God made us 'a little lower than the heavenly beings' and 'crowned us with glory and honor' (Psalm 8:5). But our position as honoured rulers over creation does not come from our own achievements or our own strength. We know this because our glory and honour is a surprise. The psalm reads: 'When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?' (Psalm 8: 3,4). It is not our own power which makes us rulers over the earth. It is a surprise to find that, in all creation, God turns his face toward us, and crowns us as its rulers. Furthermore, the psalm tells us that God can ordain praise from the lips of children and infants, who cannot even feed or bathe themselves. Surely, then, he can ordain praise from the lips of people who live in retirement homes.

As Christians, our lives are determined primarily by the arrival of a baby who was visited by shepherds in a manger in Bethlehem. It is not our own births that make us children of God but the birth of Christ, who was wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Paul writes in Galatians that 'when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons' (Galatians 4: 4,5). When Christ came, God turned his face toward us and shone on us. He determined who we are by making us members of his family and his heirs.

As members of God's family, we are not alone. That God was born of a woman and was welcomed to earth by shepherds testifies to the fact that God does not bless us from afar. He came to Earth to be with us, and he is still with us. Paul goes on to write that 'Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts' (Galatians 4:6). Gordon Fee explains that, 'Above everything else, as fulfillment of the new covenant the Spirit marked the return of the lost presence of God' to the people of God (10). As God's family, 'the gathered church is the place of God's own personal presence, by the Spirit.' (Fee 19). As members of God's family, God has chosen to be with us.

So, I return to the questions I asked at the beginning of this devotional. What does it mean for God's name to be majestic in a world where we grow old and live in retirement homes? God's name is majestic in this world because he turns his face towards us and cares for us even when it is surprising. He is majestic because he ordains praise from people who are weak and comes to be with them in weakness, as a child lying in a manger. What does it mean to be God's children when our childhood is only a distant memory, and the people we knew in life are absent? Our childhood in God's family means that who we are is not ultimately determined by the time of our own births. Rather, it is the birth of Christ that makes us children of God. Even though we are no longer who we used to be, as members of God's family, we are capable of being people through whom God is praised. Even though family and friends are no longer with us, as members of God's family, God is with us. Even though we can forget who we are, as members of God's family, we know that we belong to him.

Let's pray,

Light of life, you came in flesh,
born into human pain and joy,
and gave us power to be your children.
Grant us faith, O Christ, to see your presence among us,
so that all of creation may sing new songs of gladness
and walk in the way of peace. Amen.


Fee, Gordon, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1996.


Hauerwas, Stanley, and Laura Yordy. 'Captured in Time: Friendship and Aging.' In Growing Old in Christ. Eds Stanley Hauerwas, Carole Bailey Stoneking, Kieth G. Meador, David Cloutier. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Reading the Pope's Encyclical on Climate Change: Some Criticism and Personal Response (Part 8)

I. The Overall Argument of Laudato Si

I will do my best to assess the overall argument in Laudato Si without being an expert in any of the disciplines -- from biblical studies through physics and biology to political science and economics -- on which the document draws.  Laudato Si's claims about the current state of the Earth are consistent with what I have gleaned from being a university student with friends and teachers in science departments.  Nor can I find anything amiss with the Pope's reading of scripture.  The central way for me to search for gaps in the argument of Laudato Si is to ask whether its scientific and biblical premises are sufficient to ground its political and personal exhortations in the final two chapters.

Fully stated, the question is whether the facts about dangerous and destructive pollution, potentially disastrous climate change, severe loss of biodiversity, and the inability of many people to access clean drinking water -- which are caused by people's actions, especially in rich countries --, combined with Christians' responsibilities to protect and share the gifts of creation, and, with God's help, to be a part of bringing them to a universal reconciliation in the future, are sufficient grounds to take the political action, as well as the ethical and spiritual habits, which Laudato Si recommends?  Added to the Pope's scientific and biblical premises are his contentions in the third and fourth chapters about how our failure to apply sound ethical principles to our political and economic life and our use of technology, and our tendency to treat creation as if we have the right and ability to manipulate it without limitation and to suffer no irreparable consequences, has lead to the deterioration of the environment as well as an unjust exploitation of the poor of the Earth.  I think the Pope makes a persuasive case in these chapters as well.  His arguments that our destruction of the world cannot simply be attributed to instrumental factors like our lack of the right technology, but has to do with an unjust and exploitative balance of power and an unethical way of thinking, are right to my mind.  There are nonetheless ways of finding space between these premises and his conclusions.

II. Niebuhrian Critique

Reinhold Niebuhr is the best modern representative of the strand of political thought known as 'Christian realism.'  He writes, 'In political and moral theory 'realism' denotes the disposition to take into account all factors in a social and political situation which offer resistance to established norms, particularly the factors of self-interest and power' (The Relevance of Christian Realism 120).  He rejects liberal Christians' tendency to offer the ethics of Jesus as a simple political alternative, easily realizable if only people would listen to those who preach it.  This position, he thinks, does not acknowledge the continued reality of sin in the actions of individuals, and especially groups, in history.

Niebuhr's challenge to idealism might be relevant to the parts of Laudato Si which suggest that we must heed the Pope's moral exhortation because otherwise the world will come to ruin.  Niebuhr would (probably rightly) question whether such moral exhortation will really be effective for enough people in order to avert environmental crisis.  However, most of the moral exhortation in Laudato Si is not grounded on its efficacy in averting this type of crisis, but on our responsibilities as Christians and human beings as these responsibilities are made evident in the Christian understanding of the world.

Niebuhr would recognize the value of this ground for moral exhortation for two Augustinian reasons. The first is that he wants to avoid moral cynicism, which occurs when a realist 'assumes that the universal characteristic of human behaviour must also be regarded as normative' (The Relevance of Christian Realism 124).  So, the Pope's moral exhortations may be right, even if they are not ultimately effective.  The second reason Niebuhr would see value in the Pope's exhortations is that those who are committed to them will have a leavening effect on the rest of the population who are more concerned with their own or their nations' interests.  This leavening effect will be for the long-term benefit of everyone (The Relevance of Christian Realism 125).  In the end, however, I see Niebuhr following Roger Scruton in waiting for technological innovations which are affordable enough to compete in markets around the world as the ultimately effective way of addressing climate change and other environmental problems (How to Think Seriously about the Planet: The Case for Environmental Conservatism 383, 384).

I suspect Niebuhr would also criticize those parts of Laudato Si which become too specific in their political recommendations.  This is because Niebuhr thinks politics always becomes a messy business of trying to balance different interests.  Because it becomes messy in this way, there is no way of being a pure disciple of Christ in the realm of politics.  In particular, we should not give religious sanction to the specific strategies for attaining the ends we set out to realize (Idealism, Realism, and Christian Responsibility 127, 128).  The Pope is careful to avoid being too specific about strategies in most cases, and even exhorts us to look to local cultures when determining exactly what to do in specific circumstances.  However, Niebuhr might question Laudato Si's sanctification of the more specific political recommendations regarding nations and international organizations.  Should we really expect national and international organizations to follow a Christian ethic like the one set out in Laudato Si?

Despite social democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' claiming of Pope Francis as a personal hero, the Pope is not necessarily recommending a socialist solution to our environmental crisis.  What is true is that he rejects the idea that an amoral capitalism should guide our personal and political decisions, and puts quite a bit of emphasis on the duties of national and international institutions.  This does sound like socialism at first blush.  However, traditional conservatism is also critical of consumer culture and also puts a lot of weight on the nation as an institution.  (Think of John A. MacDonald building the railway across Canada and implementing high tariffs.)  Moreover, like traditional conservatives and unlike socialists, the Pope puts a huge emphasis on the importance of local communities and institutions like families, schools, churches, and cities.  Furthermore, although the Pope focuses much of Laudato Si on our duties to the poor, it is a Christian and not a socialist concern for the poor.  The Pope does indeed depart from conservative ideology in seeing the gap between the rich and poor as an issue of justice, but he is not a socialist because he locates the root of this injustice in our sinfulness and our modern, purely instrumental way of thinking about economics, and not in a class struggle.

III.  Hauerwasian Critique

The inability of nations and international institutions to be Christian brings us to Stanley Hauerwas.  Laudato Si probably does expect too much from national governments, for Niebuhrian reasons as well as Hauerwasian reasons.  I think Niebuhr is right to question whether it is realistic to expect national and international institutions to follow a Christian ethic.  Hauerwas' critique, I surmise, would be that the body in which Christians ought to be political is primarily the church.

I think that Hauerwas would say that, as Christians, we should focus on developing those virtues which make us more like Christ in our dealings with the earth by holding each other accountable to practices within the church which allow us to develop these virtues.  Thanking God for each meal is one such practice by which we relate to our world.  As I heard in the Sermon this Sunday, don't pray for things you are not willing to be the answer to.  We should think of other ways of being true to what we believe about the world which God gave us as well.  In this way we will become witnesses to, rather than witnesses against, the truth of these beliefs.  Contra Niebuhr, our job is not to figure out how to run the world through secular political institutions, but to be faithful disciples and witnesses, which can only be done through the power of servanthood as it is exercised in the church.

IV. Personal Response

With these critiques and everything I learned from Laudato Si in mind, how should I respond?  Certainly the Pope is right to point to the dignity of small, daily acts of love and thankfulness for the home which God has given us.  So part of my response will be to recommit myself to actions like these.  I can be specific here because these are actions which I would like other people to hold me accountable to.

I have learned that the amount of meat that we eat in the West is far too much to be sustainable and contributes a lot to climate change.  So, I would like to eat a lot less meat.  My commitment is to not eat meat unless I am a guest somewhere and it is offered to me.

I will ride my bicycle more often.  I try to ride my bike to places that are reasonably close when I am not bringing things along with me.  I will be more consistent and ambitious in this regard now.

I will try to limit the amount of garbage I generate.  I should stop ordering food from restaurants with large amounts of waste -- even when I am by myself or not with friends who care about these things.

I will use less water.  I use too much water, especially bathing.

I will avoid air travel as best I can.

The Pope's teaching about local community, especially church community, part of whose job is to encourage and hold its members accountable to each other, is something I cannot follow on my own.  I hope to discuss and participate in activities which show that I am thankful and partly responsible for this home, with both my Christian and non-Christian friends.  I will also pray that God will be faithful in leading his church in this regard.