Sunday, June 17, 2007

In Defense of Offense

Does a purely defensive military posture suggest a level of tolerance of a known threat to which we simply acquiesce? Jerusalem Post columnist Saul Singer’s recent statement that “Bush is right that terrorism cannot be beaten with defensive measures” should cause one to wonder about the more appropriate strategy and response to the ongoing war against terror, especially during this very early battle for the White House in which Democrats are talking about how and when to get out of Iraq while Republicans are still trying to define victory, or at least a victory that is palpable to the American voting public. Answering the question may also have as much to do with whether one actually believes that this war would cease to exist if the US were to simply withdraw from it.

Is it merely a question of whether or not we are actually at war? Former US senator and Democratic presidential wanna-be John Edwards recently stated that the “war on terror” was nothing more than a bumper-sticker slogan concocted by the Bush administration. By this, we can only assume he meant that the situation with worldwide terrorism is not as dire as this administration would have us believe, which is incredibly na├»ve coming from someone who pretends to be presidential material. We can easily see that there is a war on and that American servicemen are literally putting their lives on the line each day they go to work.

The question of whether or not this nation is at war, however, may be at the heart of the current debate about whether it is time to remove our forces from Iraq. Should we choose this course of action, would it also necessitate the removal of US forces from Afghanistan? Whether the US was justified in the invasion of Iraq is now irrelevant because of the matter at hand even if there were – and still are – many who believed that the war on terror lost its focus when the US invaded a sovereign nation. Now we are in the midst of a fight on yet another front whose focus has been removed from Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida and the insurgency against the newly installed government.

Ideally the US could withdraw and assume a more defensive military posture and do nothing more than to fight back if directly attacked. Unfortunately, we have chosen to wage a war that will not go away regardless of our physical presence. To the point where we find ourselves, the president is correct: offense is now our only defense. The insurgency must be brought under control if for no other reason than that of law and order. Anything less will most likely mean another direct attack on American soil.

Splitting Hairs

What do we think we know about the Law and Grace, and do we know enough to differentiate between the two? Or is it, as I suspect, that the two are one and the same? I often wonder how many hairs have been split since the time of Christ so much so that we have finally reached a point where we simply make things up as we go in our continuing efforts to justify ourselves, and doctrine that has the potential to fully inform our sense of theology gets completely fouled up to the point of irrelevancy.

One case in point involves the difference between “transubstantiation” (literal presence) and “real presence” as it pertains to the Eucharist. They both mean essentially the same thing and both hold fast to the words of Jesus who proclaimed that “when two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there …” Whether He is “literally” there or “really” there is a serious splitting of hairs and does nothing more than to highlight a dispute which has existed for centuries.

Another case in point is the current argument in the UMC in which a Study of Ministry proposal has determined that Local (licensed) Pastors should not be consecrating the elements of the Eucharist, preferring instead to have an ordained elder bless the elements but allow the LP to deliver. One argument for the proposal, in order to address logistical concerns, suggests that Local Pastors be ordained as Local Elders to resolve the “problem”. Well, I am licensed and appointed by the Conference, by the Bishop, and by the Cabinet. What has not happened is that a bishop has not put his hands on my head, and this will not likely happen unless or until I graduate from a seminary. So by another splitting of the hairs, somehow calling me an “elder” rather than a “pastor”, presumably without changing anything else other than the bishop’s hands, will make all the difference in the world as to the nature of the Eucharist and the effectiveness of my prayer to ask the Lord to bless them. I will reserve further comment on this one lest I miss making my point.

In either case, we split hairs when we take exception to a particular terminology while overlooking the essential elements of a concept. I think this is where we are when we talk about the Law and try to wade through St Paul’s seeming arguments AGAINST the Law in favor of grace. Truth be told, I have always had a hard time understanding what Paul means when he writes about “the works of the Law”.

In Galatians 2:15-16, he almost seems to contradict himself. Notice that he uses his “Jewishness” to distinguish himself from “Gentile sinners” while referring to his “knowledge” as a Jew “that a person is justified not by the works of the law…”, but how can he – in the same statement as a Jew – refer to “faith in Christ”?

It seems to me that we go back into that “splitting of hairs” when we insist that we are “not under the law”, yet still revere the so-called Ten Commandments, a direct reference to THE LAW, that “document” which demands our obedience. Jesus Himself reminds us that He “did not come to do away with the Law …” yet we also, by our doctrines, know Jesus as grace personified even while Jesus refers to Himself as “the law fulfilled”.

It may also be telling that while we would continue to insist that we are “not under the law” but would continue to fight with our state and federal legislators in insisting that the “ten commandments” be upheld by force of law.

“If you love Me, keep My commandments.” In the Gospel of John (14:15), Jesus makes a direct reference to “commandments” but the answer we get from asking which commandments He is referring to will depend on whom we ask. Since the text makes reference to plural commandments – as in more than one – many will suggest He is referring to THE Ten Commandments, but is it Exodus 20 or Exodus 34? Christians will refer to Exodus 20 as the more commonly referred-to commandments, but Exodus 34 actually refers to the “ten commandments”. Others will suggest that the “commandments” to which Jesus refers will be the two “greatest commandments” to love the Lord God with all we have and to love neighbor as self.

My point in all this is that we tend to pigeon-hole ourselves and our doctrines when we attempt to so narrowly define such terms as “grace” or “law”, but many of us get tripped up when we read Paul suggesting to us that “the works of the law” are very nearly useless. It is important to remember that in Galatians, Paul is addressing the problems that are being created by the “Judiazers” who are insisting to new converts that they must still be circumcised, that even though they are to ultimately become Christians they must still adhere to Jewish law. And lest we forget, Jesus was Jewish and adhered to the Law. Circumcision goes all the way back to the covenant the Lord made with Abraham, and there is nothing written in the Law which negates this. Yet in the context of Galatians, these are perhaps the “the works of the law” to which Paul refers.

So what is a Christian to do? More importantly perhaps, what is a Christian supposed to teach a seeker who is trying to develop a relationship with the Lord? Is there such a thing as a conflict which may exist between what we know as “law” and what we think we know as “grace”? If there is such a conflict between the two, it comes close to suggesting a more Gnostic understanding of the nature of the Divine in which there is an OT God of the Hebrews and a NT God and Father of the Christ. One insists on “law” – physical matter and acts, and the other is more abiding in “grace” – spiritual matters and acts.

Circumcision, though an outward and physical sign of a covenant, is still an inward act because Christian and Jewish men are obviously not going to walk around naked so that everyone can see our faith. And this robe I wear today may identify me as a pastor, but it says nothing of my sense of spirituality and could actually cause a conflict with those who would suggest that a licensed pastor should not be wearing a robe at all, certainly not a stole (which I won’t wear). And we would conduct these arguments while eating catfish (unclean) at a restaurant on the Sabbath!

I am not suggesting that the Law does not matter and I also don’t think Paul is suggesting such a thing to the Galatians, but I will suggest that there is more to his argument than we give proper attention to. After all, the Law prohibits stealing. Can we say that it’s ok to steal if we really want to because we are “not under the law”? Of course not. Jesus even tells His disciples that we prove our love for Him by obedience; without the Law, there is nothing to obey. There is nothing to differentiate between right and wrong except what seems ok to us and even Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates did not agree on right, wrong, and reason though they would split hairs on what constitutes “moral law”, “natural law”, and “civil law” or their basis of existence. I think all would agree, though, that there must be a societal standard of conduct.

The Mosaic Law is a community system of standards, and this law distinguishes a people. But Jesus uses the woman as a portrait of how it all works together, that there is not a distinction between Law and Grace because each is of a Divine Source. The Law creates a community, violation of that Law is a sign of brokenness, and Grace is that means by which we are brought back into that community. The Pharisee with whom Jesus was dining had cast this woman out of the community because of the community’s standard, but without the grace by which we are restored to the community was lacking. And the Lord God is nothing if not “restorative”; hence the Covenant of Christ.

Do not disregard the Law, but do not forget that it is but one side of a two-sided coin. Jesus is indeed Grace personified, but He also fulfills the Law rather than “doing away with it”. It is the complete and total picture of the ONE true God and Father of all creation. It is His community; it is His standard, and it is His alone to restore.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Now THAT'S Ethical!

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not only challenging Defense Department policy regarding reimbursements to the US Treasury for family members accompanying a lawmaker on government business-related travel but is also challenging the very essence of “sweeping” ethics reforms she believes the Democrats spear-headed in their new congressional majority.

There was action taken earlier this year regarding gifts to lawmakers and their staff from lobbyists, an idea that was long overdue, but there now appears to be an issue regarding “protocol” when a lawmaker travels on official business. Apparently a lawmaker’s spouse is expected to travel with the lawmaker while on official business. In the absence of a spouse, an adult child of that lawmaker is apparently expected to fill the void for the sake of proper protocol. Additionally, Ms. Pelosi apparently is having difficulty understanding the difference between “policy” (which is official, written, and unambiguous) and “practice” (which is unofficial, unwritten, and rightfully under scrutiny for the sake of ethics reform).

“It has been longstanding policy that, in the absence of a congressional spouse, the adult child of a member of Congress may accompany the member on official U.S. government travel abroad for protocol reasons and without reimbursing the U.S. Treasury,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said according to “The Hill”.

Pentagon officials say the policy is that the Treasury must be reimbursed at commercial rates for children who accompany members on such trips, often called codels. It would seem, then, that since there is a name for the practice of children accompanying their lawmaking parents, it must therefore be the POLICY of the US government that children of members of Congress do not travel for free. Besides, the children of the lawmakers (nor spouses, for that matter) were not elected to office and do not serve in any official capacity, protocol considerations notwithstanding. It makes perfect sense, then, that taxpayers not be required to fund these junkets. If they want to take a road trip with mom or dad, fine. Just do not expect it to be a freebie; pay for it like the rest of us.

Here’s the thing. This elitist, privileged-class attitude among members of Congress is pervasive throughout the entire body, Democrat or Republican. There is a reason why otherwise ordinary citizens are willing to spend millions of dollars trying to convince us that our sorry lives will never be quite right unless we elect them to office. There is no longer any such thing as a member of Congress who is “of the people”, and their continued efforts to enhance their own privilege above that which is afforded the rest of us is a constant reminder of how absolutely power does, indeed, corrupt.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Truth or Dare...

Though it is not necessarily a noble claim, I freely admit that I am as much a conservative Christian as there can be. For my simple way of thinking, some things that have always been wrong will always be as wrong as they are presently wrong. In other words, as biblical teachings and moral guidance can go, there are fundamental standards based on centuries of teachings and traditions. Lately, however, evangelical and/or conservative Christians have taken quite a beating in the media for being narrow-minded, bigoted, ignorant, judgmental, etc. Sadly, however, we seem to have come by such accusations honestly; we’ve earned them. We’ve earned them by demanding that others live according to what we believe to be best. Oddly, we resist a government which sometimes seems to demand the same of us while we demand of this same government to force “them” to tow “our” line. Wow.

Still, being conservative means that I don’t have to keep up with the latest fads, and I don’t have to worry about whether my preaching is “hip” or “with it” (it probably isn’t, anyway, considering my dated word choices). I need only be thorough, sufficiently convinced that what I offer from the pulpit is something useful for the congregation, and relevant. I pray and hope that I’ve done at least this much. Sadly, the fruits of my efforts may not be apparent for generations, if at all.

Being conservative is not as simple, however, as merely rejecting everything I happen to disagree with (though guilty, I’m sure). Every situation, perhaps especially those of a social nature, requires that I think through it within the context of what I happen to believe because more often than not, things are not what they seem and the line between “liberal” and “conservative” becomes blurred. We are then challenged to think beyond the surface issue and consider a particular issue’s more profound implications.

This is what we face with the Arkansas Family Council’s stated intent to submit a ballot proposal to the state’s attorney general which, if approved, would ask Arkansas residents to vote directly on whether we will ban adoptions and foster parent applications by homosexuals. While we’re at it, let’s vote on whether unmarried, cohabitating couples could also be considered less fit to serve as parents, foster or otherwise, to this state’s 3,000 children who currently have no home to call their own. After all, are we talking about sin in general or just one particular sin?

Whether one advocates for or against homosexual rights is, I think, irrelevant. The primary matter at hand should be that which concerns the children who belong to this state. And by “state”, I do not mean some nameless, faceless, unidentifiable entity with no soul and no sense of moral direction. Rather, the “state” is comprised of us citizens who elect others to conduct the state’s business in our behalf. And since we cannot seem to agree about the whole homosexual thing, let’s at least agree that these children belong to us and require our attention.

The purpose of the proposal to be put before us is whether we believe innocent children will be emotionally or mentally or morally harmed, perhaps irreparably, by exposure to a lifestyle some consider to be immoral. The question is whether or not a child can be properly nurtured in such an environment. The problem, however, is that heterosexual married couples are not exactly beating down the door of state services offering to open up their “normal” homes to these children, which brings us back to where we started: making a demand without knowing exactly what we seek to accomplish. Are we trying to put homosexual citizens in their place, or are we seeking a remedy to a problem that involves children?

The problem with this whole scenario is that we have yet to truly identify the real problem. Is the problem centered on homosexuals who want to provide homes to children who need them (or maybe “recruit” them?), or is it children who need nurturing, stable, and permanent homes? It seems to me that up to this point, we are seeking a solution to a problem we have yet to isolate. These two issues, homosexual rights and foster children, are mutually exclusive. One has nothing to do with the other.

If there is any harm to be done, it is being done now while we use innocent children as political and/or moral leverage. There truly is a moral issue at stake; I’m just not sure that it is religious or doctrinal in nature.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Proper Authority

Coming up soon is a proposal for United Methodist General Conference which will essentially remove the authority of the licensed pastor to administer the Sacraments at the charge to which he or she is appointed. One district superintendent has already come forth to defend the Discipline and the ministry of the licensed pastor. Another ordained elder has come out clearly against the sacramental authority of the local pastor. As a licensed pastor myself, I take exception to his arguments for maintaining the "purity" of the ordained and hope to work out for myself what my ministry means. And I must also say that this particular elder has all but confirmed what I have long suspected: there are many elders who seem to resent the local pastor administering the sacraments.

Don't get me wrong. I have encountered many ordained elders who have worked tirelessly to support the ministry of the local pastor, my own district superintendent included. Not by mere words but by solid action, these elders have proved that they take the ministry and the necessity of the local pastor quite seriously. However, this particular elder who believes that "set apart is set apart" has actually presented his case in a most elite fashion of supposing that merely having been ordained by man imparts some mystical power, an attitude that lends itself to the same kinds of superstitions that Wesley himself accused the Roman church of projecting.

The elder who seems to resent the ministry of the licensed pastor acknowledged the DS's "logistical" considerations but maintained that the issue is quite theological. I happen to agree that there is a theological element that must take precedence over any logistical concerns, but he lost me when he quoted the United Methodist Hymnal instead of Holy Scripture and referenced Charles and John Wesley instead of Jesus of Nazareth and St. Paul. If there is to be a theological argument made against the ministry of the local pastor, we are going to have to go a little deeper than a music book.

There are too many points that the elder attempted to make, but I want to focus primarily on one particular statement that has really stuck in my craw. He stated, "If the bread and wine somehow become the Body and Blood, then the question becomes: who is responsible for facilitating that change? Can just anyone say the words? I can only imagine how John Wesley might answer that question."

I think perhaps it goes right to the heart of his point of "anyone" saying the words. What words are we referring to? Is there a magical, hocus-pocus formula-type of incantation by which the Holy Spirit of the Lord God would be compelled to bless the elements whether He would choose to or not, or were Jesus' words true enough that "whenever there are two or more gathered in My name, I will be there"? I suppose I resent the good reverend's implication that only an elder's prayer is a genuine prayer that can truly count. And I know that many Methodists will cringe at such a statement, but who is John Wesley that we should seek to quote him rather than the Scriptures he himself quoted often?

And lest we forget, John Wesley was not Methodist nor was he a bishop in the church he served. If there is to be a succession of apostolic authority, one might suggest that Wesley was in direct violation of his contemporary discipline which reserved the authority to ordain for bishops. We already know that Mr. Wesley torqued a lot of screws with those in authority over him, but he sought to address a need that is as acute today as then.

As it stands now, licensed pastors such as I have fulfilled the educational requirements as set forth in the Discipline and under proper authority have earned the privilege of administering the Sacraments of the Church in the charge to which we are appointed. Why has it become significant in the life of the church that this authority be recalled and the credentials of the licensed pastor be declared null and void? Are elders really going to be willing to rise at O dark:thirty to cover the 5 or 6 churches in his or her immediate proximity in order to administer the Sacraments? Oh, Rev. Elder did suggest that we local pastors may serve as his altar boys by coming to him for his "blessing" upon the elements so that the magical transformation may take place even as he repudiates the notion of transubstantiation, "just like John Wesley".

I have tried to be kind and hold my tongue and will continue to try, but I suppose I am a little resentful because of what is afoot within this church. We have problems to face and deal with, but I just don't happen to think this is one of them. And if there is, as I suspect, a move on the part of ordained clergy to protect their "country club" network and elite hierarchy, the fallout from that alone will likely be more than the United Methodist Church can bear because, sadly, the ordained pastor is not held in as high esteem as in the past. Pretending to be a cut above the mere laity will surely back-fire.

I don't mean to diminish the role of the ordained. I refuse to wear a stole and am extremely uncomfortable being addressed as "reverend" because I view it as a professional title that has been earned, theologically or otherwise. The ordained elder is also free to administer the Sacraments anywhere and at any time whereas the licensed pastor is restricted to the charge to which appointed. Fair enough. So I only ask that the role and ministry of the licensed pastor be offered this very same level of respect until or unless all ordained clergy show a willingness to travel to so many churches because I, for one, have not been called to carry table scraps from one church to another.

The Real Issue is ...

As of this writing, Rep. William Jefferson, D-LA, has voluntarily stepped down from his congressional committee assignment in light of the federal indictments he must now face. There is, however, no indication that he will voluntarily resign his congressional seat and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that he should even though there does seem to be a “smoking gun” related to the charges against him. Still, being under indictment in this country is not the same as having been convicted and if we believe in equal protection and presumed innocence until proved otherwise, I see no need for his resignation.

Of course Republicans are going to try to get as much mileage as they can from this situation just as Democrats decried the Republican “culture of corruption” when so many, including “Scooter” Libby, were facing indictments and/or prison time. The problem as it seems, however, is that this very political Congress has over the years digressed into a tit-for-tat mentality that will only get worse after each election cycle because no politician I can think of has the guts or the will to end it. Unfortunately, they cannot be held completely responsible because we voters are the ones who continue to reelect them due, I think primarily, to our complacency and apathy.

Back to the topic at hand. Mr. Jefferson has not been convicted, yet there are ethics investigations pending in the Congress to try and determine whether the congressman has violated any House rules. I suppose for the sake of expediency, Mr. Jefferson may need to consider such a move since he will have a difficult time getting anything done until this matter is put to rest. There are not only Republicans demanding his liver on a stick but a few Democrats as well, fearing as they should the accusation of that same “culture of corruption” that politically dogged the Republicans for so long. Being distracted by the federal indictments and then also facing an ethics inquiry within the House means that Mr. Jefferson will be under suspicion from now until the time he is convicted or exonerated. Considering the time line for a typical trial, this could take months. In the meantime, the good people of Louisiana’s District 2 will be out their duly elected representative.

It’s too bad that as implied by this impending House ethics committee investigation that there is a complete disconnect between service as a member of Congress, law and order, and jurisprudence. The House committee investigation is also somewhat lagging in relevance considering that this investigation has been going on for two years. The House leadership cannot say this is all new to them; in fact, it was the former Republican speaker Dennis Hastert who raised such a stink when the FBI searched Mr. Jefferson’s congressional office last year, maintaining that the separation of powers prohibited such a search, disregarding the cash that had already been found in the congressman’s home freezer. Still, the cloud of suspicion existed and no one seemed interested in an ethics investigation until now when official federal indictments have been issued.

The fact that a sitting US congressman is under indictment is genuine news that affects us all to one degree or another but politically speaking, what is the issue that concerns the US House specifically? The gentleman from Louisiana must now answer the indictments - and it will be a matter between his attorney and the prosecutors - but does the Congress as a body have any real dog in this fight beyond the Democrat vs. Republican political ramifications? Of course not. The matter is between the people of the United States and Mr. Jefferson himself not as a congressman but as a citizen who is accused of criminal activity while serving as a congressman. That he is accused of using his office to make special deals is merely incidental though certainly mitigating. Would any among us be more or less guilty as mere citizens under similar indictments? Politically, yes; legally and constitutionally, no.

We citizens are the ones who have a real and compelling interest in this matter as it unfolds because the real issue now is whether or not Mr. Jefferson is presumed innocent before trial or is guilty by mere accusation. Accused child molesters and rapists face the very same public risk once their names and faces are pasted all over the news media and are forevermore permanently connected to the crimes whether. In the eyes of the public – and potential jurors – they are guilty as charged.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Observations of Innocence

Attending a 6th grade awards ceremony recently, my wife and I had more than our share of proud moments as the fruits of Emily’s hard work paid off in some awards of recognition for outstanding grades and as well as achievement in other endeavors. Additionally, she shared an award for Outstanding 6th Grade Student with one other girl and two boys from her class. It was indeed a proud moment for the parents as well as for the children but as proud as we were, these awards were not what struck me so profoundly. I share all this not to brag but to (hopefully) make a point.

There is a classmate named Ben who is confined to a wheelchair, suffering from NBIA (Neurodegeneration with Brain Iron Accumulation) which affects the nervous system. I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of this disorder, and I’m even less sure that it matters much. What I do know is that the entire 6th grade class was recognized for having raised over $500 in a “Pennies for Ben” drive to benefit continued research on this dreaded disorder. To be perfectly honest, I was so choked up with emotion that it was hard to hear anything else going on because what touched me most was not so much the pity I felt for Ben (though there was plenty of that) but rather, the pride and the sense of hope for tomorrow that I felt for the rest of the class.

They wheeled young Ben up to the stage as the check was presented to his family. My weakness is seeing young children in such conditions that they cannot enjoy the childhood most of us are so familiar with, the childhood we adults sometimes long for a return to, those days of innocence and wonderment when the most important decisions we had to make was whether to play with friend A or friend B or whether to ride bikes or walk to the swimming pool. Ben will never know such a life as this. In fact, I’m not even sure of his level of cognizance though I would imagine that he is at least aware of his surroundings. He just cannot physically respond to them.

Children never cease to amaze me in that I not-so-fondly recall how cruel they can sometimes be. Yet in the glow of achievement, these children seemed to remember a classmate who will never reach their level of achievement and may never know of such carefree moments and memories the likes of which we adults tend to draw back to when life threatens to overwhelm us. These precious children remembered even as they struggled through the school year that there is a classmate who needs a little help, and they did what they could to offer assistance to a friend in need.

I guess the reason such images provoke these emotions in me is that in my own personal and professional ambitions, I oftentimes forget how truly blessed I am, being more concerned about what I lack rather than what I already have. Worse, I forget and am too soon reminded that I am blessed not because I’m lucky or loved or favored, at least not necessarily or exclusively so. I am blessed, as so many of us are blessed, because those like Ben or the blessed children caught up in the genocide at Darfur and other parts of the world have needs that far exceed even our wildest and most vivid imaginations. We are so richly blessed not just so we can enjoy our lives or certain advantages but because someone else knows nothing but misery and pain. We are given much because much is expected of us (Luke 12:48).

Even beyond this knowledge and sometimes overwhelming sense of guilt, I forget to see that the Lord God is perfected and at His very best in the life of young Ben and so many other children who are surrounded by we who enjoy abundant blessings and forget that the meaningless drivel of our doctrinal disputes matter not at all to these innocent and – I believe - most favored of our Holy Father. These are the ones who are wounded by life’s daily grind, haunted by needs we cannot imagine nor appreciate. These children are ignored or forgotten altogether, sort of how the Lord must feel as we get too busy to pay attention to the things that really matter.

Here’s the thing about all this, though. The Bible teaches us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), calling us – in fact, CHALLENGING us – to share in the suffering of those who need so desperately because if we are enjoying a life of abundance, we are absent the suffering that “produces endurance”. And if we are absent the endurance, then we are absent the character that endurance produces. And if we are absent the character, we will lack the one thing that gives us reason to endure: HOPE (Romans 5:1-5). And if we lack hope, then Paul may be suggesting to the Romans an absence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the giver of the life and hope every living person so desperately needs.

The funny thing about endurance is that far too many of us who live within this “instant gratification” society are seriously lacking. Instant Gratification is perhaps the single greatest enemy of the innocence into which we are born because it then when we cross the rather narrow divide between innocence and self-centeredness. Instant Gratification demands of us a knowledge and an appreciation for this world and everything material that it has to offer so much so that our greatest pursuit in life is “MORE”. And if we happen to think about it, Ben and the children of Darfur might get whatever we have left over – that is, once we have acquired all that we think we need or want.

Character, at least the kind of character Paul writes about, is that nature of humanity which understands that our capacity for “more” is in focusing on those who do not have as well as helping those who have yet to “cross over” from innocence to a state of self-indulgence when we fall into the trappings of “zero down” and “easy financing”, lacking as we do the discipline required to be patient and the character to work toward more noble goals.

It is not about manual labor or physical endurance, however. It is about having a state of mind that understands the virtues of patience (faith) and hard work. It is about understanding that the world does not revolve around us and our own particular needs especially when our needs are fulfilled at least tenfold. It is about understanding the nature of the character St Paul is trying to impart to the Romans and to the Galatians. It is about knowing that a little hard work and its requisite suffering – translated “allowing” - is necessary to attain that level of character Paul writes about because the challenges to be faced will indeed seem insurmountable to those who lack the strength of character – and the faith of innocence - to endure.

Absent the sort of character to which St Paul alludes, it will be virtually impossible for us today to hear the Spirit of Truth. Jesus told His disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” John 16:12

I wonder if we can bear them today. Innocence makes many observations that we fail to notice because we have become far too world-wise for our own good and for the good of others who desperately need us to hear the voice of the Spirit of Truth to offer to them the hope that comes only from the Lord, the same Hope you and I once had and can have again.