FrJody.com

Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: April 2017

Scientists Crack A 50-Year-Old Mystery About The Measles Vaccine : Goats and Soda : NPR

Vaccination is key to so much of the progress that has been achieved in public health. -Jody

Back in the 1960s, the U.S. started vaccinating kids for measles. As expected, children stopped getting measles.But something else happened.Childhood deaths from all infectious diseases plummeted. Even deaths from diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea were cut by half.

Scientists saw the same phenomenon when the vaccine came to England and parts of Europe. And they see it today when developing countries introduce the vaccine.”In some developing countries, where infectious diseases are very high, the reduction in mortality has been up to 80 percent,” says Michael Mina, a postdoc in biology at Princeton University and a medical student at Emory University.”So it’s really been a mystery — why do children stop dying at such high rates from all these different infections following introduction of the measles vaccine,” he says.Mina and his colleagues think they now might have an explanation. And they published their evidence Thursday in the journal Science.

Now there’s an obvious answer to the mystery: Children who get the measles vaccine are probably more likely to get better health care in general — maybe more antibiotics and other vaccines. And it’s true, health care in the U.S. has improved since the 1960s.But Mina and his colleagues have found there’s more going on than that simple answer.

The team obtained epidemiological data from the U.S., Denmark, Wales and England dating back to the 1940s. Using computer models, they found that the number of measles cases in these countries predicted the number of deaths from other infections two to three years later.”We found measles predisposes children to all other infectious diseases for up to a few years,” Mina says.And the virus seems to do it in a sneaky way.

Source: Scientists Crack A 50-Year-Old Mystery About The Measles Vaccine : Goats and Soda : NPR

This Jesus God raised up…

Sermon notes for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017
Scripture: Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Peter, full of the Spirit (and not drunk at all), speaks to the crowd: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”

We are witnesses still.

Like those who cheered Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, hopeful about the future, we are witnesses to hope and to the fact that sometimes we hope for the wrong things. Many of those who greeted Jesus waving palm fronds seem to have been hopeful about a new military leader, a royal claimant who would kick out the Romans as the Hasmoneans (the Maccabees) had expelled the Seleucid armies before them. Tired of being the push-me pull-me of the Near East, the Jewish people hoped once again to gain their independence.

But Jesus was insistent that his Kingdom is not like other kingdoms. It is not begotten in war, and cannot be conquered. It will have no end. Those folks with the palms, their hope was skewed, but they nevertheless witnessed the fruition of God’s promise to give them a kingdom not trodden under foot by any oppressor. To reveal an enduring reality impossible to thwart: the dominion of God in this world.

So Peter calls them witnesses.

We are witnesses still.

Like the crowds who called for Jesus’ crucifixion, we have witnessed the petty and idolatrous pull of power and the simple avoidance of discomfort that animates systems to crush those who, for a multitude of reasons, find themselves crossways with a bureaucracy and culture that cares little about truth, little about the human, little about hearts, and much about keeping things as they are. It doesn’t matter what bureaucracy you pick. Fill in the blank. Some are more obvious in their idolatry of comfort, ideology, or purity, over people, but all human systems breed people who, like the Temple leaders who told Judas to “see to it himself” rather than to accept his returned blood money, and Pilate who told the Jewish people to “see to it” themselves, and who cynically pursued the trial of Jesus as a means of bolstering his own power and position, going so far as to symbolically wash his hands, as though he could remove the guilt of sending an innocent man to death. As though he were not to discover, like Lady MacBeth, that the stain of blood on one’s hands cannot be expunged by any natural water. Like a character on the Shakespearian stage, we can imagine similar words for Pilate: “What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?” (MacBeth, 5.1.41-43)

But the spot will not come out. Pilate’s hands are not clean.

Neither are ours when we sacrifice the innocent, the weak, the wounded, the frail, for the fleeting glory of worldly power, or the simple avarice of self-aggrandizement, intellectual comfort, or worldly goods.

As Rowan Williams has written:

“the more we seek—individually, socially, and nationally—to protect ourselves at all costs from intrusion, injury, and loss, the more we tolerate a public rhetoric incapable of affirming our mortal uncertainties, errors, and insecurities, the more we stand under Ezekiel’s judgment for ‘abominable deeds’—the offering of fleshly persons on the altar of stone” (Williams, “Hearts of Flesh,” in A Ray of Darkness, 35-36).

In other words Jesus is a threat because he calls out power, and demonstrates its emptiness. He does not need to defend himself because his power is as different in scale and in kind as black hole is from a ripple on a lake. It’s impossible to escape the judgement of the judge who goes on trial, the King who rules and pronounces forgiveness from a cross, because it calls out the fact that we as a people will do anything to hide our weakness, especially ridding ourselves of those who remind us of it.

Pilate wasn’t the only offender. Peter preaches to the crowd and says “you crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of those outside the law.” Pilate and the Romans were outside the teaching of the Torah–the Law–being gentiles. This is not a charge that should be seen as specifically raised against the Jewish people, as has far too often erroneously and with horrible consequence been taught.  Instead, it’s a pointing out that if the Law had penetrated the hearts of those who were called to internalize it, they would not have demonstrated the priorities they did. This is an issue prior to the question of whether they were willing to give up the popular conception of the Messiah. Peter is highlighting the expediency that attended the calls for Christ’s crucifixion.

So Peter calls them witnesses.

Because any one of us can look and find examples of such failures in our society and in ourselves:

We are witnesses still.

We are witnesses, surely, of the failings of our society, and undeniably of our own failures and the ramifications of sin in our own lives. Many of us have witnessed cruelty, more than a few have inflicted it from time to time, sometimes unwittingly.

We are witnesses as well to the fact that we have been wounded and harmed by others. I do not believe any of us wound that have not been wounded. None of us are unscathed.

And yet, this is not what Peter is actually calling the crowd, or us, to bear witness to. Or at least, that’s not the whole story. It’s not a very attention grabbing story either, unfortunately. “People are Bad” isn’t exactly a man bites dog headline.

Yes, many people worked for the execution of Jesus. And all of us are implicated because it is human sinfulness that bears the ultimate blame. But Peter calls the crowd witnesses of something specific:

“This Jesus God raised up….”

In other words, the crowd to whom Peter speaks, they are witnesses of the fact that in the face of everything I listed and more, God raised Jesus from the dead.

And we are witnesses still.

Like Thomas–I hesitate to call out his doubts as all that distinct from those of the other disciples, so let’s call him Thomas the ill-timed–like him, we are invited to examine the wounds in Christ.

And why would that be?

Because of everything I listed.

Because those wounds demonstrate that God did not come to earth to skate on through. It wasn’t something to check off of a list. The wounds of Christ bear witness to everything that happened before Easter morning. God will wipe away every tear. But the tears are still worth crying.

I said on Palm Sunday that the Cross is important for those who have experienced oppression, that the blood of Christ is important for those who have suffered. To unpack that a bit more, people who have borne the burden of human sin in their flesh and in their psyche should not be expected to identify with a sanitized man-God that would be more at home in b-movies whether religious or sci-fi, than in the real world of human sin and frailty.

I think that’s all true. But there’s more.

All of us are wounded in our lives. I’ve yet to meet someone who wasn’t. If you’ve escaped unscathed thus far, please talk to me after church, I want to know your secret.

We are witnesses to our own wounds. To our own pain.

And we are witnesses that the God who created us in the divine image, saw our woundedness, and that Christ, who is the exact imprint of God’s nature, the Word made flesh, became flesh fully. Including by bearing the marks of human sin. And God raised Jesus from the dead. His body, his flesh, was given new life. But a new life that redeemed all that came before. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side….”

Just as the cross is redeemed be God to change from a sign of horrendous agony, death, and an exhibit of human wickedness, into a sign of hope and life, so the wounds of Christ are transformed in the resurrection, and are redeemed. They are no longer signs of defeat, signs of evil’s triumph. They are instead the signs of identity, markers of solidarity, and their place in the story is re-written to be a testimony of Jesus’ triumph in the face of the anti-trinity of sin, death, and the devil.

The message for us in this Easter season, is that it is not only our souls that God redeems. God has come for all of us, and for all of each one of us–body, soul, and mind. The crowd that Peter spoke to were witnesses of this fact, of this most dynamic power of the resurrection.

“I saw the Lord always before me…” I saw the wounded Lord, always before me. “I will not be shaken…”

We are witnesses still.

The C of E is a still, small voice of calm for all | Comment | The Times & The Sunday Times

The great Whig historian GM Trevelyan was once asked if he was a pillar of the Church of England. “No,” he replied, “I am more of a flying buttress — I support it from the outside.” I know how he felt. Brought up as a Presbyterian, confirmed in the Church of Scotland and schooled every childhood Sunday in its doctrines and practices, I am an outsider in the Anglican communion. And as a wilful, wayward and far too often selfish human being I am in a poor position to pass judgment on any religious issue.But just as migrants can see virtues in their country of adoption that natives have either taken for granted or forgotten, and new arrivals can be enthusiastic about customs, ceremonies and habits that the born and bred feel faintly embarrassed by, so I feel an admiration, a respect, even a love for the Church of England that perhaps only a non-Anglican can freely confess to. Because there is a gentleness and grace, a habit of listening and an ethic of understanding to Anglicanism which makes enthusiasm almost anathema. The C of E is the Church Moderate not Militant and it is rare that anyone is fierce in defence of gentleness.

More than that, the spirit of Anglicanism, the attempt to accommodate doctrinal difference, to keep open as many paths to grace as possible, can easily be caricatured and mocked as insipidity mixed with pusillanimity, an attempt to conjure up a vague aroma of goodness without any strong meat of conviction to give the broth body.

And, to be sure, the Anglican communion has laid itself open to criticism with the way in which some questions, most notably homosexuality, have been handled in recent years. Neither biblical literalists nor modern liberals can be at all happy with the church’s complex and convoluted attempts to accommodate difference. And very few of us can consider it a good use of the church’s time and its leadership’s energy to spend so many hours agonising over the details of how people choose to love each other when there is a crying need to confront pain, loneliness, greed, addiction, despair and hatred — all the dark energy unloosed in this world and driven by the absence of love.

Source: The C of E is a still, small voice of calm for all | Comment | The Times & The Sunday Times

“Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you: you are gentle with us as a mother with her children; Often you weep over our sins and our pride: tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement. You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds: in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us. Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life: by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy. Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness: through your gentleness we find comfort in fear. Your warmth gives life to the dead: your touch makes sinners righteous. Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us: in your love and tenderness remake us. In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness: for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.”
– Anselm of Canterbury (1033 – 1109),
Preface to the Proslogion

After Centuries of Searching, Scientists Finally Find the Mysterious Giant Shipworm Alive | Smart News | Smithsonian

The giant shipworm, Kuphus polythalamia, is not new to science. As Ben Guarino at The Washington Post reports, even Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, was aware of this three-foot-long bivalve back in the 1700s. But no one had actually seen it still alive. Researchers studied the creature from fragments of its casing and the mushy dead bivalve bodies that had washed ashore.“It’s sort of the unicorn of mollusks,” Margo Haygood, marine microbiologist at the University of Utah tells Guarino.But a television station in the Philippines recently discovered the disgusting unicorn, while making a short documentary about strange shellfish growing in a lagoon. A researcher in the Philippines saw the film and sent a message to Haygood, and she helped organize an international team to track down the mollusks, according to a press release. They found the elusive creatures barely peeking out of the mud of a stinky lagoon full of rotting wood positoned in rows like planted carrots.

Source: After Centuries of Searching, Scientists Finally Find the Mysterious Giant Shipworm Alive | Smart News | Smithsonian

Physicists observe ‘negative mass’ – BBC News

Physicists have created a fluid with “negative mass”, which accelerates towards you when pushed.In the everyday world, when an object is pushed, it accelerates in the same direction as the force applied to it; this relationship is described by Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion.But in theory, matter can have negative mass in the same sense that an electric charge can be positive or negative.The phenomenon is described in Physical Review Letters journal.Prof Peter Engels, from Washington State University (WSU), and colleagues cooled rubidium atoms to just above the temperature of absolute zero (close to -273C), creating what’s known as a Bose-Einstein condensate.In this state, particles move extremely slowly, and following behaviour predicted by quantum mechanics, acting like waves.They also synchronise and move together in what’s known as a superfluid, which flows without losing energy.

Source: Physicists observe ‘negative mass’ – BBC News

The other wall…

I’m seeing a lot about the case of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the case about to go before the SCOTUS. The background of the case regards grants given to non-profit tax-exempt schools to improve the safety of their playgrounds. Trinity Lutheran School applied and, I read, their application ranked 5 out of the thirty-something received, with 14 grants available. They were rejected because Missouri, like 38 other states, has a Blaine amendment in its constitution that forbids the direct funding of religious institutions. These amendments are a relic of an attempt to add such an amendment to the US constitution. Part (though not all) of the motivation for these amendments was anti-Catholic and anti-Immigrant sentiment at a time when public schools across the country were basically Protestant parochial schools and often centers of “Americanization.”

The case is interesting for a number of reasons, and touches on several issues I’ve been reflecting on for some time.

First the main issues that people are writing about:

  • Can a state constitution go beyond the United States Constitution in restricting something, in this case, can a state constitution more narrowly define what constitutes establishment. I don’t know if it will have direct bearing on the case, but this reminds me that the Tennessee constitution had a provision that forbade clergy from holding elected office, which was found unconstitutional in 1978 (the last state to have one).
  • Related to the first, is it religious discrimination or does it burden free exercise to exclude some tax-exempt/non-profit organizations from such grants because of their religious identity.

I think these questions are worth asking. The list of Amicus Curiae over at the SCOTUS blog  is very interesting. Most of the briefs seem to have been filed in favor of Trinity Lutheran, but it is interesting that some of the religious ones where not. Reading the briefs on both sides is informative.

I’ve always had some ambivalent feelings about religious organizations taking tax money. I was nervous about President George W. Bush’s office of Faith Based Initiatives because of the reality that accepting money always gives a person or organization a real or percieved degree of control. As one of my friends used to put it “you take the man’s money, you play by the man’s rules.” I’ve heard enough about the mixed bag having a church on the national register of historic places, for example, to say nothing of more contentious issues.

Which brings me to the underlying issue that I think is at play in our society: the proper role of Churches and other non-profits. Whenever issues like this come up on line (another hot button is the clergy housing allowance exclusion) there are always people who ask why churches shouldn’t be treated like businesses. The short answer is that churches are not businesses. Most churches are small. They were granted tax-exempt status not because they were religious, but for the same reason other non-profits were: they are intermediate institutions in society that are cooperative in nature and that, ostensibly at least, work for the common good. Because of this, our society determined that it would be wrong to burden voluntary associations made up of tax payers, whose missions and goals benefit society, with another layer of taxation.

The long and short of it is that, as a Christian, I would almost rather churches paid taxes, to rid ourselves of as much of any sense of beholden-ness to the state as we can. On the other hand, as a citizen, I actually do think these intermediate/mediating institutions are extremely important, especially in a society which is polarizing along too many lines to count (geography, generationally, racially, and certain economically).

 

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