Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Threat to the Rule of Law

It is useful to look back more than four years to see how Donald Trump was seen before he was nominated.  

In Donald Trump Could Threaten U.S. Rule of Law, Scholars Say (6/3/2016) Adam Liptak wrote: 

Donald J. Trump’s blustery attacks on the press, complaints about the judicial system and bold claims of presidential power collectively sketch out a constitutional worldview that shows contempt for the First Amendment, the separation of powers and the rule of law, legal experts across the political spectrum say.

He went on to list the views of several major players at that time, before Trump's formal nomination.  Some thought that institutional norms would limit Trump:

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who has become a reluctant supporter of Mr. Trump, said he did not believe that the nation would be in danger under his presidency. 'I still believe we have the institutions of government that would restrain someone who seeks to exceed their constitutional obligations,' Mr. McCain said. "We have a Congress. We have the Supreme Court. We’re not Romania. Our institutions, including the press, are still strong enough to prevent' unconstitutional acts," he said.

I hear that it is beautiful in Bucharest this time of year.  Obviously, Senator McCain was quickly disabused of the idea that somehow President Trump would be limited by any of these institutions or norms.

The risk that Donald Trump could damage the rule of law was recognized from the beginning, but his willingness to act with the assumption of impunity was not expected.  A brief (and incomplete) summary of the threat could be arranged by what characteristic of the rule of law is damaged by his actions;

  • Equality: Refused to submit tax returns, rejected valid Congressional subpoenas, asserted powers not in the Constitution.
  • Effectiveness: Interfered with the work of inspector generals of agencies including removing or replacing five just this last spring.  Apparently Trump considered them disloyal for doing their jobs when they investigated him, or his appointees.  Only one had ever been fired before, by Obama, during eight years in office.
  • Independence: Sought to directly interfere with decisions of career prosecutors in criminal cases that affected his or his allies interests, abetted by the Attorney General.  
  • Justice: Instituted an intentionally cruel policy of separating children from parents when detained by immigration authorities.  Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions openly said the purpose was to create a deterrent. 
There is a lot more than that to consider.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

So, what is the rule of law?

 Well, things have been busy.   I said I would have some notes on rule of law, and after redoing them several times (I find writing hard) here they are.

Context: I am suggesting that some political prolife groups are making choices that conflict with the rule of law, which may undercut any supposed gains made.


The rule of law is not merely that there are laws, and that they are enforced. (I've seen this referred to as "rule by law".) Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union would qualify -- both had police, courts, lawyers, and at times forms of due process. Then and now it is not enough.

Generally, a legal system upholds the rule of law if it has certain characteristics.

  • Equality: it holds every person or entity, including the state, equally accountable to the law.
  • Effectiveness: it enacts, administers, and enforces the law fairly, accessibly, and efficently.
  • Independence: it enforces the law through an independent judiciary.
  • Justice: it protects human rights.

This requires processes and norms (formal and informal) that constitute a legal system that can be resilient, supple, and self-correcting.    

Experience shows that the rule of law is a critical part of establishing and maintaining: 

  • stability and order,
  • social and economic progress, and
  • human dignity.

For all this to work, the people need to see the system as legitimate and choose to obey the law.  Americans historically have followed the law as well or better than any other nation.  That has been damaged recently, and may well get much worse.

Next: what is going wrong.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Being both pro-life, and committed to the rule of law

I fear that the political pro-life movement is about to collide with the rule of law. 

That will be self-defeating, and it won't help the rule of law either. If you really want to protect human rights and dignity at all stages of life, you are asking to expand the rule of law to equally include all persons, especially those most under threat. This includes the poor, the sick, the stranger, the young and the old, the prisoner and the unborn. Of course this assumes you have established and will maintain that same rule of law. 

For decades most of the political pro-life movement has narrowed its target to reversing Roe v Wade. More recently, in order to achieve that one thing, many have chosen to support persons and groups that are working now to deeply damage the rule of law. The aim seems to be winning, with little concern for collateral damage. Changing the law means little if law itself is debased. One is asking for too little, and is willing to pay far too much for it. Enough now. More on that rule of law later . . .

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Documents for Diocesan Congress Presentation

Here are the documents for:

Session D.03
Spirituality for Webmasters and Social Media Mavens
October 14th 2017
Diocesan Congress
Diocese of Fresno

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

High Level Summary

Here is a five sentence summary of the presentation
  • We use the Web more and more in ministry, but it can make a problem like acedia more severe.
  • Acedia is the ancient name for a state of spiritual passivity, restlessness, and lack of care.
  • We respond to God’s call by trying to find our true self and true vocation through being transformed by His love.
  • Acedia will damage us spiritually because choosing not to care about God’s call cuts us off from our vocation and identity.
  • The remedy is stability - returning to the ordinary and a consciousness of God’s presence in it.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Doxa on Eros

How are these deep God-given desires made manifest, what are the channels where these deep energies flow?  Some that I can identify are:

  • Intimacy - We are made for intimate relationship, ultimately with God, but including the forms of human intimacy - romance, friendship, and marriage.
  • Community - Being human means forming concrete communities; social and political community, the community of the baptised, the People of God.
  • Compassion - Realizing that the Other, is not an other, coming to identify with the stranger, the sick, the poor, the prisoner. the small ones of God.
  • Joy - our recognition that God's spirit dwells in us, that we loved and valued
It is in these ways, in these areas that God calls and we respond, we are pulled both out and further into ourselves and we search to find what or who is pulling us onward. These  channels  for our searching, ascending love, our eros, are also the ways that God's answering, expanding agape reaches down to and through us into the world.

Our expression of these ways is subject to certain constraints or qualities that condition how we respond. It must be:
  • personal  
  • intentional - voluntary for a reason with understanding
  • incarnate
  • bound by time and place
  • embedded in a social and cultural context.
A note on some Greek words -- we have already been discussing eros.  Another such Greek word is doxa, the root word for such terms as orthodoxy and heterodoxy.  In this context, it means the structure of experience and belief that we construct as we gain experience in the spiritual life. Propelled by eros, based on doxa we move to the third Greek word, praxis.

Friday, September 15, 2017

In brief

In regard to the need for stability in dealing with acedia, there is The Brief Rule of St. Romuald:

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.

If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.

And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.

Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.

Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

To be referred to later.

Shoving off

The presentation has just started and we are now past the initial words. Time to get on with it.

I am assuming that if you didn't use the internet and social media in ministry, you would not be here. Consider this pastor's activities:
Not counting weekly worship festivities, here is a glimpse of my technological life in a typical week:
  • Twitter: 150-200 tweets
  • Facebook: 40-50 interactions and connections /li>
  • E-mails: 300-400 e-mail that require a response /li>
  • Blogging: 2-3 postings /li>
  • Time: 20-25 hours online /li>
  • Cafe hours: 15-20 hours /li>
  • Home visits, face-to-face meetings: 2 /li>
  • Emergency hospital visits -- none in eight years/li>
And this is Bruce Reyes-Chow, formerly the Moderator of General conference -title- for the Presbyterian Church USA But this kind of pattern is becoming more and more the norm. I know people whose ministry leadership work keeps them at a screen at least four hours each day broken up by the occasional meeting. And they feel like they are spinning their wheels.
I'm sure you all have had days like that.Perhaps more than a day or so. Consider this experience from John Plotz:
By some miracle, you set aside a day to tackle that project you can’t seem to finish in the office. You close the door, boot up your laptop, open the right file and . . . five minutes later catch yourself thinking about dinner. By 10 a.m., you’re staring at the wall, even squinting at it between your fingertips. Is this day 50 hours long? Soon, you fall into a light, unsatisfying sleep and awake dizzy or with a pounding headache; all your limbs feel weighed down. At which point, most likely around noon, you commit a fatal error: leaving the room. I’ll just garden for a bit, you tell yourself, or do a ew little charity work. Hmmm, I wonder if my friend Gregory is around??
And he didn't even mention that quick research on a topic in Wikipedia for just a minute or watching out a hot new viral video or two, or just quickly reviewig of your Facebook messages or repeated checking of email for whatever reason.Sound familiar? So does any of this sound familiar?

  • restlessness
  • inability to stick to a project or a plan - not seeing matters through, 
  • becoming or allowing oneself to be easily distracted, in attention
  • allowing tedium and boredom to creep in.
  • laziness of a kind, or sluggishness
  • easily becoming tired or even exhausted, 
This may not a problem with time management, or simple procrastination, or even overuse of the internet, at least not by itself. The danger here is not limited to the psyche -- what I am describing here is what may be a malady of the soul -- acedia.