Month: August 2011

Binding & Loosing: Restorative Justice

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 127 Ezekiel 33:7-9 Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9 Romans 13:8-10 Matthew 18:15-20 Today’s readings from Ezekiel, Romans, and Matthew speak to our obligations to one another as a Christian community and, in a way, offer an affirmative reply to the question that Cain gave–“Am I my brother’s keeper?”–in response to God’s asking about Abel’s whereabouts (Genesis 4:9). Yes, we are responsible for one another, and this involves love for one another, which is the fulfillment of the law–but such love is also a truthful love, one that honestly names wrongdoing by our sisters and brothers in the community with the aim of reconciliation and restoration. In the Gospel reading, Jesus offers a process for dealing with conflict in the church (ekklesia, here and in Matthew 16, which are the only two places in the Gospels where this word appears), when a Christian sins. Although many Bible translations add “against you” here, the five Greek letters for this phrase are neither in the oldest manuscripts we have of Matthew nor in the parallel to this passage in Luke 17:3. So the offense here is not necessarily a personal one–that is, where one Christian harms another, with Jesus then instructing the latter to go to the offender. As the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder notes in his brief book, Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community before the...

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Are We all Michael Vick? Our Addiction to Animal Cruelty, Part II

John Berkman and I are in the midst of an exchange designed to draw attention to the issue of cruelty to non-human animals–particularly from the perspective of Christianity and Catholic Moral Theology.  Check back in the middle part of each week (during the next month or so) for a new post on the topic. John Berkman’s post on cruelty to non-human animals last week has, quite rightly, received a lot of attention.  For far too long almost all Christians have sat on the sidelines of this debate, and in the process we have allowed those who wish to keep the status quo to frame the debate such that those who wish to protect other animals are seen as extremists who have an anti-Christian point of view.  But this status quo, as John points out, is a level of barbarity and cruelty that is truly mind-numbing.  He is certainly correct that we should stand against animal cruelty with our words, and also that we should also do our best to refuse to participate in the radically sinful social structure of factory farming. But the latest comment in the post’s thread raises a question that many people may have in mind: is factory farming really that bad?  And a related question: is PETA a reputable source for what is happening to non-human animals in these farms?  These are important questions, and...

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Toward Genuine Exchange: Deconstructing the Linear Binary

In an invited post for the blog of the exciting new Center for FaithJustice, I once again tried to show how the liberal/conservative binary just doesn’t work even in the political arena from which it came, much less in a Church that started in the ancient Middle-East.  Some might suggest that a rejection of this binary means taking a ‘middle’ or ‘moderate’ position, but this is only the case if one accepts the linear binary in the first place. Indeed, because so many accept the binary, a position that falls out of its deconstruction will actually be quite radical and counter-cultural–indeed, anything but moderate. Such a position will not be the ‘center’ of anything, because to describe a discourse which engages the radically complex and multifaceted issues in play in such spatial terms is a fundamental mistake.  As Dana Dillon helpfully pointed out, it is better to think of the landscape in terms of different clusters of people who tend to answer various questions in similar ways.  But given the number of questions involved, and the different issues at stake in each question, many will find themselves in very different company depending what question is being asked.  This kind of radical complexity resists abstract categories and two-dimensional thinking. The solution to this, it seems to me, is to work at seeing our interlocutors in the spirit of Christian charity...

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Our Brains May Lead to Accidental Miscarriages of Justice

Earlier this week, New Jersey Supreme Court Chief justice Stuart J. Rabner, wrote in 134-page unanimous court decision that the test for reliability of eyewitness testimony should be revised. The Court acknowledged a “troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications” and issued new rules for defendants to challenge eye-witness evidence in criminal cases: The court said that whenever a defendant presents evidence that a witness’s identification of a suspect was influenced, by the police, for instance, a judge must hold a hearing to consider a broad range of issues. These could include police behavior, but also factors like lighting, the time that had elapsed since the crime or whether the victim felt stress at the time of the identification. When such disputed evidence is admitted, the court said, the judge must give detailed explanations to jurors, even in the middle of a trial, on influences that could heighten the risk of misidentification. In the past, judges held hearings on such matters, but they were far more limited. The decision applies only in New Jersey, but is likely to have considerable impact nationally. The state’s highest court has long been considered a trailblazer in criminal law, and New Jersey has already been a leader in establishing guidelines on how judges should handle such testimony. According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide....

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Sports, Depression and Suicide

No, this is not a post for fans of the Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Lions, Toronto Maple Leafs, or other sad sack teams who live in cold mid-western climates. It is in response to the recent deaths of a professional hockey player Rick Rypien and former pitcher Mike Flanagan. Rypien was 27 and Flanagan was 59, and they both apparently committed suicide. While in the past this might have been simply baffling to me, or I would figure the person just got themselves into a particularly bad situation, this time, as soon as I heard the news that they had died, even before they were announced as suicides, I thought to myself – ‘suicide, depression.’ I don’t claim to know a lot about depression – embarassing, really – since I’ve taught medical ethics extensively.  I’ve read and used a lot of medical ethics textbooks, and there’s not very much on depression in them.  But I do know a few things about depression, that it is an organic condition, it can strike without warning, and it leads a lot of people to try to kill themselves.  And that it is massively underdiagnosed, particularly in older men(typically post-retirement).  And that depressed men are much more efficient at killing themselves than women, because they’re more likely to use guns.   While we learn CPR and the Heimlich manoeuvre,  depression is not...

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