Peter: Facts and Suppositions


22 September 2016

Another historical reflection? A somewhat annoyed reader asked why I am getting “bogged-down with so much history.”

I am sorry some find it boring or annoying. I am convinced that good history clarifies our human understanding today and builds a more humane and rational road into tomorrow. And this is particularly true when it comes to religious and ethical issues. 

Roman Catholics, for instance, have long maintained that the Bishop of Rome – the pope – is a successor of Peter the Apostle. Contemporary historians and biblical scholars would say the issue, however, is complex. One needs to make some important distinctions. When it comes to Peter, we are dealing with biblical texts, a bit of history, and a fair amount of legend and historical imagination. Perhaps, today, we have more Petrine questions than answers. 

Simon Peter was a fisherman from Bethsaida. When he met Jesus he was about eighteen or nineteen years old, married, with probably one or more children. His parents had named him Simon or Simeon, but Jesus gave him a new name, a sort of nickname: Cephas, “the rock” in Aramaic and Peter in English.  

Clearly Peter was seen as a key leader among the group of apostles and disciples. In all of the Synoptic Gospels, Peter is named first in the lists of the apostles (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16); the same is true for the book of Acts (see 1:13). This is reaffirmed in the post-resurrection narrative inserted into the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 16:18) that Peter is the rock on which the “ekklesia” the congregation of Jesus’ followers is built. (Later as Christianity becomes much more institutionalized the word “ekklesia” gets translated as “church.”) Some exegetes would say that the rock on which Jesus’ congregation is built is not Peter but Peter’s confession of faith: “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.” (Matt 16:17)  

Nevertheless, Matthew says nothing about Peter’s apostleship being passed down to future successors. Nor is there any indication that Jesus was establishing a permanent apostolic see for future bishops. As I stressed last week, the historic Jesus did not lay down any blueprint for ecclesiastical structures. 

When we look at the history and biblical testimony about the early post-Resurrection apostolic community of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, clearly the leader was James the “brother of the Lord.” Peter played a role in the Council of Jerusalem, around 50 CE. Then according to the epistle to the Galatians 2:11, Peter went to Antioch. There he tangled with Paul, who rebuked him for treating Gentile converts as inferior to Jewish Christians.  

There is a tradition that Peter and Paul went to Rome and were put to death at the hands of Nero probably between 64 and 68 CE. According to an old legend, he was crucified upside down; and other folklore fills out the details of Peter’s life and death in Rome — his struggles with the magician and father of heresy, Simon Magus, his miracles, his attempted escape from persecution in Rome, and a flight from which he was turned back by a reproachful vision of Christ, the ‘Quo Vadis’ legend. 

By the second and third centuries, we see stories about Peter springing from unquestioned historical suppositions, legends, and much creative historical imagination by people like Irenaeus of Lyons (died 202 CE). In the New Testament, for instance, we have two epistles attributed to him: 1 Peter and 2 Peter. Most scholars, however, have concluded that Peter was not the author of these two epistles. According to the Roman Catholic biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown, 1 Peter should be dated to between 70 and 90 CE, clearly after Peter’s death. No biblical authorities defend the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, which is believed to have been written by an anonymous author in Rome about 150 CE. 

Contrary to what some think, neither Peter nor Paul brought Christianity to Rome. Before they would have arrived, there were a number of elders and house churches in Rome; and there was no central administrator. No bishop. At some point Peter may have been one of these elders. We really do not know for certain; but Catholic and Protestant historians would stress that Peter was never a bishop of Rome. Raymond Brown, again, and John P. Meier, from the University of Notre Dame, are emphatic in their book Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Christianity, (Paulist Press 1983): 

“As for Peter, we have no knowledge at all of when he came to Rome and what he did there before he was martyred. Certainly he was not the original missionary who brought Christianity to Rome, and therefore not the founder of the church of Rome in that sense. There is no serious proof that he was the bishop, or local ecclesiastical officer, of the Roman church: a claim not made till the third century. Most likely he did not spend any major time at Rome before 58 CE when Paul wrote to the Romans, and so it may have been only in the 60s and relatively shortly before his martyrdom that Peter came to the capital.” 

Peter’s bones:     Between 320 CE and 327 CE, Constantine the Great built the first St. Peter’s Basilica on top of an early Christian burial site that was purported to be Peter’s final resting place. Since at least the ninth century the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome has held in its reliquaries what are believed to be the heads of Peter and Paul. Between 1939 and 1949, a Vatican archaeological team uncovered a complex of 2nd and 3rd century mausoleums under the foundations of the current St. Peter’s Basilica. They found a small niched monument built into a wall from around 160 CE. Bones found there, believed to be those of Peter, were put in a safe place. Years later Pope Paul VI was informed about the belief that these remains were those of St. Peter. Bone testing revealed that the remains were of a sturdy man from around the time of Peter.

On June 26, 1968, just a month before releasing his birth control encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been discovered. Moving ahead to the current pope, on November 24, 2013, these relics were held up by Pope Francis and publicly displayed during the closing of the “Year of Faith.” Peter’s bones? Possibly. Will we ever know for sure? Possibly; but I doubt it.  

Peter the pope:     Although, especially after Constantine and the influence of his relics-collecting mother Helena, Peter and the memory of Peter were held in high regard in Rome, historians are in general agreement that Peter was never pope. 

The first great acclamation of Peter as a pope came from Pope Leo I, also known as Saint Leo the Great, who was pope from 440 CE until his death in 461 CE. Leo the Great greatly contributed to the development of the doctrine of a papal Petrine succession based on his personal devotion to St. Peter. By the 400s CE the bishop of Rome had gradually become understood as the chief patriarch in the Western church; but only as “the first among equals,” along with the other patriarchs, who by the way were also called “popes.” 

Pope Leo I pushed Roman papal authority into a new realm. In 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, after Leo’s teaching about the two natures of Christ was proclaimed, the bishops participating in Chalcedon shouted out: “This is the faith of the fathers … Peter has so spoken through Leo.”  

As I mentioned last week, after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in 476 CE the bishop of Rome became tremendously powerful, as he took on the rituals, pageantry, and organizational structures of the earlier Roman emperors. 

Yes, one can understand the popes as successors of Peter in faith, witness, ministry, and leadership. One can understand many bishops, Catholic and Protestant, sharing in that tradition, as successors of the apostles. It is only with a bit of creative theological imagination, however, that one can call Peter the first pope. 


 

Christianity’s Infancy Narrative


16 September 2016

I have always liked a quotation attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte: “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”

By profession and calling, I am an historical theologian. The focus of my curiosity and my research has always been how believers, across the centuries and in a variety of cultures, have experienced their Christian Faith and how they gave expression to it in words, symbols, rituals, and institutional structures. 

Periodically – especially if he is a bit annoyed by something I have written — a bishop friend reminds me that while I may “perhaps” know more about the church’s history than he does, he, nevertheless, has the fullness of priesthood and possesses complete “sacramental power.” He stresses that at the Last Supper Jesus ordained the first bishops and he, as a “successor of the apostles,” has that same ordination. My old friend is doing exactly as Napoleon observed: presenting the version of past events that he and more than a few of his colleagues have decided to agree upon.  

I would suggest that today’s historical theologians would have a more nuanced understanding of what the historical Jesus actually did at the Last Supper and what happened in the early Christian Church.  

Historians see three major periods for the early Church, as it developed from the primitive Christian community animated by the Easter experience, until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. It was a church that experienced growth, cultural change, and significant modifications over a period of about 500 years. We have: 

1) The Apostolic Community: from time of the Death/Resurrection of Jesus, probably sometime between 27 and 34 CE, until around the year 100 CE.   

2) Greco-Roman Christianity as distinct from Judaic Christianity: from around 100 to 313 CE when the Edict of Milan gave Christianity legal status in the Roman Empire.  

3) Post Constantinian Christianity: from Constantine until the Fall of Rome in 476 CE.  

THE APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY – until around 100 CE. 

In the Apostolic Community, certainly in the beginning, there were still some who had experienced Jesus with their own eyes. The community was an “ekklesia,” an assembly or gathering of Christians animated by the Spirit of Christ, often referred to as “The Way,” based on the well-known statement by Jesus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In the beginning they were Jewish Christians who attended synagogue on the Sabbath and gathered in their homes on Sunday to pray and reflect on the life of Jesus and celebrate “the breaking of bread” (Eucharist) in his memory.  

Those who presided over the house churches and early Eucharistic celebrations were the men and women who were heads of the households. Ordination did not yet exist. The historical Jesus never spoke of ordination, did not ordain anyone; and he did not lay down any institutional blueprint for the church. Life in the Apostolic Community was charismatic and free-form.  

As the Apostolic Community began to grow and create its own structures, “elders” (presbyteroi) were appointed for local communities, “deacons” (diaconoi) ministered to groups with special needs; and “overseers” (episkopoi) were chosen to provide broader-based supervision. While Peter “the Rock” had a major role among the Apostles and Jesus’ disciples, James “the brother of the Lord” became the key leader of the Apostolic Community in Jerusalem.  

The Apostolic Community strove to live in harmony but was not without controversy. Around the year 48 CE a major issue arose in Antioch. (Its ruins lie near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.) The issue was whether or not circumcision was required for “Christians,” the non-Jewish converts to the way of Christ. The new Gentile converts did not follow all “Jewish Law” and refused to be circumcised, because circumcision was considered repulsive in Hellenistic culture. 

Paul and Barnabas were not inclined to impose the Jewish rite of circumcision on Gentile converts to Christianity. The community in Antioch decided to consult the Christian community in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas, together with Titus their Greek companion, as well as some others, were sent to Jerusalem to attend what we call the Council of Jerusalem, around 50 CE. 

At the Council of Jerusalem, Simon Peter (Acts 15:7–11 and Acts 15:14) argued that since God had demonstrated divine approval of Gentile converts by giving them the Holy Spirit, no other burdens should be placed on them. Paul and Barnabas were then invited to give an account of their ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). In the end it was James who submitted a proposal, which was accepted by the council and became known as the Apostolic Decree: 

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:19–21) 

GRECO-ROMAN CHRISTIANITY – until round 313 CE. 

During this period, we see the establishment of ordination not for the sake of giving a person special power but for the sake of church order: a form of quality control for those who exercise leadership in the Christian community. To safeguard the community of faith, only leaders with proven and accepted faith, good Christian knowledge, and proven leadership skills would be authorized – ordained – for ministry in the community of faith. 

In the Greco-Roman period, we see as well a growing institutional distinction between the ordained and the non-ordained; and a gradual limitation on the role of women in the community of faith, thanks to the influence of people like the Christian theologian Origen (185 to 254 CE) who observed: “For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman.” During this period, we also see the influence of Platonic philosophy in a tendency to stress the spiritual over the physical. Nevertheless, there is still a strong sense of being a collaborative community of believers. 

POST-CONSTANTINIAN CHRISTIANITY – until around 476 CE. 

Under the reign of Constantine the Great, from 306 to 337 CE, Christianity became the legally accepted and dominant religion of the Roman Empire. It became the official religion of the Roman Empire, with the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 CE. 

In the post-Constantinian period, Christianity became a full-fledged institutional church. It took over the Roman Empire’s governmental structure, like dioceses for instance. The pomp and ceremony of the old Roman imperial court became the official ceremonial ritual for the Bishop of Rome. (And for many popes thereafter.)  

Bishops during this period became regional civil judges. The church’s liturgy and sacraments became more standardized. Women were edged even more to the background; and we see disturbing signs of misogyny in great churchmen like St. Augustine the Bishop of Hippo (354 to 430 CE) who observed: “What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” And, perhaps not so surprisingly, we see the beginning of a real clerical culture. 

Most importantly in this post-Constantinian period, church authorities approved which books belong to the official canon of the New Testament. Major decisive moments came in the Synod at Rome in 382 CE and the synods at Hippo in 393 CE and Carthage in 397 CE which ratified the Synod at Rome.  

Concluding observations

(1) We cannot reverse the clock, nor should we, even if we could. We are contemporary people living in contemporary time. “We are not on earth as museum keepers,” Pope John XXIII said, “but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life and to prepare a glorious future.” 

(2) It would be greatly beneficial, however, if we could live and minister with the open-minded spirit and creativity of the Apostolic Community. In this way we would best respond to the signs of our contemporary times….. 

(3) Sorry this blog post is longer than usual.  

(4) Next week some brief but to the point thoughts about Peter as “the first pope.” 



Three Kings?


10 September 2016

Labor Day is over. Schools are in session. The frost will soon be on the pumpkin. Just over a hundred days until Christmas.

A few readers have asked about biblical interpretation as it involves the New Testament. Since this is still early September, I thought I would offer a reflection about the Infancy Narratives..  

Years ago I learned, in a parish Bible-study group, that it is difficult to comment about Jesus’ birth close to Christmas. Once the manger scenes are in church and the herald angels are singing, it is impossible to rationally discuss the creative imagery, historical questions, and theological belief about Jesus’ infancy, which often gets mixed with non-biblical (but often understood as biblical) legends and folklore. 

First of all, any Bible-study should begin with the acknowledgement that we know more today about our history and our scriptures than we did forty years ago….And of course we are still learning. 

We have a better understanding of ancient languages, ancient cultures, and the origins and historic evolution of texts. Before 1943, for example, official Roman Catholic teaching was that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch: the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. TODAY we know this was impossible. Moses lived around 1648 BCE. The Pentateuch (first five books of what we used to refer to as the “Old Testament”) was written between 950 BCE and 400 BCE. 

Yes there is history in the Bible, but our Sacred Scriptures focus more on faith and belief than history. Biblical scholars help us distinguish historic fact from the creative and imaginative imagery often used to convey theological belief. And here the Infancy Narratives are a good example. 

JESUS INFANCY NARRATIVES 

The only place in the New Testament where the birth of Jesus is described is in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Paul, whose writings predate Matthew and Luke, provides no information about Jesus’ birth, although he mentions it in three letters (Romans 1:3, Galatians 4:4, 7, and Timothy 2:8). 

The Infancy Narratives in Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 2:1-3 present more of a theological understanding of Jesus than a strictly historical one, although they offer, of course, no challenge to an historical Jesus. That is why theologians speak about “infancy narratives” not about infancy stories. 

Right from the beginning, the purpose of the Infancy Narratives has been to preserve and present a theological understanding of Jesus of Nazareth. 

The infancy narrative in Matthew was written around 85 CE and was written for Jewish converts to Christianity. The infancy narrative in Luke was written around between 85 and 90 CE possibly as late as 95 CE and was written for highly educated Gentile converts to Christianity.  

The infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke are in some respects quite different from one another. Some differences…….. 

– Luke mentions the census which requires Joseph to go to Bethlehem.

– Matthew, however, gives no details of how Joseph and Mary came to be in Bethlehem

– In Luke, shepherds guided by an angel find Jesus in the manger.

– In Matthew, wise men from the East, guided by a star, come not to Bethlehem but to Jerusalem to worship the Infant.

– In Matthew Joseph flees with his wife and child to Egypt where they live until Herod’s death; then they return to Nazareth instead of Bethlehem.

– Luke, on the other hand, does not mention the descent into Egypt. Instead, he describes how the Infant is brought to Jerusalem for the ritual of the first-born.

Luke and Matthew are not necessarily contradictory, but they are certainly different from one another. AND there are some historical problems, if one sees them as strict history. Herod died in 4 BCE. There was a local census in Syria by Quirinius when he was governor in 6 CE; but there is no historical record of Caesar Augustus’ decree that “all the world should be enrolled” (Lk. 2:1). The Romans kept very detailed records of such events. 

By the way, there is no mention of “three kings” in either infancy narrative. ONLY Matthew mentions “some wise men.” No specific number of them and no names. The “traditional names” Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar are probably derived from a Greek manuscript composed in Alexandria around 500 CE. A Shrine of the Three Kings can be seen in Cologne Cathedral. According to an old tradition it contains the bones of the Three Wise Men. An old tradition says that the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena (250 – 330 CE), found the bones during her famous pilgrimage to Palestine and the Holy Lands. She was a great collector of religious artifacts. An old legend says she also found the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Helena packed up the bones and took them, first of all, to the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. They were later moved to Milan, before being moved, by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I in 1164 , to their current resting place in Cologne. (One of my now deceased old professors at the University of Louvain had a look inside the reliquary in Cologne Cathedral and told us his students: “Yes I saw a bunch of bones, but I don’t think they were human.” But that is a relics story for some other time.)  

Back to the theology of the Infancy Narratives. 

The great expert on the Infancy Narratives was the U.S. Roman Catholic biblical scholar, Raymond Brown. He supported the present day consensus of scholars that the Infancy Narratives were created by the early Christian community primarily to express its theology. The central element in the earliest Christian Proclamation was the Holy Spirit’s designating Jesus as the Son of God in association with his resurrection. As the Christian community reflected on Jesus as the Son of God, this belief was projected back into Jesus’ birth and infancy. The Hebrew Scriptures were then re-interpreted as pointing to Jesus. The authors of Matthew and Luke, therefore, who probably did not witness the birth of Jesus, imagined the birth of Jesus to have occurred in a certain way that would support their religious belief about Jesus. 

Some specific examples and comments: 

Matthew makes use of the story of Moses to explain Jesus as the New Moses. Matthew tells of the murder of infant boys by King Herod. Actually there is no historical evidence for this event. From the writer Flavius Josephus, the first-century Romano-Jewish scholar and historian, we have a long list of Herod’s cruel misdeeds but no mention of this mass murder. Rather than strict history, the imaginative episode reveals Matthew’s theological interest in relating the early life of Jesus to that of Moses.  

Matthew also re-interprets the prophecy that King Ahaz (742 BCE) will have a son and then applies it to Jesus. In Isaiah 7:14 we find a verse in which the prophet Isaiah, addresses King Ahaz of Judah. Isaiah predicts that a young woman of marriageable age will shortly give birth to a child whose name will be Immanuel, “God is with us.” (Where the Hebrew Scriptures used a word that meant “young woman,” the Septuagint Greek translation of the same text from Isaiah used a word which meant “a virgin.”) 

Matthew also constructs a highly stylized genealogy to show a direct line from Abraham, father of the Jewish people, down to Joseph father of Jesus. Matthew also has the wise men following the star of Jesus, because in the ancient world every important person had his special star. Theological imagination: Jesus would certainly have had his star. 

Luke focuses more on Mary, the shepherds, and the angels. His audience did not have as much background in the Hebrew Scriptures as Matthew’s audience. 

Creatively adjusting the imagery of their message to the backgrounds of their audiences, the authors of Matthew and Luke proclaim the unique revelation of God in the birth of his Son Jesus of Nazareth. 

As I said last week, the Bible is not a collection of fairy tales. Nor is the Bible, strictly speaking, a history book. It is a book about people’s faith experiences across many centuries, written in a variety of literary styles. When one knows the languages and literary forms of Sacred Scripture, ancient texts come alive, as statements of profound belief and theological truth: God is with us in every dimension of our existence.  

Thinking of Noah


Ark Encounter is a fundamentalist Christian theme park that opened in Grant County, Kentucky on July 7, 2016. The date (7/7) was chosen to correspond with Genesis 7:7: “And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.”

When a friend sent me some information about Ark Encounter, last week, I remembered a quote from the Irish-American New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan:  “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”

Ark Encounter is operated by Answers in Genesis, a Young Earth Creationism group. The park’s centerpiece is a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark from the Genesis flood narratives. Yes. Just as there are two creation stories in Genesis, there are also two flood stories in Genesis.

Ark Encounter has attracted a lot of visitors. In its first six days of operation, the park drew about 30,000 visitors; and planners project about 1.6 million visitors in its first year of operation.

Thinking about the new school year, Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, said he would encourage public school groups to visit the ark by offering a low admission fee of $1 per child, and no charge for accompanying teachers, for the remainder of 2016.

Ark Encounter doesn’t dwell on it, but biblical scholars tell us that the flood narrative of Genesis 6:5-9:17 is a composite of two, once separate, flood stories. A later biblical redactor wove together two independent and different traditions of the Noah flood narrative, in an attempt to preserve both of them.

Unlike the two creation accounts, however, where both traditions are preserved in Genesis one after the other, the two flood stories have been stitched together to produce a single narrative, which therefore contains a number of inconsistencies and contradictions. Some examples:

Was Noah commanded to gather 7 pairs of clean animals OR only 2 of each animal? (Genesis 7:2 vs Genesis 6:19-20, 7:8, 7:16) 

Did the flood last for 40 days and 40 nights OR 150 days? (Genesis 7:4, 7:12, 8:6 vs Genesis 7:24, 8:3) 

Did the flood start 7 days after Noah entered the ark OR on the day Noah entered the ark? (Genesis 7:7, 10 vs Genesis 7:11-13) 

Was the flood caused by rain OR by releasing the waters above and below the earth, as imagined in the old Hebrew cosmology? (Genesis 7:4, 7:12 vs Genesis 7:11, 8:2) 

And did Noah release from the ark a series of doves (three) OR only a raven once? (Genesis 8:8-12 vs Genesis 8:7) 

And why the flood? It appears that an overly stern God was so angry at sinful humanity that he decided he had to destroy most of humankind, and most of the animal world, and start all over again.

Noah was quite the man. According to Genesis 5:32, when he was five hundred years old, he begot his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Post-flood-Noah became in effect a new-Adam. In Genesis 9: 28-29, we read as well that Noah died 350 years after the flood, when he was 950 years old.

Biblical and historical scholars tell us that the myth of a global flood, that destroyed all life on earth, began to appear in the Old Babylonian period (2000 to 1600 BCE). The flood story closest to the Genesis stories of Noah is the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the Hebrew narrative, the flood comes from God’s judgment on a wicked humanity. In the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, the flood appears to have come from the impulsive and unpredictable behavior of the gods, looking for a way of reducing human over-population. (In the twentieth century, impulsive and unpredictable humans did that with two world wars.)

These days I am not sure how many Americans really believe that the account of Noah and the Ark is literally true. In 2014 it was about 60% and, that same year, 12% believed that “Joan of Arc” was Noah’s wife. [For the uncertain, Joan (1412 – 1431 CE) nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” has been considered a French heroine for her role during the Hundred Years’ War; and she has been canonized as a Roman Catholic saint.]

Back to Noah….History or mythology? Most contemporary Jewish and Christian biblical scholars would agree that the accounts of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, and the Tower of Babel are religious mythology. They would remind us that not every text in our scriptures – or anyone’s sacred books for that matter – should be taken literally. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and in the Quran, we find a combination of various kinds of literature: some history, some pious legends, symbolic and poetic language; and yes we find mythology.

I must quickly add, however, that one should not equate mythology with falsehood. In some respects, many people today have become so terribly empirical that their openness to deeper human experiences, and how one expresses those experiences, has become narrow and impoverished.

In Genesis 9, we read that Noah hugs his family and the animals are once again put back on dry land. The most important passage in that chapter, however, is this: God says “From each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made humankind.”  

Let people visit and enjoy Ark Encounter, if that is their thing. Personally I have problems with the amount of money being poured into the project, at least some $172 million to date. And the project’s expensive next phase, with a Tower of Babel, is yet to come…. Biblical Disneyland.

Well I guess Ark Encounter might, all in all, be good for Kentucky tourism. Nevertheless, I would ask the Ark Encounter people to attend to the deeper truth conveyed in the Noah story: We human brings can truly mess things up. Nevertheless, God says human life is our responsibility and God asks from each and every human being an accounting for the life of another human being.  



No. The Bible is not a collection of fairy tales, as one of my friends said rather cynically not so long ago. Nor is the Bible, strictly speaking, a history book. It is a book about people’s faith experiences across many centuries; and a lasting testament to God’s presence in human life. No small thing.

When one knows the languages and literary forms of Sacred Scripture, ancient texts come alive, as statements of profound belief and theological truth: God is with us in every dimension of our existence. Alleluia.

We need to have eyes that really see and ears that really listen.

[We also need to think realistically about what contemporary science tells us about our earth. The earth is a little over 4.5 billion years old; and the history of life on earth began about 3.8 billion years ago. Our ancestors, those Homo Sapiens people, appeared only 200,000 years ago.] 

 

A Prophetic Bishop


26 August 2016

When church leaders speak out courageously and prophetically, they deserve to be acknowledged and supported. I wish to do that with Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, of Parramatta, a suburb and major business district in the metropolitan area of Sydney, Australia.

Vincent Long Van Nguyen was born in Vietnam and is an Australian Roman Catholic bishop. He and his family came to Australia as refugees in 1980. This year, Pope Francis appointed him the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Parramatta, on 5 May 2016 and he was installed just two months ago on 17 June 2016. 

As reported by Bob Shine, from New Ways Ministry, in his blog “Bondings 2.0,” Bishop Long gave a talk last week titled “Pope Francis and the Challenge of Being Church Today.” In that address he explored the meaning of real church inclusiveness.  

Bishop Long:  

“By that (inclusiveness) I mean there must be space for everyone, especially those who have been hurt, excluded or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians, women, disaffected members. The church will be less than what Christ intends it to be when issues of inclusion and equality are not fully addressed. That is why you heard me say that I am guided by the radical vision of Christ. I am committed to make the church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a church where there is less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness, and solidarity. 

“We cannot be a strong moral force and an effective prophetic voice in society if we are simply defensive, inconsistent and divisive with regards to certain social issues. We cannot talk about the integrity of creation, the universal and inclusive love of God, while at the same time colluding with the forces of oppression in the ill-treatment of racial minorities, women, and homosexual persons. It won’t wash with young people especially when we purport to treat gay people with love and compassion and yet define their sexuality as ‘intrinsically disordered.’ This is particularly true when the church has not been a shining beacon and a trail-blazer in the fight against inequality and intolerance. Rather, it has been driven involuntarily into a new world where many of the old stereotypes have been put to rest and the identities and rights of the marginalized are accorded justice, acceptance, affirmation and protection in our secular and egalitarian society.” 

In his closing remarks, the Bishop of Parramatta stressed that the church must reform itself by becoming:   

(1) Less a role of power, dominance and privilege but more a position of vulnerability and powerlessness.  

(2) Less an experience of exclusion and elitism but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness, and solidarity.  

(3) Less a language of condemnation but more a language of affirmation and compassion. 

You can express your support for Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, by writing to:  


diocese@parra.catholic.org.au 



 

Speaking of God…..


19 August 2016

Yuri Gagarin, who died in 1968, was a Soviet cosmonaut and the first human in space, on 12 April 1961. I remember the day well. Commenting about Yuri’s time in space, Premier Nikita Khrushchev told the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party: “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see God there.” Today I guess we would say, Nikita’s statement was more about an old cosmology than about theology. The question of God and God’s presence, of course, is more than ever contemporary. 

How people contemplate and speak about God has critical consequences. It shapes people’s identity and behavior. People who see God as a warrior, and praise the way he smashes his enemies to bloody pulp, end up promoting and justifying their own aggressive behavior: “kill the bastards.” Or they see God sending flooding waters to Louisiana to punish people for living the gay lifestyle. People, who understand God more lovingly, are motivated toward care for their neighbor and mutual peacemaking. Pick your cause and then pick your god? 

Theologians today – thanks to the increased number of women theologians — are much more conscious that the old patriarchal conception of God, in the image and likeness of the powerful ruling man, had the effect of legitimating strong male authority in social, religious, and political structures. The male Lord, King, and Father God ruled over all; and it gave men the justification to control, dominate, and marginalize women. 

Actually, the human mind can never really and fully know the essence of the Divine. We can never satisfactorily wrap our minds around this great mystery. Nor can we exhaust the divine reality in our words, concepts, symbols, and rituals.

Thinking about God is not primarily a matter of using our intellect but of connecting with our experience. How do people experience and live their faith in different historical periods and in different cultures? 

Traditional African religions, for instance, suggest names for God that are shaped by strong communal experiences: “Wise One, the One who sees all, the Greatest of Friends, the Great Spirit,” etc. 

If we turn to the ancient Hebrew tradition, we see God, in the Book of Exodus, promising to be with his people throughout their future troubles: God is “I am who I am,” as well as “I am who I will be.” This understanding of God was much richer of course than the highly anthropomorphized God on his heavenly throne high up at the summit of the Hebrew three layered earthly cosmology. 

The God questions are essential spiritual questions for us today: “How do we experience God? Do we experience God? How do we conceptualize God? Father? Mother? Ground of being?” 

A number of twentieth century thinkers, with whom I resonate, would say that God is not a person, but that God affects us personally: The French philosopher Merleau-Ponty described God as “a force that is not compromised with the world of adversity, and who agrees with us against it.” The second Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, remarked: “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity; but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder the source of which is beyond all reason.” 

I cannot understand God as external to our life and in that sense “super-natural”…a God who periodically intervenes in our world from outside…..Yet I have absolutely no doubts about my experiences of God. 

Nevertheless, I cannot relate to a God who is a macho-man.  

For some nineteen hundred years, institutional Christianity (to whatever degree it was authentically Christian) lived quite comfortably with prejudices based on gender, race, and sexual orientation. They saw it as God’s way. Yet when we look to Jesus Christ, we get a very different perspective. 

My old professor at the University of Nijmegen, Edward Schillebeeckx, called Jesus Christ the “sacrament of the encounter with God.”  

In the the Fourth Gospel, for instance, we read…”I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus restrict the “they” to only men, only whites, or only heterosexuals. Nor does Jesus restrict the “they” to just one religious group. 

Prejudices do strange things to the human imagination. They distort reality. It struck me last week that all those people who believe Barack Obama is a sinister Muslim are the very same people who believe Donald Trump is a good Christian. 

In her wonderful book Quest for the Living God, Sister Elizabeth Johnson courageously delineated the spiritual and institutional problems created by a conception of God that limits God to male images, patriarchy, and male superiority. I can understand why so many bishops have condemned her book. It pulls the carpet from beneath their feet. 

How easily we forget the message and the meaning of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came down on that group of men and women, gathered in fear in the upper room. The manifestation of God’s Spirit on that group of disciples broke through every human boundary of language, culture, and geography. The disciples were called to a new life and a mission to promote a humanity open to all people, because that is where one encounters the living God. That is the gift of Jesus: calling people to step outside of their defenses, to courageously move beyond fear, and their feelings of insecurity, to embrace in a new way of living what it means to be human.  

Thanks to Jesus, divinity is seen in the fullness of humanity: when prejudicial limits are removed, hatred fades away, and what the Apostle Paul calls “a new creation” emerges. 

Christianity’s message is not just about being. It is about human evolving and becoming: where the human enters the very life of God. Tremendously exciting. 

Now….younger theologians need to work this out for the millennial generation….. 

Faith to Faith and Face to Face


12 August 2016

We are caught today in a socio-cultural climate change. Angry self-serving rhetoric and fanatic religion are turning “God” into a fierce combatant, who protects “us the good people” against “them our enemy.” Control freaks manipulate their god to justify terrorism and slaughter. Not good Christianity. Not good Islam. Not good Judaism. Unhealthy religion….So many people seem to have forgotten that God is love.

Around the globe, the religious climate shows the danger signs of people edging toward the old fascism. History saw it in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Pétain’s Vichy France, Franco’s Spain, Suharto’s Indonesia, and several Latin American regimes. Fear becomes the great control mechanism. Exaggerated ultra-nationalism replaces patriotism and displaces democracy.  

People become easily persuaded that human rights can be ignored; and religion too often becomes a tool to kill people and to manipulate public opinion. In February 2016, for instance, Defence for Children International accused the Israeli army of the intentional killing of Palestinian children in the West Bank. It said that the army had killed more than 180 Palestinians since the escalation in October 2015, including 49 children. In May 2016, a Muslim mob in Niger burned Christian churches and killed four people because of a ‘blasphemous’ post on Facebook. Around the same time, in the United States, the well-known Christian evangelist and Focus on the Family founder, Dr. James Dobson, said Christians should shoot transgender people using public bathrooms. He also called President Obama a tyrant, determined to destroy Western civilization…….The examples go on and on. Within all religions and between religions. 

It is time for a change. And healthy religious people have a serious responsibility to be alert to the problem and to accept the challenge to critique and halt religious violence. 

In all of our religious institutions and religious traditions, we need to embark on in depth intra- and inter- religious dialogue that is intelligent, well-informed, humble, respectful, and mutually collaborative in constructing a more humane way of life for people at home and around the globe. Faith to faith and face to face. In can happen in religious education programs in our schools; in adult study and discussion groups; and even by inviting a group of neighbors for coffee and conversation. 

Some suggested guidelines: 

1. Being faithful to one’s own religious tradition is no justification for violence or for arrogantly dismissing or demeaning the religious tradition of another. God is bigger than all of us; and no religious tradition has all knowledge about God completely captured in a text, doctrines, or ritual. 

2. Healthy and constructive inter-religious dialogue assumes the equality of all partners and creates opportunities for a free expression of opinions, perspectives, and beliefs.  

3. Participants in faith to faith and face to face dialogue have a double responsibility: to become better informed about their own religious tradition and then better informed about the other religious tradition. Healthy dialogue assists in avoiding prejudices and misinterpretations of all religious traditions. When 9/11 happened, for example, I read all kinds of nonsense about what was supposedly written in the Quran. It was prejudiced, ignorant, and untrue. 

4. If we do our job well, inter-religious dialogue can offer a way towards more peaceful coexistence, better global education, and more fruitful collaboration: all lessening the risk of religious and political extremism. It’s a bit like decreasing CO2 emissions in the religious world climate. 

5. Yes. Religions can play a vital and constructive role in the society, promoting the common good.  

 I close with some reflections from my old friend, and University of Louvain fellow alumnus, Ron Rolheiser:

 Different peoples, one earth

 Different beliefs, one God

 Different languages, one heart

 Different failings, one law of gravity

 Different energies, one Spirit

 Different scriptures, one Word

 Different forms of worship, one desire

 Different histories, one destiny

 Different disciplines, one aim

 Different approaches, one road

 Different faiths – one Mother, one Father, one earth, one sky, one beginning, one end.

Next time……some thoughts about God.



Catholic Confrontations in a Pluralistic Society


6 August 2016

Carl Anderson, the thirteenth and Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and a very influential U.S. Roman Catholic said this week that since abortion far outweighs all other issues in the current presidential campaign, American Catholics cannot vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. His meaning is clear: Catholics cannot vote for Hilary Clinton.

At the end of July, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, posted a message on Facebook: “Democratic VP choice, Tim Kaine, has been widely identified as a Roman Catholic. It is also reported that he publicly supports ‘freedom of choice’ for abortion, same-sex marriage, gay adoptions, and the ordination of women as priests. All of these positions are clearly contrary to well-established Catholic teachings; all of them have been opposed by Pope Francis as well.” So good Catholics should not vote for bad Catholic Kaine?

And now, heating up the Catholic political debate, Vice-President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, officiated at a gay wedding on August 2nd, at the Naval Observatory, the vice-president’s official residence. Biden has never officiated at a wedding before, and had to get temporary certification from the District of Columbia to make it legal.

The reaction from leading U.S. Catholic bishops has been swift. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, issued a statement on August 5th, saying: “When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics.”

A few reflections:
(1) Abortion far outweighs other issues:
I have long considered myself pro-life. Nevertheless, I would like to see a well-informed and respectful discussion about abortion. I am not convinced that all procedures done under the term “abortion” are taking human life. Nor am I convinced that it is always the greatest moral evil. If, for example, saving the life of a mother results in the death of a fetus, I would argue that saving the life of the mother is the morally better thing to do. So is abortion always wrong? I think not. I remember a now deceased Roman Catholic cardinal who was a strong public opponent to abortion – until. His sister, who was a Catholic nun working in an African country was attacked and raped. When informed, the cardinal ordered that his sister be taken to the nearest hospital “to be cleaned out so she won’t have a baby.” When I asked him about this, he nervously chuckled and said “questions of morality are rarely clear-cut.”

So abortion is not clear-cut? Are any moral issues ever clear-cut? What about raping adult women and men? What about the sexual abuse of children? What about torturing political prisoners? What about white supremacy and racial discrimination? I find it hard to believe that these actions are ever justifiable.

I find it cruelly ironic, for instance, that so many conservative Christians express their outrage at abortion but ignore and often oppose legislation and aid programs to assist, aid, and educate impoverished children. That is indeed an outrage.

(2) Rights and responsibilities of Catholic politicians: It is an old discussion but never seems to ring home. Sometimes I think it is time for a civics lesson for some religious leaders. The concepts of civil rights and of civil law are both functions of the concept of a pluralistic civil society in which people have the right to live according to their conscience and in conformity to civil laws established to promote the common good and maximum freedom for its citizens. Separation of church and state means that the United States is not a theocracy and religious institutions have no right to impose their institutional morality on civil society. Religious leaders can and should critique what is happening in the greater society but they cannot control civil society. Same-sex marriage is a civil right in U.S. society. Even Roman Catholics have a civil right to officiate at such civil ceremonies. John F. Kennedy understood this very clearly.

When JFK was running for president, people raised concerns about his “divided loyalty,” suggesting that a Catholic chief executive would be torn between his loyalty to his faith and the Catholic hierarchy and his oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. In an often quoted statement, Kennedy replied: “Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decisions in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.” Kennedy said he believed in an America “where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners how to vote.”

Yes…..The concepts of civil rights and of civil law are both functions of the concept of a pluralistic civil society in which people have the right to live according to their conscience and in conformity to civil laws established to promote the common good and maximum freedom for its citizens. Separation church and state means that the United States is not a theocracy and religious institutions have no right to impose their institutional morality on civil society.
Representatives and members of religious institutions (like the Bishop of Providence and the head of the K of C can certainly express their ethical viewpoint and engage in conversation – respectful dialogue – with legally recognized leaders of civil society about the most appropriate civil legistaion for the civil state. In the end, if they wish to continue living as members of the civil state, representatives and members of religious institutions must respect civil law.

(3) Clinton and Trump, my only comment about them (I think):  In this blog I have generally tried to avoid taking sides with any political party. I come in fact from a long family line of Republicans. My parents were Lincoln Republicans and very active in the State of Michigan Republican Party. (They were also exceptionally wonderful parents.) I too was a Republican until it came to the 1960 Nixon vs Kennedy election. Change is also part of life. Frankly I have never been a strong supporter of Hilary Clinton – for reasons one need not explore here. For me, however, the key issues in this very strange presidential campaign of 2016 are not Republican or Democratic party politics but questions of personal integrity and trustworthiness (values and morality), intellectual honesty, psychological maturity, and political wisdom, experience, and competence. Based on these criteria, I am ready to vote.

Terrorize and Paralyze?


All terrorists aim to terrorize and paralyze civilian life, creating a chaotic environment so they can seize power and take control. We cannot surrender. We cannot allow terrorists to turn us into terrorists.

          Christians, especially, should be people who do not allow fear to rule their lives. We know and we believe: resurrection follows the way of the cross and death. Christians can and must be prophetic people who are clear-headed and courageous. It was Adolf Hitler who said: “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”

          Terrorism can be defeated when terrorists see that their terrorism doesn’t work. It will take time and people have to work together and support one another. People can pick themselves up and move ahead. On March 22, 2016, terrorist bombs destroyed the departure hall, slaughtered dozens of people, and injured hundreds of others at the Brussels International Airport. In June I was a traveler at that same airport. In the very spot where it all happened. The departure hall has been rebuilt. It is now more attractive, more efficient, and very welcoming. This week end, more than 200,000 vacationers will pass through the Brussels airport.

          I know first-hand what disaster and alarming uncertainty do to a person. People very close to me came close to being blown apart in the Brussels bombings. Watching the news on March 22 (five days before my 73rd birthday) I was frightened and anxious. I kept saying to myself: Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Then I recalled a line from C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains….”

          Christians need to fortify themselves with and in authentic faith and virtue. Too many people these days are reverting into a form of pseudo-Christianity, preaching self-serving pseudo-virtue. They look out for themselves while denigrating others. We see them succumbing to demagoguery and mindless populism. Malfunctioning democracies should be fixed not destroyed; and people should rely on facts not popular fantasies. The thought struck me last week, for example, that most of the terrorist activity in the United States in recent years has come not from Muslims, but from “Christian” religious fanatics and white supremacists. Hardly the way of Jesus.

          Jesus of Nazareth, living and working in the socio-cultural context of his day, was a prophetic non-violent person. He was a threat of course to his contemporary vested interest people: authoritarian leaders for whom religion was more important than faith and politics more important than the men and women it should serve.

          As we confront the perplexing political, economic, and social problems of our time, we need to practice and promote authentic Christian virtue. Yes of course, people who behave in a criminal and inhuman way need to be sanctioned and restrained; but crude militarism and violence alone will never resolve our contemporary national and international terrorism crises. They will only increase and promote a more savage kind of militarism.
          The world’s wealth and resources must be used to promote human life and dignity everywhere. Why are young people drawn to zealous fanatics? Can we not promise and provide a better life for them? Many of them yearn for a sense of community not yet found. They seek and need an understanding and supportive group: people who can give them an anchor in a changing world. Can we not offer them a more humane community? Can we not enhance their sense of identity? Can we not promote their self-worth far better than political and religious fanatics?  

          We need to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless. Races and cultures are shifting around the globe. Immigration is a fact of life. It is nothing new, but has now shifted into fast motion. So how do we deal with it in a rational and Christian way? Certainly we citizens of the United States should have a keen sensitivity to immigrants and the great migrations of people. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”
          Jesus respected people and promoted their dignity and sense of self-worth. The key element in the narrative about the woman about to be stoned. He honored her self-worth. He restored her sense of self-worth. And, as I wrote in my reflection last week, the key element in the narrative of the Good Samaritan. These are not just old pious stories. They are exhortations about what should be part of our rule of life, if we really take Jesus seriously.  

          International dialogue and inter-religious dialogue must replace arrogant self-serving rhetoric. Our church communities should become centers of prayerful study and reflection. Centers of Christian excellence. What is the challenge of being a Jesus-person in our days of contemporary anxiety, change, and impending chaos? How can we be messengers of truth when all around us the media shout fabricated falsehoods; and exaggerated news stories so conveniently frighten and paralyze people?

          Franklin Roosevelt said “You have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Jesus more importantly said “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

 

Civility — Change — Leadership


Years before George Washington became president of the United States, he penned 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation.” His writing project was more an exercise in youthful penmanship, because he copied a translated older text, originally written by French Jesuits. Nevertheless, the focus of Washington’s observations was civility: polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior. 

A few of Washington’s rules struck me recently, as I was thinking about the current presidential campaign: “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those present.”…….”When you reprove another be without blame yourself.”…… “Let your conversation be without malice or envy.”……”In all causes of passion allow reason to govern.”

Our early American leaders lived in times of tremendous social change. Sometimes we overly romanticize their lives, forgetting their environment of fear, social unrest, “Indian” atrocities, counter-reaction colonialists’ atrocities, slave rebellions, fear-mongering propagandists, intercultural conflicts, and the terrorism spread by rumors of foreign intrigue.

In a letter written to his wife, our second president, John Adams, confided to Abigail about his “fear that in every assembly members will obtain influence by noise not sense.” His letter went on to warn about the dangers of political leaders not acting with respect and decency to such a degree that the government would eventually fall apart. 

Almost two decades into the third millennium, our country and our world are changing even more dramatically. Fear and anxiety are byproducts. The pace of change is accelerating. A bit ironically, a great many contemporary people are anxiously trying to maintain their identity as their very identity itself is changing. White Christian America, for example, is diminishing as a new form of immigrant America is taking shape: multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious. For a growing number of people, however, it is also an America increasingly disconnected from institutional religion. Perhaps that is more our challenge than our danger?

Millennials have now surpassed the Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. By around 2020, more than half of America’s (USA) children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. Today 12.3% of our U.S. population is black. According to the latest projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population is expected to reach 28.6% by 2060.. ..A great mix of various cultural traditions and values. And of course one cannot ignore evolving gender and sexual identities. More than 8 million adults in the United States are lesbian, gay, or bisexual: comprising 3.5% of the adult population; and majority public opinion in the United States now supports same-sex marriage. 

Reflecting about social change in our contemporary world — the Republican and Democratic conventions, the political crisis in Turkey, killings in Orlando and Dallas, the truck massacre in Nice, the latest shopping center killings in Munich, etc. — the first word that comes to my mind is leadership. Human problems require human solutions. We all need to be leaders, working together. Otherwise we disintegrate in feverish chaos.

In our families, schools, churches, and community organizations, we need to educate and equip young people with constructive leadership skills. At the same time we need to critique and disempower those “leaders” who do not lead but control. Those people are really not leaders but self-promoting authoritarian managers. The leadership responsibility rests on our shoulders.

What qualities characterize genuine and constructive leaders? 

(1) Constructive leaders are honest and transparent. They have integrity. They neither manipulate people nor play with the truth.

(2) Constructive leaders create a vision of the future that is realistic and compelling. They are not afraid of change, but see it as a continual human challenge. They understand the changes on the horizon as new opportunities for human transformation and growth.

(3) Constructive leaders inspire and motivate. They help people engage with the present and build a more humane tomorrow. They reflect deeply on the signs of the times.

(4) Constructive leaders analyze and solve problems. They observe, judge, and act in collaborative problem-solving. Yes they are often recruited, trained, and chosen to solve problems. But they don’t do it alone. They cannot do it alone.

(5) Some people are very content to sit back and watch the world go by. Or they long to return to some romanticized former time, like the 1950s…..Constructive leaders have a higher level of perseverance. They have vision but are not daydreamers. They can be counted on to get things done. They move ahead. They don’t live in the past.

(6) Constructive leaders build on solid foundations of mutual respect and trust. They do not denigrate people but lift them up. The stronger the relationships, the better the leadership. 

(7) Constructive leaders communicate with their people. They listen to them. They stimulate and promote collaborative leadership.

We are all called to leadership. Civility is a virtue. Change is a fact of life.