Thursday, January 12, 2012

A New Birth for the World

Thursday, January 12, 2012 -- Week of 1 Epiphany, Year Two
Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 943)
Psalms 18:1-20 (morning)        18:21-50 (evening)
Genesis 4:17-26
Hebrews 3:11-18
John 1:43-51

We were up late hearing word of the birth of a son to our daughter Allison and son-in-law Deron.  They had not wanted to know the gender of the baby, so "It's a boy!" had some drama to it.  They also had not settled on names -- presumably waiting to see the little one to know what to call it -- but since Allison has been mostly asleep since the delivery was by c section, we don't have a name for the little fellow.  I've been calling him Froggy for a while (since he grew bigger than the first "tadpole" sonograms), so this morning, he's still Froggy.

The reading from Genesis is full of fine Biblical names they might consider.  Mehujael or Irad or Methushael or Adah.  You could go short or long.  We read of Enoch, the founder of cities.  Jabal who is the patron of wandering shepherds.  Jubal is the father of developers of culture, "all those who play the lyre and pipe."  And Tubal-cain was the founder of toolmakers in bronze and iron.  So I wonder, what gifts and skills will litlle Froggy embody?  What skills will inspire him?  What acts of creativity will motivate him to make his contribution to the whole?

With every new birth is new hope for the world.  What might God accomplish through this new life? 

A new birth is a reminder of our responsibility and stewardship for the future.  It is up to us, the growups, to provide a healthy world for every child to live in so that each child may grow into the fullness of his or her potential.

I'm reminded of a thought experiment of John Rawls.  In his 1971 book A Theory of Justice he invited everyone to imagine how we might go about creating a just society.  Imagine first that you don't know ahead of time how you (or your grandchild) will be positioned in that society -- you do not know your gender, race, ethnicity, or your educational and economic advantages or disadvantages.  Given that "veil of ignorance" -- what social contract would you choose?  What principles of governance and economics would you propose?

He suggested that there would be two principles of justice:  (1) equal basic liberties for all -- such as freedom of speech and religion, and (2) a form of social and economic equality.  He suggested we promote only those social and economic inequalities that simultaneously work to the advantage of the least well-off members of society.

We can justify higher pay for doctors who deliver life-saving services because it encourages more people to become doctors and increases health care access for the poor.  But it is hard to justify a system of health care payment that only produces more cosmetic surgeons in Beverly Hills and a lack of care in Appalachia. 

He encouraged social programs that would produce equal opportunities for all -- early childhood education that would allow children from poorer families to compete on an equal basis as the privileged.  Job training to help all live into their potential.  A recognition that the successful have a responsibility toward the whole.  A progressive tax system that would underwrite a "politics of the common good" -- producing public institutions and services that rich and poor would want to take advantage of, such as our federal interstate highway system.  A politics for the common good would create public schools to which rich and poor alike would want to send their children; public transportation systems reliable enough to attract upscale commuters; public health clinics, playgrounds, parks, recreation centers, libraries and museums that would draw people out of their gated communities into the common spaces of a shared democratic citizenship.

As I think of the kind of world I want for my new grandson, I want an equally promising world for the other innocent children who are coming to life today.  I want them to live in a society that we grown-ups can make as just as possible, so that every child will have a similar opportunity for security, education, creativity and achievement as my little Froggy. 

It is our choice whether we promote a more just and fair society or one that is less so.  There is a familiar shadow toward the end of today's Genesis reading about the various descendants of Cain.  Lamech, the father of several of those earlier mentioned patrons, obviously grew in power.  He chose to use his power selfishly and violently.  This fifth-generation son of Cain bragged to his wives -- "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me.  If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold."  Lamech is a patron of abusive power.  It takes legal institutions and intentional structures for a society to limit the potential for abuse of the powerful. 

Will we live in a world that intends to create opportunities for social and economic equality, or will we live in the world of Lamech, where power is all determining?  Will every child have a full chance to live into its potential -- whether male or female, rich or poor, dark or light, gay or straight, gifted or challenged, documented or undocumented?  For all of the little ones who share birthdays with my grandson today, it is up to us grownups to make choices to provide a just and suitable foundation for their futures.  None of them should be born with two strikes against them.  It is society's responsibility to create the structures and institutions that create the opportunity for liberty and justice for all.


Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is society's responsibility"? Telling people what they HAVE to do is not liberty. Maybe you should tell people they have the responsibility to create their own opportunity.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Some people do not have opportunity in order that they might exercise responsibility. It is society's responsibility to level the playing field so that everyone has an opportunity.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home