FIDES QUAERENS INTELLECTUM* – Render Unto Caesar and Receiving His Deference – The Enviable Tax Status of Chruches

St. Joseph Church Durham

* Faith Seeking Understanding”  – Saint Anselm

The First Amendment to the Constitution of he United States adopted in 1791 provides as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

In a recent law review article titled Churches and Their Enviable Tax Status Professor Wendy Gerzog Shaller who teaches law at the University of Baltimore, discusses the  tension in the law between the historic policies of the Federal, State and Local Governments to grant preferential tax treatment to Churches and other religious institutions on the one hand and the case law of the Supreme Court of the United States , hereinafter referred to as the Court, which questions the constitutionality of singling out churches among all exempt organizations for preferential treatment on the other.  The Supreme Court sees such preferential treatment as a violation of the “Establishment” clause of the Constitution which prohibits any law respecting the establishment of religion.

In the course of discussing this tension Professor Shaller examines the criteria used by the courts to determine what constitutes a “church” which church men and women should find interesting.

What is a Church?

To determine whether a particular body or organization can be granted the very favorable tax status as “church” governmental authorities and the courts use differing criteria.  Professor Shaller points out that Congress has never provided a very helpful definition of the term “church “despite the fact that the term has significant consequences.” The Supreme Court similarly has consistently refused to define “church” as it is used in the Internal Revenue Code.  However, as Professor Shaller points out, the lower courts and the Department of the Treasury have been more “intrepid”.  This calls to mind the phrase rushing in where angels fear to tread.

In an early provision of the Internal Revenue Code which exempted churches from the tax on unelated business income “church” was defined as “an organization established to carry out “church” functions, under the general understanding of the term, is a “church.” This is circular reasoning with a vengeance.   Unrelated business income is income derived by a charitable or religious organization from activities not related to its purposes as a charity or religious organization.  This has been an area of much litigation in determining when an activity falls outside of the scope of the organization’s purpose.  For example in one case the Supreme Court held that parochial schools, homes for the Christian Brothers order  (including a retirement home), a novitiate to train the Christian Brother’s order, and a winery were not churches within the commonly understood definition of a “church” and therefore income derived from these sources would be counted a unrelated business income.

In construing the definition of a “church” as an organization carrying out “church functions” the United States District Court for the Northern District of California acknowledged that the definition in the Code “might unconstitutionally favor traditional churches by drawing on them as prototypes” but even so it refused to find the statute to be unconstitutional on the basis that to do so would eliminate the tax benefit for all churches.

Building on this initial definition courts in later cases began to stress the “associational” aspect of a “church”.  Other courts have endorsed the definition of a church found in the Treasury Regulations which require an organization to engage in “sacerdotal functions” and to perform “religious worship” of a “specific” religious group.  And the requirement that the religion be distinct and separate has been the beginning of the analysis in some cases and ignored in others as Professor Shaller has pointed out.

In 1978 the Internal Revenue Service through an address by then Commissioner Jerome Kurtz to the Seventh Biennial Conference on Tax Planning of the Practicing Law Institute announced that it would apply a fourteen criteria test to decide whether an organization qualified as a “church”.  They are:

  1. A distinct legal organization;
  2. A recognized creed and form of worship;
  3. A definite and distinct ecclesiastical government;
  4. A formal code of doctrine and discipline;
  5. A distinct religious history;
  6. A membership not associated with any other church or denomination;
  7. An organization of ordained ministers;
  8. Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies;
  9. A literature of its own;
  10. Established places of worship;
  11. Regular congregations;
  12. Regular religious services;
  13. Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young;
  14. Schools for the preparation of its ministers.

As Professor Shaller points out courts have taken a varied approach in applying these criteria.  Different weights are assigned to different criteria in an effort to be fair and equitable. Some courts do not require that the organization have “a distinct religious history” as such would be unfair to new churches.

And, the Internal Revenue Service has now adopted a fifteenth “catchall” criteria which takes into account all relevant facts and circumstances.  In making determinations under this criterion the Internal Revenue Service looks to whether the organization allows for private inurement or private benefit.  An example of private inurement is a situation in which say the pastor is being paid a salary resembling that of a CEO of a fortune 500 company and drives a luxury car furnished by the “church”.  IRS takes a very dim view of organizations calling themselves churches which funnel large sums of money and perks to their employees.

What Is the Benefit of Being Classified as a Church for Tax Purposes?

As Professor Shaller points out Congress has “historically” given “churches” preferential treatment over other tax exempt organizations. This bias is the result of concern that too much government regulation of religious bodies would endanger the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.  This preferential treatment has taken the form of (1) relief from disclosure and filing requirements in certain matters (2) exemption of churches and their employees from certain retirement plan requirements and (3) exemption from certain taxes.  For example churches are not required to notify the Internal Revenue Service that they qualify for tax exempt status because it is presumed that they qualify as private foundations.  And, churches need not file annual information returns with the Service and the Service is restricted as to the scope of its examinations and investigations of churches.

Due to some cases of abuse in the late 1960s Congress retreated from its restrictions on IRS examination activities and made churches subject to the tax on unrelated business income.  In a House of Representatives report it was noted that “some churches are involved in operating chains of religious bookstores, hotels, factories, companies leasing business property, radio and TV stations, newspapers, parking lots, record companies, groceries, bakeries, cleaners, candy sales businesses, restaurants, etc.”  Mainline churches may have been tempted to lament that with friends like these who “needs enemies” In addition to lifting audit restrictions and imposing the UBI tax Congress imposed the social security tax on church employees unless the church makes a special election to exempt its employees on religious grounds and also lowered the ceiling for contributions to tax sheltered annuity plans.

Despite the retrenchment to alleviate abuse Congress continues to place churches on a higher rung than ordinary charitable or tax exempt organizations. In a future segment we will consider the reaction of the Supreme Court of the United States to this “preferential treatment”.

Spotlight: The Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2015 –

(A Re-Blog of an Article from Wealth Management)

Greasing the wheels of progress for individuals with special needs

After failing to pass the previous Congress, a new version of the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2015 (the Act), a bill designed to streamline the process by which those with special needs can set up their own first-party special needs trusts, was introduced by Congressmen Glenn Thompson (R-Pa) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) in February and is currently under debate.

A special needs trust is a vehicle that’s tailored to manage assets for a person with special needs without compromising his access to certain government benefits, primarily Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In order to qualify for SSI, a program designed to assist low-income people with special needs, an individual must either have less than $2,000 to his name or, if his personal assets exceed $2,000, they must be placed in a first-party special needs trust.

What most people think of when they think of a special needs trust—a parent, family member or guardian putting some of his own assets in a trust to assist an individual with special needs—is actually known as a third-party special needs trust. A first-party special needs trust, the subject of this bill, has some subtle but important differences. First, the assets in the trust belong to the individual with special needs, not some generous benefactor. Second, though the contents of a third-party special needs trust can freely pass to heirs or charity on the beneficiary’s death, assets left in a first-party special needs trust after the beneficiary passes must be used to reimburse the government for the individual’s medical care—the price of the “have your cake and eat it too” nature of this vehicle.

What the Act seeks to address is the fact that an individual with special needs (the beneficiary), regardless of his level of competence, isn’t allowed to set up his own first-party special needs trust, even though the assets that form the body of the trust belong to him. Currently, only a beneficiary’s parent, grandparent or a court can create such a vehicle. These strictures effectively force otherwise independent individuals with special needs to either rely on the assistance of their family (who may not be living, capable or on good terms) or spend large sums of money petitioning courts to establish trusts for them. The Act simply seeks to add the individual with special needs to the list of people who can create a first-party trust on his behalf.

According to Pallone: “The barriers that currently prohibit an individual from creating a Special Needs Trust, despite having the mental capacity to do so, have no basis in reality and place an undue burden on disabled individuals who are simply trying to make ends meet.”

A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost over the next 10 years to implement this bill would be roughly $8 million, the vast majority of which would be attributable to more people gaining earlier access to Medicaid and SSI.

The Bill


1st Session

H. R. 670


February 3, 2015

Mr. Thompson of Pennsylvania (for himself and Mr. Pallone) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce


To amend title XIX of the Social Security Act to extend the Medicaid rules regarding supplemental needs trusts for Medicaid beneficiaries to trusts established by those beneficiaries, and for other purposes.

1.Short title

This Act may be cited as the “Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2015”.

2.Fairness in Medicaid supplemental needs trusts

(a)In general

Section 1917(d)(4)(A) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1396p(d)(4)(A)) is amended by inserting “the individual,” after “for the benefit of such individual by”.

(b)Effective date

The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply to trusts established on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

The Dance, Life, Liturgy, and St. Macrina

DegasMacrina_the_Younger (1)

What does Edgar Degas, the French impressionist painter, have in common with the liturgy of the Church, life in general  and St. Macrina, the monastic, theologian,and teacher of the fourth century who was also the sister of St.Gregory, St. Basil, St Peter of Sebaste, and Naucratios ?  I have a priest friend who is fond of referring to the sacred liturgy as “our dance”.  As time has gone on I have come to very much appreciate that characterization because liturgy involves the interplay of the human and the divine in a series of prayers and actions which at their climax opens a window into the divine mind for all to see.  We dance in an almost suspended state until we reach that climax evermore moving toward the direction of the divine.

And, so it is in life.  We interact with one another and in effect dance until we reach a climax in our relationships.  That climax may take the form or consummating a business transaction, a friendship, or in some cases marriage, but the beginnings and middle are always a dance of ever shifting movement and unknowable possibilities.

So it was with St. Macrina.  Most women with such illustrious brothers would have paled into obscurity, but not Macrina. Macrina  frequently challenged her celebrated brothers as she danced with them.  She took her brother Gregory, a most venerable and important bishop of the Church, aside and told him that his fame was not due to his own merit but rather to the prayers of his parents. She also similarly admonished her brother, Basil, a man of extreme oratorical skill, but a bit short on humility, to be more humble and not so monstrously arrogant because he was such an accomplished orator.  Under her influence Basil and Peter renounced material possessions and turned away from secular academia to become monks and theologians. Her brothers showed enormous respect for her by embodying her ideals for Christian community in a Rule written by Basil and Peter to guide monastic life.  And, her bishop brothers, Basil, Gregory and Peter, became bishops in no small measure because of her active influence in their lives.

In studying about women like Macrina, and conversing with my priest friend, and trading posts with my cousin, I have come to have a profound respect for the intellect and spirituality of the women who I have had the privilege of knowing in my life, in particular, and women, in general.  From my wife, to my priest, to my cousin, to the Saint herself, they have all shown me a very wise and spiritually gifted perspective about things which has served to only deepen my faith and which has moved me to continue the dance joyfully and expectantly unto its ultimate end.

So ask yourself: In what ways do I dance, and to what end?  Is the end solely for you to impress others and achieve material gain, or is there something more involved,  something transcendent, something akin to the love Christ showed for us on the hardwood of cross ?

18 July – The Feast of Bartolome de las Casas, Friar and Missionary to the Indies, 1566

Bartolome de las Casas

Father Bartolome was a champion of the rights of Native Americans.  We most often think of slavery as involving those of African origin or descent but during the colonial period of both North and South America the enslavement of Native Americans was common.  The link below provides a more detailed biography of Father Bartolome.  He took a very brave and counter-cultural stand with regard to the rights of Native Americans.

Bartolome de las Casas.


THE BIBLICAL LAWYER – Tales at Law – The Cases of Ephraim Tutt, Esquire – Chapter 1

Ephraim Tutt

Episode I.  The Dentist and The Farmer

As a young boy I was fond of rummaging through my grandmother’s library.  In doing so,  I discovered a treasure trove of things to read.  I found the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne and a whole host of other famous works including some by the infamous Balzac.  One of my favorites and one that played a part in inspiring  me to pursue a legal career was called Yankee Lawyer by an author named Ephraim Tutt.  The book was billed as an autobiography but as was later discovered it was actually a work of fiction by a real Harvard educated lawyer by the name of Arthur Train.  One puzzling detail is the question of why my grandmother, the very southern lady and quintessential daughter of the Confederacy, would have a book with such a title in her library.  In those days, the nineteen forties, one did not speak the word Yankee in our household as it was considered to always be in the pejorative particularly in polite company.  But be that as it may the book was very interesting but at the grand old age of ten I found it difficult to read and follow in some places.  I was recently going through a box of books I had retrieved from my parents’ home after they died and discovered that Yankee Lawyer was in the box.  I decided to re-read the book to see if was still as interesting as the first time I read it.  And to my delight after four years of college, three years of law school and thirty years of law practice it was much better and I actually was able to understand all of it.

The book contains a number of really wonderful stories in which the fictional lawyer Tutt comes up with very clever solutions for his client’s legal problems. One of my favorites is a tale involving an altercation between a diminutive dentist and a gigantic farmer. The incident took place in a small New York town name Pottsville an actual village in upstate New York.  Tutt had moved to Pottsville to set up his law practice and had moved into the offices of a retired judge thereby inheriting a very voluminous library.  Across the street was a saloon (a bar in modern parlance) and over the bar was located a dentist office operated by Doc Pettibone who was described as “a sadistic old man with Chinese whiskers whose office was a dingy torture chamber.”  Doc Pettibone much preferred to extract teeth than to try and repair them as he very much enjoyed his patients anguish during the extraction process.   One day a Mr. Bostwick, a gigantic farmer, came to see Doc Pettibone with a face “swollen to the size of a wasp’s nest from the ulceration of a molar.”  Well Docs eyes gleamed and tackling the job with forceps he and his patient were soon floundering around the office and eventually into the street. Shortly thereafter Doc realized he had pulled a perfectly good tooth.  Well, Bostwick, who was capable of pulverizing the Doc with one hand, wanted revenge.  He remembered something from Leviticus about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and he resolved to pull one of Docs teeth to obtain his justice.    In terror Doc fled the scene and eventually took refuge in Tutt’s office who attempted to hide him in the coal closet. (in those days coal stoves and furnaces were the common method of heating)  As it happens the “tooth for tooth” language is not only found in Leviticus but also in the Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, in 2285 B.C. a copy of which just happened to be in Tutt’s library.  So he picked up the book and went to find Bostick. He first tried to dissuade the farmer from using the doctrine altogether by informing him that it was three thousand years old and has no application today.  “It’s good enough for me” said the farmer. “But you can sue Pettibone and get damages” Tutt exclaimed. To hell with damages it’s his tooth I want” “So you stand absolutely on Lex Talionis? “I don’t know what that is but I want the old you talked about.”

“All right, then” said Tutt producing the book, “I’ll read it to you” “If a man has made the tooth of a man that is his equal to fall out, one shall make his tooth fall out!  If he has made the tooth of a poor man to fall out, he shall pay one-third of a mina of silver.” “Now you’re case falls under the last clause because you are a poor man.  You are entitled to one-third of mina of silver, but not to a tooth.”

Bostwick felt he had won his point about the law, and so he agreed to accept Hammurabi’s rule of damages, and he and Tutt worked it out together, with the aid of Webster’s Dictionary.  A mina was one sixth of a talent and a talent of Hebrew silver was worth the equivalent of $2,176 in United States money.  Hence, a mina would be worth $136, and a third of a mina worth $45.35, which Doc Pettibone paid, gladly throwing in a rubber plate with a false tooth for good measure.

Lawyers are not known for their biblical knowledge or their ability to utilize biblical passages to resolve disputes.  But, I have witnessed this being done on at least two occasions with very beneficial effect.  Invoking Holy Scripture to a jury gets their immediate attention and respect.  It also evokes a sense of credibility. In the next segment Tutt will find that a late night visit to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City brings about an acquittal in a case in which his client was surely going to be convicted and while the acquittal was against all odds is was a truly just result. PN

12 July – Feast of Nathan Söderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala (Sweden) and Ecumenist, 1931


Lars Olof Jonathan Söderblom (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈnɑːtan ˈsøːdɛrblʊm]) (15 January 1866 – 12 July 1931) was a Swedish clergyman. He was born in Sweden in 1866 in a village called Trönö, today Söderhamn Municipality, Gävleborg County and attended the University of Uppsala and on returning from a journey to the U.S was ordained priest in the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) in 1893.  From 1894-1901 he served as Pastor of the Swedish Lutheran community in Paris during which time he took his doctorate in theology at the Sorbonne. He returned to Uppsala (pronounced oop- sala) to teach and lead the School of Theology at the university.  He was a highly respected scholar and teacher, prolific writer, and an early proponent of the study of comparative religions.

He was appointed Archbishop of Uppsala in 1914.  Uppsala is the primatial see of Sweden akin to Canterbury in England and its Archbishop is the primate of the Swedish Church.  Söderblom’s election was somewhat of a surprise as he was neither a bishop nor an archbishop from whose ranks the primate was usually chosen.  He served in this post until his death in 1931.

Archbishop Söderblom took great interest in the early liturgical renewal movement among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans.  This coincided with his deep commitment to the unity of the churches of Christ and his passion for ecumenical advancement.  In 1925 he invited Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran and Orthodox leaders to Stockholm and together they formed the Universal Christian Council on Life and Work. Because of his efforts and his tireless advocacy of Christian unity Söderblom is numbered among the ecumenists whose efforts led eventually to the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. He was a close friend and ecumenical ally of Bishop George Bell who was a major voice I the Church of England during the Second World War and a major figure on the ecumenical stage during the post-war era.   This advocacy for Church unity as a means toward to accomplishing world peace earned Söderblom the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930.

Archbishop Söderblom saw a profound connection between liturgical worship, personal prayer, and social justice.  A rich cohesion of these elements was, in his mind, the foundation of a Christian commitment well lived.

Taken from Holy Women, Holy Men and supplemented with selections from Wikipedia.

The Coincidental Congregant Or How I prayed the Evening Office Totally by Accident and Loved It.

St. Joseph Church Durham Church CrowdGarden Cool Garden Trail HIGH STRUNG School of Music Durham

My wife, Jana, and I find ourselves making trips to Durham, North Carolina and to the Duke University Campus every so often. When we go we religiously visit Duke Chapel, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a favourite Mexican restaurant and the Mad Hatter, a sort of coffee shop with a name suggestive of Lewis Carroll’s classic. We have recently added another element to the round and that is Saint Joseph’s Episcopal Church.  We added it because we have always been curious about this small quaint bastion of Anglicanism amid a sea of Methodism and because of stories told to us by a priest friend concerning her service there as an intern while attending Duke Divinity.  Also, and this is truly important, St. Joe’s lot abuts the building housing Zola’s one of Jana’s favorite gift shops.

Last Thursday, June 9th was another Duke visitation day.  We concluded our respective business and agreed that we would have lunch and then walk the Garden,  After we had eaten a late lunch we set out for the Gardens but we found the temperature to be too hot and feared that a walk might produce a reaction akin to heat stroke.   The cell phone said it was “92 but felt like 96” and to me it felt like 100.  The heat index must have been a result of the humidity.  So Jana decided she wanted to go by Zola’s for a while and give the heat a chance to dissipate.  As Jana was exiting the car to head for Zola’s I decided that this would be a good time to visit St. Joe’s as I had never seen the inside of the Church and I tend to be a challenged shopper as most men of my generation tend to be unless power tools are involved, or in my case, books.  So I ambled around the fence barriers separating the properties and walked up the St. Joe’s drive.  As I progressed, I passed person after person who very obviously were economically challenged.  Each greeted me warmly and with a smile.  As I approached the Church, I turned and ask a nearby man if the Church was open.  “They are just opening it,” he told me.  I instinctively glanced at my watch:  5:25 p.m.  Ah, time for Evening Prayer, what a coincidence.  Up until this moment I had had not paid attention to the time.  I just felt drawn to the church for some reason. As I rounded the corner and approached the West door (the West door liturgically speaking is that one opposite the altar and is usually the front door)  a man was unlocking it.  Pleasantries and greetings were exchanged as I introduced myself and told them I was a parishioner at Trinity Cathedral Parish in Columbia.  I also mentioned my priest friend’s name and everyone remembered her.  So in we went and we prayerfully offered up the evening office “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”.  Jana, upon finishing her shopping, joined us sometime after the psalms. After the conclusion of the office, we talked and chatted some more and then bid our hosts a fond farewell.  Or hosts also helped me figure out the location of another future part of the round that being the Peter Maurin Catholic Worker House operated by the Community of the Franciscan Way which is a mission of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.  Its purpose is “to seek a life of prayer, study, simplicity, and fellowship with the poor.” The Community follows the tradition of the Catholic Worker Movement,  begun in 1933 by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, and offers food and shelter to the poor.

After prayer,  Jana and I walked back down the St. Joe’s drive  toward the lot on which Zola’s sits.  As we walked we passed a large group of people, men and women, sitting by the side of the drive.  We stopped and chatted.  They found it interesting that we were from Columbia and had a few remarks concerning the confederate flag and the tragedy at Mother Emanuel.  We all agreed the weather was much too hot.  And, they kindly showed us a short cut through a break in the fence so we could walk directly back into the Zola’s lot.

We did visit the gardens and as happens each time we visit we find a section we have never visited before.  This time we found a section reminiscent of a nature trail in a national park rather than a path in a landscaped garden.  We ended the day with the obligatory visit to the Mad Hatter, or the Hatter, as we like to call it, for a breve and cookies. Then it was on the road again and our matriculation through the wilds of North Carolina, the metropolitan snares of Charlotte and Rock Hill, and then back to the swamp and the famously hot – Columbia, South Carolina.

It is interesting to note a contrast here.  We traveled some two hundred miles in very nice automobile and had meetings in very nice modern office buildings.  We then ate in a very nice restaurant, visited a comfortable Church with convivial friends and walked in a very well maintained landscaped garden containing beautiful views of all kinds of wonderful plant life.  The people we visited at the Church who were economically challenged  lead a very different life.  This would be a life that my wife and I would shudder at and try to refuse to be a part of even if our economics forced us into it.  Yet, our friends at the Church have no choice.  So as I realized some weeks ago anytime I can render some form of assistance whether it is providing money, or simply taking the time to converse  person to person, I do it.  I do it not because I am such a good fellow but because I am called to do it and it is the right thing to do.

We have just removed the confederate flag from our statehouse grounds here in Columbia.  In doing so we have removed a piece of cloth which has come to be a symbol for slavery and discrimination. That removal has become our cause célèbre accompanied by singing and dancing in the streets literally. But our work is not finished. Now we come to the really hard part.  That is the work of doing the boring and tedious labor of building a very just and Christ-like society which truly respects the dignity of all people.  Once again, Uncle Screwtape provides an instructive instruction in this area in Letter II of the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis he advised his protege wormwood as follows:

  Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants—”sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own”. And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt. (The enemy referred to here is God as Screwtape and Wormwood are in the service of “Our Father Below – who is variously called Satan, Devil, whatever)

          So time to roll up sleeves and buckle down and do the hard work of creation.  Creation is our calling.  To paraphrase a common commercial slogan “Creation is us”.  We do God’s work and we create which is a never-ending work which must always be done.  It always must be done no matter how inadequate to the task we either are, or we feel we are.  Despite hardship, age, infirmity etc. God expects us to “show up” for work every day without fail.  There is no leave, and even on vacation there is no vacation.  Day by day brick by brick we do God’s work until he remakes us and gives yet a different task. As one commentary on the book of the prophet Amos puts it  “what God demands of man (humanity) is expressed not only in terms of action, but also in terms of passion,” ( Herschel, The Prophets, New York, 1955).

Uncle Screwtape Miscalculates Badly

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

A Meditation on Letter II

          It has been pointed out in a number of blogs recently that despite an attempt by the perpetrator of the murders at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, Dylan Roof, to bring a great evil into the world that evil has “hit the wall” in the response of the people of South Carolina and our leaders . We need to pause and thank God for our people and our leaders as we have been truly blessed.

I have recently been re-reading the Screwtape Letters, again, and find that the insight of C.S. Lewis is overwhelmingly applicable to this present situation.  I can just see Uncle Screwtape whispering in the ear of Dylan Roof that he needs to do something drastic to those people at Emmanuel so as to save his people (that is his perceived people via his own emotional prejudices) so as to inspire them to further hatred and bloodshed so as to purify the state and the nation.

In letter II Screwtape comforts Wormwood, his nephew and protege, who has just lost a patient to Christianity, with the statement that “ There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour.”  Those habits he refers to are the preconceived mindset of the patient who sees things not as they are but rather through his, or her, own pre-conceived notions and prejudices.  The patient does not see the Church as it is, historical and timeless, but rather as he imagines it should be with half-finished Gothic buildings.  He does not like his fellow parishioners as they are but visualizes Christians as he thinks they should be that being as they were in the early church wearing togas and sandals.  He sees things with what Screwtape refers to as the “clarity of Hell”.

Dylan Roof, moved by whatever force, had the notion that black people were not people but something bad to be attacked.  The forces driving him not only wanted to kill black people immediately but also to create a wider circle of evil engulfing all of South Carolina and possibly the entire world if possible.  But, the people of Emanuel and of this State with the help of God and his only begotten Son overcame their pre-conceived notions and saw things clearly not with the clarity of Hell, but the clarity of Heaven, and  as with the vision of the prophets.  They responded not with hate, but with love and compassion. The responded by loving their neighbor as themselves  and recognizing that “our people” are not the select few as envisaged by Dylan Roof, but rather they are  all the people of this State, this Nation, and the World.

May the Lord bless South Carolina and this Nation today.

Truth and Reality What Are They Anyway?

In his work The Screwtape Letters  C.S. Lewis chronicles the letters written from an Uncle Screwtape to his affectionate nephew Wormwood.  Screwtape is in the service of “Our Father Below” who is Lewis name for the Devil, Satan, etc.  In the first letter the conversation turns to the battleground and the perception among human beings that what they are seeing around them in the material world is “reality”.  Wormwood makes the point that in earlier times humans understood what was true and what had been proven but in the modern, age as aggravated by the media,  people have begun to weigh truth in gradients rather than in absolutes.  They do not see things as true and untrue, right or wrong, but rather as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”.

Lewis own words describe it better:

…….   But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” of “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

Lewis seems to be hitting on the concept of relativism.  The idea that there is no solid truth but rather only shades of truth which determines the practicality or usefulness of the particular idea.  How often have I found myself giving in to this notion.  Sometimes it seems that prayer is just not practical.   While on vacation or while visiting relatives it is just doesn’t seem practical to pray an office or go to Mass, or even read the Bible.  It is so easy to slip into the idea that God must change his schedule to fit mine so I will not be inconvenienced. And, do those time worn doctrines espoused by the Church really apply in this day and time?  Weren’t they developed in the cultural context of biblical times and shouldn’t they be re-molded to fit today’s world?   Does God’s truth change from generation to generation, or is it our perception which changes?

The Biblical Lawyer or Tales from Yankee Lawyer, The Autobiography of Ephraim Tutt

This post is to explain the nature and derivation of a series of stories I am going to be posting over the next few weeks.  The origin of the stories is a book called Yankee Lawyer which says it is an autobiography of Ephraim Tutt a prominent New York trial lawyer.  As it turns out the book was not written by Ephraim Tutt as Ephraim Tutt never existed.  It was written by a Harvard educated lawyer named Arthur Train.  Mr. Train was a 1940s John Grissom type who published stories about Ephraim Tutt in Harper’s Weekly among other publications.

I read Yankee Lawyer as a young lad and it was partially responsible for my decision  to become a lawyer.  I first read the book when I was eight or nine years old and much of the legalese was lost on me at that time.   I first discovered the book in my grandmother’s library which is not remarkable except that my Grandmother was a true southern lady and daughter of the confederacy and it was strange to me that she would have a book with such a title.  I never found out why she had it and failed to press her on the subject.  So that mystery remains unsolved.

Upon my grandmother’s death the book passed into the hands of my mother, unbeknownst to me and I then came into possession of it at my mother’s death.  I guess it will pass to my daughter or my son upon my death.  Once it came into my possession I re-read it and found it even more enjoyable as now I had been engaged in the practice law in one form or another for over forty years.  I am now able to appreciate the manner in which Tutt deftly handled his cases and the legalese actually makes perfect sense.  And, after having been an Episcopal Lay Reader for about the same number of years as I have been a practicing lawyer the use of biblical passages made perfect sense also.

The book contains a number of very clever stories laced with homespun humor, a bit of legal doctrines, legal history, and some application of biblical passages.

The first post will relate a tale concerning how Tutt resolved a case involving a dentist who pulled the wrong tooth.  The patient, a gigantic farmer, was resolved to apply the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” doctrine of the book of Leviticus to obtain justice.  The dentist, of course, found that solution totally unacceptable. Tutt was able to take the “eye for an eye” doctrine and expand it in such a way so as to render a harmless solution to the problem. It was a solution which was acceptable to everyone with no mayhem involved. Praise the Lord!  This story illustrates a role played by lawyers which is rarely publicized, that being the role of conciliator or mediator who seeks to find common ground thereby finding  an acceptable resolution for both parties and avoiding the necessity of litigation.