Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Imagine No Religion

An unfinished art project. A new take on John Lennon's song "Imagine" (which for the record, I like). Click for full-res:

It's easy if you try.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Thoughts on Independence Day

The ideals and precepts which ground the nation are - strictly speaking - revolutionary. The Constitution particularly so because of its flexibility and ability to change; Such a concept contains the seeds of prophecy and echoes Biblical injunctions to "act justly and love mercy" to care for "the least of these." Two centuries later, we are still striving to actualize a vision of that world, where all human beings are indeed created equal.

Garret Keizer, a former Episcopal priest, writes, "How does a Christian population implicated in militarism, usury, sweatshop labor, and environmental rape find a way to sleep at night? Apparently, by making a very big deal out of not sleeping with Gene Robinson."

Remember that to whom much is given, much is required.

Every once in a while, even "The Message" translation of the Bible (Amos 5:21) is bound to speak powerfully:
"I can't stand your religious meetings.
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.

When was the last time you sang to me?

Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That's what I want.
That's all I want."
Let's keep listening to the voices of our prophets. Seek peace and pursue it. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jesus, Lord of Death

The Gospel is from St. Mark 5:22-23, 35-43:

One of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw Jesus, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." He went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

Some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe."

He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him.

Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

The story this week is the latest in a whirlwind series of tales from the life of Jesus. Jesus has – as usual – attracted quite the following upon his return from the Sea of Galilee, and one man in particular has come to him with an urgent request.

Jairus, one of the leaders of the Synagogue, presumably a man of wealth, social prestige, intellect and theological training falls at the feet of Jesus. He begs for the healing of his young daughter, who is on the verge of death. Jesus obliges and the crowd follows.

When they reach the girl, she has passed away, and mourning is already in full swing. Jesus tells them she is not dead, but asleep, and they stop weeping long enough to laugh at him. Shutting the crowd out, Jesus brings only the family to the bedside. He takes Jairus' daughter by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up!” This is a tender expression in Aramaic, something one would say to a child. It is perhaps better translated as, “Get up, sleepyhead!” Jesus then tells them to give her something to eat.

Most psychologists agree that there are several stages an individual goes through when dealing with the death of a loved one, the final being “acceptance.” What a sad truth that is. We eventually give in to resignation. Death is saluted and feared and honored in our society. Back in Jesus' time, there were “professional mourners” whom one could hire to attend the death of a loved one. They were charged with weeping and wailing loudly, making a fuss over the body and presenting an image of true bereavement. If you think they are a relic of the past, watch the burial arrangements for Michael Jackson! Or take a look at the booming funeral business. The reaper, in his black cloak, sits atop a throne we have built for him.

We would do well to remember Jesus' words. “Do not fear, only believe. She is not dead, but sleeping.” We mourn, yes. Of course we mourn and feel deep sadness! However we do not mourn with resignation, but hope.

The Laramie Project is a play that chronicles the brutal murder of Matthew Shepherd. During the funeral scene, stage directions call for the “minister” to read from the Book of Common Prayer, since Matthew was an Episcopalian. Specifically, these words are proclaimed loudly and boldly: “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection.” A friend of mine, unaware of their origin, later recounted to me that those words moved her the most during the play.

Sometimes we despair about trials and tragedies that seem too big for even God to handle. We, like the crowd, say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” The compassion Jesus displays shows that he is not “too busy with the rest of the world” to care for us as individuals. He takes us away from the crowds, gently holds our hand, offers tender words of new life, and sends us on our way with a meal. He loves us – what an extraordinary thought!

The crowds that follow Jesus are often “amazed” at his miracles, but they do not “believe.” Sometimes, we find ourselves “amazed” at the love of God, but never truly internalize it. And that's okay. Even the smallest amount of faith (like a tiny mustard seed) is enough to flourish.

This is true faith, where we are saved by our hope (see also Rom. 8:22-27) rather than an imperfect belief. There is enough faith in the Kingdom of God. And together, we can rejoice and proclaim that Jesus is Lord – of sea and storm, of disease and even death.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

We Receive You!

This is a reflection written by an acquaintance of mine on the art website deviantART. I thought it appropriate for Trinity Sunday, and loved his unique take on baptism. Many parts reminded of me of my own baptism/confirmation as an adult convert, particularly the part about not wanting to wipe the water off.

All rights reserved to Will Burrows, whose original work may be found here.

- - - - - - - -
We Receive You
by Will Burrows
- - - - - - - -

20 April: birthday of Adolf Hitler, anniversary of the Columbine killings, and of the death of Granny Belle.

20 April: Ken woke us at 5:00 AM. I sat up on my sleeping bag on the thinly carpeted floor of Classroom One, still in the clothes I was wearing yesterday. I rubbed my eyes and remembered the night before:

Lights went out at 11 and everybody was to be in their sleeping bags – girls in the offices upstairs, boys in the classrooms downstairs. With Carl and Eli I had sneaked out, some time after midnight when everybody else was asleep. We ate cold pizza, played frisbee, and built houses of cards into the wee hours when they went back to bed.

I took a walk up the back steps, the narrow hallway like in a pyramid, to the dark nave. Lights were still on in town, but there were hardly any cars. Floodlights pointed up at the courthouse dome and the twin towers of W&J’s Old Main. I relented and lay down. I thought I was too worked up to sleep. Two hours or so had passed without my knowing it when Ken woke us.
Fiona and Karen were in the kitchen cutting bagels for the teenagers who had spent the night in the church. It was an effective way to get young folks to show up for the Vigil. There were a lot of bagels to cut.

The bagel I ate then was ruined with the after-taste of toothpaste. I changed my shirt, put on my corduroy pants and jacket (the ones I had worn to the prom), the pants rust orange and a bit small for me, the jacket olive green with suede elbows and a steel peace sign on the lapel. I tied back my dreadlocks.

Joe was still asleep. With a bare foot I kicked him; he groaned and rolled over. Last night he and Carl had called me their brother. I hadn’t told them how much it meant to me.

People were starting to arrive. I met Mum at the door, and we went upstairs. Dad was already there. We entered the nave in nearly complete darkness and silence.

At 5:45 AM a fire was kindled in the darkness. Mark took light from that fire with the Paschal Candle, and acolytes passed light from that candle by smaller candles to everyone in the room. Mark chanted, and we, the people, responded in call-and-answer fashion.

Then he chanted the Exsultet, including these words: “Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, | bright with a glorious splendor, | for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.”

Stories were read of the genesis of the universe and the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. We sang hymns and heard ancient prophecies read aloud. The room was full of orange faces with heavy eyelids of people holding candles that dripped on the seats and floor.

When it was time, I walked to the chancel where Carl and I had carried the font after the Good Friday service. My parents were behind me. Karen asked the youth of the congregation to come forward. These kids had camped out the previous night in the offices and classrooms of the church, numbering between twenty and thirty. Some were my closest friends, and others I hardly knew.

Karen asked me questions, like, “Do you desire to be baptized?” I said, “I do.” And, “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?” I said, “I renounce them.” She asked all the questions that the Book of Common Prayer told her to ask, and I gave all the answers it told me to give, but they were never insincere. The entire congregation joined in reciting the words in that book.

After appropriate prayers were spoken, I took off my glasses and leaned over the font. Karen used half a bivalve shell to pour water over my forehead three times. Then she put a hand on my head, and with her thumb she made the sign of the cross in oil on my forehead.

Mark handed me a candle and a white cloth napkin. I didn’t want to wipe off the water or forget how it felt, but it was in my eyes, and I couldn’t see. I wiped the water from my eyes while the rest rolled down my chin, onto my shirt.

My parents, my new adopted brothers, and an entire artificial extended family said at once, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” They clapped like we always do when someone is baptized, but this was different. I was different. I was not an infant but a convert. They were excited; they were doing what they were here to do. These words ran awed through my head: “Wow; shit.”

As I walked back to my seat, Carl patted me on the back, Joe shook my hand, and Dana put her arm around me. Wow; shit. There was more singing.

The sun was risen. Lent was over; the Son was risen. I came closer to understanding Easter than at any point previous. People said, “Alleluia” again, ringing bells or jingling their keys. The rest of the service proceeded much like normal.

I looked up at the ceiling, all those oak boards with my greasy fingerprints in Danish oil on their backsides. I thought about the convoluted series of events that brought me here. From staining wood and doing odd jobs around a construction site to seeing it dedicated to a God I didn’t know, I started going to that building for a summer job, and I didn’t ever stop. There were friends I’d known for years and strangers who became friends so quickly as they showed me I’d been wrong to think all Christians are closed-minded. As Thomas was allowed to inspect the crucifixion wounds of Christ, they welcome all the questions I’ve developed as I ease into their way.

Mum and Fiona hugged me long and tight during the Peace. Karen hugged me later; I don’t know how long it was before she let me go. There were so many hugs and handshakes. What do you say to a person who’s just been baptized? Most people said, “Congratulations.” Wow; shit.

I went to the altar for the first time to receive Eucharist instead of just a blessing. A warm feeling of the wine lingered in my chest.

Was everything different from that point forward? No, that was just the most conspicuous landmark on a journey marked by fits and stops, a journey on which no single step was really much more important than any other. Maybe Joe was being facetious, but maybe he was also right when he said I was “one of the swarm now.” Baptism didn’t make that happen, but it made it official. Wow; shit.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."
-Romans 8:26-27

wrote a nice post about how ex-Pentecostals are sort of wary about today's feast day, understandably so. I'm sort of wary of the Holy Spirit myself. In many churches - but especially Mormonism in which I was raised - emotional responses are generated (even manipulated) and subsequently the participants are told that that is the Holy Spirit. Ours is no exception, because "smells and bells" can be a replacement "high" for repetitive jam sessions at a strip-mall Assemblies of God congregation. This is a dangerous error to make, because once the believer's "religious high" wears off (as it invariably does) he or she must seek ever-increasing forms of religio-emotional satisfaction, whether that means upping the amount of incense in the thurible or rolling around on the floor and crying.

In my experience, the Holy Spirit often works absent of emotionally charged experiences, and his presence can only be observed in retrospect. I can look back at times in my life when "the Spirit" guided my path with an unseen - perhaps even painful - hand. I did not recognize them until much later. God tells Moses that God can only show God's backside to mortals, that is, "where God has already been." In other words, hindsight is 20/20, right?

I didn't want to go to church today, and was generally grouchy and judgmental of everything and everyone while there. So many days I "do not know how to pray as [I] ought" but mercifully the Spirit intercedes with "inexpressible groanings." I like that. To know that we are saved by our hope of salvation. Not our imperfect belief.

"O God, from whom all good doth come: Grant that by thy inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen."

Friday, May 22, 2009


Yesterday was the feast of the Ascension.

The Ascension is supposed to be glorious, but it strikes me as sad. I know (and agree with) all the theological justifications for why Jesus can't hang around forever, but still.

So I walked into church already a bit gloomy and sat down with the other four parishioners. The number didn't help my mood.

Fr. Nicholas delivered his sermon. Which was excellent, of course. But his remarks on the attendance particularly stood out. He pointed out how thousands of people crossed the threshold on Easter, and only a handful remain; Yet the handful are as important as the thousands, and the thousands as important as the handful.

Besides, he said, the church is full of angels - if only we could see them.

Monday, May 18, 2009


This is a crucifix. It is arresting in its depth and features, and truth be told, it makes me uncomfortable. It's sort of like the real world.

Some are bothered by the notion that Christ's blood was shed for the sins of the world, regarding such theology as primitive and violent. But consider the extraordinary - the idea that the Creator of all that is and was...even has blood. That the omnipotent Divinity has plasma and cardiovascular chambers and a nervous system. What an incredible thought.

"No one else holds or has held the place in the heart of the world which Jesus holds. Other gods have been as devoutly worshiped; no other man has been so devoutly loved." -John Knox
Americans - and presumably other countries - are locked in a debate about what is/is not torture (if you have to ask...) and whether or not it "works" (who cares if it "works!") and Religion Dispatches has a thought-provoking piece about the intersection of military abuse and Evangelical atonement theology. Here is an excerpt:

"Even one of the soldiers engaged in the abuse thought the detainees looked like Jesus. In a letter written home while she was stationed at Abu Ghraib, Private Sabrina Harman wrote, 'I cant [sic] get it out of my head. I walk down the stairs after blowing the whistle and beating on the cells with a [baton] to find ‘The taxicab driver’ handcuffed backwards to his window naked with his underwear over his head and face. He looked like Jesus Christ.'"

Read it here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Ego of God

A few months ago I had the privilege of giving the homily for the Province VIII gathering of Episcopal college students in Tempe, Arizona. A few people asked for copies, so I thought I would share. The Gospel reading was from John 6:60-71.

Uploading the PDF wasn't working for everyone, so I will just post it. (Apologies for the stiffness of the text - I can assure you I didn't read it word-for-word!) I hope it isn't too long!

Jesus always seems to be up to something, doesn't he? Here we find him in the synagogue, the house of prayer, among his disciples and followers, and surely a few curious newcomers. The landscape outside is not unlike the one found outside these walls.

At this point, Jesus' fame and notoriety have been growing for some time. Just previous to this story, we hear the tale of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with a small bit of fish and bread – a story involving faith. The faith that allowed all the hungry people to be filled and fed. In fact, some of these people hunt Jesus down, pleading with him to perform the miracle again. He says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

And this sets the stage for the conversation that follows.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink [...He goes on...] “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

Many preachers will take this opportunity to pontificate about the nature of the Eucharist. It is literally the Flesh and the Blood of Jesus. That's what his followers have difficulty with, it's so obvious! It is a symbol of the Flesh and Blood of Jesus. That's what his followers have difficulty with, it's so obvious!

Fortunately, we are the Episcopal church – and it is not an either/or question. It simply Is. However, we must admit that Jesus says an odd thing – “eat my flesh” – then immediately follows this by saying, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

The Greek word that we translate as “flesh” is sarx. (Apparently. This insight is obviously not mine, since I do not speak Greek and have never set foot in a Seminary!) Soma is the Greek word most often translated as “body”; sarx here is translated as flesh. Soma is used more often to refer to the physical body of bones and sinews. However, St. John uses sarx not so much to indicate material things as to indicate those patterns of behavior that arise from within us that are opposed to the will of God. Envy. Pride. Anger. Lust.

The “body” is the created physical thing with arms and legs; the “flesh” is that ego which would place itself above the creator. This distinction is important. We hear that Jesus' words drove many away. Because the deserter is not just interested in bodily things; he is more interested in putting his own priorities over God’s.

Many of these people would – in fact - have been more than willing to sacrifice their physical bodies to bring about a political kingdom with Jesus as the head. But Jesus’ priority was to magnify his Father’s love.

One of the things Jesus says to drive them away is “Does this offend you? Then, what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” In other words, "How much more offensive it will be to you when I am lifted up, crucified! When your Messiah, the prophesied Holy One of Israel - hangs naked and bloody and pitiful - gasping for breath on a cross."

Yes, Jesus' priority was to magnify his Father's love, upwards and outwards, until this love resounded throughout the whole world. No exceptions. This will turn hierarchies upside down, topple earthly kingdoms and liberate the oppressed, both spiritually and otherwise. If there is a theme to be found among Jesus' followers – us included – it is that of surprise. Certainly, this was not the kind of “change” the disciples had been looking for.

These are people who had followed Jesus for quite some time. Certainly after the mountaintop experience of feeding 5,000 people, this desertion must seem like a letdown to the remaining disciples.

And so, Jesus turns to his twelve apostles and says, “Do you also wish to go away?” They respond, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

There seems to be an air of finality in those words. They have decided. They know the end is coming. A conclusion to Jesus' earthly ministry is being foreshadowed. “Lord, to whom can we go?”


We have decided to follow Jesus, in one capacity or another. We have allowed Christ to show us the way to God. We walk by faith, not by sight.

And yet.

And yet I often wonder if my faith is genuine. Do I really believe in God? Do I really believe that Jesus is God? Some days, the answer is nowhere to be found. Doubt and question hang over us like a dark cloud.

Reading this, I asked myself, do I believe that Jesus has, as Peter says, the "words of eternal life?" Or am I ready to desert him?

Napoleon...wrote about Jesus. Napoleon Bonaparte – a man with many admirers and many critics. If nothing else, his relationship with the Church (let alone the peaceful teachings of Jesus) was complicated. And yet he says, “I know men and will I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”

Our physical lives are not enough – we must surrender not our bodies, but our flesh. We try to love as Christ loved. Genuine faith cannot walk away. Eventually, we come back. The Bible is full of characters with this peculiar genuine faith. Jonah, for instance.

Or the parable of the Prodigal Son, whose broken heart and sincere repentance was rewarded above that of his brother. Even – perhaps, in the end - Judas.

Jesus demands much more than our physical bodies. He wants our flesh – our passions, our urges, our desires, our egos. He tells us to eat of his flesh – his passion. God's passion.

J. Sidlow Baxter, an Australian theologian, writes this: “Fundamentally, our Lord's message was Himself. He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He himself is that Gospel. He did not come merely to give bread; He said, "I am the bread." He did not come merely to shed light; He said, "I am the light." He did not come merely to show the door; He said, "I am the door." He did not come merely to name a shepherd; He said, "I am the shepherd." He did not come merely to point the way; He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."


Saturday, May 09, 2009

St. Monica

St. Monica is one of my favorite Saints. Her story involves no angels or incorruptible bodies, but is one of quiet miracles and persistent faith. It seems at once mundane and holy, and reads a bit like an episode of The View. Admittedly, my family reminds me of hers. There have been no Christians for several generations. I wish I had the dedication to pray for them as much as St. Monica did.

Monica was married by arrangement to a pagan official in North Africa, who was much older than she, and although generous, was also violent tempered. His mother lived with them and was equally difficult, which proved a constant challenge to Monica. She had three children; Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua.

Through her patience and prayers, she was able to convert her husband and his mother to the catholic faith in 370· He died a year later. Perpetua and Navigius entered the religious Life.

Augustine was much more difficult, and Monica prayed for him for 17 years, begging the prayers of priests who, for a while, tried to avoid her because of her persistence at this seemingly hopeless endeavor. One priest consoled her by saying, "it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish." This thought, coupled with a vision that she had received, strengthened her. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387. Monica died later that same year, on the way back to Africa from Rome in the Italian town of Ostia.

Monica is the patroness of abuse victims, converts, mothers, and all women.

"O Lord, who through spiritual discipline didst strengthen thy servant Monica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we beseech thee, and use us in accordance with thy will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with thee and theHoly Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Saturday, May 02, 2009

St. Teresa of Avila

"About the injunction of the Apostle Paul that women should keep silent in church? Don't go by one text only."
-St. Teresa of Avila

"O God, who by the Holy Spirit didst move Teresa of Avila to manifest to thy Church the way of perfection: Grant us, we beseech thee, to be nourished by her excellent teaching, and enkindle within us a lively and unquenchable longing for true holiness; through Jesus Christ, the joy of loving hearts, who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Illiteracy Part Deux: Religious Illiteracy

A brief follow-up to yesterday's post.

It is often said that we "live in a post-religious society." Or "post-Christian." I don't think this is necessarily true, at least not in the United States where 75% of the citizens identify with the Christian label.

A more accurate description might be "religiously illiterate." Individuals are ill-equipped to grapple with the complex and often confusing world of spirituality. So they either opt out entirely, or embrace an easy fundamentalism.

Most cannot name the four Gospels, or tell you who wrote the book of Corinthians. They could hardly identify the difference between a Catholic and Protestant, let alone a Sunni and Shiite. A 2000 Gallup poll shows that 70% of Americans believe "you can be religious without going to church." Is it any wonder that more people are choosing to tune out altogether?

Again, what is needed is a return to basics of the faith. Clear articulation of doctrine. A more widespread understanding of religion. Personally, I believe that Religious Studies ought to be a mandatory part of the high school curriculum. A mind that is well-educated about various religions and their denominations is more free to choose his or her path, not less.

I caught this hilarious skit from That Mitchell and Webb Look on BBC America:

Comedy aside, it makes some good points. Religious belief is becoming more "me" focused, rather than "we" focused. Our communities must reach out and embrace the "other." Without being jerks, of course! Which we Anglicans are quite good at.

There has been a shift away from the wealth of information found in a community, to the individual's personal interpretations and worldview.

Or, as the Vicar says, "You've thought about eternity for twenty-five minutes and think you've come to some interesting conclusions, have you?"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Illiteracy and the Church

In the 18th century, a man was considered "literate" if he could sign his name. Later, the ability to read and write text was considered tantamount to literacy, and this perception is still widespread.

However, we must distinguish between absolute literacy (the ability to read and write text) and functional literacy. The National Assessment of Education Progress considers literacy "[the ability to] use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential."

This is measured by the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), which measures three areas of literacy (prose, document and quantitative) with scores ranging from one to five. Prose literacy is the ability to read, analyze and comprehend a written work such as an article, novel or journal. Document literacy is the ability to interpret informational documents such as maps, timetables, or warranties. Quantitative literacy is the ability to apply basic mathematical functions to real-world situations.

Exact estimates range from one-third to one-half, but a great deal of the American adult population scored between levels one and three. According to the Survey of Adult Literacy, "nobody in the three lowest levels [can] consistently integrate complex information, take into account special conditions, or use background knowledge to state or solve a problem."

Source: National Commission on Adult Literacy

The implications are staggering. I devoted the past semester to studying adult literacy, and this is where I began my research. It all began with this article by Chris Hedges. Truthdig is a notoriously liberal webzine, and I wondered if the information was scholarly.

Unfortunately, it is. The journals and federal statistics and international surveys have precisely similar findings. (And I would be more than happy to disclose all my sources.) One-third to one-half of Americans are functionally illiterate. Read the article by Hedges. Go, do it.

Did you read it?

Hedges writes, "in our post-literate world, because ideas are inaccessible [...] news, political debate, theatre, art and books are judged not on the power of their ideas but on their ability to entertain." This creates an atmosphere of hostility towards critical examination of ideas, political policies, and intellectual thought, which is often labeled "elitist."

This, I believe, is one of the primary reasons why mainline Protestant denominations are shrinking! Because we "function in a print-based, literate world. [We] can cope with complexity and [have] the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth."

  1. Mainline denominations are relegated to the margins, de facto. Our approach to faith is too complex. We are increasingly out of touch with society.
  2. Roman Catholicism dumbs down its message. (Ex. "you are pro-life or pro-death, you embrace all of the dogma or none of it.")
  3. Evangelical churches thrive. Their message is clear, simple, and easy to understand. Their services are entertainment. Their teachings accomodate popular culture, including consumerism and American nationalism.
  4. Any attempt at higher-level religious discourse is drowned out by clergy abuse scandals, debates about evolution, abortion, gay rights, public prayer, etc.
  5. Vast numbers of individuals disillusioned with the culture wars turn away from religion in disgust. Their opinions of religion are based - not on theology - but on perceived social teachings of the church and the actions of its members.
  6. Mainline churches continue to lose members to fundamentalism or secularism as our increasingly polarized, illiterate society rejects notions of a middle ground. Middle ground and "shades of grey" are too complex to be easily understood or marketed.
We are left with a dangerous and volatile mix of fundamentalists and secularists. Fundamentalists know very little about their religion, save for how they feel about it. Secularists often know more about Christianity, but certainly not enough to develop an accurate opinion.

Those who turn to secularism instead of fundamentalism are not necessarily more literate/intelligent. The Atheism of Nietzche, Camus and Sartre is radically different from that of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, much in the same way that Thomas Aquinas has been replaced by Joel Osteen.

What must we do? What can we do? I don't know. Being able to clearly articulate our beliefs is one step. Changing the public perception of religion and ending the culture wars is another. Most folks don't realize that "all denominations are not created equal." Yet in a world unable to take into account subtlety, Episcopalians are liable for the bullshit pulled by the Westboro Baptist Church.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Let There Be - Reflections on Earth Day

Friends, this little blue orb is the only one we've got.

Twelve billion years ago, the cosmos exploded with a dictum - "let there be!"

Some three billion years ago, chemistry made the miraculous transfiguration into biology and gasped its first breath.

Some two millennia ago, the Creator's punctured lungs gasped nitrogen and oxygen anew for the second time. Not only from the crib, but the tomb as well.

"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his people, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said,
‘See, I am making all things new.’"

God is making all things new, and insists that we participate - to be heirs of his eternal kingdom.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Name Change - Part Deux

Serpentis Sacra. "Sacred Serpents."

A few months ago, I came across an article about a distant relative of mine - one I'm rather fond of. John Bramhall. Archbishop of Armagh, via media defender of the Anglican church against Puritans and Papists alike.

I felt a sense of kinship with John Bramhall that surpassed our common bloodline; He and I share many of the same theological and sociopolitical views. One of his books is entitled Serpent Salve. I first thought of Latin for "Holy Serpent." Quickly, I realized he meant ointment for a snake bite.

Even so, that is where the initial inspiration came from.

The snake is a complicated creature in Christian mythology and symbolism.
  • Satan tempts Eve under the guise of a serpent.
  • Moses impales a (flying?) snake, commanding the children of Israel to gaze upon it; Whoever is bitten receives healing. Healing from the (flying) snakes that just bit them.
  • Jesus refers to the Pharisees as a "brood of vipers."
  • Christ's crucifixion echoes the piercing of the snake by Moses.
  • Mary is often depicted crushing a snake beneath her feet, a sign that she is the "new Eve."
  • St. Patrick is rumored to have driven poisonous asps from the fields of Ireland.
  • Orthodox bishops adorn their episcopal staves with intercoiled snakes, as my friends at JN1034 pointed out.
This despised and wretched creature - one of the "beasts that creeps upon the Earth" - is perhaps the weirdest animal to represent Christ.

Even after his crucifixion and resurrection, the snake is displayed in churches solidly beneath the feet of Mary and Patrick, or else lurking about Paradise, an unwanted virus. This iconography is confusing at best, especially when displayed next to images of Christ-the-serpent.

The Israelites were bitten by the snake to receive healing from other bites. If Christ is the new serpent, then we have been bitten by him, and his venom inhabits our veins forever. His humanity is forever united to ours, and we participate in his divinity.

That symbolism is still bizarre.

You know, that's why I like it. The despised serpent has been raised up and redeemed. What once embodied fear is a symbol of hope. What once crawled on its belly now soars in the air.

We are to be holy serpents.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Name and Layout Change

That old name had to go; It didn't make much sense, and it's something I chose thoughtlessly. (I used it for everything throughout high school!)

More on the new name soon!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Church Is Dying's true.

And it needs a holy fire under it's ass if it expects to survive the upcoming generation.

I have heard the suggestion, "Maybe we need to let the Church die, so it can be resurrected." I'm not willing to let 2,000 years of history, wisdom and seeking go down the toilet. I'm certainly not about to let so-called "born again" Christianity take its place, both as a gay man and an Anglo-Catholic.

(A side note. These are totally disorganized, stream-of-consciousness ideas that have been floating around for a while, and I needed to exorcise them. Bear with my lack of organization, with sincere apologies from the author!)

So, here are a few suggestions.

- Articulate the Message -

Why are people drawn to evangelical churches?

Evangelicals have dumbed down the Gospel.

"Are you Saved? Say this prayer to be Saved. Read this book."

Easy. Simple.

This mistake results in a generation of evangelicals who know nothing about their faith except how they feel about it. There is, however, a lesson to be learned.

If you ask an Anglican what he or she believes, you're liable to get a lot of stammering and a generally unimpressive response. We need to be able to clearly, quickly, accurately and poignantly articulate our faith. This is no easy task. Summarizing years of experience and introspection is nearly impossible, but it must be done.

We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, that he came to restore our broken human nature through his reconciling ministry, death and subsequent resurrection. We believe that - in spite of everything - the Church he established continues with an unbroken line of apostolic authority through the Holy Spirit. We believe that God's grace flows freely from the church and indeed all creation.

Or something like that.

Which brings me to the next point...

- Better Catechesis -

I once met a lifelong, cradle Episcopalian who asked me what a diocese is. Forehead-to-desk action ensued.

This is not uncommon. Teaching must involve the basics of the Church - history, governance, liturgy, dogmas. We cannot afford to leave our members blatantly uneducated.

- Denominational Identity -

We live in a post-denominational world. Most Americans will change denominations at some point in their life. The response has been something akin to, "Well, if folks are changing - what's the difference? Let's band together!"

No no no no no! Creating a massive mainline Protestant blob church is not the answer. Strengthening ecumenical ties is well and good, but degrading our denominational foundations is not.

Methodists must return to the theology of Charles Wesley, and teach it. Presbyterians must return to the theology of John Calvin, and teach it. Catholics must return to the wealth of information found in the catechism, and teach it. Lutherans must return to the theology of Martin Luther, and teach it.

- Assertion of Supremacy over Non-Christian Religions -

This sounds harsh. Essentially what I'm saying is, we need to be able to articulate why we believe in Jesus Christ, and not Mohammed, Vishnu, or Christopher Hitchens. What makes Christianity unique?

This must be both academic and a labor of the heart. We must encourage people to speak openly of their love for Jesus, and be receptive to hearing the faith of others with an open mind and heart. We are so uncomfortable with describing our relationship and journey with the divine.

More than ever, we need to understand why we believe in God at all. Most Christians are not converting to Hinduism or Buddhism, but rather losing interest in spirituality altogether. This is unacceptable.

- Assertion of Supremacy over Other Denominations -

We need to be able to articulate why we are Anglican and not Baptist, Roman Catholic, "born again" or even Lutheran. This is very different from saying "you're right, and I'm wrong." It's simply a matter of being able to accurately communicate your beliefs.

For example, I have tremendous respect for the Roman Catholic church, believe it to be one of the branches of the ancient Church, and accept the Bishop of Rome as the successor of St. Peter and first among equals. However, I respectfully argue that Papal authority is too far-reaching, that ecumenical councils after the 7th are invalid because of their noninclusive nature, and that many of the Roman Church's social teachings are in serious need of re-examination and correction.

Likewise, a traditionalist Roman Catholic should be able to explain why he or she does accept those things (or reject them, but remain in the communion of Rome), and we should come to a mutual appreciation of differences.

- Counter-Cultural -

A final word to the wise. Christianity doesn't need to implement rock-and-roll. It doesn't need to become "seeker friendly" or put on a special show for the unchurched. It needs to be welcoming, true-to-self, and it needs to be counter-cultural.

True Christianity will never fall in line with the culture of the day. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and freeing the prisoner are never going to be popular. Reaching out to the lonely, despondent and oppressed is not hip or cool. Loving your neighbor is a lifelong process. The moral thing is not the profitable thing. You're going to get crucified. But we have always looked with hope for the Resurrection.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Photos

From the Dean of Trinity Cathedral, the Very Rev. Nicholas Knisley, whose blog can be found here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday

"Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?"

When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

Look up! Alleluia!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

"I will not forget you.
See, I have written you on the palms of my hands."

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Monasticism and the Preciousness of Life

How long does the immediate grace imparted in the Eucharist remain?

A few seconds, perhaps. Minutes, or hours or days. Certainly, some of it dwells within us forever. I'm tempted to say that the presence fills our hearts for a brief time. (But I've never exactly been an optimist, so my opinion is not to be trusted!)

When returning from Mass (on good days) I have a heightened awareness of human life. When a motorcyclist on the interstate blows past in heavy traffic, I want to grab him and yell, "Slow down! Don't you know how precious your life is?!" Ordinarily, I would have wanted to grab him and yell something slightly less compassionate. It's an extraordinary thing, to catch a glimpse of the preciousness of a soul to God. These insights are the sustenance of Saints.

Slowly, the real world begins its invasion of this rosy outlook. Visit the CNN homepage. Car accidents, diseases, starvation, unfathomable poverty - murder. And while the divine presence burns within us, how much more grievous these atrocities seem! We have not yet been desensitized. During the week, we become immune to empathy - this immunity is a sickness.

A sickness that much of the world is afflicted with.

Medieval Christians were driven to form monasteries and convents, to escape the world. And lately, that idea seems appealing. The world needs an order of persons set apart, consecrated to prayer and holy living. How nice it would be to close oneself behind the heavy doors of a monastery.

This isn't where I'm being called. I'm not meant to be without a covenanted relationship, nor can I resist a few creature comforts the world has to offer. I know I'm not meant to be a monk.

Yet I grow increasingly uncomfortable with the way the world works. What is the "American dream?" To raise a family, buy a nice car, a nice house, and stuff it full of nice things. The accumulation of material possessions. This "dream" has seized the world. The rich piss their souls away to get richer. The poor desperately cling to degrading, dangerous, underpaying jobs, making stuff for the wealthy. In the end, is it worth it? When your possessions posses you, is it worth it?

(Disclaimer, if I may. There's nothing wrong with having a regular job and a place to live and something to get around in, of course. I'm just disgusted by how unabashedly consumed the vast majority of our culture seems to be with this idea.)

This quote (like most good quotes) I stole from Tamie's blog:
"Be content that you are not yet a saint, even though you realize that the only thing worth living for is sanctity. Then you will be satisfied to let God lead you to sanctity by paths that you cannot understand."
-Thomas Merton

Monday, April 06, 2009

Holy Week

I feel blessed to be able to receive the Eucharist daily this week - there is a certain monastic quality to it. More about that soon.

It occurred to me on Palm Sunday that there is a manic quality to this festival. The mood rapidly elevates and plummets as we cry, "Hosanna! ... Crucify him!" There is a celebration of the Lordship of Jesus, of his joyful entrance into Jerusalem - and foreshadowing of the darkness lurking around the corner. It makes our stomachs turn in anxious anticipation for the setting of the Passover moon; Easter somehow still seems far away.

This was a nice article to read. The third paragraph in particular.

Meet you at Easter.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Young Adults and Other Ponderous Quandaries

So today has been my first free day in two weeks. For Spring Break, I went to Washington, D.C. and had a blast! I fell in love with the city (not to mention the National Cathedral) - I'll do a "best of" picture post soon, but if you want a preview, check out my Flickr account here.

This weekend was the gathering of Episcopal young adults in Province VIII (which includes most of the southwestern U.S., Hawaii, Alaska and Taiwan). 2009 was Arizona's turn to host, and so we did.

The event went very well, overall. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and it was refreshing to spend time with amazing people.

A few of my reflections on ministry to young adults (18-35ish).

The younger you are in the Episcopal church, the more likely you are to enjoy traditional liturgy, not to mention theology. We accept LGBT rights and women's ordination as a given. Why should that affect our theology or practice? We were spared the social upheaval of the 60's and 70's. A surprisingly large majority of the folks I engaged with said they preferred, enjoyed, or were curious about high church liturgy. Fr. Craig's workshop on liturgy and subsequent thurible-training session were quite popular. Geoff at The Rose Maniple puts it best:

"I certainly know young Anglicans who are very keen on the Book of Alternative Services, and all kinds of doctrinal laxity. But most young Anglicans I know are not in this category. It may be true that most (though not all) of us are 'liberals' on the 'hot-button' issues of women in the priesthood, and same-sex partnerships. But we also take the Creeds seriously and hold firm to Nicene and Trinitarian orthodoxy. We have a high view of the sacraments, and believe in the Real Presence and apostolic succession. We're waiting for the Baby Boomers to kick the bucket so that we don't have to listen to them tell themselves how "inaccessible" we find the Book of Common Prayer. Then we can bury their tie-die stoles with them...."
Alternative liturgies were used this weekend - liturgies which radically departed from the language used in the Book of Common Prayer. These services do NOT reflect the diversity of belief present in the Episcopal church! Furthermore, they are disinclusive and exclusionary. Worshipers like me cannot - in good conscience - participate. To give an example of "going the other direction," it would be as if the church wrote transubstantiation into its rubrics. It simply is not Anglican.

I don't mind low church services - I do mind non-BCP (non-Anglican) services.

Lastly, rejecting the BCP, using barfy crayon-colored stoles and/or not vesting properly sends a message to young adults: "You are not the Church. You need special liturgies, and special vestments. You are outside the realm of Common Prayer. Go sit at the children's Table." And people wonder why we don't have more young adults?

My parish, Trinity Cathedral, has seen a large surge in the number of people 20's and 30's attending. We are traditional in the Anglican sense - rabidly and unapologetically broad church. We don't put on a kitschy "special" show for young adults. We simply welcome them to join with others of all ages around the Altar. Last year's Provincial gathering ended in a traditional candlelight Mass, and nearly every evaluation sheet listed the candlelight Eucharist as that individual's favorite part of the weekend.

There is a Facebook group called, "Actually, Young People DO Like Traditional Liturgy." It currently has 2,276 members. Another group, "Praise Bands Annoy God," counts 3,734 members. The largest "general Episcopal" group has about 5,000.

There is definitely crossover.

Hm, I was going to write more, but seem to have forgotten. Guess that's what happens when one hops on a really good ranting session!

Your thoughts?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tonight, the wind is blowing very strongly. This does not happen often in Phoenix. The palm fronds and pollen blossoms and creosote branches are dancing. The streetlamps throw an orange haze high into the dusty sky.

Nights like this are good for contemplation. Tonight the tears were close at hand while driving home. Because there is hurt. Because there is healing. These things, like the wind and the dust, are so mysteriously bound together.

Spoken prayer fails, and the solemn-yet-momentous cry for "everything to be alright forever" is carried upward by the wind.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Day and the Night are Both Alike

Hey everyone. I'm sorry for not updating as frequently as I should; I haven't been in churchy mode lately. Strangely, this seems to be what God has in store for me this Lent.

Anyway, here are some pictures of life lately, to fill the void. New, substantial post soon, promise! (Click for higher resolution.)

Add Image

Thursday, March 05, 2009


What do you think about just before falling asleep? Or just after waking?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That Is What You Are

Chad told me about a particular Buddhist exercise, which uses the "I am not" format to cast off unhealthy (or rather, untrue) attachments.

I rather like this idea, so I'm going to try it.

Please, please, please add to the list!

- - -

I am not my bank account.

I am not my car.

I am not my grades, or my tuition or my transfer credits.

I am not my university or my house.

...or my church.

I am not my mother.

I am not my father.

I am not my skinny arms.

I am not my nice legs.

I am not my hair, which some days I love, and some days I despise, and some days I realize is not at all goddamn important.

I am not my computer.

I am not my clothing, or my cologne the shoes I wear.

I am not my piano, or the playing thereof.

I am not my writing, or my camera or my homework.

I am not my photographs.

I am not the people who don't like me.

I am not my cell phone, or my Facebook profile. Or my blog.

I am not my books.

I am myself,

...and I belong to God.

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells within you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy -- and that is what you are. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." 1 Corinthians 3: 16-17, 21-23

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Saints Alive

Some have suggested that Fr. Andrew White, who represents the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Middle East, and Iraq in particular, may be the next individual added to the kalendar of Saints.

Article here.

Another piece about Iraqi Christians here.

Lord God,

you hold both heaven and earth in a single peace.

Let the design of your great love

shine on the waste of our anger and sorrow,

and give peace to your Church,

peace among nations,

peace in our homes,

and peace in our hearts,

in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Weekend at the Monastery

This Saturday I went with some folks from church to visit St. Anthony's Orthodox monastery. It's a beautiful campus, situated eight miles outside of Florence, AZ. Florence is a tiny town about 40 miles southeast of Phoenix.

Ringing the call to Vespers: