God in Proof, God in Prayer: A Sermon for Proper 12, Year A

Proper 12, Year A

July 27, 2014

“The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

Right now I’m reading a book by Nathan Schneider called God in Proof. I first encountered Schneider’s writing some years ago through the website he began with some other young writers called “Killing the Buddha.” It’s hard to describe in a few words what they’re trying to do with the site, but at its core is the quest of young people, millennials, to explore questions of faith and spirituality in our modern world. Continue reading

Eye-popping irony: conference on re-imagining the Episcopal Church at National Cathedral

So, the Task force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC, to insiders) has invited Episcopalians to a one day conference on October 7.

Wonderful!

It will be held at the Washington National Cathedral.

Holding such an event at the very heart of the power and privilege of American culture and civil religion speaks volumes. It’s incredibly difficult for people to imagine an alternative vision of the church in such a setting.

Perhaps the restructuring process will be successful but if conference organizers and members of the task force are blind to the symbolic power of choices like where to hold such events, I fear they are also going to be blind to possible directions the Holy Spirit might be leading us.

Having the event in Detroit, for example, would send a very different message.

Rowan Williams on prayer

Some kinds of instruction in prayer used to say at the beginning, “Put yourself in the presence of God.” But I often wonder whether it would be more helpful to say, “Put yourself in the place of Jesus.” It sounds appallingly ambitious, even presumptuous, but that is actually what the New Testament suggests we do. Jesus speaks to God for us, but we speak to God in him. You may say what you want—but he is speaking to the Father, gazing into the depths of the Father’s love. And as you understand Jesus better, as you grow up a little in your faith, then what you want to say gradually shifts a bit more into alignment with what he is always saying to the Father, in his eternal love for the eternal love out of which his own life streams forth.

That, in a nutshell, is prayer—letting Jesus pray in you and beginning that lengthy and often very tough process by which our selfish thoughts and ideals and hopes are gradually aligned with his eternal action, just as, in his own earthly life, his human fears and hopes and desires and emotions are put into the context of his love for the Father, woven into his eternal relation with the Father—even in that moment of supreme pain and mental agony that he endures the night before his death.

Rowan Williams writing on Origen and prayer in the Christian Century

Evidence that supportive religious denominations have a positive effect on gay youth

The Wisconsin State Journal reports on a study conducted by Dr. Maurice Gattis of UW Madison that shows gay youth involved in gay-affirming religious communities have fewer “depressive symptoms” from discrimination than other gay youth:

pecifically, gay college students in the study who were affiliated with gay-affirming religious denominations suffered fewer “depressive symptoms” related to discrimination than their gay counterparts who are secular or who were affiliated with denominations opposed to same-sex marriage.

Remarkably, this was true for all groups; that is to say, gays in “gay-affirming” denominations scored better on the survey than did secular gays.

For the Episcopal Church, one caveat: for the purposes of this study “gay-affirming” was defined by the denomination’s stand on same-sex marriage.

Groaning in despair and hope: A Sermon for Proper 9, Year A

I’m not sure that there’s been a week in recent years where the news from across the world has put me in as deep despair about humanity as this one. The apparent shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over the Ukraine; the senseless, never-ending violence in Israel and Gaza with photos of the deaths of Palestinian children and Israelis sitting in lawn chairs cheering the airstrikes; from Iraq, scenes of the destruction of the Christian heritage in Mosul and an announcement that Christians there must convert, pay a tax, or be killed; on our own border with Mexico, the ongoing human tragedy of thousands of refugees suffering while opponents of immigration spout hate-filled slogans. Everywhere one looks, divisions seem to be widening, problems becoming more intractable. We seem to be on an endless spiral downward with little hope for a better future. The dystopian visions of Hunger Games and other fantasy fiction become more plausible with every passing day. Continue reading

The latest on the “spiritual but not religious”

Mark Oppenheimer in today’s New York times:

At the very least, we might conclude that “spiritual but not religious” isn’t necessarily vague or wishy-washy. It’s not nothing, although it may risk being everything.

Little new here, although Oppenheimer uses Courtney Bender’s and Linda Mercadante’s work to stress that the “nones” (as they’re often called) can be both communal in orientation and theologically sophisticated.

Rowan Williams on reading and interpreting scripture

Things get difficult if you hold that the Bible is only a human product; but they also get difficult when the Bible is treated only as a set of timeless instructions from God, irrespective of the actual process by which the texts arose. The Bible needs to be read, prayerfully and discerningly, in the company of as many other believers as possible, so that we can learn some wisdom from each other as to what exactly God does want to tell us. Hearing the truth in Scripture means expecting the Holy Spirit to be at work both in the text and in the community that reads it.

From an interview with Jonathan Merritt. More here