Here’s my Berkeley senior sermon. It’s a bit different to the kind of thing I usually preach. It’s one of the few things I’ve put together which was very much designed to be spoken, rather than read. I also made the conscious decision to dive into a conceptual reading of Corinthians 7:26-29, and so preach from an explicitly philosophical/theological perspective. With that said, I hope it’s worth the read, and I hope that the pastoral import of the philosophical/theological manifests itself.
A dear friend described it—paraphrasing slightly—as articulating a ‘practice of how we might regularly evaluate what we presume to be normative, and why those presumptions might be what get in the way of our ability to experience mystery, chance, surprise, hope, grace.’ I think that’s exactly what I was trying to do.
For the present form of this world is passing away.
In our second reading today, Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that “the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none.” In other words, given everything’s going to get apocalyptic soon, be as if you weren’t what you are. In itself, this seems simple enough. It is complicated, however, by the verses right before, not included in our reading today. There, Paul writes that, “in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” In verse 26, then, ‘are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free.’ In verse 19, ‘let even those who have wives be as though they had none.’ Be married, and be as if you were not. Be—and be as if you weren’t.
The Episcopal Church and systematic theology are divided.1 They have been for a long time, and there are reasons for this on both sides. The problem I’m going to focus on in this post is a belief that abstract theological statements—about the Trinity, for example, or what it means to say Jesus Christ is very God and very Man—are irrelevant to Christian life. I’ve heard this belief expressed in myriad ways. In church, it’s not uncommon to hear things like “it doesn’t matter whether your believe Jesus is divine, only that you follow his teachings.” This is a ‘life not doctrine’ approach. In seminary, it’s not uncommon to hear the question “when am I ever going to use this? It’s of no use for pastoral ministry.” This is a theory/practice distinction. Continue reading “Why Should Episcopalians Bother with Systematic Theology?”→
I bought the cross I wear on a retreat to Holy Cross Monastery in April, 2014. It was a spontaneous decision made while browsing through their bookstore. A heavy rainfall eroded the glue holding the beams together about two months later, so I patched it up using superglue and a bit of red thread a housemate of mine had to hand. I’ve worn it almost every day since. Continue reading “Why Do I Wear a Cross?”→
A substantial number of Episcopal Bishops recently wrapped up a conference in Chicago. Titled “Unholy Trinity: the Intersection of Racism, Poverty, and Gun Violence,” it was organized by Bishops United Against Gun Violence and it dealt with how to broach these three social sins in scriptural and theological frameworks. It was probably a very powerful event, especially given the panel it put together. I can also easily imagine that the work done will inspire new forms of advocacy and activism within various Episcopal Dioceses.
I wrote this in Denver last year, but for some reason didn’t post it. It seemed like it might be important then, so figured it might still be worth posting now.
I’m writing this introduction on Tuesday, June 7th. This morning I had a conversation with a woman at the Network Coffee House on 14th and Pearl—a place of community for the homeless and impoverished, and one of the most beautiful locations in Denver. When the woman told me that her name was Grace, I remarked that this was one of the most powerful words in the English language. She agreed, adding ‘I’ve only recently started to learn what it really means. We learn a lot of words in America, but we aren’t always rightly taught what them.’ We spoke for a while longer, musing on how wonderful it is that when learning the meaning of our own names, we can also learn both who we are and who God is.
I can very clearly remember the day, several years ago, that one of my students came into graduate support at SMPA clutching a Joel Osteen book. My immediate reaction was general shock, and expressed as such—not least because they were one of the most thoughtful and spiritually motivated students I’ve had the privilege of working with (to say nothing of their keen intellect). My second reaction was one of puzzlement, caused by reflecting on this second truth. So I asked them why they were reading Osteen. The answer was that reading him gave the student a sense that they were and could be worth something; to God, to themselves, to their family. The book laid out clearly many of the psychological blocks to realizing this worth (both social and personal), advocated clearing them away by considering the great power of God, and promised that once these blocks were removed that power would work through them to bring this worth to light in prosperity. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on the Prosperity Gospel”→