If We Want the Episcopal Church to Engage in Effective Political Advocacy, then We Must Evangelize

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Awakening the Spirit in Missouri (Source: ENS)

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.

Continue reading “If We Want the Episcopal Church to Engage in Effective Political Advocacy, then We Must Evangelize”

The Problem of Memory: Forgetting the Teachings of the Church

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Augustine: not an American, or a Western European. (Source: Wikipedia)

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.

Continue reading “The Problem of Memory: Forgetting the Teachings of the Church”

Some Thoughts on the Prosperity Gospel

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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”

A Lesson from The Socialist Controversy at Berkeley Divinity School

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The memorial bulletin for W.P.Ladd, around whom the controversy centered. (RG216, Box 2, Folder 50)

On December 2nd, 1919, an unassuming Brit by the name of Wilfred Humphries gave a talk at Berkeley Divinity School (then located in Middletown, CT, now a part of Yale Divinity School). The stated purpose of his talk was to give a first hand account of the contemporary situation in Russia, and he dedicated it to describing what he took to be some of the more positive aspects of the new Bolshevik regime. During the talk he shared a slide of the Russian flag and described how it was perceived by the Russians he had met. He also said a few complimentary words about Lenin and Trotsky.

This talk had been given at several New England colleges without provoking much of a reaction. After the talk in Middletown, CT, however, several members of the public claimed that the talk was unpatriotic communist propaganda. Newspaper editorials were written denouncing Dean W.P. Ladd and his faculty as corrupting both the Gospel and their students with socialism. A three person committee investigating the matter was formed at Ladd’s request. The provincial storm made national headlines, but Ladd was not forced to resign. It was decided that Berkeley had not propagated socialism, that Ladd himself had not sought to do so, and that the faculty were not responsible for the content of or reaction to the lecture—though the offending lecture was declared ill-advised and it was decided that it would have been Ladd’s responsibility to prevent it if he had known its content beforehand. A motion was put forward by several trustees (notably Judge Greene, who was on the above committee) requesting Ladd’s resignation in June 1920. This, however, appears to have been motivated by his combative response to the trustee’s recommendations following the committee’s report and questions over whether or not he respected the rules of Berkeley’s charter, rather than culpability for the initial affair.1 A compromise was reached where Ladd worked with an advisory committee of sorts. All in all, he weathered the assault, oversaw Berkeley’s move to Yale, and served as Dean until his death in the early 1940s, inspiring an uncommon loyalty in the student body. Continue reading “A Lesson from The Socialist Controversy at Berkeley Divinity School”

What Makes a True Christian?

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Jesus healing the Paralytic, from Dura-Europos in Syria

One of the most wonderful things about being a student again is the opportunity to read through the jewels which litter the Anglican tradition. There is the systematic genius of Richard Hooker, the principled and poetic reverence of Thomas Cranmer, the preaching of Lancelot Andrews. There’s the practical advice of Jeremy Taylor and the stern exhortation of William Law. And we’ve just arrived at the evangelical fervour of first the Wesley brothers, then Hannah More and John Newton.

I’d like to briefly reflect on one theme which has recurred in several of these authors—the question of what signifies a true Christian. And I’d like to do so because I believe attempts to answer this question have been premised on a mistake. Continue reading “What Makes a True Christian?”

Coming Back to Compline

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There have been many joys in returning to New Haven—seeing old friends, visiting old haunts; making new friends, discovering new places. One of the deepest joys, however, has been attending the Compline service at Christ Church, New Haven again.

Compline is meaningful on a number of levels, and it seems worth writing a few words reflecting why. First, it is uniquely beautiful. It’s a full-on sensory experience of candlelight, darkness, incense, music, and silence. Even if you only go to Compline once, you’re likely to remember it for quite some time.  Indeed, you may well find yourself referring to it a long time later as one of those moments when you’re sure that you encountered mystery in a church. Continue reading “Coming Back to Compline”

Cores of Christian Mission: Against Charity

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(Art by Pete Illesley)

‘Mission’ has made quite a comeback over the last few decades. Although its colonial implications still lurk in the background, and it can lead to a few raised eyebrows from non-Christians, the word is once again used by Anglicans worldwide to designate the Church’s work in the wider world.1 The Five Marks of Mission have attained a certain degree of ubiquity since they were developed in the late 1980s, and ‘missioner’ has become the title of choice for those engaged in the outward-facing work of parishes and dioceses. The language of participation in God’s mission meanwhile, perhaps informed by Aquinas’ account of the persons of the Trinity, is starting to become an integral aspect of Episcopalian self-understanding. Continue reading “Cores of Christian Mission: Against Charity”