To End All Wars

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — today, we mark a century since the end of World War I.

It was called the “Great War” and the “war to end all wars,” but the aftermath suggests otherwise.

In the first industrialized war, we saw the terror of the modern age fully unleashed. A war that stated with horses ended with tanks and planes.Poisonous gasses, automatic weapons, aerial warfare — these “advancements” unleashed hell across the various fronts. Technology prolonged what would have been a months-long imperial skirmish into a years-long horror show in the trenches. Continue reading “To End All Wars”

Etiology and the Polis

A Pastoral Epistle on Origins Stories, the Polis, and the Common Good


As we approach the end of the 2018 midterm elections, my mind turns towards our founding myths, stories which explain why the world is the way it is. Among theologians, we call these stories “etiologies.” Among superhero fans, we call them “origin stories.” Either way, they set out to explain key aspects of some thing or some one’s identity. They ask common questions:

  • Who are we?
  • Why are we here?
  • How did we get here?
  • Why does the world look the way it does?
  • What does it all mean?

Consider the creation narratives in Genesis — one a poetic ode to divine power and created order as God speaks the cosmos into being over seven days, the other showing God as a tender gardener who literally sculpts humanity — Adam from the soil, Eve from Adam’s flesh. Both myths shed light on who God is — the poet with power to speak the world into being or the loving craftsman. Continue reading “Etiology and the Polis”

Come So Far, So Far To Go

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The Risen Christ Appears to Saint Mary Magdalene

It’s remarkable to sit back and think about this past summer and the historic wave of women elected to the episcopacy within the ELCA. In less than fifty years (forty-eight this month), the mainline Lutheran tradition went from not ordaining women to going six-for-six on new bishops.

Let that sink in: fifty years ago, women were not ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Now, they make up just over a quarter of  our Conference of Bishops.

As the Religion News Service reports, the percentage of women in ministry is on the rise across mainline Protestantism. Continue reading “Come So Far, So Far To Go”

A View from El Camino

The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, is a centuries-old pilgrimage route which traces its way across western France and northern Spain before ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The path wanders through countryside and small towns, and the cathedral features a massive thurible used for blessing the large crowds that gather in the cathedral. The town of Santiago is connected through legend with Saint James the Greater (much in the same way that folk mythology connects Joseph of Arimathea to Britain). Emilio Estevez’s movie The Way follows a group of pilgrims as they make their trip to the cathedral, and it’s well worth a watch.

The Camino has been on my bucket list for a few years now, and I have been following the adventures of Fr. Eric Hollas, a Benedictine monk and cyber-scribe from Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN (another place near to my heart) as he makes his way towards the legendary resting place of Saint James, the son of Zebedee. His posts offer a quick glimpse, in word and picture, into the life of a pilgrim walking the Way of Saint James. Fr. Eric recorded a few trips over the past year, including to Lourdes and a Germany monastery. Reflecting on his time in Lourdes, he wrote: Continue reading “A View from El Camino”

Unfolding Scandal in the Vatican

As #ChurchToo continues to unfold — and even brushes up against American partisan fights — the Vatican is finally responding to accusations leveled against Pope Francis and his predecessors.

As a reminder:

  • Ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was long rumored to abuse priests and seminarians. When allegations emerged that he had also sexually assaulted minors, he was removed from the College of Cardinals.
  • His successor in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, was implicated both in cover-ups in Pennsylvania and suspicions about how much he knew vis-a-vis McCarrick. Wuerl has since resigned his cathedra in DC.
  • Former nuncio to the United States and noted “culture warrior” Archbishop Carlo Vigano published a letter accusing Pope Francis of knowingly covering for McCarrick and even rescinding sanctions against the disgraced cleric.
  • For all of his indignation, Vigano himself has been implicated in cover-ups and was repeatedly seen publicly alongside McCarrick. Which is to say, his credibility is lacking.
  • All of this is mired not only in the latest round of abuse and cover-up scandals but also an ecclesial cold war between “traditionalist” Catholics suspicious of Francis’ reform agenda and more progressive Catholics cheering on the pontiff‘s program.

The Vatican has taken over a month to respond to these allegations. Vigano has written a second letter. Both sides have dug in, and the culture war wages on. Continue reading “Unfolding Scandal in the Vatican”

Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus

This past Sunday, Jesus covered quite a bit of ground. Too much ground for one sermon, really. He hit on points of marriage, divorce, gender, and children. Any one of those topics could have been a book, let alone a fifteen-minute homily.

And because this week’s texts have been used as a cudgel to bludgeon rather than as a balm to soothe the afflicted, it’s important that we spend more time with the text.

Luckily, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Here are some highlights from other preachers. Continue reading “Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus”

Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye

I’ve long wondered how fundamentalists justify certain stances. I can only conclude that it’s because they take Scripture literally but not seriously.

Consider this past week’s Gospel reading from Saint Mark:

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Fundamentalists often use this as a text to support their evidence for the Dante-esque vision of hell as eternal conscious torment in a burning lake. And indeed, that description is in the text as plain as day: a place of unquenchable fire and gnawing worms. In his essay on the matter in Four Views on Hell, SBTS professor Denny Burk points to precisely this passage in Mark 9 as proof of his argument that hell “is an experience of judgment that has no end.” Continue reading “Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye”

“Any Mixture of Error”

I spend a lot of time around self-described fundamentalists — perhaps because I live in the Southeast, in the land of Southern Baptist churches. One of the defining doctrines of the modern SBC (and of fundamentalism in general) is their belief in a literal interpretation of Scripture; this tenant is spelled out in the first article of the Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s statement of faith:

It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. [Emphasis added.]

It is worth noting that fundamentalism is a new position, dating back less than two centuries, and it would not come to dominate the Southern Baptist Convention until a concentrated campaign called a “resurgence” by its champions (men like Albert Mohler and Paige Patterson) and a “takeover” by its detractors.

Scripture, according to fundamentalist Baptists, must be absolutely and in all ways true otherwise it is worthless. Continue reading ““Any Mixture of Error””

Immoral Majority

Our modern political era can easily be traced back to a single heinous decision: when the newly-resurgent fundamentalist movement within Christianity decided to seek political power through an alliance with the Republican Party.  The Rev. Dr. Randall Balmer, a historian and Episcopal priest, gave a concise and well-researched presentation on the history of this movement that is well worth viewing.

The Moral Majority has been defined by its rigid defense of one particular sexual ethic. For over forty years now, pastors have taken to the pulpit and warn their flocks about the dangers of  the Gay Agenda™ and women’s rights. In the 1990s, these same leaders decried one Bill Clinton for repeated allegations of sexual harassment and an affair with a White House intern. Bill Clinton’s actions, these pastors said, disqualified him from holding elected office.

In 2016, these very same pastors were presented with a presidential candidate who bragged about committing sexual assault. Donald Trump has reveled in his numerous affairs and he faces at least one law suit for sexual harassment. The Moral Majority has embraced Donald Trump like it has no other president — not George W. Bush, not Ronald Reagan, and certainly not the famously devout Jimmy Carter. Continue reading “Immoral Majority”