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One day

One day, I will be able to go six months without having to plan a vigil to remember some horrific act of violence. That will be a great day.

That is not this day, however.

NAU Canterbury will be holding a vigil on campus this week (most likely Wednesday, it now appears) to remember those suffering in Boston, as well as those who died in Newtown, and around the country as a result of the violence in our world.

Here’s the liturgy I’ve written for this.

(NOTE: this is the initial draft, and as such, hasn’t been approved by my ecumenical colleagues.  So please don’t hold this against them.)


Vigil for Victims of Violence 2013

April 2013


Opening: (words to this effect: admittedly, I tend to overwrite liturgy)


Leaders: (alternating) We have come here in deep emotion: grief, sorrow and shock.  We have come here in anger, frustration, and even numbness.  Again and again, in the past few months, we have seen the violence in our world, arriving on our very doorsteps, splashed across our televisions and computers.


What we have witnessed is overwhelming.


As people of faith, we know that God is with us, even now.  We know that God is with those who are suffering.

We know these things, even when it is hard to feel that they are true.


And so tonight, we bring our tears and our anguish, our frustration and our fear, and our sense of powerlessness to the God who chose to suffer with this world.


Let us pray.


Holy God, as Mary stood at the foot of the cross, we stand before you with broken hearts and tearful eyes.  Keep us mindful that you know our pain, and free us to see your resurrection power already at work in the world around us.  In your time, raise us from our grief as you have raised those we’ve lost to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.



Let us remember those we have lost.  As a sign of respect and remembrance, as you read the names given to you, please stand.

Students read the names, alternating.


  • For the 28 people killed in Newtown, CT at an elementary school.
  • For the many who have died at Virginia Tech, Columbine, and other schools around our country.
  • For the six people killed in Tucson, AZ at a grocery store.
  • For the thirteen people killed in Aurora, CO at a movie theater
  • For the seven people killed in Oak Creek, WI at a Sikh temple
  • For the three people killed, and hundreds wounded, at a Boston marathon
  • For the thousands who die every day on the streets of Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC, and all of our cities, whose names are known to God alone.
  • For hundreds of victims of accidental shootings and stray bullets.
  • For victims of domestic violence and abuse.
  • For all those left to mourn the dead, and care for the wounded.
  • For those so lost and confounded that violence appears to be the best answer.



Leader: For all these named, and for all those we’ve lost that we name now, we pray.

We name the victims we know personally here.


Everyone should be standing now.  We observe a period of silence. Then…


Reader 1: Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, or rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Reader 2: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.


Reader 3: Jesus said to his followers:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek; for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


Leader: As people of faith, and as followers of Jesus, this is who we are called to be.  This is how we are called to live.  Even in a world of violence.  Especially in a world of violence.  We are called to bear the light of Christ’s peace and illuminate the darkened world around us.  We are called to be the helpers.

Let us pray.


Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let us sow love.  Where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



Let us go forth, to be light for the world, salt for the earth, peacemakers in a troubled time.

And may the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, keep us now and forever in peace.




Guns and Christianity, Part 2: Some trust in chariots, some in assault weapons

Part 2: Some Trust in Chariots, Some in Horses, Some in Semi-Automatics.

Right now, there is approximately 1 gun to every man, woman and child in America. That is an astounding number. We are a remarkably well-armed nation.*
That’s especially impressive/confusing when you consider that we are also the richest nation in the world. We have the best trained military and police force in the world. We have roads, bridges and sewers. We have telephones and an emergency response service. Our police force is civilian-based, and not known worldwide for corruption, nor is our justice system. We haven’t been invaded in quite a while, nor have we had a recent civil war.
In fact, we haven’t had a military action on our soil in quite a while, nor have we had a significant breakdown in infrastructure that led to widespread looting and chaos, and deployment of troops against civilians.
It is actually fairly boring here right now, civil unrest-wise; even the murder rate has been dropping for the past several years.

Also, according to many reputable sources, Red Dawn was made up.

And all of this leads to the question– when you buy a gun, when you buy an AR-15, the best selling weapon in the nation, that can shoot 6 rounds a second, what, precisely, are you afraid of? When you take a gun into a Starbucks, into a bar, into a church, into a school, when you insist that you need to keep guns around small children because that’s the only way they can be safe, what is it that are you afraid of?**

It is this question of fear that is theologically central. Because we are people who believe in God, a God who repeats over and over that there is one God, and no other, and believing in God means restricting yourself to that one particular god, and putting all your faith, trust, and eggs in that particular divine basket. (See Exodus 20:2, for starters). You don’t get to hedge your bets. You don’t get backups. Trust is trust.

When Moses is talking to God at the Red Sea, and sees the Egyptians approaching, he does not shrewdly arm the Israelites “just in case” the whole parting the Sea thing fails. He does not assemble them into a fighting force. (I doubt it would have worked, anyway.) He tells them “Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and see the deliverance of the Lord. For the Egyptians that you see today, you will never see again. The Lord your God will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:13-14).
Trust! Don’t be afraid! God is with you, and God is enough.

When Jesus is sending forth the seventy apostles to preach, teach and heal, he doesn’t sugar-coat the danger to the volunteers. Many people won’t like you, he offers. You will annoy many whom you speak to. (Jesus! Unrecognized master of the understatement.) In fact, he continues, some of you will be dragged before courts and killed because of me. (Excellent at recruiting speeches, also, was Jesus.)
And so, for this journey, for this riskiest of ventures, you should pack…. nothing. No protection, no extra tunic, no additional money. No weapon. They are to preach to everyone, be kind to everyone, spread the gospel to everyone, and not to worry about those who won’t receive it, only wipe off their dust (Luke 9,10). Rely exclusively on the kindness of strangers, and the grace of God.

Trust in God. God is with you, and whatever happens, that is enough.

Again and again. Throughout the scriptures, this is what we hear. Trust in God and God alone, and that will be enough. Now, at no point is the danger of the world whitewashed either– the Bible is very violent, and lots of people die in lots of horrible ways. But over and over we hear that the best way, the only faithful way to deal with the unfathomable nature of this world, is to trust in God alone for ultimate security. And nothing else. (“He who lives by the sword” and all that.)

So it says something quite profound and disturbing about us if we, on the one hand, profess faith in the Christ who taught us to carry nothing on our journey, save a trust in the grace of God, and at the same time, function in the world as if nothing but a trusty gun will save us.

Either we trust in God or we don’t.

Either we have decided to live by the sword (and take the consequences thereof) or we have decided to trust in God.

And if we are people of faith, then we should put our living where our professing is.

* This according to, a nonpartisan site from the University of Australia. There are roughly 88.8 guns owned privately per 100 people in the US, as of 2007. Not counting military weapons. (According to all evidence, firearm sales skyrocketed in the years since 2007, so consider this ratio increased.)

**Related to this, but not, is the issue of the crisis of an increasingly insane definition of masculinity. And if you’ve seen the ads that Bushmaster ran to advertise the AR-15, you’ll understand. We need to have a discussion allowing men to be men, in ways that don’t revolve around violence, subjugation, and killing stuff. I’m not sure I feel called to take this on at the moment, but it’s a discussion that needs having.

Guns and Christianity, part 1

A day or two after the shootings in Newtown, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, was interviewed on NPR. Robert Siegel asked him, “What is the New Testament justification for owning a gun?”
There was a lengthy pause, and then, in the cadence of a question, Land replied, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you?” He went on to say that in his view, Christians had a duty to defend their neighbors from attacks, dealing out lethal force, if necessary. For this reason, owning guns was justified. The better to do unto others.

I’m going to set aside the fact that there are several holes in this theological framework. (Jesus, for one, rather glaring, example. And who, exactly are “the others” in that phrase, for another.)

Rather, it’s become clear to me that as the nation increasingly coalesces around the idea of controlling its supply of guns, we need some theology for this. Is there some theology we can construct around this, other than reciting lines from the West Wing? Because as people of faith who are not Richard Land, we need to give reasons for what we are doing.*

At least, I’d like to hammer out a theology behind this. So for my edification, I’ve written a multi-part theology of why we might want to have gun control in America. This is part 1. Part 2 will come later this week.

First, let’s start with the place of honor guns hold in America. One of the arguments that has been circulating for a while now is that guns are untouchable, because of culture! And History! Particularly in the South and in the West, and in places where people hunt, and places where there is lots of sport, and in places where are men… So that’s pretty much all of the US right there.

Guns are an important part of America, quoth this line of thought. Citizen militias are how we defeated the British, and how we won the frontier, and manifested our destiny all over the place. They are enshrined in the Constitution in their very own amendment. They represent our freedom as much as the flag. And for these reasons, even as we might want to restrict guns, it’s pointless! Because they are too ingrained.

Now, ignoring the really problematic reading of American, and judicial, history that crops up here, let’s attack this with theology.
Just because a thing is American, does not make it Christian. Just because a thing is in the Constitution, does not make it Christian. (In fact, the suggestion of very much of an overlap would probably make the Founders roll in their graves, deists as they mostly were.)
As an example, recall the Constitutional procedure for calculating the representation in the House as it originally was: “the whole number of free persons, plus those bound to service for a period of years, …and 3/5ths the number of all other persons.” (Article I, Section 2)

Now, just who do you suppose they were talking about, with that “all other persons” stuff? We enshrined slavery in the Constitution until after the Civil War. We enshrined male-only suffrage until the 1920s. Neither one of those things represents the values espoused by Jesus.

The Constitution remains a document in progress. This country and its culture, and the world itself, remain a work in progress, and hopefully God will give us enough sense so we can keep learning from our mistakes.

More importantly, though. As Christians, we’re called to live in the ” already/not yet”, as outposts of the reign of God. It’s a bad idea to enshrine any status quo as God’s reign arrived, because, unless I missed something major on Dec 21, Jesus hasn’t shown back up yet. It is perfectly all right to question the culture.

In fact, as resident aliens, that’s our job. We are supposed to question things, and kick the tires of this world a bit. We are supposed to recognize that this world is broken, and in a state of ongoing messy redemption. And our call is to see the messiness, the brokenness for what it is, and to try to help heal it as Christ’s hands in the world. Not just stamp everything with a cross and call it good.

Next time: In what do you trust, and why does it matter?

*Cribbed Sorkin dialogue works great in most, if not all, circumstances. But in this case, let’s face it, we need more.

Yorktown, 2012: or On Women Bishops

Yorktown, 2012: or On Women Bishops

Because I am a political junkie, and can’t leave well enough alone, I listened to the audio feed of the debate in the Church of England’s General Synod today as they debated (again) whether to introduce the appointment of female bishops at this time. I did this in July when they met as well.

And each time they go through it the same way– well meaning, good hearted, faithful Christians stand up and say, “We can’t do this yet, it will split the church, it will drive out people who can’t, in good conscience, accept the ministry of women.” Some stand and argue that women aren’t called to Christian leadership. Many others stand and argue for equality, that Jesus calls us all, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, etc, but, in my lifetime, in the Church of England, as of today, women cannot be appointed to the episcopate. The measure failed again today in the lay order by 4 votes.

Now, in my church, in my lifetime, women have always been priests, and women have always been bishops, thanks be to God. This hasn’t always been accepted everywhere in the church, but in the annals of The Episcopal Church, this has been what we told ourselves we were doing, since 1979. In every parish I attended growing up, there was a female priest somewhere, and so, I was blessed to always believe that this avenue was open to me. Why in the world wouldn’t it be?

So, naively, I think, some part of me was surprised when the measure failed today. Are we really so far apart as Anglicans that we’re still talking about this? Should binders full of women be distributed to the Church of England to facilitate the episcopal search process? Can’t we just assume that everyone believes in gender equality, and call it good, because we should have gotten at least that far in, say, 1982? Didn’t you people elect Margaret Thatcher?!?!?****

But perhaps I am approaching this debate the wrong way. Maybe we all have. I’ve been assuming that the humanist principle of equality is the way to argue this. Clearly, it hasn’t gotten us the result of gender equality in the church. So behold: let us try a new thing.

Please– Please show me the place in the gospel where Jesus and the disciples are staying with Mary and Martha, and Jesus sends Mary away, because he only wants men to learn from him, and this woman is being really inappropriate with all the sitting and listening and disciple-like behavior. Guide me towards the spot where Jesus firmly declines the money from the women who supported him and his ministry, because that’s man’s work! Kindly point to the verse where Jesus, from the cross, tells the women waiting and suffering with him, to hit the road, because, after all, he never had any female disciples and he was worried about their emotional nature. Point to the place in each of the four gospels where Mary Magdalene is told by the angel that Christ is risen, and to go tell the disciples, but hey, you better take a man with you, because they may not receive your testimony, and we can’t make them uncomfortable.

Most of all, kindly point me to the caveat or asterisk in my baptism that dares place a limit on what wonderful, mysterious, exciting dream God has for me.

Up until you can do any of that, then you do not get to tell me that gender is any sort of disqualifier.

****I now have my NT professor voice in my head reminding me that Margaret Thatcher’s election was about as much progress for feminism as was Sarah Palin’s VP nomination. So let’s take that last one with a grain of salt.

I know you are, but what am I?

On Wednesdays, my plucky Canterburians join with the Lutherans for a joint evening of discussion, fellowship, and food.  This semester, we’re discussing ‘Modern Saints:” people who have applied their Christian faith in very tangible ways in the not-so distant past (Archbp. Oscar Romero and the martyrs of El Salvador, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edith Stein, the Berrigans, Archbp. Desmond Tutu and the leaders of South Africa, etc.)

I noticed something in the past few weeks, and it’s the same phenomenon I’ve noticed in every community I’ve ever served: rural or urban, Virginia or Arizona, young or old.
As the students described it, the problem was that ‘Christians’ had taken over everything.  These Christians they described were against gay marriage and civil unions, didn’t like people of other faiths, and also were not fans of contraception, or really women at all, as we had seen in recent weeks.  And this was pretty much why we should keep Christians out of politics.
This is not just a ‘kids these days!’ thing.  I have never served or attended a parish where I have ever heard a majority of the parishioners declare themselves Christian.  (“Christian” borders on an Other-ing term in the Episcopal Church; we are Episcopalian before we are anything.)
In some ways, it’s hard to argue with this.  When several of the candidates for presidents are claiming to speak for the entire Christian faith, it’s difficult not to take them at their word, when there’s no clear voice calling them on it.
But at the same time, those students speaking so articulately of their frustration with modern politics?  They are Christian too!  Those people who fill the pews in every church I’ve ever served?  Also Christians!  (And not the Satan-possessed kind, either.  Sorry, Rick Santorum.)
And if we’re all Christians, and we don’t agree with all that’s being done in the name of Christianity, then…we should probably, possibly, look at this, yes?  Because either there is a small group of zealots doing some crazy stuff in the hijacked name of our Lord and Savior with our tacit permission, or many of us have simultaneously decided to be open, tolerant, loving people on our own, in total opposition to this, the Gospel of Smiting (and two thousand years of received tradition, but who’s counting?)
See, this is what I think.
This is a theology problem as much as it is a PR problem.  The PR problem gets talked about all the time–how we need to reclaim the airwaves, use these here interwebz, LOLcats, we can haz Emerging!Churches, etc.  These things are absolutely true.  Mainline Protestatism lost the past few decades to the fundamentalist evangelicals the moment that first guy bought a new-fangled TV station for cheap in the early 1970s.
But it’s a theology problem too.  We’ve all heard the carefully-crafted theology around fundamentalist beliefs.  In fact, most people today know that theology so well that they can’t tell that not all Christians believe it.  Ask the average person walking down the street about where people go after they die, and they will probably spout something about the saved believers in heaven and the damned in hell and St. Peter at the gate.  Now, ask them about what might be involved in eventual universal redemption, and note their look of confusion and panic.
And that’s our fault.  There’s no answering, well-publicized and widely-taught cohesive theology to the really loud stuff.  (Unless you read Miroslav Volf, or Moltmann, AS YOU SHOULD, but I accept that not everyone has that sort of time.  Also, that stuff is sort of systemic, and not issue-based.)
So here’s my plan:  I am starting a Theology For the Rest of Us series here on the blog.  ::Sound of trumpets!::  It shall be theology that attempts to explain why progressive Christians believe the things we do.  Like: women as full moral agents!  Marriage as something other than Procreation-Station!  Stewardship and care of the earth!  And all other topics as may be assigned.
We, in the wider church, need to become better at talking about our faith in concrete, logical terms, in order to give an “accounting for the hope that is in us”, as the Bible, and my preaching prof both say.
“So, Come!  Let us reason together!”