Ways to think about cars — and implications for congregations…

Religion / Web/Tech

Benedict Evans asks us to consider the full implications of the coming revolution in automobiles: the self-driving car. If you think Uber is a disruptive force in transportation, just think about the implications of these sorts of vehicles on something as mundane as parking your car in the city:

[I]f your car doesn’t need to wait for you where you got out, then city-centre car parks disappear and retail gets remade (such of it as survives the shift to ecommerce, of course). No more worrying about parking. If you don’t need to worry about parking yet can be driven there directly and affordably, how much travel shifts from public transport to cars? How many people visit a busy central area they might previously have avoided for that reason (the West End of London, for example)? But then, where does that car go afterwards  – does it drop you off for dinner and drive off to a cheap carpark, or does it spend the next few hours driving other people around for a fee? The more autonomous cars there are, the more appealing on-demand becomes. Quite where the second-order effects end up is hard to predict – for example, where does it leave public transport if routes start emptying out, and what does that mean for people on very low incomes? What does it do to cycling?

via Ways to think about cars — Benedict Evans.

How many urban congregations struggle with having adequate parking for members? (Most every one of the congregations I’ve led has had that issue.) What would be different in the life of the congregation if people were able to easily come and go as they wanted?

On the right use of tech in ministry

Blogging / Web/Tech

Saw this over on Pastor Adam Copeland’s blog:

Luther, centuries before, wrote about the tools of the day as articles through which we should show love to our neighbors.

In this light, my iPhone becomes a tool for faithful living. It’s unusual for me to go more than a few hours without using my phone. I use it for directions, and daily to search for information about our world. I my phone to text message friends. I use it to tweet and check-in with my network on Facebook. I use it to LOL and type condolences.

Together with my MacBook, my iPhone is the main tool with which I live, work, and serve God. 95% of my written communication happens with the help of my iPhone and MacBook, and I communicate for a living. It’s my vocation.

In so many ways, we can use smartphones to serve God and neighbor. To text love. To advocate with hashtags. To tweet the gospel. To chronicle justice. To snap joy. To spread good news.

via Pastor, Bless My iPhone | A Wee Blether.

There’s more on his blog site and you should read it all. But the key point he’s making is one that I haven’t seen many others making; personal technology is revolutionizing the way clergy do ministry. That’s something likely both good and bad, but to this date it seems like it’s also an unexamined truth.

I’m glad some folks are thinking about it. We probably all need to be more intentional about working through the implications for the way we share the Gospel today.

Pray for the victims and shooter. Only the Gospel can end the violence.

Current Affairs

There was another shooting in a crowded public space late this week. This time it was in a movie theater in Lafayette Louisiana. Once again the shooter, John Houser, a white man with a criminal record and a history of mental illness and violence had a legally purchased handgun. And he had a hatred of “liberals”, a fascination with Neo-Nazism and a distorted understanding of the Gospel.

As the New York Times reports:

Mr. Houser believed that women should not work outside their homes, and “had a lot of hostility toward abortion clinics,” Mr. Floyd said. He was the sort of person who believed “that all the trouble started when they took Bibles out of school and stopped prayer.”

On Twitter, antigovernment discussion boards, and other forums online, a person using the names Rusty Houser, J. Rusty Houser, and John Russell Houser praised the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members, driven by a loathing of gays, stage protests at military funerals; Timothy J. McVeigh, who bombed a government building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168; and even Adolf Hitler. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and antigovernment groups, said the posts were all from Mr. Houser.

The authorities on Friday outside the Grand movie theater in Lafayette, La., where a gunman opened fire on Thursday night. Several times, he described the United States as a “financially failing filth farm” that deserved to collapse, and would do so soon.

Sadly there is every reason to expect that there will be more opportunities to consider why it is that we as a people allow men like this to legally purchase the tools they need to kill children and our neighbors.

But in this moment, the Episcopal Bishop of Western Louisiana Jake Owensby, in whose diocese this latest shooting happened, asks us to pray for the victims, and because Our Savior commands it, to pray for the shooter as well.

He writes on his blog Pelican Anglican:

“My heart and mind—probably much like your own—are reeling with the specific horror and agony of the Lafayette shootings. Nevertheless, I am also mindful that these shootings join what seems like an endless stream of senseless violence across our country.

This is not the time to outline a detailed Christian response to our epidemic of violence. But there is space to name it for what it is: an epidemic. The medicine for this epidemic is the Gospel. And that Gospel teaches us to be peacemakers.

We followers of Jesus are not helpless in the face of violence. But we must take the risk to ask how we contribute—in many cases unconsciously and unintentionally—to a cultural addiction to violence. And we must have the courage to take the risky steps and to make the difficult changes to overcome violence with the peace that passes all understanding.”

I imagine Mr. Houser thought he understood the Gospel. He didn’t. He perverted it and then used it to justify violence against people he found “troubling” to his understanding of how the world should work. It’s time for those of us who struggle to follow the teachings of Jesus to stop standing by as people to twist the Gospel to their own purposes, to justify violence, destruction and death.

Pray for shooter. Pray for the victims. Believe in the Gospel. It is the only hope we have for the healing of the World.

General Convention Day 3 – a new PB, a march, and it’s time to “git up!” because we ain’t dead yet

General Convention

Perhaps you heard that we elected a new Presiding Bishop yesterday?

That was pretty big news. The first African-American Presiding Bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church, the first YDS-Berkeley seminary grad in that office, and the first, first ballot election in a very long time.

You know what else? It’s also the first time in a long time that the election wasn’t about finding a way to hold the various factions of the Episcopal Church together. This election turned out to be a long and thoughtful conversation about how to git going, get moving, start preaching and quit fearing. All four candidates talked about that, and that was the focus of those of us who cast ballots at St. Mark’s Cathedral. “Which of these four would the lot fall upon to lead us out into the world proclaiming the power of resurrection?” And the lot fell on Michael Curry.

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If you haven’t met him yet, find a way. He radiates joy. And it’s infectious. He lights you up with the Holy Spirit so that you light up a room too.

And then after a big deep breath yesterday, this morning we all got up, put on vestments and walking shoes and marched through the streets of Salt Lake City, in a state where to more people are killed each year by guns than by auto accidents, and called for an end to this epidemic of gun violence. I haven’t walked in something like this in years. It was powerful. It was a moment of proclamation. It was a reminder to all of us of the power we have to proclaim “the power of the Holy Trinity is greater than the power of the violence, guns and despair.”

11538154 10152927437056931 5622585378255449080 oThe morning Eucharist was electric. Presiding Bishop Katherine preached with a power and an intensity I’d not heard her use before. She told us that we, like the woman who overcame the shaming and the finger wagging because of her hemorrhage of blood, and drew near to take Jesus hem and be healed, needed to stop listening to the finger waggers, realize we’d been healed and start shouting the Good News.

It was one of the sermons that make you realize you had been thinking about things wrong all along. And suddenly, in a flash of insight, you realized that God loves you, in spite of your flaws, and that God has a plan for you and expects you to get to it. And there are no more excuses for not getting to it.

When the sermon goes up online I’ll try to remember to link to it. Keep an eye on my twitter feed in the short term. And if you find it, give it a listen. It’s really worth it.

And then back to legislative sessions. But today they felt a little different. Sure, it was still the regular grinding of minutia and reports, but it felt like it all had a purpose in a larger context. And that’s exciting.

If nothing else, I’m praying we come home from Salt Lake City renewed and energized in a way we haven’t been in a very long time in the Episcopal Church. And it’s about time. The world has need of Jesus’ power. And we are being sent out to proclaim it.

General Convention – Orientation, Hearings and the next PB

General Convention

Convention is underway. This morning began with an early morning run, coffee on the go and a 7 AM hearing focused on a proposal to bring the full resources of modern technology and media strategy to sharing the Gospel as widely as possible.

There’s a proposal before Evangelism and Communications to use up to 3 million dollars in the coming triennium to create an online experimental evangelism initiative. We’d be creating downloadable resources, training people in different contexts how to reach out to their online neighborhoods and looking carefully and critically at how effective this is in doing what we want to do. The most common concern in the room was that we weren’t committing enough money and we weren’t moving quickly enough. Today we held hearing on the proposal. Tomorrow we’ll start working on sharpening it up and then hopefully move it out the main floor of both the House of Deputies and Bishops for a vote. (The sooner it gets acted upon, the more likely we might be to find the money in the budget to do this work.) It would a really exciting initiative if it comes about – just the sort of thing I believe the wider church structures ought to be focusing on in support of the parishes and dioceses of the Episcopal Church.

We left the hearing rooms and I had a chance to grab a muffin and a banana on our way into our first joint session – hearing the opening remarks of the present Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. (You can read the Presiding Bishop’s remarks here. I was delighted with the imagery she was using in her final address – I’ll missing having a scientifically trained primate.)

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The bishops were excused from the House of Deputies and we sat down for the first time this convention in the House of Bishops. People figured out which table they were assigned, greeted some old friends that hadn’t been to a meeting since the last convention and were trained about how to use the electronic media tools that will support the legislative work this convention. The rest of the remarks were preliminary and reminders about the norms of the House – we haven’t formally convened or taken the roll yet, so no business could be done.

The afternoon was historic. It was the first time the whole convention (and really any Episcopalian) was given a chance to hear all four candidates for Presiding Bishop give statements and responses to questions from across the church. There were some amazing and poignant moments. At least two of the speakers were moved to tears as they talked and opened themselves up to the thousands of people in the room. We have four extraordinary candidates. Each one brings different strengths. All four will serve the Episcopal Church well.

It’s a wonderful embarrassment of riches in this moment.

After the hearings, I and the rest of our deputation from Rhode Island returned to the hotel had a chance to debrief a bit, figured out how to grab dinner and then went off to the evening meetings. I went to a presentation by Tom Bair, the spouse of my predecessor in Rhode Island Gerry Wolf. Tom, an actor, has memorized the Gospel of Mark and presents it verbatim in a dramatic retelling. I’ve heard the gospel read through in one sitting, but never seen it as effectively proclaimed as Tom did tonight.

Finally back to the room to catch up on email and do a little writing.

By the way, I submitted three resolutions at this convention. One was really written and supposed to be submitted as part of the report of the Science, Technology and Faith task force, but was left out. It’s on the advantages and challenges of GMO in the food chain. (The sort of resolution that provides guidance for the Office of Governmental Affairs in its lobbying work should the resolution be adopted.) The other two have to do with strengthening our focus on constructive engagement with both parties in the Palestinian Israeli conflict. You can read about those two resolutions here. I think I may have a chance to testify on both of them tomorrow.

General Convention Day 0 – getting organized

General Convention

I’m attending my fifth General Convention, this time in Salt Lake City where we are being hosted by the Diocese of Utah. (This is the smallest diocese, in terms of membership, to ever host a General Convention, and it looks like it’s going to be one of the very best ever.)

I’ve been a deputy (elected as priest) to four conventions. This is my first as a bishop. The experience is largely similar: long distance walks, lots of happy reunions, frustrating and joyous work and worship. Some things are a little different. The life of the House of Bishops, being smaller and meeting more frequently and with less turnover, is different than the life of the House of Deputies. The bishops know each other well, often having eaten together and prayed together off and on for years. There’s an economy to our conversation, and a lot of catching up since we saw each other last a few months ago on retreat in Kanuga. But this is catching up with a purpose – conversations run to the “what committee are you serving on?” and “what are the issues you’re following this convention?” as much are they are the standard “How’s the diocese doing?” or “How’s your family?”.

Today we registered, received our iPad virtual binders and had our first sets of meetings. I’m just back from the organizing meeting of Legislative Committee 10, Evangelism and Communications. It’s the first time these two sets have been combined and it makes a great deal of sense in my mind. I became interested in communications primary in as much as it allows us to share the Gospel as widely and as cost-effectively as possible. I became interested in the Internet and its associated technologies in particular because of the possibilities that it presented for evangelism. (That’s been a mixed bag on the whole, but the Internet is young and is still well in its adolescence. We know not yet what it shall be…)

The folks on the parallel committee (of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops) all share that passion. It was evident as we went around the room and introduced ourselves. Some folks had been journalists and syndicated columnists all their professional lives. Some of us were technology folks. One or two were commission evangelists. We all want to do what the Missionary Society (the real name of the Episcopal Church) is called to do better and more effectively. And we want to see what General Convention will do to make that possible.

Pray for us? There are lots of other ways that this Convention will likely make news in church circles, but in terms of real and lasting impact, learning to share the Gospel more effectively and to bring more people into a living and transformed life in relationship with Jesus is the truly important work we’ll be doing. God grant us wisdom, courage and daring to accomplish this, or at least begin this work in the next two weeks.

(PS: I’m hoping to keep my previous discipline of regularly blogging from General Convention. We’ll see how well I manage. It might not be every day, but I’ll try to post regularly.)

Prayers for South Carolina from Rhode Island

Current Affairs / Rhode Island


Beloved in Jesus, the Prince of Peace;

Our hearts are breaking today as we take in the news of another mass shooting. Today’s crime, apparently motivated by racial hatred, has taken the lives of nine innocent victims while they were gathered in prayer and Bible study.
Church bells are being rung across the nation calling us to prayer for the victims and for all who’s lives have been forever shattered by this tragedy. I ask that all of our congregations who can, do so tomorrow on Friday the 19th. Many are ringing their bells for 10 minutes to mark all who have died.
Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, the Episcopal bishop in South Carolina, has asked those who can, to pray the prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I 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;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
I have joined with other religious leaders in the state of Rhode Island in issuing the following statement:
We reach out in loving concern to the people of Charleston, South Carolina, and especially the members and friends of the individuals who were slain while attending a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last night.  We not only honor the life of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney who lost his life shepherding his flock, but we also honor those who were gathered in prayer and reflection.  Houses of worship must be safe havens for all who are in distress and seeking God.  When any sacred space is violated, all faith communities are diminished.  

Although when such a senseless act of violence occurs, we are filled with many emotions, but we cannot respond to a hate crime with more hate.  One Charleston resident is reported to have said, “We must love our way through this.”  We concur.  

Let our response go beyond our expression of empathy and grief.   Let us recommit ourselves to the hard work of racial reconciliation and building communities of safety and love.  As our Presbyterian colleagues have stated,  “Arresting the shooter is the job of law enforcement.  Arresting hate is the work we are all called to do.”

+Nicholas Knisely
 XIII Rhode Island

To not be provoked to evil

Current Affairs

I’m waking to the news that there’s been a mass execution of Coptic Christians in Libya this morning by masked men who claim affiliation with the Islamic State movement. The victims died with the words “Jesus is Lord” on their lips. Violent actions like these, shared widely in an intentional media campaign, are carefully calculated to provoke a response in the rest of world, to bring about a world wide religious war.

And here in America, in some isolated incidents, it might be having the desired effect. The details are still sketchy as to the motivation of the shooter, but last week three of the shining lights of the American muslim community were murdered in Chapel Hill North Carolina by a professed anti-theist. (Not an atheist in the strict sense of the word — someone who doesn’t believe in God, but a person who actively rejects those who do believe. It’s a relatively new phenomenon in the US apparently.)

In West Warwick Rhode Island yesterday, disturbing vandalism against a local Islamic school has brought the conflict to our community.

A day after holding a vigil for three Muslim students killed in North Carolina, the Islamic School of Rhode Island was vandalized.

Some time Saturday night racial slurs were spray-painted over the entrance of the school that serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, school officials said.

Orange paint covered the school’s doors with the words, “Now this is a hate crime” and “pigs,” among other expletives referencing the prophet Muhammad.

The irony is, such actions, if they are meant to be some sort of retaliation, are exactly what the violent actions in Syria, Iraq and now Libya are meant to provoke.

Jesus taught us that the great commandment was to love God above all else. And then he told us we could do that in a practical way by willing to love our neighbor as ourselves. Any thing else leads us away from God and into the realm of violence and death.

It will take a great deal of spiritual discipline to not be drawn into the whirlwind of violence which is the dream of those who have done such killings.

Will you join me in praying that God will grant us the courage and the will to resist? Pray that we focus on doing what we can to make our community stronger, to live into what America was founded to be, a place where freedom of religion was intended to put an end to religious violence of all forms.

It seems appropriate, on this President’s Day in 2015 to make the following prayer:

“O Judge of all the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 839)


A Journey to Easter; a lenten discipline


The series of blog posts that I wrote for the Diocese of Rhode Island during Lent of 2013 is now edited, tightened up and in print from Leader Resources. (Some folks in congregations said that they would prefer to use them in a book form rather than online.)

From the book’s page on the publisher’s siteKnisely Front Cover 1 inch:

Bishop Knisely invites you to on a journey through the Gospel of Luke and the Books of Acts. Journey to Easter was written as a personal Lent meditation guide. However, it can be used as group Lent Bible study or at any time as a daily reflection on one (sometimes two) chapters of two of the main New Testament books of the Bible. Knisely’s personal reflections embody the everyday realities we all face while calling us into a deeper reflection on the mysteries and wonder of the Scriptures. Journey to Easter is a pilgrimage text — a way for you to travel through the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and encounter him in your own day-to-day life.

My favorite part of the print edition is the image on the cover. I took that picture earlier this year while I was standing next to the Jesus’ tomb in the Holy Sepulchre while I was in Jerusalem.

The meditations were well received as I was posting them. It was the kind words that people shared that led me to write other Lenten Book that dealt with mediations on God’s Creation.

Connection is the cure to addiction

Books / Current Affairs / SOSc

In the 1970’s Bruce Alexander, a researcher in Vancouver, discovered that the social experience of laboratory rats in addiction experiments had a profound effect on whether or not the rats became physically addicted to various substances.

Essentially, what he discovered was that isolated rats, kept in bare cages by themselves, when fed addictive substances quickly became physically addicted. But rats in stimulating environments (happy cages) kept with other rats, rejected the drugs they were fed and had a significant physical resistance to developing addiction.

His work has been repeated over the years and is referenced in a new book by Johann Hari called “Chasing the Scream: The first and last days of the War on Drugs”. Hari references Alexanders’ work and subsequent research by Gabor and Cohen on human addictive behavior.

In an article on his research Hari writes about the futility of our present models of treatment for addiction where we treat physical addiction by essentially asking people to endure pain (withdrawal and denial) rather than suffer the worse pain (physical and emotional) which is caused by the active addiction:

“If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

You can read the whole article here.

Rhode Island has the highest rate of marijuana use (and I’m told of heroin use) of any state in the US. We’re also a place that is suffering from a lack of hope in the future. We’re a place where, it is my observation, people find it much to easy to isolate themselves into small groups, small families or stable small communities of acquaintances. People will cut themselves off from the larger connections that a vibrant participation in community or activity might bring.

It seems to me that our congregations might have the real solution to the pain that so many people are self treating with illegal substances. Jesus teaches us how to live in real, life giving community. Perhaps we need to by a lot more intentional about reorienting our focus from celebrating the life giving relationships and faith we find in church to going out into the world and inviting people in pain to find life with us.