Support for the Governor’s ban today on flavored e-Cigarettes

SOSc

I speak as a faith leader, and as a scientist. I want to publicly thank Governor Raimondo for her decision to ban flavored E-Vaping products in this state. Better to stop and evaluate than to risk people’s lives. There are a few arguments to be made that this technology is less harmful than the known dangers of a cigarette, but there are many more concerns about the additives and their interactions. This was tragically demonstrated in the recent spate of deaths attributed to vaping products treated with crystallized vitamin E. There are more effective and much safer ways to quit smoking. Separately, the marketing of these nicotine laced and addictive products to younger consumers, at a time when we’re not sure of all the risks, seems particularly unwise.

The Right Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely
Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island
Providence

Growing pains and the promise of a future for our church.

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I am writing this from the House of Bishops meeting in Minneapolis. We meet every spring and often in the fall. This particular meeting is characterized by the addition of many new bishops to our community. Most of the new bishops are younger, many are women and quite a few are people of color. It’s a sign that the Episcopal Church is undergoing a significant change in its demographics, a shift that mirrors the changes we are experiencing in our state and in our country.

Together, we bishops are talking about how to be Episcopalian in the world today, how to manage churches in rapidly changing contexts and what God might be up to next in our lives. And I think these are exciting possibilities. Yet change always brings many dimensions. Some things I’ve found meaningful and supportive are less prominent— and new music, new prayers and new voices are front and center. Part of me is sad that things that were so central to my own formation are less important to the next generation of church leadership. And part of me is challenged to learn new ways of praying to and thinking about God, as well as hearing voices speaking a truth to me that I sometimes find hard to hear, because it sounds like a critique of the past and sometimes is explicitly that.  

But a part of me, I hope the best part of me, finds this change hugely promising. A church that is not challenged to grow and stretch is a church that does not have a future. You might notice how much of the conflict in the Acts of the Apostles or in the writings of the Epistles grows out of the call of the followers of the Way of Jesus to engage the whole culture of their world, including men and women, Jew and Greek, slave and free. It’s the story of how the church changed because the horizons were changing. St. Paul talks about the struggles people experienced to remain in community with each other and to keep the main thing, Jesus, the center of their common life. The conflict was a sign back then that the community was actively growing and engaged. If you take a moment to think about it, you’ll probably notice the same seasons of conflict existing again and again in the history of the church. The church is constantly being reformed by the working of the Holy Spirit. And that work of reformation has conflict and change as its signature. 

I feel wistful about the things that are no longer as meaningful to a new generation. But I recognize the promise — and necessity — of the change and reforming of the church that is under way. My prayer for myself (and maybe you?) is that God will grant me eyes to see and welcome the birth pangs of the new church that is emerging in our midst.

+Nicholas

How many more? Ultimately we can’t end evil with violence.

SOSc

I woke up this morning to news of the third mass shooting in less than a week. Dozens of our neighbors, fellow American citizens, have died because of gun violence in less than 7 days.

This doesn’t feel random. Two (maybe all three) of the three shooters wanted to kill as many people as possible. They went in with military style weapons and pseudo military equipment and tactics. This was all premeditated. Two (likely three) all seem to have been motivated by hatred and rage over race and racial mixing. Likely all three will be discovered to have been radicalized by white supremacist rhetoric. All three have been caught up in the corporate work of evil that snaking through society today.

At some point, and I pray that moment happens now, we, the citizens of the United States of America, as a united nation, will have to decide that this isn’t acceptable. It took us nearly a century before we forced a stop to racial violence after the American Civil War. (Nearly 5000 people of African descent were lynched by mobs in America between the 1880’s and the 1960’s.) It’s terrifying to think how many more people will die if this current tidal wave of mass violence last as long.

Guns themselves are morally neutral, but so too are ropes. People are not morally neutral. In Christian teaching, people have a strong tendency to selfish actions and evil behavior. Calvinists call this depravity. I don’t think we pay enough attention to this old idea these days. Modern guns and other weapons give an individual the ability to kill on a scale the early theologians never imagined. If they had foreseen such weapons, they would, I imagine, have told us of our danger and warned us of the consequences these weapons would have.

To this point the loudest voices in our federal government have argued that the solution to the scourge of gun violence in modern society is to make sure that more people are armed and able to respond to violence with more violence. A police officer I spoke with argued that keeping weapons handy is the same as keeping a fire extinguisher handy. But a fire extinguisher cuts off a fires access to fuel. A weapon multiplies and escalates the violence that another weapon creates. Fighting fire with fire (when it happens) assumes that eventually the whole conflagration will grow and run out of fuel. But our Christian tradition teaches that evil begets evil and creates an unending sequence of pain and death.

What should we do? I think at this point, we have to be clear that the slaughter of our neighbors is not an acceptable price to pay in the 21st Century to chase a wrong headed idea that we can finally stop evil by using weapons.

Let’s start with that. A simple admission that more violence isn’t the answer. I get that we use violence and guns to stop shooters. But that’s a solution to the particularity of a violent act, it won’t bring an end to the scourge of the violence now being fueled by easy access to weapons and lit by the fire of racism and white supremacy. There is no simple solution to the epidemic of violence that doesn’t involve work of courageous transformation and a non-violent witness to the power of love to remake the world.

We are in the midst of battles fought in a spiritual war. Let’s use the tools of spiritual transformation – and a frank recognition of the power of the evil we face. This is a spiritual war we are facing. Use the right tools. What we’re presently doing isn’t working.

Toy Universe implies Entanglement creates Time and Space

SOSc

I’ve been reading various papers and reports on something that is being called the “Holographic Universe.” It’s an idea that the three dimensional (four with time a la Einstein) universe in which we live is actually the projection of a two-dimensional surface. Sometimes I’ve heard this mixed up with the idea of the “Simulation Universe” which is the idea that (a la the movie The Matrix) we are living in a computer simulation instead of a true reality. (Shades of George Berkeley huh?)

There’s a pretty darn good article on Astronomy.com that explains the underlying thinking behind the Holographic Universe and then goes on to explain that entanglement is the underlying foundation of Space-time, essentially connecting a 2-dimensional quantum physics with the 4-dimensional Riemannian physics of General Relativity. I take it to mean that the mathematical structures are isomorphic to each other – an idea with which particle physicists working on special unitary groups know intimately.

Here’s the interesting thing though –

[…]Space-time itself may be generated by quantum physics, specifically by the baffling phenomenon known as quantum entanglement.

As popularly explained, entanglement is a spooky connection linking particles separated even by great distances. If emitted from a common source, such particles remain entangled no matter how far they fly away from each other. If you measure a property (such as spin or polarization) for one of them, you then know what the result of the same measurement would be for the other. But before the measurement, those properties are not already determined, a counterintuitive fact verified by many experiments. It seems like the measurement at one place determines what the measurement will be at another distant location.

That sounds like entangled particles must be able to communicate faster than light. Otherwise it’s impossible to imagine how one of them could know what was happening to the other across a vast space-time expanse. But they actually don’t send any message at all. So how do entangled particles transcend the space-time gulf separating them? Perhaps the answer is they don’t have to — because entanglement doesn’t happen in space-time. Entanglement creates space-time. (emphasis added)

That last bit is the huge insight into the model. It solves the problem of faster than light information flow in a novel way. You don’t have to invoke a sort of cosmic censorship mechanism based on special relativity, you get to have both, but they do different things.

There’s so much that we don’t understand about the Universe. It’s quite breathtaking. Dark matter (which we don’t understand at all, but the effects of which we can observe) accounts for 90% of everything. Space-time (and regular matter) is an emergent, holographic property of “spooky action at a distance” – the very thing that Einstein and his collaborators tried to disprove in the seminal EPR paper, and we don’t fully understand how.

When people tell me that Science disproves the existence of the divine or of other realms, I’m just sort of amused now. Science is wonderfully rejiggering itself (the scientific method is designed to be self-corrective after all) to return to ideas that were discarded and to reexamine them. This process doesn’t mean that God’s existence is somehow proven, but it means that it’s premature to say that there’s no room for a separate realm or divine presence to inhabit.

The best part of the article above, by the way, is the description of the cosmological simulations that are being used to investigate these ideas as “toy universes.” I love that phrase. We are creating toy universes to try to understand the Universe in which we exist…

Do go read that article. It’s very accessible and quite well done.

Fresh water from salt water. This is likely a big deal.

SOSc

Sometimes you see something posted in the news, and you think, wow. This morning is one of the moments as far as I’m concerned. A team at Columbia has come up with a strikingly new way to desalinate water. It appears to be easily manageable and requires less energy than existing methods. From Columbia’s website:

TSSE utilizes a low-polarity solvent with temperature-dependent water solubility for the selective extraction of water over salt from saline feeds. Because it is membrane-less and not based on evaporation of water, it can sidestep the technical constraints that limit the more traditional methods. Importantly, TSSE is powered by low-grade heat (< 70 C) that is inexpensive and sometimes even free. In the study, TSSE removed up to 98.4% of the salt, which is comparable to reverse osmosis, the gold standard for seawater desalination. The findings also demonstrated high water recovery (>50%) for the hypersaline brines, also comparable to current seawater desalination operations. But, unlike TSSE, reverse osmosis cannot handle hypersaline brines.

“We think TSSE will be transformational for the water industry. It can displace the prevailing practice of costly distillation for desalination of high-salinity brines and tackle higher salinities that RO cannot handle,” Yip adds. “This will radically improve the sustainability in the treatment of produced water, inland desalination concentrate, landfill leachate, and other hypersaline streams of emerging importance. We can eliminate the pollution problems from these brines and create cleaner, more useable water for our planet.”

Yip’s TSSE approach has a clear path to commercialization. The heat input can be sustainably supplied by low-grade thermal sources such as industrial waste heat, shallow-well geothermal, and low-concentration solar collectors. He is now working on further refining how TSSE works as a desalination method so that he can engineer further improvements in performance and test it with real-world samples in the field.

The most exciting part for me is the “clear path to commercialization”. For coastal cities, or for places where the water supply is threatened, the ability to purify water that has been polluted through industrial use is a huge deal. Having lived in Arizona desert and seen how urban growth and agricultural were limited, to get clean, pure water from waste would total recast the issues. This would be a big deal in the developing world as well – especially in coastal mega-cities.

Watch this space as they say!

In praise of real journalism and Apple News+

Current Affairs / Web/Tech

You might have heard the news this week that Apple is creating a news service, a TV channel and a gaming service (among other things). I downloaded the necessary update and subscribed to the news service that afternoon. (I had previously subscribed to a service called Texture that Apple bought to create their new offering so for me this was more access for the same cost.) I’ve been using the service all week. I like it.

Last night I read the latest issue of Time Magazine. I haven’t read Time in years, but when I was a student, the end of the week, when the latest issue would arrive in the mail was a highlight of my week. The reporting in Time wasn’t of breaking news, but it had plenty of digested news, news in context and reporting that showed how the latest story fit into a larger narrative. Then I read the latest issue of Sky and Telescope (so many memories!) and started on Scientific American. I’m hoping to read the New Yorker and more of the Atlantic this weekend.

I was struck by the quality of the writing and even more by the insight. Here are real journalists, people who went to school and have spent years learning their craft, doing what they have dedicated their lives to doing. It’s so much more useful than looking at some social influencer’s latest Instagram, or a leaked blurry image of the latest model of a popular phone, or breathless unreflective accounts of what is essentially a press release. Here’s what Sunday papers and weekly news magazines used to provide to the civic enterprise. In our embrace of the web and its unending stream of novelty, we had lost our national critical reflective function.

Part of what has caused all of this is our human attraction to novelty and the latest shiny thing. And a large part of it was caused by the collapse of the Pulitzer inspired business model that paid the bills for local news outlets. If you want to see the consequences of this collapse, look at the level of uninformed “shouty” national discourse that 24-hour news TV channels have brought us.

I’m delighted to discover that news magazines and real journalism still exists, and even more delighted that my entire family now has access to it. I hope it helps me be a better citizen. I hope it keeps me from falling for the latest online, Twitter-fueled, conspiracy theory. And I hope this sort of service beings to multiply so that other people return to consuming real thoughtful news. Here’s hoping that this and similar services get legs enough to begin a transition to a new business model that will support real professional journalists again and not the breaking news NOW model that keeps our attention but doesn’t inform us.

There are people who long ago learned how to use the breaking news NOW model to keep us reacting and not reflecting. And our civic life is not prospering as a result.

So, thank you Apple for trying to do something new. Here’s hoping that this helps real journalists find a way to make a living doing what we need them to do.

Priests Come and Go – a sermon on the occasion of the ordination of the Rev. Andrew Kryzak

Religion

Over the weekend a number of us gathered for Andrew Kryzak’s ordination to the priesthood. Andrew is priest of the Diocese of Rhode Island but serving on the staff of Christ Church in Greenwich Connecticut. The preacher for the day, the Rev. Justin Crisp did as fine a job for an ordination sermon as I think I’ve heard. (And that includes the ones that I’ve preached… grin.)

I asked for permission to share this, and it was generously given. Read, mark and enjoy:

Priests Come and Go

A Sermon for the Ordination of Andrew A. Kryzak to the Priesthood

The Reverend Justin E. Crisp

Associate Rector and Theologian-in-Residence, St. Mark’s, New Canaan

“Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal.” (Isaiah 6:6)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is no small honor for me to be preaching from this pulpit on so happy a day for the Church as Andrew’s ordination. I have gotten to know Andrew over the past few years, first as a student and, I’m glad to say, subsequently as a colleague and friend. In that time, I have really come to appreciate—as I’m sure all of us have—just how good, noble, and kind a human being Andrew is.

The trouble, Andrew, is that being good, noble, and kind doesn’t make you a priest. I want to chat with you, for a few minutes this morning, about what I think does.

At the end of Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock, there is an exchange between one of the female protagonists, Rose, and an unnamed priest in a confessional. For those of you who haven’t read Brighton Rock, Rose is a young woman who, to make a very long story short, falls in love with a gang leader, named Pinkie, and subsequently marries him. I hesitate to give away too much of the plot here. All you really need to know is that Pinkie has, at this point, died, and Rose is desperately concerned for his eternal state. She sits in the confessional and unloads the mess of her life onto this old priest—putting the mess of her life into his hands, as it were. What is so remarkable is that he does something with it. The old priest speaks to her of what he calls—in one of Greene’s characteristically exquisite turns-of-phrase—”the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,” enjoining her never to give up hope for the soul of the one she loves, and assuring her (if “assurance” is quite the right word, given the atrocities Pinkie committed in his life on earth) of God’s love, transcending human understanding. The scene is one of the most penetrating explorations of the psychology of sin and the labor of hope I have ever read—one made all the more excruciating by the way the novel ends, which I won’t give away.

The relevant part of the story for our purposes comes when Rose exits the confessional:

A sudden feeling of immense gratitude broke through the pain—it was as if she had been given the sight a long way off of life going on again. He said, ‘Pray for me, my child.’

She said, ‘Yes, oh yes.’

Outside she looked up at the name on the confessional box—it wasn’t any name she remembered. Priests come and go.

Just so.

To receive the life of another human being, their triumphs, their troubles, their joys, and their sorrows, as if it were put into your hands and to set it, in prayer and in sacrament, in the bewildering but marvelous context of the mercy of God—that is, to consecrate someone’s life and to offer it up to God for God’s purposes—that is what it means to be a priest. And it has basically nothing to do with the name above the door. Quite to the contrary: priests come and go, but the priesthood of Jesus remains. And it is to that priesthood, the high priesthood of Christ, that you, Andrew, will be joined to by grace this morning in a new and deeper way.

Andrew, this is an amazing life. I cannot put into words just how unbelievable a privilege it is to be invited into the lives of others, to share in their profoundest ups and cruelest downs and to intercede for them—to put them, through prayer, proclamation, and sacrament, in touch with the mystery we heard described in the words of the prophet Isaiah this morning.

It is the end and fulfillment of every human life to be rapt in ecstatic worship of the One who created the world and calls us each by name (Is. 43:1, Jn. 10:3), to sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” in concert with the whole company of heaven (Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8). It will be the meaning of your life subsequent to this day, Andrew, to put people in touch with that awesome and terrifying reality which we call ‘God,’ and whom we truly know and love in the human being Jesus of Nazareth, died, risen, and ascended. It will be the meaning of your life, that is, to “exalt [God] in the midst of [the] people [you serve],” to “offer spiritual sacrifices,” “boldly proclaim the gospel of salvation,” and “rightly administer the sacraments of the New Covenant” (BCP 534).

And that means, Andrew, that the meaning of your life is from this day on already spoken for—that from this day there will be a part of you that will never be yours again because it will belong to the Lord and to the people God has called you to serve, to pastor, to teach, and, most crucially, to love.

There is a part of you that has daily to die to your priesthood, to be burned up by the coal which today the Holy Spirit will put to your lips (cf. Is. 6:6-7): that little itch of ego that makes you think your life is still entirely your own.

And this is what the vows, I think, are meant to help you to do. The vows are there to free you, Andrew, from yourself so that you’ve got a shot at putting people in touch with what they’re really after—which isn’t you. It’s God.

You have already vowed “to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as [our] Church has received them,” and to “obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work” (BCP 526). Soon you will commit yourself to a whole host of other promises, which span everything from your prayer life to your checkbook (BCP 531–32). There is, from that moment on, a part of your intellectual, professional, and personal life that is quite simply no longer under your own jurisdiction.

This will come at some cost to the lives of those you love, including your family—and especially Hannah, who has not taken these vows but whom you have asked to live with the fact that you have. Thank them—thank her—sincerely and often.

It can be difficult to imagine in a culture that valorizes independence and liberty as much as ours does, but the vows—and particularly, I think, those of loyalty and obedience—are amazing good news for priests. The vows mean that it is not your job to re-adjudicate the Creeds, or re-hash the Councils, or make every single decision that will dictate the terms under which your work will take place. It is not yours to figure out God from scratch, to invent a corporate polity and individual practice out of nothing, to design a personal vision of the moral life from square one. When you feel yourself tempted to do so, apply the coal in these vows to your lips. This will give you the time, instead, to serve your people, to pastor them, to love them, and to consecrate them, so that, offered up to God and set apart for God’s use, they—who like you are baptized, and therefore also joined to the eternal priesthood of Christ (BCP 307–308)—might go out into the world and consecrate it as an offering to the same Lord to whom you will regularly present bread and wine.

Ours the priesthood of the altar, to build up and galvanize theirs, the priesthood of the world.

This is more than enough to fill one life, and the great and awesome question you will answer in just a moment is whether God has called you to it. We are all gathered here this morning to assure you that God has, to surround you with our prayers and to attest to the marvelous ways in which you have already made God known to us in this life.

The very best news of all, Andrew, is that none of this, in the end, is about you at all.

One of the brutal but marvelous byproducts of living life as a
priest is that people will experience God in and through you and things that you do, things like anointing heads with oil or saying prayers over bread and wine. Do not imagine that it is in your power to make it so. It is not. Yours to put yourself in the breach, to pray, to consecrate, and to celebrate by dint only of the “grace and power” of the Holy Spirit which will be given to you this morning under the sign of the laying on of hands (BCP 533). That grace and power will never belong to you, even though, in their wake, you will never again fully belong to yourself. As I heard said last week by a friend, all this means you will never be as bad as they say you are; neither will you ever be as good as they say you are. As a priest you will be on the receiving end of anger and hatred and love and thanksgiving that are rightly due not you but the one whom you know as your Savior, Jesus Christ. Apply the coal to your lips, and refer it back to him.

He will take care of you.

Priests come and go. The only one who remains is our Lord, to whom
be worship and praise, dominion and splendor, for ever and for evermore. Amen.

A new take on Christian Realism

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Robin Lovin writes in the Christian Century and suggests a middle road between a Hauerwasian “Benedict Option” for the Church, and mid-20th Century Social Gospel “The World Sets the Agenda” model.

The work of Christian Realism in our time begins by proclaiming the Good News in worship and teaching, remembering that even those who sing and pray with us may never have heard it except as an answer to problems they already knew they had. The gospel presents a harder truth: it calls us to be changed in a way that changes what we want.

The work of Christian Realism entails forming the church as a community of trust in which people can explore questions about their lives that they cannot yet ask in the places where those questions concretely arise. In many cases, these questions will be about work and its purposes, but they will also include concerns about families, schools, and the neighborhoods where they live.

The full essay can be found here.

I’m particularly struck the vision in the last paragraph – a vision of a community of exploration and discernment. This is less about forming a safe enclave of the elect as it is about creating a band of pilgrims who journey and support one another as they move deeper into the implications of God’s Reign in the world today.

We’re talking about something like this at the Cathedral of St. John in Providence. It’s why I believe the church is ready for a new expression of the cathedral paradigm.

Remarks at the Providence Jewish Community Vigil following the Tree of Life Shootings in Pittsburgh

Current Affairs / Religion / Rhode Island

It is written in the Book of Proverbs (Chapter 16) that:

    The mind of the wise makes their speech judicious,

and adds persuasiveness to their lips.

    Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,

sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

And a little further it is written that:

    Scoundrels concoct evil,

and their speech is like a scorching fire.

    A perverse person spreads strife,

and a whisperer separates close friends.

    The violent entice their neighbors,

and lead them in a way that is not good.

I speak tonight as one among the many in this nation who are witnessing the scorching fires set by words spoken out of the fear of our neighbor, out of the fear, and not of love, of the poor who long sojourn in this nation.

The Prophets recall to us that God, who makes the blessing of rain fall on the just and the unjust, that same God expects us to welcome and care for all those who seek sanctuary and safety.

The Prophets, and the Holy Angels themselves, tell us again and again, to not be afraid.

And yet we are afraid. We are afraid of each other. And out of that fear we arm ourselves with weapons that can kill our neighbors in the blink of an eye. We don’t just arm ourselves, we build up arsenals and then we build walls between each other. And then words spoken out of fear, words spoken in the darkness, words that turn away from the light, are given power, power to kill. And the people are perishing.

I pray for the strength to not be afraid. I pray for the courage to embrace my neighbor. I pray that I might walk in the light of God’s love and mercy. And I pray that I will not walk alone.

I believe tonight’s gathering of people from across our state witnesses that the people of Rhode Island reject the whispered words of the perverse who would separate friends from one another, that would entice us to violence and not to good. I reject the ancient evil lie of antisemitism. And I reject those who whisper such things in the darkness.

As a Christian and as a Rhode Islander, I pray that our Jewish neighbors, our Muslim neighbors, our African American neighbors, our Latino and Hispanic neighbors, our LGBT neighbors, ALL of our neighbors will know that we reject evil words and actions that seek to divide us and make scapegoats of our neighbors.

Will you join me in a prayer?

Holy One, Light of Light and Source of Hope beyond comprehension; See your children standing together bearing our little lights and pushing back against the darkness of this night. Of your mercy and your faithfulness prosper our work and our witness. Be present with those who grieve and mourn the death of their blameless and beloved. Stir up in us the courage to stand beside the one who mourns and the one who is afraid, so that together, we would be one family united and illumined in love for one another and for you.

And let the people say “Amen”.

Please join in prayer for those murdered in Pittsburgh

Reconciliation / Religion / Rhode Island / Sermons and audio

Today we are reeling from the news of the senseless and evil violence done to the innocent worshipers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Our elder sisters and brothers in Judaism are God’s Chosen people and nothing will separate them from the Covenant their ancestors made with Holy and Living One.

I ask Episcopalians across Rhode Island to please add this prayer to God asking for rest for the departed (El Maleh Rachamim) to your service on this Sunday.

God, filled with mercy, dwelling in the heavens’ heights, bring proper rest beneath the wings of your Divine Presence, amid the ranks of the holy and the pure, illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the souls of our beloved and our blameless who went to their eternal place of rest. May You who are the source of mercy shelter them beneath Your wings eternally, and bind their souls among the living, that they may rest in peace. And let us say: Amen.

There is work to be done to heal our nation and our communities, but this weekend, I ask you to begin with this prayer for our neighbors who were killed and as a sign of our intention to stand beside them in this dark moment.

+Nicholas

The Right Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely SOSc
Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island