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.


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

Jesus, the Parables and social media. “Is Facebook evil? Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason — Quartz”

SOSc / Web/Tech

In an article that examines the root cause of the problem with most of all of social media, but particularly about Facebook, Nichil Sonnad makes the following observation:

Arendt [the Israeli psychologist who analyzed Nazi Adolf Eichman] concludes that it was neither sadism nor hatred that drove Eichmann to commit these historic crimes. It was a failure to think about other people as people at all.

A “decisive” flaw in his character, writes Arendt, was his “inability ever to look at anything from the other fellow’s point of view.”

via Is Facebook evil? Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason — Quartz

Sonnad argues that social media’s fundamental mistake is to focus on the network that connects us and not on the individual. It abstracts away the individual and makes the human being a fungible entity rather than a being of infinite moral importance. By making this computational move to solve a complex problem and increase connections between humans, the services diminish the role of the nodes and increases the role of the network. And that has a moral consequence if we follow Sonnad’s thinking.

To my thinking, the fundamental thing that the Parables of Jesus accomplish, is to allow the hearer insight into the emotional life of another person, the “other” in the stories. Having gained the insight, the hearer who “has ears to hear” is supposed to respond with compassion to the “other”, the stranger. Jesus invites us to change our thinking (literally “repent”) so that we can see the stranger as an individual who is at least as important, if not more so, than the community, the network, to whom the presence of the stranger seems to be a challenge.

Interesting to read this article today as the news is breaking that the Pope has declared that the Death Penalty is morally wrong in all instances. This is a strengthening of the Catholic doctrine of Human Life.

Let those who have ears to hear this, hear.

Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular – The Atlantic


Fascinating article in the Atlantic that shows the key factors that control the rate of societal secularization:

Using a separate model, Future of Religion and Secular Transitions (forest), the team found that people tend to secularize when four factors are present: existential security (you have enough money and food), personal freedom (you’re free to choose whether to believe or not), pluralism (you have a welcoming attitude to diversity), and education (you’ve got some training in the sciences and humanities). If even one of these factors is absent, the whole secularization process slows down. This, they believe, is why the U.S. is secularizing at a slower rate than Western and Northern Europe.

via Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular – The Atlantic

Sort of tracks my own experience – when things are in turmoil, people turn to spiritual practices. When things are doing great, people don’t feel the need.

Reminds me of part of the message in Psalm 78.

The Faustian bargain of a cyber connected world

SOSc / Web/Tech

Our hyper-networked world has given us super-human powers. Sometimes this has been beneficial. But of late, there is a dangerous side to being able to communicate quickly and without the need to reflect.

At least two dozen people have been killed in mob lynchings in India since the start of the year, their deaths fueled by rumors that spread on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service. In Brazil, messages on WhatsApp falsely claimed a government-mandated yellow-fever vaccine was dangerous, leading people to avoid it. And as Mexico was heading into its presidential election this month, experts there called WhatsApp the ugly underbelly of the country’s news environment, a place where politically misleading stories, memes and messages can spread unchecked.

On WhatsApp, with 1.5 billion users, information can go viral in minutes as individuals forward messages along to their friends or groups, without any way to determine its origin.

via On WhatsApp, fake news is fast — and can be fatal – The Washington Post

I was one of the people who believed that more communication between people could only be to the betterment of all. I was wrong.

I don’t believe we can put this particular power, this djinn, back in the bottle again. So we’re going to have to pay close attention to how we use it. A thoughtless joke can destroy a life. A pointed online rumor can tear apart a community. Sometimes these sorts of things are happening by mistake, but they are also being done on purpose by people who just want to see the destruction that they can create by doing it.

I’m not sure what the right answer is, but we might start by being intentional about our need for self-control (the Christian virtue of temperance) and humility. Our words, launched into the ether, have the power to kill. Words have always had that power, but today, when they can be spread at the speed of the network, the damage a word uttered in a hateful way is magnified far beyond what we have previously experienced.

I’ve read that the greek word “diablos” from which we get the english word “diabolical” originally meant someone who divided the community by telling lies (a calumniator). I think that’s a word use we need to keep in mind from now on.

End the Family Separation Policy Immediately.

Current Affairs

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Trump administration’s new policy of separating children from their asylum-seeking parents is morally wrong, not in keeping with the teachings of Christianity or other world religions, and should stop.

Jesus, reiterating the witness of Hebrew and Christian scriptures, calls on us to treat others as we would want to be treated. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. Christians are called, with many others, to welcome the stranger in our midst. Jesus tells us in St. Matthew’s Gospel (18:4-6), that whoever welcomes a child, welcomes him. And whoever causes harm to such a one is in grave moral danger.

I join my voice with other faith and community leaders around this state and this country in calling for the current family separation policy to end immediately and for children to be reunited with their parents as their lawful application for asylum proceeds.

XIII Bishop of Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island

Anne Lyon Knisely Canon – may she rest in peace and rise in glory.


On Monday morning my extended family gathered to say goodbye to my Aunt Anne. She was a mother, a sister, a clergy spouse, a friend and so much more. I was planning on being the preacher and the celebrant at the memorial service, but the weather in Baltimore on Sunday night caused my flight to be canceled and meant that I was not able to be with the rest of my family. Thank you so much to the Rev. Canon Dr. Mark Gatza at Emmanuel Church in Bel Air Maryland for filling in on such short notice. I hear it was a lovely and fitting service.

This was the brief meditation that I had planned to share:

This weekend we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Trinity. One of my friends jokingly suggested that rather than preachers trying to imagine a new way to explain what it ultimately an unfathomable doctrine, it would be better for all if we just put Rublev’s famous Icon of the Trinity on the pulpit and just stared at it for twenty minutes in silence.

If you’re a preacher faced with preaching about the Holy Trinity, that’s a funny, not funny sort of joke.

It’s a powerful image (pun intended) because Icons by their nature attempt to communicate and invoke ideas about God and the divine without using words. Words can be powerful tools but ofttimes in church they fail us because they simply can not express the ineffable truths of God. I suppose that’s why hymns are so important in our liturgy – when prose cannot take us to the Truth, we add music and poetry. I don’t suppose they get us all the way to the divine reality, but they can help move us closer.

An Icon, which is usually described as being written rather than being painted, has its own lexicon and vocabulary that tries to lift us even higher than the music, poetry and movement of liturgy which we know so well. An Icon uses certain colors to mark the presence of the divine. It uses a reverse perspective with the focus point being behind the viewer rather than in front to show us that that heaven and the realm of God is greater and more capacious than our human one. And it uses geometry to help us understand how God’s realm and ours are connected.

I’m not sure that twenty minutes in the presence of a true Icon is enough for us to fully unlock its meaning.

My Aunt Anne, and the life of love that she led, was one of the truest Icons of God’s love that I have ever experienced. She had the gift of hospitality and warmth that could gather people together and create circles of love and community no matter the circumstance. I knew her best as a small child when I was able to visit with her and Uncle Joe – and what I remember is what it felt like to be in a place, a home, that had that quality of light, laughter and love. I remember the radical acceptance of myself and others. If was going to try to write an Icon of a Christian, I would probably start with Anne.

Today we are gathering to remember her life, and to stand together as witnesses to God’s promises to us in the words of Our Lord Jesus. Perhaps you’ve made the connection that early theologians made about Icons and Jesus… Jesus of course is much more, but in some small ways we can understand the person of Jesus and the events of his life as a sort of written and embodied Icon of the reality of God. And because as the Councils of the Church have declared, we believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, Jesus is also an icon of our humanity. That why we can claim that because Jesus rose from the dead, we shall too. Because Jesus’ life was transformed and not ended so too shall ours be as well. Because Jesus’ demonstrated the cosmos shaking power of God’s Love and because he has called us his friends – preaching to us even when we were dead – we too shall live.

It is impossible for me to fully understand or even begin to fully imagine how life and love are woven together. But we have seen images of it in the lives of the people we have encountered along our Christian journey. We have experienced a taste of God’s transforming, liberating and life-giving love because they have loved us. They are icons. Anne was one of my icons. Some of you are as well. By God’s grace perhaps each of us here can be for others – preaching God’s love with our lives.

God’s love is this. That though we die, yet shall we live. And we shall see each other again. With our own eyes shall we see our redeemer and each other. Because God’s love has been victorious over our ancient enemy, God’s love has taken away the sting of death and it is no more.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

If Jesus comes back now, what should we expect?


Cara Rockhill, a priest here in Rhode Island (and a member of my staff) just posted a wonderful piece on her blog that’s an extended reflection on the easy to foresee violence that has erupted in the Holy Land. Her piece centers on what it would mean for all us right now if Jesus were to return to the Earth – a thing greatly to be desired, and my regular fervent prayer…

If Jesus comes back, your life is going to be remarkably different. Jesus would not be cheering this death and destruction. Jesus would not cheer any death or destruction! Jesus would be wondering how we let things get this bad. Jesus would ask us all, and hold us to account, for the way we treated one another that resulted in this violence.

Jesus would hold us to account for valuing ourselves and our lives more than those of Palestinians.

Jesus would hold us to account for using innocent lives as political pawns.

Jesus would hold us to account for using innocent lives as a way of manipulating God.

Because, really, I’m sure God has a pretty good idea of when God plans on coming back. If God wanted it to be now, there wouldn’t need to be the blood of Christians, and Jews, and Muslims, covering the Holy Land.

via Be Careful What You Wish For… – Cara Rockhill – Christianity in the 21st Century is Complicated

Please follow the link and read the whole piece. It’s worth your time.

The problem of Facebook is only a small part of a much larger issue

Current Affairs / Web/Tech

The Original Sin of the Internet is that it pays its bills by selling our attention to the highest bidder. We’ve been focusing on Facebook at the moment, but as Ethan Zuckerman points out in an essay on the site, Facebook is a symptom, not the problem.

I’ve referred to this bargain, in which people get content and services for free in exchange for having persuasive messages psychographically targeted to them, as the “original sin” of the internet. It’s a dangerous and socially corrosive business model that puts internet users under constant surveillance and continually pulls our attention from the tasks we want to do online toward the people paying to hijack our attention. It’s a terrible model that survives only because we haven’t found another way to reliably support most internet content and services—including getting individuals to pay for the things they claim to value.

We become aware of how uncomfortable this model is when Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica develop personality profiles of us so they can tailor persuasive messages to our specific personal quirks, but that’s exactly what any competent advertiser is doing, every day, on nearly every site online. If that makes you feel uncomfortable: Good, it should. But the problem is way bigger than Facebook. This is a known bug not just with social networks, but with the contemporary, ad-supported web as a whole.

via Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Scandal Is Part of a Bigger Problem – The Atlantic

He makes the point that the real response to the recognition of this larger problem is the need we all have to find a business model that makes it easy to support responsible writing.

Mr. Pulitzer’s business model of supporting local newspapers has led us to the Internet we now have. Perhaps we need to go back further into our history to look at other models that have been used to support broad communications platforms.