Grace for Creation: free!

We have a great tradition of holding classes for parishioners in Lent, but once Easter comes, and Spring springs, we tend to focus on other things. But, what would happen if we tried an Easter class – like a Lent class, but later?

Have I got a deal for you:

In 2011, the Episcopal Church House of Bishops issued a pastoral letter on the environment. In response, a five-week study course titled A Life of Grace for the Whole World has been created. The curriculum follows the five sections of this letter.

via Curriculum – Grace for Creation

This is the result of work done by the Episcopal Church in New England, spearheaded by Bishop Tom Ely and two incredibly talented priests, Stephanie Johnson and Jerry Cappel. It’s a perfect fit for a springtime course, and it’s basically turn-key. Download it and go. The only thing we ask is that if downloadbutton.jpgyou use it, you let us know how it went. What could be easier?

New video curriculum on Faith and Science

I’m really happy with how this turned out:

[Episcopal News Service] Are science and faith compatible? Ordained scientists in The Episcopal Church offer insight on this sometimes controversial question through a new groundbreaking video curriculum offered by Forward Movement, now available for free download. The curriculum, offered in partnership with the Committee on Science, Technology and Faith, invites a sense of wonder and discovery to play a part in building care for creation in our faith communities.

In the Beginning explores the Bible’s basic doctrine of creation, the modern scientific worldview, perspectives on the Big Bang and evolution, and the biblical roots for environmental care. The Rev. Stephanie Johnson says it is a “thoughtful, engaging invitation into a deeper understanding of all God’s Creation.” Featured clergy-scientists include Katharine Jefferts Schori— former Presiding Bishop and oceanographer; Nicholas Knisely—the Bishop of Rhode Island and physicist; Rev. Lucas Mix—evolutionary biologist; Rev. Alistair So—microbiologist; and the Rev. Stephanie Johnson —environmentalist.

via Forward Movement announces new video curriculum on science and faith

You can view the videos here:

(Here’s a taste:)



The End of Moral Relativism

Jonathan Merritt writing in the Atlantic:

Thoughtful conservatives who are less concerned with waging culture wars have begun to admit that such a shift is occurring. In The New York Times last week, David Brooks argued that while American college campuses were “awash in moral relativism” as late as the 1980s, a “shame culture” has now taken its place. The subjective morality of yesterday has been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media.

A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism. One must have some moral criteria for which to decide if someone is worth shaming.

“Some sort of moral system is coming into place,” Brooks says. “Some new criteria now exist, which people use to define correct and incorrect action.”

I’ve been thinking that the pendulum has been swinging for a while now. Looking back at the 70’s and 80’s when there really was an “anything goes” season, we’re definitely in a very different moment.

I’m not sure if anyone can put a finger on the moment it changed, or what might be identified as the proximate cause, but we clearly are in a different moment.

Either way, this is certainly what we’re seeing happening on Social Media – which is probably the most effective window we have into the collective Zeitgeist.

What does the Church say in such a season?

Towards a theology and ethics of nanotech

Something for you to think about on the other side of the Triduum:

Russell Cowburn is Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge where he leads a large research team studying the physics and applications of nanotechnology. He is also a Christian. In this talk he describes what nanotechnology is, how it might be used to help solve global problems such as climate change and how we might begin to answer questions such as ‘what does God think about nanotechnology?

Prayers for Brussels, Tuesday in Holy Week

Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 279)

I awoke to the news of another coordinated multi-site attack in Europe, with many people dead and wounded. And this following the attack over the weekend in Turkey, following the unspeakable horrors and carnage caused by the ongoing war in Syria. It seems to me the only response in this moment is prayer and service to the victims of this violence wherever it is happening.

A prayer for Monday in Holy Week

O Lord God, who gavest to wise men of old a glorious star to lead them to the Christ: Grant that we whom thou hast given a yet more glorious sign, even his holy cross, may follow and be led by it the whole way to our salvation and thy heaven, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

From “A Procession of Passion Prayers” by Eric Milner-White OGS, CBE, DSO, one time Dean of York Minster.

(Hat tip to the Rev. Ned Gammons)

A word to the Church from the Episcopal House of Bishops

Holy Week 2016

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, meeting in retreat, unanimously approved this statement.

Revisiting Bohmian mechanics appears to remove the need for a Big Bang

A new way of approaching the way massless particles move in the vacuum of space looks like it has the potential to clean up a number of existing cosmological puzzles – at the cost of changing the way we would understand “time”.

David Bohm (image from Wikimedia)

Ahmed Farag Ali and Saurya Das have published a paper in Physics Reviews vol. B that does all of this and removes the violation of General Relativity that is at the heart of the Big Bang. Essentially what they argue is that we need to revisit David Bohm’s understanding of zero mass particle trajectories. Bohm, a well respected physicist of the last century, found a way of describing a system’s evolution in time that removed the non-deterministic nature of the system. Though Bohmian mechanics is described as a “hidden variable” theory, it’s primary proponent has been J.S. Bell himself (of Bell’s inequality fame). According to Ali and Das, returning to Bohm’s ideas changes the way we understand the beginning and the end of the Universe and essentially gets rid of the conundrum of “dark energy”.

The really provocative claim to my mind is that this new idea allows a direct calculation of the cosmological constant that is in close agreement with what we measure. (Unlike calculations based on the mass energy of the quantum vacuum which are off by many many orders of magnitude, or the handwaving introduction of quintessence.)

From an article on

In addition to not predicting a Big Bang singularity, the new model does not predict a “big crunch” singularity, either. In general relativity, one possible fate of the universe is that it starts to shrink until it collapses in on itself in a big crunch and becomes an infinitely dense point once again.

Ali and Das explain in their paper that their model avoids singularities because of a key difference between classical geodesics and Bohmian trajectories. Classical geodesics eventually cross each other, and the points at which they converge are singularities. In contrast, Bohmian trajectories never cross each other, so singularities do not appear in the equations.

In cosmological terms, the scientists explain that the quantum corrections can be thought of as a cosmological constant term (without the need for dark energy) and a radiation term. These terms keep the universe at a finite size, and therefore give it an infinite age. The terms also make predictions that agree closely with current observations of the cosmological constant and density of the universe.

Read more at:

Rainment, glistening and white.

It snowed on Friday. A tropical system, full of moisture and relatively warm air, slid north along the Southern New England coast and collided with cold arctic air flowing down out of Canada. The result was a fast developing, very wet snow fall that started at dawn and continued until an hour before twilight.

The wet snow and the relatively gentle wind off the ocean allowed the thick white heavy flakes to stick to every surface they touched. The ground was covered, as were the trunks and branches of the trees. The evergreens groaned with the weight of the snow as gravity pulled them down toward the center of the Earth. The bare tree branches were coated, and a number of limbs snapped because of the weight. Many of my neighbors lost power, and a few people were hurt. It was heavy and dangerous.

It was a day of gray air and not much light. The heavy moisture mixing in the cold air and the warmer ground temperature gave us a thick fog that started as the snow began and settled low to the ground throughout the day. I knew the Sun was up and it was midday, but I had that knowledge more on faith than observation. At least until about an hour before sunset…

IMG_0158As the day was drawing to a close, the clouds caused by the storm system cleared from west to east. The line was sharp and dramatic. Twitter lit up with people exclaiming about the bright blue sky they were seeing, with reports being made closer and closer to where I was. Finally the edge of the clouds moved over our heads and just as everyone was saying, the difference was dramatic.

By that time it was late in the day and the Sun was low in the southwestern sky.  The trees were suddenly lit from below. The trunks remained within the gloomy gray fog but the branches, as they reached up to the sky were lit with the most astonishing light. And the snow that so heavily coated everything began to glow with a glistening golden light against the startlingly deep blue cloudless sky.

The sight took your breath away. There seemed nothing to do but grab a coat and rush outside to see the thing that had happened. The forest was still full of the heavy silence that accompanies any winter snow, but the sky was full of glory – and almost boisterous golden light that seemed strikingly noisy against the silent gloom that clung on close to the Earth’s surface. And as quickly as it happened, it ended.

What was most remarkable to me was how quickly we had gone from darkness to light, and then how quickly the light faded into the azure blue of twilight. The boundary between light and dark on the surface of planet is called the “terminator” and on the Earth it sweeps East to West at the Earth rotates from day into night. It sweeps across the surface of the Earth at nearly a thousand miles per hour. I was remembering that as the light faded and we transitioned back into darkness and gloom. Because the Sun’s light had been hidden by the fog and snow for so much of the day, the brief glimpse of golden glorious light was fleeting, and somehow made all the more beautiful.

640px-Alexandr_Ivanov_015I was remembering this morning how the light of that day had been followed by the azure of twilight as I heard the Gospel lesson for this Last Sunday in Epiphany. Jesus and his disciples climb to the top of a mountain, and for a brief moment, Jesus is revealed, transfigured in the sight of his disciples, and glows with a glorious glistening light. It is a moment when we see him as he truly is, fully reflecting the light of his Father As the veil between the realms of existence is pierced, he is seen flanked by the living history of the story of the children of Abraham in the persons of Moses and Elijah.

And just as quickly as the golden light I saw on Friday faded, so too the vision the disciples had of Jesus in his transfigured state faded. But the light they saw changed them, illumined something deep within them and made them long for it to return. I suppose the light I saw, the forest that blazed with it did the same thing to me. Perhaps such experiences have done the same for you… igniting within us a longing for a glimpse of the deeper reality that is always surrounding us, yet is only seen occasionally, unexpectedly, and often when our attention is focused on something else.

I imagine the most faithful response to such an experience, since it does not seem to be our part to dwell in it forever, is to cherish it and commit it to our memory. The days are often too short and too dark and the night is long. Yet the day is always capable of bursting forth with an unanticipated explosive force, reminding us of the promise and hope that sustains us and makes life possible.

Listen to the voices that are exclaiming that the light is shining, even if you sit in darkness. And when they do that, go outside and look up to see, if it is granted you, the reason we always have Hope.

An invitation to the Office: a resolution for the New Year

When I was newly ordained, I struggled for sometime trying to construct a prayer life that was as satisfying as the one I had while I was a seminarian. Being part of an organized community that read the Daily Office daily made it easy to look after my prayer life. But when I was out on my own, I found it was much harder to set aside the time – and it was a different experience reading it by myself.

By my third parish (Trinity Church in Bethlehem PA), I was able, with the help of a larger staff and some lovely and faithful parishioners, to read the office daily when I was in the office. I wasn’t terribly consistent when I was away from the parish, but something that was like daily prayer was better than something that wasn’t close. And, having learned that particular discipline, I was able to keep at it in the years I served at Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix and am still keeping that practice with the diocesan staff here in Rhode Island.

But I’m not satisfied with what happens on the days that I’m not in the office, when I’m not present to a community that keeps the discipline of the daily office. So this year, I’m resolving to be more intentional about my prayer practice, and to make it all work, I’m going to commit to using Derek Olsen’s wonderfully useful resource: St. Bede’s Breviary.

vd.jpgI know that Derek’s been working on upgrading the server and the configurability of his breviary for the past few years, but it was only recently that I took a moment to reconfigure my preferences (Rite 1, Prayerbook basic) and discovered how well it works as a prayer support tool. And now it has a mobile friendly page for the times when one is on the road and needs to use a phone or a tablet to access the lectionary. It’s so easy to use, and so easy to tweak to your own preferences, that there’s little reason not to make regular use of it.

So, I invite you to join me this year in faithfully reading the office no matter where you are. The discipline of a taking a few moments daily for regular silence and prayer has made significant changes in my life and who I am as a person. I invite you to join all the faithful people of God as we make ourselves present to God’s activity in our lives and to witness your own transformation in this coming year.