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:)

 

 

Tears are in the nature of things

Dan Edwards, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada writes in his Good Friday sermon this year:

We live in a world that worships success.
We have little use for the old religion of self-denial.
We practice disciplines of self-coddling.
The chaplain of a national Episcopal group this year actually wrote a Lenten letter urging us to go to a spa and relax in sensual delight for our Lenten discipline.
Our society averts its eyes from the poor, addicted,handicapped, and even those wounded in our wars.
A lot of so-called Christians are preaching a prosperity gospel: “Get your religion right,” they say, “and God will make you rich.”
It’s the religion for kings, the faith of winners.

But that isn’t Jesus’ religion.
The cross isn’t about that.
The cross is about “the tears in the nature of things.”

On this Holy Saturday, as Jesus lays dead in the tomb and the world is dark and quiet with grief and waiting, it’s worth reflecting on what our faith teaches us about the suffering that it is all around us. We can only see the hope of Easter through the lens of the Cross. 

Anything else is just another form of escapism.

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
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 Physics.org:

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: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html#jCp

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.

Statement on the Primate’s Communique from Lambeth January 2016

EpiscopalDiocese_Logo_RGB_lowres.jpgBy now many of you are aware that the Primates of the Anglican Communion, gathered in Canterbury this past week, have released a report that places temporary sanctions on the Episcopal Church. The primates voted these sanctions because of our decision this past summer to amend our canons to allow for same-sex marriage. There is a real sense of pain and sadness that the Episcopal Church is being censured for decisions it made in response to the pastoral needs of our members in our local contexts.

I believe it is important to note that the decisions made by our General Convention were done after decades of passionate conversation, biblical and theological engagement, by those in favor and those opposed, and with the understanding that no one is expected to uphold a position that their conscience cannot support. We believed that these decisions were made in response to the Gospel call to proclaim the news of God’s love for the created as far and as broadly as possible, and to listen to the voices of those whom the world has rejected. As a result of these decisions, the Episcopal Church was warned that there would be consequences. Today we have learned what they are.

In the news conference following the end of the meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury stressed that the Episcopal Church was not “punished” or “sanctioned”. Episcopalians are invited to work beside Anglicans in other parts of the world on relieving the suffering of the poor and disaster relief. But it is the decision of the majority of the Primates that the Episcopal Church may not participate with the rest of the Anglican Communion in conversations about common belief and theology or in other wider ecumenical work, at least for the next three years.

Our Presiding Bishop has written of the pain that these decisions bring to many in the Episcopal Church, and in particular to those who feel they have been marginalized once again by the Church in which they long to fully participate. Bishop Michael has also reiterated his intention to remain at the table in what ever capacity is allowed and to work on maintaining relationships as much as possible. And he has said that he does not imagine that the Episcopal Church will reverse its course. I agree with him on this point. I stand by my vote and that of our General Convention deputation this summer. I want to assure the LGBT people of Rhode Island that you are fully welcome in our diocese.

Though I know it will be difficult for many of us right now, I would ask that you join me in standing with Bishop Michael and continuing to participate in the common work of the Anglican Communion to the degree that we will be allowed. When someone rejects you for doing what you prayerfully discern to be the right thing to do, the Bible teaches us that we are to respond in love, by staying in relationship, doing what we can to show God’s love to those who are rejecting us. Walking beside the rest of the members of the Anglican Communion is the best way for us to witness to the World what the Gospel asks us each to do.

Finally, I ask you to pray for our witness to the World. I ask you to pray for the Episcopal Church, for the Anglican Communion and for the whole Church of God.

Gracious Father, we pray for thy Holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen. (BCP p. 816)

If you would like to know more about the decisions that were made, the Dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale has done a good job of explaining them. And I’d close by inviting you to listen to these words from the final day of the meeting in Lambeth by our Presiding Bishop.

+Nicholas