Weekly Grace General Blog
This blog contains lead articles in the Weekly Grace columns.

Burning Questions

It was a very busy twenty years.  First you had the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.  Somewhere in the Roman Empire at that time, the Gospel of Mark was being written while, elsewhere, Paul was founding churches and writing letters to them.  The blaze began on the 19th of July (our modern calendar) in 64 AD.  It burned for six days until it was brought under control.  Emperor Nero blamed the fire on the Roman Christians which led to the first of many imperial persecutions of that growing religious body.


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Ecclesiastical Opportunity

For decades, I have noted that the evangelical churches today are in theological error as much or more than the Roman Catholic church that they started out protesting almost five hundred years ago.  They have come full circle replacing the pope and clerical hierarchy with a doctrine of biblical inerrancy and the authority of the local pastor to interpret.  In many ways, the evangelicals and the Roman Catholic churches are polar opposites, and neither may be capable of leading Christianity beyond the devastating abuses we read in the news every day.


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Rights

I have followed the latest culture wars over the appointment of Sarah Jeong to the New York Times editorial board.  When I first heard about the appointment, I was upset about the apparent double standard and Ms. Jeong’s tweets about white people that would be judged racist or worse if any other race group were to be substituted for “white.”  But then I read what she said and realized that, very often, her writings were in response to even uglier words hurled by her detractors.  Not a great strategy for a response to ugliness, but understandable if you are not a member of the dominant power group in North America that is white.


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Cultural Epistemology

According to that wizard of the web, Google, epistemology is “the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.”  Reading a National Geographic article about India recently, I reached a new understanding of how we come to know things – it is often culturally dictated.

Warning: This note contains references to human practices that are seldom mentioned in public.  While other countries were mentioned in the article, India was the most developed nation of the group.  So, we have the very odd situation of urban and rural residents of India who pay good money for cell phones with Internet service, defecating in open fields.  The global health term for this practice is “OD” and the first word is “Open.” 


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Hubris, Ignorance and just plain Foolishness

My uncle wrote his physics Ph.D. dissertation in 1939 at the University of Chicago on nuclear fusion.  Fusion is the nuclear reaction that powers the sun and nearly all suns in the cosmos.  Only a decade before did scientists realize that lighter elements such as hydrogen and helium could fuse together to form a heavier element and give off energy in the process.  There was great confidence in the 1920s and 30s that figuring out how to harness the energy of the sun was just around the corner.  Soon the world would be powered by abundant, inexpensive, non-polluting energy sources.  Today, 77 years later, the optimism has been tempered with the sobering and very challenging scientific and engineering realities along with massive amounts of investment.  We still have not achieved sustainable nuclear fusion in the laboratory.


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Fear of the Lord

Our Daily Office scripture today includes a passage from Isaiah that may be relevant to our national political process.

For the Lord spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying:  Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread.  But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.          (Isaiah 8:11-13)

Wikipedia makes a useful distinction between “fear of the Lord” and “fear of God.”

“Fear of the Lord” generally refers to a specific sense of respect, awe, and submission to a deity, while Fear of God suggests apprehension of Divine punishment.


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Perspective 1

Although most people outside of the church tend to think the opposite, theology always plays catch up ball with the faith and actual practices of the people.  For example, toward the end of the period of Roman persecutions of Christians, many people in north Africa watched while some bishops and priests apostatized (disavowed) their faith or turned in other Christians to the Roman authorities in order to save their skins.  That some priests and bishops were still alive after a persecution while other families lost loved ones who refused to deny their faith did not go unnoticed by the people.  After the persecutions stopped and North African people went back to their pre-persecution lives, many faithful Christians understandably questioned whether a priest or bishop could continue to celebrate holy Eucharist or baptize after they had denied their faith (these were called “traditors” the Latin root of our words for 
traitor and treason
).  Some people believed that the traditors who had denied their faith to save themselves were no longer “valid” in presiding in the sacramental life of the church.

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A Christian Community

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” was the start of Paul’s admonishment to the small church community he founded at Philippi.” The community was founded based upon a dream that came to Paul to evangelize in what is now western Turkey or Macedonia in Biblical times. Even after arrival he endured stonings and imprisonment so this wasn’t a cakewalk mission for Paul. He did not live in a $10M mansion nor did he have a private jet. He suffered for his faith and he was often misunderstood.

When Jesus saw the demoniac chained to the wall at the Gerasene cemetery, he didn’t think to himself, “Uh oh, this is a crazy man. I’m gonna go somewhere else.” No, Jesus stayed, had compassion for what was tormenting the guy and he managed to transfer a legion of unclean spirits into a herd of pigs. I sometimes feel sorry for the poor farmers (unmentioned) in this story who owned the pigs. All their bacon went over the cliff but staying around even in the face of physical danger and opposition is something both Jesus and Paul did repeatedly.


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Ideology 101

Ideology: “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.”  Sadly, among the items recovered in the ISIL bomb factory in Brussels last night was a Wahhabist manual.  We mourn today for all the victims of terror attacks throughout the world.

Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabist sect of Sunni Islam lived during the century of the American Revolution, 1703-1792.  This of course was also the heyday of the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment.  Rationalism was all the rage across the globe.  One can now see the seeds of today’s globalism in this nascent intellectual development.  Hindu clerics in the jungles of Malaysia as well as Muslim clerics in the deserts of what is now Saudi Arabia feared this movement.  It could undermine their totalitarian control over the people.

Not unlike the Protestant Revolution in Europe of a century before (which sowed both liberal AND ultra-conservative versions of Christianity) al Wahhab sought to “purify” Islam by taking it back to its original roots or “
salaf.”  He thought that the intervening eleven centuries since the founding of Islam had brought corrupting influences that were either “religious” innovation or polytheism.  (Does this sound like Martin Luther or other Protestant reformers?  Digression:  Recall that W. H. Auden once defined a [Christian] Puritan as someone who suspected somebody else, somewhere was having a good time.)  So far so good.

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Feel-good Church?

How many of you expect to go to church every week for a pumped up, high energy, spiritual motivational talk? Do you want your church to be the equivalent of one of those high caffeine, high sugar “energy drinks”? That can be a formula for short term growth. Some preachers profit handsomely by taking the motivational speaker approach to the pulpit, but let me tell you a true story about a particular Episcopal parish.

This parish had a reputation for an elaborate Palm Sunday passion play put on year after year complete with costumes, staging, dramatic acting and so forth. The part of sentencing, flogging and crucifying Jesus was particularly dramatic. The whole church got involved and quite a few people from the community attended on Palm Sunday as well as Easter.

One year the role of Jesus was played by a gentleman whose passion was acting in local repertory theatre and he had a marvelous, resonant tenor voice. Two days before Palm Sunday the man playing the role of Jesus came down with flu like symptoms and laryngitis. For a while there was great confusion with the passion play troupe. Should they cancel? What should they do?


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