The geography of evil

The Rev. Dr. Roger A. Ferlo, president of the Bexley Seabury Federation and professor of biblical interpretation and the practice of ministry, preached this sermon at Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, Chicago.

Every year on the evening between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the Episcopal cathedral in New York sponsors an all-night reading of Dante’s Inferno, all thirty-four exciting and horrific cantos. The timing is grimly appropriate. The action of the entire Divine Comedy begins on Maundy Thursday of the year 1300. Dante the pilgrim makes his way down through the many circles of hell, and then climbs the seven story mountain of purgatory, and then—like a human rocket ship—is catapulted into the heavenly spheres of the Paradiso, all in the scope of an Easter weekend.

I expect that by this time, the readers in the Cathedral will have concluded the last canto of the Inferno. It is a shocking canto, perhaps more shocking to the 14th century reader than it is to us, as it begins with a blasphemous parody of one of the most beautiful Latin hymns of Holy Week. As Dante approaches the deepest center of hell, his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, warns him in a mix of Latin and Italian:

Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni verso di noi,/ pero dinanzi mira,

which, roughly translated, means “The regal banners of the inferno are flying in front of us, so keep your eyes peeled and your powder warm.” So somehow Virgil, a pagan who died in the first century, knows the words of the opening verse of one of the greatest seventh century hymns in honor of the Cross, a hymn still sung in monasteries and sanctuaries throughout the world on days like this.

Vexilla Regis prodeunt;

Fulget Crucis mysterium,

Quo carne carnis conditor

Suspense est patibulo

Abroad the regal banners fly,

now shines the Cross’s mystery:

upon it life did Death endure,

and yet by death did life procure.

Give ourselves in love

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies offers this Good Friday meditation for Episcopal Relief and Development:

It is Good Friday. A somber and painful day. A day of betrayal and suffering. Jesus stands accused and convicted. His friends have deserted him. Peter denies him. He is flogged, given a crown of thorns by the soldiers, mocked by the crowd, and finally crucified. It is a horrific death, and as many times as I have heard the story, it never fails to move me beyond words.

In spite of it all, Jesus says to Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Jesus is the suffering servant, the Lamb of God.

For the sake of the world, Jesus did not run from suffering. Our faith tells us that Jesus dying on the cross was for the sake of the world, for your redemption and mine. Jesus the Redeemer. Jesus the Holy One who entered into redemptive suffering for the sake of the world.

But sometimes, suffering isn’t redemptive. Sometimes it is just anguish and agony without any apparent purpose or benefit. People are hungry, alone, sick and dying. People suffer because of natural disaster, drought, lack of clean water, preventable disease, and the loss of dignity caused by crushing poverty. There is nothing redemptive when a child suffers from hunger, sickness, or lives in poverty.

Episcopal Relief & Development exists to heal a hurting world. Its work to alleviate unnecessary suffering brings us closer to Jesus the Redeemer, who gave himself in love. We too can give ourselves in love by partnering with Episcopal Relief & Development and participating as compassionate responders. Episcopal Relief & Development works not only to alleviate suffering, but also to eradicate the root causes of suffering. There is no more important work we can do in the name of Jesus the Redeemer.

Taking compline to the streets

Two seminarians took compline to the streets on Monday night during Lent in Berkeley. Maggie Foster and Spencer Hatcher, both first-year students at Church Divinity School of the Pacific were discussing ways to attract people to local churches when they decided instead to bring one of the church's ancient liturgies out to the people.

From the CDSP website:

The group, which ranged between two and twelve people over six weeks, said the final office of the day at Indian Rock Park, the Martin Luther King Park World Wall for Peace, Springer Gateway at the University of California at Berkeley, the downtown Berkeley BART Station, on the Eastshore Footbridge, and at the Berkeley Pier. ….

For [Foster], the sense of bringing compline’s stillness to a busy world was the most enduring part of the experience. “I really realized this as we were praying on the Eastshore Footbridge, which was physically shaking,” she said, referring to the pedestrian walkway that crosses fourteen lanes of I80 near the San Francisco Bay.

“It became about how to bring myself as a contemplative being into a world that is not designed for that type of person,” said Foster. “How do you confront this busy, busy world with prayer and contemplation? I wasn’t setting out to explore that, but it is the question I am left with.”

Ashes to Go. Palm Sunday processions, Stations of the Cross in the streets, and now compline. Bit by bit, the church is coming out from behind its walls to meet the people where they are, to interrupt them gracefully in the midst of their daily lives and offer them a taste of what the church has to offer.

Washing people's feet, washing people's clothes

"Washing people's feet is fine," I wrote last year on Twitter, "but more people would come to church if we offered to wash their clothes." That joke came back to me last night through the miracle of hashtags and retweeting, and it got me thinking.

I love the church's rituals, but it is important to trace them back to the source. When Jesus washed his disciples feet, their feet were dirty; they needed washing. His actions were symbolically powerful, but Jesus was doing a job that needed doing.

I am interested in discussing ways that the church can combine the practical and the liturgical, that we can both offer help to people who need it, while making it clear that doing such work is sacramental.

Who's got ideas? Besides these folks? And this guy.

"Holy Thursday" by William Blake

"Holy Thursday" (Songs of Experience) by William Blake

Read by Toby Jones

Sung by Victor Vertunni

Here's the text from the Poetry Foundation. And here is the companion poem "Holy Thursday" (Songs of Innocence.)

And somehow, Thomas Piketty, author of Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, seems germane here, too.

Must a Christian believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead?

"On the third day, he rose again."

Must one believe that Jesus literally rose from the tomb to be a good Christian, or can one believe there was an "Easter event" that his disciples interpreted as a resurrection? Kimberly Winston explores this question in an article for Religion News Weekly.

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Charles Wesley wins Lent Madness' Golden Halo

Charles Wesley has defeated Harriet Bedell to win Lent Madness' Golden Halo. Here's the official release.

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Another religious film: "Heaven is for real"

Claudia Puig reviews "Heaven is for real" in Huffington Post, the movie based on the best selling book about a 4-year-old's near death experiences:

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Ethics and religion talk on legalizing prostitution

Rabbi David Krishef, in his "Ethics and Religion Talk" in Michigan Live, had three clergy panelists make arguments either for or against legalizing prostitution.

Here was the argument (against) made by The Rev. Nurya Love Parish, an associate priest, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church:

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Risks of popular anxiety drugs

NPR's All Things Considered, in an article by Susan Sharon, looks at the risks from the popular benzodiazepines:

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Noah the movie: eco-whacko?

Brook Wilensky-Lanford interviews Ari Handel, screen writer for the movie, Noah, on the environmental issues that some are calling eco-whacko, at Religion Dispatches. On Noah being an "environmental film":

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Public protest in Holy Week

Marcus Borg writes at Day 1 about Jesus' public protest following the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday:

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A church responds to hate in Overland Park

An Overland Park Episcopal Church responds to hate as reported in Time. The Rev'ds Benedict Varnum and Gar Demo write:

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Court returns church building to Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin

Episcopal News Service reports that the courts have ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church in property matters in the Diocese of San Joaquin:

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New play spotlights SC Episcopal bishop story

A new play, premiering in Charleston, South Carolina, tells the story of an Episcopal bishop murdered by one of his own priests in 1928. The play, written by Thomas Tisdale, is entitled "Truth in Cold Blood", and will debut in July, in conjunction with the Enthusiastically Episcopalian Conference.

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Bishop of Kansas releases a statement on OP shootings

The Rt. Rev. Dean Wolfe has released a statement on the shootings at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom in Overland Park, KS yesterday.

He says that the violence of Sunday is a reflection of the larger tide of violence that has overtaken the country.

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Bishop asked to pray at Prayer Breakfast

In another example of why you should always know how to pray off book, even as Episcopalians, President Obama closed the annual Prayer Breakfast today by inviting retired bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, to pray for the group.

+Gene chronicled the unplanned moment on Twitter, calling it as privilege.

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Episcopal Church hosts interfaith vigil

St Thomas Episcopal Church in Overland Park, KS hosted an interfaith vigil of peace and remembrance last night, in honor of the shooting victims at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom.

Their rector, the Rev. Gar Demo, was joined by Rabbi Jacques Cukiekorn of Temple Israel, and their cantor, Adirah Leibshutz.

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UPDATED: Suspect in Kansas Shootings had supremacy ties

More information is now emerging on the situation in Kansas, and it points towards a hate crime.

The shooter has been identified as Frazier Glenn Miller, from Aurora, Missouri. Travelling under the alias of Frazier Glenn Cross, Miller has long been active in the white supremacist community. At one point, he had been jailed for three years for illegal weapons, and for plotting the murder of the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Shooting on the Eve of Passover

Three people were shot and killed after a gunman opened-fire at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom. Two others were unharmed.

The vigil will be held Sunday at 8 p.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, located at 12251 Antioch Road, in Overland Park.

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Harvard Divinity School Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship Tackles Capitalism and Christianity

For the past four years, the Harvard Divinity School Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship has brought together leading Christian scholars and practitioners for an ecumenical and academic summit. This year, the Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship put together a symposium called, "Christianity and Capitalism" based on student interest.

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Gene Robinson on the Archbishop of Canterbury and Amendment of Life

Former Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson, in his new column at the Daily Beast, weighs in on recent comments by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on the connection between violence in Africa and LGBT marriage equality:

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Rev. Matthew Wright on Second Axial Age Emergence

The Rev. Matthew Wright, a priest serving St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Brewster, NY, and a member of the Community of the Holy Spirit's Bluestone Farm, believes that in our interspiritual world, the Christian Wisdom tradition must be revived and reexamined. In the Contemplative Journal, Matthew writes that becoming aware of Wisdom in our own traditions in this second axial age is the key to union, consciousness, and belonging:

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Flashback: Stephen Colbert on Jesus with a wife

In the news this week, a scrap of papyrus suggesting that Jesus had a wife turns out to be not a forgery. And Stephen Colbert, "America's most famous Catholic," lands a new job as David Letterman's replacement. The Huffington Post offers a roundup of religious highlights from "The Colbert Report," including this clip from a couple of years ago, when the scrap of papyrus in question first came to light:

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The trouble with 'Christian Seders'

Episcopal Cafe blogger Ann Fontaine is not alone in questioning whether it is appropriate for Christian congregations to hold Seders during Holy Week. J. Mary Luti, a retired seminary professor and pastor in the United Church of Christ, is troubled by the idea also. She writes:

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How to make a proper Palm cross

Gathering today to make Palm Sunday crosses? In this video, origami artist Leyla Torres has her mother-in-law, Yvonne Sutton, show us how it's done:

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Why evangelicals ought to love the Book of Common Prayer

An American evangelical scholar looks at the Book of Common Prayer and likes what he reads.

Alan Jacobs, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Baylor University and former professor of English at Wheaton College, has written a history of the Book of Common Prayer as part of Princeton University Press's Lives of Great Religious Books series.

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The relationship between Christian charity and government welfare

Lately, it has become fashionable that churches and charities should replace government in funding and managing social services. Mike Konczal calls this "the voluntarism fantasy," saying that a "complex interaction between public and private social insurance… has always existed in the United States."

The Week:

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"Homeless Jesus" finds a home

The sculpture "Homeless Jesus" has been installed at St. John's Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Grand Haven Tribune:

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CofE says why civil partnerships should remain in UK

The Church of England has officially submitted its reason why civil partnership should be retained now that same-sex marriage is legal in the UK.

Akin to the public comment phase for revised federal regulation in the US, the 12 week consultation period opened in January and closes next Thursday, April 17.

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Welby's assertion on massacre follows him "far, far away in America"

The Archbishop of Canterbury's comments linking progress toward LGBT equality in American churches to the massacre of Christians in Africa continue to reverberate.

The New York Times has filed a story that begins:

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Tutu calls for boycott and divestment of fossil fuel industry

The Guardian:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for an anti-apartheid-style boycott and disinvestment campaign against the fossil fuel industry for driving dangerous global warming, just days ahead of a landmark UN report on how carbon emissions can be slashed.

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The Atlantic takes note of nuns online

The Atlantic, arriving late to the party, asks whether social media can be used for evangelism in a nice profile of Sister Helena Burns, a Roman Catholic nun who is active online. Emma Green writes:

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No evidence "Gospel of Jesus Wife" was forged

The"Gospel of Jesus Wife" is not fraudulent, writes Lisa Wangsness of The Boston Globe. That's different than saying it is an authentic account of past events, which is a subject beyond my competency to determine, but it does put the controversial text back in play for students of the early church.

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The rise of "Bible skeptics"

"The American Bible Society’s latest State of the Bible survey documents steep skepticism that the Good Book is a God book," writes Cathy Lynn Grossman of Religion News Service. She quotes Roy Peterson, president of the society, who cites "incredible change in just a few years' time.

Among the findings:

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"What if we just SOLD the church?"

The Rev. Jon M. Richardson took to Facebook looking for some provocative feedback:

So: fun idea that came out of meeting with church staff today (that will probably be the latest in line of things that will get me run out of town on a rail...) --

What if - rather than trying to scrape by and earn income from irregularly renting the church out to others - what if we just SOLD the church, rented it one day a week from the new owners, and took the huge infusion of cash to establish a large endowment that would support an increased capacity for ministry???

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Episcopal conference on violence begins tonight

Violence in all its forms in American society (and what can be done) will be examined at the upcoming Episcopal conference Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence which begins tonight in Oklahoma City.

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Archbishop of Canterbury "explains" comments

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby sat down for 15-minutes with the Anglican Journal late Tuesday evening, April 8. Marites N. Sison's article is entitled "Welby explains gays and violence in Africa remarks". From the interview:

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Holy Week prep

Quick question: as Palm Sunday looms, church staffs (be it a lone individual or a slew of people) have lots of prep work. We know about things like liturgies and bulletins, but what are the things you always do THIS week, before Holy Week begins?

Tune the organ?

Routine maintenance on the copier?

Shampoo the rugs?

(FINALLY) take down the rogue Christmas decorations?

How about outside the church: how do your communications change before Holy Week?

Easter message from the Presiding Bishop

The Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori Easter Message from Episcopal News Service:

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Equal Pay Day - but not in church

Diana Butler Bass has started a lively conversation at her Facebook page about Equal Pay in the church. Butler Bass writes:

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Religion in US changing

The Economist reports on the state of Christianity in the US. The old made new and thoughts about commitment:

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Task Force Study on Marriage Report

The Episcopal Church Task Force on the Study of Marriage has issued the following report:

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Reconciliation in Rwanda

It's been twenty years since the genocide in Rwanda that set Tutsi against Hutu and killed thousands. Since then, Rwanda has been working hard towards reconciliation, both on a personal and national level.

One group in particular--Association Modeste et Innocente-- has been giving classes about what reconciliation and restitution means. This work has been chronicled on an individual level by the photographer Pieter Hugo, who took portraits of each survivor and the perpetrator she forgave.

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One Day in an Armed America

For a while now, the opinion writer Joe Nocera at the NY Times has been compiling daily accounts of gun violence in the US, in a blog entitled "Gun Report". Each day, he lists, in a stark litany, the people reported killed or wounded through gun violence in America, as well as some brief background on the issue.

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SCOTUS shoots down photography appeal

In the final stage of the court case, the Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a case, brought by a New Mexico photography studio.

The owners of the photography studio declined to photograph the wedding of a gay couple, thus violating New Mexico's anti-discrimination laws. Thereupon, the owners of the photography studio decided to sue the state of New Mexico, claiming that their religious freedom had been infringed upon, as well as their right of artistic expression (though that last one was probably not envisioned by the writers of the Constitution.)

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Questioning priest reflects

The priest from the Church of England who asked +Justin Welby the now-famous question on the call-in radio show, has written some reflections on the moment on her blog.

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Bishop Payne Divinity School Honored with Virginia Historical Marker

On Saturday March 29th, members of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Petersburg, Virginia, along with representatives from the Virginia Theological Seminary, celebrated the dedication of an historical marker to remember the impact of the Bishop Payne Divinity School in Petersburg and throughout the Episcopal Church. Bishop Payne Divinity School, founded in 1878, served African-American men preparing for ministry before merging with Virginia Seminary in 1949:

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Bishop Marc Andrus of California responds to Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks on gay marriage and African violence

After suggesting on an LBC radio talk-in that African Christians have been massacred due to the acceptance of homosexuality in America, and more Africans may be killed if the Church of England accepts equal marriage, reactions to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby's comments continue from around the world. The round-up at Thinking Anglicans has the latest analysis and reactions.

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Alan M. Gates elected bishop of Massachusetts

On Saturday, April 5th at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston, lay and clergy delegates elected Alan M. Gates of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, on the fourth ballot:

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