Religion

Post about Religious topics. My spiritual journey is a subtopic of this.

Connection, not Commodity

As I jumped into Mastodon and thought of ways describe the difference between Mastodon and Twitter, a phrase came to my mind, “Connection, not Commodity.” For me, it feels like Mastodon, and the Fediverse as a whole, is about re-establishing connection between people as opposed to the marketing platform that Twitter seems to have become.

I talked about this the other day, and recently, I came across a post by @atomicpoet@mastodon.social in response to @jon@social.lot23.com about algorithms and monetization goals. I reiterated the same idea I presented previously, with additional nuances. “While I recognize the need for financially sustainable models, it seems like the goals that really need to be discussed are different, such as improving accuracy in reporting, improving mental health of participants, and supporting a stronger, more stable democracy.”
All of this reminds me of Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson's EPIC 2014 from years ago:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUHBPuHS-7s

“At its best, EPIC is a summary of the world—deeper, broader and more nuanced than anything ever available before. But at its worst, and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue. All of it narrow, shallow and sensational. But EPIC is what we wanted. It is what we chose. And its commercial success preempted any discussions of media and democracy or journalistic ethics.”

Meanwhile, there are some interesting and exciting developments around connection. I’m already using tools to connect WordPress to ActivityPub. Simple Mastodon Verification has been upgraded to include verification for specific authors on a WordPress site. I’m testing that out.

Tumblr has announced plans to add ActivityPub and Flickr is considering it. The latest version of Mastodon now supports RSS feeds so you can subscribe to streams on Mastodon from your favorite RSS reader, including Microsoft Outlook.

Yet as we connect more, we are confronted with how we connect. This, I believe, is where some of the real hard work around Mastodon is being done. We saw some of this in the discussions around @parkermolloy@masto.ai and journa.host. We are now seeing this in discussions around whether episcodon.net should allow partisan politics and how specific it should be about not allowing hate speech.
I posted various comments, including:

I am wondering if the toxicity is part of the human condition and if Anglicanism has anything to say about it, especially in terms of the Via Media and the Elizabethan Settlement, especially when it comes to issues around moderation, banning, public discourse, and politics.

I am wondering if there are other ways of thinking about this, perhaps along the lines of our #Anglican Via Media.
For example, can we think about #AntiLGBTQ and #ProGun policies in a nonpartisan way? It seems as if we should oppose such policies no matter what our political affiliations.

In fact, I wonder if we might be more effective in combating such policies by moving away from demonizing people from a specific parties because many in the party support abhorrent policies.

I also wonder if we need to be thinking about how we can not only be a safe space, but also a brave space where we confront our own internal and structural biases.

I wonder if instead of dismissing the instance as not a safe and pleasant community, it would be possible to work together to address some of these issues.

For example, I believe that "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" means "No racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, or casteism" and this should be part of the server rules.

I also wonder if we need to be thinking about how we can not only be a safe space, but also a brave space where we confront our own internal and structural biases.

@perigee@toot.party responded, “yes. But with my years of work in social justice and civil rights activism, advocacy, and teaching, I must warn you that many people start this work but few stick with it. It's very difficult to confront and deconstruct internalized, colonized bias, and lots of folks figure they can handle it but ultimately find excuses not to stick with it. Let alone bear that torch and constantly bring it to others' attention.”

I think that is the challenge we face as we explore connections and community in Mastodon and the Fediverse.

The Priest the Church Needs Today

You are the priest the church needs today:
For the fifteen-year-old girl
who was raped
by someone she trusted
who is just uncovering her pain,
and has no one to talk to
especially not a priest.

For the seventeen-year-old transgender woman
who thought the transition
would make everything better,
but still she lives
in the spotlight of loneliness
and wonders if it’s all worth it,
and has no one to talk to
especially not a priest.

For the thirty-seven-year-old mother
who loves her son with muscular dystrophy
more than she can bear
and needs a rest and a loving ear.

For the forty-five-year-old couple
whose life seems perfect
as they help with coffee hour
because they hide the bruises
from their bitter fights so well
and can’t talk to anyone about it,
especially not a priest.

For the fifty-three-year-old wife
whose life did not turn out as planned.
Now she has the same symptoms
her mother had
at the onset of her cancer,
and has no one to talk to,
especially not a priest.

For the sixty-two-year-old homeless man
who tries so hard
to address his substance abuse problems
and put his life back together,
but the ancient traumas are too great,
and no one understands,
especially not a priest.

For the eighty-seven-year-old widow
who has never, in all her life,
let her children know
about her child born out of wedlock
that they always called their cousin.
and it is too late to tell anyone
especially not a priest.

And every day, more people are hurt,
often by the church itself,
and you are needed to be
the priest they can tell.

Summer Reading and Listening

Yesterday, I handed in my last paper of the summer semester, so now, I have a few weeks of where I can read and listen to stuff for fun before I start reading for the fall semester. It seems like there is a lot on my list, so I thought I’d try to organize a little bit of it and perhaps draw others into a discussion about some of this.

Listening

In a few days, I’ll be heading off to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, so I’m listening to play lists of performers who will be there, especially those in the Emerging Artist Showcase and who will be appearing on The Lounge Stage.

Also, last Thursday was the feat of St. James the Apostle, which got me thinking about caminos. I found a podcast I’ve started listening to, The Camino Podcast. It’s worth the listen.

Preparing for Sermons, Eulogies, and Sabbath

Unfortunately, I’ll miss the Performing Artists Showcase at Falcon Ridge this year because I will be at a memorial service for my father. He enjoyed the poetry of Robert Frost, so I’ll be re-reading a bunch of Frost’s poems as I prepare to say a few words there. Then, at the end of the month, I’ll be preaching on texts related to Sabbath. A couple of my classmates recently read Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann, so I’ve started that. Another book one of my classmates recently read is Soul Tending: Journey Into the Heart of Sabbath by Anita Amstutz. I’ve added that to my “Want to read” list.

Poetry

As I mentioned above, I’ll probably re-read a bit of Robert Frost Hopefully, I’ll add some others into the mix, like Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sarah Kay, and maybe even some T.S. Eliot or Christina Rossetti. Suggestions are always welcome.

Dissertations and Syllabi

The reason I mention Christina Rossetti is that a friend of mine wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Anglo-Catholic quality of Christina Rossetti's apocalyptic vision in The Face of the Deep”. I have that on my reading list, but I suspect I may not get to it this August. Likewise, one of my professors wrote his dissertation on Sin and Brokenness, Passage and Purpose: Reforms in Recent American Lutheran Rites for the Pastoral Care of the Sick. He also sent me the syllabus for a course he teaches on “Theology and Liturgy in the Digital Age”. It has a great reading list I will have to explore later.

Racial Justice

A couple friends have recently mentioned books they are reading related to social justice. One person mentioned Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by by Lenny Duncan. It is high on my reading list for August. Also around racial justice is the book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. These are both books that it seems would be best read in a discussion group. I’m wondering about online discussion groups, either on Goodreads or Facebook. Anyone up for such a group?

Affinity Groups Online and other reading

I recently finished reading Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning (Connected Youth and Digital Futures) by Mizuko Ito et al. I’m especially interested in discussing this book. I’d really like to talk about it in terms of personal learning networks, faith formation networks, and the future of the church.

The idea of online reading groups around racial justice is one such place to explore this. Another would be around climate justice. There are few books on this list, like one by my Christian Ethics professor, or another that friends are talking about called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Preparing for the fall

And, when I get through all of this, assuming nothing else pops up on the list, or around mid August, whichever comes first, I’ll start reading for my fall courses. Some of those texts I’ve probably already read, and either need to be re-read, or read for the first time.

So, what are you reading?

What's My Plumb Line?

My sermon as prepared for delivery on July 14, 2019, Pentecost 10 C, at Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Hamden, CT.

You can listen to the recording on Soundcloud

O Lord, mercifully receive our prayers and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do and have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When I preached here last March, I started off with a request for forgiveness that I’ve borrowed from the Orthodox church. If I have sinned against any of you or hurt any of you in any way, known or not known, I am deeply sorry, and I ask your forgiveness. Thank you.

Let me start off today with a question. How many of you have heard the story of the Good Samaritan before? [Raise hand…Pause… look for hands] I kind of figured that would be the case. The story of the Good Samaritan has become part of the fabric of our society. As an illustration, let me tell you a story of when I was in college.

One of my classmates did a research project on whether or not reading the Bible had any effect on how likely someone is to help a person in distress. She had two groups of high school students that participated in the research. They were told they were being tested on how much they would remember of a text they were assigned to read. Half of them were given a text about some scientific information and the other half were given the story of the Good Samaritan.

After they had read the text the were told to go to a different location to take the test. On the way, they passed an actor dressed as a homeless man who would start coughing and collapse. I was that actor.

After the experience, the researcher asked me if I did the same thing each time. Some people claimed that they saw me but that I didn’t cough or collapse. Others said they didn’t see me at all. In the Gospel, we read that the priest and the Levite actually saw the person who had been attacked by robbers and quickly passed by. I suspect that many of us are more like some of those students. We don’t even see the suffering around us. We don’t see how we contribute to that suffering.

I don’t remember the details of the results of that experiment, but I seem to recall that it was something like, listening to someone speak about the story of the Good Samaritan for ten minutes didn’t really have much on an impact on people’s lives.

This leaves me with the question, what am I doing up here? Maybe we should just sing another hymn, or something. Or, maybe the reading from Amos can help us. How many of you know what a plumb line is? For those who don’t know, a plumb line is a line with a weight on the bottom to help in building straight walls.

On our first lesson, the Lord says to Amos, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people”. Taken by itself, that sounds like good news. God will set things straight. When we hear from Isaiah, “make straight in the desert a highway for our God”, it is in the context of God comforting God’s people.

But Amos is a different story. The Lord says to Amos, “the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste”. As we look at changes in the climate driving storms like Hurricane Barry onto our coast and at children of God being held in horrible conditions at our border, the doom Amos talks about may feel a little too close to home.

As I was reading the description of Amos’ audience in one of my commentaries, I was struck how similar things sound today to how they were in Amos’ time. In her commentary on Amos, Amy Erickson writes, “The audience of Amos’s message is one familiar with luxury and wealth. Amos directs his words to a society he characterizes as dominated by structural injustice.” We are a nation today, burdened by structural injustice. Erickson goes on to speak about the “deep divide between the living standards of the rich and the poor”. You see this, oh so clearly, around San Francisco where the average rent for a 800 square foot apartment is $3,612 a month and where many are homeless.

There do not seem to be easy clear answers to the problems we face. We need to think about how we can best be neighbors to the homeless, to those facing flood waters, to those fleeing violence in their native lands; to those who have fallen among thieves. We need to have serious, respectful discussions about how we live out our baptismal vows to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”. It isn’t easy.

Maybe we try to address these problems be arguing with people we don’t really know on Facebook. I suspect that in most cases that is at best as effective as yet another sermon the Good Samaritan.

Amos provides a different starting point. God showed Amos “a wall built with a plumb line”. What is the plumb line in our lives? It seems as if for too many in our country right now, the plumb line is money, power, or influence. For too many, it does not seem to be about loving our neighbor, especially if that neighbor is somehow different from us, is facing tough times, or has fallen among thieves.

Isaiah tells us about God’s plumb line. “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line”. Elsewhere, righteousness is spoken about in terms of concern for the poor, the widowed, and children. How are we doing at making righteousness and justice our plumb lines?

Last week, Bob encouraged us to think about what’ve done, what we’re doing, and what we should be doing going forward. We’ve done a lot of great things: Abraham’s Tent, Dinner for a Dollar, Girls Friendly Society, Vacation Bible School, Arden House, Faith Study Group, and the Older and Wiser group Are just a few examples.

These have all furthered righteousness and justice, but have we been intentional about righteousness and justice? Are there ways in which we are unintentionally thwarting righteousness or justice? Are their people who have fallen among thieves around us that we are not noticing?

As a final thought: Recently, I saw a post online in which a family is leaving church after the service and the husband is saying, “That was a great sermon on sin, I felt like the pastor was speaking directly to the man two pews in front of us.”

I hope there aren’t similar reactions to this sermon. I would like each one of us to think about our plumb lines. What is it that centers us, that drives our every action? How can we align this more closely with God’s plumb line of justice and righteousness? How can this inform our discussions going forward on what we ought to be doing as a worshipping and serving community? As we think about how we should love our neighbors, remember the words of Jesus, “Go and do likewise.”

O Lord, mercifully receive our prayers and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do and have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Personal Reflections CDSP Summer Intensive 2019 - Early Sunday Morning

It has been a very long winter and spring. I’ve done almost no personal writing since the beginning of the year. It’s been over three months since I posted here and even longer since I wrote any poetry or an ember letter. Today, however, I am on the west coast, but still on east coast time. So, I’ve gotten up early, started updating stuff online, spoke with my eldest daughter and now I am taking a moment to write.

Today is Father’s Day. I had a good chat with my eldest. However, the day is about to start, and we’ll see if I get a chance to connect with other family members. In the Episcopal Church, June 16 we celebrate the life of George Berkeley. I am celebrating by being in Berkeley, CA. Last night, I had dinner with some of my classmates. At times, I would sit and just soak it in. This is one of my happy places, surrounded by some of the people I love most in this life, talking about things that bring me great joy.

Soon, I will shower and prepare for the day; church with friends, finding some time to read, maybe even catching up on my sleep which has been thrown off by my travels. Life is good.

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