Marriage on My Mind

My son, John, marries his beloved Sarah tomorrow at Christ Church Savannah, so marriage is on my heart and mind this day (as well as the last minute details of hosting 50 people for a rehearsal dinner in our backyard!). Marriage, of course, has been much debated in the headlines over the last few years. Our Supreme Court even weighed in on it last summer. However important that debate may be, I’m more drawn today to what marriage is because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if John and Sarah will ever read this, but if they do, then this is what I hope they take to heart.

First, marriage is a covenant between two people who equally submit themselves to God and to each another. The couple isn’t “married” by a priest. It always amused me when a couple said to me years later: “You married us, remember?” Apart from my faulty memory (getting faultier all the time), I was tempted to say: “No I didn’t, plural marriage is against the law, besides I was already married at the time!” A priest of the Church doesn’t “marry” a couple. They marry each other and the Church (represented by those gathered on that day) witnesses their marriage and the priest declares God’s blessing over the vows made by the couple. That being said, the Church, again represented by those gathered, also makes a vow when responding positively to the question: “Will you do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?” So, while marriage is a covenant between two people that the Church witnesses and a priest blesses, the Church has a stake and role in every marriage. No Christian marriage can be faithful or fruitful without the prayers and support of the Church.

Second, marriage is a missionary vocation and partnership, otherwise it becomes little more than an exercise in mutual gratification and familial selfishness. To echo The Blues Brothers, a married couple is “on a mission from God.” One of the prayers said over the couple after they’ve taken their vows is this: “Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.” Christ’s love poured out graciously on the cross declares that being in communion with each other is more godly than being estranged from one another; that forgiveness is God’s natural response to the guilt of our sins; and, that joy is God’s final word to us bringing our despair to an end. When marriage is understood through the lens of Christ’s work on the cross, it’ll then be seen in a context beyond what it does for the couple alone. Thus, marriage isn’t meant to be lived selfishly to benefit the couple alone. It’s intended by God as a vocation, though imperfectly lived, to the world that points us toward the very nature of God in Christ.

Lastly, the love shared by a married couple is never pure and complete. It is, after all, shared by two sinful human beings who’ll at times behave in petty and vindictive ways. Still, in marriage we’re blessed to get a glimpse in the other of the grace of Jesus. As we are on the receiving end of such grace, we experience conversion of life. In other, more personal words, I’m a better, more faithful person because Kelly has shown me grace. While marriage isn’t necessary for such grace to be imputed, it’s one way God uses our humanity to offer his reconciling love to sinful and broken human beings like us.

+Scott

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Living Gracefully (eCrozier #305)

No account of the Christian Gospel is intelligible without the grace bestowed upon us in the Cross. God’s pre-emptive act in Jesus to redeem humanity on the cross means that everything else must be seen and understood through that cosmic intervention into human history. And that, of course, means God’s intervention of grace must shape how we behave in the Church. It makes no sense to model our behavior on Utilitarianism, Meritocracy, or Social Darwinism each of which at one time or another seems to be the ruling paradigm in western culture. If grace is true and it’s what God’s up to in the world, then we can’t proclaim it as God’s very nature and not practice it in how we live.

Although I’m by no means a Calvinist, I’m alert to my own life and to the world around me. Thus, certain aspects of Calvinism’s TULIP Doctrine make a whole lot of sense to me (especially the Big T, “total depravity” part). I recognize such depraved tendencies in myself, and to be “fair and balanced,” I see it in others as well. Sin is everywhere and all the time. No part of me and no part of the world goes unaffected by it. As the Office of Morning Prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer states: “There is no health in us.” Well, maybe there’s some health? Maybe that overstates the human condition a bit? There’s “health” in me. My intentions are good most of the time. I’m able to do good. I can be kind, compassionate, and just. But I also know that even my best intentions can become an avenue for my sin.

Still, I understand the biblical witness to one of God’s irresistible grace, mostly. That doesn’t mean we don’t resist it. We do, sin being what sin is. But God has the last word on humanity’s fate. God has not and will not leave us to our own devices. Grace intercedes in our path to personal and communal destruction and snatches us from the jaws of death. And this is not only for the “sweet by and by.” There’s plenty of living death right now when we live gracelessly.

But when we do live gracefully, we do so because we know how the drama of the human story ends: with the New Jerusalem of John’s Revelation coming to earth. And, as we say in the Lord’s Prayer, God’s kingdom will come one day on this earth “as it (already) is in heaven.” God’s grace in Jesus makes this possible. The human family, who has seemingly bought a one-way ticket to death and destruction, gets its destiny rerouted by God’s intervention on the cross. So, our human trajectory changes from death to life. This is God’s last word to humanity.

God’s grace made manifest in the cross of Jesus then shouldn’t be seen as God meeting us anything less than all the way. It’s not as if God reaches half of the way to us and then waits patiently for us to come to our senses and then we reach the other half of the way. Our good works, our insight, our cleverness, or our efforts at living justly don’t make up the other half so we can meet God somewhere in the middle, that is, God does God’s part and we do the rest. God through Jesus steps into the sin of our lives and brings us out all the way. We do not help one bit. Once that sinks home, we begin to take the first steps to living gracefully.

+Scott

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John Keble, priest, poet, and a leader of the Oxford Movement in 19th Century England, referenced what he called “the trivial round, the common task.” It is in these things, Keble asserted, where the opportunity exists “to bring us daily nearer God.” It’s in the daily and weekly “round” of our lives of work, family, and friends that we have the occasion to nourish ourselves while also learning to give spiritual food to other souls. But if we’re not regularly “feeding” our own souls, then we can hardly offer “food” to other souls. That’s why the Daily Office has been absolutely crucial to my own soul. Hearing daily the witness of Scripture, and praying the canticles and the prayers of the Church feeds my soul. I know this. I have regularly experienced it for over 30 years.

And yet I’m the worst at it. It hardly comes naturally to me. On most days I have to force myself to do it. There’s always a distraction that presents itself that’ll seem at that moment more enticing. It may be a story I’m listening to on NPR, or an email in my inbox that I feel I must respond to now (“It can’t wait!”), or something funny one of the dogs is doing at the time (which consistently happens). Sin being what sin is though, I’m easily distracted. I’m like the dog in the animated movie Up that’s always having his attention drawn away by the potential of a passing squirrel.

That’s why I have to resist the temptation to turn on the radio, fire up the computer, check my smartphone, or engage with the dogs before I say the prayers of the Church found in the Daily Office. I know what’s good for me. I know what feeds my soul. I know the grounding, insight, and connectedness I receive from the Scriptures and the prayers of the Church and yet, one small distraction can send me down the proverbial rabbit hole, “wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24a)

What I practice then is akin to the words of Alcoholics Anonymous: “One day at a time.” Just as the recovering alcoholic promises that only for the coming day he/she will seek sobriety, I have to say to myself each morning, “today I’m going to pray the office first before I do anything else.” I’d like to think I’d have the personal fortitude and backbone for making that promise for a life time, but I know myself too well. I don’t have that strength of character.

I struggle with what we all struggle with. Our culture engenders in us an ethos that seeks the non-trivial and the uncommon, it dangles in front of us the lure that if we were just somewhere else, someone else, or had something more, then we’d be closer to God; that if we just had this possession or that ability, then our life would be better; that if our spouses, or friends, or co-workers, were just a bit different than they are, maybe a little nicer, maybe more like us, maybe more attentive to us, then our lives would be just fine and dandy. This cultural ethos serves as our very own Uncle Screwtape, as C. S. Lewis wrote, tempting us not to see ourselves truthfully and in the light of God’s saving grace.

Only by seeing our lives through the lens of God’s grace will we be able to laugh at old Uncle Screwtape and then sit down and say our prayers each day. One day at a time.
+Scott

 

What’s become of my people (eCrozier #303)

During my sabbatical this summer I had a chance to return to my hillbilly roots in Portsmouth, Ohio where I grew up. I’m technically only half-hillbilly, being from a family of Scots-Irish Baptists from Kentucky on one side and backslidden German Roman Catholics from southern Ohio on the other. And since my German Roman Catholic side was working-class, they identified with the hillbillies in my family. This summer, I also read J.D. Vance’s new book, Hillbilly Elegy, which I highly recommend. It’s about my people who migrated from Kentucky to southern Ohio to look for work.

My Kentucky forebears found good-paying factory jobs at places like Detroit Steel in Portsmouth and Fisher Body in Cincinnati. Most of those jobs are gone now. Those like my father who “got out,” finishing high school and college, had a different life. He was the only one among his brothers and cousins to finish high school let alone get a college degree. People really don’t understand how truly tough it is for these folks now that the good-paying jobs are gone and they don’t have an education. Opioid addiction and (death from it) is increasing. In Portsmouth, deaths from drug addiction now outpace deaths from all other causes except old age. As I walked through the streets of downtown Portsmouth, which bustled in the 1960s, I saw many vacant storefronts. All that is there now are pawn shops, pay-day lenders, and cash-for-gold stores. There are good people there trying to turn things around, but the deck is stacked against them.

For the last 36 years, both political parties have basically proposed nothing to address the needs of the people with whom I grew up. Democrats sneer that these folks vote against their own economic self-interest due to social issues and Republicans have continually proposed policies of tax cuts benefiting the rich and deregulation and free trade that primarily help the business class. These policies have done nothing to help address the deep, real crisis in southern Ohio’s working class people. That’s why Trump’s candidacy is resonating with them. When he rails against corporations for shipping jobs overseas and promises to build a wall to keep out competitors for working class jobs, his rhetoric is like a sweet, siren song to them. The fact that both parties would never support either of those two things isn’t lost on my people. They know that both parties take their cues from big business. They’re just glad someone is “sticking it to the man,” even though the “man” who’s doing the “sticking” is a narcissistic blowhard who’s as culpable as anyone else in the business world and proud of it (“You’re fired!”.)

Yes, “my people” are given to racism and xenophobia. I’m not trying to make them out to be totally virtuous. But they’re hard-working and they just want a chance to have a decent life for their families. I know the issues of globalization and rapid economic change are complex. I don’t know exactly what the answers are. But I do know that both political parties have left my people out. Despite their words, neither party has a track record that proves they care about the plight of these folks. Of course, the Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures had much to say about the ethical misdeeds of the rich and powerful who seek only to benefit themselves while neglecting the poor (Amos 8:4-6.) My heart breaks seeing what has become of the people and the place where I grew up.

+Scott

 

Sabbatical (eCrozier #302)

The eCrozier is going on sabbatical with me for the next 3 months. I may send the eCrozier on a world tour, but I’m not going along. This sabbatical is not a three-month long vacation (although Kelly and I have a week in Nova Scotia planned). I’m not “vacating.”  I’m taking a sabbath rest from my episcopate. This will be a 3-month holy day (holiday) for me so that I may rest from my duties and responsibilities.

A sabbatical is counter-cultural in a world where over-functioning is rewarded and keeping up a frenetic pace is seen as a sign of one’s importance and self-worth. It shouldn’t be counter-cultural in the church, but so often it’s seen that way. Some feel they need to justify a sabbatical by making statements like: “I’ll come back from my sabbatical rested and renewed, so then I’ll be able to over-function even more!” Or, “I’ll spend my time on sabbatical solving all the problems of the church, so when I come back, we’ll implement my master plan and it’ll be huge, I tell you, huge!”

I will be engaging in neither scenario when I return. As Parker Palmer wrote: “By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.” I’m neither doubting nor depressed, but I do need this time away for my self-stewardship and for the care of my aging parents. It will be a privilege for me to be with them in this season of their lives.

Part of what I hope my sabbatical will do is break me from some of my own expectations around productivity. Like some, I don’t feel I’m worth much if I don’t accomplish something. So, I’m going to read some books for fun. On some days, I won’t set my alarm clock. I’ll sleep in if the dogs let me. I’m going to write some things I’ve been wanting to write for some time. I may just wonder around the back yard. Who knows? I’m not going to answer emails regularly. The world in which I inhabit, particularly the world of the Diocese of Georgia, can survive if I step away for three months and aren’t around to run things. I don’t need to watch God’s flank (self-importance is such a horrible sin). God got along quite well before I arrived.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the vocation to which God has called me. I’m thankful for the privilege God and the people of this Diocese have given me for the last 6 ½ years. Spiritually, I can sing with the Reverend James Cleveland, that “I don’t feel no ways tired.” But, truthfully, I’m a bit worn down physically and emotionally by the demands of being a bishop. The sabbatical will give me the time and space to get back in shape, so when I return my body and emotions will be hopefully as enlivened as my spirit.

So, see you in late August. By the way, “Save the Date!” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be with us in 16 months on September 24, 2017. It’s early and we’re still working on the details, but right now just picture a large tent on a late Sunday afternoon and some good, old-fashioned revival preaching.

+Scott

 

When I was a young curate in Indianapolis in the early 1980s, a parishioner of mine was also a leading pediatrician at the Indiana Children’s Hospital. As I got to know him and his work, I was confronted by some significant things I hadn’t known before; things that had never occurred to me; that were out of my own experience or even my own imagination. In other words, I was just plain ignorant about some things even though I assumed at the time that I was well educated and knew just about everything there was worth knowing (ah youth!).

This pediatrician headed a panel of other doctors and medical professionals who had the awesome responsibility for discerning which gender to assign to babies brought to the Children’s Hospital. More often than probably anyone thinks, children are born with mixed genitalia, or confused genitalia, or none at all. My parishioner and his team had to weigh all the data they had in front of them and do their best through medical procedures and other measures to assign a gender to these babies. They were greatly committed to their work because they knew they were making decisions that would affect these children for the rest of their lives. Sometimes they got it right and sometimes they didn’t. And they often wouldn’t know whether or not they got it right until long after the children grew up.

Science and medicine have come a long way in the last 30 years or so, but much about human sexuality and gender identity is still unknown to us. It seems odd to many of us that someone who has the apparent biology of one gender might experience life inside their soul as the other gender. What seems even odder to me is that some other people would think that people who have this gender dilemma are doing it just for fun, or to be different, or just to flagrantly express themselves. No one would wish to bring such a dilemma on themselves knowing the external pressure and possible social ridicule they could face. The pull of gender identity in each of us is strong. Most often it’s clear and unambiguous, but sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s messy and confusing, like life itself sometimes is for all of us.

I’m certainly no expert on biology or medical science, but I’ve spent a life time reflecting theologically on the world around me using the teachings of Jesus and his Cross as my foundation. Often my reflection has led me to the completely obvious spiritual insight that life’s messy and not always as clear as we’d like. As St Paul says: “we see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). And Jesus, no matter with whom he interacted: the rich young man, the woman caught in adultery, the woman who washed his feet with her tears, Jairus, Simon Peter, or even Judas Iscariot – Jesus always showed mercy. And he called his followers to show mercy as well, because, well, life’s messy.

I don’t know the answers to the questions that human sexuality and gender identity pose. I do know that “Restroom Laws” try to solve a problem that does not really exist. And I do know this as well: when Jesus was faced with the messiness of this world, he responded to it with such grace that not even the grave could contain him.

+Scott

 

No one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. – James 3:8

The Latin term ad hominem is used to describe a person who attacks another person when he/she is making a claim rather than address the actual point the other person is making. This is usually done when a person has no substantive way of responding to the other’s point. “You’re stupid for saying that” is a common ad hominem refrain where we attack the person’s intelligence rather than what they’re actually saying. We do this to put the other person on the defensive and deflect attention away from the point he/she is making. This is akin to a magician who doesn’t want us to see how he’s doing a particular trick. He waves a hand high above his head ostentatiously so we’ll look at that hand and not see the other hand that’s doing the trick. It’s deception, but in the magician’s case, it’s done only for our entertainment.  

Blessed James has a very low view of human nature and our ability to keep our words from spewing forth “deadly poison.” He concludes that “no one can tame the tongue.” If we’re at all self-reflective and honest, we must admit we’ve all failed to tame our tongues at one time or another. It’s not pretty when it happens. When I look back at the times my tongue was “a restless evil,” it was usually when I was feeling inadequate compared to the other people around me or in some way excluded by them. In a childish, mean-spirited way, I thought I could build myself up by tearing others down. If I could humiliate them with words, then maybe no one would notice my own failings.

Unlike some who argue we’ve entered a coarser, meaner public square in recent times, it seems to me that such coarseness and meanness has always been a part of our currency of communication in the human family. We just hear and see it more often than we used to because we’re so connected through all manner of media. I do agree with those who make such claims that these attacks have gradually become less and less shameful in our culture. And maybe that’s because of how often we now experience them. The “deadly poison” of ad hominem attacks we now regularly witness just drips, drips, drips into our waiting souls and we eventually become inured to them. We may even come to believe that those on the receiving end of such attacks probably have it coming to them.

Enter Donald Trump, who like me when I’ve behaved childishly, thinks he can build himself up by tearing others down. He tries to humiliate other people with the “restless evil” of his tongue so maybe no one will notice his own inadequacy. He called former Texas Governor Rick Perry a “dimwit.” He made fun of Carly Fiorina’s face. He said Senator and former POW John McCain was no war hero. He implied a reporter, Megyn Kelly, was menstruating because she had asked him a difficult question he didn’t want to answer. This is the deceptive behavior of a mean-spirited magician. Like I said, we’ve all engaged in such shameful conduct in our lives, but most of us recognized it for what it was, sought repentance, and then a more gracious path forward. Not Donald Trump. He just continues. I pray we see this magician’s act for what it is and that the “better angels of our nature” not find it the least bit entertaining.

+Scott

 

Our sins are stronger than we are – Psalm 65:3 (Book of Common Prayer)

For much of Church history, the Psalmist’s conclusion wasn’t questioned. It was simply true: “Our sins are stronger than we are.” We used to believe that left to our own devices, and sin being what sin is, we’d often drag ourselves, and those around us, “down to the pit,” as the Psalmist elsewhere puts it. But we’ve nearly lost the capacity to speak in these terms and thus we’ve no way of conceptualizing the ways that our sins drive our neighbors “down to the pit.” I believe there’s a connecting thread between our lost capacity for the vocabulary of sin and the growing poverty rate in our country.

Many people today are drowning in poverty. There are 46.2 million of us living below the poverty line, the highest number in the 52 years. Poverty has also engulfed 16.4 million children. That’s 22 percent of all children in the U.S., the highest numbers since 1962, and the highest percentage since 1993. The number of us in deep poverty (defined as less than half of the poverty line, or about $11,000) now stands at 20.5 million, or about 6.7 percent of the population, up from 4.5 percent in 2000.

Our Christian faith gives us the language to talk truthfully about this, but, as I wrote above, we’ve nearly lost the capacity to do so. That doesn’t mean that sin has totally left the Church’s vocabulary. It merely means that part of our sin is that we have blind spots about our sin. Those who still use the language of sin and believe it’s a powerful force in human life (a “high” doctrine of sin) tend to view sin as limited to one’s personal violations of God’s will. And those who are uncomfortable both with the notion of sin and its vocabulary (a “low” doctrine of sin), they’re left with feeble language when it comes to addressing the devastating reality of poverty. So, they use terms like “unfairness,” “inequality,” or “injustice” Those terms imply that with a tweak here and a vote there we can fix poverty, but those concepts lack a motivational robustness because they don’t necessarily point us toward being out of right relationship with God.

The number of us suffering poverty is increasing because we haven’t been able to call poverty what it truly is: a profound sin against God and our neighbor. If we recapture a “high” doctrine of sin (which I believe the Bible bears out), then we’d recognize our guilt in what we’ve done and be motivated to amend our lives collectively. We’d demand far more governmental intervention into the economic marketplace in terms of job creation, affordable housing, and food support. Sinners that we are, something needs to slow down our greed and avarice, which leads to a disregard for our neighbor’s plight. We’d also demand more from our religious and civic organizations; that they’d also be engines of affordable housing and hunger alleviation. But if we don’t believe that our sin is real and a prime cause of poverty, if we continue to confine sin to a narrow slice of human behavior or disregard its profound reality altogether, then nothing will change. It’s time to admit “our sins are stronger than we are” and then put in place serious structures that will mitigate how our sin devastates poor people. We’re allowing poverty because we have a poverty of language about sin.

+Scott

 

Francis & Justin (eCrozier #297)

In an eCrozier in November of 2013, I wrote that Francis had become the first “Anglican Pope.” Today, I’m even more convinced that’s the case. I wrote then: “this Pope is a man who has a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. His strong faith gives him the freedom to be gracious and compassionate and to approach life with humility, openness, and curiosity. Maybe that’s why he’s so confounding to so many people, both in the Roman Church and outside it.”

In his recently published document called Amoris Laetitia, or “The Joy of Love,” he didn’t issue any new doctrine. He, however, insisted that his clergy focus on the pastoral care of their flock, rather than on the judging of them. Each Roman Catholic, he contends, should listen to their individual consciences while also keeping in mind the Church’s dogma. This doesn’t mean Francis is throwing out Roman Catholic dogma. Rather, he seems to be saying that an individual’s conscience matters and if a person deep in her/his heart discerns something to be God’s will for her/his life, then that may well be the truth she/he must follow. He’s creating some “wiggle room” between the experience of the individual and the official teaching of the Church.  

We Anglicans live in that “wiggle room,” not because we’re “soft on sin” or because we don’t believe Jesus or the Mosaic Law taught us moral behavior, but because we know that life is usually messy, that we don’t always make the right choices (not a news flash), and that such “wiggle room” is where we often experience the powerful thrust of God’s grace in our lives. Pope Francis calls upon his flock, and particularly his clergy, to “examine the actual situation of families, in order to keep firmly grounded in reality.” Whenever we put rules above people’s lives, then we tend to get hard-hearted, caring more about the rules than the people who are called to keep them. Yes, Francis acknowledges that Jesus set forth a demanding ideal for his disciples, but in doing so Jesus “never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals.”

And then we have Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently received news that the man he thought was his biological father, Gavin Welby, actually wasn’t. Instead the Archbishop learned that it was Sir Anthony Montague Browne who for many years was the private secretary to Winston Churchill. In explaining what happened, the Archbishop’s mother wrote that right before her wedding to Gavin Welby, she was “fuelled by a large amount of alcohol” and “went to bed with Anthony Montague Browne.” Such news could’ve become the brunt of tabloid snickering, but the Archbishop addressed this news with grace and compassion toward his mother recognizing that she was an alcoholic at the time and suffered from its addiction. He wrote that he and his wife have faced much harder news in their lives (they had baby daughter who was killed years ago in a car accident). He ended by saying: “I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes.”

Two remarkable disciples of Jesus modeling for us how to follow our Lord with grace and compassion for others (and also for themselves).

+Scott

 

Losing (our bad) Religion (eCrozier #296)

David Dark’s new book, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, is brilliant. Dark’s other books are equally so (The Gospel According to America, Everyday Apocalypse, and The Sacredness of Questioning Everything). In this book, Dark delves into our religiosity, particularly those who claim they have no religion or who call themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” He doesn’t quote the 20th Century theologian, Paul Tillich, who wrote that our God is whatever our “ultimate concern” is, Dark actually goes deeper and wider than Tillich. Rather than “ultimate concern,” Dark writes of religion as our “controlling story.” What are the narrative strains that have been woven together by our experience to bring us to certain conclusions about life’s meaning and purpose? So, religion for Dark is more than a fixed point of “ultimate concern,” it’s the sum of our life-long experience, our “controlling stories,” that shape how we then make sense of life’s meaning and purpose.

Dark is quite gentle with people’s “controlling stories” who claim that their religion is Jedi from Star Wars or St John Coltrane, the Jazz genius who composed “A Love Supreme” (there’s actually a church who worships around that famous piece of music). It’s easy for us who have more traditional religious convictions and practices to snicker at such devotions dismissing them as bad religion. Dark doesn’t go there. While his own faith is solidly Christian, he recognizes clearly how we form convictions based on our “controlling stories.” Instead of taking cheap shots at other people’s religion, he’s more interested in helping us see more clearly about our own, whether we acknowledge we’re religious or not. He holds up a mirror where we can judge for ourselves whether or not our particular emperor is wearing any clothes. As I read Dark’s book, I recalled sociologist, Peter Berger, and his concept of plausibility structures. Religion serves as a plausibility structure for us. It helps us make the world intelligible.

So how’s your religion doing these days? Is it working for you? Or, are certain parts of its foundation cracking or crumbling? That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It may be that our our particular understanding or practice of our religion no longer is sense-making for us. It may be we’re dealing with the problem of suffering for the first time (at least it’s hitting us now) and our “controlling story” no longer works. Or, maybe our religion has been Manichaean, full of judgment for the “other” and our “controlling story” now has cracks in the foundation where mercy and forgiveness have seeped in. These shake the foundation of our “controlling story” in a good way, if we’re willing to pay attention.

Now, there is bad religion out there (and Dark I think would agree). Religion that denies reality rather than embraces it, that scapegoats others rather than holds us responsible for our lives, that promises only the good in life while not accounting for the bad. These are all elements of bad religion yet people have woven them into their lives and they’ve become part of their “controlling story.” I know I’m biased, but only Christianity calls us to embrace reality, not scapegoat others, sees us clearly for the mix of good and bad we all are, and accounts for all of that. Other religions do some of those, but not all of them. For me, Jesus and his cross is the only intelligible story that’s sense-making.

+Scott