26 May 2017

feasting with Philip



There was a fellow who lived in Italy during the 1500s who had a reputation of being both humble and of having a lively sense of humor.  We know him as St. Philip Neri, and his feast day happens to be today.

There are a number of stories that circulate about him.  For instance, there was a priest who gave an eloquent sermon, and then congratulated himself for it.  In response, Philip told him to preach six more times.  (He must have been impressed!  That would add up to God’s perfect number seven!)  There was a catch, though: he had to preach the same sermon all six times.  That way, people would think it was the only one he had!  (That Philip could be a real stinker.)

The greater his reputation for piety, the more ridiculous Philip wanted to appear.  When some people came from Poland to visit the great saint, they found him laughing as another priest was reading jokes to him.  No word on what kind of jokes they were!

I (and others far wiser than I) have felt that holiness and humor go hand in hand.  With holiness in mind, here’s a prayer of St. Philip Neri:
“Lord, beware of this Philip or he will betray you!  Lay your hand upon my head, for without you there is not a sin I may not commit this day.”

I have sometimes made that my prayer.  Lord, beware of this James or he will betray you!  Lay your hand upon my head, for without you there is not a sin I may not commit this day.  I wish it weren’t so, but without God’s grace, I’m afraid that it’s true.

Okay, somebody tell a joke!

21 May 2017

more than 13 reasons



The theme for Youth Sunday at our church was “13 Reasons Why Not.”  I’m not sure how many of them had seen the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.  (For those who don’t already know, it’s about Hannah, a high school student, who kills herself and records 13 reasons why she did it.)  Most of our youth are in middle school and high school, so the serious nature of the issues on the show is probably stuff they’ve encountered—if not in person, but possibly the friend of a friend of a friend.  I recently stopped by the room where they were discussing their plans and said I like the show—and please, for those who’ve seen all the episodes, no spoilers!  I still had one more episode to go.

You’ve no doubt heard reviews, both good and bad, about its content and how graphically it portrays bullying, depression, rape, “slut-shaming,” and of course, suicide.  Some have said that it glorifies suicide.  I found the exact opposite to be true.  13 Reasons Why is such a brutally ironic title.

Nic Scheff, author of episode 6, “Tape 3, Side B,” in which Hannah’s Valentine’s Day is horribly ruined by a groping Marcus, addresses the critics.  In a Vanity Fair article, he speaks of the unflinching way the show depicts suicide.  A former meth user who attempted suicide, he speaks as one who has his own story of depression and the desire to end it all.  He acknowledges the ever-present realities that young people face, but he also reflects on how timely the show is.  “I saw the opportunity to explore issues of cyberbullying, sexual assault, depression, and what it means to live in a country where women are devalued to the extent that a man who brags about sexually assaulting them can still be elected president.”

It doesn’t look like Scheff would soft-pedal suicide.  He notes, “For me, I’d lost everything.  I couldn’t stay sober; I’d destroyed my life and nearly destroyed my family—and there seemed no possibility of anything ever getting any better.  They say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but the problem really didn’t seem all that temporary.  In fact, it seemed f*cking eternal.”

Clay (along with Hannah, of course) is the focal point of the show, which constantly transitions from the present to the past.  In the present (post-suicide), he crashes while riding his bike and cuts his head on some branches.  Just as it’s beginning to heal, Clay gets into a fight with Bryce, the guy who raped Hannah.  He bears his wounds, clearly a commentary at several levels.


Mixed in with all of that gloom and doom, there are some truly joyous moments.  I love Tony, with his love of 80s music and his Walkman, which requires the archaic information storage devices known as cassettes!  He and his dad keep his ’68 Mustang in peak condition.

And though she has a small role in the show, I really like Skye.  Once upon a time, she had a crush on Clay (and still does, but Clay seems oblivious to it).  She went from being “normal” to having piercings and tattoos—which is kind of normal, except in their high school, it still seems to be an act of defiance.


Right now, 13 Reasons Why is on the cutting edge.  (I’m sorry; I didn’t mean for that to be a dreadful pun.)  The creators of the show hope it leads to conversations which are ever more honest.  Surely there are more than 13 reasons for that.

22 April 2017

spirit in the machine



We are early in the Easter season.  Easter is the high point of the church calendar.  We celebrate the resurrection of the Lord.  Still, every Sunday, every Lord’s Day, is a “little Easter.”  Today is Earth Day, in which our attention is refocused on the wonderful, precious blue ball that is our home.  (As if once a year is sufficient for that!)

Combining those themes, what does resurrection mean for the Earth?  We’re told in the New Testament that the risen Christ could seemingly pass through walls (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-23).  The risen Christ could pass through matter, such as the Earth itself?  In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read that God “has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (1:22-23).  And, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).  Am I going too far to suggest that according to this, the risen, ascended Christ is about more than theological and poetic language?

Perhaps I’m going into the realm of fanciful speculation, but isn’t it possible that resurrection can be seen, not as some body floating up into the sky and winding up who knows where, but as inhabiting creation right here among us?  I’ve heard scientific theories of there being up to eleven dimensions.  (I can’t wrap my head around that.)  We know that we three dimensional beings would seem to have godlike, spirit-like powers to a theorized two dimensional being.  The example commonly given is our ability to point to anywhere on a 2D world, like the top of a sheet of paper.  A 2D observer couldn’t comprehend how their world is being impacted.  It would seem like a god or a spirit is doing stuff!

What about additional dimensions?  Could that in part explain how the resurrected Christ was able to pass through 3D walls as if nothing were there?  Maybe it explains spirits (if you believe such creatures exist).

Well, there are some thoughts to ponder on this combination of Easter and Earth Day.  (Or not!)