One of my favorite series of books right now is the Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone, in which he has built an intriguing world around the insight that, at some level, religion is transactional. From this perspective, humans praise and worship gods, offer them sacrifices, and donate their time and wealth to the gods’ institutions, all of which increase the gods’ power and influence; the gods in turn use their power to bless their worshipers, offering tangible and intangible benefits both generally and to specific worshipers (in response to prayers or other petitions). With this insight, Gladstone then builds a world in which humans have identified and quantified the soulstuff that serves as the means of religious transactions, which in turn allows for the union of the religious economy and the purely human monetary economy.
The books take place in the aftermath of the God Wars, cataclysmic battles between the old regional divinities and Craftsmen and Craftswomen, humans who, having attained the power of gods through their study and accumulation of soulstuff, sought to replace divine authority with human power. Most of the surviving gods are in hiding or bound to humankind and the human economy by contracts far more quantified and detailed than the old covenants between gods and their worshipers. The post-war world is ruled by Craftsmen and Craftswomen who are simultaneously wizards and lawyers of the most careful sort.
The five novels of the Craft Sequence are thus an unusual but compelling mix of urban fantasy and legal thriller. In Three Parts Dead, the first published, a junior Craftswoman and a grieving acolyte team up to investigate the death of a god whose demise was engineered through manipulation of his contractual obligations. Another, Full Fathom Five, deals with strange happenings on an island where new idols with no native worshipers are used like offshore bank accounts.
Beyond being thoroughly enjoyable reads (where else are you going to find an amusing and plausible answer to the question of what happens when a caffeine addict is turned into a vampire?*), Gladstone’s novels are particularly thought-provoking for us as Christians. They force us to confront the possibility that we are treating religion as transactional rather than relational. Do I pray in the hope that God will do something for me or because I hope to deepen my relationship with God? Am I giving of my resources to help ‘the least of these’ in an attempt to love them as Jesus loves me, or to “score points for the afterlife” (as Weird Al phrased it in “Amish Paradise”)? Do I think of storing up treasure in heaven as the less tangible equivalent of saving money for retirement? And how might we be misunderstanding God if we treat worship in this way?
In a particularly resonant scene from Four Roads Cross, the leaders of a church confront this issue. Kos’ beloved consort Seril (the moon goddess to his sun god, as it were) was thought killed in the God Wars but has recently emerged from hiding, alive but greatly weakened. Kos has been covertly strengthening her with gifts of his soulstuff, but the human concerns to which he is contractually obligated have noticed something amiss and are threatening Craft action that will essentially lobotomize Kos if he doesn’t desist. During deliberations, Kos’ cardinals invite the novice who communicates directly with Kos to testify as to why he advised the god to continue aiding Seril despite the possible consequences. He says:
Last night, he led me to understand himself: Lord Kos loves, and he must fight to defend those he loves. He would not be himself if he let Seril fall, any more than I would be myself if I abandoned my friends, or my church. To turn from that truth is to turn from him – to deny our living god and satisfy ourselves with the worship of his dead image, of a picture on a wall that does not change or ask us to change. We must accept that he needs her, that he was less in her absence. You say I have endangered our god. I say I have grown to know him, and the greater danger lies in deafening ourselves to his purpose, in abandoning his truth for a version of him that may seem comfortable. Faith is a state of constant examination and openness. In faith we must be vulnerable. Only in this seeming weakness do we live with god.
We run a similar risk: it is too easy for us to follow a dead image of the divine that demands church attendance, tithes, or certain behaviors in exchange for wealth, health, and power. But the nature of our living God is to love, to give love freely in the hope that we will be similarly free in loving one another; the economy of divine love operates very differently from the monetary economy. That creates potentially scary uncertainty: there’s no price sheet telling us that a certain gift to the church will result in us getting a raise, handing this many sandwiches to the poor will bring victory to our football team, or saying so many Our Fathers will shave a year off our time in heaven’s waiting room. We can do everything right and still suffer bad things.
In that vulnerability and uncertainty, we must treat God as something more than an ATM which cannot help us if our account is empty. We cannot act as though Gladstone’s insight is true for us, that our religion is transactional, if we hope to deepen our faith during our journey through life. It is only in relating to God as a friend rather than a store clerk that we truly grow to know God.
*According to Four Roads Cross, it isn’t pleasant. Unlike those addicted to recreational drugs, who can drink the blood of human users to get their fix, coffee-loving vampires have to put up with the headaches and muscle cramps because “by the time I wake up, most of you have metabolized your caffeine.”
The Rev. John Adams
Prayer is one of the most important things a Christian can do. It must come from the heart, and doesn’t have to be something difficult or complicated. It can be done anywhere at any time. The Episcopal Church Women at St. Francis Church in Scottsbluff do all we can to make our church community one full of prayer.
Pati McLellan heads up a prayer chain of women and clergy who pray for anyone whose name is called in whether it’s an emergency or on our weekly prayer list. She includes suggested prayers in her emails to us. We are also kept updated on loved one’s progress, if it is available for sharing.
Our Courtesy Committee (responsibility changes monthly) sends Birthday, Anniversary, Sympathy, and Get Well cards to our older members and the children. Our clergy encourages all to come forward during services and have their special day remembered by the congregation and a sharing of blessings with praise and prayer.
We also have a Prayer Discipleship Group that has been meeting weekly for approximately three years led by Father Mark, as we study and use prayer in our lives. Our prayers don’t change God, as some people think, but praying changes us. When we spend time with God, he changes our hearts to be more like His. We no longer live a self-centered lifestyle, but one that is focused on others.
Upon the recommendation of Canon Liz Easton, and a representative of the Tamar Project in Omaha, we began a Ministry with the Doves Center here in the valley. With the leadership of Sue Selvey, we assemble bags of personal supplies and prayer letters of encouragement to women leaving abusive situations. Upon request from DOVES, we have expanded our ministry to cover the Doves Centers in Sidney and Chadron besides here in Scottsbluff County.
The picture here shows another small group of our ECW members who have recently completed 18 lap blankets (with a lot of prayers) for those in area nursing homes. Prayer is a powerful force in not only the lives we pray for, but also for those who pray.
St. Francis, Scottsbluff ECW
On June 3, at the Willa Cather Spring Conference in Red Cloud, a Eucharist was celebrated with Fr. Randy Goeke-Celebrant, Dr. Steve Shively-Lector and Chalice Bearer, Fr. Chuck Peek-Preacher, and Rev. Ruth Eller-Gospeller. This was the anniversary of Ruth’s ordination to the Diaconate. Her father was ordained a Priest in this Diocese nearly 60 years ago. The Eucharist was attended by 65 participants from the conference on the occasion of the dedication of the National Willa Cather Center. Cather was Confirmed by Bishop Beecher at Grace Church.
Former first lady Laura Bush came to Willa Cather’s hometown Saturday and officially opened a $7 million center meant to re-ignite fascination in the famed novelist and the tiny Nebraska town where she set her most famous books.
See this Omaha World-Herald story for details on the conference.
WHAT: Our DR Youth Mission Team has been selected to participate in the Pizza Ranch Community Impact Program. This program acknowledges groups which make a difference in our community and beyond. Participating groups are given a generous portion of sale proceeds and all the tips received during the event.
WHERE: Pizza Ranch located in the Frederick Square Shopping Center, just South of Center Street on 84th Street.
WHEN: Monday Evening, May 22, 2017, 5:00 to 9:00 PM
Our Nebraska Youth DR Mission Team will be serving pizza, busing tables, and sharing the good news of the work being done in the Dominican Republic. Invite family and friends….let’s all join in the fun !!!
Our 2017 NE Youth Dominican Republic Mission Team has been selected to participate in the Pizza Ranch Community Impact Program. This permits us to share the good news of the work being done with our community, and at the same time receive a percentage of the sales proceeds and all the tips received during a 4 hour period of time. Our team members will be serving pizza, busing tables and sharing information.
We hope Episcopalians across our community might bring family and friends to join our team at Pizza Ranch on Monday, May 22nd from 5 to 9 PM.
We will have a team of 17 from Omaha to Alliance return to the mountains of the central Dominican Republic on June 20-27, 2017. We will continue to build upon the ministries we have initiated in the DR. Specifically, we will complete our work on the Children’s Shelter in El Pedrgal, continue sharing music programs with the community, and are really excited to promote a community renewal of our baptismal covenant. After returning last year, a youth asked if it would be possible to re-commit themselves to Christ by being baptized in the waters of a beautiful nearby waterfall. Our ministry continues to grow, and this year our team wants to stand with our brothers and sisters in a renewal of this sacred covenant. I do not know if this has ever been done before. We hope to have many in the community join us.
Things are going wonderfully….and the more at the Pizza Ranch the better.
The Eggplant: April 27, 2017
The Fast and the Fictive
When I was in Seminary, one of my classmates would joke that, if she were not called to be a priest, she would spend her time painting supper scenes from the Fast and the Furious movies, under the name Dom Tintoretto. Most of the time, people didn’t get the joke: Tintoretto was a Venetian Renaissance painter perhaps best known today for a Last Supper that contrasts dramatically with Da Vinci’s famous depiction thereof in its use of shadow and showing the table from a diagonal. Dom Toretto, played by Vin Diesel, is the protagonist of the Fast and the Furious series, now at eight films and counting.
The Fast and the Furious movies are one of Hollywood’s more curious franchises. After a modestly successful 2001 film about street racing and two less successful sequels featuring mostly new casts, in 2009 the franchise began pivoting by assembling a team of the most popular characters from the previous movies, led by Dom Toretto, and telling stories of heists and vehicular warfare among the criminal underworld. The result is a juggernaut that has become one of the most financially lucrative movie franchises and is still going strong.
Even moreso than Kong: Skull Island, these are movies that you watch not for the plot and dialogue but for the ridiculous action: a chase with a bank vault attached to the cars, a tank fighting on a highway, a car chase on ice featuring the unexpected appearance of a submarine. But beneath all the fun mayhem beats a surprisingly strong heart: Dom’s version of ‘honor among thieves’ is his code about family. More often than not, his team winds up in these crazy schemes because “you don’t turn your back on family” even when doing so would be the only way to avoid a world of trouble. A common feature of the franchise, in its quieter moments, is a scene where Dom and his team sit down to a meal together and, in a prayer before eating, Dom or another character thanks God for their family.
Setting aside the curiosity that movies with such a high quotient of violence and death are among the only blockbusters to include such explicitly Christian scenes, it’s fascinating that Dom’s family, for whom he willingly enters all manner of dire straits, is almost entirely fictive. With the exception of his sister, who eventually marries another member of the team, none of Dom’s ‘family’ is related to him by blood. The team is a group of friends who, between common interests and shared experiences, have become as close as family and chosen to treat one another as such.
This sort of chosen family is a very Christian idea: St. Paul, in his references to his disciples as his sons and other Christian leaders as his sisters and brothers, frequently uses the language of this fictive kinship, that we who are not related by blood from our birth are related even more surely in the blood of Christ. Today, we most commonly see this in addressing priests as ‘Father’ or ‘Mother,’ but beginning with Paul saying that he has become father to the runaway slave Onesimus (Philemon 10), this notion of fictive kinship has often guided Jesus’ followers in our efforts to relieve the suffering of others as though they were our children or stand with the oppressed as our siblings.
And Dom Toretto’s family features several traits that ought to define our own fictive kinship with our fellow humans. Dom’s family is, at least by the usual standards of Hollywood casts, incredibly diverse. Men and women are equal members of the team, and a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds are present. Too often, our Christian families lack such diversity, with most or all of our fictive kin sharing our race and ethnicity and women being reduced to inferior members.
Dom’s team also features a constantly rotating cast of characters, as old family members are killed or retire from the criminal life and new members join the team. The ease with which new members are assimilated is sometimes startling, perhaps because Dom has a curiously optimistic view of human nature: he seems to be positively inclined toward almost anyone he encounters who doesn’t threaten his family, and even when he himself is endangered, he sometimes retains that positive view. *Spoiler alert: spoilers for The Fate of the Furious follow.* For example, in the Havana-set opening scene of the most recent movie, Dom engages in a street race during which his opponent uses several tricks that nearly get Dom killed and spectacularly total his car. After Dom wins anyway, the opponent admits that Dom has earned his respect and Dom chooses to neither take his prize for winning nor otherwise punish this cheating foe. Said foe later shows up playing a small but crucial role in Dom’s plan for getting out of the pickle he finds himself in, suggesting that this is a potential future member of Dom’s family.
We Christians would do well to emulate Dom’s willingness to forego revenge despite the harm he endured, but even that pales in comparison to Dom’s willingness to forgive. After a cyberterrorist kidnaps Dom’s infant son so he will betray his family and work for her, he seeks help by reaching out to the Shaws, a literal family who opposed Dom’s team in previous movies and were responsible for deaths among Dom’s family members. At the end of the movie, Deckard Shaw delivers the baby to Dom, who forgives Deckard for killing Dom’s ‘brother’ Han and welcomes this former enemy to the family table. Given how well many Christians bear a grudge, even against our fictive kin, Dom’s forgiveness and welcome of someone who killed his family into his family is remarkable.
So weirdly enough, those Dom Tintoretto paintings would be an entirely appropriate hobby for a Christian. For a culture that looks upon the Last Supper (both the Da Vinci painting and, often, the event itself) as stuffy, old, and irrelevant, the suppers in the Fast and the Furious movies offer a more contemporary vision of Christian fellowship, where gender and race do not divide, where radical forgiveness is extended, and where everyone is family.
The Rev. John Adams
On Saturday, April 29th, people will be marching in Washington, DC and in cities across the country to advocate for stronger policies to address climate change. Participants will advocate for climate change policies that not only effectively mitigate climate change and its effects, but that will also open up new jobs that bring justice for poorer communities in the United States and around the world where the effects of climate change are often experienced first and worst.
Our suggestion is to pray at home, at your church, or wherever you might be between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM CT, or 10:00 AM and 1:00 PM MT. Suggestions follow as to how you might mark this event with prayer.
For those who might want to participate in a march in Nebraska, Lincoln will host a climate march beginning at 10:30 am on Saturday at the UNL Student Union, and Omaha has a march beginning at noon at the Gene Leahy Mall.
Suggestions for prayer:
- Gather around a candle, light the candle and pray this from the Book of Common Prayer (p. 827)
Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Pray for the leadership of our country that they may come to understand the seriousness of climate change.
- Pray for the safety of the marchers.
- Meditate (Centering Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, etc). for some or part of the three hour period.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –
The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the essential tale of the Christian faith. All of sacred history, both before and after the cross and the tomb, derives its ultimate meaning from the events we remember and celebrate during this Easter season. We have no greater story to tell than the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We have no more important teaching to pass along … and no more hopeful news to share.
In his death, Jesus fully embodies the radical demands of the faith that he brought to his first followers and that we share in to this day. This is what “care for your neighbor,” “give to everyone who asks,” and “love your enemies” actually looks like in the midst of the fallen creation of which we’re a part. In going to the cross, Jesus demonstrates the depth of his love for humankind and offers a witness to the kind of love to which we too are called as children of the living God.
In his resurrection, Jesus offers the complimentary piece to his sacrifice on the cross. If the cross was the last word on “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you”, then Jesus’ life and teaching would not matter to us. He would rather have been just another example of the weak being exploited and destroyed by the strong. But the events of Holy Week and Easter turn our conventional wisdom about power all upside down, as Jesus destroys the forces of darkness precisely by embracing death and using it as a tool for nothing less than the salvation of the world. Jesus’ resurrection confirms his teachings about how to live, ratifies theories about how to love, and fulfills his prophecies about his own destiny and that of all humankind.
Over the great fifty days of Easter the Church throughout the world will continuously celebrate the “sacred mysteries” of Christ’s death and his resurrection from the dead. We will tell this story again and again and again, because even though we know it well, we can never fully comprehend it’s meaning for our lives, the life of the Church, or the life of the world in which we live.
I pray that you will all join with me, my brothers and sisters, in proclaiming the surprising, joyful and still astonishing news that we’re blessed to be able to share in this and every season of our lives: Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
Faithfully Yours in Christ –
+ Bishop Barker
Passion Gospel John 18:1-19:37
Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. (John 19:15b-16a).
It may be tempting to numb ourselves to suffering, to live in a sort of gated community of the spirit, walled off from anything that might disturb. Jesus does give us peace, but genuine peace comes when Jesus stand by us in the midst of suffering. If we listen deeply to the story of the Passion, we will grieve at Jesus’s suffering. If we listen deeply to the Easter Gospel to come, we will emerge from that grief with hope and joy. Good Friday invites us to look at Jesus’s suffering so that we can experience the fullness of Easter. The powers that be encourage us to numb ourselves to suffering. The empire — the powers that be for the sake of being the powers — would like us to look away from suffering and numb ourselves with food, drink, drugs, and lots of consumer goods. They do not want us to notice our own distress or the distress of other people or the distress of other living things, the plants and animals on whom our existence depends. But keeping our eyes on King Jesus even when he is wearing a crown of thorns rather than taking seriously the pronouncements of the powers that be is part of our Christian witness to the world. When the powers cheer on the “beauty” of missiles or the explosion of the “mother of all bombs”, when the powers tell us the suffering of people who were killed in the Holocaust wasn’t all that bad, when the powers ignore the rapidly warming Arctic and dying coral reefs — and the new crack in one of Greenland’s biggest glaciers, when the powers discount the suffering of people worried they might lose their healthcare, when the powers speak in ways that encourage us to hate people different from ourselves, Jesus calls us instead to look and listen and acknowledge and feel the suffering: the suffering now, the suffering in the past, the suffering that awaits us if we don’t change course. We can be compassionate witnesses to suffering even when it is hard to look at it because Jesus calls us to live in hope. Oddly, while the powers that be want us to ignore suffering as if everything were fine, they want us at the same time to think there is little hope for a better world. They tell us we must continue to burn fossil fuels, that we cannot afford to welcome refugees, that we are wise to fear people whose skin is a different color than ours or whose faith is different from ours or whose primary language is not English. They tell us we can’t possibly provide basic health care for everyone in our nation, that public schools cannot adequately educate our children, that gun violence is inevitable. The powers that be don’t want us to grieve with those who suffer, but they also don’t want us to engage in any form of hope other than selfish hopes for our personal security and prosperity. But we can grieve and we can experience genuine hope for ourselves and our neighbors because we know well the story of Jesus on the cross and the story of Easter resurrection. We can look at death in all its forms because we are resurrection people who know death isn’t the final word. And not only can we grieve and hope, but if we are not to betray Jesus and deny that we know him, we must grieve and we must hope genuine hope. We have a king other than the emperor. His name is Jesus, and today on Good Friday we grieve his death on the cross and all the ways we continue to crucify him. Today we grieve, but tomorrow night we rejoice because love wins and Jesus is King. Amen.
DioNEB welcomes Rev. Amanda Gott as the new Rector at St. Matthew’s, Lincoln. Here is a brief introduction from our newest priest:
I just moved to Lincoln from the New Haven, Connecticut area with my husband Steven, our eight-year-old daughter, three-year-old son, two cats, two guinea pigs and some fish. At this moment, our house in Lincoln is still filled with boxes, packing paper, and wads of packing tape. I was born and raised in Atlanta, where I graduated from a high school of performing arts. I majored in religion at Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY) where I focused primarily on the study of Hinduism, but could often be spotted around the Drama/Dance department. After a couple of years as an office temp, a front desk receptionist in a public mental health clinic, a waitress, and a theatrical lighting designer and stage manager – all of which taught me skills that would later be useful in ordained ministry – I began seminary. I earned a Master of Divinity at the Iliff School of Theology (Denver, CO), after which I spent a year as a Chaplain resident at one of Denver’s major hospitals. After another year’s diversion as a Kindergarten teaching assistant, I then went on to earn a Master of Sacred Theology at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church (New York, NY). I was ordained in 2005. For the past seven years I have been serving as Rector of Grace & St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Hamden, Connecticut. Before that, I was the Assistant Rector at Church of the Good Shepherd in Nashua, New Hampshire. Over the last several years, I have also served in a couple of chaplaincy positions in New Haven, including an elementary school chaplaincy at an Episcopal Day School, and also chaplain to an amazing group of Episcopal Service Corps interns at St. Hilda’s House. In all ministry endeavors, I rely heavily on God’s grace, a hearty dose of humor, the help and prayers of other faithful people, and a little luck.
The Rev. Amanda Gott
We pray this week for people affected by floods and fires that have been made worse by warmer global temperatures, and we pray for our planet and the future of the human race as warming takes us into “uncharted territory”.
Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect For the Conservation of Natural Resources (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 827)
Please pray for:
People in Peru affected by severe flooding. Unusually intense rainfall — “the deadliest downpours in decades” according to this story from Reuters — has resulted in severe flooding in Peru. More than sixty people have died, and the rains and flooding are expected to continue.
People affected by wildfires in the Great Plains. Fires in the Great Plains have contributed to a “furious start” to the wildfire season in the United States. Dry conditions and very warm late winter temperatures contributed to the fires. Ranchers lost cattle to the fires, leading ranchers to call the fires “our hurricane Katrina”. Here in Nebraska this week, a wildfire near Lake Mcconaughy burned 800 acres and destroyed eight homes.
The earth as we enter “uncharted territory”. The Guardian reports on a World Meteorological Association report on the 2016 global climate, which reports that we have reached a level of warming that takes the planet into “uncharted territory”. NASA reported that on March 7 sea ice extent at both poles reached record lows. The need for action on climate change has never been clearer, but political prospects for such action in the United States at least look slim.
O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer For the Future of the Human Race (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 828)
As we pray for others, we might also pray for our own hearts to be open so we can see the needs in the world around us and gladly respond to those needs:
O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty; Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for Joy in God’s Creation (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 814)
Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett