Today is the Feast of Copernicus and Kepler, Astronomers, and already we’re seeing some reaction.
Michael Poteet, a Presbyterian member of the Daily Office congregation, writes, “Is today actually a feast day for these two astronomers on the Episcopal calendar? I think that is marvelous!”
And Maria L. Evans, a stalwart laywoman from Missouri, adds this: “I totally dig that they are on the calendar. Where else but the Episcopal church do we put people on the saints calendar that point out, ‘Guess what? The universe doesn’t revolve around us!'”
(I had to tell Maria this known fact: the universe revolves around the Subdeacon’s new granddaughter. Her name is Hadley, and she’s got more hair than Clint does.)
But there’s a bigger point to be made here, which I will now divulge to you (free of charge): Yes, it is marvelous and wonderful that we have a Copernicus and Kepler Day; and no, there is nowhere else but The Episcopal Church where you will find any feast days of scientists.
Episcopalians feel easy around scientists. We have a few in our congregations, and they help us remember that the quest for knowledge is 100% God-Approved™.
(I should get a graphic made up for that; I’d stamp it on all kinds of things. And people; I’d tell my pals Letha and Maria that they’re 100%… no, wait; 99%, Maria, but that’s still pretty good.)
It’s part of the genius of The Episcopal Church that we mix freely with scientists and artists, bankers and queers; housewives, grandbabies, bakers and cops.
Other churches get their panties in a knot over evolution; we look at them like sideshow freaks, because they are.
I mean, we don’t want to disturb the poor dears, because everyone’s entitled to their opinion; but please, Louise, grow up.
This attitude, though (we’re superior, and we know it), can cause other kinds of problems. The Christian life is one of humility – Jesus was executed on a tree like a common criminal – and you don’t want to go in that bathroom after the Queen of England’s been there; you just don’t.
A century ago, at the height of British imperialism and American Manifest Destiny – long before we had a calendar of saints that included scientists – the Church was infected with the virus of triumphalism; that “we’re just better than you are, so we’ll naturally win.”
The Rev. Canon Elizabeth Kaeton preached about this years ago; “Christian triumphalism has been the energy that has marred our missionary efforts around the globe and in all ages. Consider what we have done to the Native Americans in this country – from the time of Columbus to the time of the great Western Migration. …. Just read Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible to get a sense of the effects of Christian triumphalism.”
However, the criticism of triumphalism itself leads to more problems; we get stifled about the very thing that Mother Kaeton tells us to be worried about. As a result, we don’t do evangelism at all.
We know we’ve got the best theology in the whole entire universe; but we’re afraid to say so, because it isn’t polite, and there isn’t any arguing about what we did to the Indians.
But we didn’t do it; that was somebody’s great-great grandpa, not us.
I’m glad for Mother Kaeton, but I don’t like our paralysis.
We’ve been through the thesis, then the antithesis, but we’ve never arrived at a synthesis. Superior Theology –> You’re Not So Hot, Pal –> (silence).
And I don’t suppose I’ll be able to get us there either, but I shall try. (No charge!)
What Maria asked was right; “Where else but the Episcopal Church?”
The answer is: nowhere else. If you want science and art under one godly roof, come to ours. It’s our exclusive product.
(We don’t trademark it, though; other churches are free to borrow everything we do, and we deeply wish they would.)
Someone, a group of people on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, came up with the idea of commemorating Copernicus and Kepler as saints, and we are enriched by this. Copernicus was a priest; nobody remembers that anymore, but it’s a fact. He was the nephew of the Bishop of Warmia. He believed in Jesus Christ and all the stars above.
If TEC had its act together (a very big if, since we never get our act together, because of the stupid way we elect our Presiding Bishop) – if we ever did, we’d open St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette, Indiana, the home of Purdue University, for a gigantic celebration of scientists.
We’d put ads in the paper, and we’d invite Ei-ichi Negishi to give the sermon. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year and lives three miles away!
I suspect the church would be packed. Because the scientific community has a great need for its faith to be acknowledged; for its constructive contributions to society to be recognized, as the Christian sideshow freaks will never do.
“Packed” is how Episcopal churches are supposed to be.
But we don’t do it, because we’ve never arrived at a synthesis that says, Liturgize everything you do.
Liturgize everything we are. We’re scientists and artists, we’re homeless and queer; we’re all of you, and you are us.
We’ve Forgotten How to Rogate
A week ago, Anglican churches across the world observed, on some tiny level, Rogation Days. They happen every year in the last weeks before Pentecost.
My websites made a fairly big deal about Rogation Days, with headlines, photographs and artwork. It was another example of the Vicar peeing into the wind, because no one paid that much attention, but gee. If I ruled the world it would be a different place!
(I’m not sure I want you to rule the world, uhkay? But Maria can, or Letha. We’d have a really good world if Stephanie or Leonardo were in charge.)
“Rogation” is an ancient word for a parade of blessing. Here’s what you do: get the priest and the acolytes all dolled up, plus a brass band if you’ve got one, then set them all out to make a parade around the neighborhood, throwing holy water everywhere you go. “Rogate” the parish boundaries; march and have a good time. Bless the labs and coffee shops and everything in between.
In olden days (imagine an English village before the Industrial Age), you’d bless the town and all the countryside. (You want good weather for this, which may be why you have it in the month of May.) You bless the farm fields; sprinkle water over them so the little plants will grow. Say a prayer; God give us this day our daily bread. You bless the work, of the farmer and the shopkeeper; you bless the trees and birds and streams.
Bless everything for miles around; people would come out for this, because they need and want the blessing. They all join the parade.
Before you say this is a pipe dream, no one will do this anymore, just wishful thinking, consider: we do not really like the way we’re living.
We need more blessings; we need to know that God cares, and have someone say (a whole group of people, the Church) this is good; this is holy.
Whatever work you do, we bless it. We honor you for doing it. We’re calling you important, for three days every year.
I would like to see Episcopal churches make rogations wherever they are. Great big cities, country towns, hospitals and war zones: Blessed be God in your work.
Now I’ll sum this up. We celebrate astronomers today. We celebrate scientists and science itself, Those Few Things We Actually Know.
We do so because our God is a God who Knows Things. The Source of Knowing; the Creator of this wonderful, mysterious place we live in.
He likes it when we make discoveries. He cheers; “Hey, Moses, they finally found that one!”
(She also likes it when we learn that she’s not male. Or female.)
The Church that celebrates this God of knowing and creating has a slightly better knowledge than the Churches of the small God, the one who’s bitter and violent and tight.
Episcopalians of the Brave Josh World must be the first to confess our sinfulness; we’ve been involved in one genocide after another, from Indians to Black folk to people with AIDS.
We’re all inclined to be bitter and violent and mean. So admit it, tell the truth. “Oh Lord, We’re So Fucked Up.™”
THEN: go and bless the labs. The kitchens, the factories, the fields, an occasional whorehouse; they need blessing too, and they’re more faithful than we are. (Come off it, we’re all whores here.)
Bless the banks; bless the legislative chambers. Bless the trenches and the guys who dig in the dirt to build a road you’ll use and never think about. Sprinkle holy water everywhere.
Down with anti-science. Down with triumphalism. Up with humble blessing wherever we go.
Though it’s true that we don’t live in English villages anymore, and most of the world never did: it’s also true that the enormous liturgical and spiritual resources of reformed catholicism contain riches we do not use, but easily could, and demonstrably should. The Blessing of Animals on St. Francis’ Day is the perfect model; every dog and cat and parakeet lover for miles around wants her little ones blessed, because it helps her express how much she loves those creatures.
We should do the same blessings with nurses, doctors, dentists on Miss Nightingale Day; with soldiers, cops and emergency workers on the Feast of Cornelius the Centurion. We could be blessing the whole world, and we’re not; why not?
Teachers and schoolchildren; authors, artists and musicians; farmers and gardeners need holy water, which we just happen to have.
If we would liturgize the everyday experience of office workers, our churches would be packed. So let’s do it; bring Good News.++
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