2017-10-03

On Socially Engineered Tragedies


Another day, another mass shooting. Same event, different location. Sometimes more are dead, sometimes less. The plot is depressingly and predictably redundant, except when it is your loved one who is sacrificed in the story. As various newspapers have pointed out, this is now almost literally a daily event. Part of the background noise. Just another news item to ignore as we work our 60 hour weeks just to keep our heads above water. 

2017-09-26

Taking a stand for taking a knee


Like it or not, the #takeaknee protest movement has gotten us all talking. Unfortunately much of that talking is past each other rather than with each other. I have seen every conceivable reaction from both sides of this issue in equal amounts on my social media feed this weekend.

2017-09-13

Following Jesus without God?


As many who read this blog know, I am a Christian priest who serves as a school chaplain and head of religious studies at an Episcopal Middle and Upper School (grades 6-12). My position shares a great many commonalities with being a parish priest. For instance, I am the "village vicar" and pastoral presence for nearly 600 students and staff, and their families as well. But there are significant differences too. Chief among them is the fact that my parish not only includes Episcopal Christians, but also Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants of every stripe, and every variety from Nominal to Committed to Conservative to Liberal. But not only does it include a broad spectrum of Christians, but my parish includes Muslims and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, and many who Secular and even Atheist.

2017-09-12

What is worth learning?


Recently a colleague sent me an article summarizing Harvard professor David Perkins entitled "What's Worth Learning in School?" This is a worthwhile and incredibly broad topic, so I was both eager to read what was said, and also hesitant. 

2017-09-08

By the Corporations, for the Corporations





Let's get this straight: Equifax makes the mistake, but we all have to pay their bill? Equifax had sloppy cut rate cyber security to maximize profits, and as a result millions of consumers will have be diligent for the rest of their lives, investing time and money (paying companies like Equifax!) to make sure their credit rating does not get hurt, and their economic identity does not get stolen. This may result in losses for Equifax, which could result in layoffs of thousands of workers, and perhaps even the end of the company in a worst-case scenario.

All the while, the executives who made the decisions to put profits over security will still get their bonuses. Hell, even if the company folded or they were terminated, their severance packages would still leave them wealthier in a five years than they are today. And certainly no one would see jail time, except perhaps some low level executive who was only following orders. The same is true for the Wells Fargo scandal of opening millions of fake accounts, not to mention the 2008 crash, or basically any white collar scandal you can name. The high level executives always come out wealthier (even when fired!) while the consumers and the workers pay the real costs.

And furthermore, huge multinational corporations can get away with it, but local entrepreneurs would be shut down and arrested. If the deli down the street was caught selling a few dozen credit card numbers and customer addresses, they would be jailed and the business would be shuttered. But Equifax can basically give away tens of millions of customer identities and social security numbers, and I guarantee you nothing will happen to put a dent in the bank accounts or lifestyle of the people in charge.

This is not an aberration of our economic system. This IS our economic system. It is doing precisely what it has been engineered to do by lobbying and legislation over the course of a century. It is not an accident. It is designed to "fail" in such a way that every failure shifts cost and burden onto the workers and consumers, while increasing profitability for those who benefit from such "failures". For instance, even if Equifax ceases to exist after this, companies like Equifax, run by people who are like (or perhaps identical to) those who run Equifax will benefit in the long term. Millions will have to rely on their services to protect them from the effects of what Equifax did. It's an almost perfect plot to create and maintain customer base. And once you learn to spot it in this scandal, you can see it repeated with infinite variation in other industries.

We the people need a robust system of legal protections that tilt the economy back in favor of the worker, the consumer, and the local entrepreneur, and away from the huge multinationals and the oligarchs who run them. We can either be a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Or we can be a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. But we can't be both.

2017-09-06

Theology and Artificial Intelligence

This is a longish quote, but it was nice to read a Christian Theologian who is making these kinds of arguments. The context is an article where he is arguing that the "soul" or "self" is a transcendent emergent property arising out of sufficient patterns of complexity in information processing. Once this pattern achieves self awareness, it become a phenomena in is own right, capable of being embodied in other forms (i.e. organically, digitally, etc) even if it's originating "hardware" (i.e. body, brain) is destroyed. 

Trinity and Identity


I want here to give a brief account of who we are as created persons living in a reality upheld by the Triune God. There are a baffling number of images of who we are presented within the Judeo-Christian tradition. We are variously lost and found; sinners and saints; justified and glorified; children of God and servants of Christ; made in God's image yet destroyers of that image; created and mortal, yet eternal and immortal. We partake in the Divine Nature and yet are alienated from that same Source. 

2017-09-04

On Poetry and Religion

The spell cast by good poetry
And the role played by good religion
Overlap in this

To make familiar terrain
Unfamiliar and strange

To experience the old
As new again

To listen to the ancient story
With the ears of a child



Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

2017-08-25

Eyes to see

If you don't believe

In the East's endless cycle of Samsara
In the West's Fall into Original Sin
In Nietzsche's Eternal Return

Watch TV's talking heads
Read your news feed
Stand in line at the DMV

And you will know

Precious few claims in religion
Can be subjected to empirical proof
Repeated, observable, concrete

But this is at the head
Of that short list
Of universal human experiences

If you have eyes to see.



Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

So defeated

What so defeated these angry men that
Their only victory
Is in the defeat
Of their forefathers
Their only solace
Is in a skin
They did not choose
Their only hope
Is found chiseled
In cold dead statues?

Tell me:
What force can so thoroughly
Defeat a people?
And what Power can possibly
Overcome it?




Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

2017-08-24

On making images

When taken at their best
Even idols give us glimpses
Of the God beyond words
And reveal that uncontained Other
Contained in matter and mind

And when pushed to their limits
Even the most accurate prose
And the most inspirational poems
Become idols
Which damn and destroy

That of which we cannot speak
We must pass over in silence
Except we can't not
Speak of what we have experienced
Except we can't not
Paint what we have seen
Except we can't not
Pray to the One
Who calls us from Beyond

Just because words
Always make us liars
Doesn't mean we can't use them
To point to the Truth

Just because images
Obstruct the Light
Doesn't mean we can't make them
To reflect the Sun.



Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

2017-08-23

Idol Therapy

When taken at their best
Which is unfortunately far too rare
Religion and Skepticism
Are after the same thing
To smash the idols
Which ensnare the mind
And blind the eyes
And bind the heart
To oppression and addiction
To cruelty and hate
To death and destruction

And if you can ignore
The glaring exceptions
To these generalizations

So-called Western Faiths
With prophetic fury
Obliterate the idols
Which obstruct our eyes
So our Vision is clear
To see the Transcendent Source
Who lies beyond sight

While the so-called Eastern Paths
Show us that all creatures under heaven
Even the gods themselves
Are finite images
And partially opened windows
To see glimpses of the Infinite
Beyond yet within

All while Agnosticism groans
Whether and what God is
Is beyond what we can say
And Atheism bluntly declares
Nothing is God
And
God is Nothing

And taken at their best
Despite all their worst
They are all
Correct




Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

2017-07-28

The Letter to Diognetus


In an age when there seems to be quite a bit of anxiety about the place of the Church and Christians in the world, perhaps it is a good thing to return to our roots. Writing in the second century, when Christianity was powerless and illegal, an anonymous Christian philosopher penned what we now call "The Letter to Diognetus". In chapters 5-6 he lays out a breathtaking vision of Christian identity and mission in the midst of a pluralistic, nationalistic, materialistic Roman Empire:

2017-07-25

On Noah’s Flood and the Nephilim


I often have friends and congregants who decide to read the Bible from front to back. But getting past the first few chapters is a formidable challenge, because the literature is so very different from what we expect from the Bible. We expect a Law Book or a History Book or objective reporting like a Newspaper. But what we get is something that is neither history nor fiction nor poetry nor prose. It is not until we reach the story of Abram and Sarai in chapter 12 that the story becomes predictably “human”. Until then it is a bit… weird.

If modern readers can get past the conflict between the two Creation narratives in chapters 1-2 (and their conflict with the narrative of evolution), and then make it past the talking snake in chapter 3, the next big shock to the system happens in chapter 6:

2017-06-16

Holy Crap


This is a poem inspired by Philippians 3.8 and it is not for the easily offended. So if you are easily offended, please read something else. With that said, here we go…

2017-06-08

Brief Thoughts on Purgatory and Indulgences


Recently I saw a Protestant Christian railing against the idea that retweeting Pope Francis could "earn" time off from purgatory as a kind of "indulgence" found in this 2013 news story. The person who reposted the story asked for someone to explain what was going on with "retweeting" as an "indulgence" to lessen time in "purgatory". So I responded with this:

2017-05-09

The Fallacy of the One True Church™

Recently a sincere and well intentioned person approached me on social media with a raft of questions about the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church, and Christianity in general. This questioner is seeking to convert, and one question above all dominated his concerns: Which is the One True Church™ that he should convert to? After all, as he put it, the Church was “united” for the first millennium, so one of those churches that split off must be the One True Church™. Which one is it?

2017-05-07

When Jesus wrote

Jesus only ever wrote down 
one thing
and it vanished from the ground
taken by the wind
washed away by the water
just like the shame
of the woman caught in sin

2017-04-17

On Privilege and Ignorance and "Showing the Work”



I recently read someone on the left decry a right wing commentator by saying his "white male privilege allows him to make sweeping statements uninformed by history and never once question his position". And in the case of this comment, they are substantively correct in their critique, and yet they offer none of that substance in the critique itself. All that is offered is, ironically, a sweeping statement without evidence. In math terms: They get the answer right, but show none of the work. This is a problem. 

2017-04-15

A Brief Theology of Tax Day




I see posts going up for Tax Day which say "Taxes are Theft". I'm proud to pay taxes. I'm proud that my taxes go to benefit the common good in a number of ways, from roads, to water treatment, to education, to veterans, to prisons, to helping the needy, to a thousand other public benefits. Granted, some of my tax money goes to pay for military actions I don't agree with, or welfare for rich corporations, sponsored by corrupt politicians. And of course there are policies I vehemently disagree with the current administration about. But you are never going to agree with others about how every dime is spent. Heck, my wife and I don't always agree about how to spend money. Much less me and a government of, by, and for 350 million people.

2017-04-14

Mary Magdalene versus the Patriarchy




So the controversy over who Mary Magdalene was has jumped out of the pulpit and lecture hall, and into the Washington Post. For some on the "Right", Mary is a lowly prostitute who Jesus cast demons out of and saved to be one of the "little women" in the Gospel story. For others on the "Left", Mary is one of the leading Apostles, the patron saint of feminine empowerment, who was unjustly and unfortunately silenced by the growing patriarchy of the early Church. Both sides of the debate paint this as an either-or. Either Mary is a barely redeemable ex-whore, or she is an unjustly maligned Apostle. But perhaps the battle lines have been drawn based upon the logical fallacy of the excluded middle.

Today is called "Good" Friday

Today is called "Good" Friday

Let us take a moment of silence and remember

Jesus has been murdered on a cross

Jesus has been murdered in a concentration camp

Jesus has been murdered by a terrorist machete

Jesus has been murdered by the Mother of all Bombs

Jesus has been murdered by Sarin gas

Jesus has been murdered by systematic starvation in an underdeveloped country

Jesus has been murdered by a preventable childhood disease

Jesus has been murdered on the Trail of Tears

Jesus has been murdered on a transatlantic slave ship

Jesus has been murdered in a refugee camp

Jesus has been murdered as a sex slave trying to runaway

Jesus has been murdered in Jerusalem and in Flint and in Syria and in Wounded Knee and in Sudan and in Iraq and in Ferguson and in Yemen and in Auschwitz and in Hiroshima

Jesus has been murdered by hatred and by apathy, by neglect and by oppression, by overt acts of terror and by looking the other way

After all, didn't Jesus say "What you have done to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have also done to me"?

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

2017-03-15

The Hyphen In Between


In memory of Ron Bostian (November 28, 1946 - March 14, 2017)

Today we mourn the death, but more importantly, celebrate the life, of my Dad Ron Bostian. He was 70 years old, stubborn as hell, easy to talk to, and fun loving to the end. It was from him I got my announcer's voice, my cocksure sense of self confidence, my ability to make a joke during any circumstance (no matter how inappropriate), my physical frame, and my stunning good looks. Did I mention he was sarcastic too? I inherited that as well. 

Popcorn


I went to go see Logan 
Tonight
After my dad died
Today
It was a movie he would have enjoyed
It was a perfect movie to celebrate his life
A perfect movie to mourn his death
Alone in the theater
The smell of popcorn
Assaulting my nostrils 
As I walked through the doors
Flashbacks
To childhood matinees
Side by side
The warmth of dad next to me
Buttery fingers
Digging in the popcorn bucket
Together
Or the late night treats
Way past my bedtime
With content rated for eyes older than I 
But he still wanted to take me
Star Wars
Indiana Jones
Terminator
Aliens
We keep saying "I'll be back"
Until that one day we won't
Until that one day it really is
Game over man
Game over. 

2017-03-11

It's Fundamental

A rap song designed to teach the early history of Christian Theology. Originally written in 2010.

Explaining Anglicans: A Guidebook for Exploring a Tradition-rich, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, Balanced Faith.

Introduction


This is a short booklet (or a long essay, depending on how you look at it) written from 2005-2010 designed to introduce you the history of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. This history is messy yet magnificent, wacky yet wonderful, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes holy. But it is always a love Story about how a particular God has reached out to a peculiar people to knit them into His plan of salvation for the whole world. As such, this is my take on the Story. It isn't objective. It is often biased. But I hope I have used the facts accurately to give anyone who reads this a short overview of an immensely complex and winding history. As such I know there will be things I have left out, and judgments I make, that others will find unfair. For that I am sorry, and I offer a bibliography at the end for anyone who wishes to read a more "reputable" version of the Story I am re-telling.

This book is intended to be used for seekers, or those going through confirmation, in the Anglican or Episcopal Church. It is specifically made for those who may be looking at the Episcopal Church from another Church background, especially from non-liturgical Protestant Churches. I make no claim that this book is a comprehensive history or theology of Anglicanism, it is merely a short introduction. This book is designed for group studies in confirmation class, used with older teens and adults. If you are doing confirmation with young teenagers or below, this book is probably not for you.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: How the liturgy shaped the worldview of early Christians

A 2004 paper written to fulfill the requirements of History of Christian Doctrine.

2017-03-10

Chasing Falsifiability down the Rabbit Hole to Transcendence


In my Philosophy of Religion class the other day, a student brought up Karl Popper’s principle of “falsifiability” as a criteria for whether a knowledge claim is valid. The way that my student put it: A claim that is empirically sensible is thus falsifiable (it can be refuted by empirical observation), and thus counts as real knowledge. But knowledge claims that are not empirically falsifiable— such as claims about God, ethical value, aesthetic value— do not count as the same kind of knowledge. Perhaps they are a lesser, derivative kind of knowledge. But they are not the kind of absolutely true knowledge one would want to build their world view upon, because they cannot be empirically falsified. And thus, while God, might be an optional or extra belief added onto a scientific worldview, God could never be essential to a worldview, or even a necessary explanatory hypothesis for the nature of Reality, because the idea of God cannot be falsified scientifically.

2017-02-24

Stay in the conversation!




Just found out that an old mentor of mine, who has taken a hard swerve to the Alt-Right, has blocked me on Facebook. I thought they had left FB, but a mutual friend said they are still on FB posting Alt-Right memes daily. It saddens me that political propaganda can make us so brittle, and our relationships so fragile, that we retreat into our safe spaces of only people who hold to the same dogmas we hold.

Now I have blocked people on FB too, but I think I have only blocked people who (a) were super-argumentative but not my friend in real life, and/or (b) were verbally abusive to me personally, and/or (c) advocated violence against persons they despise or disagree with. But as long as someone doesn't cross these boundaries, I stay in the conversation, even if I find most of their posts to be complete bovine excrement.

So, it saddens me when someone exiles themselves from relationships so their ideology will remain unchallenged. It can even mean a loss of memories and experiences that were only shared with that person. So, as I have said many times: Stay in the conversation, and learn how to debate using evidence and reason, instead of memes and insults.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

2017-02-15

Do Moral Values change over time?



It is often claimed that moral values change greatly over time as societies “advance”. For instance, it is often claimed that modern societies are morally superior for not killing witches or shunning homosexuals. But perhaps what this apparent progress actually shows is that while we are scientifically superior, we may actually be morally similar, to ancient societies. Surprisingly similar moral values often underlie very different historical manifestations of morality. How can this be so? It seems to me that when we combine traditional moral values with increasing scientific knowledge, we actually get changes in cultural practices that are more just and compassionate. Let me unpack this with some thought experiments:

What counts as "Christian"?


Recently I was in an online discussion about whether a group of people and the ideas they represent are "Christian". My initial response was that if they have been baptized into Christ, and they do not renounce that baptism, then they are Christians. They may be faithless Christians, bad Christians, hypocritical Christians, uninformed Christians, unjust Christians, but they are still Christians.

Two Forms of Imperial Christianity


I am teaching a course on Religion and Politics in American culture. And the truth is, there has never been a time when Christianity was not used, in some sense, to validate the legitimacy of the United States Government. There has always been some large faction in American Politics which equated being American with being Christian in some sense. And on occasion, we have wrapped the American Flag quite tightly around the cross to validate the righteousness of our cause over and against that of some other nation or faction, whether in the Revolution, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Cold War conflicts, or the never ending "War on Terror". What is relatively new this political season is that, in the absence of a war or clear external threat to our country, we have major preachers such as Pat Robertson and others, declaring that our sitting President is God's anointed leader and savior of the Country, and that disagreeing with him is "revolting against God". This is an interesting twist, and harkens back to versions of Imperial Christianity in the middle ages which stressed the "Divine Right of Kings" to rule as God's chosen instruments. And it brings to mind the Imperial Christianity of 1930's Germany that also anointed Adolf Hitler as Germany's savior.

2017-02-03

Hate is a Policy, not a Feeling


We tend to think of things like hate and love as feelings: They happen when we "feel" them, or experience them inside ourselves, even if unexpressed in outward action. But it seems to me that they rather are motivations that lead to concrete actions. Hate is not so much judged by a Likert Scale of 0 (no feeling of hate) to 5 (strong feeling of hate). Hate is judged by the outward actions and attitudes it manifests in social interactions. 

2017-02-02

Puppies and censorship in a divided America


This is an absurdly long essay that goes nowhere. I doubt you want to read it. You probably would be better off googling cute puppies instead.

2017-02-01

Wondervoyage: The Antidote to Affluenza


As a host of media pundits and cultural critics have noted over the past several years, many of today’s young adults suffer from a debilitating illness that can cause severe apathy, lethargy, and short-sightedness, along with a profound feeling that the entire world is actually orbiting around them. What is this dread malady? Affluenza. This disease can afflict many who have grown up with access to quality education, convenience, and comfort, but have been relatively insulated from people of other viewpoints, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds.

2017-01-30

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?


I see this question a great deal on the interwebs, lots of people ask me my educated opinion, and there are dozens or hundreds of books written about this. Yet most people are not going to read those books, but they might read a short, under two minute write up. So, as a Christian priest who believes in the Trinity and follows Jesus as God incarnate, and who also serves as a chaplain at a school with many Muslim families, and also teaches World Religions year after year, here is my answer:

2017-01-28

Doing what Jesus did

Jesus said... "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:9-12)

There are as many different ways of interpreting Jesus' life as there are interpreters, and the myriad of lenses used in looking at Jesus can be overwhelming. We can analyze him using sociological, historical, literary, ethical, mystical, and theological lenses. And within the theological lenses we can look at him from Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, and dozens of other perspectives.


And yet, in the midst of a bewildering variety of ways of seeing Jesus Christ, our central concern in living as a Christian is (or at least should be) to live "in Christ": To imitate, emulate, and seek to embody Christ in such a way that we can say with Saint Paul "it is no longer I that lives, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2.20). So what kind of lens can we use to view Jesus that most effectively helps us imitate Christ and live in Christ?

2017-01-13

On Atheist Heroes and the possibility of Altruism


Recently, a friend of mine started a discussion about whether acts of pure altruism are possible. Altruism is defined in my dictionary as “the practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others”. Philosophically, Altruism can only exist if there is a category of action which creates benefit for others, while creating no benefit (or even a detriment) to self. 

2017-01-02

First Post of 2017

I'm not much of one for New Year's Resolutions. I figure that if one is serious about changing their lives, they won't wait to start that change at an arbitrary time, such as the beginning of a year. So, what I am writing here is not so much what I will start doing now, as much as activities I have already started doing. 

Thus, in 2017, as in 2016, I resolve to make more time for the things that bring value to my life, and use less time on the things that take value from my life.

Top 10 activities that add value:
  • Praying/Meditating
  • Discussing
  • Lifting
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Teaching
  • Serving
  • Encouraging
  • Hiking
  • Playing
Bottom 10 activities that take value:
  • Worrying
  • Brooding
  • Ranting
  • Procrastinating
  • Resenting
  • Fearing
  • Arguing
  • Judging
  • Complaining
  • Stressing


This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.