Christianity and Life

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myths of what Christians believe about life… or at least, what often seems to be a myth given the perennial hypocrisy of the church on these questions. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am. You can also subscribe to the podcast on Apple here.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

One of the number one reasons people give for not being a part of the church, is that it feels like the church is a hypocritical organization. One response to that is to take the approach of legendary Christian singer-songwriter Rich Mullins, who used to say the church isn’t full of hypocrites, we’ve always got room for a few more. What Rich was playfully pointing out was that everyone that is in church is hopefully trying to grow and that means at times they will be inconsistent in their actions and beliefs. Christians are not those who are perfect, they are those who fall down and then get back up through the grace and love of God. 

But another response to the perspective that the church seems to be a hypocritical organization is repentance and contrition for the times that charge is true. And I think one of the largest issues facing our world, one in which the church has often taken a conflicting and sometimes hypocritical stance, is the question of life. So today I like to try to break the myth about what Christianity believes about the value we place on life.

Most of the time a conversation with Christians arounds the value of life centers around the legality of abortion.  Being a priest in a church that affirms the tragic dimensions of abortion while also believing that legislative solutions don’t actually deal appropriately with what is involved… it means I often find myself on the other side of my siblings in Christ on this question. 

Roman Catholic nun, Sr. Joan Chittester, said it best, “I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.” Years later, when the Trump administration was putting children in cages at the border, she stood by the statement, saying, “You have babies and pregnant mothers on the border. They’re innocent and defenseless, but those babies are being separated and segregated.”

Part of the problem is that many Christians base their opinions on questions related to life on the political views of the party with which they,  instead of basing their views on Scripture and a consistent ethic of life. That’s why you have people who are very strong believers and outlawing abortion but who also support capital punishment, war, and immigration policies that absolutely cause the death of those fleeing violence and poverty. 

But I want to be super clear here that I’m not only criticizing the right. Because the Democratic Party also fails significantly on this question. I know, some of you might think I spend most of my time disagreeing with the policies of our former president, but when President Obama was in office, I found plenty of time to disagree with him as well. Most significantly, I found his use of drones to kill people outside of the judicial process to be deeply disturbing.

And now, under the leadership of President Biden, I continue to be concerned. Reports are very clear that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Solomon approved the 2018 assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamaal Khashoggi. Who knows why, perhaps due to some international relationships, President Biden has refused to hold the crown prince responsible for this murder. And the outrage is significant.

Don’t get me wrong, President Trump refused even to release this report when it was created. But now that the facts are known, for President Biden not to deal strongly with Saudi Arabia with regard to this murder is a tremendous dereliction of duty. I hope that the outrage over this decision pushes the administration to act differently, to demonstrate that the lives of all people do matter, including the life of Jamaal Khashoggi. 

I don’t know what the next four years of the Biden administration will look like, but I do know that I hope that the church stands up on the side of life. And I think that means we need to stand up on the side of social policies that will protect the most vulnerable, that means we must insist on an end to the cruel practice of capital punishment, that means we must resist constant militarization and war. That also means the church must come clean with its complicity in systems of homophobia and white supremacy that have resulted in the deaths of countless gay, lesbian, transgender people who had occupied some of our pews… systems that have resulted in the deaths of countless people of color, while so many Christians stood by, doing nothing. 

Either we really do care about life or we don’t. And an unbelieving world is watching to find out. 

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

Good Enough

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myths that you’re not good enough—a myth we often tell ourselves, or the church tells us, particularly in Lent. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am. You can also subscribe to the podcast on Apple here.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

As we wind up the first full week of Lent today, if you are observing the season, you might be finding your Lenten disciplines beginning to be a bit more of a struggle—if they weren’t already. I know we’ve all already had to give up so much during this past year, that giving up something extra in Lent can feel like a true burden (which is one of the reasons why last week I talked about how Lent is about much more than giving something up!). 

But I know I’ve struggled more than normal in my own disciplines this year, and I would imagine I’m not alone. All of this brings out one of the unintended consequences that Lent can sometimes result in: you just feel worse about yourself than when you started.  And, given that sometimes it might feel like the big goal of Christianity is to make you feel worse about yourself, I think this is a good week to break the myth that you’re not good enough.

In my evangelical upbringing, I grew up with a fairly normal amount of guilt—at least, normal for evangelical Christianity. Like other church traditions, I often felt like I just couldn’t measure up to the expectations of God and the church. I felt like I did way too much sinning. I was always confessing to God. I was always trying to do better… and never quite enough. 

While contrition for the sins we’ve done, for the things we’ve left undone, while this is an important part of the spiritual life, an important part of growing and maturing spiritually, it can get out of hand when you start truly doubting whether you are good enough for God, good enough for the church, good enough for anything.

So, let me state one thing very clearly: you are good enough for God. You are so good, that God in Christ was willing to lay aside the powers of divinity and suffer death on a cross so that you might know how much God loved you, so that God could forgive your sins and heal your brokenness. You matter very much to God. And, even though we don’t know each other, you matter to me as a priest. I’m honest. You do. 

One of the things I love about the catechism of The Episcopal Church, as it is articulated in our Book of Common Prayer is where it begins. Our catechism begins with the question, “What are we by nature?” Given so many of the messages I’d heard from the church over the years, my own answer would probably have been something like “we are sinners” or “we are all broken” or “we are all wretches in need of God’s grace.”

But that’s not the answer our prayer book gives. Instead, it says, “We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.” The prayer book reminds us that, though we do all have our own brokenness, though we all have our own struggles and sins, that is not at the core of our nature. The core of our nature is the image of God, pressed upon your very soul. At your beginning, you are good.

The catechism goes on to acknowledge that humans have misused our freedom from the very beginning but that our help is in a God who revealed God’s true nature to us and who sent Jesus Christ to bring us back home, to make us truly the children of God we were meant to be. 

So, if you’re feeling at this early part of Lent that you’re not good enough, I’d encourage you to perhaps spend some time in stillness, practicing the presence of God and letting God’s love wash over you. 

And if you are in a church that tells you you’re not good enough, that your messed up or damaged goods—particularly if you are getting that message from the church because of your gender or sexuality—then I’d encourage you to do what I say at the end of every one of these segments: live your faith out in a community that accepts you and challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

But you can’t grow to be better tomorrow unless you first know that you are loved today. And who you are, particularly your gender or sexuality, is never something broken. It is the way God has created you. And it  is beautiful—and God wants to harness who you are in good and powerful ways. 

You are a beloved child of God, good at your creation—gay, straight, cis, trans, someone who is doing great at Lent or someone who cannot seem to get through one day right this year. NO matter who you are good as you were created. And the image of God is pressed in your very being. The capability of being the hands and feet, of being the words and actions of the love of Jesus in this world is who you are meant to be. But you cannot show others God’s love unless you first feel it yourself, until you know that you are indeed enough… more than enough… you are indeed beloved. 

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

Lent – More than Coke or Chocolate

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myths about Lent and the idea that it’s primarily about giving up coke or chocolate or some other delight. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

Here we are on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent and the day that many of you have started giving up soda or chocolate or alcohol or some other delight in life. 

While giving up something is an important part of observing this season (I’m giving up something, too), it’s not actually, though, at the heart of what Lent is about. So, today I’d like to bust the myth that Lent is primarily about not having coke or chocolate. 

Lent began in the early church as a period of fasting, prayer, and preparation for catechumens—those who were going to be baptized at Easter. Over time, though, the preparatory aspects of Lent spread and were practiced by all those in the community, not just those preparing for baptism. Lent also became a time when those who had been separated from the church due to some kind of notorious sin were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness. 

So, the first thing to remember, is that the point of Lent is to prepare you for Easter. Lent is not meant to be simple mortification, or giving things up. It is not like a second round of New Year’s resolutions. If you give something up, it is to help you do the spiritual work you need to do so that you can more fully celebrate at Easter. 

In the Episcopal Church, we invite people to the observance of a Holy Lent with five different practices—not just giving up something sweet. 

The first practice of Lent is “Self-Examination and Repentance.” Called examen in Latin, the examination of conscience is one of the fundamental Christian spiritual practices. It was first enjoined by St. Paul who warned that, before receiving Holy Communion, you should “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Throughout history many spiritual mothers and fathers of the church have urged a daily examination of conscience, which also includes repenting from sins you have done and seeking to amend your life. 

The second practice of Lent is “Prayer.” And, as I’ve said before on Christian Mythbusters, we must remember that prayer is primarily about practicing the presence of God. Or, as our prayer book says, it is “response to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” During Lent you try to me more intentional about your prayer life, about setting aside time to be in the presence of God and responding to God’s presence in your life.

Fasting is the practice of going without food for a period of time… sort of. Traditionally there are two related practices here. “Abstinence” means lowering the quality of your food, for example, abstaining from meat. Fasting means lowering the quantity of food you eat. So, having a great big basket of fish and chips because it’s Lent is not really what it is about. My wife and I decided to fast one year by eating vegetarian for the entire season—but we also quickly discovered you can do that without actually lowering the quality of the food you eat by much. What you should focus on for your Lenten fast is eating more simply and also eating less. A traditional fast is eating one main meal with two smaller meals at other times during the day, those two smaller meals, put together, still being less than a full meal.  

Self-denial is where you get to the giving up chocolates or soda part of Lent. You are to deny yourself something you normally enjoy for the purpose of increasing your willpower and spiritual discipline. Every time you crave what you have given up you remember the choice you have made, the commitment you have placed upon yourself. Studies have actually shown that engaging in self-denial can increase your willpower in other areas of your life. 

The final practice is reading and meditation on God’s holy Word—the Bible. If you are only giving things up for Lent and not taking anything on, you are missing the richness of the season. Because while you are fasting and abstaining, while you are more active in prayer and more attentive to your inner spiritual life, you will also become better able to hear God’s voice in Holy Scripture. So, find a good reading plan and carve out a few minutes a day to read Scripture. Whether you follow the Daily Office (as many in our church do), sign-up for a plan on a Bible app, or just choose to read through a section of Scripture, you will be blessed by the opportunity to listen more carefully and closely to God’s call in your life. 

Self-examination and repentance. Prayer. Fasting. Self-denial. Reading and meditating on Scripture. These are the ingredients for a Holy Lent—and if you use them all, it will be a much more powerful experience than just giving something up. 

And if you’d like to have a community to begin Lent with, you’re more than welcome to join us. We’ll be streaming live on our YouTube channel (youtube.com/sjegrandhaven), a service in English at noon and a bilingual service in English and Spanish at 6pm. And you can even come to the church parking lot at 524 Washington in Grand Haven, after the services, from 1:00pm-1:30pm or from 7:00pm-7:30pm, and receive ashes and Holy Commnuion. I’d love to see you. 

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

A Faithful Fat Tuesday

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myths (or, really the misconceptions) about the point of Fat Tuesday / Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras, etc.). You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

Well, Lent is just around the corner with Fat Tuesday (or Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras or whatever your culture or tradition calls it) coming to us on February 16 and then the beginning of Lent arriving on Ash Wednesday, February 17.

Given the variety of cultural experiences and approaches to this final day before Lent, I thought today might be a good day to break some of the myths—or really, more accurately, misconceptions people have—about the final day before Lent. Quick answer? It’s not just about parties or pączki—though I do admit to loving a good pączki.

It’s actually pretty interesting how every culture approaches the final days before Lent differently. You can get some of the different approaches just through the names different countries and languages use. 

For some cultures, the celebrations of the Tuesday before Lent stretch even longer than just that one day. In New Orleans, the celebrations begin on Twelfth Night (January 5, the last day before the Epiphany on January 6, the Epiphany being where the church remembers the visit of the magi to the child Jesus). Hence the custom of eating King’s Cake from Epiphany all the through Mardi Gras… Mardi Gras being French for Fat Tuesday) itself on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. 

Are you keeping up with me?

In German the day is called Fastnachtsdienstag (forgive my German), literally the Tuesday night of fasting. In Pennsylvania Dutch country it is called simply Fastnacht Day and there is a donut called a fastnach that is associated with its observance. 

Though those who love pączki often will call the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday Pączki Day, the traditional Polish name is Fat Tuesday (and no, I’m not even going to attempt to pronounce that in Polish). Both the baking of fastnach and of pączki come from this idea of using up all the fatty delicious things in your pantry before the Lenten fast begins. 

In many Portugese, Spanish, and Italian-speaking countries it is known as Carnevale, from the Latin, carnevale. It means putting away the meat or flesh. This is actually where we get our English word for carnival, even though the point of carnival isn’t a great party but is instead one final night of eating meat before the Lenten fast begins and you put the meat away.  

In the Episcopal Church, to my everlasting dismay, we do not feast on delicious yeasty donuts or enjoy some great meat before going vegetarian. No, we eat pancakes—a food so aptly described once by Mitch Hedberg, who said of doing comedy, “You can’t be like pancakes, all exciting at first but by the end you’re sick of them.” 

Still, cooking pancakes is another way to use up those eggs, all that butter milk, and sugar before the fast of Lent begins. We try to make it a little more fun at my own parish, St. John’s Episcopal, by bringing in some of the Carnivale traditions of our Latinx members along with turning it into a karaoke night.. and generally someone does bring some pączki for me.


Yes, after all of that—particularly the karaoke—we are all ready to begin repenting on Lent when Ash Wednesday comes. 


But that’s actually the point of the last Tuesday before Lent, it’s not really so mubh about the partying as it is about the preparing. One of the oldest descriptions of this day comes from Ælfric of Eynsham who lived at the turn of the first century. He wrote, “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do.” 

That word, shrive, is the Old English word receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. That is, to be shriven is to confess your sins to God and then to have a priest pronounce God’s absolution over you. This Old English word is why my own Anglican tradition calls this day Shrove Tuesday, the day we’re forgiven.

So, the final Tuesday before Lent is not really a day to make all kinds of mistakes, to get all your sinning out before Lent begins. Rather, the final Tuesday before Lent is meant to be a day of preparation for the Lenten fast, a day when you intentionally get rid of some of the delights of this world (including by enjoying them a bit!), but you do that so that you can enter into Lent the following day with less temptation around you. 

As you approach this coming Tuesday, no matter your own tradition, perhaps consider that. Consider what things in your life you need to get rid of, what things you need to pull away, in order truly to walk close to Jesus during Lent. Maybe even go to your priest or pastor—or even just a trusted sibling in Christ—and get that nagging sin off of your chest so that you can focus on what Lent truly is about: getting closer to Jesus.

But that question—what Lent and Ash Wednesday are truly about, I’ll leave for next week’s edition.

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

Christian Devotion

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myth of what true and faithful Christian devotion actually looks like. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

One of my favorite leaders in my own Anglican Tradition was Bishop Frank Weston, bishop of Zanzibar in Africa, who offered a powerful sermon in 1923 to a group of gathered Anglicans. Near the end of that sermon he said, “If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.”

Given Bishop Weston’s attempt to describe the whole nature of full and faithful Christian devotion, today’s I’d like to try to break the myth of what a truly devoted Christian looks like. 

First, I want to be clear that participation in the Christian church is essential to Christian devotion. But that is not because you cannot love God apart from the church—many have clearly done that well. It is not because you cannot be saved unless you go to church—our God can save everyone and the whole of the Scriptural tradition would indicate that he tends to have a preference for those religion often leaves behind. 

Rather, participation in the Christian church is essential for the fullest experience of Christian devotion because it is through the church that we learn how to love our neighbor faithfully. The reason for this, of course, is because Christians are a bunch of imperfect, often frustrating to be around people. And, as our Lord told us, simply loving those you already like is no great test of Christian discipleship. But loving those you find more… difficult… this is when we begin to learn what it is like to love like Jesus. And there’s no better way to find people that are sometimes difficult to love than to start going to church regularly. 

Furthermore, the practice of devotion in the Christian church is meant to train our hearts and our spirits. Devotion to God through prayer, through spiritual practices, through devotion to the blessed sacrament, through sacred images which draw our hearts and minds to God, all of these train us to love God more than ourself. Because, of course, the hardest thing it seems for humans to learn when it comes to Christianity (or any religion, really) is how to love anything more than we love ourselves. 

But it does not end there. 

Rather, the practices of Christian devotion, practices that draw us more deeply into the love our God has for us and the love we have for our God, these are meant to teach us how to better practice reverence in other areas of our life as well. After all, as Bishop Weston also said in that same sermon, “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.”

Yes, you cannot claim to worship Jesus in your church if you are not equally concerned and filled with love for Jesus in the poor and oppressed. Or, as our Lord himself said in the twenty-fifth chapter Matthew’s Gospel, “Then they will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

Love Jesus in your church, absolutely. But practice your adoration and devotion there so that when you encounter the hungry in our world, when you encounter the sick, when you encounter the immigrant or the prisoner or anyone who is oppressed by the systems and powers of this world… so that when you encounter them, you have learned what it means to love Jesus there too. You have learned that Jesus is there, too. 

And so that you have learned what it means to offer all of yourself, not just to an idea about Jesus in church, but to offer all of yourself to Jesus as he meets you today in the poor, imprisoned, immigrant, and oppressed of this world.  

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

A Cosmic Vending Machine

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myth that God is some sort of cosmic vending machine, and also offers a fuller understanding of how prayer is much more than asking God for things. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

Growing up in the church, I was taught to pray from a very young age. For some reason, however, I primarily only ever thought of prayer usually in two ways: giving thanks for something (usually a meal we were going to eat) and asking God for something I really wanted. In theological lingo, these are prayers of thanksgiving and of petition. 

But as I studied Christian spirituality in seminary, I was amazed to discover the actual depth and breadth of the practice of prayer in the Christian tradition. So, this week, I’d like to break the myth that God is primarily a cosmic vending machine.

I use the image of cosmic vending machine, not because I actually think many Christians explicitly think of God that way, but because I don’t think we often don’t realize that our prayers can become so full of petitions—and we can get so frustrated and disheartened with some petitions aren’t granted—that we can turn God into a cosmic vending machine in practice.

Petition, however, is only one type of prayer—and it’s not even the most important! But before getting to the types of prayer, it’s important to be clear about what prayer actually is (and why it’s not a cosmic make-a-wish system).

In The Episcopal Church our beliefs and practices are primarily articulated in our Book of Common Prayer. During the Reformation, when other Christians were drawing up creeds and confessions, statements of faith that distinguished them from “those other people who were clearly wrong,” that is not what was happening with English Christianity. Instead, we were creating a prayer book, the seventeenth-century version of which was used a mechanism to get Catholics and protestants to stop killing other and instead to find ways to pray together. We may disagree on all sorts of things a Christians, but in Anglicanism and in the Episcopal Church, we find ourselves united, not by our exact belifs, by our prayer and worship of  the Holy Trinity, of God.

Our prayerbook also contains a catechism, a summary of the Christian faith that probably Christians from almost any denomination would read and find consonant with their own beliefs. I love the definition of prayer in the catechism of the prayer book, where it says, “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” 

There is so much to unpack in that sentence. First, prayer is response to God. That is, prayer presupposes that God is already active. You are not inviting God into a situation; you are acknowledging that God is already present and you are responding to that presence. 

In fact, I often describe prayer as, at its most basic, as practicing the presence of God, learning how to perceive the presence of God and then respond to the grace of God which enfolds you.

Second, prayer can be a response through our thoughts and through our deeds, it can be with or without words. In the Christian traditions of monasticism there is the saying that goes, laborare orare est, “to work is to pray.” You can learn how to turn your work into prayer if you remember that prayer is not asking God for things… but is responding to God. Sometimes prayer is with words… but sometimes it is without words. St. Paul says that the Holy Spirit interprets our groanings when we don’t have words to express how we feel. 

And once you understand prayer as practicing your ability to perceive God’s presence, once you understand prayer as a faithful response to that presence, then the various types of prayer begin to make sense. In our catechism, we identify seven principal kinds of prayer. 

We’ve already talked about petition (asking God things for yourself) and thanksgiving (expressing gratitude to God for our blessings, redemption, and whatever draws us closer to God). Related to petition are prayers of intercession (that’s bringing before God the needs of others). 

Most people are also familiar with prayers of penitence, when you confess your sins to God—but true penitence, remember, is never just confession, it also involves being willing to make restitution when you can and intending to amend your life. 

Those four most of you have heard of, but there are three other types of prayer though, types of prayer that are essential to a robust and rich spiritual life.

Adoration is lifting our heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy the presence of God. If you find yourself always having things to say to God, this sort of prayer can be difficult but it can also be a deep experience of grace.

Praise is articulating the truths of God’s attributes. We don’t praise God to get something, but because God’s very being draws praise from us.

Finally, oblation is offering yourself, your life and your labor, to the work and purposes of God in this world. 

Yes, prayer is much more about a cosmic vending machine. Prayer is about learning how to be attentive and respond to the cosmic—and personal—realities of God’s grace and love for you. 

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

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Church and State

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myths surrounding the separation of Church and State and asks how the church more faithfully can live into its relationship with the state. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

On January 20, 2021, at noon, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. If you are listening to this episode on Wednesday, we will be just about 90 minutes from that inauguration. If you are listening on Sunday morning, it will be in the rearview mirror.

It is normal for religion to play a role in the inauguration of a president in, at least it has been normal since 1937, when the first inaugural invocation was offered. Since 1933 there has also been an associated prayer service the morning of the election, whether private or public, and often a major prayer service the following day or weekend. 

Before this year, the previous four private services, the ones for the inauguration of George W. Bush, both inaugurations of Barack Obama, and the inauguration of Donald Trump had been at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square in Washington, DC. In fact, of the twenty-two associated morning prayer services the day of the inauguration, fully half of them have been at St. John’s. It has also become customary for there to be a public prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral, a church which is not only the seat of our Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church (since it is an Episcopal cathedral) but which has often served as a national house of prayer for all people in our nation. 

Now, as a country which has the separation of church and state as one of its founding principles, it bears notice the prominent role that churches usually play in the inauguration—especially my own Episcopal Church. And so, in light of the inauguration, I’d like this week to say a few words to break some of the myths surrounding the relationship between religion—especially Christianity—and our government. 

First, we are certainly not a Christian nation. We are a nation founded on the free exercise of religion, with the first amendment to the Constitution making it clear that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Furthermore, many of the founding fathers were actually not traditional Christians. Many were deists, people who rejected supernatural revelation while still affirming belief in some kind of supreme being. 

The principle of the separation of church and state comes from a phrase Thomas Jefferson used to express his own understanding of the intent and function of the first amendment. Though the principle has largely been upheld, including by the Supreme Court, it continues to be debated, even to this day.

This is all a particularly interesting question for my own tradition, The Episcopal Church. After all, as a province of the Anglican Communion, our own mother church is the Church of England, where the Archbishop of Canterbury serves as our own global spiritual leader (albeit, with no authority in our own country). And the English monarch continues to serve as the Supreme Governor of the church, a largely ceremonial role these days, but one that does include the power to appoint high-ranking members of the church.

In the Episcopal Church, our prayer book has us pray for the President, usually by name. This caused some consternation given the conflicts surrounding President Trump and our church’s more progressive stance on many issues, but our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, urged us to pray for the president, by name, no matter who the president is because prayer is not a vote of support, it is a request for God’s action and also a motivating force in our own actions. 

Now, I get some flack time to time  from some quarters in the area because I, as a priest, often comment on political matters. People tell me I should stick to the church. The problem is I cannot do that. My calling is to the whole of my parish (that is, the area in which my church exists), not just the members of my congregation, and that means I have an interest in the spiritual and physical well-being of all members of the community here in the Tri-Cities.

In many ways, I see my own role as a priest similar to the role the church should take when it comes to the government, a role articulated so well by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”

I hope that all Christians today, people of all faiths, do pray for our new president. But I also will be praying that as we enter these four years, we will remember it while it is not our job to be the servant of state (we have all seen the corruption that occurs when the church is given governmental power), we are called to be the conscience, guide, and critic of the state.  No matter who is in office, the church must speak up on behalf of justice and peace, love and truth. 

Good luck, President Biden. I’ll be praying for you, just like I prayed for President Trump. And I’m sure I’ll have a thing or two to say in the years ahead about what justice, peace, and truth would urge you to do in your new administration as it begins. 

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

Nonviolent Resistance

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myth of Christian Resistance and explains why a resistance that is truly Christian should almost always be nonviolent. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

Like many of you, I spent much of last week shocked and saddened by what took place in our nation’s capital, as rioters and insurrectionists who believed the lies told them by our current president about the election, charged down the street to the Capitol building, broke past barricades, and—for the first time since the war of 1812—occupied that important civic space… even killing a brave Capitol police officer. I was particularly distraught to see some of the rioters carrying signs and Christian emblems, making it seem to those watching that this heinous and violent act had something to do with the Christian faith.

Let’s be clear. What happened last week on January 6 had nothing to do with Christianity. And those Christians who are planning to repeat that behavior in Washington DC and at state capitals around our nation on January 20th better think very carefully about the sort of witness they are providing to the watching world. 

Now, I want to be clear, there are times Christians are called to stand up and resist injustice, even to break unjust laws in the name of God’s calling to us—but that is not the case in this election. There was nothing stolen. There is no injustice that has taken place. Over 60 court cases have made it clear that the claims of fraud are baseless and without evidence. 

But, for future information, if you do want to resist what you perceive as an unjust act, this is not how Christians are called to do it. So today I’d like to break the myth of Christian Resistance and why that resistance should actually almost always be inherently non-violent, if it will be the resistance of Christ. 

One of the unfortunate results of the church becoming the legal religion of the Roman empire is that the early history and insistence upon Christian nonviolence began to slip away rather quickly. The church lost its way so entirely that in the middle ages we sent armies to invade the Holy Land in the misguided Crusades. It feels good, of course, to fight in the name of God, the problem is that God very rarely is asking us to fight. 

But that is not to say God doesn’t ask us at times to resist. 

A great example of this difference is found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and its cousin in Luke, the Sermon on the Plain. In both of these important texts that contain the preaching of Jesus, our Lord urges us, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.”

For far too long this text has been misused, it’s been seen as an example of being a doormat and letting people walk all over you. After all religious authorities have used these words to perpetuate systems of abuse and oppression. Jesus said to turn the other cheek and so I’ve actually heard pastors tell women in abusive situations they should continue to suffer under that abuse, that this is living into the love of Jesus. 

That’s a lot of… I cannot say that word on the radio. 

Remember, throughout all the gospels we are told that Jesus has come to turn the world upside down, to bring down systems of oppression and not to perpetuate them, to enable and equip those who are abused to claim the goodness of God that is indeed rightfully theirs.  That is what Jesus does.

So, when Jesus says turn the other cheek, what he actually envisions as a person who is struck with a backhand but who then stands up and looks the person who struck them in the eye, claiming their humanity, saying that if you want to hit me again you have to hit me on the other cheek—which would mean using an open hand.  Because striking someone with the back of your hand in the first century is a sign that you are above them. But, to hit someone with an open hand would be to acknowledge that person as your equal. 

It’s the same in other parts of the Sermon on the Mount. If someone forces you to go with them one mile, go a second mile—not because you are a doormat, to show them that you have autonomy and shame their coercion with your goodness. If someone takes your coat, give them your shirt and walk away naked, making it clear they can never take your dignity and your humanity. 

This is the path of Christian resistance. 

As Martin Luther King, Jr., used to say—we don’t seek victory over our oppressors, we seek the salvation and redemption of our oppressors. And the nonviolent way of the cross demonstrates the path to authentic Christian resistance, a resistance that is based in the very life and death of Jesus himself. 

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

Christianity & Other Faith Traditions

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myth the idea that all Christians believe people in other faith traditions are condemned. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1, WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

In the life of the church, today is the Feast of the Epiphany (or Revelation) of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

The Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 is actually the more ancient Christian feast which celebrates the Incarnation. Christmas didn’t develop until later.  In Eastern Christianity, Epiphany celebrates the Baptism of Christ, but in Western Christianity, it celebrates the visit of the Magi from the East who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child. In some cultures, like the Mexican  community, this feast is actually the more significant, known as Día de los Tres Reyes, the Day of the Three Kings. It is the Three Kings who bring gifts on this day in Mexico , not the Santa Clause we are familiar with. 

And so, given this feast day which (in actuality) celebrates some Persian Astrologers worshipping Jesus, I thought today would be a great day to break the myth of what Christians actually believe when it comes to other world religions. The shorthand for this question is the Christian view on religious pluralism. 

Now, sure, every Christian tradition will nuance the question of its relationship to other faith traditions differently. Most think that there are either one of two approaches: a traditional approach that believes followers of other religions are condemned unless they come to faith in Jesus Christ (the exclusivist position) and an open one that basically says everyone is OK and goes to heaven in the end, Christianity is just one of many paths (the universalist position). 

By now you probably know me as someone often on the more progressive side of Christianity, but actually, as with many things, the teaching of the church is just more nuanced than either the entirely closed or entirely open side would lead you to believe. 

Writing in the third century, for instance, Origen was perhaps the first Church Father to fully engage the question of religious pluralism. Before Origen, those who wrote about pagan religions largely did so primarily in a dismissive fashion. Origen believed that eventually all people would be united with God through Jesus Christ, saying that even those who did not do so in this life would be given the opportunity following death to choose God. He said this was a possibility and certainly not definite but given eternity and God’s love he thought it was possible. 

Make no mistake, Origen was certainly no “liberal” or “relativist.” He argued strongly that if only local convention and custom are the standards of religious truth, then religion becomes merely a matter of “arbitrary arrangement and opinion.” You’re kind of saved—or not—depending on where you happen to be born. Instead of each locality worshiping the deity for that region or group, Origen insisted there must be one true God. As a Christian, Origen believed that Jesus directed people not to a local or tribal deity, but to the God of all people. He just also believed that in the end all people would hopefully choose that God.

In the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo further developed Origen’s argument. He went so far as to say that other religions were attempting to worship the same God as Christians. Drawing from Neo-Platonism, which believed blessedness was attained through participation in “the light,” Augustine believed this was the same light spoken of in John 1, the light which enlightens all people. He would say that those of other religions are looking toward the same light as Christians, they seek blessedness in that same source, they offer worship and adoration to that same God… they just don’t that light as fully as Christians do. 

Christianity, Augustine believed, was the sure path to fellowship with God. But, Augustine did not merely dismiss other religions. He articulated his own belief in the superiority of Christianity but did so while arguing that the Christian path to God was to be preferred for the way that it drew people to proper devotion to the one God—but one could not say people could not find God elsewhere.

What we see in the world (and in our own communities of faith) is humans seeking greater faithfulness to the one God in a variety of ways. We do not know for certain what happens in the end to those who practice other religions; we do not know for certain where those paths lead. But we do know, as Christians, that our God is a God of mercy, and that, of course, even our own practice of Christianity, our own attempt to follow God, is often flawed by blind subservience to tradition and an inability to see the image of God stamped on every single human soul. 

We can afford to be more generous—and more curious—with those of other faiths, even while maintaining our commitment to Christ. 

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today. 

Christians & Change

Christians & Change

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myth the idea that Christians never really change, a particularly important question given the upcoming New Year’s holiday. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1, WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, that glorious night of the year when we get to burn the candle down to the nub and wish 2020 a hearty goodbye. Of course, as was pointed out to me on social media, our new year is literally pronounced 2020-won—as in the year 2020 has won and beaten us all, but we’ll try not to think of that as we celebrate in our homes with great hopes for a much better year to come.

One of the most traditional parts of the New Year’s holiday is the obligatory New Year’s resolutions, those commitments to change parts of our lives that are made with fire and fury on December 31 and only sometimes last through the entire month of January. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have the crowd at the gym thin out a little as the weeks of January turn into February, but there is a slight sadness I think many of us bring to the knowledge that our New Year’s resolutions rarely bring fruit we had hoped.

And yet, hope springs eternal, and so this week I’d like to try to bust the myth that Christians never change.

One of my favorite lines from the Christian artist Rich Mullins, who died several years ago, was whenever people tell him they don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites, he loved to respond to them, “No we’re not, we always have room for a few more.” What Rich was playfully pointing out is that no person who goes to church follows Jesus with perfect faithfulness. Rather, we commit to the Christian community because we know we need to be changed.

Now, I’ll be quick to admit that not all Christians approach the church with a desire to be changed and to be shaped after the love, mercy, and justice of Jesus Christ. Lord knows I’ve heard people tell me in my days that they didn’t feel uplifted going to my church sometimes. But as another of my favorite Christian thinkers, CS Lewis, once said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

The fundamental message of Advent that we’ve heard for the past several weeks was the call to repent, to change our lives. In the days of Christmastide, we are invited to experience the light and grace of God and to let that love change us so that we can be the body of Christ on earth. As we move toward the Feast of the Epiphany, we are invited to change from a gospel only focused on those who look like us and to ask how God is being present in those strange and far away, like the three magi of old. And, of course, in just a couple months, in the Season of Lent, we will begin with Ash Wednesday, and we will repent once more in dust and ashes.

The practice of examen, is what this is known in the spiritual traditions of the church. It is a practice best engaged in daily actually, asking yourself every day, “In what ways has my life not lived up to the call of Christ. How did I sin in what I did… or what I left undone?”

It’s hard stuff. None of us really like admit we are wrong, but all of us are wrong. All of us do fall short. And the task of the Christian is not to wag fingers at all those who don’t live up to your expectations (and here I do need to confess to a propensity toward finger-wagging of my own at times… please forgive me). The task of the Christian is to turn once more to Jesus, not if we fall into sin, but—as our own prayer book says in the Episcopal Church—when we fall into sin. 

The true hypocrites in the church are those who refuse to acknowledge that their actions don’t line up with what they believe about God in Christ. Most Christians are actually acutely aware that they don’t life faithfully, painfully aware really—and they are trying to change and live differently.

So, as you approach New Year’s Eve, instead of a tremendous resolution you know you will never live up to, what if you tried something different? What if you tried to commit to spending  just a few minutes, at the end of each day, reflecting on the day that is past and asking God’s forgiveness. I have a hunch it would not only help build some humility, but it would make you even more aware of just how much God loves you and forgives you… and just how much God’s love can change us from the people we tend to be into the people Jesus wants us to be. 

Because, in the end, through the grace of God, all of us can change. 

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.