Tear Gas outside United States Capitol, Jan 6 2021, Tyler Merbler, wikimedia commons

Happy Pentecost! <crickets>

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what that is. When I found out that Pentecost* was not just an obscure Bible story but actually a major church holiday, I had been regularly attending and singing in the choir at an Episcopal church for about 9 months. The week before, the music director started talking about the red shoes he was going to wear for the service. Um…what? Everyone else was super into that, but I was perplexed.

The day came and multiple people were wearing not only red shoes, but red outfits, red hats — you…

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Have you ever felt that your shame had been erased? That just because someone had listened to you, your low self regard had melted and flowed away, like ice into water?

I think St. Photine had that experience. You may have never heard of her -I certainly hadn’t- but she, like a select few other saints such as Mary Magdalene, is known as “equal to the apostles” in the Eastern churches. She extensively traveled, taught and converted thousands across the East and in Africa. Unfortunately for her, one of the places she traveled was Rome, where she had the audacity…

Wisdom From the Sermon on the Mount

Cartoon drawing of a chocolate eclair surrounded by quote from comedian John Mulaney: You have the moral backbone of a….
Cartoon drawing of a chocolate eclair surrounded by quote from comedian John Mulaney: You have the moral backbone of a….
Cross stitch pattern by clanoneves, etsy.com

Are you a moral person? I’m sure you are, but let me ask you this:

Have you ever broken the law?

If your first thought was no, I’m afraid you’re wrong. You’ve probably broken the law without even fully realizing it. If you’ve ever driven over the speed limit, or not come to a complete stop at a stop sign, you’ve broken the law. Uh-oh, that means you might be in trouble with Jesus:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I…

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Did you observe a holiday this Sunday?

No, I’m not talking about the big doings in Punxsutawney. Yesterday was a lesser-known church holiday (or “feast”) known as The Presentation of Our Lord. (If you ever see a reference to Candlemas in your fancy British literature, this is it).

Here’s a bit of the Bible passage that tells us about this feast:

When the time came according to the law of Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, righteous and devout, and the Holy…

he baptism of Christ from the Psalter of Eleanor of Aquitaine (ca. 1185) from the collection of the National Library of the Netherlands, wikimedia commons

Whenever anyone asks about my baptism, I tell them it was by full immersion, aka “dunking.” Yup, like a donut. Then I often joke that that is the only true way to be baptized. Clearly I’m right because the Gospel of Matthew states Jesus “came up from the water “ [Matthew 3:16]. Case closed! But joking aside, what is important about baptism is not how wet you get on the outside, it’s how drenched in the faith you are on the inside. And since we may not feel drenched in the faith all the time, it is a very common…

What Jesus Says About Our Quest for Perfection


Are you too scared to admit you fall short of perfection?

Here’s a story Jesus tells about someone who wasn’t:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God…

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted following her arrest for refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger on a segregated municipal bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Wikimedia commons, public domain

Justice was one of Jesus’ favorite subjects. While we tend to relegate it to something that happens in a courtroom, for Jesus, justice was something to be constantly enacted and worked for in our daily lives. One of his parables even uses an apparent court case to prove this point:

In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even…

Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision, 12th Century, wikimedia commons

Medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen, widely admired by feminists as an icon and Christians as a saint, was also a prophet. She spoke truth to power in a little-known and unusual way.

For those unfamiliar with St. Hildegard, if you’ve ever browsed through a bookstore and slowly become aware of female voices singing in Latin, rising and falling like waves, gently in your ears, chances are that music was composed by her. She did many other things, including writing medical books, particularly about plants and their uses in healing. She also wrote books on science and theology, known then as…

detail of late 16th century painting The Village Feast by Hans Bol showing a gathering of men, women and children haggling
detail of late 16th century painting The Village Feast by Hans Bol showing a gathering of men, women and children haggling
The Village Feast by Hans Bol, wikimedia commons

The practice of transactional ethics (or transactionalism) seems to have taken over our political belief system in recent years. A Washington Post articlelast month outlined the ways many Evangelical Christians support the current president not because they like him or even agree with many of his policies, but for purely mercenary reasons. They feel that their way of life is in danger and they want a champion.

I think conservatives for decades have felt bullied by the left, and the default response was to roll over and take it…[But the president’s] favorite verse in the Bible he says is ‘an…

Swedish teen Greta Thunberg sits for an interview before speaking to the European Parliament
Swedish teen Greta Thunberg sits for an interview before speaking to the European Parliament
Photo credit: European Parliament, via wikimedia commons

Swedish teen Greta Thunberg has become the voice of the worldwide movement to urgently combat climate change. On March 15, an estimated 1.4 million students in 112 countries around the world heeded her call to skip school and demand the environment be protected for their generation.With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that conservative commentator Christopher Caldwell attacked her in the New York Times this week, unleashing a storm of criticism. So much so, that within hours of its publication, his five-sentence Wikipedia career bio had gained a sixth sentence:

…Caldwell published a highly contentious article criticizing 16-year-old Greta Thunberg…

V.R. Marianne Zahn

Writing on religion for thinking people

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