Author Archives: Christine Sunderland

December Journal, Second Sunday in Advent

TimeIt is a curious thing when events collide, or fall into place, or compliment one another, or shed a light upon one another. I have been considering setting my next novel in the season of Advent. The downside is the season is usually too busy to attend to the manuscript first draft. But the remarkable upsides collided today, on this Second Sunday in Advent when the Church considers the final judgments, individual and general.

It is a subject most run away from, for good reason, for it is a painful thing to examine one’s life with the eye of our Creator. Scrubbing clean can sometimes hurt. And yet we are told there is a law, a standard, by which we shall be judged.

Pearl_harbor_plain2So what were the other events that collided with Judgment Day?

December 7 is the eightieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of the themes in my novel-in-progress, Return to Angel Mountain, considers those who served in the Pacific Theater in World War II, with research based on my father’s experience in the navy on board the U.S.S. Phoenix, in thanksgiving or the service of these courageous sailors.

Another event this month is the Supreme Court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which revisits the constitutionality of the Roe v. Wade decision (1972), opening the possibility that abortion law will be returned to the states.

And so, how will the Last Judgment judge this case? Especially considering the scientific knowledge we now have, unavailable in 1972, ultrasounds that show the child in the womb from conception. Will these children be allowed to live in the future?

cloud-sun-gods-finger-skyI considered these things in our chapel today, as we heard Christ’s voice in the Gospel lesson:

“AND there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh….” Luke 21:25+, BCP, 93.

With redemption, comes judgment. With judgment, comes law. Do we have the right to take the life of an unborn child? Some ask, “What would Jesus do?” I believe he would choose life, the life he had created for a certain purpose, to live on this earth to his glory, each life loved to the death and into life again.

pro lifeThere are times when we must trust in God, his purposes, his love. There are times when we are pulled in two directions, or three or four. Many women know this, that they have been granted the greatest gift of all, to bear new human life within their bodies. Yet they also sometimes fear their own lives spinning out of control. Today we are told career comes first. We are told a house and financial stability comes first. We are told we have too many children already. We are scolded that the planet is too crowded. We are told to sleep with anyone and abort children conceived. Men are told they need not marry, need not commit to another. Why bother, the chorus screams, in this culture of self, of me, of un-love.

Sounds like the script from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.

american-flag-2a2I considered today the drama of these times to come, described by Our Lord in the Gospel, and I considered the monumental events of the times today. I recalled those who fought for our peace and freedom, who gave their lives for us to live, breathe, form families, worship in church. They were brave, these men and women who fought for us, who answered the call to arms after Pearl Harbor. They kept us safe. They chose the right, to fight the wrong.

Judgment is all around us, birthed in every choice we make. To say our choices do not matter is to deny God’s everlasting love and lifegiving spirit among us. Every breath matters.

I recall my bishop, Bishop Morse, of blessed memory, often said that “nothing is wasted.” This can be gratifying when we do right with no one seeing, but it can be terrifying if we slip or slide or do wrong with no one seeing. And yet belief in a God who cares for us so much that he desires us to be good and to live with him forever in promised mansions, who loves us so he died for us and offers himself again and again to walk alongside, leading, guiding our every choice.

Bishop Morse also often said that when he finished his confession, he would complete the list with, “I have not loved enough.” For love is the root of all goodness, all right action, all righteousness. Love – sacrificial love – is the heart of the law.

And so as I considered Advent today, this season of silent valley fogs muffling our mornings in the East Bay, this season of cold winter, short days, and long nights, I thought of Angel Mountain where the hermit Abram lived, died, and lived again. I thought of the sound of silence, the quiet when words are no longer spoken, or songs no longer sung.

lady-justiceWe are in the winter of our national life, here in America. We have seen our country fight again and again for right action, and the old demons rise again and again to try and trick our people into wrong action. Nothing changes on this earth, at least in terms of good and evil. But we can make a difference with every desire and deed that we own. For nothing is wasted.

Last Sunday we faced death and what that means. Today we face the judgment of our life. Next week we look to our final destination, Heaven, determined by our death and judgment. The last week, the fourth Sunday in this wintry Advent season, we look to Hell, the place of darkness, the place without God, without love, the abyss, full of meaningless chaos.

Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of the Son of God. We cannot prepare without being judged. We cannot be good without knowing what goodness is. We shall see one day what the highest court of America, of our land of freedom, will do with this monstrous evil that moves among us. How will they judge this thing that slithers and hisses in the dark? Will they say yes to life, no to murder? How will our nation respond to this judgment?

candleWe await the coming of Christ in Bethlehem. We await the second coming of Christ in the last days. In this mean-time, we welcome the coming of Christ into our hearts to love us with his judgment and mercy, redeeming us out of our time and into his eternity by the wood of the Cross, by sacrificial love.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

 

November Journal, First Sunday in Advent

candleThe season of Advent has often been called Little Lent, for it is a penitential season, a time to examine our hearts and minds to see if we are ready to receive the Savior of the World among us.

Over the years I have used this time to memorize or re-memorize the Collect for today, an opening prayer that is repeated throughout Advent. And so as I listened to the prayer prayed before the altar this morning, collecting us together, the familiar words sang to me:

“Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to life immortal…” BCP 90

If I do nothing else this Advent, I shall endeavor to repeat this prayer daily, to forge the words into my heart and mind, my memory a golden home for these words, food for my soul.

Last Judgment Fra AngelicoFor today we begin to think about judgment, law, and love. Paul writes to the church in Rome in the Epistle (Romans 13:8+) about how the law leads to love. “We owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” But there is more; it is not that simple. He goes on to list the commandments, for the commandments are the law of love, commandments against adultery, killing, stealing, lying, and coveting, all which harm others. How do we measure up against this standard given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, burned into tablets of stone?

And so we have our instructions for Advent: to examine, confess, and repent; to clean out our hearts.

Paul writes one of his most beautiful exhortations to his church in Rome, making his words appealing and encouraging, even beautiful:

“Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we  believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

It startled me anew, “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ becomes a garment worn over our souls. It is a garment of light and love, and also law. Christ himself is our armour of light. We wear him.

We don the holy, the sacred, the eternal. And by wearing Christ, a holy light of discernment, we see our way in the darkness of this world. He hallows us, covering our body and soul, protecting us from harm, from the dark.

I will admit, confess, that chambering and wantonness, rioting and drunkenness, are not my usual temptations. But I see them all around me, in our towns, in our schools, in our elections, in our lack of law and order, in the everyday shootings and lootings and chaos nearby. But strife and envying are always hovering, tempting, for it is easy to desire to be someone else, or covet what they have, to be ungrateful for blessings given, for life itself. So I admit to these sins that encourage the darkness and dispel the light, making it more difficult to “walk honestly.”

Tradition appoints four themes, the “last four things,” to be addressed on the four Sundays in Advent: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, themes of darkness and light. For we all shall die and we all shall face judgment and our final destination. Considering these last things leads us to our means of salvation, Christ himself, born in Bethlehem. Considering these events, we cast our hope on this Child in the manger, the One who will carry us into eternity.

RESOURCE_TemplateFor if we don Jesus Christ, if we cover our souls with his armor of law and love, we need not fear the encroaching dark. We can see the morning light through the trees, as we follow the path through the forest, through the woods of the Cross, and to the river that runs by the throne of God.

In Angel Mountain I was glad to describe some of these events in our own end-times, our own lives on this earth. I was glad to echo the words of Paul and the words of the Prayer Book’s Collect for the First Sunday in Advent. I was glad to glimpse the glowing dawn of his glorious majesty when He judges us, when we rise to the life immortal.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

November Journal, Sunday next before Advent

IMG_4982Today is called “Stir Up” Sunday because of the prayer at the beginning of the liturgy, which “collects” us together as one body in Christ, hence called the Collect for the Day:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 1928, 225)

And we, the good people of St. Joseph’s Chapel in Berkeley, were stirred up, our wills swirling in a golden bowl, stirred by the Holy Spirit, melding into one single will, to glorify God on this bright Sunday morning.

Our deacon celebrated a deacon’s Mass, since our vicar was away. It was good to see Deacon Longsworth, who attended seminary here at St. Joseph’s and returned today, soon to be ordained to the priesthood. This happens from time to time – former students return to visit, to preach, to pray – and we enjoy the reunions, lovely gifts from God suddenly in our midst.

And so, as my will was being stirred up, I wondered if my creativity was too, if soon I would seek a moment to begin my next novel. Many of its parts are living in my brain, camped out, I guess, waiting. Some bits and pieces have left, probably ready to move on.

After Mass I stepped downstairs into the basement of our student residence next door to work for a few minutes weeding the books stored there for the last forty years. It is a project slowly taking shape. The process of the weeding, pulling dusty volumes from dustier racks, considering the title on the spine, and placing in an appropriate pile, has focused my fragmented mind upon books, libraries, and words.

Someone on the political left stated recently that words were a sign of white supremacy. Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal (November 13/14, 2021, “Democrats Need to Face Down the Woke”) recently quoted George Packer in his Atlantic article, “When the Culture War Comes for the Kids”:

“In New York City’s public schools, which Mr. Packer’s children attended, the battleground was ‘identity.’ Grade-school ‘affinity groups’ were formed ‘to discuss issues based on identity – race, sexuality, disability.’ The city was spending millions in ‘antibias’ training for school employees. One slide was titled ‘White Supremacy Culture’ and included such traits as ‘individualism,’ ‘objectivity’ and ‘worship of the written word.’ “

I’ve read that also under the white supremacy label is discipline, responsibility, and achievement. Other identity groups, the Left claims, do not think in these terms and thus students shouldn’t be held to these standards.

What really struck me was “worship of the written word.” Hence, books, libraries, and as we have heard, history. For how is history transmitted from generation to generation? Through words, written and oral. Will these folk let us keep oral words? According to cancel culture, speech is forbidden as well.

booksAnd so as I examined the dusty, faded, spines of these many volumes published over the last fifty+ years, I recalled that such basements full of books might indeed be banned one day. Would libraries be burned down? It was thought a remarkable and fortunate turn of fortune that the great Alexandrian library in North Africa was spared the looting and pillaging of the vandals in the raids of the fifth century. Libraries – of word, print, or mind – exist to share ideas and times, plottings and plannings between people and cultures and ages. Libraries attempt to ensure that we do not make the same mistake as our ancestors did, that we learn from history and not repeat the failures.

Indeed, these very words, my thoughts worked out on a keyboard, appearing on a screen, on a sunny Sunday afternoon after being stirred up in a sacred chapel a block from UC Berkeley, would be banned too.

RESOURCE_TemplateSo another idea for a theme in my novel emerged. Deep within the caves of Angel Mountain is the last, lost library. Far down, below ground, and farther down than that… where hidden wellsprings bubble and moisture seeps and drips through sandstone… are the last books of Man, his lost words, forgotten and abandoned and left in the dark during the terrible terror, the silencing of speech, writings, communications. It is a time when we no longer sing the song of humanity to one another, to the next generation. We no longer tell stories to children about life, death, and love. One character recalls church bells, though, and sings the tones as she goes to sleep. Another recalls poetry. Another recalls a mother’s lullaby. But these are deep interior memories, silenced by the great levelling, the equalizing of humanity into a gray stream of sameness.

At some point in the past, one character recalls, the lights went out, electricity fizzled, plugs were pulled, and the world went dark. Along with modern conveniences that depended upon the power grid, the internet shut down, for batteries needed feeding. It didn’t take long, he remembers, only a few weeks, maybe less. Fuel was banned to save the planet from climate change and cars sat still and silent where they were abandoned, or kept as museum pieces. The last-minute hording was ugly, with many dying in the crush of stampedes. Yet the hording didn’t last forever either, just extended the pain.

Writing2Another character recalls that at one time they heard news of other places and events. The news came through screens and phones, generally propelled by those in power in Washington using carefully scripted words. But now, with the silence mandate, which criminalized writing and most other communication as racist and therefore hate speech, and therefore a sign of domestic terrorism, news was broadcast once a month by a town crier, who read a carefully scripted and word-barren paper he unrolled in the village square. Some wondered if he was human, and perhaps he wasn’t, for he sounded like a digital recording from a bygone age. Others listened, but learned little about human affairs in other places.

It was said in hushed voices that at one time art was celebrated – pictures and stories invented by the imagination – but that the mind needed words and images to dream, and the desire to tell or draw or listen slowly disappeared.

But another whispered that Angel Mountain had a secret deep within, far below in the bowels of the earth. It was a secret library. They spoke the word library as if it wereZ precious gold, a gemstone of rare brilliance. What was a library, the young asked. Ah, the elders replied, you wouldn’t believe it if you saw it. What is believe, the young asked. Ah, the elders sighed, something from long ago, something bright and beautiful and full of joy…

And so I pulled books from the metal racks in the basement of St. Joseph’s student residence, Morse House. There were classic paperback novels, yellowing and brown. There were theological tomes from various decades. There were cataloging how-to books, that listed order and numbers and classifications that all librarians abided by. There were large glossy books of places and things with color photographs and few words that delighted the eye and fed dreams of travel. There were hymnals and prayer books and sheet music in binders.

And many others…

And so the libraries of my mind, those collections of images and words and ideas, loves and hates and dreams, were reorganized as I studied the spines and chose the destination of each book. The books and the words of my mind, those phrases and feelings that formed foundations of my life, joined and separated in a kind of dance, or a painting, or a poem.

candleThe stirring up had stirred me up indeed. And I was grateful, even joyful, that I was a part of Our Lord’s faithful people plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, at least trying to bring forth such fruit. The fruit, I knew, lived in our words, in our hearts and minds. The fruit was ripe for the picking.

As I said farewell for the week to the others gathered around a table in the Clergy House in the back, I was grateful for this morning, this last Sunday of the Church Year. I look forward to next Sunday, our New Year’s Day, the First Sunday in Advent. For having been stirred up, I look anew to the season of Advent, the coming of Our Lord as a babe in a cave in the hills outside Bethlehem, surrounded by farm animals, adored by his mother, earthly father, shepherds, angels, and wise men. We shall sing of this with words that resound through the centuries. We shall tell the greatest story of all, the story of Christmas.

Post Published by ACFW, “Loving Righteousness”

AMERICAN FLAG

Today, Veterans Day, in thanksgiving for those who fought for our freedoms, American Christian Fiction Writers published Christine’s post, “Loving Righteousness,” how Christian fiction writers weave stories of righteousness, the foundation of American freedom and character. Angel Mountain, her seventh novel, opens on Veterans Day 2018 and closes on Thanksgiving Day, reflecting upon how America can remain free without righteousness.logo

November Journal, Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity, Octave of All Saints

65D6F3F7-EDAC-4F24-A57D-79E5779CC498A cold breeze pierced the air making way for the sun to light up our green hills in the East Bay, welcome after more light rain this week. For without light, colors fade into grays.

Just so, today we celebrated the saints and the light they have shone upon our world, turning the grays into greens, allowing us to see God and God’s heaven a bit more clearly.

Just so, parents across the land saw more clearly just what their students were being taught in public school – division, hate, and segregation all over again. They saw clearly, and they reacted with their votes. Numerous school boards were reshuffled. This was a victory for parents over the state, for freedom over slavery. Had it not been for the pandemic, these parents would not be any wiser. Somehow the clouds of lockdowns had silver linings, for parents saw with their own eyes through Zoom classes exactly what the teachers were teaching their children. God writes straight with crooked lines, as they say.

Writing2And just so, the unborn have been given a voice, a tiny voice, barely a whisper, but still light has been shone once again upon the genocide of the unborn. When I reach the pearly gates, what will I confess to St. Peter, or indeed Our Lord himself, about my silent role, my collusion, in this fifty-year genocide? Granted I have voted against this horror. I have supported those who marched against it. I have written and spoken. Will that be enough? It is a huge pandemic of life, of our nation, of the world, each day, each hour; a giant condemnation of America; a Holocaust, but of far greater numbers and time span.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a radiologist, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal (October 29, 2021) how her “youngest patients are unborn babies, and today’s ultrasounds show they are fully alive and human.” At fifteen weeks they “have all the proportions of a newborn…major organs are formed and functioning… the digestive, urinary and respiratory systems are practicing for life outside the womb… the heart is fully formed.” The baby is active, kicking and arm-waving:

“I watch as babies plant their feet against the uterine wall and stretch vigorously. Sometimes a delicate hand – with all five fingers – approaches the face and appears to scratch an itch. fingernails aren’t visible, but they are present. We can see how the bones of the leg meet the tiny ankles and the many-boned feet… the brain’s frontal lobes, ventricles, and thalamus fill the oval-shaped skull. The baby’s profile is endearing in its petite perfection: gently sloping nose, distinct upper and lower lips, eyes that open and close.”

Is this child owned by the mother it inhabits? Yes, say those who desire to end the child’s life. No, say the pro-lifers – owning someone else is called slavery. No one owns another person, regardless.

These questions are increasingly being raised in federal courts, as more and more Americans begin to see more clearly what we have “legalized” in a more primitive time, before ultra-sounds, in 1973. Soon the Supreme Court will hear a Mississippi case challenging abortions after fifteen weeks.

How did we arrive at this place in our history? Many say the manipulation of language has effected huge changes, the use of euphemisms that prevent seeing the deed as it truly is. Many have said that the “Newspeak” of Orwell’s 1984 has arrived, where the meaning of words are changed and some words are eliminated entirely. And with the manipulation of language comes the rewriting or even erasure of history.

Are we en-lightened or are we barbarians? What has blinded us so? Can we turn around and embrace these little ones, embrace the light of truth about the human condition?

ST.JOSEPHS CHAPELI thought about this and about the light of the saints, their shining a light upon us all, their examples of selflessness and sacrifice, their witness to seeing reality as it truly is – I thought about these things as I worshiped in St. Joseph’s Chapel this morning, and I gave thanks for the testimony of the majestic organ notes that danced into the dome above the white-linen covered altar, above the candles burning bright, above the white tented tabernacle, and above the crucifix itself.

And I gave thanks for the beam of light streaming through the high clerestory windows, piercing the wood of the cross.

The love of God was in that space, with us, leading us, and teaching us through his humble priest bringing Christ in our midst. I was thankful for this moment of clarity.

October Journal, Feast of Christ the King, Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

APCK Logo newIn our Anglican tradition, at least in the Anglican Province of Christ the King (traditional Episcopal), we celebrate the Feast (Festival) of Christ the King on the last Sunday in October. Others choose the Sunday before Advent, toward the end of November. This being our name day, it is particularly meaningful for us. For Christ is our King indeed – in deed, in Word, and in Spirit.

And so it is particularly touching that this year the Feast of Christ the King falls on All Hallows (holy ones) Eve, the day before All Saints Day, commonly known as Halloween.

Ah, Halloween! I have found that it is a curious thing that adults desire to dress in costume and pretend for a brief time they are someone else. I have heard that actors choose their profession for the same reason, a chance to be someone else. It is an exercise of the imagination, I suppose, and in this sense can broaden one’s ability to think outside one’s own skin, or develop empathy for others in this role playing. Children costume naturally, having been role playing through creative play their first years. “Let’s pretend… Let’s play… such and such…” It seems a natural part of growing up, and when adults continue to put on costumes, perhaps they are still growing up. Maybe to have a child’s enthusiasm and imagination isn’t so bad. When we enter stories, and live the lives of other characters, we are role playing, pretending to be and do something we are not and do not (usually).

When we act our parts in the yearly Christmas Pageant (and we have numerous adults participating) we costume ourselves in wings and halos and robes and mantles. We carry sheep and gifts to present to the Christ Child and a star atop a pole to raise above the manger – more role playing, telling a glorious story.

As for Halloween, I’m not so keen on children dressing as witches and demons, since witches do exist in satanic cults across the land and demons are fallen angels, unseen but scripturally evidenced. Both do enormous harm.

But best to laugh off all these darker powers, as C.S. Lewis advised (I think). 

Halloween is, I believe, or has become, a ritual recognition of another world, a way to grasp and deal with such a possibility, and perhaps through this scary fright, to face our deepest fears that things aren’t quite what they seem and there really is a Hell waiting for atheists and other deniers of Our Lord, Christ the King. There really is Judgment Day.

all saintsBut in the darkness of this night we look forward for the dawn of the Feast of All Saints, a glorious, sumptuous celebration of those men and women who have gone before us (and will come after us), who were so filled with the love of God they obeyed his Son, Christ the King. The Catholic Church has named many such saints, and Anglicans reformed the number, simplifying. The names fill the squares on our Ordo Kalendars so we won’t forget: the Apostles and the martyrs who witnessed and died, the Doctors and Fathers of the Church who taught, the evangelists who wrote and preached, the clergy who gave of themselves wholly in holiness, the unsung heroes who fed and sheltered the poor. They populate our kalendars with dates going back over two thousand years.

We celebrate tomorrow, November 1st, this Communion of Saints, this river of love, rolling through time. We join them in song and in eucharist, the living and the dead. We are reminded that we are not alone, but a magnificent part of a great “cloud of witness,” witnessing to the Son of God coming to Earth as a humble baby, born into a persecuted world in a cave outside Bethlehem.

Today we identify with many of these great acts. We too, want to be saints, to know this love of God burning within us. We too, want to have lives of meaning, lives of purpose, lives witnessing to love, hope, and faith. And we too, are persecuted for these desires, for daring to preach the sanctity of life from the unborn to the aged, for daring to claim our inalienable right to freedom to believe the truth and speak that truth to lies. To that end, we protest the bullying and brainwashing of our children. To that end, we defend the family: the privileged and unique role of women as mothers who are able to give birth, to nurture within their bodies a life created by God; the privileged and unique role of men as fathers to protect those women engaged in such a holy purpose; the privileged and unique role of mothers and fathers to care for their children, to watch over them and protect them.

CHRIST THE KING 2These men and women live among us, sanctifying our world. Thus, on Tuesday we celebrate All Souls, remembering those who have gone before us as faithful soul-soldiers. They may not have lived lives totally abandoned to God’s love and purpose, but they believed and they tried, they confessed and they repented. They reached for Our Lord’s hand and walked him, on his path, until the next stumbling and standing upright again, and moving on. All Souls is for the rest the believers, those who have gone before us in time, who followed Christ the King.

And we will not need costumes, for we will know fully who we are and are meant to be, each and every one of us. We follow the King to learn who we are, to live out who we are, and to love as we are created to love. For he created us, each one of infinite variety and complexity, each one loved by God and help precious in his sight. This is the great adventure, the great story, we are part of, a wholly holy one, to be sure.

October Journal, Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

rain-on-a-windowRain came to the Bay Area this weekend, and today it falls steadily straight down, pounding our parched earth and blown sideways by the wind, pulling branches and leaves with it. We are grateful for this downpour, in spite of expected flooding in the northern counties where fire has burned away nature’s protections against erosion. The rain patters and splatters, tapping the windows in a kind of dance, and I suppose I should retain some of the credit for its appearance, since we recently washed our windows. Today, they are getting rewashed by the heavens.

And so, this morning, we chose to join our chapel’s streaming Mass rather than attend in person in Berkeley. We did not want to dodge speeding, weaving drivers on the slick highway in this storm, for they know no shame or fear. So we settled in front of our little screen at home, hymnals open and ready.

It wasn’t the same as being there in person, of course. The organ sounded thin, the video was rough, the voice of our preacher not clear. But we sang and sang and made do. And now I appreciate all the more the gathering together in real space and time with my brothers and sisters in Christ, at St. Joseph’s Anglican Chapel. Still, the rain and the singing and the words of the Mass, so familiar to my ear, comforted me in these speeding and dangerous times.

It seems each week our country steps deeper into foreign and frightening territory, a place of coercion and violence. Now we have parents at school board meetings labeled domestic terrorists, of interest to the FBI. I wish I was surprised, but I’m not. Once heading into the dark, it becomes difficult to see the way, to see the road signs. Each step takes us further from truth, freedom, and America herself. Can we turn around? I’m not sure.

A former president, whom I supported and admired at one time, has recently compared the January 6 protest in Washington D.C. to Nine-Eleven. Shame on him! The demonstrators, while guilty of trespassing, continue to languish in jail without timely charges and due process, and the “murderous insurrection” has been found to be lacking guns, quite unlike the Floyd riots, looting, and burning that crippled cities, that went on for twenty weeks over the previous summer of 2020 with little accountability.

UC BELL TOWERIn the midst of all this, in the midst of the the waves of tyranny and lockdowns and mandates, I have been noodling my next novel, collecting stories and ideas and characters as though I were a bus meandering through town. The theme that rises to the surface of my distracted mind is silence. The silencing of speech. The silencing of thought. The silencing, at the end of the day, of music, of sound, of bells, church bells. There are few bells left in our area, few bells allowed to ring. The UC Berkeley campanile still chimes, however, a block from our chapel, and sometimes I pretend they are church bells. But they are not. They glorify the religion of academia, the religion of woke, the religion of silence. How ironic. There was a time once, not so long ago, when academia meant free speech and productive debate, diversity of thought as well as persons. Seems another era.

Communist countries to my thinking are gray countries. There is little color and lots of sameness. There is little music or poetry or art (which feeds on freedom) unless usurped by the state’s propaganda machine. But our Creator created light and within light, prisms of color, the rainbows of de-light that are given us when the sun shines through the rain, when we are reminded of God’s promise to Noah, and thus of God’s promise to us. Our Heavenly Father will not abandon us, if we do not abandon him. He will allow hard times to come, for we have made bad choices, embraced the dark when we should have looked to the light.

I was glad to offer with others this morning my prayer of repentance and glad to hear the happy words of God’s forgiveness in turn. We can change, we can re-turn, we can choose a new direction if we desire. America can too, with God’s direction, with his bright light shining on the path before us. But we must desire this. We must trust him.

IMG_4959The Epistle this morning was one of the most beautiful and heartening Scripture passages I know, found in St. Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus (today Kusadasi, Turkey). He writes that we must take on the whole armor of God:

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, praying always and with all supplication in the Spirit…”

Ephesians 6:10+, Book of Common Prayer, 1928, 219

And this is why we go to church. This is why we develop daily rules of prayer and Scripture (BCP has several). This is why: to withstand the times we are in, the times that are to come, the times on our doorstep. We need to be armed with Christ, fully armed with the sword of the Spirit.

Christians have become soft and lazy, luxuriating in America’s freedom, for she was founded upon religious liberty. Americans have become decadent, unthinking, and unappreciative. We are ripe for devouring (remember St. Paul’s roaring lion seeking to devour?). Will we turn, change, repent, in time? Will we teach one another how to love as God loves? Will we teach that we are all precious in his sight, all made in his sacred image? Will we honor him by keeping the Sabbath – Sunday – holy? Will we do our part?

RAINBOWI’m not sure. But I can only do my part as best I can. I do indeed desire to be protected by the entire armor of God – truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and God’s word, the sword of the Spirit.

And I desire it for my family, and all of you, dear readers – as the rain continues to fall, quenching the brown grass, as we await the sun and a rainbow, and one day again, the sound of church bells.

October Journal, Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

ABP MORSE 2012My bishop of blessed memory, the Most Reverend Robert Sherwood Morse, often said he was a person of Reality. He was interested in the truth and nothing but the truth. He was unafraid to embrace Reality and called on others to do the same. For only by being honest about the world around us, and the world within us, can we be sane. Other versions, versions made up or twisted at the command of feelings and personal desires – those unreal fantasies of the world and of our own souls – lead to insanity, the devil’s delusion, Lucifer’s triumph.

And so it is disturbing to see the lies promulgated by the mainstream media re the January 6 protest at the Capitol in Washington D.C.  They call the demonstration an insurrection, and yet the police allowed these protestors to come in, for they were peaceful demonstrators. The police opened the doors for them (is this why four Capitol Police have since committed suicide?). Even today, the vast majority of the demonstrators arrested have only been charged with misdemeanors, such as trespassing. The only person killed was one of the protestors (unarmed), shot by a policeman. The protestors had few weapons and fired none. This is what the film footage shows, at least what we have been allowed to see. Compare this “insurrection” to the summer riots of 2020 where many were killed, property was torched, and livelihoods destroyed. In Portland the riots continue today and other cities as well.

It is also disturbing that the fact that the “Russian collusion” narrative has been evidenced to be a hoax and is not reported by mainstream media. This was an undermining of an election by the Obama administration and later impeachment of sitting president by Democrat operatives, based on a hoax. Why has this been buried by the press?

I believe the answer, at least the kinder answer, to these troubling questions is that many Democrats and the Far Left pursue a utopian vision of society with transferred religious fanaticism. Many truly believe such a world is possible, and this belief allows them to use any means necessary, including lawbreaking, threats, extortion, lying, fraud, and even perjury, to achieve their utopia. The end justifies the means, they say, a dangerous road to take.

But utopian visions of mankind have no roots in Reality. They sound good, but fallen man is not capable of perfection without God, and then only in another life. Reality reveals humankind in a true light, with all the temptations to selfishness and power, all the warts and blemishes, all the fanatical desires to control others. As someone once said, it is what it is, we are what we are. This is the Reality of humankind. As I recall, once, long ago, a man and a woman in a garden ate of a forbidden fruit…

US_Flag_Day_poster_1917And so the Founders understood, being grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition, that these human foibles were to be guarded against, and they instituted checks and balances upon all institutions of power.

I believe the Far Left, wannabe Socialists and Communists, those who wage war upon centrist Democrats and all Republicans, in this sense, mean well. They are true believers in their dream vision: Utopia is in their sights, they say, and happiness will blow over the land of the unfree once their control is established, for they see themselves as enlightened and the rest of us as deplorables, the unenlightened.

But history reveals again and again that such control leads to tyranny. Not one of the many utopian efforts in the past or the present have succeeded. On the contrary, being rooted in Unreality, an insane dream vision of mankind, these regimes have done incalculable harm, murdering over 100,000 in the twentieth century alone by means of Communist, Marxist, and Fascist purges. To achieve utopia, much like the iconoclasts of the Reformation, they are compelled to purify the populace, purge undesired ethnicities, the handicapped, the unborn, the elderly, the religious, the gender confused – any who hold divergent views, who stand in their way. Ironically, they are purging diversity itself. These purges continue today in China and Russia. We see the slaughter in Cuba and North Korea.

To see these regimes as utopian, the Left is wedded to Unreality. They must shackle the media and freedom itself. They must crucify religious allegiances. They must silence dissent. They must rewrite history to make the utopian means seem sane.

So here we are, caught in this web of lies, listening to the approach of a rumbling, tumbling, deeply troubling terror. This last week, the FBI branded mothers speaking out in school board meetings as domestic terrorists. Alas! Is this really happening?

6-4-MorseOfficialPortraitAnd yet, my bishop of blessed memory also often said, all is Grace. I believe he meant that the action of God’s Grace upon each one of us, upon school boards, upon America, upon the world, has the power to change minds and hearts and even to heal the blind to see, to see Reality. And if not, if we as a people are indeed no longer opening our hearts and minds to the Grace of God, then so be it. Some of us shall continue to witness to the truth with our words and with our votes as best we can, knowing that Grace envelops us, leading us Heavenward. For in Heaven we will sing with the angels and the saints, the ultimate Reality.

This morning in our Berkeley chapel it occurred to me that this earthly world is a rehearsal for what is to come, for the faithful Christian. Worship prepares us for worship in Heaven, singing praises to God, as we are flooded with His glory. With each choice we make on Earth, we choose Heaven, or reject Heaven. With each crossroads we carry the cross of Our Lord a bit farther into the woods, a bit farther up the mountain, buoyed by the waters of baptism, along the rivers of righteousness, for His name’s sake.

And we fear no evil, for He is with us, even unto the ends of the Earth. We are graced with Reality. We know Him when we see Him, this morning in the Chapel, this afternoon in my heart. 

October Journal, Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

RETURN OF THE GOD HYPOTHESIS.MEYERIt is a curious thing, just as the world as we know it appears to be collapsing, just as the materialist-atheist worldview appears to have triumphed and the Judeo-Christian worldview appears to have vanished, just as objective truth has been banished by Oregon’s schools and math thrown out as racist, just as the wisdom of centuries is stamped down and trodden upon with some kind of diabolic glee – just as all these signs and many more point to Armageddon or the end of the world or simply a second civil war in the Dis-united States, Steven C. Meyer brings us another brilliant book to argue the opposite, reminding us that science points to an Intelligent Designer behind all creation.

And just as you, dear reader, thought the above sentence would never end, so we smile with renewed hope in the future of mankind. Good news, indeed!

THE AUTHORITARIAN MOMENT. SHAPIROHaving finished off Ben Shapiro’s excellent The Authoritarian Moment (well worth the read with copious notetaking), I ordered Steven C. Meyer’s Return of the God Hypothesis. 

THE UNBROKEN THREAD. AHMANIAs I await delivery (old school print), I am returning to Sohrab Ahmari’s The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos. His immigrant story sheds light on the disappointment many of today’s immigrants share when they see America as no longer celebrating tradition and freedom, no longer proud to be a beacon on a hill, but instead heading toward the tyranny these immigrants were escaping.

PREY. HIRSI ALIIn my growing stack of “research for the next novel, immigration theme” I am also looking forward to Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is a vital witness to the true effect of militant Islam in the world, the silencing of women, gays, Jews, Christians, and peaceful Muslims, in obedience to sharia law.

Returning to The Return of the God Hypothesis, Steven Meyer’s work at the Discovery Institute in Seattle was part of my research for my most recent novel, Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020). He and others built upon the work of Phillip E. Johnson of UC Berkeley, considered the “Father of Intelligent Design.” They considered whether recent scientific discoveries in genetics and the universe might throw a new light on Darwin’s theory of evolution. I found this fascinating, that science was actually supporting the idea that faith might be on the right track after all. All those monks peering at the stars from their abbey domes were right or could have been. Who knew?

And so we have the idea of an Intelligent Designer as a possibility, and the hypothesis of the reality of God, for Darwin’s theory is not enough, given what science has learned in the last twenty years, particularly the intricacy of creation and the finetuning of our universe to a vastly improbable degree. Eric Metaxas, among others, provides a simple summary of these arguments in his book, Miracles.

RESOURCE_TemplateIn my novel, Angel Mountain, one of my characters is a geneticist who, when he speaks truth to power at UC Berkeley, is pushed into an early sabbatical by the woke powers that be. In this excerpt, Dr. Gregory Worthington, 37, our geneticist, walks a trail on Angel Mountain with Catherine Nelson, 33, a UC librarian, and explains a bit about what these discoveries entail:   

     “I believe Heaven is real,” Gregory said, feeling brave.

     Catherine eyed him seriously. “Why do you believe it?”

     She is direct, he thought. “It’s been a long journey.”

     “Tell me the short version,” she said.

     Were her eyes teasing or challenging or doubting? A little of all three, Gregory decided. “I’m a scientist. I saw faith as something out there for some people, but why bother? I was raised a Christian, but somehow I hadn’t met Christ along the way.” That was pretty honest, he thought. He even surprised himself. “As Abram said about his own conversion.”

     “Go on.” 

     “In my studies of the genome and genetics, and my Stanford residency, I began asking meaningful questions, and finally connecting the dots, as it were. The intricacy and creativity and brilliance of our physical world reflected an Intelligence, a designer, and one thing led to another.”

     “But doesn’t science explain our world? With evolution? We don’t need God anymore. We don’t need a religious explanation.”

     “That’s the amazing part. Over the last few years, science has been effectively presenting a case for the existence of God.”

     Catherine looked thoughtful. “I thought it was a matter of faith, of belief, rather than scientific observation, data, and conclusions.”

     “Things have changed. In 1966, around the time of the ‘God is Dead’ movement, the astronomer Carl Sagan claimed two conditions were needed to support life on a planet. Without these two requirements, life could not exist. The first requirement was the correct star and the second was the perfect distance from that star. Calculations showed, based on this hypothesis, there were over a septillion planets that could support life, planets that had the perfect star at the perfect distance.”

     “I’ve never heard this, but then I took a minimum of science, and no astronomy.”

     “Science has made many more discoveries since 1966. But the announcement was exciting in the sixties, and it gave rise to all the space travel movies. There was a natural curiosity about aliens and life on other planets.”

     Catherine grinned. “Star Wars, Star Trek, ET, that kind of thing.”

     “Exactly. But science made new discoveries that never really made their way into the popular imagination, and people got stuck in that mindset that there is life out there. In that sense, they haven’t kept up with science.”

     “What discoveries? Did they prove life couldn’t exist on other planets?”

     “Pretty much. Well-funded programs under the umbrella ‘Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence’—SETI—tried to identify life in the universe by tracking signals through radio telescopic networks. Nothing. Silence. Congress defunded the program in 1993 but private donors continued to search for life in the universe.”

     Catherine shook her head. “Let me guess. Nothing still?”

     “Right. As of 2014, nothing.” “What happened then?” “Sagan’s requirements for life multiplied over the intervening years, way beyond two, which made the results more logical. Fewer and fewer planets met the increasing number of requisites discovered by science.”

     “How many planets today can support life? What did they come up with?” “Actually, none.” “None except for Earth?” “No, including Earth.”

     Gregory watched Catherine’s face. She wasn’t laughing at him. She wasn’t rolling her eyes. She seemed genuinely interested in his statement that it was impossible for planet Earth to support life, at least according to the math probabilities and life’s necessary requirements.

     “But—” Catherine shook her head in disbelief, at a loss for words to express her doubt. But she still seemed to take him seriously. She hadn’t written him off completely. She was listening.

     “Here we are,” Gregory said. “We are life. Sitting under an oak on the side of Angel Mountain watching the incredible tule fog move through the valleys toward the coast. We are here—we are life—so how did this happen?”

     “Go on.” Did Catherine sound intrigued or sarcastic? He wasn’t sure if she believed him.

      “The latest data show that there are over two hundred requirements for a planet to support life. Each one must be met or else life cannot exist on planet Earth. For example, near to us, planet Jupiter has a gravity pull strong enough to divert asteroids away from Earth. It is clear—at least to this scientist—that the creation of life forms was not random but finely tuned. Extremely finely tuned.”

     “What about the creation of the universe? Wasn’t that a result of the Big Bang? An explosion? Not God at all.” She gestured to the broad landscape that reached to the horizon and the endless sky.

     “Fine-tuning again. The universe was fine-tuned immediately after the Big Bang, which also had to have a cause in itself, as Aquinas argued. Today, astrophysicists claim there were four forces that needed to be fine-tuned and need to be continuously fine-tuned. If they had not been finely tuned, for example, no stars would exist. The odds are gigantic against the universe forming accidentally from an explosion, any explosion. The odds are something like ten quintillion to one.”

     “That’s all encouraging, isn’t it? Seems like meaning and purpose are now scientifically proven.”

     “Certainly in terms of probabilities, statistics. Many atheist scientists—the honest ones—have admitted that some kind of Intelligence had to be behind the creation of the universe.”

     “It doesn’t seem to make the news.”

     “The general public is about twenty years behind. Also, belief in God isn’t popular, considered too constraining in terms of ethics and behavior. The natural conclusion—not a great leap—is to identify this intelligent Creator as the God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. All three religions make clear moral demands on our lives. All three proclaim a law. All three predict a day of Judgment.”

     “So what you’re saying is that faith and science support one another.”

     Gregory nodded as they returned to the path. “They do. Absolutely.” He grew thoughtful. “You’re a better audience than my last one.”

Sunderland, Christine. Angel Mountain (pp. 181-184). Resource Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I’m looking forward to Steven Meyer’s book, which should find its way into some of the themes in my next novel, Return to Angel Mountain, working title. The subject is fascinating, particularly at this moment in history when chaos does indeed seem to be engulfing America. The Judeo-Christian belief in a loving God, now supported by science, is literally our saving grace, our path forward, our way to love as Christ loved and as we are taught (indeed, commanded) to love by this loving God.

September Journal, Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

IMG_4937I was glad this morning to see all well at our Berkeley Chapel. Our streaming online was set to start, and the hymns listed on the hymn board were some of my favorites. The organist was playing a piece that filled the space with joy as we awaited the dramatic procession in from outside. Five of the 14 Cal Rowing Crew who are residents on the property would be assisting our Dean of Seminary, Fr. Napier, and as all the pieces of the hour fell into place, I sighed my thanksgivings: thanksgivings for the place, the people, the freedom to worship in this holy chapel, unique and precious.

My week had begun with a fire alarm. It was a false alarm, but frightening and earsplitting just the same. It occurred in this Berkeley student residence on Sunday after Mass (last Sunday) as I was closing the office downstairs. Being that close to an alarm like that is something I will not easily forget. I can still hear it ringing in my ears.

It made me think about alarms, disaster alarms, that warn us of impending danger to body or soul, or both since it is difficult, in this world at least, to separate the two without serious harm. Pain is an alarm that something is wrong with our body or soul (physical pain or mental). Fever and swelling tell us that the body is reacting to an infection that could do further damage. Guilt and remorse tell us we have some confessing to do, some forgiving or being forgiven. Our conscience, formed from a young age, becomes our judge in these vital matters, so it is vital that our consciences are formed rightly, with a wholesome fear of God and a love of his law.

How we grow through life, from the womb to the tomb as they say, makes all the difference. Which path do we choose to take, and which laws do we ask God to write on our hearts? 

The false fire alarm, I learned today, was caused by spilled milk in a fridge that sat on the floor above the basement where a smoke detector was. Upon investigation (with most certainly a hefty fine) we learned that the milk had gone through the fridge base, through the flooring, and had pooled around the detector.

We have so many false alarms today that ring our world with noise and harangue. We are alarmed by so many fears, from pandemic to vaccines to masks to terrorism to World War III, and even alarmed by the climate when it changes. Some of these are false and some not. We must figure it out. We must seek out authorities we trust to separate truth from lies, to form our souls, to point the right way to take in the midst of the dark forest. (Hint: mainstream news is not a trustworthy authority.)

Elders must teach the young, embracing the role of mentor. The young must seek out elders, embracing the role of student.

I have found our clergy to be a mixed group like any group formed from fallen humans. But within that group I have found elders that could teach me as well as parish laity. Some, through time, merely set an example for me in the way they lived their lives. Some preached, and I could tell when it rang true and when it was rang false. I prayed and continue to pray for discernment, minute by minute, to use the count of my days as wisely as possible, with a mind to know the mind of Christ.

Andrew KlavanOne of my favorite podcasts is Andrew Klavan on The Daily Wire. He mentioned this last week that the first Christians called themselves followers of the Way. For Christ called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And so Christ is the way we must go, forgoing all others, listening to his words of love, life, and, yes, law. We do this in the Church, through many ways – music, poetry, prayer, the song and dance of the liturgy – ways that lead into Christ, and he into us. There is no other way to life eternal, no other way to joy eternal, no other way to love eternal.

Through Christ’s bride, the Church, we are mentored by a trusted authority. We learn who we are: past, present, and meant to be. We learn how to learn. We are clothed in the habit of habit, good habits, that texture our souls, weaving fine golden thread into our unique God-created character. We learn how to love, how to be struck by the glorious differences between each one of us, how to raise up each one of us in joy.

ODYSSEUS SIRENSI read recently that Homer’s Odyssey had been cancelled for some woke reason as part of a high school curriculum. One of the striking images in this classical work is the image of Odysseus tied to the mast of a ship, his ears plugged, in an effort to not listen to the sirens calling him from a distant shore. As I recall (and it must have been over fifty years ago that I read it) they are tempting him away from is purpose, sailing true and straight for home. And so we have the siren songs of today – the many distractions, some serious, some silly, that call us away from using our time well, away from the way we should be going, sailing straight and true for heaven. They are false alarms in the truest sense.

But even so some some alarms are good for us, warning us. Many alarms are going off in our world today, and many should be heeded, even at this late hour in the fall of the republic of America. Many alarms are symptoms of a serious illness in our culture, a Narcissism (again a classical allusion) trapping our people in childhood. We become tribal and petty and barbarian. We no longer celebrate our diversity, but brand one another as the other, as the enemy. We no longer see creation as a reflection of the Creator, as a magnificent tapestry of love. We no longer see that we are all children of God, all children in the family of God.

I am glad that, for the most part, I am able to spot false alarms, hear the tinny sound of their sirens. I am glad I can find rest and refreshment in this holy chapel on a Sunday morning, that I can dance with the organ and sing with the angels, that I can fall on my knees in penitence and worship, that I can be fed by Christ himself, that I have such a lovely parish family I love, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my children and parents in Christ. I am glad that I can be re-formed, reborn in the image of God.

There is nothing better than that. Nothing truer. Nothing that will silence the sirens ringing in our ears. At least for a time, an hour a week, a block from UC Berkeley.

St. Joseph of Arimathea Collegiate Anglican Chapel offers Mass weekly at 11:30 on Sundays. All welcome.