Two Books for the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena


Nearly a decade ago, I wanted to pick a saint for myself whose life I could study and be inspired by. I ended up (accidentally) choosing Catherine of Siena, the 14th-century mystic, theologian, political activist, and (I’d say) preacher of the faith. She was the perfect choice, and today is the day set aside to meditate on her life and works.

Of all the saints I know, I resonate with Catherine’s energy the most. I really connect with the theology of some (Origen, most the Gregories, Augustine), the social and practical emphasis of others (Francis, Clare, Ignatius, Theresa of Calcutta), and the mysticism of still others (Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Julian). But only Catherine embodies for me all of these dimensions and the brashness and angst I carry with me regularly.

Catherine says and does some weird things. She overstates, goes too far, and is counter-productive in a lot of what she does. But she comes by it honestly and is clearly doing the best she can with what she knows and believes. She sharply argued with and called out Popes, rejected the leadership of church hierarchy, and followed her theology to its end, even when many called her a heretic (she has since been canonized as a theological Doctor of the Church).

And yet, with the world and people around her, and in her spirituality, she is so tender, sensitive, and romantic. There is a passion and ecstasy to her spirituality that can seem weird from the outside but so beautiful and inviting from within.

I resonate with all this. Bucking against authority to unhelpful (and often wrong) degrees, feeling misunderstood and unseen even while trying my best, phrasing things in ways that make sense to me while others stare at me in confusion, the tenderness and desire to sit with people in their pain, and the deep desire for ecstatic union and communion with God. These are all my vibe, and Catherine’s.

A decade on, I still wear my Catherine pendant daily, in order to carry her with me and keep her close. If you are interested in knowing more about Catherine’s life and spirituality, here were two of the books that helped me get to know and be inspired by her. Continue reading

A Prayer for Peace in Ukraine


O God, Creator of the universe, who extends your concern over every creature and guides the events of history toward the salvation of all, we acknowledge your strong love when you break the resistance of sinful humans and, in a world torn by strife and discord, you make us ready for reconciliation.

Renew for us the wonders of your peace; send forth your Spirit to work in the intimacy of our hearts, that we may fast and pray for nations in conflict, that enemies may begin to dialogue, that adversaries may shake hands, and peoples exist in harmony.

May all commit themselves to the sincere search for true peace which will extinguish all arguments, for charity which overcomes hatred, for pardon which disarms revenge. Shatter the proud hearts causing death and suffering in Ukraine, and bring your peace to all. We beg you, do this. Amen.

Mary: Ordained as Prophetess, Priestess, & Queen


Tanner-the-anunciation-mary

One of the beautiful things about Catholic theology is that it sees story as one of its main interpretive filters. Protestantism, on the other hand, focuses much more on historical context and the text itself.

To modern ears, the Protestant ways sounds great, but there’s one big problem: this is not how most of the biblical writers, Jesus, the apostles, the early church, nor most of church history have ever treated the Bible. They were and have been much “freer” with the text (yes, often to a fault). Catholicism’s rootedness in ancient ways of reading invites them into new dimensions and interpretations.

Take Mary, for example. Catholics see her foretold in the Old Testament just as much as Jesus is. They see her in prophecies and allegorically represented in other women. They see parallels between her and the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and the Temple, saying they all carried the Holy of Holies within them, and were revered for it.

There are three biblical offices of authority among God’s people: Prophet, Priest, and King. Christians see Jesus as the fulfillment and highest expression of each of these, but in the Advent event, you can see Mary serving these functions as well. So today, as a Protestant, I want to sit with this and revel in some beauty and divine mystery.

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Race, Liturgy, & My Great Awokening


My wife will tell you I have a “both sides” problem. I reflexively think through hard things by trying to see them from all sides and treating them equally. But inevitably, while this makes me think I’m acting “enlightened” and “objective”, that’s largely an illusion–and quite often, it does more harm than good.

At least when I employ it, it gives me a false sense that I am hovering above the conflict and that I am not actual mired by my own bias, defensiveness, and not actually being affected by the conflict itself.

But too often, rather than nobly making space and elevating other perspectives and voices, it leads me to prioritize my own voice and simply invalidate that of others.

And that’s precisely what happened in 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin.

After Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman, I watched the struggle and lament from black America, and felt an odd disconnect. I felt like I could “see both sides” and “understand” why white America was confused why this particular moment was so galvanizing for blacks.

I wrote a blog post about my frustration that me, as a white man, did not feel like I was culturally “allowed” to speak to these issues. The post is bad. I’m still incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of it–but I’ve kept it online (with a note) to document change and repentance.

I had great friends that really laid into me about that post. They took me to task, were patient with me, fully articulated their thoughts, and demonstrated the implications of and ideas behind the things I was saying. It gave me a lot of pause and made me wonder what I was missing–because while I trusted them, I simply couldn’t see what they were seeing.

* * * *

Around that time I watched a special by the comedian Dane Cook at Madison Square Garden. His final joke of the night was about religion. To set it up, he began with “I was raised Catholic…” but was interrupted by cheers in the crowd.

He stops, takes note, and says, “Peace be with you!” and in return tens of thousands of people responded in unison with the ancient liturgical reply: “And also with you”.

Now, huge numbers of those people had probably abandoned their Catholicism long ago, and yet the repetitive week-in, week-out liturgy of their Catholic upbringings had embedded itself in their psyches so they knew how to reflexively respond in that moment to the words of the liturgy–even if they had left the Church decades prior. 

I don’t know how or why this happened, but it was in that moment that everything my friends had been telling me about race and privilege clicked for me.

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Ideas for Lent: Fasting, Prayer, & Generosity


Tomorrow, Lent begins. The Lent tradition began in the 3rd-century and is a 40-day season of meditation and repentance in anticipation of Easter celebration. Whether you are just beginning to explore Christianity, or have been a Christian for some time, Lent is a perfect season to allow God to shape your life in fresh ways.

Historically, Christians have used three broad categories of practices to engage in this season: fasting, prayer, and generosity.

These practices are external means and postures for shaping one’s soul and interior life. Fasting removes things to create space in your heart and life, prayer is a way to fill that interior space, and then generosity is giving out of the overflow we trust is there.

Below, you’ll find some brief words helping us think through these categories, followed by some ideas for how you can it in your life. Pick one, or pick several. The important thing is to try and do it consistently, and use times of frustration or skipping as a chance to meditate on your own limitations, and how God meets you in that. Continue reading

A Prayer for Election Day


O Lord our truest Ruler and King, many words have been said these past months leading to this election day. Far too many of these words have been hurtful, fearful, divisive, angry, and anxious. Being able to see our nation’s policies so tangibly, it is far too easy to equate this nation with your Kingdom, and so act as if this election were of supreme eternal importance.

Lord, forgive us, we pray.

Bless the leaders of our land–those currently in office and those elected today–that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Let this be the conviction of every leader as they model for us, however imperfectly, political relations amongst both their fellow countrymen and citizens of the world.

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The Meaning of Marriage… Licenses.


A few weeks ago, my fiance Amanda and I got our wedding license. We’re getting married on October 18. Of all the surprises in that process, though, the biggest was me breaking down crying in the middle of this Chester County Courthouse office while signing papers. It took me a little bit to figure out why I was so emotional, and what was going on inside of me. But here it is. 

First and foremost, I love this woman. I’ve known this. But (especially if you know some of my story) it was so powerful and surreal to see another human being willingly and joyfully sign on the dotted line to actually spend their life with me.

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No, John MacArthur: Pandemic Church Restrictions are Not Persecution


California has experienced a huge surge of COVID-19 cases in the past month or so. In response they have placed further restrictions on gatherings and businesses, including restricting churches with capacity limits and no singing.

On Friday, California pastor John MacArthur, with his elders, posted this piece saying they “respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”

Positive Points

First, I want to commend MacArthur and his team. Not enough churches engage in civil disobedience against the government, oftentimes letting political interests tempt churches into compromising their core values and commitments.

It was refreshing to see a large, conservative church say once again that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, and to reclaim the sense that the Church is fundamentally opposed to the ways that government and politicians do things, especially when they will obviously receive the scorn of a watching world and local government for the sake of their convictions. However…

Good Faith, Bad Faith, Insecure Faith

I really want to avoid whataboutism throughout this piece; yet, one cannot look at MacArthur’s letter without some confusion. This is a church and denomination that has given themselves so totally to one party in our political system, they have little integrity in saying they are now following Christ, not Caesar.

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An Open Letter to Reformation21 on the Dismissal of Aimee Byrd


This blog is not usually a place for commentary on the niche politics, scandals, and squabbles in Christian subcultures. However, I wanted to post an email I wrote to Reformation21, a media outlet for those, like me, in the “Reformed” family of Christianity.

Recently, theologian Aimee Byrd, one of their contributors, wrote the book Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, in which she challenges the way women are viewed, treated, taught, and trained differently than men in conservative Christian circles.

For this, she has been the subject of mysogyny, online trolling, mischaracterizations of her work, gaslighting, charges from her denomination’s leaders that she should be disciplined, as well as other bad faith indignities.

Most recently, she was presented with a list of 9 questions from an anonymous group of men. Many of these questions are distorting and patronizing, come from an uncharitable reading of her text, or are more about ensuring she’s “in-bounds” to them than actually engaging her arguments.

What does one do with anonymous bad faith interrogators insisting you submit to their questioning? Aimee answered some of the questions and left others unanswered until such a time genuine and open debate could be held

So how did Reformation21 respond–this outlet for which she has written and podcasted for years? They removed her from contributing to their site. They did not defend her nor stand their ground. You can read Aimee’s account here.

In a statement they said this decision was not made by contributors, but by the board, and not because of outside pressure. Yet they said they dismiss people who cause “our audience to respond in a largely negative way”. Further, they said it was fundamentally about Aimee’s not answering these other questions from the anonymous group.

I wrote the below email to them in response. I have edited it for clarity. I’m open to being wrong with more information, but this is my evaluation best as I can see based on the public facts.