Some time in the late nineties I was going through one of the worse depressions of my life. It wasn’t one of those depressive episodes where you try to hide what is going on. I had a resigned sort of exhibitionism. Why not spill all my beans? Beans just end up getting spilt eventually anyway… It was dark. People would walk by and ask, “How are you today Doug?” and immediately regret it as I answered them honestly and talked them through the vast landscape of my existential angst. It was usually met with one of four responses, that were for me both a source of dark entertainment, my own gothic improv stage. Here are the four things people would most often do: Continue reading
Last night, again, I sat with a Christian friend who is struggling very deeply with his faith. In fact, what is more clear to me than it probably is to him is that he lives with a kind of anguish, a internal and unspoken resignation to believing he will never fully being a full member of the Body of Christ, but only, at best, as an exception God might endure if he tries hard enough. While this kind of conversation is particularly heartbreaking to me, it is anything but new. In fact, I have distinct memories of late night dorm room conversations more than 20 years ago around this very topic. So why are there so many loving, faithful people struggling to believe that God could possibly love them without putting an asterisk by their names in the Book of Life?
I am afraid there is no short answer. Certainly the vitriol and disgust that has been expressed to me individually and to entire groups of people in the media over the last few days plays some part, but rather than try to provide some social analysis and recommendation to the Church on how to be less crappy neighbors in communicating grace, I think it is a good time to turn my attention to those of you who, like I have in life, ever felt myself to be an exception to the love of God. This is in every way, my own story, and not just a story I want you to know about, it is one in which I would like you to join me. Continue reading
Every time I have tried to sit down and write a coherent reflection this week I have stalled and stammered. Not only are the events of the past several days complex and overwhelming, the endless grandstanding, commentary, and politicking is absolutely deafening. It is hard to wrap my brain around everything that is going on. Meanwhile, A pastor threatens to set himself on fire in the wake of gay marriage while across town several churches are actually burning even while we are still morning the deaths of the nine slain brothers and sisters whose kindness almost turned the heart of their murderer. It is here in the midst of the elation and grief that at least one segment of the Church has managed to find one strange, even baffling narrative to sum it all up, “We are being persecuted!”
After sighing loudly and executing an eye roll that would make Liz Lemon feel like an eye-roll amateur, there is part of me that deeply wants to lash out and rant against this kind of histrionics. But honestly that too would fall of deaf ears or feed that culture war cacophony that tends to make us tune out everyone who doesn’t agree with what we already believe. So I instead I would like to suggest a less ranty, and slightly more Biblical perspective on the matter: Yes, we are being persecuted, and this is what you signed up for… Continue reading
The “Charis” by Doug Harrison. Photo by Ryan Hayes
This year, for the first time that I am aware of, we held church at Burning Flipside. Fr. Eric, an Episcopal priest, presided and I preached the sermon. To put it most simply, we had church because that is what we do. After 11 years of missing church on Memorial Day weekend, it just seemed it was time. Pyropolis is our home for one weekend a year and we wanted to be our full selves while we are there. I am grateful to everyone who showed up for church at Flipside since noon is still considered an early hour. I had to wonder who had not been to bed yet, and were simply stopping by church on their way to home to crash. There were about 18-20 of us there all together. We met at the effigy and blessed it to serve its good purpose of being art and enlightening the people. Then we made our way to a little spot behind the RedCamp dome where we sat near a huge pile of soggy carpets, mud caked galoshes and unclaimed tutus. What appears below is not the actual sermon I preached but a post based on the notes from my sermon. At Burn-events we value immediacy, living in the moment and not trying to reproduce or capture it. What is printed here is something written for you, in this place and this moment.
*The Bible readings I refer to are usually read aloud throughout the service. You can find them here or in links throughout as I mention them.
It just so happens that it is Pentecost Sunday today. This only seems to fall on the weekend of Burning Flipside once every couple of years. It is an interesting challenge to try to preach from the Pentecost readings at Flipside. There is all this stuff about Sin, Judgment and of course, every burner’s favorite topic, organized religion. Piece of cake. The sermon writes itself, no? Continue reading
Photo by Ralph Barrera @ the Austin American Statesman.
On Friday April 17th the Austin American-Statesman ran a front page article with my mug plastered on it that highlighted how the religious culture of Austin has changed. It is a good article and I felt it deserved as thoughtful of a response as I could produce on a Friday night. So here it is. The original article is here.
In graduate school, one of the few books I read that radically changed my life was a little book by an ethicist and a chaplain called “Resident Aliens.” Its premise was simple, but it pried open a very hopeful window for me and changed the trajectory of my faith. According to one of the authors, the world changed on a Sunday night in 1963 with the Fox theater in Greenville South Carolina opened its doors in defiance of the states traditional ”blue laws” which kept such businesses closed on a Sunday. In that moment, the reign of Christianity as the default-faith of that community had ended. The shocking part about that story for me was how this might be really good news for Christians… and indeed, in a way, it has been. Continue reading
I suppose that it behooves a Christian man, from time to time, to give a plain and simple account of his faith. I can’t tell you that I am feeling particularly inspired to do so in this moment. Frankly, I find myself a little short on inspiration in general tis evening and feel there are, what do we call them, “pressing matters,” to take care of but it seems as good a time as any to say a thing or two about why this Good Friday is such a big deal and why I choose to build my life around the drama we see unfolding this Easter weekend from today and through the next fifty days of Easter. Tonight stands before me a simple and fair question to which I intend to give at least one good answer, “Why, Doug, given all that Christianity seems to have evolved in to, do you bother calling yourself a Christian and carrying on like ya do?”
I plan to start with a short answer and then keep writing till I get something right. I am not promising exhaustive answers to this question or even several. I suppose that is why I keep a blog, There is a lot to be said about the life of faith that just takes time and stories. But, I will start by simply trying to provide an answer that is as short and honest of an answer that I can provide: .
I am a Christian because this is simply the most beautiful story I have ever known, and I want more than anything to be a part of it.
Traditionally, Wednesday of Holy week is a day to think about Judas and his relationship to Jesus. It is often called Spy Wednesday and it commemorates the the night Judas agreed to hand Jesus over to the authorities. This sets in motion the events that result in Jesus’ crucifixion.
What remains so striking about the Judas story is how someone who had sacrificed so much of his life and chosen to follow and live closely with Jesus would ultimately betray him in the worst way. What could possibly have been unfolding in Judas’ mind and heart that made him think that turning Jesus over to the authorities was a good idea? What was the deal breaker for Judas? What, I wonder, would be the deal breaker for me? Continue reading
Have you ever had an “ineffable” experience?… Something that seemed transcendent and important, but left you unable to talk about it or perhaps even see how it connects to the rest of your life? Or would you like to?
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There are very few vices I have encountered as much in my own life – and in the lives of the people I have listened to and prayed with – as much as I have encountered resentment. What other of my own shortcomings have I nurtured and even protected like I do my grudges? Ever hear of anyone harboring gluttony or greed? Resentment seems to hold a very precious place in a lot of our lives and after a few years of trying to deal with it personally I think I have finally begun to understand why: It is delicious. Continue reading
Have you ever wondered where the ashes form Ash Wednesday come from? In truth, it actually depends on the tradition of your local church (and how organized your priest or pastor is), but traditionally it is prescribed that the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are the burned up palm leaves from Palm Sunday the previous year. Palm Sunday is the most foliaged Sunday in the liturgical year unless you are one of those churches that goes absolutely nutso with the army of Christmas trees and sea of poinsettias. Even so, Palm Sunday remains the Sunday where Christians go waving flora around the sanctuary. The sight always strikes me as comical, the poetry is intentional: The very instruments we go waving around triumphantly one year become the occasion for our repentance the next. How quickly our hearts turn from high praise to great indifference? Continue reading