Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Society and Religion’ Category

December 11th, 2018 by Joel Watts

The Gathering

This past Sunday, the priest at the Anglican Church we’ve been attending, gave us a “Liturgy Moment.” It’s a brief explanation of why we do something in the liturgy.

He spoke about “the gathering” which is sometimes a hymn. It is, he told us, a time to remember why we are coming to Church. At least that’s my recollection. I had a virus or something that mimicked depression and it knocked me down and out of regular operating procedure.

But I’m pretty sure that’s what he said.

My answer as to why I attend Church on Sunday morning has ranged widely over the years. I was afraid of going to hell. I needed community. I thought I absolutely had to.

At this season of my life, I go to be reminded that there is hope and good left in the world. I sit with clients who tell me the most heinous stories of abuse, molestation, rape, defilement, and addiction. They let me into their pain of their life, which has led them to sitting there in front of me. I have a great counselor face. I don’t let their pain show. Oh, there are times after they leave I have to shake it off.

But I have to go one and meet the next person, unassuming and non-judgmental.

After a week of this, I need to be reminded that there is something good, something hopeful, something divine in this life. My belief in God has been separate from my attendance in Church (yes, yes… I know), but in this season, it may be even closer than I realized.

December 5th, 2018 by Joel Watts

the Cure to Christmas Joy

This time of the year is rather difficult for many people. We have the holidays, especially in the US, bogged down in Halloween leftovers, pre-Valentine candy, and a mix of Turkey and reindeer. We do not get the time to truly enjoy the season.

The Church Calendar is not an arbitrary creation, but one that allows us to slow down and mark the time of the season by the life of the Church. We retell the life of Christ in our daily activities, pinned to seasons and tides. because some are not pegged to the Church Calendar, we skip right into Christmas where we are expected to be joyous and to spend lots of money on gifts for others. Maybe we should slow it down a bit.

Which is why I like Advent. Rather than Advent being a lag between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is a fast, a season of penance, a season of humble expectation. It is a time to remember the exile of Israel and toe tribulations of the Church. The People of God received the Messiah after centuries of exile and persecution. Yet, we skip the remembrance of that, a time when we could sit and dwell on life without hope, without a future, without freedom, into singing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Why is Jesus expected – why is He longed for – if He was only here to be born?

I sit with people who struggle during this time of year because what blankets us is an expectation to be happy? Advent is the time we can be mournful, because there is no joy unless we have suffered loss.

So take the time to mourn and to be depressed. Find a Blue Christmas service to join. Sit. Listen. Be still.

November 29th, 2018 by Joel Watts

Gripping sadness

There are two recent articles grabbing my attention, both as a training mental health clinician and a trained theologian. The first in The Atlantic, with a remarkable scientific and supernatural focus:

After listening to the priests and poring over news articles, I started to wonder whether the two trends—belief in the occult and the rising demand for Catholic exorcisms—might have the same underlying cause. So many modern social ills feel dark and menacing and beyond human control: the opioid epidemic, the permanent loss of blue-collar jobs, blighted communities that breed alienation and dread. Maybe these crises have led people to believe that other, more preternatural, forces are at work.

But when I floated this theory with historians of religion, they offered different explanations. A few mentioned Pope Francis’s influence, as well as that of Pope John Paul II, who brought renewed attention to the exorcism rite when he had it updated in 1998. But more described how, during periods when the influence of organized religions ebbs, people seek spiritual fulfillment through the occult. “As people’s participation in orthodox Christianity declines,” said Carlos Eire, a historian at Yale specializing in the early modern period, “there’s always been a surge in interest in the occult and the demonic.” He said that today we’re seeing a “hunger for contact with the supernatural.”

In all honesty, these two opinions aren’t that far afield and I believe are deeply connected. First, we see the same sort of pattern develop in historical societies as public institutions start to wane in their influence. I think of Rome as the Republic gave way to Empire and as the Julio-Claudians gave way to the Civil War. Moral decadence, tales of ghosts, or emperors returning from the dead and so on.

The second is very akin to the first. This is one is about the deaths due to drug abuse and suicide pushing life expectancy down in the US.

Suicides and drug overdoses pushed up U.S. deaths last year, and drove a continuing decline in how long Americans are expected to live.

Overall, there were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, or nearly 70,000 more than the previous year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. It was the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than a century ago.

Our society in in a state of change. I work with clients who have experienced such abuse and now experience abuse by a society leaving them out. Here are but two examples of people doing some deep thinking, even if that form of thinking requires what others consider deeply unscientific – exorcism.

Suicide, I grimly suspect, will reach the levels of ancient Rome, where it became a spectacle both in the arena and in the banquet halls.

November 28th, 2018 by Joel Watts

Interview with Dr. Peter Bellini (via Dr. David Watson)

Dr. David Watson has an interview up with Dr. Peter Bellini about his new book.

This language strikes many Westerners, including Western Christians, as odd, irrelevant, or even superstitious. In ages past, people in the West understood themselves according to what philosopher Charles Taylor calls the “porous self.” They took for granted that the world was inhabited by spiritual beings, some good and some evil. They believed, moreover, that these spiritual beings exerted influence on their lives. Today, however, we have adopted a perspective Taylor calls the “buffered self.” We don’t see ourselves as subject to the influence of a spiritual world anymore. The emergence of the “buffered self” means that, while we may reject the “spiritual forces of wickedness” as a matter of ritual, we really can’t imagine what this rejection actually means for our lives.

It’s important to realize, however, that from a global perspective we in the West represent a minority report. Most people living today understand themselves as “porous” rather than “buffered.” Some Western intellectuals, moreover, are beginning to rediscover what it might mean to think of ourselves as susceptible to spiritual influences. Perhaps the buffered self is not the final word for Western Christians. Indeed, among Western Roman Catholics, exorcisms are on the rise.

November 18th, 2018 by Joel Watts

Uh… here I am.

Have you seen this?


I left the UMC in October of 2016. We attended for the remainder of the school year/church year (because churches close in May) but I did not take communion. For a variety of reasons I have detailed elsewhere, but namely because the UMC failed to hold any marks of a Church, either by Protestantism or the universal standards.

Recently, we have begun the search to find a new congregational home. It is difficult because I am still dealing with hurt over separating from the UMC — and the ongoing… uh…. issues.

Anyway, for the past few weeks, I have attended a local ACNA congregation. Thus far, the sermons have been thoroughly Wesleyan. Eucharist has been served. No church fights. No declining population. The Creeds without crossing fingers. I feel as if I can tolerate some large amount of differences, but when it comes down to it… I am a Creedal guy. I believe the Creeds for some pretty particular reasons.

Anyway, I am also doing some different type of work. Working as an Substance Use Therapist. Scott has maintained the blog for a while, by himself, but I’m back. I’ve updated the search issues, taken care of the 403 issues (I hope!) and will commit to writing at least one post every two weeks. I am going to try to get to writing more posts, but… I am mentally exhausted. Plus, I have a book to finish.

In regards to finding out home of faith, I will keep you informed along the way.

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