Bible Verse InfoPic with Generative AI (Midjourney)

I created today’s Bible Verse InfoPic using Midjourney, a Generative AI platform,which is an example of artificial intelligence art.

Bible Verse InfoPic (Generative AI)” (CC BY 2.0) by Wesley Fryer

Midjourney is one of several generative AI image tools available publicly now, including DALLE-2, Stable Diffusion, and others. The Quick Start Guide to Midjourney can help get you started. You will need to setup a free account on Discord, but you can use the web-based interface if you don’t want to (or cannot) download and install the software. This was my first AI-generative image attempt, using the query, “baptize with fire john the baptist.”

I chose to UPSCALE the fourth image (bottom right corner) and make some variations.

I again chose to UPSCALE the fourth image, and this was my final result I went with for the Bible Verse InfoPic.

More information about creating Bible Verse InfoPics is available in Chapter 6 of my book, “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ.”

To learn more about Generative AI models and the revolution they are rapidly bringing to our connected society, check out the “Hard Fork Podcast” episode, “Generative AI is Here. Who Should Control It?”

https://twitter.com/wfryer/status/1599198521022107648

In 2020-21 I taught an adult Sunday School class at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, focusing on the ethical implications of artificial intelligence. We used John Lennox’s new book, “2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity,” as one of our course texts. My lesson slideshows and recorded lesson videos (mostly over Zoom) are archived and available.

Examples of Christian Digital Storytelling

If you happen to be a long-time (or even “one time”) member of First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Oklahoma, then the videos I’m going to link here may bring you particular JOY! Even if you’re not, they are pretty awesome and special. (More so if you know our kids, Sarah and Rachel, and/or other kids who grew up in the early 2010s at FPCE!)

This afternoon I collected and shared examples of “Christian Digital Storytelling” on a new page on the Storychasers website, which is now a personal passion project of mine as a media literacy educator and follower of Jesus.

The page now includes 16 embedded videos created and/or recorded at FPC Edmond through the years. Here are several of them!

Our Light Has Come (A [Sunday morning] performance from the musical “One Incredible Moment” at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond Oklahoma on December 7, 2014.)

Miracle in the Manager (Children’s choir at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma on December 24, 2012.)

Jesus Joy Of The Highest Heaven (A song by the youth choir at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, on December 24, 2012.) [featuring soloist Sarah Fryer)

Happy Birthday Jesus (This was the rehearsal for “Happy Birthday Jesus,” sung by Rachel Fryer on December 24, 2011, at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Rachel shared this at the 5 pm family Christmas Eve service.)

PreSchool Christmas Program 2007 (This Christmas program stars preschoolers at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. This video was filmed and created in December 2007.)

Rolling Green Outreach Ministry (A short video describing the Rolling Green outreach ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Special thanks to Shelly Fryer, Rachel, and Sam Carothers for sharing their perspectives on this opportunity to fellowship, love and serve others in our community.)

I added this examples page from the Storychasers website to my “Christian Website Projects” page of my Christian blog.

Merry Christmas 2011 from the Fryers” (CC BY 2.0) by Wesley Fryer

Lessons from Prison Ministry

This morning Shelly and I planned and recorded a 97 second video, “Lessons from Prison Ministry.” This focuses on our experiences several years ago with a wonderful Oklahoma non-profit, “The Oklahoma Messages Project,” which was previously called, “Redeeming the Family.”

Here’s the script we wrote and used for this 7 slide “Narrated Photo Story.” More examples and resources for creating Photo Story videos and other kinds of digital stories are available from Storychasers.

When we lived in Oklahoma City, through our church, we had several opportunities to serve in a wonderful prison ministry called, at that time, “Redeeming the Family.” It has since been renamed, “The Oklahoma Messages Project.” (slide 1 image)

We went into Oklahoma prisons to work with moms and dads experiencing incarceration, helping them record messages of love for their children at home during special times like Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day. (slide 2 image)

This was the first time either of us had ever set foot into a prison. It was a bit scary, but we had some prior volunteer training from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. (slide 3 image)

We helped parents select books for their children, and filmed them reading the books to their kids, along with supportive messages of love and affirmation. (slide 4 image)

These messages were recorded with digital camcorders, and put on DVDs that were mailed to each family and child to watch at home. Many of the kids receiving these video messages from their mom or dad would watch them over and over again. (slide 5 image)

When a mom or dad is missing from their family home, it is natural for children to worry.  It is very important for children to know that their parent is safe and OK. It is also very important for children to hear messages of affirmation and love, when they are separated. (slide 6 image)

We both thank God for the opportunity to serve, even just a few times and in some small ways, with the Oklahoma Messages Project. We encourage you to find similar organizations and nonprofits in your community which are serving children, parents and families. (slide 7 image)

(/end of script)

Learn more about “Christian Digital Storytelling” in my chapter on “Narrated Slideshows” from “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ.”

Redeeming the Family” (CC BY 2.0) by Wesley Fryer

Donate Thanksgiving Food to Roof Above in Charlotte, NC

Are you in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area and interested in giving to others in our community who are in need this Thanksgiving season? Consider making a food donation to “Roof Above,” a non-profit focusing on ending homeless and serving those affected by homelessness.

Roof Above is looking for a variety of food items, details are in the attached screenshot and in this Instagram post.

From their website:

“We believe that home is critical to provide safety, stability, and dignity in people’s lives. Each day, we serve 1,200 people in our community –half we serve through our homeless services, and half are formerly homeless served through our housing programs.

It’s not just about what we do but how we do it. Our approach is personal; relationships drive our services and help to heal the trauma of homelessness. We strive to honor the profound worth of each life, and for our work to reflect that belief.”

Learn more about “Roof Above” and their work by watching this new (4 days old) two minute video, “Uniting the Community to End Homelessness in Charlotte.”

“Roof Above” is the “operational partner for Easter’s Home,” which is an outreach ministry of Caldwell Presbyterian Church in downtown Charlotte.

Follow Roof Above on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/RoofAbove/

Charlotte Church Hunting (Sept 2022 Update)

As new residents of Matthews, North Carolina, and the Charlotte area, we are hunting for a new church. In this post, I’ll share about four of the churches we have visited so far, and some reflections about each one. I’m also going to reflect on my own history with Christian churches, and what I remember about “church hunting” in the past.

For more background on this journey, see my December 2021 post, “Called to an Inclusive & Affirming Church.”

Searching for a new church is NOT something I have done very many times in my own life. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, living in five different states before our family settled in Manhattan, Kansas, and found First Presbyterian Church at 801 Leavenworth. That was my home church most of my life growing up, and it was a wonderful place to learn more about God, the Bible, and gain some insights into the life of Jesus Christ. It was also the sponsor organization for my Boy Scout troop, Troop 74, led by Ray Hightower. I am thankful to be an Eagle Scout of Troop 74.

One of my most vivid memories of FPC Manhattan was from 8th grade Communicant’s class, following a Wednesday evening lesson that our pastor, Phil Gittings, had taught on “The Prodigal Son.” I stayed after class to ask him about it, because it just didn’t make any sense to me. It was not fair. It was not “just.” I couldn’t understand it. I remember Pastor Gittings mainly telling me, “That’s just the way God is.” It didn’t resolve my confusion, but that memory stayed with me. That cognitive dissidence has transformed into more understanding with the passage of time and my own life experiences as a husband, father and teacher.  FPC Manhattan certainly was (in aggregate) a great church to grow up in.

When I went to the Air Force Academy in 1988, we thankfully had chapel services, and I found great solace there during the challenges of basic training and my freshman year. Since our youngest daughter is currently attending prep school at Randolph Macon Academy as a Falcon Scholar for the Air Force Academy, I’ve been reflecting much more on my own years at USAFA. 

I sang in the Protestant choir my freshman year at USAFA, and I remember making a memorable trip up to New England and singing in the state house in New Hampshire or Vermont. But in my upper class years, my chapel attendance slackened, and I didn’t attend church much at all.

Upon graduation from the Air Force Academy, I had a choice: Go directly to pilot training or accept a Fulbright scholarship to study Latin American security issues in Mexico City. I chose the latter. In addition to attending Catholic worship services with the family of Vern Conaway, one of my Academy classmates (who were also assigned at that time to the US Embassy in Mexico City,) I found an English-speaking Protestant congregation in downtown Oklahoma City. Again, I found a sponsored Boy Scout troop at the church, for whom I served as an assistant scoutmaster that year, and my friend, Paco Araujo.

When I moved to Lubbock Texas, to start pilot training at Reese Air Force Base in the summer of 1993, I found Westminster Presbyterian Church. The church family at Westminster loved and cared for me in transformative ways, through some of the darkest and most difficult seasons of my life. Through it all, I met my wife, Shelly, in 1995 on a mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico sponsored by WPC. All three of our children were baptized at Westminster and had wonderful formative experiences in the loving congregation there. Shelly served as an elder at WPC, I served as a Sunday school teacher, and we both grew in love and fellowship as a family and as a member of the church community.

When we moved to Oklahoma City in 2006, we immediately visited First Presbyterian Church of Edmond. One of our friends at WPC Lubbock had come from that church, and on their recommendation it was the first church we visited. It also turned out to be the only church we visited, because the Sunday we first came, we met Jim and Carol Hartzog. They took us out to lunch after the service, and shared how FPC Edmond was looking for a full-time preschool ministry director. At WPC in Lubbock, Shelly served as the nursery coordinator on a volunteer basis, and then on a paid, quarter time basis. God opened the door for Shelly to enter full-time ministry at FPC Edmond, and she served as the Director of Preschool Ministries there for seven years. I eventually was ordained as a deacon at FPC Edmond, and then as an elder. I later became a Sunday school teacher, and remained active in the FPC Edmond men’s group throughout our 15 years of membership there. FPC Edmond was the church where all our children grew up, they all attended Communicant’s class, and they all experienced God‘s love through the church.

In 2021, anticipating our departure from Oklahoma and move to North Carolina, I did not expect to be church shopping. But, the Lord put it on our hearts to seek an inclusive and affirming, as well as more ethnically diverse, church, and we found Saint Augustine’s of Canterbury. Jason and Traci Elliot, who had been longtime members at FPC Edmond, had joined St Augustine‘s a couple years earlier with their son, Josh. 

At the time, I thought this church change (which was very challenging by the way, since I was in the midst my third year of adult Sunday school teaching with a dear class community at FPC Edmond we absolutely LOVED) it was primarily for the benefit of our children, who would (eventually) be on their own to find a local church, when they moved away from us. I thought this process would be instructive for them: How to look for a church, discern the Holy Spirit as well as a focus on Jesus Christ, and find a church community that could invite them into authentic worship, disciple them in their continued growth as followers of Jesus, and also be a community that could support and love them through whatever circumstances they found themselves.

Time will tell if that expectation was on target. But what I know now is that the experience of seeking and finding St Augustine‘s, Father Joe, and the wider Episcopal church community was incredibly powerful for me personally. When I served on our church session in Edmond during the time we left the PCUSA denomination and joined ECO, I was told we were doing that because the PCUSA congregations that were in the majority in General Assembly were not “Jesus focused.” I had the impression, which I admittedly did not research and check out myself, but “accepted on authority,” that these churches were more “Universalist.” Shelly and I did visit one of these churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico, back when we lived in Texas, when we were on a retreat weekend with WPC. The name of Jesus Christ was never mentioned in the sermon, and Christianity was presented as one of a multitude of pathways to finding God. Jesus was not preached as “the gate.” My understanding was that the confessing church movement within Presbyterian circles was focused on encouraging a prioritization of Biblical reading and Scriptural authority, as well as the primacy of Jesus Christ in His message of salvation by grace.

Another aspect of this departure from PCUSA to ECO involved beliefs and treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a member of our session at that time, I was told that this departure was inaccurately being portrayed in the media  as an “anti-gay movement.” We were told it was not, it was rather focused on scriptural integrity and the holiness of the Bible. But as one of our children later brought to my attention through close reading of ECO policy and theology, the denomination is absolutely NOT affirming or inclusive. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that at that time, I did not seriously interrogate these issues and important beliefs for myself, I just accepted them on authority from other leaders in our church.

What I learned in the process of searching and finding a new church in Oklahoma City is that there absolutely ARE inclusive and affirming Christian churches which DO focus on Jesus and his unique and exclusive claims about eternal salvation. It is not true that every church that is inclusive and affirming of the LGBTQIA+ community is universalist.

Through my seven years of working at Casady School and being a part of the community there, I was introduced eventually (along with Shelly) to Episcopal faith traditions. The three OKC Episcopal churches we eventually found which ARE Jesus focused, Bible exalting, and inclusive as well as affirming are Saint Augustine’s of Canterbury, Grace Episcopal of Yukon, and St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Oklahoma City. This discovery was a huge “a-ha moment” for me personally, and has had a significant impact on me as well as Shelly as we search for a new church home here in North Carolina.

With this background and these recent experiences in mind, we have embarked on the journey to find a new church home and church family here in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Both Shelly and I now love Episcopal traditions and worship, but as lifelong Presbyterians, I am drawn to want to find a Presbyterian congregation if we can. I absolutely loved teaching adult  Sunday school the last three years we were at FPC Edmond. (I had also served as an adult Sunday school teacher for awhile at WPC in Lubbock.) I feel an undeniable call on my life to integrate my affinity for technological communication, teaching, and evangelism for Jesus, and I sense my opportunities to do that are greater within the Presbyterian Church unless I would attend seminary and formally enter ministry in the Episcopal world. I do not anticipate doing that at this point. So, as of today we have visited two Episcopal churches and two Presbyterian churches in the Charlotte area. Here are a few reflections on each one.

Saint Peters Episcopal Church

Our dear friend Sarah Emily, at Saint Augustine’s back in OKC, taught school and lived in the Charlotte area for several years before moving to Oklahoma, and gave us a number of recommendations when she learned we were moving to this area. One of them was to check out Saint Peters Episcopal Church, which is an inclusive and affirming congregation, and perhaps the oldest Episcopal church in our area. I think it is kind of a “mother church” to others here, (I’m still not completely clear on how hierarchy works in Episcopal circles.) I visited Saint Peters in March 2022 when I came for my interview at PDS, and it was the first church we attended on a Sunday as a family (Shelly and I, along with Sarah and Rachel) after moving here in early August.

https://twitter.com/PocketShare/status/1502792050856583175

That Sunday we made an unlikely connection to a teacher who had taught for years at Casady, and knew many of the same longtime teachers there that we do. It was a wonderful service and a wonderful embrace by the community during the fellowship time following the service.

St John’s Episcopal Church

St John’s Episcopal was a warm and welcoming community when we visited several weeks ago, very vibrant and full considering we are still coming out of COVID. We are really missing the ritual of weekly Eucharist, and there is so much comfort and familiarity in the Episcopal traditional service. The congregation is not very diverse, however, and while they are Episcopal, there was not any “signaling” that they are inclusive or affirming in the service, or in any of their social media online. Since the Charlotte Pride Festival was at the end of August, it was pretty obvious to see which churches are inclusive and which are not. Most made no mention of Pride. 

St John’s could be a very comfortable congregation to be a part of, but I suspect it may be a “don’t ask, don’t tell” community when it comes to LGBTQ+ folks and issues. We really like this church, and because of those factors (lack of an overt commitment to ethnic diversity and inclusivity) I’m not sure we’ll be back.

Caldwell Presbyterian Church

Caldwell Presbyterian in downtown Charlotte is a very unique congregation and one whose services I watched online this summer before we moved. They are explicitly committed to racial diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. The first Sunday Shelly and I attended, the primary pastor was still on sabbatical, and they had a guest pastor who was excellent but was probably the most liberal and progressive Christian pastor I have ever heard. I have actually studied critical pedagogy quite a bit, as part of my PhD program at Texas Tech. I studied the philosophy and pedagogy of Paulo Freire, author of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” for an entire semester. The liturgy and sermon that Sunday was strongly influenced by both feminist and Afro-theology (if I am saying that correctly) and it was extremely different from anything Shelly and I had ever experienced in church. But nothing that was said was anything we really disagreed with, and it was Jesus focused. We found the worship experience overall to be refreshing and Jesus-focused, and the story of the church is extremely compelling.

That first Sunday we visited Caldwell we stayed afterwards for fellowship and refreshment time, and learned from some longtime members the church’s story of “resurrection and rebirth.” The congregation had dwindled to only about 10 or 12 members, but on the Sunday the pastor announced they would be closing, some visitors asked if they could join. They were challenged to bring friends, and the next Sunday they did. The church was “reborn” thanks to the hard work of a small group of people, who decided to redefine the church with its present focus: ethnic diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. It is also focused on sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not Universalist. This is a very unique and special church.

Trinity Presbyterian Church

Of the four churches we visited initially, Trinity Presbyterian Church felt the most comfortable and familiar. One of the teachers at my school, Brian Fields, had mentioned it during a lunch conversation, and also mentioned that he was part of a committee in the church that is seeking to establish a new vision statement and focus for the church. The church is physically a very large building, but the congregation has dwindled over time, especially during COVID. Shelly and I attended Sunday school a couple weeks ago prior to service, and absolutely loved getting to connect with many people and have some great conversations. We also learned about an upcoming Church retreat to Montreat, which is the mountain camp in Asheville which Shelly attended three summers growing up, and is part of the reason we moved to North Carolina in the first place. The service was good, and remarkably, the sweet man sitting right in front of us during service is the father of my principal, Lee Tappy. We had good connections with many church members at Trinity, and felt very positive about the church overall. I know we are going to go back, and Trinity is on our short list of churches to possibly join here in the Charlotte area.

So today for church, we were faced with the question: Do we visit a new church, or revisit one of these four? Our next-door neighbors have invited us to visit their Baptist church, and I think we will do that one Sunday, but I don’t think any Baptist churches are inclusive or affirming, so it is unlikely we would join. But it will be nice to visit and we really like these neighbors.

I have also found First United Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, which is an historically African-American congregation. I have watched part of their services online and read some of the writings of their pastor. Interestingly, the church does not have anything about its theology or beliefs on its public website. Again, there is no signaling of inclusivity, so I am doubtful this is the church for us. But I love the history and the vibrant worship of the congregation, so it is tempting to visit, and we still might.

https://twitter.com/wfryer/status/1568920467687473153

Myers Park Presbyterian is the largest flagship Presbyterian Church in our area, I think, and while it is tempting to visit, both Shelly and I are pretty convinced we want a smaller church. So that rules out Myers Park.

Last week I also learned about a new church that has just launched this weekend, Doxa Deo Charlotte. (Formerly Ridge Church.) It is non-denominational, and for the little I have learned about it so far, reminds me of Life Church back in Oklahoma City. Again, it seems like a larger congregation than what we are looking for, and there is no indication of inclusivity in their social media or on their website. But it was still interesting to learn about. They are the sponsors of a co-working facility that I will be using in about a month for a digital storytelling workshop, and I think that kind of community engagement is wonderful and laudable.

This weekend, Shelly and I ventured up to Hickory on Friday night and Saturday for some furniture shopping, We got back Saturday night for dinner with some friends and to be ready for church on Sunday. We decided to attend Caldwell Presbyterian again today, and their main pastor, John Cleghorn, was back in the pulpit. They baptized two children today, and had a special ceremony of thanks for many of the church members as well as staff who helped sustain their operations during Pastor John’s sabbatical this summer. It was an absolutely wonderful, spirit filled worship service, with a congregation that was diverse in every way. Sarah attended with us.

We love the commitment of the Caldwell congregation to ethnic diversity, inclusivity, and to serving the needs of the poor in our community. They are in the process of converting their historic education building into a multi-unit housing space for the “houseless” in the area. I have loved learning more about their mission from their blog, including this recent article Pastor John wrote in Presbyterian Outlook magazine, “Churches use property and resources to care for the houseless.”

So, that’s a lengthy share about our church hunting in Charlotte so far. I am energized and thankful for this opportunity to discern God‘s will for our family, and I can’t say for sure today what church we will join. But there are many good options, and I am so thankful to continue on this journey together with Shelly and Sarah.

(I also cross-posted this to Medium)

Introducing “Submarine Sermons”

Welcome to a video series I am titling, “Submarine Sermons.”

Yesterday I had an opportunity to tour the USS Requin In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the Carnegie Science Center. I have thought about “radar screens” on ships and submarines for some time now as a metaphor for the digital screens we use to both access and share digital information today. In this series, I want to reflect on the intentionality with which submarines are designed for specific functions and outcomes, and how this can relate to us living our lives in an increasingly digital world. There IS a lot of “pollution and noise” in our highly-digital world, but also opportunities to encounter and be transformed by amazing people and powerful ideas. We need to make good choices as we “train the algorithms” around us to share images and media WE want to help shape our hearts and minds.

Check out all 57 of my photos of the USS Requin in this Flickr album.

Find more channels to follow and learn with me on: wesfryer.com/after

Learn more about my theology as a follower and disciple of Jesus on: wesfryer.com/theology

View all the videos in this “Submarine Sermons” series in this YouTube playlist.

Visit my merchandise store: store.wesfryer.com

Chosen During Lent

During this past week’s spring break vacation, I’ve been reading a new book and re-watching episodes of the amazing TV series “The Chosen” with Shelly which have had a profound impact on my walk with Christ and our walk together through a season of tumultuous change and uncertainly. In this post I’ll share a little about these experiences.

Two weeks ago, I flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, and interviewed for a new teaching position at Providence Day School starting in August 2022. Moving to North Carolina after our youngest child’s high school graduation in June has been our ardent prayer as a couple for many months, so this was and is both an exciting and emotionally-laden time. I shared more about this on Facebook March 13th.

I flew into Charlotte on Saturday afternoon, Thanks to the recommendation of Sarah-Emily Steinhardt, the Member Engagement Coordinator at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church in northwest OKC, I went to church Sunday morning in Charlotte at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church downtown. According to the “History” page on St. Peter’s website:

Considered by many to be the “mother church” of the region, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was the first Episcopal Church in Charlotte, organized in 1834 and recognized as a parish in the Diocese of North Carolina in 1844. Area churches including St. Martin’s, Holy Comforter, St. Mark’s, St. Michaels, St. Paul’s in Monroe, and Christ Church all trace their roots to St. Peter’s.

History. (2012, January 30). St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. st-peters.org/history

I went to the mid-morning workshop service at 9 am at St. Peters, and then attended the “Adult Forum” / “Adult Formation” class offered at 10:30 am, led by the Father Jacob E. Pierce and Mother Amanda C. Stephenson. During Lent, they are reading and discussing “The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem” by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan.”

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I am about halfway through the book now, and am REALLY enjoying the “deep dive” which authors Borg and Crossan provide into the Gospel of Mark. I’ve focused most of my own Gospel-specific study and Sunday School class lessons (back when we attended Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lubbock, Texas) on the Gospel of John, and to a lesser extent the Gospel of Matthew. Last fall when I was teaching our adult Sunday School class at FPC Edmond, “Finding Jesus in Media,” we used videos from “The Bible Project” as well as multiple Bible translations and interpretations to dive deeper into Matthew’s Gospel. But until the last couple weeks, I haven’t spent as much time studying the Gospel of Mark.

One of many things which the book’s authors are encouraging me to reflect on more deeply is the theological construct of “Substitutionary atonement.” This is a very familiar theological idea to me, having grown up in the Presbyterian church and “Reformed tradition” of churches and pastors strongly influenced by Martin Luther and The Protestant Reformation. It’s interesting to read Mark’s Gospel with greater attention and see its emphasis on Jesus’ invitation to all his disciples to join him on “the way” which leads to Jeruselum.

This is the journey we’re invited to take during the season of Lent, which culminates in Holy Week and Easter. I’m not sure I’d thought as much about how Jesus invites his disciples to not merely WITNESS his confrontations with the Roman and Jewish church authorities during Passover in Jerusalem, but ultimately JOIN HIM in participating in this confrontational series of events that culminates in his arrest, crucifixion, resurrection, and ultimately ascension into heaven.

Jesus does not call us to merely be PASSIVE OBSERVERS. Jesus calls us to be active participants with him in our faith, our journey of faith together to the cross and ultimately to God Himself. This is a journey of sacrifices, faith, and persistence despite frustrations and many reasons to both be seized by fears and turn aside.

In addition to reading “The Last Week,” I’ve also enjoyed re-watching the first two episodes of “The Chosen” this week (Season 2) with Shelly. We watched the entire series together last year, but it’s amazing how many details as well as “broad strokes” of the television series I either missed or am just seeing again now “with fresh eyes.”

I LOVE how the series writers are providing such a “deep dive” into the personalities and individual characteristics of the disciples, as well as Jesus himself. Based on the Gospels and the other books of The New Testament, the script writers, actors, and others involved in the creation of these films have created a RICH media tapestry that is both insightful and challenging to us as followers of Jesus and students of his life. I have particularly enjoyed the relational dynamics between Peter and Matthew, as well as Phillip and Matthew. Seeing the series a second time has encouraged me to “see” and think more deeply about the past experiences and perspectives of different disciples, considering how each one had been uniquely prepared by God for the work they eventually were called to do with Jesus and for Jesus after his resurrection.

The scene at the end of Season 2, Episode 2, when Nathaniel first encounters Jesus and is called by Jesus to follow him (thanks in part to the friendship with and guidance of Phillip) spoke to me particularly loudly today.

I can relate directly to Nathaniel’s story of being alone, at “the end of my rope,” calling out to God for aid, assistance, comfort and direction. That is a personal story I am not going to share here right now, but perhaps will some day. It can be both powerful and emotional to see threads of “our own stories” in the Bible narratives, and to understand a little deeper how God has and continues to work through our lives to bring us closer to Him and to places where we can choose to follow His commands. To respond to His invitations. To “join Him on THE WAY.”

Praise God for the access we have to Holy Scripture, for the opportunity to intersect with the people, events, and stories of the Bible through media interpretations like “The Chosen,” and for a break from school and work over Spring Break when I’ve been able to dive more deeply into the themes, traditions, and ideas of Lent.

I pray you will join me in seeking God this day and in the weeks to come. Check out the book “The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem” and consider reading it, and DEFINITELY watch (or re-watch) “The Chosen.”

God is at work all around us, and invites us to join Him in building His kingdom today on earth!

Called to an Inclusive & Affirming Church

God’s Holy Spirit is calling our family to join a Christian church congregation which is both inclusive and affirming. The past four months have been a time of transition for us, as I have continued to teach our adult Sunday School class at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, where I am an ordained elder and deacon. While I have continued to teach our Sunday School class, we only attended. worship at FPC a couple times this fall. In August we started visiting other Oklahoma City church congregations, and through the guidance and mentorship of friends, found our way to St Augustine of Canterbury, a wonderful Episcopal congregation just about 5 minutes from our house in northwest Oklahoma City. We’ve been attending the early services at Saint A’s since September, and then attending / leading Sunday School at FPC in Edmond. This has, at times, felt awkward, but it has been both necessary and good. This year members of our family “stopped feeling safe” attending worship and church groups at FPC Edmond, and worshipping together as a family is a very important value for us. Those sentiments by other family members were independent of some difficulties I faced personally as a member of the leadership team for our Friday Morning Men’s Group at FPC. Those situations and. issues, and the ways they were handled / mishandled, and additional interactions with men’s group members led me to resign my position of leadership with FPC men’s group on September 23, 2021. That decision followed private meetings with members of the men’s group’s leadership team, and included a later meeting and multiple communications with our senior pastor. This decision to leave FPC Edmond as a family is something my wife and I have taken very seriously, and prayed over for many weeks. We have prayed for discernment, and God has answered that prayer. God is calling us to an affirming and inclusive church congregation.

I was initially ordained as a deacon and then an elder at FPC Edmond when our congregation was part of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) denomination. On January 27, 2013, our congregation voted “for gracious dismissal from PCUSA to join the ECO denomination, the “Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.” With the rest of our elected elders at the time, I accepted ordination following that vote into ECO as an elder. At that time, I had not and did not personally grapple deeply with the question of whether or not we, as followers of Jesus Christ, and leaders of His church, are called to be inclusive and affirming. When I say “grapple deeply” I mean that I did not seriously question the leadership and direction of our senior pastor at the time and our other elders. My only Christian blog post at that time addressing these issues was from January 26, 2013, “Commenting Publicly About Our Church’s Congregational Vote.”

This failure to grapple deeply with the beliefs about and treatment of LGBTQ people at that time may strike some as odd, since the question of how the church addresses homosexuality was a significant and common issue for churches (like ours) choosing to leave PCUSA for another Presbyterian denomination. Around the same time as our congregation joined ECO, the church where Shelly and I met in 1995 (Westminster Presbyterian Church of Lubbock, Texas) also chose to leave PCUSA, but they joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). EPC is even more conservative than ECO as a denomination in some ways, as they state in their “distinctives” the following:

“the decision to elect women as pastors, ruling elders, and deacons is left to the discretion of the presbytery and congregation, respectively.”

Distinctives of EPC

The ECO denomination, as well as our FPC church home of the past 15 years, is not inclusive or affirming. This is not a secret. On page 30 of the 2020 ECO Confessional Standards we read:

Q. 87. Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?

A. Certainly not! Scripture says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit

the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters,

nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor

drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians

6:9–10).

2020 ECO Confessional Standards

Following our congregation’s decision to leave PCUSA and join ECO, one of our assistant pastors (Matt Jones) along with one of our church members and small group leaders (Curt Gruel) led a wonderful Wednesday night class focused on the book “Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community” by Andrew Marin. In all my life up to that point and since, that class was the ONLY time I’ve had an opportunity in church to discuss issues and theology relating to LGBTQ people. At that time, I setup a website titled, “Faith Discussions,” and shared resources there related to the class. That site is now offline, but you can view information about the class as well as Curt’s welcome and class overview via the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive. I posted notes from that class twice to this blog, “Love is an Orientation: Session 1” from January 9, 2013, and “Session 2: Love is an Orientation” from January 17th. As a related and significant aside, Curt Gruel has generously served (on a volunteer basis, I will point out) as my “Spiritual Director” in the Heartpaths OKC program for at least the past 7 years. Curt’s mentorship and discernment skills have been HUGE parts of my own spiritual development in the past decade, and I am incredibly thankful for his leadership, guidance and loving service to me and others through this amazing program.

Today I am sharing with our Sunday School class our decision to leave FPC Edmond so we can both worship Christ and serve others with an affirming and inclusive Christian congregation. Shelly and I no longer feel we can worship God in spirit and in truth at FPC Edmond. FPC Edmond is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” church when it comes to homosexuality and LGBTQ people, and we want to worship and serve in a Christian church congregation which is both inclusive and affirming to everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

I have not wanted to share this decision privately or publicly with any emotions of anger, hurt, frustration, or pain. This is an ongoing journey which is not over. Shelly and I are both confident, however, that God is leading us and our family in a new direction.

We have been active members and leaders at FPC Edmond for the past fifteen years. Shelly served on the staff of FPC for seven years, leading our church nursery staff. Her leadership and ministry work through Children’s Ministries at FPC eventually brought her into relationship with many people both experiencing homelessness and serving the homeless in Oklahoma City. Our church’s “Rolling Green Outreach Ministry” at that time was a significant catalyst which eventually brought Shelly to serve as a teacher at Positive Tomorrows in OKC for four years. We have raised our children at FPC in Edmond, it has been our church home and our family. Contemplating leaving has been difficult and sad.

Yet we know God is calling us to a new chapter in our lives, and we are ready to answer. As I continue to apply for assistant professor positions to start a new professional role in summer 2022, we are not sure if we’ll be staying here in Oklahoma City or moving to a new place. It’s a time of waiting and praying. We are confident God is answering and has already answered our prayers.

Lessons about Constantine & Ancient Rome

This summer I read Paul Stephenson’s 2010 book, “Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor,” and gained a wide variety of insights into the history of early Christianity as well as the Roman empire and its politics. In this post, I’d like to share the background of why I decided to read this book, many of my “key takeaways” / learning points from the book, and some reflections which I’ve had as a result of the ideas in this text. As I read the book, I shared quotations and thoughts on Twitter, and organized those tweets in a single “Twitter thread” you can view chronologically. I’m at the point in my life where I just want to read eBook versions of books or listen to them digitally, and unfortunately this book wasn’t (in late May 2021) available in the Amazon Kindle ebookstore. I did, however, find it for sale in the Google Play Store, so I ended up reading my first book in the iOS “Google Play Books” app. It was ok, but I much prefer reading eBooks on a physical Kindle eReader or in the iOS Kindle app.

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There were three primary catalysts for my decision to read this book about the Emperor Constantine.

1 – Christian Nationalism Historically and Today

Our mainstream and social media channels in the United States have amplified “Christian nationalism” to the point where it has become a significant political and cultural force. The rhetoric of Christian nationalism has militaristic / jingoistic overtones, and I am not only interested in these contemporary strains of Christian heresy (which was and remains after reading this book my perception) but also the movement’s historical roots. I suspected I would learn more about this studying the history of Constantine’s rule over Rome, and I was correct. Presbyterian Pastor Tim Keller’s article, “A Book Review on the Topic of Christian Nationalism,” is an excellent overview of these topics and issues from a contemporary perspective.

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In part through my research and work supporting the “Conspiracies and Culture Wars” media literacy project, I’ve been alarmed by the way Christian conservatives have been mobilized as well as deceived to support the QAnon conspiracy theory and political movement. My desire to have a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the history of Christianity and its theological foundations were also motivators for me to learn more about Constantine and his Christian legacy.

2- Portrayal of Ancient Rome in “The Legacy Imperative”

Our Friday Morning Men’s Group at the Presbyterian Church we attend in Edmond, Oklahoma (FPCE) just finished a 10 part video series this summer called, “The Legacy Imperative.” I have wanted to write a blog just summarizing my thoughts and responses to that series, and still may do so. While there are many good ideas and exhortations in the series (like it’s good for Christian grandparents to share Bible stories with their grandchildren, read to their grandchildren, and share stories about their faith and beliefs with them) there are also some political as well as theological ideas woven throughout the series with which I have substantial issues with and criticisms to offer. Early in the series (maybe even in episode 1, the videos are locked behind a paywall so I can’t link directly to them) the author extols the Roman Empire, their wholesale destruction of Carthage in 146 BC, and paints overall a picture of Roman history which is romantic, nostalgic, and dangerously disconnected from many facts from history. At one point, the video series producers included a clip from the 2000 Russell Crowe movie, “Gladiator,” to cast a dramatic vision of the role today’s grandparents (allegedly) must play if their grandchildren and “this entire generation of lost souls” will be saved from hell and oblivion. So my experiences watching that entire series (as the youngest member of our group, it fell to me to ‘make the technology work’ over Zoom for most of our meetings) were additional catalysts encouraging me to learn more about Constantine and Roman history, especially as they intersected with Christian faith and early church history. For more on this topical thread, I highly recommend the Angry Planet podcast episode, “Rome Was Always in Decline” with author Edward J. Watts, who wrote the 2018 book, “Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny” as well as “The Final Pagan Generation: Rome’s Unexpected Path to Christianity” in 2015.

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3- Battle of the Milvian Bridge Artwork

The third primary catalyst for my decision to read this book was Pieter Lastman’s 1613 painting, “The Battle of Constantine and Maxentius” which is shared on the Google Art & Culture website. I was looking for an image of “Crossing the Rubicon,” and instead ended up learning a bit about “The Battle of the Milvian Bridge.” Like so many works of historical art, this image is a mix of state-sponsored propaganda, myth, and real historical events. I used this image in my March 7, 2021 Sunday School class lesson, “Introducing Tim Keller & “The Reason for God.” (It’s slide 28) I had never previously heard of that battle or its significance, and I was interested after my brief digital exposure to this artwork to learn more about this history.

With those three primary reasons for reading this book in mind, let’s dive into some of the key takeaways / learning points I had as a result of reading this book.

Persecution of Christians

First of all, I was a bit surprised to learn that the era of “Christian persecutions” in the Roman empire was as long as I’d imagined. It’s incredible to consider that Roman history spanned almost 2000 years, when the histories of both the western and eastern Roman empires (Byzantium) are combined and the early “Roman Kingdom” is included. Christians faced different types and levels of persecutions under Rome after the death and resurrection of Jesus, but those persecutions “mostly” came to an end during and following the rule of Constantine the Great. There was “one more pagan emperor in Rome” (Julian the Apostate) but Christianity’s official status within the Roman Empire during and following the rule of Constantine put an end to the types of Christian persecutions (death by lions in the colosseum, etc) which I’d learned about previously. 300 years may seem like a long time to us in the United States, since our nation is not yet that old, but in the span of Roman history it’s relatively shorter. I don’t intend to minimize the terrible reality of those years of persecution, but somehow in my mind I’d imagined Christians persecuted for many more centuries. So this was one thing I learned.

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Religious Toleration in Rome

Throughout his reign as Roman emperor, Constantine continued (and enforced) official Roman policies of religious toleration. Although those policies definitely changed under different rulers, I was interested to learn that the Roman Empire generally permitted a variety of different religious practices throughout its history. Roman military units practiced “religio” rites, which at times were manifested in worship of the emperor himself, and at times these were impossible for Christians to follow because they required the elevation of one’s loyalty and allegiance to the emperor over God. They also could, at times, require sacrifices to be offered to the god of the emperor at the time, which Christians regarded as prohibited.

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The overall “bend” of Roman religious history, which I understand more deeply because of Paul Stevenson’s book, was to support and allow diverse worship practices through religious toleration.

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Constantine had less toleration for dissent within Christian communities, however, he resorted to calling councils of bishops on multiple occasions to try and resolve disputes of theology and belief. The Nicene Creed, dates from the ecumenical council convened by Constantine in 325 A.D., and is still used by our Christian denomination as a foundational profession of faith. Because of the challenges of studying ancient history and particularly ancient personalities (even emperors) it’s difficult to have full confidence in any historian’s account of an individual’s temperament and personality traits. As Stephenson synthesizes the historical records about Constantine, however, it appears his ideas and opinions about Christian theology varied considerably depending on who his confidant(s) and trusted advisors were at the time. He was unable to force Christian leaders to “follow orders” and conform precisely to his will, as he could and did as a military commander, and resorted to ecumenical councils on multiple occasions to try and resolve differences of opinions and beliefs in Christendom. It is from this historical legacy “orthodox” Christianity emerged, and many of the articulated beliefs we (in the reformed Christian tradition) regard as foundational to our faith. I found it fascinating to learn more about these aspects of Christian history in this book.

History Can Be Tricky

One overall perception I took from Stephenson’s book is how extremely difficult and tricky it can be to seek “historical truth” among so many authors who were writing with overtly biased agendas (like writing an official history for a particular ruler / emperor) and the fact that many conquering emperors (including Constantine) sought to deliberately malign the historical records of their predecessors and opponents to expunge their legacy from history.

Constantine Was Not a “Good Guy”

Since he is credited as the Roman emperor who ushered in “the golden age” of Roman Christianity and originated “Christian orthodoxy,” I think Constantine is errantly regarded by some people as a hero and a “good guy.” He was not. Certainly Constantine was a consistent VICTOR in military battles, and this was the primary way he established his right to rule, claiming his victories proved that “the highest god” / the gods were on his side. Eventually he substituted “the Christian God” for Sol Invictus, the Roman Sun god, as the author of his divine blessing and right to rule. But we should not delude ourselves by overlooking facts of history or whitewashing the historical record as experts acknowledge with consensus. I was surprised to learn Constantine not only executed one of his wives (Fausta), he also killed one of his sons, allegedly because of an affair involving them both. Constantine was a brutal and effective military commander, which incidentally was historically a common denominator among most “successful” (relatively long lived) emperors of the Roman Empire. Of course my opinion here may incite criticism that we should not bring our twenty-first century moral sensibilities to bear in judging historical figures and specifically leaders from antiquity. We need to be aware of and acknowledge our own biases as well as beliefs in studying any topic, including history, but I think we are foolish to check our ethics and sense of morality at the door in these analyses.

Christianity Was Thriving and Diverse Before Constantine

One of the big misconceptions which Stephenson’s book addresses and debunks is the idea that Constantine’s embrace of Christianity was the primary factor in its “success” and growth throughout the Western world. While the official recognition of Christianity as the state religion in Rome, and in the Roman military, certainly did contribute in significant ways to its growth and popularity, Stephenson documents how Christianity was growing and thriving both inside and outside the Roman Empire before Constantine. It is important to note Christianity, even then, had a variety of sects / groups / theological adherents, which would eventually manifest after the Reformation in different denominations. As Christians seeking to follow Jesus Christ, we have always been a diverse and opinionated lot. We’ve never been just a single, “orthodox” religious group all “on the same page” which every element of belief or religious practice.

Constantine Co-oped Christianity to Serve His Imperial Purposes

This is perhaps one of the most important takeaways from Stephenson’s book and hopefully from anyone’s careful, historical consideration of Constantine: He was NOT a faithful follower of Jesus Christ throughout his life, and WAS a ruthless Roman emperor who co-oped the rituals, trappings and projected authority of the Christian faith to serve his own imperial purposes as an absolute monarch of a vast and diverse territory.

Here’s where the mythology and story of “The Battle of the Milvian Bridge” outside of Rome comes in. Stephenson clearly demonstrates not only by citing historical writings, but also the coins which were ‘struck’ / created by Constantine at different times and in different places throughout his rule to commemorate events and project his desired vision of the moment of himself as Rome’s supreme ruler, Constantine demonstrated a gradual, progressive move from pagan imperial worship to his own manufactured, Roman-state-supporting version of Christianity. In the stories which were spun by state sponsored historians, as well as later artists like Pieter Lastman’s 1613 painting, “The Battle of Constantine and Maxentius,” Constantine is portrayed as having a sudden conversion experience to Christianity, known as a literary plot technique called “peripety.” We must all beware, even today, not to fall under the misleading and openly manipulative spell of historians and artists who (often with deft artistic skill) portray the facts of history through not just “colored glasses” but rather through outright “distorted lenses.”

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Where I might have considered Constantine a heroic historical figure in the past, I do not consider him to be one now after reading this book. He certainly advanced important ideas and causes throughout the Roman Empire and world during his rule and life, and I do see how God worked through him in bringing us priceless articulations of our Christian faith like The Nicene Creed. But given his ruthless actions and nature, I would not consider Constantine to be a “hero of the Christian faith” or Christian tradition. To the contrary, I think Constantine perverted and usurped the powerful, authentic and original teachings of Jesus Christ and created an “orthodox institution” in the Catholic Church (as well as its subsequent iterations) which took the people of God / Christians / “the church” farther away rather than closer to an authentic understanding of Scripture, the nature of God, and our calling as God’s children.

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Roman Emperors Ruled From Outside Rome Too

I never took a course in high school or college specifically focused on just Roman history, so my background in this area is admittedly limited. I had, however, mainly conceived of Rome as the primary seat of power for the Western Roman Empire, and Constantinople s the primary seat of Eastern Power. However, Stephenson’s book revealed that throughout the centuries, Roman emperors made their palaces and seats of power in different parts of the empire. I was able to travel to Turkey on a two week bus trip in the early 1980s, but I’ve never been to some of the other places mentioned by Stephenson in this narrative about the life and legacy of Constantine. Among others, now I want to visit Trier (in Germany) and Nicomedia in northwest Turkey. I LOVE history and storytelling, and the idea that “places have stories to tell.” Reading this book has invigorated my desire to travel internationally more, and hopefully further deepen my own understanding of history including the Roman chapters which left ruins and artifacts that can still be studied today.

Vicars Were Roman Bureaucrats

At our Episcopal chapel services at school each week, I’m now used to prayers being offered and references being made to our ‘vicar.’ I learned that in the Roman empire, vicars were “officials subordinate to the praetorian prefects.” A substantial part of the “genius” of Roman government and a key to its relative long lasting history was the intricate bureaucracy which the state developed and maintained. It’s not a life changing fact, but I was very interested to learn more of the etymology of “vicar.”

Oaths of Allegiance

It’s very important to consider who we believe we owe and pledge our allegiance, both individually and collectively. One of the most important lessons I learned in Boy Scout Troop 74 in Manhattan, Kansas, growing up, under Scoutmaster Ray Hightower, was that we’re called to have our allegiance and loyalty first to God, then to country, then to state, community and family. I’m not saying family comes last, but I AM saying that God is FIRST and our nation / our Constitution is second.

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In Stephenson’s book =, I was very interested to learn that no pre-Constantine military oaths of allegiance which Roman soldiers were required to take and annually reaffirm survived antiquity. Stephenson explained that Christian pacifists as well as other Christ followers refused to pledge their highest allegiance to the Roman emperor above God, and this led to some of the persecutions of Christians in the pre-Constantine Roman world. By refusing to fight under arms or sacrifice to the gods of the emperor / the military, some Christians historically brought down condemnation and even death upon themselves. They were martyrs for the Christian faith. Christians refused to swear oaths of equal allegiance “to two masters.”

Infanticide of Female Babies Was Common in Ancient Rome

I didn’t know it was common for Roman families to kill female babies. Stephenson explains the value Christians placed on ALL loves, including female lives, was one of the factors contributing to its explosive growth in the years prior to Constantine’s rule.

The “Rain Miracle” of 168/169 AD

Before reading Stephenson’s book, I had never heard of “The Rain Miracle” of 168/169 AD during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Of course like all stories from history, we need to read this with “our filters on and up” for how tales are told and myths promulgated. Still, it’s a fascinating tale and would make a great children’s picture book. I wonder if anyone has made one?

“The Tetrarchy” which preceded the rule of Constantine

In yet another sign of my general historical illiteracy about ancient Rome, I hadn’t previously heard of (or remember hearing about “The Tetrarchy” in Rome which preceded the rule of Constantine. It’s fascinating to me that in some cases, Roman Emperors successfully utilized multiple rulers and both peer as well as subordinate authorities. The title “Augustus” was for the senior emperor / emperors, the title “Caesar” was for the junior emperors. Reading these chapters of history, it’s easy for me to have the names blur together, in part because I don’t have a mental picture (or much mental schema overall) to understand the described events and people in context. Still, my historical understanding and literacy of ancient Rome was deepened a little bit by Stephenson, in his references to The Tetrachy.

Christian Triumphalist Theology Contradicts Martyrdom

This is one of the most important points I think Stephenson makes convincingly in his book, and I probably should have elevated it far earlier in this post. The “Christian Triumphalist Theology” of Constantine, which we see shades of today in modern “Christian nationalism” in the United States, is contradictory to the lives and life claims of Christian martyrs. In the Constintinian / triumphalist view, God always intervenes in history to impose His will on the world. In the worldview of the Christan martyrs (as well as both orthodox and reformed traditional Christianity, from what I understand) God can and sometimes does choose to miraculously act in our lives to save, heal and redeem. However, God is not a ‘vending machine,’ and in His divine reality and nature He does allow both suffering and death, which can both bring Him glory and work out his ultimate purposes for humanity. These are big issues here: The existence of evil and faith in our God who is simultaneously omniscient and omnipotent is challenging both philosophically and theologically. I won’t comment further on these topics here, but definitely want to highlight this contradiction for the “Triumphalists” which Stephenson identifies.

Constantine: A Successful Book Burner

I’ve always found it fascinating to imagine what documents of heresy and unorthodox / forbidden writings might lie in the dark recesses of the Vatican Library. (I imagine it has dark recesses… perhaps it does not!) One of the works which is NOT in the Vatican Library or apparently anywhere else, because Constantine succeeded in his efforts to have all complete copies destroyed / burned, is “Against the Christians” by “Roman-Phoenician Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre.”

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As I previously mentioned above in reference to Constantine’s toleration for non-Christian beliefs and practices, but intolerance for “unorthodox” Christianity, his rule over the Roman Empire was characterized by these challenging dynamics. I wonder if a full copy of “Against the Christians” will ever be uncovered in a European, Asian or African castle library or other archive, as the Waldseemüller map was in 1901?

Arias & Arianism

At some point, I may read further into the history of “Arias & Arianism.”

According to the current English WikiPedia entry for “Arius:”

Arius (256–336) was a Cyrenaic presbyter, ascetic, and priest best known for the doctrine of Arianism. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead in Christianity, which emphasized God the Father’s uniqueness and Christ’s subordination under the Father, and his opposition to what would become the dominant Christology, Homoousian Christology, made him a primary topic of the First Council of Nicaea convened by Emperor Constantine the Great in 325.

“Arius.” Wikipedia, 14 July 2021. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Arius&oldid=1033618333.

The prospect of studying Arianism to better understand orthodox and reformed Christianity reminds me a little of discussing “critical race theory” today in 2021, when that entire topic has been declared taboo by our state legislature in Oklahoma as well as in other states. To better understand a topic, idea or concept, it’s not just important but also VITAL to consider counter-arguments and objections others have raised and do raise to it today. So at some point, I’m going to learn more about Arianism.

Closing Reflections

If you’ve read this entire post up to this point, kudos to you. I’m writing this in part for myself, to better clarify and solidify my own learning from reading this book about Constantine by Paul Stephenson. But I’m also hopeful people I know or others just interested in this topic will find this post helpful, and if you’re in that category, please let me know by commenting on Facebook, leaving a comment on this post below, by reaching out on Twitter, or another electronic contact method.

Here are my closing reflections.

Reading this book makes me want to return to Turkey and Istanbul, but also travel in Italy, Germany, and other parts of the former Roman Empire. I can’t wait for COVID to end and (hopefully) my wife and I to have more opportunities for international travel.

On a more theologically serious note, reading this book draws into sharp relief the sad truth that Constantine and the architects of the Roman Catholic Church basically ignored the essential words and writings of Jesus Christ in developing an institution which was focused much more on social control and projecting support for the legitimacy of governing authorities than sharing the simple, transformative truth of the Gospel. Yes Constantine (in his subsequently legacy) made “Christianity the official religion of Rome,” and ended centuries of Christian persecutions. There are definitely good and valuable elements to those actions. Yet Constantine did those things at a tremendous cost, perverting and re-architecting for earthly goals the Gospel message and Truth of Jesus Christ. I am thankful for The Nicene Creed and the vital clarifications which the Council of Nicea and other ecumenical councils called by Constantine provided to counter basic heresies within early Christian faith traditions. I regret, however, that the Catholic church with its relics and associated superstitions, its prescription to pray to God through a member of the clergy rather than directly to God the Father through Jesus Christ, its focus on ornate and expensive cathedrals, its history of indulgences, its sponsorship of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the “conversion” of non-Europeans literally at sword point, and so much more.

Given all these misgivings about the history of “The Christian Church” post-Constantine, it might not come as a surprise that I’m eager to “lean further into my own theological roots” in the Protestant Reformation and the ‘reformed understandings of theology’ which resulted and continue to guide my life. I’ve really enjoyed and continue to enjoy worshipping in the Episcopalian traditions thanks mainly to our school chapel program, but it would be difficult for me at some point to altogether leave this “reformed Christian heritage” about which I feel and believe so strongly.

Finally, reading this book about Constantine and reflecting on the history which he shaped makes me want to continue DIRECTLY reading the Holy Scriptures of God’s Word, and continuing to seek the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit as I seek to know Him and understand the calling of His Son, Jesus Christ, on my life. I am awed by the arc of history and by our fortunate place in it today in 2021. I want to continue seeking and finding God at work in our world, to join Him in His ongoing struggle to bring the good news of Jesus Christ, with healing and wholeness, to our suffering world filled with darkness and beset by so many devils.

May God use us to further his kingdom and bring His light into all the dark places of this world.

The Origins of the Universe – Free Will and Quantum Mechanics

On July 10, 2020, I shared a lesson on “The Origins of the Universe – Free Will and Quantum Mechanics” for our Friday Morning Men’s Group at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Oklahoma, meeting virtually over Zoom. The video is 31 minutes long. The lesson was based on Chapter 3 of Francis Collins’ book “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.” This was a lesson I shared last year for our adult Sunday School class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science.” Our focus Bible verse was Genesis 1:1-5.

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. ‘

Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV)

The slides for this presentation are also available.

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