About Timothy Brown

A pastor. A writer. A dreamer. Occasionally a beer brewer.

Living Up to a Name

Today the church remembers 8th Century Saint Boniface, Archbishop and Missionary.

Boniface was born with the name Wynfrith (love it!) in Devonshire England in the late 7th Century. When his father fell ill he was sent to a Benedictine school, and then monastery, where he was ordained. It was there that he wrote a Latin grammar book for scholastic use, and several poems.

When Wynfrith turned 40 he began his missionary work in Germany and the Netherlands. The anti-Christian sentiment in the area was strong, though, and he returned back to his native England, eventually succeeding his abbot at Nursling. He didn’t last long in that position, though, and resigned to petition Pope Gregory II for a missionary assignment.

Pope Gregory II approved it, and gave him the name Boniface, which means “to do good.”

He returned to what is now modern day Germany and, after trial and error, finally succeeded in establishing a monastery in Hesse.

With such success, the Bishop of Rome consecrated him bishop for the German frontier, even though there wasn’t a fixed diocese there. To show bravery, Boniface cut down the sacred oak tree of Thor, and though many expected Thor to strike him down with lightening or illness, Boniface remained perfectly healthy. Because of this, many were converted. Out of the wood of that tree he built a chapel in honor of St. Peter.

Pope Gregory III (popular name) elevated Boniface to archbishop in 732, and was eventually given the see of Mainz as his jurisdiction after the bishop of Mainz, Gewiliob (love it!), admitted to killing his father’s murderer.

At sunrise on June 5, 754, at Dokkum, Boniface, while reading the Gospel to a group of neophytes on Pentecost, was attacked by a pagan mob and killed on the job. His remains, and the Gospel book he was reading from at his death, can still be seen at Fulda.

Boniface is a mixed bag for me. He was obviously dedicated and zealous for the faith. But in his spiritual zeal he committed religious tyranny against those he was sent to serve. To take a sacred object, Thor’s tree, and create another sacred object of a different creed, St. Peter’s church, is religious violence.

That kind of violence totally goes against not only my own code of inter-faith work, but also that of my church.

Yet I do admire his willingness to serve in uncharted territory, and his willingness to leave a comfortable job (being the abbot of a monastery is no small thing!) to enter the unknown. That takes courage…I just wish he’d had a little more wisdom with it.

Or, maybe this is what I mean to say: I wish he’d lived up to his name, “Boniface,” and did more good than he did.

-historical notes taken from Pfatteicher’s “New Book on Festivals and Commemorations”

A Huge Overhaul

On this day the church remembers Saint Angelo Roncalli, better known as Pope John XXIII.

Born in 1881 to a family of thirteen children in rural northern Italy, Roncalli entered the seminary at the age of 12 and was heavily influenced by the progressive leaders of the Italian social movement.

He was finally ordained in 1904 and served in World War I in the medical and chaplaincy corps while serving in the bishop’s office at Bergamo. During his time in the bishop’s office, he learned social action and gained experience serving the working class.

In 1921 he was called to Rome to serve as the director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He was consecrated archbishop in 1925 and made apostolic representative to Bulgaria, and then Turkey and Greece in subsequent years.

During his time in the East he built bridges toward Orthodox Christianity, and when World War II broke out, Roncalli was instrumental in passing secretive and sensitive information back to Rome to help Jews fleeing the Nazi regime.

In 1958, at the age of 77, he was elected pope and chose the name John. Everyone expected him to be a buffer between Pope Pius XII and whomever came next, holding down the fort in his old age.

But Pope John XXIII wasn’t having any of that. Building off of his early days working with the poor and his service in the military, he orchestrated an ecclesial overhaul on a massive scale, diversifying the college of cardinals, revising the code of canon law, and calling the Second Vatican Council to shake up the church.

Pope John XXIII’s ultimate goal, it appears, was the re-unification of the church, and (arguably) more than any Bishop of Rome before or since, visited hospitals, prisons, and schools regularly. He was known for, as the folk band Spanky and Our Gang would say, “Giving a damn.”

Today Pope John XXIII is a reminder to me, and to the church, that we can never discount the present moment, regardless of appearances, as being ripe and ready for change.

In many ways he didn’t bother building off of the past, but let some unhelpful and useless ways of operating die on the vine, planting in new soil for a new and changing world. Not everything can be redeemed, Beloved. Sometimes you must start fresh.

And the things that can be redeemed?

Sometimes they need more than refurbishment…they need a huge overhaul.


-historical portions gleaned from Pfatteicher’s “New Book of Festivals and Commemorations”


Today the Church celebrates one of our moveable, and most confounding, Feast Days: The Feast of the Holy Trinity.

Here’s the thing about the Holy Trinity: it is a mystery to be held, not a problem to be solved…so we should stop trying to solve it, already.

At its best this doctrine, and this Feast Day (which has been celebrated on this Sunday after Pentecost since at least the 10th Century), honors the ineffable nature of the Divine. Using ancient numerology and a mystic mindset, it acknowledges that some things are unknowable, always spinning, and that this can be comforting for a humanity that longs to peg everything down.

A God who cannot be pegged down is endlessly possible.

At its worst this doctrine has become a (primarily masculine) box that explains in ways that don’t make any sense who God is and how Jesus and God are related, and then throws in a bird (or are they all the same and not related at all? See what happens when you think about it too much?!).

The Trinity is a Divine whirlwind of creativity and love.

The Trinity is a thought that is foundational to all other thoughts.

The Trinity is mother of all, the stream in which time is caught up, the hovering mist that covers existence.

And it is also none of this.

The Holy Trinity is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that any effort to peg the Divine down is a fool’s errand (thank God).

-Icon is Crow Trinity written by Fr. John Giuliani

The Best Testimony

Today the church remembers a horrible 19th Century massacre as it honors St. Charles Lwanga and the Martyrs of Uganda.

In the late 1870’s Christian missionaries came to Uganda, both Catholic and Protestant, to plant churches and spread the Gospel.

Full disclosure: I have very mixed feelings about missionary work, especially the kind that was practiced in that time and place (and still practiced in many corners of Christianity). The accompaniment model I can support, and do support. I do not support the “I have something you need/white savior” model, which is far too often the model still used.

But I digress.

Regardless of how they came to the faith, these thirty-two martyrs were offered up as a “burnt offering” at Namugongo, many of them pages in the court of King Mwanga of Buganda. Many of the men were actually just boys, no more than thirteen years old. Their crime?

They refused to renounce the faith.

Charles Lwanga was seen as their leader, and encouraged them to stand fast to their convictions.

After this massacre, the killings continued as persecution spread throughout the land as King Mwanga attempted to exterminate Christianity. Unfortunately for the king, the stories about these brave martyrs emboldened others to not only stand firm in their faith, but even led some to adopt the faith because they were so inspired.

The conviction of these martyrs helped other Ugandans to understand that Christianity was/is truly African, and not a white religion…which totally makes sense because Christianity started with a man of color (even though much of the church keeps trying to pretend that’s not true).

Led by the example of these martyrs, Christianity started to spread like wildfire throughout Uganda. There was nothing the king could do.

The Martyrs of Uganda, led by Saint Lwanga, are a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes your life and how you live it is the best testimony.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-commentary mine

-icon of Saint Charles Lwanga written by Fr. Kevin Estabrook

A Wreath of Many Colors

Today the church honors a martyr of the faith, Blandina who, along with her companions, was killed at Lyons.

She, and those with her, were beaten by the majority population who felt they were deviants. They were unduly tortured, and thrown in prison. The Bishop Pothinus, at 90 years old, died in prison after being beaten with the group.

If the prisoners would not give up their faith, the Roman citizens in the lot were to be beheaded at the command of Marcus Aurelius. The rest would be used for sport in the amphitheater, killed by wild beasts as crowds cheered and jeered, as if at a rally with the local politicians leading the chants.

Blandina and her companions were brought up on trumped up charges, including indecent acts. Blandina, when asked to confess to these acts, is reported to have simply said, “I am a Christian, and we do nothing vile.”

Reportedly there were 48 martyrs, of all ages and all walks of life. The church historian Eusebius said of them, “They offered up to God a single wreath, but it was woven of diverse colors and flowers of all kinds.”

Blandina is a reminder for me today of just how long our human systems of injustice have been operating. It reminds me of what trumped up charges and group-think can do to people.

The martyrdom of Blandina and her companions is a witness to me, and to the church, that a diverse group of people can stand together in the face of opposition and that, when push comes to shove, no nationality can save us in the end…after all, the Roman citizens were beheaded…and only God is in the saving business.

The wreath of humanity, precious to the Divine, is woven of diverse colors and flowers of all kind…and we must stand as one, by God.

-historical notes taken from Pfatteicher’s “New Book of Festivals & Commemorations”

June is for Gathering

For the ancient Celts, June was a time of herb collecting. Used in medicine, dyes, cooking, cosmetics, and floor coverings (they would cover their floors with the herbs for a fragrant and hygienic carpeting), herbs were considered a healing gift.

At this time of year they’d incorporate herbs into most every dish, creating lilac teas and treating fish both steamed and pan fried with plenty of dill, parsley, and chives.

As they headed toward the Solstice and St.John the Baptist’s feast day, using all of the given daylight was paramount. Waste nothing, especially daylight, and do those things appropriate with the season.

For June this meant herb gathering, freshening things up, and preserving the harvest for cooking and healing in the year to come.

Life of the Mind

Today the church remembers one of its most influential early thinkers: St. Justin, Martyr, Apologist, and Philosopher.

As the early church began to expand and grow, the Second Century proved to be a difficult time period for those trying to be honest about following the faith in a world hostile to non-conformity.

St. Justin, probably the most influential public Christian figure of his day, was born to pagan Greek parents in Samaria around the year 100 A.D. He sought out the best thinkers of the time in his honest pursuit of philosophy and to understand religion, and while studying in Ephesus stumbled upon the stories of Christian martyrs. He was amazed that people would die for their faith, noting that “no one believes in Socrates to the point of dying for what he taught…” (though, truthfully, the Inquisition would turn this notion on its head, right?).

As the story goes, he came upon an elder Christian by the seashore who explained to him the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, and then and there he decided to become a Christian.

St. Justin taught the faith in Ephesus for a while, and eventually made his way to Rome where he made two famous defenses of Christianity: once to emperor Antoninus Pius, and once to the assembled Roman Senate.

He became embroiled in a series of debates with the Cynic philosopher Crescens, and though St. Justin provided honest and tight philosophical defenses, it went…well…predictably for him.

When push came to shove, St. Justin refused to make burnt sacrifices to the emperor, and for that he and some of his students were killed.

His Apologies still remains a sound defense of the faith and an early glimpse at what ancient Christians believed and practiced. St. Justin was also keen to make sure that Christianity didn’t ignore the Hebrew Scriptures (which some strains are wont to do), and kept the faith rooted in the prophecies of old.

Most importantly (at least, for me), St. Justin didn’t see Christianity as a foil for Platonism or as incompatible with deep philosophy. Rather, he saw it as both complementary and, in some ways, a culmination of the life of the mind.

St. Justin a reminder to me, and should be for the whole church, that the faith doesn’t mean a rejection of the life of the mind.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s _New Book of Festivals & Commemorations)

-Icon written by the saints at Legacy Icons (legacyicons.com)

Just Visiting

Today is another sacred day: The Visitation, where Mary, “great with child” visited her elderly relative, Elizabeth, also miraculously pregnant.

Together they noted their hope and expectation that their children would change the world.

This hope and expectation is felt by every parent, I think.

I hope.

But on this convergence of holy days and extraordinary days, where a beautiful visitation is met with the reality that many parents fear for their babies when they go off to school, we must call to mind this hope and expectation again.

I hope that my boys will know and fight for the truth that Black Lives Matter. I hope that they will never fall victim to unmitigated gun culture, and will never get used to the sight of hand guns and machine guns carried in public and will stay away when they see them.

I hope that my children, and the children of those I love, will honor the lives of those who have died because of our addiction to violence.

I hope that my children, and indeed my own self, who give our lives to public service will never abuse that service.

And I hope that we will one day mourn our dead the way some mourn the loss of our supposed “rights” and economic structures.

That has yet to happen. That has yet to happen.

Beloved: we are all just visiting this life. Let us do all the good we can, while we can.

The Young and Restless

Today the church remembers a young teen with a calling: Saint Joan of Arc, Fierce Warrior and Visionary.

Saint Joan was born in Northern France to a peasant family in 1412, when Britain controlled most of France.

In 1428 Saint Joan traveled to Vaucouleurs to see would-be King Charles. She was rejected twice from his audience, but the third time is the charm. She revealed that she had received a vision from Saint Michael and Saint Margaret to fight for France’s independence.

At 17 years of age she entered the war to great prestige, and upon her arrival at the battle of Orleans, the city’s siege ended within days. She went on to fight valiantly and bravely in a series of other campaigns and in 1453 The Hundred Years War was ended in a French victory, (though some cities remained under British control) with French morale bolstered by stories of the young warrior.

King Charles was coronated with Saint Joan by his side.

Joan continued her campaign for a unified France, she joined an assault on occupied Paris. The attempt failed and Joan was wounded.

In 1430 Joan assembled an army of volunteers to continue fighting for France, and she was captured by Burgundians. In captivity a pro-English bishop put her on heresy trials and, once convicted, she was burned at the stake on this day in 1431 at the age of 19.

About a decade after her death her trial was overturned by Pope Callixtus III, and she is now considered a national symbol for the French people. And though she was only officially canonized in 1920, she has long been venerated by the faithful seeking an inspiring story of a young person’s ability to influence global events.

Saint Joan of Arc is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that the young are powerful and should be given the opportunity to act on it.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-historical bits taken from public sources

-icon written by Theophilia

Luther of the Slavs

Today the church honors 17th Century hymn writer and “Luther of the Slavs” Juraj Tranovsky.

Tranovsky is heralded as the creator of Slovak hymnody. He studied at Wittenburg in 1607, and became a wandering educator, taking posts throughout Bohemia and Moravia.

Tranovsky was ordained in 1616, but soon toleration for Lutheranism in Bohemia came to an end, and he was imprisoned in 1624. The next year a plague came upon the world, and the following famine killed three of his children and caused the scattering of half of his congregation.

He was eventually called to a church in Liptov, Slovakia, and served there until his death in 1636 after a long illness. He was 46 years old.

He was a lover of poetry and a composer of many hymns, composing them in both Czech and Latin. His hymnal, the Cithara Sanctorum (Lyre of the Saints) appeared in 1636, and is the basis of Slovak Lutheran Hymnody to this day.

It is often forgotten that the Slovak tradition within Lutheranism continues even today, and has offered a great wealth of hymns, doctrinal distillations, and translations of important documents to the Lutheran movement throughout the ages.

We still sing, in the ELCA, one of his hymns to this day, ELW 602, “Your Heart, O God, is Grieved.”

With this lingering pandemic, and in the shadow of the killing of Uvalde and Buffalo and the massacres still happening, the words of the first stanza speak something to me today.

“O God, Father in heaven, have mercy upon us. Your heart, O God, is grieved, we know, by every evil, every woe; upon your cross your forsaken Son our death is laid, and peace is won.”

-historical notes from Pfatteicher’s “New Book of Festivals & Commemorations”