Lent Madness Redux (and Survey!)

Well, friends, as we bask in the warm glow of the Resurrection with Holy Week and Easter 2011 in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to sit back and take stock of what really matters: How can we improve upon Lent Madness in 2012?

This year featured more participation than ever vote-wise (top contest was Becket vs. Perpetua with 258 votes cast) and included “celebrity” bloggers for the Final Four. To recap, we started with our usual number of 32 saints and whitled them down to award the Golden Halo to C.S. Lewis. I offered basic information about the saints in the initial round along with the collect appointed for the particular saint’s day. Quotes and Quirks formed the basis of the next round followed by Saintly Kitsch. The four bloggers were great (thank you Scott Gunn, Penny Nash, Neil Allan Willard, and Meredith Gould!) and then we ended up with Lewis taking on Becket in a hotly contested Lent Madness Final.

So, I’m seeking advice/ideas for next year. I’m thinking about putting together a Steering Committee to help with the selection and bear some of the heat for not including your favorite saint. I’d also like to include more celebrity bloggers — eight? Sixteen? It might be hard to find 16 people who are similarly passionate about a particular (different) saint. But in any case I’d love to see more people be involved in the process.

I think we need to time this so it ends before Holy Week — perhaps on Palm Sunday? It was a lot managing the end of Lent Madness and juggling all the liturgies/sermons. But that may just be the whiny parish priest in me. Did you like that it extended into Holy Week or was it a distraction?

One idea for 2012 was to have the bracket consisted entirely of proposed saints for Holy Men/Holy Women. the proposed book to replace Lesser Feasts and Fasts. We could then forward the results to General Convention since I’m certain we would have tremendous pull. How could they not heed the advice of such reverent and scientific voting statistics?

The problem with this is that it might narrow the interest to Episcopal Church minutiae geeks and General Convention delegates. And, while some of my best friends fall into this category, it may bee too exclusive to be relevant. So far, in the two years we’ve done this, I’ve only used saints from the Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Saints. We could conceivably open it to other saints not included in our calendar — thoughts?

We could also use a Lent Madness logo if anyone has graphic art talents. Wouldn’t that be cool? Or maybe even a specific Lent Madness website and a social media coordinator.

So let me know if you have thoughts or ideas for next year and whether you’d be willing to pitch in and how. With your help we can make this an even more meaningful Lenten devotion and take it to the masses!

Please take the brief survey below.

Peace and Easter blessings,


Lent Madness 2011: We Have a Winner!

And the Golden Halo goes to…C.S. Lewis! In an ironic twist, Lewis defeated Thomas Becket by a neck — 7 votes out of 208 cast or 51.44% to 48.56%. This means that for the second time since 1170 Becket has lost his neck. Becket fought the good fight but in the end the former Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in his own cathedral could not withstand the popularity of C.S. Lewis. Lewis joins last year’s champion, George Herbert who defeated Julian of Norwich in the Lent Madness 2010 final.

Congratulations to C.S. Lewis and his Final Four proponent and celebrity blogger Neil Alan Willard. What put Lewis over the edge? Despite Scott Gunn’s reasoned arguments/pleas for Becket, it must have been Neil’s appeal to “Remember Narnia and think of the children.” Talk about playing to our emotions…

The 2011 version of Lent Madness has been a lot of fun and it’s been great to e-meet all sorts of people throughout Lent. Thank you all for participating — it’s been a wild ride. Click to Lent Madness 2011 view the final tournament bracket.

And now that Lent Madness 2011 has been put to bed, it’s off to prepare for tonight’s Easter Vigil. After Easter I’ll post something seeking feedback and suggestions for next year. In the meantime, have a blessed Easter everyone and I hope Lent Madness has been as meaningful for you as it has been for me (though hopefully it’s been less work).

In Christ,


Lent Madness: Championship Round

After a lively Final Four featuring C.S. Lewis, Clare, Thomas Becket, Perpetua and four dueling celebrity bloggers, it’s all come down to this: C.S. Lewis vs. Thomas Becket battling it out for the Golden Halo.

While C.S. Lewis held a commanding lead throughout most of his matchup with Clare, Becket and Perpetua was a see-saw competition that went down to the wire. A late surge for the Archbishop put him over the top to the thrill of many and bitter disappointment to many others. Lent Madness 2011 has been anything but dull!

Percentagewise, C.S. Lewis defeated Clare 55% to 45% with 215 votes cast. Becket took out Perpetua 54% to 46% with an unprecedented 258 votes cast. Click Lent Madness 2011 to view the updated tournament bracket.

The polls will close at 12:00 noon Eastern Standard Time on Holy Saturday and the Lent Madness 2011 champion will be crowned. 32 saints were called into this madness yet only one will be chosen. And that choice, my friends, is up to you.

After the basic saintly information of the initial round, Quotes and Quirks in the Round of the Saintly Sixteen, Saintly Kitsch in the Round of the Elate Eight, and Celebrity Bloggers in the Final Four, there is little left to say. I will leave it up to those who choose to comment on this post to provide the advocacy. See? Democracy is alive, well, and thriving in the Church.

So have at it, have fun, and may the “best” saint win!


Final Four: Thomas Becket vs. Perpetua

The Lent Madness Final Four continues with Thomas Becket vs. Perpetua. You can still vote (if you haven’t already!) in the other Final Four matchup between C.S. Lewis and Clare. And thanks again to our four “celebrity” bloggers — The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Dr. Meredith Gould, The Rev. Scott Gunn, and the Rev. Penny Nash.

Representing Thomas Becket is my online archnemesis the Rev. Scott Gunn. Scott is that other Episcopal blogger from Massachusetts — though he’s so far south it’s really Rhode Island. He blogs at Seven Whole Days and has been taking us through an examination of the 39 Articles this Lent.

Here are some reasons why you should vote for Thomas Becket:

  • He is an authentic Anglican saint, martyred as he was in Canterbury Cathedral.
  • Though we might today understand Thomas Becket to have been defending clerical immunity from prosecution, he was really defending the church as best he could. He was standing up for the underdogs. He was also working to undermine capital punishment.
  • T. S. Eliot wrote a brilliant play about Thomas Becket, “Murder in the Cathedral.”
  • Thomas Becket is the only saint to have been featured in a surreal comedic sketch on SCTV — a version of Eliot’s play staged by the Mercury III Players and NASA. It’s got to be seen to be believed.
  • Thomas is said to have been humble under his archbishop’s vestments, wearing a hair shirt. That makes him almost as cool as John the Baptist, but with a better diet.
  • Though he could have avoided his fate, Thomas stood strong for the faith and for the church, staring down the king’s assassins.
  • Four days before his death, Thomas preached a magnificent Christmas sermon, in which he said that he did not expect to preach again. He bound up all joy and all sorrow into God’s glory. He was preaching about his own martyrdom and the glory it would bring to God and to the church.
  • The cult of Thomas Becket helped to generate revenue to pay for improvements to Canterbury Cathedral — and still does today. The place is falling apart, so please support Thomas’s quest for the Golden Halo (and maybe help out Canterbury Cathedral a little).

He are some reasons not to vote for Perpetua:

  • She is sometimes known as “The Perp”. Is it a good idea to support someone with such a nickname in today’s era of Safe Church training? I thought not.
  • Perpetua wasn’t even baptized. You might as well vote for Gandhi (a nice guy, but not a Christian).
  • She thought that God’s vision involved dragons. Maybe Perpetua also thought Jesus rode a unicorn into Jerusalem.

Representing Perpetua is the Rev. Penny Nash. Penny blogs from Atlanta, Georgia at One Cannot Have Too Large a Party. Here’s her reasoning for pushing Perpetua:

So we’ve finally arrived, on this Road to the Golden Halo, at the Final Four, as we move through Holy Week, appropriately enough. Four worthy saints, to be sure, but which is the Saintliest? Why, Perpetua, of course. Need convincing? OK, let’s review.

In the preceding weeks, Perpetua defeated Charles Wesley, (writer of nice hymns but perhaps tainted by association with Methodists);  William Wilberforce, (an opponent of the slave trade with unattractive health problems), and Vincent (who’s he?).

Perpetua now stands against Clare (the patron saint of television), C. S. Lewis (apologetic and author of books claiming Jesus is a lion) and Thomas Becket (played by Richard Burton in a movie seen by everyone except Father Tim).

One of the earliest Christian martyrs, devout young Perpetua:

  • Left her own diary behind (written herself! in Latin! in 202, more than 1700 years before C.S. Lewis began apologizing in English!) before she was killed, along with several companions, for the Grand Poobah’s birthday entertainment at Roman games in Carthage; 
  • Was a new mother who nursed her child in prison until he was able to survive on his own, during which time she told her dad that he is not the boss of her;  
  • Prayed her brother, who had died at age 7 from a disfiguring disease, into wholeness – our first witness of the power of prayers of the living assisting the dead in their continuing journey to perfection.
  • Further, she had visions (way before you did, Clare) showing her brother’s transformation to wholeness as well as a vision of journeying into heaven which was a great, up high meadow or garden to which many thousands streamed and milled around (hmmm, this must be where C.S. Lewis got his idea for that scene in “The Last Battle”); 
  • Showed her impeccable fashion sense by adjusting her clothing and fixing her hair after being rammed by a wild heifer (we don’t look as if we are grieving when we meet death, she explained, a sentiment to which Peacebang will surely agree); 
  • Took matters into her own hands when her novice executioner botched his deathblow by guiding the knife to her throat (Becket rather missed this opportunity, didn’t he?); 
  • And is now a source of renewable thermoelectric energy for powering our favorite wireless devices by harvesting power from temperature differences: Perpetua Power. (Can Richard Burton OR Thomas Becket, do that?  I think not.) 

 So, vote for the Perp!  Amen.

Wow. Some convincing arguments. Time to vote!

Final Four: C.S. Lewis vs. Clare

We’ve come to that ineffable (and you thought this word only worked when praying collects) place where the saintly heavyweights slug it out: the Lent Madness Final Four. Our four celebrity bloggers will take it from here. I’m delighted that Neil Alan Willard (C.S. Lewis), Meredith Gould (Clare), Scott Gunn (Thomas Becket), and Penny Nash (Perpetua) have agreed to take up the banners of these respective saints. I trust they know that that their very own self-worth is on the line.

We begin with C.S. Lewis taking on Clare. Lewis advanced to the Final Four by defeating Monnica, Fabian, and Polycarp while Clare bested Gregory the Illuminator, Florence Nightingale, and William Tyndale. Click Lent Madness 2011 to view the updated tournament bracket and let the games begin!

C.S. Lewis partisan Neil Alan Willard, who blogs at Laughing Water from Edina, Minnesota, offers us the following:

Three reasons to vote for C.S. Lewis (1898-1963): 

  • Lewis engaged others in the marketplace of ideas, like Paul in conversation with philosophers in the Areopagus of Athens (Acts 17). Lewis was well-educated at Oxford University, where he also taught, and came to Christian faith as an adult. He knew, therefore, how to address various audiences from those hostile to Christianity to those struggling to follow Jesus. Our churches could really use a 21st-century version of Lewis to do the same today.
  • Lewis nurtured the imagination of children and famously corresponded with his young fans, taking seriously the invitation to allow the little ones to come to Jesus for a blessing (Matthew 19). The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven fantasy novels by Lewis that contain Christian themes, has become a classic of children’s literature. In a time when overly aggressive parenting is robbing kids of their childhood, we need the example of Lewis to stop the madness.
  • Lewis married Joy Gresham late in life and raised her two sons after her death. The cancer that took her life caused Lewis to wrestle with the problem of suffering and tested his faith. So he knew the harsh realities of walking through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). This chapter of the Oxford don’s life was depicted in the 1993 film Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins. Those who saw it and refuse to admit that they left the theater crying like a baby aren’t being honest with themselves.

 As for the other so-called saintly contenders, consider the following: 

  • Clare and her followers slept on piles of twigs. That’s right, twigs. Gathering twigs over and over again obviously led to our current problems with deforestation and the despoiling of the environment. For the love of God’s creation, don’t vote for her!
  • Becket demanded the use of separate ecclesiastical courts for clergy trials, which is not unlike the indefensible policies of too many bishops-in-the-news recently. And the excommunication scene in the 1964 film Becket is only cool in a creepy Darth Vader kind of way.
  • Perpetua was arrested, placed in a dungeon, and had a vision about a golden ladder guarded by a dragon. I think this gives us a clue as to the true reason she got into trouble with the law. Can anyone say, “Puff, the Magic Dragon?” Just say, “No!”

Clare is represented by Meredith Gould who blogs at More Meredith Gould from Baltimore, Maryland.

Whether or not you vote for St. Clare of Assisi* is ultimately between you, God, and Polldaddy, but here are several reasons why she deserves your vote:
Clare not only lived what St. Francis taught, but inspired many women and men to do so long after St. Francis exited his flesh unit.

Clare deserves much more credit for developing the practice of contemplative prayer.

Clare managed to get two popes following her suggestions and caving in to her demands.

Clare deserves much more credit for inviting Christians to see God in “all people and creatures.”

Clare challenged aspects of the already-venerable Rule of St. Benedict and created the Poor Ladies’ Rule for her Order, emphasizing cooperation, love and respect among sisters – and between sisters and their Abbess.

In reality – whatever that is – Clare doesn’t need to win no stinkin’ Golden Halo to be a true saint among saints.  If, however, you do choose to vote for someone who hasn’t been dead long enough to be considered a saint,** don’t even think about petitioning Clare when your television reception stinks.
* Before casting your vote, please review posts about her bio and Clare-inspired kitsch.

** You have no business voting for C.S. Lewis if you, like most people  if they’d be totally honest) have merely skimmed Mere Christianity.

Note: Feel free to argue directly with Meredith Gould on Twitter (@MeredithGould).


Lent Madness: The Final Four

Well, folks, with Thomas Becket’s late surge past Constance, the Final Four of Lent Madness 2011 is all set. Tomorrow C.S. Lewis will take on Clare and on Wednesday Becket will battle Perpetua. This has been quite a journey. We’ve gone from the basic biographical data in Round One to the Quotes and Quirks of the Round of the Saintly Sixteen to the Saintly Kitsch in the Round of the Elate Eight. Click Lent Madness 2011 to view the updated tournament bracket.

And now I introduce to you our four celebrity bloggers who will be advocating for the remaining four saints. (Think I’m playing fast and loose with the word “celebrity?” Well, Justin Bieber wouldn’t return my calls). There will be reasoned arguments, trash talking, and passionate pleas. I encourage you to meditate over your vote, perhaps light a few candles, and use your best judgment. Or maybe just jump on someone’s bandwagon and ride it for all it’s worth! Four are called; one will be chosen.

Advocating for C.S. Lewis will be the Rev. Neil Alan Willard, the rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Edina, Minnesota. A native North Carolinian, Neil blogs at Laughing Water and is a new father — his second son was born just a week ago. Clearly sleep deprivation played a role in his agreeing to join this madness.

Clare will be represented by the self-proclaimed Supreme Word Goddess of the Universe, Dr. Meredith Gould. Meredith is a sociologist, communications strategist, humorist, writer, and blogger who lives in Baltimore following a recent move from Princeton, New Jersey. Check out her website (and buy every one of her books) and be sure to visit her blog More Meredith Gould. I met Meredith as a fellow author at a book signing at the now defunct bookstore-cafe at 815 (National Episcopal Church headquarters). The event was a dud but we’ve been online buddies ever since.

In Thomas Becket‘s corner is my archnemesis the Rev. Scott Gunn. Scott is an Episcopal priest (most recently rector of Christ Church in Lincoln, Rhode Island). He’s a blogger, former IBMer, and frequent commenter on Anglican and Episcopal affairs. He blogs at Seven Whole Days and refers to me, wrongly, as the “Second most popular Episcopal blogger in New England.” Scott and I first met when we were both on the now defunct Board of Governors of Episcopal Life (what’s with me meeting people at defunct institutions?).

The Rev. Penny Nash will be pushing for Perpetua. Penny is an Episcopal priest and writer in Atlanta who blogs at One Cannot Have Too Large a Party. She generally posts a prayer or reflection each day which makes her blog a terrific spiritual resource for anyone who engages with it. Penny and I “met” this year on Twitter during the first round of Lent Madness. She has been open about voting exclusively for women so it was fun to watch her inner angst when Florence Nightingale took on Clare in the previous round.

So that’s the lineup. The Final Four begins tomorrow!

Lent Madness: Thomas Becket vs. Constance

One of the beauties of Lent Madness is the odd matchups of saints with seemingly nothing in common except a passion for Jesus Christ. Thomas Becket vs. Constance is a perfect example as they vie for the last spot in the Final Four. So far we have C.S. Lewis, Perpetua, and Clare. Is it possible that three of the eight women who started this tournament will end up in the Final Four?

In recent action, Clare managed to hold off William Tyndale 54% to 46% to advance. Click Lent Madness 2011 for the updated tournament bracket and get ready for the Final Four to begin on Monday with C.S. Lewis taking on the winner of this matchup. On to the saintly kitsch!

Thomas Becket has a distinct advantage in the kitsch department. The Archbishop of Canterbury who was killed in his own cathedral quickly became a popular martyr in England after his death. Pilgrims went to Canterbury specifically to honor Becket. And I’d venture to say that Becket kitsch originated in the years following.

We begin with this rather odd sculpture of Becket commissioned by the Roman Catholic Community of St. Thomas Becket in Eagan, Minnesota. The sculpture portrays Becket preaching at a lectern pierced by the sword that killed him. Not really kitsch but odd enough to include.

Next up is the Becket key chain. What better way to hold your car keys as you walk through a dark parking lot late at night wondering if a mugger will attack you? It’s even better if you’re paranoid about being killed in your own driveway.

Then we get two related items, the Thomas Becket Pub in Canterbury and Becket Beer. I’m not sure what it is about sainthood and alcoholic beverages but they seem to go together. We’ve seen Perpetua Chardonnay and St. Vincent Pinot Noir and now this. Perhaps there’s a St. Budweiser?

Finally, there was a Becket movie starring Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. I’ve never seen it and can’t vouch for its quality but according to the poster it was nominated for 12 Academy Awards. If only Becket had a love interest I’m sure she would have been played by the late Elizabeth Taylor.

Of all the saints gunning for the Final Four, Constance hands down has the least amount of kitsch. Having been martyred in Memphis I guess all the kitsch was reserved for that guy who inhabited Graceland.

All I have is a measly piece of pottery that was turned into an icon and a bad painting that includes a map. So I’m tossing in a mosquito to symbolize the Yellow Fever that caused her death and those of countless others she ministered to.


Lent Madness: Clare vs. William Tyndale

The race to the Final Four continues with Clare vs. William Tyndale. Companion of St. Francis vs. Biblical translator. Natural death vs. martyrdom. Patron Saint of Television vs. Bible guy.

In recent action Perpetua made quick work of Vincent of Saragossa 69% to 31%. Click Lent Madness 2011 to view the updated tournament bracket. And stay tuned tomorrow for the last matchup of the Round of the Elate Eight as Thomas Becket battles Constance. Show me some kitsch!

Clare is on display as shown above — well her dead body with a wax mask — at the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy. I won’t begrudge others’ devotional practices but you have to admit that it’s slightly creepy. Let the woman rest in peace!

Here she is holding a giant monstrance. Accurate? Well, no, but legend has it that when an invading army scaled the walls of her convent she went to the chapel and held up the sacrament to repel them. And it worked.

Clare’s also popular in pop culture since she is the Patron Saint of Television. Why? Because when she was too ill to attend services the liturgy appeared on the wall of her cell. No word on whether it came in High Definition.

Finally, Clare is the Patron Saint of Needleworks. Which is fine since many churchy types like to knit or do needlepoint to stave off boredom at meetings (for the rest of us, this is why God invented the smart phone). This particular figure, however, look more like a 1950s Martian than a nice old woman knitting a pair of socks for her grandchildren.

William Tyndale kitsch is harder to come by. We’ll start with a DVD from the “Reformation Bookstore” titled “The William Tyndale Story.” Here is looking a bit haggard (albeit with a fashionable goatee) running from those who accused him of being a heretic for translating the Bible into English.

Another view of Tyndale from a movie (or a book — it’s hard to tell) called “God’s Outlaw.” I’m not sure why they insist on portraying him as the unabomber but whatever.

Finally, I’m not sure how Tyndale himself would feel about his Bible as an E-book. I assume he’d be delighted. So that’s all I’ve got for Tyndale kitsch. You try to do better.


Lent Madness: Perpetua vs. Vincent

The saintly kitsch-fest continues with Perpetua vs. Vincent of Saragossa. Now, this matchup might not seem fair since Perpetua is in many ways the queen of saintly kitsch while Vincent is clearly no St. Francis. Yet stranger things have happened in this unpredictable Lent Madness 2011.

In recent action C.S. Lewis manhandled Polycarp 62% to 38%. Click Lent Madness 2011 to view the updated tournament bracket. The Round of the Elate Eight continues tomorrow with Clare taking on William Tyndale.

Perpetua kicks things off with an image from an animated movie about her life. The image above is from the “Catholic Heroes” series. Anyone else think the leering prison guard cuts a dashing, yet fashionable figure all decked out in yellow?

Has it been a rough day? Perhaps the kids are driving you nuts. Are you stressed out about cranking out all those Holy Week sermons? (Am I projecting?) Why not kick back with a glass of Perpetua Chardonnay? Nothing takes the anxiety out of daily life quite like a glass of wine named after an early 2nd century martyr.

If you prefer to sip wine by candlelight, don’t forget to light this Perpetua candle. Any saint worth his or her weight in kitsch has a candle.

And finally, no playroom is complete without a wooden Perpetua doll. She gets along famously with Barbies, Power Rangers, and for those of a certain generation Weebles.

Things get a bit trickier with Vincent. As the patron saint of vintners there are St. Vincent Festivals held in various parts of Europe — notably France — where much wine is imbibed (in his honor, of course) and his statue is carried through the streets.

Not to be outdone by Perpetua chardonnay, you can drink Saint Vincent pinot noir from Burgundy. In fact, why not have a wine tasting in honor of Lent Madness today? It’s important to due your due diligence while considering your vote. Oh, you gave up wine for Lent? Never mind.

Vincent is associated with the raven as legend holds that after his martyrdom in the early 4th century, ravens protected his corpse.  Fortuitously, this fits in with my taste in football teams.


Lent Madness: Polycarp vs. C.S. Lewis

Welcome to the Round of the Elate Eight — it’s not a great name but it’s what I’m going with (suggestions welcome). Thirty-two saints have been whittled down to eight. For this round we’ll be focusing on Saintly Kitsch. Think your glow-in-the dark Virgin Mary nightlight is impressive? I’ll raise you a Mother Theresa bobble head doll! And, yes, bad art counts.

The competition gets stiffer as we move ever-closer to the awarding of the Golden Halo. And we’ll begin with a battle between Polycarp and C.S. Lewis. In the last matchup of the Round of the Saintly Sixteen Constance defeated Basil 58% to 42%. Click Lent Madness 2011 to view the updated tournament bracket. And since I timed this wrong — I was really hoping to wrap this up before Holy Week — we’ll plow right on through the weekend and start with the Final Four on Monday morning.

Polycarp is, frankly, a bit thin on the kitsch. Pictured above, however, is his right arm which is kept in a reliquary in the Holy Monastery of Panagia Ambelakiotissa outside Nafpaktos, Greece. Now, I realize that relics shouldn’t count as kitsch. But still.

Next up is this Vietnamese (I think) mass card that shows Polycarp in what appears to be a diaper. The flames stem from the legend that when he was martyred as an 86-year-old bishop, the fire did not consume him and guards had to stab him to put him out of his misery — his blood quenched the fire.

Finally, how can you go wrong when saints meet Lego? I found this on AKMA Adam’s site — a Biblical scholar, priest, and former professor of New Testament at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary (we overlapped briefly) who is now teaching at the University of Glasgow.

C.S. Lewis kitsch and collectibles include more than just poorly illustrated posters of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Check out this Christmas ornament — because nothing says “Ho, ho, ho” quite like C.S. Lewis sitting amidst a stack of books.

And don’t forget the Narnia character action figures. (What no ravenous lion?) These are all, you’ll be relieved to know, based on authorized likenesses from the Walt Disney Company.

Finally, if you really can’t stand drinking coffee (or tea!) without smoking a pipe, this mug with a picture of Lewis smoking his trademark tobacco has you covered.