What is Spy Wednesday?

Spy WednesdayAs you know, the Supreme Executive Committee has been promoting Spy Wednesday as the day for the final battle for the Golden Halo. Several of you have asked us about the name Spy Wednesday. Ever willing to educate and inspire, we are only too happy to oblige.

Spy Wednesday gets its name because this is the day on which Judas betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin. Because Judas is thought to be sneaky, his actions conjured up the image of a spy. This is how the Gospel of Luke recounts the events (note: this should in no way be considered an endorsement of Luke in Lent Madness):

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:3-6)


The illustration above evocatively depicts this infamous scene. If you go to Holy Eucharist every day of Holy Week, the Gospel readings provide the narrative of Jesus' final days, an ever-quickening story that spins out of control and finally brings us to Good Friday.

It is surely a strange juxtaposition to think about Spy Wednesday and Lent Madness in the same moment. But thewhole point of Lent Madness is to engage us all in an exploration of the ways God's grace has filled the lives of women and men through history and across all cultures. Sure, we've been silly and even competitive about our Lenten exercise. In the end though, we are learning to see in fresh ways how Jesus Christ matters to all humanity. That seems like a good and holy thing to do on Spy Wednesday.

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A Letter to the Supreme Pontiff from the Supreme Executive Committee

Dear Pope Francis,

purple envelopeFirst off, congratulations. We think you're off to a great start as the Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff, and we know a bit about being Supreme in the religious world. Like you, we are accountable to no one and our selection process is mysterious. Unlike you, we favor purple limos instead of white popemobiles. We were especially delighted by your choice of name, Francis. We just hope you do even better than Francis performed in Lent Madness 2010. While he made it into the Faithful Four, it was a bit catty when Julian of Norwich took him out.

Though we are Anglicans, we noticed you popes like to issue encyclicals. Here at Lent Madness, we favor top ten lists. So, please allow us to give you some friendly and saintly advice, one Supreme to another Supreme, in the form of a top ten list. That's no bull. (Get it?)

Top 10 Saintly Bits of Advice for the New Pope

10. You have a bunch of travel in your future. Why not save some time and money by using Holy Skype -- the latest in visions. St. Clare mastered this, when she saw Mass on her wall. Maybe you can use something similar to meet with foreign dignitaries and wayward bishops.

9. We know you like to give money to the poor. If you decide to do this, don't keep too low of a profile, otherwise you'll end up doing no better than St. Nicholas, who was defeated in the first round of Lent Madness 2012 by Evelyn Underhill. Maybe the whole anonymous "shoe gift" thing isn't the way to go.

8. Your humble service in the church is an inspiration to all. Keep it up, and maybe write some poetry on the side while you're at it, and you could end up as well regarded as the famous parson and Golden Halo champion George Herbert, winner of Lent Madness 2010. Sometimes, humility gets you to the top.

7. Get some allies. For example, you could do worse than having the Hawaiians on your side. Last year, Queen Emma of Hawaii almost won the Golden Halo, thanks to her friends in Hawaii. Your papacy could accomplish much if you can find a way to stay in the good graces of these amazing people.

julian of norwich cat6. You need a pet. Seriously, if you had a cat, it would make some great photo ops. Adds the touch of warmth and all that. If you got a white-haired kitty, you wouldn't even be able to see the hair on your shiny new cassock. Plus, you would be well positioned to sail through life the way Julian of Norwich sailed through Lent Madness 2010 thanks to cat-lovers around the world.

5. Get a strong woman by your side. We know you can't get married (though we think you could change that, if you wanted). But maybe a nun? Enmegahbowh benefitted greatly from his companionship with Iron Sky Woman. Perhaps a nun with a shotgun would do the trick. You'll need something to keep those cardinals in line.


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Creative Juices Overfloweth

St. Mark's Cathedral School Chaplain Judy Kane as "Lucy."

One of the fun things about hanging out at Lent Madness Headquarters (Cincinnati, Ohio or Hingham, Massachusetts, depending on your perspective), is hearing all the creative ways Lent Madness is being used this year. During the darkness of another weekend of Lent Madness Withdrawal (LMW), we wanted to highlight a few places where Lent Madness is inspiring creativity.

Lent Madness was a big hit at St. Mark's Cathedral in Shreveport, Louisiana, as students at the Cathedral School and their families gathered at yesterday's Family Chapel service. Head of School Chris Carter organized a Lent Madness event based on the contest of the day, Oscar Romero vs. Lucy. After presentations by the Very Rev. Alston Johnson, Dean of the Cathedral, standing in for Romero and Dr. Judy Kane, School Chaplain, representing Lucy, everyone cast a vote for their favorite.

March 8 2013 032

Students and families vote at St. Mark's Cathedral in Shreveport, LA.

Chris reports that, while parents and teachers voted for Romero, Lucy completely ran off with the student vote. As he put it:

I really expected everyone to go for Romero, but I think the eyeballs won it for Lucy! There was a collective “eeww” when I told that part of the story, followed by grins on the faces of every Lower School boy in the Cathedral! Lucy won definitively, although Romero did have some following. It was nice that both showed great commitment to the poor, since today was the day we wrapped up our Lenten outreach projects. The basic message was service to God and others before self, which worked with the Gospel lection and both Lucy and Romero.

After the service Chris mentioned that one parent, "admittedly a Cowboys fan," told him he was delighted to see Louisiana students think of Saints as someone other than Drew Brees and his teammates!

11-year-old Hope Marie Copeland presents on Harriet Tubman at St. Philip's.

11-year-old Hope Marie Copeland presents on Harriet Tubman at St. Philip's in Southport, NC.

At St. Philip's Church in Southport, North Carolina, the Wednesday evening Lenten series is dedicated to Lent Madness. After a simple soup supper, the participants stand up to advocate for a particular saint participating in an upcoming battle. According to an article in Wilmington Faith & Values, some contestants have gone to great creative lengths to present their chosen saint. One parishioner dressed up as John the Baptist, one created a t-shirt, and another made heart-shaped bookmarks to remind everyone of St. Benedict's love for all people.

This has all been brilliantly organized by Millie Hart, the parish's Christian Education Director. And we were delighted to learn that this has become an intergenerational learning experience as well: a ten-year-old recently advocated for Damien of Molokai.


Bulletin Board fodder at Holy Cross in Plainfield, NJ.

Lent Madness has also led to some wonderful bulletin board displays in several parishes. Of particular note is the bulletin board at Holy Cross Church in Plainfield, New Jersey. They are so ready for the Round of the Saintly Sixteen! We also understand that they're in between rectors right now -- supply priest the Rev. Stephanie Shockley sent us the photo. So, clergy in discernment, take a look. Who wouldn't want to serve a parish that was so into Lent Madness? When you apply, just tell them the guys at Lent Madness sent you. And a note to the vestry: we'll look forward to receiving our finder's fee.


Homemade buttons at St. Christopher's in Midwest City, OK.

In a show of cross-church cooperation, parishioners at St. Christopher's in Midwest City, Oklahoma, made their own "I Voted" button based on a design from Grace Church in Medford, Massachusetts. If we had to guess, no one in Midwest City had ever heard of Medford before Lent Madness and vice versa. New Lent Madness slogan? "Making connections and bringing people together since 2010."

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Feelin' the Love

imagesEarlier this week, while sitting under a palm tree in San Diego, the Supreme Executive Committee released a response to Lent Madness haters. While generally not overly sentimental (though Scott sometimes weeps when liturgical rubrics are violated), we were blown away by the comments. It is amazing to hear spontaneous stories of how this little devotion has touched people's lives in profound ways. And we weren't even fishing for compliments.

Every preacher has had the experience of delivering what they'd consider a fair-to-middlin' sermon only to have someone say it was precisely what they needed to hear that day. That's the Holy Spirit, folks. The Spirit that weaves its way through and in and among us in ways we can't even comprehend. When we hit the "publish" button on a post, the lives of these saints are released anew not just into cyberspace but into the hearts and minds and souls of many. That's when the mysterious and holy connections are made and the inspiration abounds and the online community forms around learning about the lives of some amazing people who have come before us in the faith.

Anyway, we've compiled some of these comments as a way to stave off Sunday afternoon/evening Lent Madness Withdrawal (LMW). Things will crank back up again on Monday morning with two bishops squaring off: Gregory the Great vs. Martin of Tours. But in the meantime, enjoy the distraction.

Spending a whole day thinking about which saint is holier is a day spent thinking about holiness.

I’ve been out to dinner with friends and this has come up too….what a way to welcome others to the Christian church!

It makes me really think about my own core values every day.

For the first time l’m engaged in the season.

Thanks, Tim and Scott for building a community of merry hearts.

The experience of reading the comments after the reading is an experience on communion with fellow Christians on our common journey.

I have learned a lot I didn't know about saints and martyrs (and for a lapsed Roman Catholic, that's saying something). Moreover, the lightness of spirit has led me to contemplate the idea of once again giving the Episcopalian church in my community a try.

It has been a terrific way to educate ourselves on the amazing things our ancestors did from their hearts and souls.

You show us that saints are real people and that Lent doesn’t have be a season of gloom and doom.

As a fallen-away churchgoer now exploring the Episcopal church, I was delighted to stumble across Lent Madness (God’s hand at work?). I love learning about saints, martyrs and other people important to Christianity.

I love the education coupled with irreverent and absurd humor that propels me to learn things that I would not seek out or be exposed to. Thank you for your fun, uplifting and effective evangelism.

I love the humor AND I am learning so much!! The interplay between the astute and lovable SEC only adds to the ambience! Keep up the good work!! Makes me proud to be an Episcopalian.

It has encouraged me to think more about "Religion" during my everyday life through Lent (and not just on Sunday).

The comments each day demonstrate that in reading the profiles and making our choices we are meditating on what really matters as we – and those on whom we vote – live out our Christian faith.

I LOVE Lent Madness. It’s fun, it helps me focus on the sacrifices others have made in their spiritual journey, I’ve learned about all kinds of saints and holy people I had never heard of (and it has me googling things like crazy, as my interest is piqued).

I bet many of us will keep our Lenten discipline all the way through Easter for the first time ever thanks to your hard work!

As a first year LM participant and a Roman Catholic, I want to thank my wonderful Episcopalian friend for introducing me to this game! I can’t tell you how much I look forward to this every day and how much I have learned. I have spread the “Good News” to my priest, Bible study group , and many friends. I want to award my own Golden Halo to my friend!

This is the best educational program in the church! Like a spoonful of sugar.

This is my first year with Lent Madness; I saw the article in USA Today. Unfortunately Lent used to be just a Sunday exercise. Now with Lent Madness I think of Lent, its meaning, throughout the week.

If only all learning could be this much fun – academic achievement rates would sky rocket.

This is my second year following LM. Easter through Ash Wednesday was a dry season of sorts, and I couldn’t wait for Lent to roll around again. Thanks to SEC for all the members do to help us appreciate our diverse heritage.

I’m your average Plain Jane Episcopalian. Lent Madness has inspired me and has helped me fall even more in love with our Church. I AM LEARNING! If this thing of yours is not spreading the Good News, then nothing is.

Know that it is a privilege to walk this Lenten journey with all of you and continued blessings throughout the season.

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The SEC Answers Critics

criticsUnfathomable though it may be, not everyone loves Lent Madness. At meetings of the Supreme Executive Committee, we often shake our heads in disbelief that there are a few people who find Lent Madness less than magnificent. As a gesture of good will, Tim and Scott have decided to answer the Top Ten Criticisms of Lent Madness. Think of these as at-the-ready talking points if you encounter a Lent Madness hater over chicken casserole at your ubiquitous Wednesday Evening Lenten program. You're welcome.

Top Ten Criticisms of Lent Madness

10. The SEC is rigging the results
Believe us when we say this: we have been as surprised and even outraged as you at some of the results. No one can predict what will happen in Lent Madness, with emphasis on the madness. If the SEC were rigging the results, Scott would not be in the bottom half of the Forward Movement office bracket pool. Now, granted, Scott once ran a full-fledged smear campaign to get George Herbert crowned with the Golden Halo (here, here, here, and here). But now that the SEC is formed, both Tim and Scott remain scrupulously neutral, working hard to ensure a free and fair contest every time.

unfair9. The match-ups are unfair
The point of Lent Madness is fun, and it would be less fun if every contest featured a reformer against a reformer or an apostle versus an apostle. In its current form, we have to grapple with the outlandish notion of picking a modern witness for social justice or a biblical hero, for example. If that seems ridiculous to you, then we'd like to remind you that the entire concept of Lent Madness is that we're voting on a Golden Halo for people who are already in God's company. Lent Madness is not for the faint of heart, so if you can't decide between theologians of the fourth-century and preachers of the modern era, step aside.

8. Lent should be about self-flagellation not self-congratulation
Yeah, yeah, we've heard this plenty: "Every time I tune into Monday Madness, Tim and Scott are touting their latest media triumph. They've even been known to send Lent Madness mugs to church celebrities in exchange for 'mug shots.'" Here's the thing. Lent Madness was in USA Today this year. Last year it was the Washington Post and Sports Illustrated. While Tim and Scott have their picture in the paper, it's really not about them. It's about getting a new image of our church into the press. The SEC believes that it's better to have Lent Madness in the news than, say, lawsuits or church closings. Oh, and we don't much care for self-flagellation. We understand Lent to be a time for fresh conversion -- to renewing our commitment to following Jesus. You can do this whilst turning that frown upside-down.

7. This is a distraction from "real" Lent
See above. We would encourage you to pursue other Lenten disciplines. However, we think "real" Lent is about finding our way back to God. If this silly contest teaches us something about holy men and women, and if we are inspired to follow Jesus because of their example, then we'd consider the mission of Lent Madness accomplished. Also, "real" Lent just doesn't work for some people.


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Bracket Confidential

Many people have asked us recently how the official Lent Madness bracket is formulated. In other words, how are the saints chosen and who decides the match-ups? Ask Tim and he'll tell you it's one part Holy Spirit, one part Ouija Board, and one part his twisted brain. But actually the process is quite scientific and/or Spirit-led as this video will show. The Supreme Executive Committee filmed this in Hingham, Massachusetts, during a rare joint appearance following Lent Madness 2012.

So if you don't like the match-ups, remember three important facts.

  1. The bracket was out of the SEC's control, having been appointed by the likes of ferrets and smoke signals.
  2. Strange pairings encourage us to think creatively about the saints and their lives. Read the comments to the daily votes if you want a flavor of how this works.
  3. It's called Lent Madness, not Lent Sanity.

While not exactly a benevolent dictatorship, the SEC does hold a nomination period during Eastertide where the Lent Madness faithful are encouraged to submit names for inclusion. In fact, a decent number of saints in this year's bracket came from viewers like you, so stay tuned.

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Mug Controversy Resolved!

mug and jesusYou'll be relieved to know that Tim  has finally received his 2013 Lent Madness mug from the world-renowned Forward Movement Mug & Tchotchke Warehouse in Cincinnati, Ohio. Sure, it was a full five days after his own curate received hers but the tenuous Lenten Détente between the two members of the Supreme Executive Committee has been solidified. For now.

Many of the Lent Madness faithful have expressed their deep concern about this situation and it has, frankly, disrupted their enjoyment of the first week of match-ups. Please know that Tim deeply appreciates the various protest songs that have been written to help rectify this injustice. Of particular note was Bob Dylan's recording of "Like a Rolling Mug." But Arlo Guthrie's line "Tim can't get the mug he wants at Scott's Restuarant" was also appreciated.

Tim reports that he has christened the new mug with some Sacred Grounds coffee from his favorite shopmug in Hingham, Redeye Roasters. Black, of course.

We're glad to have this nagging mug controversy behind us so we can focus our attention where it belongs: on complaints about how Lent Madness is too frivolous for such a penitential season.

If you're interested in purchasing your own mug, click here. Everyone (including Tim and the Presiding Bishop) have one. They may be on back order but Scott insists they'll be in soon and that you'll likely have it in your hot little hand before the arrival of Tim's next batch of Forward Day by Day.

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Controversy Interrupts Lent Madness
PB with mug

Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Katharine Jefferts Schori

A bitter controversy has interrupted the first day of the 2013 Saintly Smackdown. It has nothing to do with voter fraud or inappropriate trash talking or over-the-top snark (if that even exists). This has all been sparked by a mug. Or shall we say the lack thereof?

It seems that, while the self-appointed members of the Lent Madness Supreme Executive Committee have agreed to a seasonal détente, Tim has not yet received his 2013 mug. While everyone else who ordered one in a timely fashion is now waking up to vote while sipping coffee out of their fancy new Lent Madness mug, Tim has had to resort to last year's edition. Or his Baltimore Ravens mug.

The Celebrity Bloggers all seem to have their mugs. In fact David Sibley's even arrived in Brooklyn during a blizzard. The new mugs are also running rampant at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City where Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has one as does Communications Director Anne Rudig and Public Affairs Officer Neva Rae Fox. And, no, they aren't just passing the same one around for photo ops. They all have their very own Lent Madness 2013 mugs! (not sure how they tell them apart in the holy kitchenette but that's not our problem).

Public Affairs Officer Neva Rae Fox is so dedicated to Lent Madness she's wearing purple nail polish.

Public Affairs Officer Neva Rae Fox is so dedicated to Lent Madness she's wearing purple nail polish.

To add insult to penitential injury, Tim's own curate at St. John's in Hingham, Massachusetts, Anne Emry, has received hers. So far Mug Meister Scott has not commented on the budding controversy.

Protest groups have started picketing the Forward Movement global headquarters in Cincinnati chanting "Free Tim's Mug!" They have been met with billowing clouds of incense and fire hoses full of holy water.

The Rev. Anne Emry drinking coffee in Tim's office out of her 2013 mug.

The Rev. Anne Emry drinking coffee in Tim's office out of her 2013 mug.

While it's not yet clear why Tim hasn't received his mug, other than potential spite, you can order your own from the Lent Madness Store (aka Lentorium). It may not come with a money back guarantee but Scott and Tim personally guarantee that it improves the taste of any beverage (especially freshly roasted coffee from El Salvador). In the meantime, start writing protest songs or start a petition. Scott must be held accountable for this uncharitable act on the first day of Lent Madness 2013.

Anne Rudig

Communications Director Anne Rudig sporting lots of Lent Madness purple.

Breaking News! We just got word that Celebrity Blogger Chris Yaw has also not received his mug. This is obviously Scott's retaliation for the only one associated with Lent Madness to have won an Emmy. Put simply: Monday Madness will never win an Emmy. Nominated perhaps, but it will never win one. And that burns Scott up.

Please enjoy your Lent Madness 2013 mug and pray without ceasing that Tim's will arrive before Pentecost.

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Brackets to Go 2013

photo-6Dateline: Commuter Stations Everywhere

Based on the overwhelming response to last year's Brackets to Go, it was decided to offer it again this year. You know, it's important to take the brackets to the people, rather than expecting the people to come to the brackets. Spreading the good news of Lent Madness at train stations 'round the world is just part of how we roll.

In the photo on the right, you'll notice that the bracketifer has even colored the train's map sign purple. It's another way of proclaiming Lent Madness to a world in search of voting direction.

People were, as you'd expect, moved by the experience. One recipient said, "With St. Chad of Lichfield in the bracket this year, I've been so worried about dimpled chads that I was afraid to print my own bracket," adding, "you've taken my fear away." Another person, named Martin, was thrilled, saying, "I'm so excited that the people of Lent Madness would seek out wandering souls like me, eager to make connections with first-round saints, such as Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Martin of Tours" In a flat rebuttal to those who think Brackets to Go is trite, Martin continued, "I will come to adult formation at the nearest Lent Madness parish, because I'm really confused about whether to vote for ML or MLK or MOT."

One clergy bracketifer shared her experience, "It was so moving to tenderly place the brackets into people's outstretched hands." Her lay assistant said, "Setting aside that egregious split infinitive, I agree. This was an amazing experience of providing reassurance that Lent Madness encompasses an inclusive array of saints, with at least one saint to which each person can connect." The bracketifer nodded in agreement, also impressed by the assistant's grammar.

The Supreme Executive Committee declined to issue a statement, seeking to empower the bracketifers, whether lay or clergy, to speak for themselves. Seeing an opening in the media limelight, another bracketifer contacted the reporter. "I don't understand why anyone would oppose this amazing experience of taking Lent Madness out of the interwebs and into the streets. Lent Madness is too important to keep to ourselves."

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NOTE: The SEC is having a bit of fun with the Ashes to Go media sensation. We're not mocking it, but rather riding the coattails of this internet meme. One member of the SEC has gone on record in support of Ashes to Go. So there.

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Celebrity Blogger Week: The Rev. Adam Thomas

adamthomasAfter a brief hiatus for a bit of national media attention, Celebrity Blogger Week both continues and ends with the Rev. Adam Thomas. While not technically a Celebrity Blogger this year, Adam Thomas is a former CB (2012) who enjoys the lofty title of "Bracket Czar." Adam's one of the unsung heroes of Lent Madness who quietly goes about creating and updating brackets from his Czar-like lair.

The Rev. Adam Thomas, Lent Madness Bracket Czar, was a 2012 Celebrity Blogger (most closely identified with upstart Philander Chase) who has morphed into our keeper of the bracket. He is associate rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Cohasset, Massachusetts, which is about ten minutes away from the church of our illustrious leader, the Rev. Tim Schenck. Adam is the author of Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in the Virtual World (Abingdon 2011), which you should read since you are using the Internet right now and you are more than likely a Christian. Adam just celebrated his second wedding anniversary with his wife Leah, who is wonderful and lovely and every other good adjective you might think of. He is busy being married, serving God at his church, and writing a novel, which is winding its way through the editorial process right now. Check out his website WheretheWind.com, for nearly five years of content. You can fan Adam on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @RevAdamThomas.

How long have you been a CB? What do you like about doing this or what have you learned along the way?

Last year, I ran myself a little ragged pulling double duty as Celebrity Blogger and Bracket Czar, so this year I opted to stick with the one with the more impressive title. (Apparently, Tim and Scott are having a bad influence on me.) As Bracket Czar, I designed the look of the bracket and calendar, and it's my job to update it each morning so everyone knows who won the last round.


I also have access to the back end of the Lent Madness website, but I promise only to use this power for good -- like fixing the broken links and spelling errors of the aforementioned SEC. Alas, I plan to spend a lot of time this Lent teaching Tim how to resize pictures in his posts.

What should the the LM faithful know about you? (quirks, interests, hobbies, etc.)

I'm a gamer and always have been. While I play some video games (Halo 4 and Lego Harry Potter right now), my main love is board games, which (thank God) my wife shares. Please understand me, though. I'm not talking Monopoly (ick!) -- I'm talking about real, German board games (the Germans really know how to design a board game). If you like board games but haven't taken the leap to the big boys, try Ticket to Ride first. If you like it, move up to Puerto Rico, Agricola, and Power Grid. You won't be sorry.
Prediction for who wins the Golden Halo? (Editor's Note: Adam went rogue on us and added this additional, unauthorized question)
My (metaphorical) money is on Oscar Romero.
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