Saturday, January 31, 2009


I was working on a piece like this, but the fine blogger who's Still On Patrol is out there with an excellent summary of the disgusting greed by the wheelers & dealers who helped us into the current financial mess and now want to take their bonuses and tax-payer bailout bucks.

Good on President Obama and his cabinet for calling out this wretched Wall Street excess. But bad on the Dem-controlled House of Representatives for its porky, special interest feeding response.

Let's hope the Senate and the Executive Branch come up with something better, and that the rest of us who contributed to this disaster by our own sloppy self interest learn to live by something nobler than this crap.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. I Timothy 6:10

Lay voice from an Episcopal client church

By email [I've edited for confidentiality]: A layperson on-site reflects on a visit by representatives of The Episcopal Church.

There is one big snag in the whole works project. Everything the bishop [of the client church] has done has been paid for by Americans. [S/he] has not really built up any strong base among the laity. So the people have become accustomed to waiting for Americans to come down and do it, what ever that is.

I just heard from some folks today who are planning to come in XXXX to XXXX a XXXX that is being dedicated on XXXX. And so it goes. I realize that people are poor but they rarely are included in the planning process. Rich americans walk in and do it. And then feel satisfied afterwards.

And yes inspite of all the stuff down here there is a certain amount of hope among the people. They are used to doing without. And manage quite well most of the time. Ah well.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Bumper Sticker Insight

I found myself behind a car with all the usual left-wing activist stickers.

The most prominent were
  • - "War is Not the Answer"* and
  • - a pro-abortion pitch.
The sum of the political philosophy expressed on these stickers seems to be:

"The good life is secured by appeasing the ruthless and violent and getting rid of the weak and inconvenient."

* Jesus tells us that peacemaking is a heavenly value, so I don't dispute the message that war is not the ultimate solution to human problems. But the New Testament is clear that government is permitted by God, and allowed to use deadly force to restrain manifest evil (Romans 13). While an individual might be called to pacifism, to expect a government to practice absolute non-violence is simply incorrect from a Biblical point of view and immoral to the extent that this expectation allows violent people to victimize one's neighbor.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Sermon You Probably Won't Hear on Super Sunday

This Sunday's second lesson (Revised Common Lectionary) is 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.

As the Primates (Presiding Bishops) of the 38 global Anglican Provinces meet over the better part of the coming week, this Bible lesson throws light on why The Episcopal Church and a few allied provinces it subsidizes are in the wrong and damaging the Anglican Communion:

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

The "knowledge" here is gnosis, an ancient religious system based on the idea that only a few illuminated people understand reality, and that this knowledge is not available to lesser beings. It is The Episcopal Church (TEC) that claims new and special spiritual revelation, secret "knowledge" not available to those who seek knowledge in the Bible and long-standing church teaching. TEC asserts its secret knowledge over and against centuries of Christian teaching and global Christian consensus. And this kind of "knowledge" leads to arrogance instead of the love needed to build up the church. TEC brings the worst possible disposition into the Primates' meeting.


Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "no idol in the world really exists," and that "there is no God but one." Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth-- as in fact there are many gods and many lords-- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Christianity seeks its answers by looking into the nature of God - the work of theology. And Bishops in particular are to teach and defend Christian theology. But TEC and its allies argue that theology is irrelevant - only "polity" (organizational by-laws) are relevant to resolving disputes. TEC brings the worst possible methodology into the Primates' meeting.


It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. "Food will not bring us close to God." We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.

The early Christians lived and taught in a culture marked by religious diversity. There were many gods and cults, and people "mixed and matched" depending upon their felt needs. Christians challenged people to place faith in the one God. But the early church also realized that people would make spiritual progress at different paces, and warned its members to avoid practices that could confuse new converts. TEC, on the other hand, asserts a "baptismal covenant" in which all suddenly leapfrog to maturity (including leadership) in the church. People can do what they want as long as they are baptized, and everybody else just needs to accept everything uncritically. As a consequence, TEC chooses spiritually underdeveloped leaders who increasingly mix and match with non-Christian religions, confusing and deluding the church. TEC brings the worst possible spirituality into the Primates' meeting.


But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Christianity declares radical freedom, in which holiness is expressed in Christ-like qualities rather than strict adherence to rules and rituals. But with this freedom comes great responsibility, based on the Christian concept of love. Love puts others first. A mature Christian will sacrifice or restrain some "rights" for the good of those who are struggling to become more Christ-like. But TEC teaches self-expression without responsibility. It exalts individuals and elites and considers "lesser" clergy and congregations expendable. In this case, it isn't what TEC brings that is the problem - it is what TEC doesn't bring. By its rigorous rejection of the Bible, TEC fails to understand and therefore cannot bring love to the Primates' meeting.


The Bible lesson reflects what the Archbishop of Canterbury has been saying over the last few years. Some folks, however enlightened or important they might consider themselves, must practice loving restraint for the good of the whole church. TEC has rejected this call, and now the Anglican "Communion" is an unravelling tapestry of unrestrained factions.

In another part of this same letter to the Corinthians, we find this warning to those who arrogantly damage the church:

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. (3:16-18)

May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ's shed blood, send the Holy Spirit to guide some of TEC's leaders back to the way, the truth and the life. TEC's leadership is harming Christ's people and destroying itself.

When a good nation goes bad

People wanted a lucrative agrarian economy, so they kept overhead down by defining others as less than human. This justified SLAVERY.

People wanted land and resources, so they broke treaties by defining others as less than human. This justified the DESTRUCTION OF NATIVE AMERICAN LIFE.

People want sex without relationship and responsibility, so they ignore the scientific evidence and define others as less than human. This justifies ABORTION.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. James 4:2

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some good news from Southern Sudan

Rhonda Morse, a member of Holy Apotles', Sioux Falls, just returned from The Sudan. She's part of the South Dakota team that is helping build a water well and school there. This is from her email:

The trip was fantastic and the efforts for Moses's village so worthwhile. It is a wonderful community with good people but so little contact with the outside world and means to improve. Clean water and an education will help this process. We were very happy to find three churches in his village - Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Catholic. Presently, we have 3 trucks en route from Uganda to his village, carrying 45 tons of materials for constructing the school. The water well should be drilled this week. Progress is being made because of the contributions made by many of you. Thank you!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, South Dakota Legislators Pass Resolution Supporting Israel's Right to Resist Terrorism

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the House of Representatives of the Eighty- fourth Legislature of the State of South Dakota, the Senate concurring therein, that the Legislature:
(1) Stands in solidarity with Israel as it takes necessary steps to provide security to its people...

The news and full text of the resolution are at Dakota Voice.

For those who missed it, today (Jan. 27th) was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"Bits of Broken Glass"

Deacon Phil Snyder is in the Diocese of Dallas, although he travels with a job in the info-tech field and we had dinner up here in Sioux Falls when he was working a big upgrade for one of our large medical centers.

He's just posted an absolutely beautiful reflection at his blog, The Deacon's Slant. Go check it out. Here's a bit:

As pieces of glass, we have two functions. First we let the light shine through us. We are not the source of the light, but we do color the light by the shading given to us by God. Second, we fit into a pattern. We can't see the pattern from where we are, so we have to trust God - we have to have faith - that God will place us where He wants and needs us.

Things to See and Do in Babylon: Rope Tricks!

Then the Spirit came into me and set me on my feet. He spoke to me and said, “Go to your house and shut yourself in. There, son of man, you will be tied with ropes so you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. But when I give you a message, I will loosen your tongue and let you speak. Then you will say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Those who choose to listen will listen, but those who refuse will refuse, for they are rebels. Ezekiel 3:24-28

Ever get that "I just don't wanna go to (dysfunctional family gathering, party thrown by friends who always get stoned, clergy meeting, diocesan convention, etc.)" feeling? Try this: don't fight it.

That urge to stay home might be God's hand on you here in Babylon. That "I'm too tied up to deal with these folks" intuition might be holy.

They are rebels - and sitting through one of their self-congratulation sessions isn't going to change that.

God will turn you loose from time to time, not as a lame duty to a club that could care less about you, but as a messenger. God still has things to say to them, even as they continue in rebellion.

So go home. Be tied up with things you can impact and influence there. And let God teach you His rope trick for those times he wants to send you out with a message.

Northern Michigan Episcopalians get only one choice for Bishop... and he's a Buddhist!

This is not made up. You can read all about it here, along with a summary of other religious mixing and matching around The Episcopal Church.

This is bad on so many levels. Spiritually, of course. And what about the vaunted "democracy" of TEC - only one candidate?

As South Dakota continues a behind-the-scenes process to nominate a new Bishop, news like this is not welcome.

What's a real Christian Bishop like? Well, today is the Feast of John Chrysostom (died January 27, 407). Here's James Kiefer's short bio of the Saint:

John was called "Chrysostom" ("Golden Mouth") because of his eloquence. He was a priest of Antioch, and an outstanding preacher. (Audiences were warned not to carry large sums of money when they went to hear him speak, since pickpockets found it very easy to rob his hearers -- they were too intent on his words to notice what was happening.)

His sermons are mostly straightforward expositions of Holy Scripture (he has extensive commentaries on both Testaments, with special attention to the Epistles of Paul), and he emphasizes the literal meaning, whereas the style popular at Alexandria tended to read allegorical meanings into the text.

He loved the city and people of Antioch, and they loved him. However, he became so famous that the Empress Eudoxia decided that she must have him for her court preacher, and she had him kidnapped and brought to Constantinople and there made bishop.

This was a failure all around. His sermons against corruption in high places earned him powerful enemies (including the Empress), and he was sent into exile, where he died.

Along with Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus, he is counted as one of the Four Great Eastern (or Greek) Doctors of the Ancient Church. The Four Great Western (or Latin) Doctors are Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Before and After

We had a great annual parish meeting yesterday. God blessed us beyond our numbers, efforts and plans in '08. There is impressive spiritual growth taking place through home Bible study groups, and I was dazzled as the out-going Senior Warden framed her remarks with words of Jesus, learned in her group. The amount of ministry going forth from Good Shepherd is way out of proportion to our modest membership and attendance. Despite all the financial woes of the world, we had the most abundant budget in parish history (including excellent performance by a bank-managed trust). It was an afternoon to glorify God, give thanks, and look hopefully and expectantly for "what's next."

Toward the end of the meeting, our new Senior Warden referred to me as "our fearless leader." I was immediately aware of the reality that I am anything but fearless.

My predisposition is to see the glass half empty, to be aware of all that could go wrong, to know why something can't be or shouldn't be tried, etc. etc. I won't go into all the psychodrama and speculation of why that might be so, except to say that Satan established his presence in my family of origin very early on and hasn't let go.

This painful awareness butted up against two positive, Christian counterpoints: 1) The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and 2) some recent comments by Bishop Bill Atwood, writing about the East African Revival. St. Paul and East African Christians tell us "Before and After" stories: "I lived life one way before I knew Jesus, and a new way after I came to know Him."

Before Jesus became personally real to me in Junior High School, my young life was a fog of fearful pessimism. Since entering a relationship with him , I have been blessed to lead a full life, marked wonderfully by risky and fruitful endeavors. These have been on public display in church life, but also in the intimate adventure of marriage and parenting. Without Christ, I would not have entered any of the joys I've known and shared with others.

I wish I could say that I was free of the fears and pessimism, but that aspect of who I am "in the flesh" will be with me for awhile. Like Paul in Philippians 3:12, I have to say "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."

The most perceptive "before and after" comment about me came from the actor Efrem Zimbalest, Jr. He was an "8 o'clocker" at the parish where I met my wife. He was unique, in that he actually listened to early service sermons and would discuss them in detail at the church door.

One Sunday, he said, "Tim, you are a powerful communicator of joy, because I suspect it does not come easily to you."

Right on target. And the glory of it is that Jesus set me free to rejoice - to see goodness and beauty in a world I know to be wretchedly evil and ugly. Before Jesus, everything languished in shadow. But He is the light of life that shines, and the darkness cannot overcome Him. I give thanks that He chooses to shine on me.

I shared this testimony with the congregation as we ended yesterday's meeting. And I encouraged them, as I encourage you, reader, to take time and think on your "before and after" relationship with Jesus. We won't all have stories of turning from crime, addiction or other dramatic conversions, but if we take the time to look at our lives we can see that Jesus has changed us, and that He is the hopeful message we have to share.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hey, Episcopalians...Where did daily prayer for public leaders go?

Why did the 1979 Book of Common Prayer take prayers for the President and those is public authority out of their prominent place in Morning & Evening Prayer and bury them in a catch-all section in the back?

For a number of reasons, I used the 1928 BCP for my daily prayers all through the last liturgical year, and went back to '79 in Advent. The '28 Book has the prayers for public officials in a very prominent place. In fact, they come before the intercession for the church. You have to go hunting for them in the '79 Book.

Perhaps this is part of the "centrality of the Eucharist" emphasis. Eucharistic Prayers of the People do include prayers for public officials.

Or maybe the '79 Book reflects post-Viet Nam angst about all things national. Dunno.

But right now, President Obama faces our economic woes and global instability in various forms. Governor Mike Rounds here in SD is proposing some very painful budget cuts. Our chief executives, the legislatures that will have to grapple with budgets, and the courts upon which we dump all our problems are in need of prayer. Clergy, who should be attentive to daily prayer and Bible reading, ought to have prayer for public officials staring at us each day.

I am tempted to find a causal link between this flaw in the '79 Book and our national descent into political polarization. Our great old church of "national consensus" stopped emphasizing daily intercession for public officials, and our nation slid into petty factionalism. We have no clear political momentum beyond endlessly destabilizing our own leaders by "gotcha" (Watergate, a silly little event if you look into it, is intoned as if it were the Holocaust; Monica Lewinsky and the President's understandably human dissembling turned into a national distraction right when 9/11 was being planned against us; Dan Rather's attempt to create "evidence" against Pres. Bush was a manifestly political act; insane emails about Pres. Obama's "Islamic connections" were all over the net; and now Frost-Nixon is out to embellish the "gotcha is glory" myth.) The booing of former Pres. Bush at Pres. Obama's Inauguration was disgusting.

A healthy Anglican model was on display at my last cure in California. The mission included a PreK - 8th grade school. Along with the daily chapels, there was a weekly flag-raising during which the teachers and students shared a litany of prayer for public officials. It was illuminating to hear the leaders' names change after each election (I was there for about 10 years). The party and ideology didn't matter - we just prayed for those in office because that is our Biblical mandate.

The Episcopal Church has always been a small denomination. But its influence and voice used to have national reach and value. Perhaps it is God's judgement that we've gone from small to minuscule and from influential to irrelevant in the decades since we stopped praying for national leaders.


Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.
(Ephesians 6:5-8, appointed for Morning Prayer today)

To provide good medical coverage and a bit of extra income for my family, and to take a bunch of pressure off of our parish budget (the diocesan plan's premiums were massive because so few people paid in), I work as a parking valet at a local hospital.

It is a great lesson in humility. Clergy sometimes become detached from workaday life. As I heard Alistair Begg say, "Don't forget that your people are still in their shoes when you are home in your socks."

I'm not "Father Tim" when I am parking cars. I'm just another guy in a red windbreaker. Some folks are rude and condescending (although the vast majority are kind and even effusive in their thanks for the service). My supervisors are gracious but when push comes to shove they could care less about the complexities of my calendar. I don't get to walk in and say, "Let's do it this way." The little freedoms and personal perks of the church office don't play in the hospital parking lot.

While I am not in favor of the weird, un-Biblical impoverishment of clergy in which some "Bible churches" seem to delight, I realize also that my own tradition treats clergy as a separate and privileged caste. The parking lot is a good corrective.

I give thanks today for how God is shaping me as I park smoke-filled Pontiacs and older folks' Buicks with cushions piled too high on the seats. I give thanks that He's put me in a position to help my family, even on days where I have to confess my resentment of the extra needs. I give thanks that He has me in the workplace, where my people spend most of their days. And I give thanks for His word today, reminding me to do this work to His glory.

Twenty-first anniversary of my ordination

Giving thanks today, largely aware of ways that the Lord has carried me in spite of myself and all kinds of craziness over the last twenty-one years.

Thanks to...

Alice Linsley, who sent a kind message in a recent post on this blog.

My dear friends in California, Dick & Diane Bollinger. They sent Al Mohler's book, He Is Not Silent. A great celebration of expository preaching and the calling to preach.

My partner Bob Farris in Georgia. He sent along a great little collaboration by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner and Lane Jones - 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. This couldn't have been more timely, as we are about to elect our parish officers and then gather them for a retreat.

In one of my recent posts here, I remarked on my flirtation with Kazantzakis' "last temptation" - the temptation to walk away from God's calling and lead a "normal" life. How amazing that people in very different places were moved to send greetings and readings that affirmed my calling and cheered me to keep running the race that God has set before me.

And blessings on the people of Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls. Their love, sincerity, joy in hearing the Gospel and so many other qualities keep me going.

Finally, thanks to my family: Melissa, Tim and Joey. Much of what I do and go through makes little enough sense to me... I can only guess and what they endure. I'm sure they would like a "normal" life, too. I am grateful that they put up with the adventure.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
Isaiah 49:15
The LORD said, "What have you done?
Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground."
Genesis 4:10
Then Jesus took the children in his arms
and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.
Mark 10:16
Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman,
“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
John 8:10-11

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Invoking the Holy Spirit for the Anglican Communion

The Primates (presiding Bishops) of the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion will meet in Alexandria, Egypt from February 1 thru 5.

The Communion is troubled these days. The questions and conflicts are exhausting and can be discouraging. At Lent & Beyond and other sites, prayers are being offered.

My own impression during prayer has been to call upon the Holy Spirit. If the problems are not to be immediately "fixed," there can be comfort and strength if the Spirit will reveal a bit of the divine purpose in all this. And we must keep praying that the Spirit will illuminate the Primates' minds with the Lord's will.

The Episcopal Church's Hymnal 1982 has a good collection of hymns to the Spirit. Go to the site and scroll down to #s 500-516. See also the Pentecost hymns 223 - 230.

A South Dakota connection to The Sudan: please pray

Moses Joknhial II is one of The Sudan's "Lost Boys." He's become an American citizen, excelled in school (he is into aeronautics and dreams of launching "Air Moses" one day) and, with help from Church of the Holy Apostles', Sioux Falls, he's raised over $50,000 and is now back in The Sudan building a school and water well.

Pray for Moses and his team, and give thanks for the way support came together from all around the Diocese of South Dakota to make this possible.

Meanwhile, The Sudan continues to suffer violence. The bizarre, blasphemously named "Lord's Resistance Army" (LRA) is spreading its terror from Uganda into The Sudan.

Jill Woodliff has been posting prayers for the defeat of LRA at Lent & Beyond. Please join in this spiritual battle.

Prayer Requests: Important Weekend for the Diocese and the Parish

Prayers are appreciated as the Coadjutor nominating committee meets this weekend:

"...the full nominating committee will convene again on January 24th and 25th to cut the slate to 3-5 candidates. Once the final slate is announced, there will be opportunity for the petition process." (from the Diocesan website)

This Sunday is the Annual Parish Meeting for the Church of the Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls. Pray for us as we move toward our vision, Helping One Another Put Jesus First.

The Inauguration of the President of the United States

O LORD our Governor, whose glory is in all the world; We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness; and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen. Book of Common Prayer (1928)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Truth or Unity? Heresy or Schism? Lousy Leaders Give Us Crummy Choices.

One of the Morning Prayer readings is Ephesians 4:1-16.

As I read it over several times, I kept hearing the question foisted on us by some Episcopal Church leaders: "What's worse, heresy (false teaching) or schism (fragmentation of the church)?"

Biblically speaking, both are bad. And leaders who set their people up for such a choice should resign or, in a healthy organization, be replaced.

First off, the Ephesians lesson tells us that Christ's work is "for his people" (4:7-8) and that the goal is for "the body" (the church, with Christ as its head) to "build itself up in love" (vv. 15-16).

Division in the body (schism) works against Christ's purpose. Unity is vital:

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (vv. 1-6)

At the same time, false teaching at best retards and at worst destroys the body's growth toward "the fullness of Christ":

...until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ... (vv.13-15)

Heresy and schism both suffer from deficient love. Paul's great teaching on love in I Corinthians 13 shows us
  • what schismatics lack: (love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things...
  • and what heretics lack: love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth...

I've been frustrated by and critical of the Archbishop of Canterbury's ponderous response to the Anglican mess in North America. Yet even with many questionable decisions at various points, his overall strategy of trying to keep the people together while framing a "Covenant" to affirm Christian truth reflects what Ephesians teaches.

But a "process", however well intended, must at some point produce the desired results - a vital church, unified in faith and representing Christ Himself. Leaders who are not bringing this forth in the church are not doing the work to which Christ called them, as Ephesians says:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (vv.11-13)

Last week's airliner incident in New York is a good parable against which presumed church leaders should measure their actions. The pilot, the captain of the aircraft, made decisions to maximize the protection of the people aboard and on the ground. In adverse circumstances, he and his crew took actions that prevented ground casualties, saved the lives of the passengers, and positioned all for rapid rescue from danger.

And the captain was the last to leave the plane, setting his own security aside to discharge all his duties to others first.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Preparing for Sunday: Some Love Letters to Answer

God's word to us at Saturday Morning Prayer should warm and soften our hearts toward tomorrow's time at the altar:

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.
(Isaiah 43:1-4)

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:18-19)

And if you're feeling that the corruption of the church and the upheavals of the world are isolating you and making it hard to sense God's love, be heartened by James Kiefer's short bio for today's commemoration of St. Antony of Egypt:
Before the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, back in the days when Christianity was still a persecuted religion, the act of becoming a Christian involved turning one's back on the pursuit of security, of fashionable prestige and popularity, of success as the term is widely understood.

After the Emperor had changed Christianity from a persecuted religion into a fashionable one, many earnest Christians felt the need to make such a renunciation in the service of Christ, and did not see mere Church membership as any longer enough to constitute such a renunciation.

Accordingly, many of them sought Christian commitment by fleeing from society into the desert, and becoming hermits, devoting themselves to solitude, fasting, and prayer. Although this trend was much accelerated and reinforced by the conversion of Constantine and attendant changes, it had already begun earlier. An outstanding early example is Antony of Egypt, often reckoned as the founder of Christian monasticism.

Antony of Egypt, the son of Christian parents, inherited a large estate. On his way to church one day, he found himself meditating on the text, "Sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and come follow me." When he got to church, he heard the preacher speaking on that very text. He took this as a message for him, and, having provided for the care of his sister, he gave his land to the tenants who lived on it, and gave his other wealth to the poor, and became a hermit, living alone for twenty years, praying and reading, and doing manual labor.

In 305, he gave up his solitude to become the head of a group of monks, living in a cluster of huts or cells, devoting themselves to communal singing and worship, to prayer and study and manual labor under Antony's direction. They did not simply renounce the world, but were diligent in prayer for their fellow Christians, worked with their hands to earn money that they might distribute it as alms, and preached and gave personal counseling to those who sought them out.

In 321, Christians in Alexandria were being persecuted by the Emperor Maximinus (the rule of Constantine was not yet universal), and Antony visited Alexandria to encourage those facing the possibility of martyrdom.

He visited again in 335, when Arianism was strong in the city, and converted many, by his preaching and testimony, and by prayer and the working of miracles. His biography was written by Athanasius, who said of him: "Who ever met him grieving and failed to go away rejoicing?"

Friday, January 16, 2009

More differences between my birth state and my adopted home

Here's a picture of "sundogs." In certain conditions here, the sun is bracketed by rainbows. We had sundogs over Sioux Falls on Christmas Eve. I'd never heard of this growing up in California, and hadn't seen 'em in my first four years here in South Dakota.

Then there's the matter of clouds.

In CA, clouds = cool, sun = warm.

Here in SD (and in similar climes), Winter clouds = insulation = warmth; Winter sun = cold! Yep, these recent Arctic deep freeze days have sported blue, sunny skies. The clouds hold what heat we have closer to the Earth; when they are gone, the heat floats off like a lost helium balloon.

Hope I get continuing ed. credits for this steep learning curve.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chilling out for a few

Was wiped out the first part of the week by a nasty virus. Am still muddle headed from it and trying to play desk catch-up.

Meanwhile, we are having possible record low temps here. Minus 22F this morning in Sioux Falls and Aberdeen, SD might have been the coldest spot in the U.S. yesterday with an air temp (not including wind chill) of minus 42F.

Colder here than Alaska and (here goes) Canada!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

UPDATED: The church lawsuit frenzy continues... anybody want a glimpse of the human cost?

As I've written and argued elsewhere, a patchwork of decisions are emerging. In California, The Episcopal Church gets another shot at keeping church property. In Virginia, the congregations keep the property. More lawsuits are filed all over the country, as "bishops" who can't build the relationships to lead people sit in their offices and spend God's money on lawsuits to keep empty buildings.

In New York State, one bishop just "won" in court and will kick the people out of Church of the Good Shepherd, Binghamton. The Rector's wife is also an Episcopal priest, and she describes what last night was like for her family, including four kids who are about to be kicked out of the home they know (the family lives in the church rectory).

Pray for the Kennedy family. Pray for the church. As the Bible makes clear, it is a loss all around when Christians sue one another.

Update: There are other models for resolving conflict or separating with grace and charity. See this short article from the Modesto (CA) Bee.

h/t VirtueOnLine

Friday, January 9, 2009

Praying, taking a deep breath, trying to stand in the place God wants

I almost want to apologize for the slew of "political" posts that popped off my keyboard here yesterday. I got in a weirdly opinionated and, for this blog, rather secular place. But when I start apologizing I tend to give away the farm, so just deal with the posts.

I find myself bouncing around between the sacred and the profane these days. I resonate with Kazantzakis' idea from The Last Temptation of Christ. Wouldn't it be great to dump all this religious stuff and just lead a workaday life. I majored in Political Science - maybe I need to get back to that and be involved more in the stuff of this world. Maybe that's where God wants me. I have no doubt that God is real, that He cares for me and has a purpose for my life. Just not sure I'm fulfilling the purpose.

My prayer life is raging and rampaging (positively). I look forward to my daily times of Bible reading and prayer. So I'm not adrift (if one can actually be adrift on the Plains). But I am looking for guidance - like our Epiphany Wise Men who followed the star and laid out their gifts just where God wanted. (New masthead is a Star Quilt, btw. A number of Native American tribes create these and they are a special gift among the Lakota. I have one at home, presented to me by the groom's mother at a wedding I celebrated).

I'm provoked by the upcoming Sunday lessons (the Baptism of Christ). All of a sudden, I am hung up on the problem of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, with its assertion that water baptism is "full initiation" into the Christian life. The lessons this week include Acts 19:1-7, in which Paul follows water baptism with "laying on of hands" to activate the Holy Spirit's work in the people. John the Baptist, in Mark 1:4-11, says that the Messiah will go beyond water baptism with baptism in the Holy Spirit.

I'm not flirting with Charismatic/Pentecostal thoughts. Rather, I am looking at the way the church has dumped Confirmation. In my opinion, we've lost something true and precious in our practice of Christian initiation. We've kept one part - baptism - which does in fact tell us that God's love is a pure gift, not of our earning or effort. But we have discarded the other part - our response to that love. We've left off the powerful action of invoking the Holy Spirit to equip and direct us in our God-given life's work.

Yeah, you can hear the sermon wheels turnin'.

God bless you today. I mean that. May He give you both the awareness of His unearned, even undeserved love for you, and also the guidance of the Holy Spirit to find and fulfill the sacred purpose of your life.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Episcopal Church's Gay Bishop to Teens: Ignore Your Parents and Experiment Sexually

Fr. Matt Kennedy at Stand Firm has the whole sorry transcript and other links here.

If your church has a house for its clergy, or pays them a housing allowance, thank Rick Warren

Not a new story, but since Rick Warren is in the news these days it's worth remembering.

Pastor Warren (when I was in Orange County, CA, he lived in an upper-middle class home much more modest than many of the properties in the area) spent many thousands of his own dollars to resist activist judges' attempts to tax pastors out of their church-provided housing.

Ultimately, Warren won his case and helped influence Congress to clarify laws protecting clergy housing.

What a contrast to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, who is spending millions of church members' dollars to throw Christians out of their sanctuaries.

How long will we keep up a war without a timetable or a chance to win?

Greg Belfrage of KELO AM here in Sioux Falls pointed out that this is another anniversary of President Johnson's declaration of "War on Poverty."

In the interest of fairness, I link to NPR's report. They note that poverty rates have remained the same during the duration of this war.

Hey, but I support the troops...

Sanctuary Cities! (for smokers? gun owners? pro-life institutions?)

The leader of Iowa's Democrats is outraged because local authorities are refusing to enforce a statewide smoking ban.

Won't it be interesting if the "Sanctuary City" idea employed by liberals to shield illegal immigrants from Federal law becomes a tool of conservatives, for example...
  • + Local authorities refusing to cooperate with any expansive Federal "gun control" (such as an "assault weapons ban")?
  • + Local authorities refusing to enforce Federal power against Catholic hospitals for refusing to provide abortions, or Catholic adoption agencies for upholding the Biblical family model?
  • + State Governors interfering with Federal efforts to impose the gay agenda on National Guard units?

More from the Bishop search here...

Here's more from the profile material:

It is perceived that the Church, and this Diocese, is (sic) in decline. There is a declining and aging population. This is coupled with the loss of our youth who leave the diocese. There is a lack of evangelism.

I chuckled about the word "perceived." "Recognized" would be more honest.

Still, I am glad that this is on the table, and the questions asked of the eventual candidates need to hit this hard.
  • + It is not enough for candidates to just restate the problem - "We need to find a way to tell our story" is an example of the useless bromides we don't need.
  • + We need to hear real evidence that the next bishop has a gift for evangelism. We need to know Average Sunday Attendance trends from the churches the candidates served, or the measured impact of any diocesan office they've held.
  • + I hope that those who vote will watch out for the anecdote trick. A candidate will tell a story of one or two families that joined the candidate's congregation "because we're so inclusive" and then posit that as proof of evangelistic zeal. (I remember one of the candidates for Presiding Bishop, I think the guy from Kentucky, using this gimmick in the video interviews when asked about "youth." He told some story about a conversation with a young guy and tried to magnify it into an epic achievement.) An anecdote isn't worth much if we don't see congregational or programmatic numbers that demonstrate something more.

Keep praying. Ask God to pour the Holy Spirit on the electors. May the Lord help us all to ask the right questions and discern well what the candidates say in their answers.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Reminder: the profile for South Dakota's Bishop Coadjutor

The slate of 3 to 5 will be announced in March, followed by April "walkabout" with various stops around the diocese. Election will be in May.

Our parish intercedes for the diocese and this election at all of our services. There is great potential here in South Dakota but also the strong possibility of an eventual facade church, with paper congregations, empty buildings, subsidized clergy and no flesh, blood and Spirit. In short, the choice is between the diocese's missionary heritage and an eccentric club.

Here's the relevant language from the profile, with my comments in italics...


We believe the following to be what we seek in our next Bishop as a person of God, of faith, and of spirituality (this is an important word among Native Americans, contrasting a transcendent message with "programs"), bringing the love of Christ to this Diocese:
  1. Supportive of work with youth and young adults, all of whom are the future of this Diocese. This is an honest admission that the diocese, like many other mainline bodies, is aging and dying by attrition. The key here is to have pointed questions and evidence to establish which candidates have actual experience in fostering youth ministry. Nobody is going to say, "I am opposed to youth ministry." The issue is whether or not a candidate brings any valid experience to the work beyond opinions and platitudes.
  2. Knowledgeable and appreciative of our bi cultural identity. There is agreement across any ideological divides that this is important. Again, the important questions are about experience. All of the candidates will "affirm" multicultural ministry - have any actually shown ability to minister in a multicultural setting?
  3. An advocate for social justice and reconciliation. TEC boilerplate. Let's hope this search does not veer off into, "Who's the biggest gay advocate?" That is about the least pressing social issue in South Dakota.
  4. A pastor, mentor and leader. Amen - but so many of our people have been without positive, effective pastors, mentors and especially leaders that they will be hard put to discern these qualities in the candidates.
  5. An effective communicator. It will be interesting to hear how folks respond to this challenge. It is a very real issue here, given the distances and mix of communication media and styles (no one kind of communication will reach enough people to make an impact here.) Let's hope some of the candidates have worked in a similarly challenging setting.
  6. Is supportive of our programs, including Mutual Ministry and Partners with God, and brings vision and vigor to these and other programs. Again, we need to find out about real, measurable experiences. All of the candidates can give verbal assent to anything. What have they done that indicates what they will do?
  7. A sense of humor to help with one's own emotional and physical health, as well as the health of the Diocese. Certainly something for which we can get a feel during the "walkabouts."

The heartbreaking truth is that TEC has run/is running off exactly the kind of people who meet this profile. The wonky, "Politically Correct", bureaucratic clergy caste of TEC is the worst possible match with what is needed here. Pray for us.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Faith in Action: 2008 Stats from Parish Outreach Initiative

Parishioner Craig Friedel emailed the 2008 stats for the Moving Assistance Program, founded and headquartered here at Good
Shepherd, Sioux Falls:

+ 35 completed moves

  • + helped to move a total of 65 people
  • + recruited 198 new volunteers
  • used 352 volunteers meaning each volunteer averaged 1.78 moves
    • + 80% of the moves helped the disabled
    • + 28% helped the elderly
    • + 23% helped the victims of domestic violence
    • + 40% help families
    • + 6% helped the homeless
  • + Total volunteer hours 801.5
  • The program launched in the second quarter of the year, and there were moves (sometimes more than one) almost every week.

    Also, parishioner Gene Makinson stood up in church on Sunday to
    thank the folks for supporting his team at the Salvation Army Sunday Dinner -
    the number of dinner guests continues to climb and the team served a record 175
    on the Sunday after Christmas.

    Friday, January 2, 2009

    Already blew your resolutions?

    From one Christian point of view, "New Year's Resolutions" stink. They are an effort at self-will, usually with self serving motives (losing weight seldom has to do with health issues or temperance, but with vanity or a fantasy about hooking up with someone better lookin').

    From another Christian POV, resolutions can be useful: Because we break them so quickly, they can create a spiritual frustration that drives us into the arms of God.

    And resolutions can remind us to be gentle with ourselves. We are all "works in progress."

    Several comforting insights came from the Prayer Book's January 2nd Morning Lessons:

    Psalm 34:4-7 reminds us that all the ugly crud in our lives cannot separate us from God's favor:

    I sought the LORD, and he answered me *and delivered me out of all my terror.
    Look upon him and be radiant, *and let not your faces be ashamed.
    I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me *and saved me from all my troubles.
    The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him, *and he will deliver them.

    Genesis 12:1-7 and Hebrews 11:1-12 teach us that folks who journey without all the answers and outcomes are the heroes of faith. Jesus blesses those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness," not those who think they're already there.

    Jesus himself was misunderstood and resented. Others' attitudes and behaviors are not necessarily the measure of our worth in God's eyes.

    But my favorite message this morning was in Canticle 10, which is drawn from Isaiah 55 in the Bible:

    For as rain and snow fall from the heavens *and return not again, but water the earth, Bringing forth life and giving growth, *seed for sowing and bread for eating,
    So is my word that goes forth from my mouth; *it will not return to me empty;
    But it will accomplish that which I have purposed, *and prosper in that for which I sent it.

    Looking out my window as I pray, I see everything covered with snow. That cold stuff will give life and beauty to all the hidden things that will come to life in the Spring. It has a purpose, even though it just seems cold and dead at the moment.

    God's word is active in the resolutions you are breaking right now. He's looking for a thaw in your cold places. He's looking for his Word, Jesus Christ, to seep in and bring you fuller life, greater joy and more perfect peace than you've imagined.

    Your life is God's purpose. So drop those self-driven resolutions and invite Him to make the changes you need.

    Thursday, January 1, 2009

    Love South Dakota. No desire to go back to Cali. But...

    My Alma Mater, the USC Trojans, just won a record third straight Rose Bowl.
    Now, let me offend folks in most other parts of this fine country. You see, we keep hearing the same "expert" garbage about college football: "The Pac-10 Conference is just USC beating nine weak teams."
    • OK, the Pac-10 just finished going 5 - 0 in Bowl Games. Pac-10 teams beat BYU, Miami (FL), Oklahoma State, Pitt and Penn State.
    • Meanwhile, certain states get an automatic place in the highest heavens of college football. You can open a school in certain states and they put you in the top-10 and a Bowl game before you even play. I swear, you could print up a letterhead for Florida North-Southern Correspondence Accounting Institute or Texas I-Before-E-Except-After-C and those teams would be on the cover of Sports Illustrated with breathless queries as to if they are the greatest teams in football history.
    • This takes nothing away from the scary-good Oklahoma Sooners and the Florida Gators, who will meet in the Bowl Championship Series title game. (The way Florida's Tim Tebow wills his team to win is amazing). I will certainly respect the national title status of either great team.
    • But you sports expert-wonk-dorks in the Mid-West and South can just shut up about the Pac-10. So, how you like me now?
    P.S. Way to go Nebraska Cornhuskers! Bring back that great tradition. Congratulations on your Gator Bowl win over Clemson.