Tuesday, June 30, 2009

SD Sen. Thune a sponsor of "Government Ownership Exit Plan"

You can see the release on his website. The Act (S-1242), in part:

Restore Private Ownership of Private Companies
STEP 1: Upon enactment of the legislation, the Treasury may not purchase any additional ownership stake of private entities such as warrants, preferred stock, or common stock purchased through TARP.
STEP 2: The legislation would require the Treasury to sell any ownership stake of a private entity by July 1, 2010. Revenue from the sale of TARP assets must be used for debt reduction.
STEP 3: If the Treasury Secretary determines the assets are undervalued AND there is a reasonable expectation that the assets will increase to their original purchase value, the Secretary may hold the assets for up to one additional year.
STEP 4: Beyond July 1, 2011, the Treasury Secretary may not hold any direct ownership of private companies unless Congress grants additional authority.

There's more at the link.

Why Bishops don't get it. How can we help them?

Julian Mann, aka Cranmer's Curate, blogs from Sheffield in the UK.

He posted Why Bishops Don't See the True Picture a few days ago. As always, he is short and to the point, and there are some good comments to read. And I think that his argument makes just as much sense on this side of the pond:

Bishops - diocesan, suffragan and assistant - tend to come to parish churches for special services. A deanery confirmation where there are candidates plus families plus supporters from several churches looks full... So the bishop feels 'encouraged' as he hops round the churches.

But rent-a-crowd belies the reality of Sunday by Sunday ministry for many of us front-line parochial clergy. We minister regularly in buildings that are too large for the congregations that meet in them. A congregation of 15 meeting in a building designed to seat 150 is sadly not unusual.

In a conflicted denomination like the Episcopal Church, it is all too easy to leap to the assumption that Bishops give cheery reports as deceptive propaganda.

But are many Bishops simply starry-eyed from always being part of the best attended, visitor-rich services? And do our own egos contribute to this because we don't want to admit that our "big service" is not representative of our actual congregational progress?

The Book of Acts is the current course reading for Morning Prayer. In it, we see the early church leaders helping one another with challenges. They prayed together, argued sometimes and ultimately worked to encourage one another, all with an eye toward carrying out God's will for the church.

The New Testament's "Pastoral Epistles" (I & II Timothy and Titus) give wonderful insight into the mentoring, heartaches, objectivity and above all the faith-content of Episcopal leadership.

We need a return to these sources - our God-given sources - and away from borrowed, worldly assumptions of position and title that do not ultimately generate the spiritual oversight that the church needs.

Monday, June 29, 2009

But wait, there's more!

A former parishioner, now gone to North Dakota, writes on Facebook:

...is frustrated with the U.S. news. 15 seconds on the military coup in Honduras...23 hours a day for the last 4 days on Michael Jackson.

(first I even heard about the coup, btw)

And one of his friends responds,

There was a coup? All I heard was that Billy Mayes died on the news this am!

Freedom of the press is in our Bill of Rights as a significant protection against government intrusion in our lives. The press is there to let us know what the government is doing.

But we've traded our interest in being free for an interest in being entertained. Were Marx around today, I wonder if he might change his view and say, "Journalism is the opiate of the masses" (and he was, after all, a journalist who would recognize the current dumbing down of that profession).

Feeding Frenzy Finale: a mini-roundup of worthwhile spiritual reflections on the death of Michael Jackson

From an Anglican in Cotton Country;
Via that @#^&% smart Priest they brought in for Brookings, SD;
Shared by a Rabbi who actually knew the King of Pop (h/t Transfigurations);
Ouch - an Holy Lady says, "Idol, not Icon" (h/t Sanctus)
And, just in case ya missed it, something from around here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Holding Back, Giving Up

Sermon for June 28, 2009
Fr. Timothy Fountain

"Proper 8"Lessons

Holding Back and Giving Up

Last week, I was surprised during the 10 a.m. sermon as God, for the first time in my life, not only added an illustration or joke, but actually filled my mind and my mouth with a whole new content for the sermon.

I attribute this to your prayers this month, asking God to give our church the Holy Spirit. And I need to mention that Denny and Irene Thurman, who were the prayer team last week, prayed with me and for me between the services, asking God to reveal more of his purpose.

The message I received up here in the pulpit last week was a challenge to identify areas of our lives that are “held back” from God, and to give them up to Him. We know that Jesus was the only perfect life offered up to the Father, we lift him to the Father as our offering always. But we are to “grow into the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13)and “be perfect”, which means “complete.” Jesus shows us this in Matthew19:16-21. Notice that the young man had lived much of his life in a Godly way, but was holding back something big, and that Jesus asks him to give it up.

In my daily prayers and Bible reading I am letting God shine some light on what exactly I’m “holding back.” I have some beginning insight but I don’t want to say more until He’s given me clear guidance and I actually start “giving it up.” Then I will share more and ask your specific prayers to help me put Jesus first in that aspect of my life.
[If you need a headline news example of this idea, last week's admission of long-term adultery by Governor Sanford of South Carolina is probably it. He has many fine qualities, but for whatever reason he exempted one area of his life from his own value system.]

For today, our Bible lessons give us several examples to reflect upon. We see people holding back and we see people giving up. Maybe we will recognize something of ourselves in them.

1) In our lesson from II Samuel, David laments the death of Saul. As I mentioned last week, David had profound flaws, but he was very good at giving up grudges. Saul tried to kill David several times, but David passed on a chance to kill Saul. At Saul’s death, David mourned him. Later, when David became King, he showed this same quality by forging alliances with former enemies.

David shows us that there is no weakness in giving up a grudge. David expanded ancient Israel to its greatest days in terms of territory, peace and prosperity. He did so as much by laying aside hostility as by conquest.

One of our greatest spiritual challenges is to give up grudges. So much of Jesus’ message is about this and it is written into our worship. The “passing of the peace” is not “intermission.” It is in the service to let us extend a hand to our neighbors, giving up any grudges we might be holding. Unwillingness to give up a grudge is one of the few reasons that a priest can refuse to give you communion (Book of Common Prayer, p. 409). To hold onto our grudges separates us from Christ; to give them up brings us closer to him.

2) Psalm 130 reminds us to give our time and attention to God. We hold back time and attention from God because they seem to be in such short supply in our busy lives.

The Psalm gives us the picture of a town watchman looking for daybreak, which is a symbol of a soul seeking God at all times. The watchman’s sacrifice of peering into the dark and listening through the wee hours is rewarded with the complete safety of the daylight. The Psalm tells us to bring our supplications – our needs – to God, and to seek His mercy and to find hope in his word. Our habits of prayer and Bible reading require us to surrender time and attention we might prefer to spend on other things, but by doing this we become more complete in Christ.

3) Paul asks the Corinthians for the hard one – “Give up some money.” Notice how Paul starts out: he praises the Corinthians for the many ways in which they “excel” for God. Then he turns to what they are holding back, which is their considerable resources as a key trade and transportation center. His pastoral care challenges them to be more complete people of God by generous giving – to devote themselves to “service of others” as we put it in our mission goals. The effort of churches in our diocese to help Christians in the Sudan is a direct reflection of this lesson, one we will look at again during our July 12th potluck.

As I said a few weeks ago, you can only give from what God actually puts in your hands. Circumstances can cut into the amount you give or even your ability to give for a period of time, and Paul is clear a few chapters later that none of us should give “under compulsion” (guilt being the usual form).

At the same time, we remember the rich young man who walked away from Jesus rather than give up treasure. When Fred Borsch was Bishop of Los Angeles, he like to tell his “In days of old when knights were bold” story. Knights used to be baptized with their sword arm out of the water to give them a superstitious justification for killing people. Bishop Borsch would wonder out loud if many Christians were baptized holding their wallets out of the water. The point is pretty obvious. We have to ask if we are holding back on what we can give to God’s work.

4) Finally, in our Gospel from Mark, we see people taking a risk by not holding back their faith (this is a counterpoint to the disciples in the boat last Sunday). Jairus and a chronically ill woman come to Jesus with faith, and they risk disappointment, rejection and embarrassment. Other people had already given up on their situations, the lesson tells us, or would laugh at the idea that Jesus could do anything.

But Jairus and the chronically ill woman push toward him just the same. And though their paths are not easy or pleasant, their faith is rewarded in ways they did not expect. Jairus and his family receive more than a healing, they get a resurrection. The woman receives more than the secret end to a problem - she hears a public word of praise and blessing from the Messiah.

Jesus can help us, and will help us, even when we are holding back our faith. He helps us every day in many ways we might not even notice. But when we take the risk of offering up our faith, of trusting him with our God-sized hopes and needs, he will do “much more than we can ask or imagine.”


Let us pray. Father, we call to you “out of the depths” of our needs, our fears and our hopes. Our souls wait for your light. We ask for the Holy Spirit to show us, through your Word, anything that we are holding back from you, and to guide us, by your Word, to give it up to you in the way you desire. We pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayer."

Dang that Eric Swennson. His comments are so good that I'm willing to shut down the Anglican venture and leave the Northern Plains church franchise to the Lutherans. Except that would provide theological justification for lutefisk.

But seriously, folks, his comments on media, faith and tyranny are worth a look.

I saw an example of what he's describing during the conflict in El Salvador. Two groups were demonstrating outside of a Salvadoran consulate in Los Angeles. One favored the right wing government, the other favored progressive reform. The two marched in circles, their chants getting more and more bellicose.

The progressive group suddenly shut up and dropped to its knees in prayer. The right wing group kept chanting, but after about 5 minutes they became tentative and disorganized, and they finally just packed up and left the scene.

Sobering evidence of Liberal* Protestantism's emptiness

Greg Griffith at Stand Firm analyzes the situation in Connecticut (wait, don't leave, there is a Northern Plains connection) in this post. Here's his key paragraph:

In this little episode we can glimpse the fear that grips the hard-line "progressive" leadership of the church. In Connecticut, a hotbed of religious liberalism* if there ever was one, headed by a bishop whose hard-line tactics easily stack up to (and indeed occasionally exceed) that of the presiding bishop, a congregation that its rector describes as "unique and represent[ing] an alive and diverse Christianity" can't afford to keep its doors open. If ever there were a surrounding population that is open to the message of the New Thing, it's Connecticut. If ever there were a bishop who's demonstrated his willingness to follow the Schori scorched-earth policy of dealing with dissent, it's Andrew Smith. The rector of Christ Church describes his parish's financial woes as "the perfect storm," but in fact the Diocese of Connecticut is the "perfect storm" for the Episcopal Church's New Thing. If it can't survive - indeed, thrive - there, then its chances of surviving anywhere else are slight at best.

* Note that this refers to churches that obscure or deny core teachings shared by most Christians around the world - mainly as to the divine nature, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is not about political liberalism; there are many orthodox, traditional Christians who are politically progressive.

The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut seized one church building and two other congregations walked out of theirs rather than face litigation. The result is two empty buildings, lots of bills for the Bishop to pay, and a third building with lots of debt and a marginal congregation that is not growing.

Greg's point, that CT is a coastal, progressive and affluent state where non-traditional Christianity should thrive, should be a wake up nudge to those of us here in "fly-over country." If it can't grow in CT, where the Bishop basically got rid of his pesky traditionalists, then what is to become of churches here on the Plains?

As one Native American participant said at a church meeting two years ago, "You (the church) need to get your spiritual message back. We have our Native religion and can always go back to that. We don't need more clergy to do 'programs' - we have those through the Tribal governments."

Liberal Protestantism is spiritually empty. That's why it's always looking for a cause or project to fill that sad, vacant place in its soul. But what it winds up with is more emptiness. Empty preaching. Empty prayers. Empty churches.

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them. 2 Peter 2:17-19

Probably too late, but regional Episcopalians draw on Bible, Tribal culture to challenge denomination's conflict, lack of listening and rash actions

Representatives from the dioceses comprising Province VI of The Episcopal Church met in Minnesota earlier this month.

They issued a statement to the Bishops and Deputies of the denomination's General Convention, which meets in Anaheim, CA in July. The statement, with an introductory comment, is on the Diocese of South Dakota site's Message Board.


This has come from the Province VI synod meeting held last weekend and is the result of discussions by the coaches or trainers regarding the public narrative process of the National Church they used at the meetings.

June 13, 2009

To the Bishops and Deputies of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church:

We the members of the Synod of Province VI, gathering in our Annual meeting in Bloomington, MN, prayerfully considered our participation at our next General Convention. With all due respect, we offer the following for your consideration.

We the people of the church in Province VI, Land of Mountains, Lakes and Plains, are thankful for our church and its people. We wonder if we might, as members of the church, see the harm we do to each other because of what is often seen as our need to be right, or our need to win. Perhaps this is the time when we remember the lessons of our elders: instead of answering questions, we might first ask questions; not saying, “I think this is what we should do;” but sitting and listening; and after the listening, remember that everyone is related to each other.

We might remember that the establishment of honor and respect is the first item on the agenda of our “to do” list. It is simply good manners to be respectful of our neighbors in our dealings with one another.

Perhaps this is time when we don’t make the mistake of behaving like we believe that silence needs to be filled. That listening can come after we have created space for listening.

We recognize that we will share conflict with each other. Perhaps, this is the time when those conflicts rise, or tensions increase, that we might consider turning around and entering into an time of fellowship. Where we might look at how we go about our disagreements, our dynamics in our disagreements, and ask ourselves, “are we being fair?” If we are saying that we recognize the face and voice of Christ in each and every person, then perhaps we might act as if we believed it.

Finally, we have the collective wisdom of scripture and our elders which says that we are connected to the earth and to each other. We have the collective wisdom of scripture and our elders which says that God is with us. We have the collective wisdom of scripture and our elders which says that love is always victorious.

We have the opportunity as a church to make our life together a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world, so that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.

Peace be with you.

The Members of the Province VI Synod


NPA comment: there is a sad irony in that last comment about "making our life together a sign of Christ's love to this sinful and broken world..." That is a prayer from the Marriage liturgy, the very area of church life that has come under the most rash attack by the national church. And General Convention might well adopt one or more resolutions to make the Marriage rite "gender neutral," totally obliterating the Biblical description of marriage as a mysterious reflection of the love between God and humanity. The marriage rite leans on the reality that men and women are very different, and that their ability to make and keep a covenant is a God-given sign of "estrangement overcome."

The wider Anglican Communion spent years calling on TEC to enter a "listening process" and refrain from rash actions, but TEC only accelerated its unilateral agenda. All the while, the Presiding Bishop and other TEC leaders have been telling the church that "all is well" and covering up evidence of conflict and decline in the church. And the "coaches and trainers of the public narrative process of the National Church" know this.

All is NOT well, but all is not lost, either. Tonight I read Luke 22:31-38 at Evening Prayer:

'Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.' And he said to him, 'Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!' Jesus said, 'I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.' He said to them, 'When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?' They said, 'No, not a thing.' He said to them, 'But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, "And he was counted among the lawless"; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.' They said, 'Lord, look, here are two swords.' He replied, 'It is enough.'

Jesus warns Peter that Satan will rough up the church. Even those closest to Jesus - even Peter himself - will fall away. The church will "buy swords", and take to the world's fallen ways of conflict.

But, as the Province VI statement says, God will be with the church. Jesus has prayed for those who are about to betray him. And love will be victorious - Jesus does come back and make Peter a rock who rallies and strengthens the church.

I pray for pockets of faith, hope and love within the Episcopal Church and in the new Anglican movement (ACNA) that has walked away from TEC. Christ has prayed for both. Though we have smeared his good name, wielding the swords of our egos so that our Lord is "counted among the lawless," he has prayed for us, and he will preserve faith in some waffling leaders, and some of them will turn back when Satan's sifting is done and they will strengthen brothers and sisters in Christ to rebuild some better Anglican Christian witness, here on the Northern Plains and around the world.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Somebody died?

Our autistic kid loves rapidly moving visual stuff, so YouTube is a fave to watch movie trailers.

When I was bringing it up for him this morning, all of the "most viewed" and "currently viewed" videos were Michael Jackson. The King of Pop's death dominates the news. Farrah Fawcett gets mention but she's clearly in eclipse. Ed McMahon is already archival.

Last night, The Book of Common Prayer featured this lesson:

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 'You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:24-30

A God's eye view of greatness is very different from ours. If we could see who God is YouTubing, we would say, "Huh? Who's that?"

As you go about your day, try to be aware of the folks who make it better, gentler, more joyful. Some of them are in your family, some are "familiar" in other settings like your workplace. Some you will just bump into for a bit and never see again.

The world will not turn itself inside out looking for news when one of them dies. But do mark them among your favorites. God posted them as pictures of heaven.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Nukes: nervous non-policy?

Nuclear tensions not felt since the Cold War are with us in the forms of sabre-rattling North Korea and Iran, and in unstable Pakistan.

Does the United States have a policy for the use of its own nuclear weapons?

I first had this thought during the Vice-Presidential debate last year. I blogged my concerns that neither then-Senator Biden or Governor Palin were able to give a solid answer to this very direct question:

What should be the trigger, or should there be a trigger, when nuclear weapons use is ever put into play?

Governor Palin went first and did toss in the word "deterrent," but in terms of specific action spoke only of keeping nukes out of hostile hands. She then sidestepped into a discourse on Afghanistan and never answered the question.

Senator (now Vice President) Biden piggybacked, using up most of his response time on Afghanistan. He then spoke of the need for "arms control" and never gave an answer about when nuclear weapons might be used.

I called it "spooky" that two individuals who were trying to stand one heartbeat from the Presidency - one heartbeat from Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, one heartbeat from our only public office authorized to make the nuclear call - couldn't offer even a broad principle for using these weapons.

But these were the Veep candidates, after all, and perhaps their respective standard bearers and campaign staff had warned them to "play safe" and avoid controversial specifics.

Then, early this month, President Obama spoke in Cairo, Egypt. The speech contained some strong and even provocative statements, and some affirmations of America's right to defend itself. Until it came to the issue of nuclear arms.

The President, in perhaps the weakest paragraph of the entire speech, said

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

Compare that with his earlier, sterner words

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not - and never will be - at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people...

He shifted from "relentless confrontation to protect the American people" to a toothless reiteration of treaties that are already being ignored.

I make no claim to be an expert in International Relations or national defense, but I was a Cold War soldier, stationed in Europe with a nuclear armed artillery battalion. Our potential to fire nukes into numerically superior Soviet tank formations was one small piece of American defense and foreign policy, and the fact that we were trained and willing to use the weapons in certain circumstances actually helped deter a third European bloodbath in the Twentieth century - a war which might well have escalated into weapons of mass destruction (WMD) around the world.

I see two possible policy answers and have to wonder why neither major political party has people able to speak either of them.

1) "We will make measured and limited use of nuclear weapons if necessary to prevent much greater destruction." This was President Truman's decision in order to end WWII. Despite some revisionist historians' claims, a conventional invasion of Japan would have been an unimaginable slaughter and humanitarian nightmare for both sides. The Allies had already seen Japanese soldiers and even their families on garrisoned islands commit suicide rather than surrender. Conventional bombing of Japanese cities was igniting the largely wooden construction into fire storms that literally sucked thousands into incinerating funnel clouds. The dropping of two atomic bombs ended the war and killed far fewer people on both sides than would have been lost in an invasion, an inevitably long conventional effort to subdue the Japanese home islands, a guerrilla resistance by well trained and zealous forces, the horrific displacement of civilians, escalating deaths due to disruption of sanitation and other infrastructure, and possible escalation as other regional powers took advantage of the chaos.

Would a nuclear strike on a belligerent and apocalyptic nation's WMD capacity be legitimized by such a policy? Yes. Would the belligerent and apocalyptic nation's ability to terrorize the world be more likely without such a policy? Yes. It contributes more to the world's stability, I believe, to state this policy than to mumble a vague "Let's hope we don't have to deal with that," which seems to be what both major parties offer today.

2) "We will use nuclear weapons against any nation or movement that uses WMD against the American people or their allies." This is the old Cold War "Mutually Assured Destruction" (MAD) concept. It has been the primary deterrent to WMD use since 1945.

MAD has its weaknesses today. The Cold War was waged by calculating power blocs, but WMD are now in the hands of unstable and even self-destructive regimes. If Pakistan descends into chaos, WMD could well be in the hands of a diffuse movement rather than a nation state, and MAD would require a new ruthlessness that does not fit well with our Western values. We would have to be willing to vaporize a "Holy City" or a cluster of villages and their schools full of jihad-indoctrinated children if they doubled as WMD bases.

"Isn't there another way? What about President Obama's call to build a nuke-free world?" Are we willing to pay that price? Are we willing to let the CIA destabilize - even eliminate - foreign leaders who get the WMD jones? Because it will take that, plus deterrence, plus efforts at consensus-building and alliance, plus many other realities beyond the formalities and photo-ops at a negotiating table. And remember, some of the folks likely to have nukes in the near future won't tell you where their tables are or even who has authority to sit at them.

Goodness gracious this is a "Christian" blog. Like I said above, I am no expert on Caesar's kingdom. But I know enough to worry when one of the glories of our Constitution, the delegation of ultimate military authority to an elected, accountable civilian President, comes out in twitches and mumbles instead of a level gaze and a firm word.

Back to what I know a bit about. Let us pray...

For Peace
Almighty God, kindle, we beseech thee, in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with thy wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth, that in tranquillity thy dominion may increase till the earth is filled with the knowledge of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

For the President and All in Civil Authority
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, the Governor of this State (or Commonwealth), 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 Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A town in need of our prayers and love

Last year, much of Parkersburg, Iowa was destroyed by a tornado.

Today, the town's celebrated High School football coach was shot and killed by a former student.

Parkersburg is our parish Sunday School Director's hometown. Please pray for Parkersburg - they are enduring much.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why a new Anglican group might not be much better than The Episcopal Church

UPDATE: Folks, I was in a near car wreck today so my adrenalin was a bit up. I reacted to some sarcasm with this post. I'm not going to take the post down, but let me say a couple of things for clarity:
  • I have lots of friends in ACNA, and a bunch of them are in Bedford.
  • ACNA is taking in the real missionaries that TEC is throwing away. The influence of mission-minded leaders is why a person like Rick Warren was invited to speak and why he accepted.
  • But the 'tude thrown at me on the other site does give me pause. How much of the old Episcopalian snobbery, even if "traditional," has relocated? It didn't advance the Gospel in TEC, and it ain't gonna advance it in ACNA.
  • I think that the jury remains out on Anglicanism in North America... but I will keep praying and working.


Earlier, I blogged about the value of Rick Warren's insights into congregational ministry, which he shared with a newly formed Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

But on another site, a commenter wrote:

I specifically avoided Warren, a non-reading, broad evangelical. Give me some substance and Warren didn't fail to meet my zero-standards. Please afford us some depth.

When I posted a reply defending Warren's value for a church that needs its ideas put to work in mission, the commenter came back with:

Thanks Tim for your curious thoughts, although rather unhelpful theologically. Thanks again.

So there ya go. I can have ACNA, with a wrapped-too-tight traditional museum/church constituency, or I can have The Episcopal Church, with a campy-albeit-moldy cabaret/church constituency.

Neither vision very inspiring, thanks. My doubts about Anglicanism just keep on growing.

Yeah, clergy are idiots. But you multiply idiots without us.

Short, insightful book review over at First Things. Kristen Scharold takes a look at David Plotz's Good Book. Plotz, a minimally observant Jew, decided to read the whole Jewish Bible, and blogged his reactions as he went. His web commentary has been shaped into a book.

One of Scharold's best pick-ups is how Plotz, sometimes unintentionally, shows the futility of a purely individual effort to read and "interpret" the Bible.

But what [Good Book] does become is a reminder to Bible-believing readers why Christianity and Judaism are bolstered by centuries of debate and agreement. Plotz’s example underscores the value that preachers, rabbis, and commentators add to one’s understanding of Scripture. One can read the Bible on one’s own and come to understand some of it—even Plotz had several profound eureka moments—but to appreciate the depth, unity, and nuance of a complex God, it helps to have some assistance.

With humorous lucidity, Plotz illustrates our dependence on, yes, context (gasp!). He reveals our desperate need for tradition and authority, sources of context which help us grasp the parts and the whole of Scripture.

James Gibson at Sanctus pointed me to the review. His post title is great: All You Need is a Bible to Create a Heresy. The lone reader as sufficient interpreter of Scripture is asserted both by non-believers and Protestant Christians, both of which tend to mulitply eccentric and divisive positions (that's why we have so many denominations and so many "experts" able to do History Channel Bible criticism).

A great missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church (yes, we had a very few) was John Henry Hobart, who expanded the Diocese of New York out from NYC and into the rest of the state. His motto, "Evangelical Faith and Apostolic Order," is a good expression of a healthy Christianity that looks to the Bible for insight while valuing the hard earned wisdom of past generations in the church.

Pastor/author Rick Warren speaks to newly formed North American Anglican church

I've refrained from comments on this controversial meeting, but Rick Warren's talk on what a church should be should be useful to anybody not listening for media-hyped "issues." Really refreshing if you are a church leader at the local level. What is offered by congregations of different traditions and sizes all over South Dakota does have meaning and value to God. Our work is to see what God values (people, most of all) and do our work accordingly. Anyway, it's all in the video from Anglican TV. Let's hope the folks who heard his address will act on some of it.

The Episcopal Church's General Convention meets next month, and their guest speaker is no slouch: "Emerging Church" advocate Brian McClaren. Unfortunately, the Episcopalian mania for money, bureaucracy, titles and entitlements, ideological rigidity and other harsh features will likely blunt any of the insights McLaren will try to share. McLaren's made the mistake of looking at Episcopal press releases rather than the actual behavior of the denomination.

Barna Group research suggests similarities, differences between straight and gay Christians - and Episcopalians' massive miscalculation

The Barna Group's own report is here and should be looked at because those of us who "interpret" it are likely to grind our own various axes.

While Barna surveyed over 9,000 people, the self-identified gay respondents were less than 300, which presents considerable room for error in social research assumptions.

With that caveat, here are some highlights and some of my thoughts:

One of the most basic beliefs has to do with one’s understanding of God. This proved to be one of the biggest differences noted in the study. While seven out of every ten heterosexuals (71%) have an orthodox, biblical perception of God, just 43% of homosexuals do. In fact, an equal percentage possesses a pantheistic view about deity – i.e., that “God” refers to any of a variety of perspectives, such as personally achieving a state of higher consciousness or maximized personal potential, or that there are multiple gods that exist, or even that everyone is god.

If that is accurate, it is a major difference and certainly makes sense of the conflict going on in denominations attempting to address LGBT participation. If you can't agree on an understanding of God, which is item #1 in just about any Christian Creed or Catechism, how can you move on to talk about church practices?

George Barna, whose company conducted the research, pointed out that some popular stereotypes about the spiritual life of gays and lesbians are simply wrong.

“People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts,” declared the best-selling author of numerous books about faith and culture. “A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.

“The data indicate that millions of gay people are interested in faith but not in the local church and do not appear to be focused on the traditional tools and traditions that represent the comfort zone of most churched Christians. Gay adults clearly have a different way of interpreting the Bible on a number of central theological matters, such as perspectives about God. Homosexuals appreciate their faith but they do not prioritize it, and they tend to consider faith to be individual and private rather than communal.

“It is interesting to see that most homosexuals, who have some history within the Christian Church, have rejected orthodox biblical teachings and principles – but, in many cases, to nearly the same degree that the heterosexual Christian population has rejected those same teachings and principles. Although there are clearly some substantial differences in the religious beliefs and practices of the straight and gay populations, there may be less of a spiritual gap between straights and gays than many Americans would assume.”

If Barna is correct (again, a big IF given the small number of homosexual respondents), this points to helpful news for people who want to be neighbors in spite of differences, and suggests how elitist and eccentric the LGBT activists might be.

The implication for the Episcopal Church is staggering. If it is straight Christians who make use of traditional church structures, and gay Christians who consider faith a more private matter, then the endless fight to create an LGBT clergy caste serves neither group. The irrelevant and self-destructive direction of Episcopalian elites manifests in almost every measurable marker of denominational life. Its own "State of the Church Report" admits that there is no outreach to non-members, constant conflict among current members, and decline by attrition of about 19,000 people per year - the numerical equivalent of losing one geographical diocese every 12 months.

h/t Dakota Voice

Ah, South Dakota. Never boring.

Wow, the dog and I were enjoying the sunshine and marvelling at the thriving flowers, plants and trees just about an hour ago...

But the sky just went dark and we are under "Severe Thunderstorm Watch" until 4 p.m. Ah... there's the first good thunderclap...

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

If you know the the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, Chelsea Square, New York City...

Go to this site.
Click "Skip Intro"
Click "About"
Click "Location"
Is that picture and the accompanying blurb worth 1,000 words? How about just four words on the interior wall of the chapel:

"Your word is truth."

That's John 17:17 (it is in Latin in the chapel, and as it appears on the Seminary's heraldic shield.

These are four words from a prayer that Jesus offers up for his followers, asking that they become God's unique people through the divine word that is revealed to them.

Any of that unique identity mentioned or left intact by the 99 year lease that the Brodsky Organization now holds for the GTS campus?

Monday, June 22, 2009

A look at China's "Green Dam" internet censorship program

The Wikileaks article says,

Green Dam is a new Chinese state censorship program mandated to be provided with all PC's sold in China after July 1, 2009. This system "complements" the existing internet censorship system, and extends it to many third party applications, such as Skype and text editors.

This ZIP file provides a web page and associated computer code that can be used to remotely take control of any computer system running the Green Dam software. The only requirement is that the user is enticed to look at a site hosting the page.

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"The sky god had way better songs"

Harvey Cox was a sociologist and he was famous for the participant-observer model. Down with the detached and antiseptic observer and up with the observer who threw him or herself wholeheartedly into the experience and then came apart to reflect and analyze. As part of the class Harvey brought in a musician who was an expert in the Gospel music of Appalachia. The young man was an ethnomusicologist and this genre was his specialty. Harvey wanted us to sing the songs and have some of the experience. The musician was himself skeptical. He introduced the songs by saying, ” There is the religion of the earth and the religion of the sky and we are more earth people now but we are going to sing some songs of the sky god tonight.”

Go here and read the rest of Dr. Harding's short, penetrating reflection on music and things spiritual.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

OK, this has not happened to me before

I am sitting here disoriented and a bit giddy.

I have been preaching for 20 years now and what just happened at our 10 a.m. service is brand new to me.

I've had illustrations or ideas pop into my head while preaching before - little extras that helped engage the congregation or amplify a point.

But this morning I had an almost entire makeover of the sermon come at me while in the pulpit.

This was not my mind retrieving stuff that I edited out earlier in the week - this was a brand new insight and a pointed message which filled my consciousness and went to my tongue with unusual simplicity and clarity.

The folks got it - it's what they talked about at the church door and the coffee tables.

Right now I just need to be still but I'm throwing this out for input from other preachers.

An encouraging (research) word for Dads

Great myth-buster piece by W. Bradford Wilcox. Men tend to endure discouragement quietly, and the air is full of unchallenged myths that minimize the contribution and value of dads. So check this article out and allow yourself a few "Woo-HOO!" moments. You'll sure have one as Wilcox takes down


The final myth propagated by journalists in connection with fatherhood these days is the myth of the dispensable father. Often conjured up in glowing profiles of women who have become single mothers by choice, this myth holds that fathers do not play a central role in children’s lives.

This myth fails to take into account the now-vast social scientific literature (discussed above) showing that children typically do better in an intact, married families with their fathers than they do in families headed by single mothers.

It also overlooks the growing body of research indicating that fathers bring distinctive talents to the parenting enterprise. The work of psychologist Ross Parke, for instance, indicates that fathers are more likely than mothers to engage their children in vigorous physical play (e.g., roughhousing), to challenge their children — including their daughters — to embrace life’s challenges, and to be firm disciplinarians.

Not surprisingly, children benefit from being exposed to the distinctive paternal style. Sociologist David Eggebeen has shown, for instance, that teenagers are significantly less likely to suffer from depression and delinquency when they have involved and affectionate fathers, even after controlling for the quality of their relationship with their mother. In his words, “What these analyses clearly show is that mothers and fathers both make vital contributions to adolescent well-being.”

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Strange Letter from General Theological Seminary, er, "Brodsky's Chelsea Enclave Condominiums"

An open letter from Dean Ward Ewing arrived in the mail, dated June 11th. It is not yet up on the seminary's website, and I don't have time to type the whole thing so here's a summary:

GTS, which is in New York City, has leased out its land to a company called the Brodsky Organization. Brodsky has a 99 year lease, for which it paid a lump sum of around $33,000,000 (29 million, plus 4 million more added to offset inflation).

While GTS will continue to operate, the campus on Chelsea Square will be turned into Brodsky's Chelsea Enclave, which contains 53 luxury condominiums for sale to the public.

Dean Ewing is upset because The Chronicle of Higher Education's June 12th issue lists the $33,000,000 as a liability on the seminary's books because, as the Dean explains, "we cannot count the full amount as income; rather we only count what we would receive each year in rent..."

Because the seminary books show this big liability, the Chronicle lists GTS as one of "114 private, nonprofit degree-granting colleges that are in such fragile financial condition...that they failed the Department [of Education]'s financial-responsibility test." (online access to the Chronicle issue requires a paid subscription).

Dean Ewing publishes his open letter to say that this is all a misread of the accounting. "In light of other seminaries' decline, this article will encourage rumors that General Seminary may close. I write to assure you that the event that put us on this list is actually part of the reason we are financially healthier today than we were two years ago."

Fair enough, but let's not overlook the distress that has led General to lease out its historic property for commercial use.
  • - Last July, the Dean wrote "Our property was our greatest financial asset--which we would need to leverage to improve our fiscal situation--but it was also our greatest liability in that we faced a rapidly deteriorating plant with over $100 million in deferred maintenance." GTS has ceased to be its own financial master, and has had to lease its campus to commercial interests to make repairs and keep the doors open.
  • - In April this year, the Dean sent another letter explaining that "the Seminary successfully refinanced its current indebtedness and closed on a $22 million with M&T Bank. The loan will pay off existing debt, construction cost overruns, and provide working capital for the next two years."

GTS won't "close," but it is operating on borrowed money and the surrender of its property to commercial interests. Yes, accounting can be confusing and misleading, but so can the claim that the seminary is healthy when its resources are so heavily encumbered by non-church interests.

The GTS situation is a reflection of the overall decline of denominational churches generally and the Episcopal Church (TEC) in particular. It is telling that TEC, whose General Convention uniquely chartered the seminary in 1817, has to let the school fend for itself.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Resources for Father's Day

Thoughts, prayers and encouragement on the Church of England website.

Are you lost for words this Fathers’ Day? The Church of England has produced a prayer of blessing that you can use in your Fathers’ Day cards, to help you express your thankfulness to God for your Father and to ask God’s blessing on him. This prayer is reproduced below:

I thank God for all the love and support you offer me,
and I ask for God's blessing on you this Fathers’ Day:
may God our heavenly Father keep you in his care,
support and guide you each day
and help you grow in love and wisdom.
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

h/t TitusOneNine


Louie Crew is a gay activist who has, for some years, called many of the shots in The Episcopal Church (TEC).

Crew was on the "Executive Council", a group mandated to carry out programs established every three years by the General Convention of the denomination.

But with Crew in the driver's seat, the Council went beyond that mandate in egregious ways, without public discussion:

  • - Declaring the denomination a formal supporter of a radical pro-abortion group, which then put "The Episcopal Church" on its publications
  • - Making large decisions to cut and redirect various denominational budget items, mainly to fund litigation against clergy and congregations who dissented from the direction of the church.

Ah, but now there is an anonymous subcommittee of some sort discussing how to navigate the chaos inflicted on the denomination by the LGBT activists. And guess what? Louie is suddenly passionate about open government in the church.

Read Frankenstein, Louie. The monster ultimately turns on its maker.

Or look into this other book, if you dare.

Prayers for international tensions

The Mission St. Clare site (see "Daily Morning/Evening Prayer" under my Useful Links to the right) posted two gathering prayers, or Collects (pr. CALL-ects) this morning that are worth keeping up in this time of international tension and instability:

For Our Enemies
God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Social Justice
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Darkness is my only companion

Way back when I was privileged to study with the late Bernhard Anderson, author of a widely read introduction to the Old Testament. When I took a class with him, he'd just published a commentary on the Psalms.

A Methodist, he was surprised but gratified to find out that the Episcopal The Book of Common Prayer includes Psalm 88 in its lectionary of daily readings. Many churches omit that Psalm from public worship, because of its agonized pleas to a God who doesn't answer. Unlike most Psalms, it ends on a note of despair.

It was in the readings this morning. On a Friday, it serves as a reminder of Christ's sacrifice on the cross - the total despair and abandonment he faced so that we can have new and eternal life in God's presence.

Apart from that liturgical use, Psalm 88 shows that God knows and can make holy every point in our life's journey, even the moments that seem most bereft of anything good. Read it, and offer even your hidden agonies to God:

Psalm 88

O LORD, my God, my Savior, *by day and night I cry to you.
Let my prayer enter into your presence; *incline your ear to my lamentation.
For I am full of trouble; *my life is at the brink of the grave.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; *I have become like one who has no strength;
Lost among the dead, *like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom you remember no more, *for they are cut off from your hand.
You have laid me in the depths of the Pit, *in dark places, and in the abyss.
Your anger weighs upon me heavily, *and all your great waves overwhelm me.
You have put my friends far from me;you have made me to be abhorred by them; *I am in prison and cannot get free.
My sight has failed me because of trouble; *LORD, I have called upon you daily;I have stretched out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead? *will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?
Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? *your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Will your wonders be known in the dark? *or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?
But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help; *in the morning my prayer comes before you.
LORD, why have you rejected me? *why have you hidden your face from me?
Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the point of death; *I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind.
Your blazing anger has swept over me; *your terrors have destroyed me;
They surround me all day long like a flood; *they encompass me on every side.
My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, *and darkness is my only companion.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Should a "Eulogy" (presentation about the deceased's life story) be part of Christian burial?

Short answer: Yes.

To ignore a person's life story in an individualistic culture like ours is the kind of tone-deafness that makes the church weird and irrelevant to the unchurched.

The question then becomes how to remember the person without compromising the message of Christ. This is a serious matter:
  • + Eulogies can become (or at least be misunderstood as) a required presentation of good deeds to justify the deceased's entrance into heaven. This undoes the Christian message of salvation, which is a gift from God received by faith.
  • + An unexamined acceptance of eulogies cannot help but lead to a "salvation by works" message, in which a mentally ill homeless guy who dies in a gutter can't go to heaven (no available file of his good deeds and nice personality), while a narcissistic, drug abusing, serially divorced, child neglecting movie star does get in for giving lots of money to the rehab center and doing public service announcements against global warming.

Here are a few practices that I find helpful in addressing the eulogy issue:

  1. Stress, at the start of the service, before the eulogy and anywhere else you can, that the eulogy is an act of thanksgiving. I usually say something like, "In this part of our service, we think about X as a gift from God, giving thanks for any ways in which our lives were blessed through X's life with us."
  2. Don't do a eulogy unless you really know the deceased and want to offer a thanksgiving for him or her. I give families an option: one of them can offer the eulogy or, because I recognize that speaking at a funeral is very difficult, I will gladly read a eulogy that they produce. I introduce this in the service by saying something like, "Those who most intimately shared X's life have written down some of their memories as a way of thanking God for X. As I read this on their behalf, you might have memories coming up as well. Give thanks to God for the way in which your life was blessed by X's."
  3. If the family has a member who wants to speak, be clear with them about your expectations and ask for notes or text well before the service. I've been burned by a family who wanted X's "beloved nephew" to offer "the eulogy," only to have the nephew get up and do a sermon, explaining why X was "saved" according to the nephew's church, with the clear implication that anything I might get up and preach was not "real Christianity" and need not be heard.
  4. Know your theological boundaries. Let your "Yes be yes and your no be no," with gracious clarity. I've had requests to alter Bible passages, for example, because the family liked some of the words but "didn't agree with that part." That's a "no" for me. Your church is not a "rented hall" and you can say "no" to requests that violate your teachings and values.
  5. Above all, make sure that you preach a sermon after the eulogy. Point the people toward God. You can actually bridge from eulogy to sermon quite nicely if you've used idea #1 above: "Having given thanks for the ways that God blessed us through X's life, we now share the work of returning X to God. Letting go of one we love is painful, but our lessons today give us hope that pain and loss are not the final word for people of faith..."

This doesn't claim to be the final answer for the eulogy issue. I totally respect those who, like some Roman Catholic Bishops, have banned eulogies in order to avoid the misconceptions they can cause. But I think that allowing eulogies has positive potential if there is good communication with the deceased's family and, most of all, well thought out, clear and authentic worship leadership and preaching during the service.

A Christian burial service with a eulogy can reflect Christ's Great Commandment, by lifting thanks and glory to God while dealing gently and responsively with the people.

*@*%$&* TENT! (Hey, better than "I feel your pain")

This week included the funeral of a great lady who endured a long decline, and visits with folks facing amputation, brain impairment and other afflictions.

Today I was moved to share this bit of the Bible with a couple at a nursing facility:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
II Corinthians 5:1-6

I wasn't comfortable reading this. If there's anything to these words, it is better understood by the couple across the table, who have suffered more bodily impairment - "destruction of the tent" - than I can even imagine. And if they find the words empty or insincere, I have little experiential knowledge from which to dispute them. I've been blessed with a healthy life so far.

Yet the couple across the table, judging from the glint in their eyes and their nods, did hear something true in the words. Not something to "make it all better," but something true that was more than the moment and that made the moment part of something more.

Those of us who seek Jesus need to use the Bible when we offer comfort on his behalf. Too many of us speak in pop-psych platitudes and affectations, by which we abandon our strongest resource and offer a cheap burlesque of what a legitimately trained psychotherapist might bring. We don't bring our best to those who need it. The Bible has time-tested spiritual power, insight and depth; we are limited by our own small experiences of reality.

Looking at that Scripture after the visit, I realized how much was "going on" beyond my understanding. Those few verses said so much more to the couple across the table than all of my words offered over an hour long visit:
  • + the earthly tent we live in: There's an amazing dose of reality. Our earthly body is a temporary place to stay. It is not a permanent structure that can be retrofitted, repaired or rebuilt for as long as we want. This is counter to all of our uncritical faith in fix-it medical technology and pharmacology, Nip/Tuck feelgood cosmetic surgery, values based on looks and youth, magic diets and supplements, and so many other death-denying assumptions.
  • + we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. There's some awesome theology - "knowledge of God." There's the idea that if we have something more than this body, it is not of our own making. There's the insight, both in symbol ("house" replaces "tent") and statement ("eternal in the heavens") of a reality not limited by natural finitude. There is the love of a divinity that gives us this new "building" in which to live forever.
  • + For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling: There's the sweet empathy that our pop-psych aims for and generally misses. There's the affirmation that it is both human and holy to groan under the sufferings of this life, and to long for something more.
  • + if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. There's the chance to help those who can't be "fixed" physically. "Are there things you still need to say or hear or do? Are you at peace with God?" Here, for Christians, comes the time for sacramental ministry, be it Baptism to "put on Christ" or Confession to peel off patches from our moldy old tent or Unction to mark the site of God's newest "building."
  • + so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. There's a promise of transformation. Not "life support" to keep some function, any function going, but a disappearance of that which suffers and dies so that only life emerges.
  • + He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. There's the good news for a person of faith. "You're not at a dead end. You are at the end of the hard path and near the narrow gate. You are about to finish the race as a winner."

For a follower of Jesus, The Bible is "the Word of God containing all things necessary to salvation." It will express what God has to say better than our efforts at eloquence. Paul instructs the recipients of one of his inspired letters, "Therefore encourage one another with these words" (I Thessalonians 4:18).

So, are we just robotic readers in our pastoral visits? Hardly. Along with the Word, God sends us. "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15) is but an affirmation that we are chosen to be the face, the voice, the touch of Jesus himself:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied.

Jesus wept.

(John 11:32-35)

Garden... Snake... Garden... Snake... Sounds like trouble but I still can't put my finger on it...

Great up close 'n' personal pic by SD blogger Flying Tomato Farms. And I think her post helped me clear up a Bible study problem. She writes:

...if you don’t like snakes, quit reading now!

Which explains why so few people ever get past Genesis.

"We are a SMALL church"

"We are a small church" was a rebuke given me for some of my criticisms of Episcopal Church (TEC) shrinkage.

It really has me thinking about my ministry gifts and how to use them. Is there room in TEC for people who like to help congregations grow, or is that for "those other churches"? Let me share an intriguing case study:

Fr. Jerry Cimijotti used to be Rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Mitchell. He left in 2005. As you can see from TEC's statistics site, St. Mary's has suffered an aggregate decline of membership and attendance over the last reported decade. (A new Rector with some energy came, and the attendance has come back up a bit, but not to the 2002 level).

Looking at the stats, one might infer that Jerry was not much of a leader. He went to a small church and it got smaller. But is that fair?
  • + Notice that the decline which preceded Jerry's departure began in 2003. That is the year in which TEC ignored widespread warnings and consecrated a gay activist as Bishop of New Hampshire. Across the church, conflict and decline accelerated.
  • + And where did Jerry go? To Spokane, WA in one of the least religious parts of the country. And in that less-than-friendly setting, he helped develop a congregation, Christ the King Anglican Church, from three families to a viable parish that is now planting a second congregation.

One of the under (actually, un-) reported stories in the Anglican/Episcopalian upheavals is that TEC has isolated, alienated and in many cases lost its clergy most gifted and passionate for evangelism, church planting, congregational development and growth.

The denomination has favored clergy who represent or symbolize "causes", without regard to leadership gifts or skill. There is much talk of "clergy self-care", pension entitlements for mid-life clergy vocations, mandatory financial assessments to fund diocesan and denominational bureaucracy and superstructure, and other clericalism while congregations stagnate and decline.

A powerful current example of this bad choice is Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco. It has suffered horrific declines in recent years. The interim Rector is retired Bishop Otis Charles, known for "marrying" his male partner and for his past advocacy of narcotics as an aid to "spirituality." Despite its historic presence in a large urban center, and the presence of a gay rector in a gay-friendly city, Trinity is on the verge of closing, as its congregation has become too small to make needed earthquake retrofits.

TEC is enthralled with the idea that making a media splash leads to church development, and with the deadly assumption that the church is property and positions instead of people. On top of this, denominational leaders drop hints that only a few people are even qualified to be Episcopalians: "Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations...We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the Earth and not use more than their portion."

Meanwhile, Jerry Cimijotti is a significant leader in the development of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a controversial but emerging group to which over 10% of TEC's active members have gone. ACNA has become a refuge for many of the clergy who were TEC's most effective leaders for evangelism and congregational growth.

South Dakota Bloggers: An affirmation well worth 17 minutes of your time

h/t Greg Griffith, Stand Firm in Faith

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Electrophysiology" - Avera Heart Hospital, Sioux Falls, moves from treatment toward cures...

The two medical systems headquartered here in Sioux Falls are doing some exciting research along with the fine care they provide. An earlier post noted Sanford Health's international team to seek a cure for Type-1 (Juvenile) Diabetes.

At Avera Heart Hospital, Doctors specializing in electrophysiology are using knowledge of the human body's flow of electricity to actually solve cardiac problems.

Mohama performed an ablation, using a wire inside a tube-like catheter to reach Van Ginkel's heart and burn away tissue that had created a dangerous pathway for electricity...

A healthy heart runs on a flow of electricity from current coursing nonstop through the body. Heart tissue, however, can grow at the subatomic level in a way that blocks the flow and forces the current to find a secondary route. That can create an electrical short, and with electricity looping away from the desirable path...

...a recipe for fatigue or stroke... Under such conditions, "the heart does not squeeze blood effectively, blood stagnates and clots can form..."

Sanctify, O Lord, those whom you have called to the study
and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of
disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life-giving Spirit,
that by their ministries the health of the community may be
promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen. The Book of Common Prayer, 1979

It's not just China. Euro and Pacific Rim Democracies want to control the internet, too

In Britain, a "block list" of harmful Web sites, used by all the major Internet Service Providers, is maintained by a private foundation with little transparency and no judicial or government oversight of the list. At least one British family protection group, Mediamarch, has already spoken out in support of the Green Dam concept of moving censorship from the network down to the device level.
Rebecca MacKinnon, Wall Street Journal Asia

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There are some good perspectives collected at Lutheran Forum. Like Episcopalians and other of the old "mainline" denominations of the defunct American cultural consensus, Lutherans (talkin' ELCA here) are grappling with "issues" (talkin' how to justify actively gay clergy and other LGBT ceremonies here).

An April piece by Sarah Wilson really hits the key issue. When an honest review of what a church stands for does not support an agenda, activists for the agenda will revert to "enthusiasm," which is to say "We feel so strongly about this that it just has to be the Holy Spirit proving us right."

Wilson takes on a Lutheran sexuality report clause which sounds remarkably Episcopalian, although the reality is that LGBT activists coordinate from their primary identity and then work across denominational lines:

“WHEREAS, the Church of Christ sometimes has been surprised by the actions of the Spirit, as is reported in the book of Acts when the inclusion of Gentiles was affirmed…”

Go to the link and read Wilson's whole demolition of this weak argument. She outs all the usual activist tricks, such as twisting theological words and invoking sweeping "principles" that have been emptied of their traditional meaning. Her conclusion is no-nonsense:

...there is no adequate biblical case to be made for the recommendations presented here, and a shoddy attempt to invoke divine backup for something that cannot be argued from the Scriptures. Normally this is called “ideology” or “idolatry.” One way or another, it is another step away from being an identifiably Lutheran church.

As for The Episcopal Church, its General Convention will meet next month in an enthusiasm fest. Most of the major resolutions that are proposed seek to make the LGBT agenda the working theology of the withering denomination.

Tweet from ejswensson

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"...our destiny is to embrace the enemy — to smell the sweat of the enemy — and that is why God has supported us..."

The UK's Church Times recently published an amazing report on church life in Pakistan.

In this volatile setting, Christians — 85 per cent of whom work in menial jobs — provide care for all in need. “We are trying to recreate God’s love as we have experienced it in Jesus Christ, and those people of God are the Taliban and al-Qaeda and Chris­tians, whoever they are..."

"We clean the wounds of the children, and that gives us the right to be of service there. But how do we serve others if we do not get support? This is why I yell at our global Christian siblings for support..."

"We are in the im­possible situation of a slow death, a slow suffocation by prejudice, despite all our service. It is the challenge of our times. How do we co-exist in a situation of majority Islam?"

One of his clergy, in the North Waziristan region, had described how the community commissioned a young man as a suicide-bomber. “Prayers are said, and the Holy Qur’an placed on his head, and on top of that a metal key to symbolise the key to paradise. It is a day of celebration for the community... We must engage with jihadists and intellectual jihadists, and challenge them. If they say Islam is a religion of peace, we welcome that, and let’s work together for that."

The story mentions barnabasaid, a ministry specifically devoted to helping persecuted Christians around the world. If you are moved and have means, you can send support via their website.