Sunday, August 30, 2009

Time for a break

I need to take a break from blogging.

After giving thanks this week for God's provision of some financial relief, I realized how weary I am from four years of struggling with family health and financial burdens, multiple jobs, church stuff (normal and not-so-normal), etc. The death of a parishioner this weekend made the realization more acute.

I have a bunch of "deferred maintenance" needs. I've been taking better care of my health and have lost 20 lbs. over the summer. Feeling much better physically, but there's still just too much stuff that needs my attention.

On the church front, there's this observation from a friend who walked out on the Episcopalian melodrama:

There's really not much to say that people haven't heard; people have chosen their directions and are not changing their minds.

There have been enough words, and plenty of warning. Most ideas are simply recycling now.

Thanks for your prayers - those offered and those to come. God is good. May Christ's peace be with you.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

You know what really hurts?

I am still in awe of the quick ruling in favor of my wife's disability claim, and the dawning awareness that four of the hardest, most painful years of my life are about to have a measure of relief.

A few times, I've called these the worst four years of my life. So much stuff all at once. My vibrant wife suffered a terrible decline in health, then became someone I didn't recognize for awhile. Our autistic son suffered his first grand mal seizures. Our finances tanked. Divorce and bankruptcy entered my thinking and our arguments. I worked extra jobs but things got worse. My church denomination plunged into madness and I found myself deep in ugly conflicts.

Looking at that today, I'm amazed - but the litany of calamities doesn't bug me. Instead, Psalm 30:5-6 comes to mind,

For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime.

Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.

You know what hurts? As I look back over these last four years, I see the ways that God and kind people reached in to keep us going. I see sacrifices and kindnesses of all kinds. I see extravagant measures of compassion, patience and love poured out all over me, not the least of which was the deepening of our marriage and the resurrection of my wife, at least in personality if not in physical strength. I see both of our kids flourishing here. I see how our parish grew in numbers, resources, knowledge, prayer, service to the community and just about every way a church could experience blessing. I see God changing me in ways I've long desired.

WHAT HURTS SO MUCH is how little I appreciated the blessings while whining about and protesting the hurts. What hurts is that I was so full of myself that I emptied my thinking of Jesus' message: that God loves me and is ever faithful to that love.

It hurts enough that I can finally step back, bow down and really join the guy in Jesus' little story,

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'"

And in saying that, I know I will be getting up as someone new - not yet complete - but new today and closer to who God wants me to be forever, because He loves me.

God bless you all this weekend.

Friday, August 28, 2009

God is all over things today... email from a parishioner

Earlier today, I posted the news that my wife's disability claim was approved. Just now, I got this email from a parishioner. He and his wife have also struggled with financial and health pressures, and he's been trying to work toward a new career:

"I contacted XXXXX at SD Dept. Of Labor about my test results. She contacted someone at the school administration office, and they both decided there was a space available and they would allow me in because of my overall score averages. But wait, all the money through the WIC program was depleted...... XXXXX informed me that she had put the alloted money aside, just for me. She wanted to see if I was serious about becoming a CNA. She said I proved to her I was and will be. I start school on September 21st. Paid for by the Government of South Dakota. My goal is to help the elderly and special needs children. The adventure begins...........I think God wants me in this field as well. I've thought and prayed for guidance....and for at least a window to open up.

It opened and I'm crawling through. I hope it's not considered breaking and entering. Thank you Father for all your prayers......may God BLESS you and your family, and get you through your hard times. XXXXX and I are here for you........see you at church on Sunday."

Stuttering and stammering because I'm so thankful - - to God and to all of you who prayed

My wife's Social Security Disability hearing was on Tuesday. We were told to look for a decision letter in about 60 - 90 days.

Well, our advocate just called and said, "Melissa is my all time record for fastest decision rendered." He received a written statement of judgement in our favor this morning.

I am stunned - the financial and medical and medical and financial struggles of the last four years have dinged my ability to anticipate good news in those aspects of our lives. This is going to heal our struggling finances.

I praise God for keeping things together for us and teaching me much over these years. I've encountered much of the self-centered evil lurking in my heart, and by the grace of God have crucified some of it. I've also learned more of what love really looks like.

I thank God for the people at Good Shepherd and beyond who have been patient, flexible and supportive in so many ways - especially in faithful intercession that has resulted in blessings I probably overlooked along the way.

Psalm 18 is one of my favorites. Sacred tradition holds that David "sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies." It was praise built up over a long season of affliction. So I share some of David's lyrics, as they are always better than my prose:

I love you, O LORD my strength, O LORD my stronghold, my crag, and my haven.

My God, my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge; you are worthy of praise.

The cords of hell entangled me, and the snares of death were set for me.

I called upon the LORD in my distress and cried out to my God for help.

He heard my voice from his heavenly dwelling; my cry of anguish came to his ears.

He parted the heavens and came down with a storm cloud under his feet.

He reached down from on high and grasped me; he drew me out of great waters.

He brought me out into an open place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

As always, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This weekend, give yourself the time to read this woman's report

Rachel Lucas » Blog Archive » “We have to go into the despair and go beyond it, by working and doing for somebody else, by using it for something else.”

This amazing account, with powerful photography, has been shared by a number of other bloggers but it is worth the widest possible read, so I'm posting the link as well.

Among other things, remember that the people behind what this woman describes discovered the X-ray, had one of the highest concentrations of seminaries/theological schools of any nation and produced giants of music, philosophy, natural sciences and other disciplines.

They also viewed themselves as "victims," and were in some measure right, given an unfair treaty imposed on them just a few decades before what the blogger describes.

They were suffering under terrible economic conditions and what you will read and see at the link was one means to reinvigorate their economy and standard of living.

The problem of evil remains with us, and if we are honest we should fall to our knees, confessing our collaborations with evil, giving thanks for every blessing, and crying out for transformation of our hearts and actions.

Think it's just "History Channel"? Think we're above it? I sit here comfy, not too far from "Reservations" on which my government, people and even church, extolling freedom and progress, consigned another race to cultural destruction under hellish conditions. And on those Reservations are young men, well versed in words protesting their victimization and oppression, who feel entitled to rape, abuse and murder among their own clans, and young women, well able to report the hardships of their lives, who neglect and abuse their children.

Lakota story tells of Iktomi, the trickster who lured the people out of abundant life in Wind Cave; my Christian tradition speaks of the devil, "the father of lies" who lured the people out of abundant life in the Garden of Eden. Ancient wisdom recognizes an evil genius loose in the universe, and our vulnerability to deception.

So Jesus' warning to some religious leaders really should convict us all:

...on the outside you appear to people as righteous [fill in your
own self deception here - intelligent, just, enlightened, tolerant, moral, oppressed, etc.]
but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees [fill in your own demographic here],
you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the
righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would
not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of God's prophets.'

So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of
those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your
ancestors! You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being
condemned to hell?"
Matthew 23:28-33

Equal Time: A South Dakota Deputy's positive take on General Convention

Jean Lacher is also chair of SD's Standing Committee. She's been making a sincere and much appreciated effort to be in contact with me, and I asked her if she might share her point of view, given my negative review of the Convention.

I am going to borrow a page from Kendall Harmon's playbook: I will take comments by email only (address on the blog masthead) and post at my own discretion. Jean is not a blogger and isn't signed on for snarking.

That doesn't mean I won't post comments that disagree with her - but in choosing your words please think of yourself sitting across from somebody's grandmother (Jean and her husband are out of state celebrating the birth of a new grandson).

Perspectives on General Convention 2009

“Center Aisle is an opinion journal offered by the Diocese of Virginia as a gift to General Convention. We offer analysis and opinions from a variety of sources that reflect the transformational center of our Church.”

“The middle is not the midpoint on a line between two extremes, in the life of faith, the great bulk of people are at the center, and that center is faith in the Risen Christ.” The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop of Virginia.

These next two items were taken from the July 17, 2009, Issue 9 of Center Aisle. Two paragraphs from the Perspective written by the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop of Virginia:

The most lasting impact of the 76th General Convention is likely to be an increase of initiative and energy in local congregations and dioceses. The emphasis on local ministry is a proper expression of the principle of subsidiarity, whereby mission should occur at the level closest to the people who are called to engage in that mission.

Local mission is also enhanced by resolutions which the secular press has incorrectly interpreted as necessarily damaging our world wide relationship and as following the agenda of a gay and lesbian lobby. Instead, what the convention did is to reaffirm that the ordination process is under the control of local bishops and dioceses, while stressing that access to that process is open to all baptized persons.

Editorial – Glorious Messiness

Tidiness is overrated. We head home a messy Church. Thanks be to God.
We are, by our own proclamation, “not of one mind” on matters that have caused division in the Communion.

We are in search of a communications strategy appropriate for the changing media landscape.

We are developing resources for same-sex blessings, without committing ourselves to “action.”

We will soon debate an Anglican covenant that could help clarify the bonds of Communion.

We are searching for creative ways to do great things with reduced resources, while living up to our mission responsibilities.

Put it all together and you have a Church that doesn’t have all the answers – and never will. It is a Church on a spiritual journey that never ends.

But be prepared: There are neat-freaks who don’t appreciate messiness. There will be cries of Armageddon in the wake of Convention’s vote for an ordination process open to all.

These doomsday predictions have been heard before. And it’s true that the passage of Resolution D025, whose nuances have been lost in much of the media coverage, could create problems in the Communion.

But this is no time to despair. The bonds between our Church and Canterbury are still strong. It’s hard to imagine a Communion that doesn’t include the National Cathedral in Washington, the mission initiatives on Native American reservations of the Dakotas, and the rustic parishes of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Discussion will continue. Compromises will be struck. Bonds of affection will be strengthened. The focus on the foundational beliefs that unite us will return.

The Church, in all its glorious messiness, will move forward.

I read this last issue of Center Aisle after I returned home from General Convention and both Bishop Lee’s words and the Editorial struck me as a good summary of the actions taken at General Convention 2009.

Jean Lacher,
Lay Deputy 1 from South Dakota

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham, England on the Lockerbie bomber release -- is "You don't get it, we're British" a moral answer?

A good editorial that reflects the different perspectives in the USA and UK. This came up in the comments on my earlier post. h/t TitusOneNine for the link.

Wright provides some helpful insights, but I still don't hear any answers to my earlier concerns:

1) Clemency/mercy was already granted - it is built into a UK system that does not impose a death penalty. IOW, Scotland already said, “Yes, you murdered our citizens, but our system will not kill you in retaliation.”

2) Compassion for his terminal condition could have been offered by bringing loved ones to him in some sort of secured hospice set up. There was no compelling need to release him and set up the obscenity of a hero’s welcome in Libya.

3) Still no calling the act what it was: a “crime against humanity.” The bombing of non-combatants, of multiple nationalities on an international flight is not a somewhat-more-serious-crime than shoplifiting. It is the sort of thing for which Nazis and Japanese officials were hanged after WWII.

Wright brings up the UK opinion that al Megrahi was a "fall guy." If so, the release was not "clemency" or anything noble at all - it was a cowardly face saving maneuver exploiting moral language.

The Bishop also opens the question of "Was this a deal to get Libyan oil?" If so, the depravity of the whole escapade becomes hellishly deep.

I still see the release as a massive moral failure, whether as an unnecessary and unintended consequence laden effort at compassion, a political face saving gesture, or a craven oil deal. And the "You just don't get our culture" argument doesn't change my thinking.

Impact of denominational revision on one lay leader and his congregation

By email:

"...I have been spending the past few days talking to a number of people within my current congregation along with others in the spiritual sister communities of the local Methodist church and the LCMS church. There are a number of families in my church that have pushed the church council to call for an informal meeting after church this Sunday to discuss the events of last week along with having an open discussion on the overall feeling of the church membership and setting a direction for the future of the currently ELCA church in my community. We have already decided that if the local church members choose to become Lutheran 'ostriches' and just bury their head in the sand and hope this all 'goes away', that we will be all pulling out of the church, who for some of us has been our only church home for our entire lives, and forming a house church until there is a time we can hopefully align ourselves with another church that holds our same spiritual beliefs or we create a whole new church altogether as more people withdraw from the ELCA.

I have also chosen to resign from my positions I currently hold on the ELCA Synod Board and the Synod Compensation Committee due to the dramatic affect the decisions of the ELCA has made on not only myself, but on my immediate and extended family members (as you can read in the attached letter of resignation I submitted yesterday to the Synod Bishop)."

Here's the letter:

I would like to personally thank both of you [Pastor and Bishop] for your guidance and direction in these past few years that I served as President of XXXX Church in XXXX and the many trials and tribulations we have faced and overcome during that time. I also have appreciated your guidance during my time serving on the Engaging Leaders Board of the Synod and on the Synod Compensation Committee. I really enjoyed my involvement on this Board and my time spent working with the others on the board and committee, along with the retreats I attended and the time spent in worship together. I hold you both in very high esteem and regard for the spiritual guidance you have provided me in our time spent together.

It is with a very heavy heart that I have to tell you the following statements, however.

I watched a number of the plenary sessions via live video-cast of the recent ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis and my sadness grew and my heart grew heavy as I watched events that unfolded on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. I knew that the day was coming that the core beliefs of the ELCA were going to be shaken by actions taken by representatives of the ELCA membership, however in my own small-town traditional German Lutheran ways was hoping it never would come. I am deeply saddened by the actions taken by the voting representatives on the Social Statement and the latter vote on the Policies resolution. The actions taken at the assembly goes against everything I have been taught by the ELCA growing up and now tells me that my core beliefs no longer apply. It saddens me even more in knowing that the actions of the ELCA will fracture the core membership within and also widen, and possibly sever, the associations built or that were hoped to be built with the Roman Catholic Church and with the LCMS. Both have publicly denounced the ELCA actions, and the LCMS leader spoke directly to that during a presentation to the ELCA at the assembly on Saturday. Even more saddening to me is seeing my father, who is a 3rd generation family member of our home church become completely disenfranchised with the ELCA and contemplates leaving the church and my grandmother, who has been a member of the same church for 90 years, deeply upset about the actions of the ELCA and leaves her wondering how she can be a member of a church that holds these new beliefs.

Because of the tremendous impact the actions of the 2009 Assembly has had not only on my family, my church and my personal spiritual beliefs, I have no choice but to regretfully resign my position on the Engaging Leaders Board and on the Synod Compensation Committee immediately. This is not a decision that was made easily, as I have prayed about this continuously since last Friday and am in tears as I write this to you.

Please understand that this is in no way a reflection on both of you or even on the XXXX Synod itself, however I cannot in good conscience serve on any boards of a greater church that no longer holds the core teachings of the bible as central to their belief and direction to its membership.

I pray for you and the rest of the XXXX Synod leaders as you will face many challenges in the days ahead.

God’s Peace be with you.

Little ode to the mainline churches

Starting with Hotel California, the Eagles used an increasingly pop-rock sound to push back at the glitzy Golden State life style in which their musical success embedded them.

This song is in that mood, but some of the lyrics made me think of The Episcopal, Lutheran (ELCA) and other churches embedded in a culture that, for now, seems like an apex of attainment. They're just too busy bein' fabulous...

I came home to an empty house
And I found your little note
"Don't wait up for me tonight"
And that was all she wrote

Do you think I don't know that you're out on the town
With all of your high-rollin' friends?
What do you do when you come up empty?
Where do you go when the party ends?

And you were just too busy being fabulous
Too busy to think about us
I don't know what you were dreaming of
Somehow you forgot about love
And you were just too busy being fabulous, uh-huh

A little time in the country
A day or two to slow down
A bottle of wine and a walk in the moonlight
Maybe some foolin' around

But you think time is just a magazine
And money's just a thrill
I've waited so long for you to change your way of livin'
Now I realize that you never will

'Cause you were just too busy being fabulous
Too busy to think about us
Lookin' for something you'll never find
You'll never know what you left behind
'Cause you were just too busy being fabulous, uh-huh

You tell a joke and everybody's laughin'
That's something you know how to do
You've always been the life of the party
But now my baby, the joke is on you

'Cause you were just too busy being fabulous
Too busy to think about us
Running after something that never comes
What in the world are you runnin' from?

And you were just too busy being fabulous
Too busy to think about us
To drink the wine from your winner's cup
To notice the children were growin' up

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A letter to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader has me seeking Dr. Kevorkian in my health plan.

From a real “Voice of the People” letter published in Tuesday’s Sioux Falls Argus Leader. I am leaving out the author’s name – s/he was arguing in favor of government health care reform, and making some decent points – but then wrote the following:

“Insurance companies follow the precept of ‘spread of risk.’ All insureds pay into the pot, and when financial disaster occurs such as a fire, the damaged party is rescued by having his or her loss paid from the pot. Sounds like socialism, doesn’t it? Or is it just socialism when the government is involved?”


Pant pant. Huff huff. OK, OK. I’m calmer now, dear writer. A privately chosen insurance plan that you can quit is not socialism. The worst it could be is a monopoly, if one company gets away with being the only one available, or a trust if there are several companies but they conspire to rig their rates. But we have laws against those anti-free market antics (laws which are a proper and useful function of government).

Are the American people as far gone as this example? Do we really believe that government – GOVERNMENT – is just a little mom & pop enterprise struggling to find its humble niche in the marketplace?

I really might need that Dr. Kevorkian visit if it’s covered… or maybe just a reread of the Bill of Rights is sufficient.

I waited so I wouldn't rant. Some sober thoughts on the morality of the Lockerbie mass murderer's release.

Last week, Scotland released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, convicted of murdering 270 civilian, non-combatant, multinational men, women and children in the 1988 bombing of Pan American Airlines Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The release was based on compassion, as al-Megrahi is terminally ill. He returned to his native Libya, where he received a hero's welcome and official reception by Libya's governing family.

Many families of al-Megrahi's victims were understandably wounded and outraged. Many of their comments have appeared in media reports, and I will not rehash these. Instead, I want to offer three criticisms of how the whole matter was handled, and raise some moral questions with them.

1. Mercy and compassion did not require al-Megrahi's release. First, mercy was already shown when he did not face execution for his vile acts. Second, compassion for his last days could have been demonstrated by bringing some of his family to visit him in Scotland, discreetly in some sort of hospice setting, without a media show. The demonstration in Libya made the whole episode disgustingly unmerciful. To see al-Megrahi completing a safe homecoming from an airliner was nothing less than a form of torture against his victims' loved ones. In other words, the means used by Scotland to show mercy and compassion were flawed. They resulted in an unmerciful lack of compassion toward truly victimized people and nations.

2. Scotland should not have been in position to make a unilateral decision. While the trial in Scotland might have been the expedient way to resolve issues of legal jurisdiction, the bombing was an attack on an international civilian flight with victims from several nations. This was, by any sane definition, a "crime against humanity." The fact that no international jurisdiction emerged shows the moral bankruptcy of entities like the United Nations.

3. Western liberal moral chaos is on display in this case. Mass murdering terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the U.S. Federal Building in Oklahoma City, was executed without much delay and with little if any of the usual anti-death penalty protests. McVeigh's problem seemed to be that he was just some White American male - he did not fall into a certified victim category that would exempt him from moral responsibility. (He was an atheist - but the "New Atheists" vogue had not commenced in time to let him plead that as a morally exempted class). al-Megrahi is Muslim, which in the West makes him part of a certified, morally exempt "victim" group.

Last week's actions were complete moral failures.

And thanks for your prayers...

Hearing is done. We were able to present all that we needed and our (earthly) advocate did a great job. Our divine Advocate is always awesome.

Now we wait for a month, or two, or three for a letter with the judge's decision.

Thanks for wrapping my wife in the comfort of prayer and please do pray for peace and patience while we await the decision.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prayer Request

We have my wife's Social Security disability hearing tomorrow (Tuesday) at 0830 CST.

Your prayers for her comfort will be welcome.

"Death Tax" - not if, but to whom

Conservatives rail against confiscatory estate taxes, wondering why the fruit of folks' lifetime labors, already taxed along the way, should be plundered again when they try to pass it on to descendants, charities or institutions of their choice.

This makes me wonder why those on the right don't have more to say about another very real confiscation of estates, a "death tax" not imposed by government but gobbled up by the health care industry.

Statistics used by Genworth Financial, one of the largest and best regarded carriers of long term care insurance, indicate that 60% of people over age 65 will experience the need for expensive long term care.

The average current duration of care is 4 years (2.5 in a nursing facility plus 1.5 of home health services). Today's average cost is $4,500 per month, meaning an average exposure of $200,000 per individual.

It is expected that costs will increase at about 5% per year, leading to a $400,000 average individual exposure 15 years from now - $800,000 for a couple.

Medicare/Medicaid are very limited in their long term care coverage, and some skilled facility benefits don't kick in until pretty much all personal resources are exhausted.

Long term care insurance is one alternative, but the premiums are very expensive, exclude a number of pre-existing conditions, and can be risky if not carried by companies with a large risk-pool and documented history of reliable pay-outs and few consumer complaints. (Some positive approaches to LTC include employers being able to purchase it for employees, as the premiums are tax deductible for business owners, and adult children sharing the premium costs to provide policies for parents as a means to protecting the family resources.)

In all of the drama surrounding health care reform, these are the kinds of very real issues that do not get discussed or addressed. There's plenty of blame to go around - Conservatives can be faulted for protecting a cash cow system that wipes out estates but benefits a favored industry, while Liberals can be faulted for their refusal to state clear, targeted policies instead of the "comprehensive" (too big to read but with ample pork storage for favored interest group) boondoggles they prefer.

As I've blogged before, I have a second job parking cars at a medical center, which provides my family better health coverage than I can get through the available church plan. The other valets are mostly retired gents. They are from a variety of political perspectives (a bunch of guys in a booth are gonna talk politics, so I know).

Yesterday, several were talking about the health care reform "news." Most found the protests to be over the top, but also agreed that the the government has not put forward any clear policy to discuss.

All had anecdotes about friends or relatives losing everything due to long term medical care, usually late in life. One valet summed it up with, "I'm pretty stupid, and I don't know the answer, but something needs to be done. This just ain't right."

I agree. Why should any institution, be it the government, a particular business sector or some other important entity, have entitlement to confiscate the lifetime work of a citizen? Jesus didn't like it and said so to the earthly elites he faced.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Lutheran Pastor emails - "staying differently"

I am heartbroken at what I saw and heard at the ELCA churchwide assembly: a bishop-led "Bible" study that was absolute dribble, a brillant scholar on the Reformation destroying any foundation for Lutheran ethics with a novel "bound conscience" theory, and pastors at the microphone equate being opposed to these motions with sinning against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin. My church has embraced heresy as its teaching and standard for the lives of its pastors and people. I am now in a strange land that I never sought to enter, and have no idea how to escape.

But Lutheran CORE [Coalition for Reform] is not in despair. "We are afflicted in every way, but not
crushed."(I Corinthians 4:8) We are praying for our ELCA, and we are regrouping in order to stay differently.

The Rev. Erma Wolf, Lutheran Pastor, Brandon, South Dakota

The power of your prayers - a big THANK YOU

Those of you who pray for me are such a blessing. Several folks emailed or posted on Facebook, offering prayer for my preaching this morning.

Also, my wife and I pray together before bedtime, currently using a form supplied by the monks of Blue Cloud Abbey (near Marvin, SD) of which my wife is an Oblate. One of the intercessions was for "fire for those who will preach in the morning."

Well, the many prayers were answered.

We have an autistic son, Joey. With autism comes a lack of empathy (autism from auto for "self," those on the autism spectrum have some real social impairments). One of his habits is to wake up in the wee hours, to go to the bathroom, to get a drink, or just because. He thinks nothing of throwing on lights, banging around, talking to himself at some volume and otherwise depriving us of sleep.

As you can imagine, this is most unwelcome for a preacher who has to be up and running on a Sunday morning.

Well, early this morning, Joey got up. I heard him slide a drawer in his room (he likes to change shirts). I got that "Aw (blank)" feeling in the pit of my stomach and started to get up...

And then Joey did something he's never done. He walked softly down the hallway and closed our bedroom door. His bathroom light would not shine in my eyes. Any sounds would be muffled. I fell back to sleep and woke up fresh - and will be preaching in just a bit.

Thank God for people who pray. Thank God for answering prayers. And thank God for sending the Holy Spirit with that little bit of gentleness and self-control for Joey this morning.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sword drill and other sermon antics

Sermon for August 23, 2009
Fr. Timothy Fountain

The Whole Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
• + Remember, our worship is “worth-ship” toward God. If we don’t focus on God's greatness, we lose access to His power. And our own strength is not adequate for what we are facing.

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
• + Our human enemies are not our enemies. We are all victims of the devil’s deceptions. The devil is “the enemy of human nature” (St. Ignatius).
• + Forgiving, peacemaking and reconciling capture territory from the devil.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
• + Whether or not we choose to recognize it, we are on a spiritual battlefield every moment of every day.
• + The question is, will we fight or be destroyed? There is no safety in hiding – our enemy will keep coming for our souls.

Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist,
• + Don’t think of a belt that holds up your droopy pants. Think of the thick belts weightlifters wear.
• + In battle, we come under great pressure and sustain wounds. A well-cinched belt supports our “guts” and can save our life when injured.
• + “Truth” is what we express in our Creeds – the Nicene Creed we say as the whole church on Sunday and the Apostles’ Creed which we say as individuals, at Baptism, Confirmation and Daily Prayers.
• + We need some supportive truth because we are bombarded with “information overload” today. Via the internet alone more information moves in very short chunks of time than has moved thru all of recorded history. Too many voices screaming too many “facts” to claim too much of our attention. We have to cinch ourselves up with the core truths of our faith, and let these give us inner stability in a world of constant unknowns, changes, mistakes and deceptions.

and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
• + The breastplate, like today’s Kevlar vest, protects our vital organs – in particular the heart and lungs. The heart signifies our most important choices and breathing is the sign of life in the Holy Spirit. We must keep these in good shape if we are to know eternal life. They are protected by righteousness – doing all things God’s way.
• + But righteousness is not something we can do on our own. As Paul teaches us in Philippians 3:9, our eternal life is protected by “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” We have to “put on Christ,” in Baptism, Confirmation of Faith, constant prayer and following Jesus’ example in our lives. Christ is our righteousness – his life was the only one done “all God’s way,” and so our faith in him creates our breastplate.

As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
• + Ancient armies walked. They needed something decent on their feet – arriving to the battlefield with injured feet would be a great disadvantage.
• + Let me ask: What helps you come into the day ready to represent Jesus, putting him first in your words and deeds? Do you pray and read the Bible? Do you study Christ’s life? The verse says, “whatever will make you ready.” You have choices. So, what are you doing to put Jesus first in your life?
• + Notice again that our victory over evil is to bring good news of God’s peace. This is not about beating down people we dislike – it is about bringing the ultimate blessing and thereby overthrowing the devil.
• + In Romans 16:20, Paul rallies us with as he declares, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” So let’s have the right footwear, because bringing God’s peace to people is how we run right over the devil.

With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
• + Listen carefully. This verse is all about our work as the church – all of us standing together in a common faith. There’s room to think differently about some things, but too many opinions about too many things will split us up.
• + Ancient armies fought in tight formations. Victory depended upon close order, unified effort and coordinated group movement. Shields could be interlocked in a formidable wall of protection – or even to push through a stubborn enemy.
• + Meanwhile, the enemy would rain projectiles on the formation, trying to break it up. The devil has us under constant barrage. Doubts. Problems that test our faith. Highlighting differences that can make us lose patience with one another. Temptations targeted very accurately at our weak points. The great American myth of “me and my private spirituality” – the devil would like nothing better that to take any of us on one-on-one.
• + The shield of faith – our Creeds and Prayer Book express common faith – blocks and snuffs out the devil’s projectiles. Leaning on one another and putting our shields together as the church provides greater protection and eases the strain of lifting our shields.

Take the helmet of salvation,
• + Muhammad Ali once described taking a good punch to the head as, “going into this strange little room.” If you’ve ever had your bell rung in sports or an accident, you know what he means.
• + We wear helmets to protect our senses – to keep us able to think and perceive accurately.
• + Our accurate thought and perception is protected by the assurance that in Christ we are “saved” – made children of the heavenly Father and inheritors of His kingdom.
• + This is essential because we will make mistakes all through life. We will do evil and cause conflict where we should be making peace. We will try to do all kinds of things our own way and ignore the word of God.
• + The devil knows this and will always remind us of our hypocrisy and shortcomings. Ancient armies used to trash talk each other as they formed up for battle, hoping to intimidate (remember Goliath!). Salvation keeps your head straight, keeping your senses tuned to your Father’s love, Christ’s hand upon you, and the Holy Spirit moving you within. You are saved, not by your own righteousness, but by Christ’s. Stay focused and confident in that.

and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
• + The Greek word for this weapon of attack describes a short sword. It is a weapon that requires you to step into the enemy – you can’t wave it at a distance.
• + This verse tells us that we are to engage all that separates us from Christ – the world, the flesh and the devil – with the word of God. This is why I nag so much about Bible reading. If you are not studying and applying God’s word (you have to pick up and use the sword!), you are spiritually disarmed. You’ve let the devil steal your sword, and you can believe he will attack when you’re standing around empty handed.
• + Remember the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness? That was an epic sword fight. The devil would thrust with the word of God – he quoted Psalm 91 to suggest that Jesus jump off a building so angels would catch him. Jesus parries and thrusts back with Deuteronomy 8:3, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.”
• + Let’s do a sword drill. I say to you: “Jesus said, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).’ So I tell you that if your heart is to be with God, you need to sign over your house to this church.” OK, my sword is coming at you – whaddaya do? [Your sword is II Corinthians 9, “Let no one give under compulsion, but only what he’s made up his mind to give. For God loves a cheerful giver.”]
• + Let me be frank. I hear too many excuses for lack of Bible reading. “It’s boring, I don’t have time, I don’t get it, etc.” Let me just say this: I’ve lost about 20 lbs. (I know, I still look like a wreck, but I feel much better!). I’ve done this by eating the stuff I find boring. I’ve done it by taking the time to prepare healthy food instead of grabbing what’s handy. I’ve followed doctor’s directions that I don’t fully understand but that I choose to trust. OK? Stop the excuses. Read your Bibles more. Pick up the sword God’s assigned you and learn to use it on the issues in your life.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
• + More fighting in formation. These verses are about Christians joining in effective prayer. Your private prayer is essential, too – Jesus says that it pleases our Father and He rewards it. But we’re also called to pray together, and join with many others near and far in battle formation.
• + These verses also remind us that formations have their officers and NCOs to give direction. Ministries need to pray for their leaders or directors. Bible group for host – Altar Guild for director – Sunday students for teacher – congregation for vestry – parish for priest – diocese for bishop. During the week, pray for me to bring the words God wants you to hear on Sunday. I pray for you, that you will know the mystery of the gospel. In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

More me on me - "Stay or Go?" revisited

OK, so I've posted a "stay in The Episcopal Church (TEC)" piece and a "Get out of TEC now" piece tonight. What's my deal?

I gave very serious thought to leaving a couple of years ago. In a number of ways, God has restrained that impulse.

1) God's used the Church of the Good Shepherd itself. Like many South Dakota congregations, it's hung in there in some very lean times. The people are accustomed to facing difficulties by pulling together. I've come to understand congregations here a bit more over these few years. "Splitting" is not in their mindset, and to split a small congregation is to wind up with two non-viable cliques rather than a new church anyway. The Christian virtue - the faith, hope and love - of Good Shepherd's people is a strong reason to stand fast. Even with some losses, God continues to bring new folks and is setting some exciting direction for the parish.

2) God's second restraint is the Diocese of South Dakota. This is a unique place. For all of TEC's cynical clucking about "diversity," here's a Diocese where it exists. Native American, Euro-American and, increasingly, African immigrant; city, rural and Reservation; multigenerational in some places. The Diocese has awesome potential to show forth the church as Christ would want it to be. And I would add to that the patience of most of the clergy and people in some bitter conflicts we've had, and the budding hope for the episcopate of John Tarrant - including his decision to make Good Shepherd his very first visit as Bishop.

3) God's third restraint is my family. With a younger autistic son and a wife who isn't able to work, I've managed to secure top medical help through a second job and we've been blessed in a city with good public schools (special education included) and private services. Our older son has flourished here and will finish high school in May. As I've mentioned before, I take the warning of I Timothy 5:8 seriously, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

So the strong likelihood, as disgusted as I am with TEC's self-proclaimed "national leadership," is that I will continue on here unless booted out.

But I have dear friends - no, more than that - blood brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the new Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The hissy fits of church poobahs in New York or wherever will not dictate my Christian fellowship. This is the church, not some middle school lunch room. And so I will be involved with ACNA folks, through the TEC/ACNA overlap provided by the American Anglican Council, through simple affectionate connections, and perhaps in joint work for the Gospel that doesn't violate any official boundaries or responsibilities.

Clear as mud, baby. But that's where you'll find me unless the Lord issues new orders. Your prayers are always appreciated.

Equal Time: On Staying in The Episcopal Church

Fr. Handy's piece is the rationale for leaving, here's Stand Firm in Faith with thoughts on staying in...

But the fact is that there is a large group of conservatives within TEC who:

-- have recognized for some years now that the Instruments of Unity have failed and will not provide relief or establish any sort of common order ever

-- wish to "engage in strategic, thoughtful action within TEC," not to "reform TEC" but to work within various local contexts for numerous possible goals and outcomes

-- have no interest in "patient and enduring witness" only without massive differentiation and strategic action

-- wish to be differentiated from the national structures of TEC in a more significant and apparent and compelling and communicative way than simply affirming the three Windsor moratoria

-- do not believe that an "Anglican Covenant" based on the corrupt Joint Standing Committee and zero spelled-out consequences will be at all effective in reigning in future chaos and division

-- do not believe that the Instruments of Communion are "the effective means of ordering the common life of the Communion"

-- they are not effective and they do not order anything at all, much less "common life of the Communion"

-- recognize that the current Archbishop of Canterbury will not do what he needs to do in order to solve the chaos and disorder that is in the Anglican Communion

-- this necessarily means that action must take place within TEC and among traditional Episcopalians to differentiate and "bring about desired future states" through other arenas and channels

Read it all at the link above.

Fr. David Handy's "5 Reasons" to leave The Episcopal Church, revisited

From November, 2007, The Reverend Dr. David Handy, PhD, offers this argument in favor of Anglican reformation and realignment. I was a newbie blogger, and had real problems with formatting this when he first submitted it. It is a long piece, but well worth reading and now 'tis a bit more readable. His five arguments are

1. Present Anglican polity has severe design flaws.

2. Our doctrinal boundaries are too vague.

3. Current "Instruments of Communion" are not up to current challenges.

4. Liturgical chaos prevents unity.

5. Doctrine trumps polity and Scripture trumps tradition, not vice versa.

Read his developed thoughts here.

OK, enough Lutheran coverage. Here's something Anglican, and then I'm mowing a bit of the Northern Plains.

... confidence in a cause has run on into what is a very different thing, namely, self-conceit. Always it is true that by self-forgetfulness and real effective work, not by self-consciousness and pretentious assertions, general confidence is won and lasting good results are achieved. I fear that we are 'puffed up' because of our ecclesiastical lineage and 'have not rather mourned' because of our practical shortcomings. Our supreme danger is self-satisfaction; the danger of looking upon our own things and not upon the things of others.

William Hobart Hare, Bishop of South Dakota, 1903

Hare was criticizing a movement to remove "Protestant" from the official (Constitutional) name of the Episcopal Church, The Protestant Episcopal Church in The United States of America (PECUSA). Hare felt that the denomination's Catholic heritage was adequately represented by the affirmation of "the holy Catholic church" in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, but the Protestant heritage was explicit only in the denominational title and needed to be maintained there.

Although "Protestant" was never formally removed from the church's Constitution, after 1979 the unofficial "ECUSA" enjoyed wide usage. Recently, denominational officials citing their emotional, psychological and developmental needs have asserted simply "The Episcopal Church" (TEC) as a means of "differentiating" their religion from the wider Christian tradition.

UPDATED: Lutheran storm chasers! (Or, What Abraham said to the Rich Guy in Hell)

Well, the blogosphere is having fun with the downtown Minneapolis tornadoes, which happened to damage the steeple of a prominent downtown ELCA church and ding the Convention Center where the Lutherans were picking culture over the Bible as their guide to church belief and practice.

It is an interesting theological debate - was the tornado a coincidence or a message from God? There are advocates lining up on both sides. You can make good cases either way but they both hinge on "proving" some big assumptions like a) God exists and b) God intervenes in nature/human events, ideas which are equally large theological, metaphysical and philosophical debates with advocates on a variety of sides. (And what about last night's Minnesota miracle - Tavaris Jackson going 12-of-15, 200+ yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions? How do we interpret THAT?)

What came to mind as I read the tornado debates was Jesus' parable about a rich man and a beggar.

Long story short (sorry, Lord), rich man dies and goes to hell, the beggar he ignored dies and is in heaven, next to the great Patriarch Abraham. Negotiations go on, but the rich man realizes he ain't getting out of hell. So he asks Abraham to send the beggar back from the dead, to warn the rich guy's living brothers so they won't end up in hell, too. To which Abraham replies:

"If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

What's that have to do with Lutherans?

IMO, God did not need a tornado - a miraculous intervention like "someone rising from the dead" - to warn ELCA. God had provided obvious warnings in non-miraculous events. Just as the rich man and his brothers had long-standing moral law and interpretation to keep them out of hell, ELCA had all the evidence it needed to keep it from caving in to culture trends. Rich guy and ELCA simply chose to ignore the warnings - ELCA is chasing a tornado of its own making.

ELCA had the on-going disaster of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in front of it. TEC's own State of the Church report, released earlier this year, was brutally honest about the amount of harm done to the denomination by taking the path that ELCA now follows.

And ELCA had the 20th century witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, arguably the best modern theological mind to wrestle with (and suffer under) the tensions between church and culture. His famous Cost of Discipleship took on weak German culture Christianity and its "cheap grace," a condition that would leave the church impotent against the rise of National Socialism (aka Nazism, aka Hitler, aka WWII and the Holocaust). But last week ELCA chose American platitudes of "fairness" and "rights" over Scripture, tradition and formative Lutheran teaching.

So, a tornado wasn't necessary, unless God was trying to reach the pagans among us. (The New Testament miracles frequently took place to demonstrate the presence of God to lookie-loos. But Jesus' miracles were mainly demonstrations of divine favor, such as healing, rather than cataclysmic signs to strike fear.)

For those who profess Christianity, the message of Abraham to the rich guy should be sufficient: "You already have God's Word, and you've seen what happens when you ignore it. Won't change your hard heads a bit to send a tornado."

UPDATE: The Lutheran Coalition for Reform (CORE) has renounced ELCA's Minneapolis direction and (funnel cloud forming...) has taken the "bound conscience" language used to justify LGBT agenda items to in turn justify witholding funds from ELCA! Other language of differentiation and possible separation is in CORE's news release.

Stand in the place where you live

Last Friday morning, the Daily Office lessons spoke to a flurry of comments and emails I've been sharing with friends.

Folks are grappling with all kinds of things - financial anxieties, church struggles, health problems, families - in other words, life in the world.

The morning Psalms included 142:7,

Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your Name;
when you have dealt bountifully with me,
the righteous will gather around me.

Friday Psalms often include images of oppression, to remind us of Christ's passion. But that word picture of being imprisoned evoked the whole feeling of being constrained, dealing with life situations one doesn't want while longing for better times.

Then the lesson from The Acts of the Apostles continued a series of readings on St. Paul's journey to Rome - which was accomplished as a prisoner! So much of Paul's world-changing ministry took place as a fugitive or a prisoner, "Christ's ambassador in chains" (Ephesians 6:20). This time of confinement included Paul's composition of letters, which would be recognized later as God's own Word in the New Testament.

If you are like me, you beat against the walls and shake the bars of your confining circumstances, with little more to show for it than extra bruises and amplified frustration. But these very circumstances can be the venue of our greatest purpose in life.

A friend who ministers among God's people in the Dominican Republic sent me a fine devotional on "God's geography." The heart of the piece is:

I fire off thousands of questions that center around the longitude and latitude of my life at God. And do you know how God answers me when I ask Him those kinds of questions? Do you know how I promise He will answer you if you ask Him those kinds of questions? Do you know the first answer God always gives when we say, "God where do you want me to go?"

"In my presence."

Or there's that REM song, which served as the theme for a short-lived Fox TV show about a ne'er-do-well who was always fine right where he was:

Federal court upholds key life affirmation in South Dakota abortion law

Although the court struck down statutory language that required abortionists to warn women that the "procedure" could result in post-event depression or suicide, the decision affirmed that South Dakota's informed consent language -

“an abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being”

expresses fact and that SD Planned Parenthood must use that specific language in asking a woman's consent for an abortion. PP had attempted to use shifty language to evade the statute's clarity.

Here is the press release from Vote Yes For Life:

“Historical Ruling: Abortionists Must Disclose to Women That Abortion Ends a Human Life – Tape Reveals Planned Parenthood Continues to Break Law”

Sioux Falls, SD, August 20, 2009 – The U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota issued its decision today, on a series of Summary Judgment Motions in the historic case of Planned Parenthood v. Rounds, Alpha Center et al.

For four years, Planned Parenthood, the State of South Dakota and the Intervenors, including Alpha Center in Sioux Falls, have litigated the constitutionality of South Dakota’s historic 2005 Abortion Informed Consent Law, which mandated certain written disclosures be provided to a pregnant mother considering an abortion, before a consent could be taken. The Intervenors are gratified that the Court correctly ruled in favor of the Intervenors and the State Defendants on the Human Being Disclosure.


In June 2008, the Intervenors and the State Defendants won an appeal before an en banc panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals, reversing the District Court. The U.S. Court of Appeals held that the required disclosure that “an abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being” was a statement of fact and there was no evidence that it was not true and accurate. Today, the District Court entered Summary Judgment requiring Planned Parenthood to make the disclosure using the language of the Statute. The District Court ruled that the U.S. Court of Appeals had unequivocally held that the language of the Statute had to be used.


The District Court, while ruling to uphold most of the Statute, again committed error in striking down the “Relationship Disclosures.” The Statute requires the doctor to inform the pregnant mother “that the pregnant woman has an existing relationship with that unborn human being and that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States Constitution and under the laws of South Dakota.” The Statute also requires the disclosure that that protected relationship will be terminated by the abortion procedure.

We are completely confident that this aspect of the Court’s decision of today will be reversed on appeal.

This presents an important issue for the women of South Dakota and elsewhere. It is the utter devaluation and contempt by Planned Parenthood for the mother’s relationship and rights that has resulted in so many women losing children they would not have lost if they were properly counseled and sufficient respect for the mother’s rights were evidenced. We feel the appeal on this issue will be of particular importance for the women, but it will also provide the U.S. Supreme Court with the opportunity to clarify the ambiguous language of Roe v. Wade that has so confounded lower courts and confused the District Court in this case.

The disclosure involves the simple explanation that a second human being is already in existence, and that the unique relationship the pregnant woman has with that second human being enjoys legal protection under the U.S. Constitution and the laws of South Dakota. The Court confused the language in Roe v. Wade that spoke of constitutional rights with the language of the Statute that speaks of a relationship in fact.

We are confident the Intervenors and the State will succeed on appeal in both the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.


The South Dakota Legislature concluded, based upon competent peer reviewed studies, that women who have an abortion are at greater risk for suicide ideation and suicide than women who carry their children to term. Today, the District Court made its own factual determination that it had no power to make on a Motion for Summary Judgment. Aside from the fact that the overwhelming majority of legitimate studies support the State required disclosures, the Court lacked the authority to overrule the State Legislature without a fact finding hearing.

We have every confidence that this error will be reversed on appeal.


Within the last 48 hours an audio tape has surfaced that reveals Planned Parenthood of Sioux Falls is in violation of this law, even after an 8th Circuit Court decision that said they must disclose to women that abortion terminates the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being. Click here to listen to this shocking audio tape and hear what really happens when a woman calls to schedule an abortion in Sioux Falls.
If you would like to show your support in the fight to help save the unborn lives of children and help protect women please consider a financial contribution by mail to the address below or by visiting our website


707 E. 41st St. #223, Sioux Falls, SD 57105

PO Box 461, Sioux Falls, SD 57101



A wonderful devotional from Fr. Phil Ashey, of the American Anglican Council's "Episcopal Desk." Yes, it touches on "church" stuff, but there's plenty here for to bring you back to God's presence in any of life's challenges. A part that really struck me:

You have a loving Father who knows your needs, "So do not worry saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them." (Matt. 6:31-32 NIV)

Some of you may remember the story that rocked the front pages of the newspapers just over a year ago: how a mother and her children slipped through the safety net of governmental services in Washington DC, how her children disappeared from school, how social workers and teachers knocked on the door and were turned away, and how those children were found, all of them, dead and decaying in their mother's home.

Please hear what Jesus is saying: Jesus is looking you in the eye today, saying, "Your Father is CONSTITUTIONALLY INCAPABLE OF RUNNING A HOUSE OF NEGLECT, ABUSE AND DEATH. He's not wired that way. He has the heart of a perfect heavenly father who loves you, with an infinite amount of love and an infinite amount of resource that he can pour into our lives, including a place to worship and do ministry, if we live like children, trusting him fully."

Do go to the link and read the whole thing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bishop Tarrant will make Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls his first episcopal visit!

Thanks be to God!

Bishop-elect John Tarrant will make his first episcopal visitation to Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls on All Saints' Day (Nov. 1), the day after he is consecrated as Bishop Coadjutor of South Dakota.

Our parish will present candidates for Confirmation and Reaffirmation of Christian Faith. The Bishop will lay hands on the head of each and pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen and protect them as they serve as Christ's ambassadors to the world.

John Tarrant was elected with widespread support around the Diocese of South Dakota, needing only two ballots cast at a special meeting of its Convention. He will serve under Diocesan Bishop Creighton Robertson, and will become the Diocesan Bishop upon Bp. Robertson's retirement at a later date.

Me on me

Fr. Rob Eaton, a prayerful guy out in CA, commented on one of my earlier posts. I was pretty rough after having read the comments from West Texas, so I need to say that Bishop Lillibridge there is a faithful Christian and shepherd, as Fr. Rob pointed out in his comment.

In my response, I confessed that some of the rough edges in my presentation reflect frustration with myself. Here's what I said, and I think it explains my spiritual dilemma:

Rob+, the little parable I wrote was my own mea culpa.

I am certainly among those who bought the lies at the now defunct (well, it still operates but commercial interests use most of it for condos) General Seminary and came out as a young priest polluting the church, betraying God and His people in the process.

Then, even after I realized that I had to get back to Evangelical Faith and Apostolic Order, I bought into "unity in diversity" and the lie that "the crazy stuff is just in a few crazy places - if I just do faithful ministry where I am, that's plenty."

So "let's all work together" is something I recognize as an admission of failure. It's what we say when we've already let people get away with stuff that should have been resisted.

I think that S. Carolina, W. Louisiana, Albany, C. Florida and other places are offering sincere witness to the Gospel. I would say that my parish is attempting the same. But read the new post with quotes from the ELCA... "Let's all pull together because we are all in pain"? Please.

Prayer will continue, and I am grateful for faithful witnesses like yourself who stir us up to do that work. But there's also the reality that I am of a generation of really weak Christians (clergy in particular) who played around with a comfy, compromised Gospel and now bear the consequences.

So I wrestle less with "Stay in TEC or go to ACNA?" than with "Continue in ordained ministry or get a secular job and ask God for (more) mercy on my soul?"

Lutheran (ELCA) authorize churches to marry spirit of the age. Oh, and something unusual happened to their meeting place.

The ELCA meeting in Minneapolis, in good Midwestern fashion, went low key and avoided the gaudy symbolic self-mutilation favored by the Episcopal Church.

But the Lutherans did authorize churches to use slippery language to do pretty much whatever they want. You can read ELCA's own report here, but don't bother if you are looking for a clear church statement of "Thus says the Lord." You'll find ad hoc committees dealing with resolutions on memorials and a vote to not change some language which thereby affirms other language. Powerful stuff.

One proponent of the new thing was honest enough to name the guiding priority:

"We took some risks in the writing of this in ways that we thought were appropriate for these times," the Rev. Peter Strommen said in a news conference following the plenary.

A North Dakota guy saw the guiding priority for what it was and objected: member Curtis Sorbo, ELCA Eastern North Dakota Synod, said the social statement "should be a teaching tool. I don't think that it is. Instead we have descriptions of different sexual relationships that we are asked to accept by bound conscience," he said. "We are asked to affirm a description of sexuality in today's culture because of a new reality. Our church needs to address this issue based on the authority of the word of God, not a description of public opinion and personal desires."

But no worries, brother, 'cuz the denomination feels your pain:

"I am very proud of this church," the Rev. Rebecca S. Larson, executive director, ELCA Church in Society, said at the news conference. "It is a time of diminished joy," she said. "We know there is suffering all around on this issue."

And they will plow right ahead so that the "suffering" of culture-bound Lutherans will be assuaged by approval from their guiding authorities in the old media and other non-Christian cultural niches. The "suffering" of Biblically faithful and traditional Lutherans? Well, ELCA will magnanimously allow them to continue to attend services and contribute money as a sign of inclusion.

Oh, ever heard that saying, "Well, we did X and the roof didn't fall in"? Seems it didn't hold true for ELCA.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vandals: "Pardon the dust while we remodel"

I caught this article from Texas via the Transfigurations blog.

The West Texas Bishop Gary Lillibridge fielded questions from some of his people as to whether or not they have a place in the LGBT-run Episcopal denomination. He said,

“At this point, it's going to take all of us working together with God's wisdom as a very diverse diocese to come up with a response,” he said after the meeting at Christ Church, the largest donor to the West Texas Diocese and its largest church with up to 800 people at weekly services.

Where was "working together" when the chaos was imposed?

So let's say I come to your house. You are basically "nice" and you let me hang out. Then I start doing weird things like calling the shots as to your family's daily schedule. I control the remote. I bogart the computer over the whining of your kids.

I start using your car and, if I let you come along, only my tunes get played. But hey, you're nice and you go along to get along.

Then you come home from work to find I've smashed out some walls and windows, ripped up some flooring, and thrown some appliances and artwork to the curb.

With righteous indignation, you cry, "That's it! Get out of here, you maniac!"

But I just put on my smarmiest, I'm-so-spiritual whispy voice and say, "It's going to take all of us working together with God's wisdom to complete this remodeling."

- Fin -

South Dakota Lutheran Pastor gets it right

ELCA Assembly Begins Discussing Proposed Social Statement - News Releases - Evangelical Lutheran Church in America As Lutherans develop a "Social Statement" on yet another single-most-important-issue-of-our-time, a Northern Plains guy steps up:

The Rev. Craig Werting of the South Dakota Synod urged voting members of the assembly not to be swayed by the “many stories on both side of this issue that present emotional appeals.” Anyone who listens cannot help but be moved,” he said, “but emotions themselves do not make an argument. Instead of following the emotion of the day, sometimes we must put feelings aside and do what scripture tells us to do.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Any budding Dantes out there? Help create a ring of hell for SPAMMERS!

OK, here you have the scheme of the netherworld as laid out in Dante's Divine Comedy (click to enlarge for details).
Why is my mind on this?
Well, I caught a tweet that took me to this dust up between two South Dakota bloggers. The whole thing is probably the byproduct of spam filters making it appear that one was blocking the other's comments. That's happened on my blog as well.
Problem is, we have to have filters in place because the (fill in your own epithet) spammers feel free to intrude their money grubbing junk into our freely offered brilliance.
So, here's your chance - send your comments to create a ring (or rings) of hell for spammers. And, like Dante, tell us what torments they might suffer there. Heh heh heh. I can hardly wait.
Safety warning: Imagining the hellish torments that await your adversaries is called The Abominable Fancy (now there's a blog name waiting to happen). Prolonged imagining can cause you spiritual harm. So please, imagine responsibly.

Teens respond to Holocaust testimonies through art and writing

USC Shoah Foundation Institute News > Young Artists and Writers Respond to Testimony Really worth a look. Glad that "Never Forget" is put into practice in this way.

Letter from a departing parishioner

I'm only giving an excerpt here, as I need to share the whole thing more fully with our Vestry and others. But this part is of special relevance as the Lutheran (ELCA) national gathering prepares to follow the Episcopal Church into cultural submission and captivity. Note this family's new direction:

I feel that the National Church is rapidly moving away from the Bible I believe in and that Jesus Christ is being lost in the shuffle. I try to live life based on the principles, values, and morals that I believe in. I can no longer belong to an organized religion that does not closely follow those beliefs. My decision is not a knee jerk reaction to any one action of the Episcopal Church; it was made after much prayer, contemplation and “soul searching”. I have spent many sleepless nights and had the peace of my daily life interrupted by these issues for quite a while and feel that it will eventually affect my faith if I continue to fight it in my head. So, we're leaving, (we hope to find a good Bible based Church that has no ties to any national Church) please know that we have only good thoughts and feelings for you and all of those at Good Shepherd. We will miss you and hope and pray for good things to come to Good Shepherd.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Down 'n' out

Got hit with a nasty something or other yesterday. Limped through services and just went to bed once I got home.

Boys are off to the first day of the new school year and I am going back to bed.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Brookings Rector scoops Sports Illustrated Top 10; Easter Swimsuit Issue expected.

Fr. Ryan Hall posted his NCAA football preseason top-10 way back on August 7th. SI arrived in the mailbox today... let's do a little comparison, shall we?

Fr. Hall .............................SI
1. Florida..................... 1. Florida
2/3 Tie: .......................2. Texas
"Texahoma"................ 3. Oklahoma
4. Alabama .................4. USC
5. USC ........................5. Virginia Tech
6. LSU.........................6. Ole Miss
7. OK State................. 7. OK State
8. GA Tech................. 8. Alabama
9. Ole Miss................. 9. Boise State
10. "Non- ..................10. Ohio State
Big 10 team
to be named

Well, SI made Ohio State that Big 10 in #10, AND put Penn State on their cover (kiss of death) with a #14 ranking and chance to go much higher.

Ryan was honest enough to put USC at #5, where they will end up unless they win every game and find a workable, popular health care reform plan for the nation. Meanwhile, the people who have influence on the bowl games will come up with yet another South Florida* - a heretofore unrecognized greatest-team-of-all-time that goes waaaaaaaaaaaay up the rankings and then gets annihilated in a bowl game with some big conference also-ran.

Even with SI placing both Oregon schools in its Top 20, USC will be faulted for "playing in a weak conference," while Florida Okeefenokee North Southern, Kansas Sunflower Roadsign A&M, Delaware Midcoastal Tidewater Tech and other rising programs from powerhouse football regions will bull* their way into BCS contention.

* Heh. Get it?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pray, wipe your feet and have a snack.

Saturday's Morning Prayer Psalms and Lessons are still with me.

I used my vacation not only to rest but to pray, study, do some personal assessment and undertake some changes. And of course the Evil One is right on time to harass me. A spiritual guide gave me good counsel a few decades back: "Just think, 'If I were Satan, which of Tim's buttons would I push?' And then figure he's going to push them."

I was praying about this, confessing that I let the spiritual attacks distract me from God's many blessings and purpose for my life. And then the Morning lessons gave me great help:

Psalm 108:12-13, Grant us your help against the enemy, for vain is the help of man. With God we will do valiant deeds, and he shall tread our enemies under foot.

It was Saint Ignatius who described the devil as "the enemy of human nature." So these Psalm verses lifted my spirit as I recognized that God is our help against our persistent and crafty enemy. I am sure that Saint Paul was thinking of this Psalm when he wrote, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20). Not just a generic assurance that "good will win in the end," but a promise to help us walk all over this spiritual enemy.

Then came a reading from II Samuel 16. As King David slinks out of Jerusalem to avoid his upstart son, a guy named Shimei, a relative of the king that God had removed to promote David, comes out cursing.

Starting at verse 5, Shimei does a pretty good version of hasatan (Hebrew for "the accuser" - Satan is actually an epithet, not a name):

"Out! Out! Murderer! Scoundrel! The Lord has avenged on all of you the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood."

Shimei takes the blessing that God gave to David and portrays it as something evil. This is one of The Accuser's best tricks. He tries to shame us about anything good we've received from God's hand; to make all look ugly and accursed.

What is the outcome of Shimei's rant? At verses 13-14 we read, So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.

David "refreshed himself." Pelted with rocks and curses and dirt, David turned to one of his own best lyrics, Psalm 23:5.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

When the Evil One screams at us, God ignores his noise, hears our prayers and drowns him out with a still, small voice of love.

When The Accuser launches an attack, God marches our clumsy feet into a counterattack that stomps Satan down.

Then God serves up a feast to make up for the leanness that the devil sent into our souls. God washes away the grime of Satan's antics and perfumes us with new life. God pours a cup of mercy, the blood of Christ, and from it we drink away all memory of the devil's corruption in our lives.

Smaller Churches (such as most Episcopal and many on the Plains) tend to devalue Bible and evangelism

Robin G. Jordan at Anglicans Ablaze posted research showing that people in churches of under 100 attenders
  • - are much less likely than members of larger congregations to believe that the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches,
  • - are much less likely to believe that sharing their faith with others is important and
  • - are much less likely to attend worship and engage in Bible study or other church activities on a regular basis.

One of the first veteran Episcopal priests with whom I served was emphatic that people come to church for "fellowship," and could really care less about spirituality, theology or much of anything else beyond enjoying the company of their friends.

The recent Episcopal "State of the Church" report, largely ignored by the denomination, flagged "lack of evangelism" as a glaring denominational problem.

Nevertheless, my anecdotal experience is that small churches perceive themselves as warmer and more sincere than larger churches. Often, members of these smaller churches do not take into account the "cells" within larger churches, where members find intimacy and spiritual growth apart from the large Sunday worship gathering. Members of smaller churches tend to emphasize "knowing everybody at the service" when they choose to attend and form their perception accordingly.

The small congregation is a staple here on the Plains, where many communities are very small. There are certainly lively, sincere churches that are "small" only as a reflection of the limited or spread out population base from which they can draw members.

But for denominations like the Episcopal Church, where average Sunday attendance in all settings is 80 or less, the research might suggest that congregations are satisfied to meet the social needs of current members, and have no perceived need to find a compelling spiritual message. This is consistent with the findings of the denomination's "State of the Church" data.

In the mid-90s, I heard a church development speaker apply Jesus' words in Luke 19:26 - "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away" - to the trend of larger churches claiming a growing percentage of America's active Christians, while smaller churches decline. The recent research might suggest that what the growing churches "have" is more than material resources - they have confidence in their Scriptures, urgency about sharing their message and commitment to spiritual growth and practice beyond Sunday mornings.

This'll make you camp out on the church doorstep tonight!

Earlier this a.m., I posted some of the worshipful verses that come up in this Sunday's lessons.

I also tweeted, wall posted and otherwise circulated them. On Facebook, they were getting Amens and Alleluias.

My seminary roommate, Fr. Bill Ortt (now Rector of Christ Church, Easton, MD) posted a link to this video... don't scare your parish when you show up singing.

Keep the Lord's Day the right way

Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation. Psalm 111:1 filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:18-20

Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." John 6:51

Friday, August 14, 2009

SD's Rep. Herseth Sandlin comments on health care at Brookings meeting... but there are rumbles from Rapid City

Brookings Register She notes the need to control some public (that is, government) drivers of health care costs and is open to some form of tort reform, although she's not specific. (From her Facebook wall.)

Meanwhile, Dakota Voice is reporting that Rep. Herseth Sandlin abruptly changed a Rapid City forum from public to private invitation.

Compare and contrast: understanding who you worship and why

The Collect (gathering prayer) for this Sunday in The Episcopal Church:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Archbishop Cranmer included this Collect in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), and it's been in use in the Anglican tradition of Christianity ever since.

The prayer simply and brilliantly praises God for a) sending Jesus to be the unique sacrifice for human sin and b) giving us Jesus' human life as our example to follow. One of the greatest "both/ands" ever, I think. The prayer has us call on God for grace to receive both - the sacrifice for us and the example to us.

It is not being argumentative to point out that The Episcopal Church is very, very uncomfortable with the idea of Christ as sacrifice for our sins. The cross has become a "stumbling block" for Episcopalians, especially clergy and lay leaders. They seem to be "cruciphobic" in their teaching.

The denomination's online "Visitor Center" at best downplays and at worst denies God's gift on the cross. Here is the site explanation of why Jesus was crucified:

Jesus became so popular, in fact, and the leaders were so upset by his activities, that finally, he was betrayed by one of his own disciples to the authorities, and the Roman government put him to death by nailing him to a wooden cross outside of Jerusalem. (Part of this article.)

In fairness, the page has this affirmation, off to the side and below the main explanation:

Q: What is the great importance of Jesus' suffering and death?
A: By his obedience, even to suffering and death, Jesus made the offering which we could not make; in him we are freed from the power of sin and reconciled to God.
from "An Outline of the Faith," Book of Common Prayer, 1979.

Then there is the explanation of the Trinity, Christianity's unique revelation of God. There are some good points made, but look at the terrible gap in explaining Jesus as God the Son:

What this means to Christians is that while we embrace the teachings of Jesus the man, while we strive to emulate his life and works, we also pray to Jesus as God to intervene in the world and our lives and give us the strength and forgiveness to live our lives according to those teachings. Jesus also acts to speak on our behalf with God the Father, asking for His intervention in the affairs of the world and forgiveness for the failings and 'sins' of humans. (From here.)

It is commendable that the site affirms the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. But his "sacrifice for sin" is ignored.

When you go to worship this weekend (and I pray that you do), get there on time and say a hearty "Amen!" to that Collect. Hear the Gospel of the day, and understand that this message of the life-giving body and blood loses all meaning without the cross. Holy Communion loses all meaning without the cross, as the New Testament teaches:

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. I Corinthians 11:26

With Archbishop Cranmer and centuries of other Anglicans, pray that Episcopal Church leaders will receive the "grace to receive thankfully the fruits of Christ's redeeming work" (that is, his crucifixion as sacrifice for sin). And pray that the denomination find more leaders who are able to receive and respond to this grace.

"Bound by conscience" or just bound up in deception? Prayers for our Lutheran brothers and sisters requested.

By email, from a friend with Lutheran roots and Episcopalian background:

"I have added the ELCA to my prayers this week and next. It might be something that we all try to do. They are having their 'General Convention' (or Assembly) starting late in the week in Minneapolis, and they are up against very similar issues... Particularly interesting is the concept of 'bound conscience', a cleverly-devised canard, pointing to some of the inconsistencies in Luther's' teachings among other things. This 'bound conscience' thing is simply a diversion to keep everyone at the table while the changes go through...something like the Listening Process, with a similar implied concept of people of opposing theologies being bound together by simply 'agreeing to disagree'..."


The "bound conscience" argument can be explored here; Dr. Leander Harding has linked to this letter by a prominent Lutheran theologian, who explores the complete breakdown in thinking on the part of "mainline" denominations:

"Yes, reason and experience are in command. Whose reason and experience? Not the Church’s, as defined by millennia of teaching by the fathers, martyrs, saints, doctors, evangelists, and missionaries, down through the centuries and across all cultures, but yours and those with whom you agree during the last 20 years of American culture-conforming Christianity."