Thursday, December 31, 2009
Hey, I know that all of my blog readers are fat cat donors just waiting to make that big year end gift. So visit my JDRF walk page and make me walk!
Oh, and, uh, Happy New Year 'n' stuff.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
"We're having a New Years Day celebration at the church, where we'll pass out the gifts and treats for the children. (Note: Christmas events were postponed due to the blizzard). In Pine Ridge it was declared a state of emergency, so lots of people are still snowed in. Unfortunately, some don't have propane for heat due to the impassable roads. Please remember them in your prayers."
Please pray for the people who are cut off from services and support. The snow has stopped but the temps are very low. I am sure that the same conditions are present on other Reservations and in rural areas. Even in the city, some new housing tracts and apartment complexes have had to wait for public services or management to dig out streets and parking lots. But at least here we have abundant heat.
So please do call upon God for the folks who are isolated under harsh conditions.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
It is one thing for Christians to disagree about broad social policy. The whole debate over government funded health care will find Christians, like all other people, arguing over the most beneficial means to provide the best care for the most people.
But for an ostensibly Christian denomination to sell itself out for a few pats on the head from a declining group of zealots is the worst sort of whoring. To simply drop the inherently religious discussion of the beginning and dignity of life is to become a prostitute for the ungodly.
For those who don't know, the Episcopal Church became a sponsor of this kind of trash through its "Executive Council" - about 40 disproportionately old, affluent gay folks at a wine 'n' cheese party. There was no church-wide debate. In fact, many dioceses (including South Dakota) had passed resolutions asking for respectful restraint in the abortion debate.
After the Executive Council whored out the church, some dioceses and many individuals asked for the repeal of the action - with truly appalling lack of response.
h/t TitusOneNine for the Religious Intelligence article.
<- The wounded were taken to a field hospital set up in a nearby Episcopal Church. “The blood of the people who died there are still in the floorboards of that church.” Lori Ann Two Bulls, November, 2008.
Monday, December 28, 2009
It also points up the suspicion with which many of us were trained to read the New Testament. Much of the "scholarship" of mainline denominational seminaries assumes that the Christian scriptures are mostly propaganda pieces, made up not just to advance a religion but to oppress some other group.
In the case of the Holy Innocents, there is scant historical corroboration for the massacre, so what we got in seminary was the following line of thought: "Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience. He wants Jews to become Christians. Therefore he made up this story to present Jesus as the new Moses, escaping from from a massacre of male children. It is simply Christian propaganda to downgrade Judaism's great prophet and law giver while exalting Jesus, the advocate of (insert cause of the day here), to a place he never intended to be."
Yeah, much of seminary was like listening to some weird late night radio show, where everybody calls in to share conspiracy theories about everything that happens. It is hard to refute arguments that have their own closed way of interpreting things.
But just yesterday, I caught a tweet from Tehran Bureau, with real time news from Iran. The link went to this report. Here's the key paragraph:
"Opposition and other unofficial sources claim that at least four protesters have been reported killed as thousands of opposition supporters chanting antigovernment slogans clashed with security forces in central Tehran, although Iranian police dismissed the report and said no deaths had occurred."
The "out" group, which is what Christians were for their first several centuries, tries to circulate news, while the powers that be deny their report. To put a South Dakota spin on it, what happened at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890? Was it a "battle," as the government and newspapers reported, or a "massacre" as most historians now say?
If we are going to assign a conspiracy, it is more likely that the lack of corroboration for the slaughter of the Holy Innocents reflects Roman desire to suppress inflammatory, inconvenient news from an overheated province. The Romans were invested in giving their "Judeans" a semblance of autonomy through the regent king, Herod, and this would be placed at risk by reporting an atrocity. Besides which Matthew, if he was just trying to ape Exodus, would have had the foreign oppressor, Pontius Pilate, play the part of Pharaoh and order the massacre in order to gain more Jewish sympathy for his Gospel.
The Holy Innocents were, like so many people throughout history, in the wrong place at the wrong time when evil asserted itself. Matthew assigns them no special virtue - we are free to infer that some might have grown up to be wonderful, holy people; others to be monstrously evil. It is a very human reality, so horribly repeated across the centuries as to not merit much news. In this sense, Matthew is hardly a propagandist - he is a voice for the voiceless, doing the work of God that Jesus' mother praised in song:
"He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly."
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Sarah Hey posted an amazing set of reports from England, where motivated Anglicans are actually "relocating, shifting schools, jobs and homes to be in on" the resurrection of empty parishes.
Do go to the link, from which you can go to several of the reports from the UK.
The Gospel can go forward, even in places where the church is stagnant and secularism, pluralism and other forces are in play. But it will take risky, sacrificial actions and those of (I certainly include me) raised in the coziness of denominational religion will have to take a really deep breath of the Spirit to dive in.
The woman asked me to go get the son in the way that a woman asks a man to go get a son that is really her telling a man to do it.
The son was a good kid, the kind that makes a mother feel good by his goodness. And I was going to get him in the Christmas blizzard of '09 because it would make his mother feel good to have his goodness close by.
I got into the minivan. It was blue in a dark way that made the good son say "Purple." I backed down the driveway and made a slow, backwards promenade into the street the way Mendoza used to do in the Plaza de Toros before that bull gored him in an unspeakable place and he no longer fought the bulls.
Then I was stuck. I was stuck in a way that made the wheels spin against the ice and snow and the minivan didn't move. The blue that the son said looked like purple just sat there against the white of the snow and the wheels spun but couldn't go backwards or forwards, like Mendoza after the bull gored him.
There was a knock on the window of the minivan, and I rolled it down in that electrical way that a man does that isn't really rolling, but there's no good word for it.
"Senor, and I do say it rightly - senyor - but you been blogging all these years an' you still don't know how to type in the tilde - you appear to be - como se dice? - stuck."
It was the kid from the house that was across the street. Not across the street in a due north and south way, but across the street and past some houses to the east. Like everybody in the houses on the street, he was Norwegian, but a man can't tell a story without a Cuban or a Spaniard if it is going to be a man's story, so I just called the kid Norte and pretended that he was the kind of Cuban or Spaniard that could make it a man's story.
"Es verdad, Norte," I admitted as a man would admit such a thing. Really, both things he said were verdad - I was stuck, and I didn't know how to type the tilde. Mendoza tried to teach me, but then the bull gored him and he stopped teaching. Many men who come live with the Norwegians forget how to type the tilde, so I didn't feel shame and I was like a lot of men who forget.
I got out of the van and Norte had several friends with shovels so I pulled out my shovel and we all began to toss the white snow away from the blue van that made a son - even a good son - say purple when he saw it.
"Try again, senyor," said Norte in the right way, with a "y" sound attached to the "n," the right way that never needed explanation if a man didn't forget how to type the tilde.
I tried and it was useless to try. The wheels kept spinning and the blue van that made the son say purple just sat there useless against the white of the snow. I looked at our house and saw the woman looking out at me in a way that said "Useless" although she didn't speak the word.
I began to trudge toward the house. I said "This wouldn'a happened to Hemingway," really saying it to myself and nobody else but Norte heard it and he had to say something. A good son would hear it and not say a thing but Norte was the son of somebody else and I spit in the milk that nursed him.
"Senyor," he said, drawing himself up to full height and speaking like some Spaniard King of the Holy Roman Empire, "The beeg man, this Heh-meen-way, he no drive a meenee-van."
John, known variously as the Evangelist, the Divine (meaning one who sees into the mysteries of God, not an idolatrous claim that John is a divinity), and the beloved disciple, is credited with the New Testament Gospel that bears his name, three New Testament letters, and the Revelation. It should be noted that scholars still debate about how many different "Johns" might actually have contributed to those Biblical texts.
As I think about the traditional view of John, I muse about the church's punting of environmental issues to secular or neopagan zealots. John sees the earth fighting on God's side in the battle against evil:
"When the dragon (the devil) saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child... Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus." Revelation 12:13-17
John sees God's final justice and hears the earth receive the same vindication as the saints:
"The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great— and for destroying those who destroy the earth." Revelation 11:18
John's Feast Day invariably falls during Christmas season, which is appropriate since John's Gospel is the richest exposition of the Incarnation - the supernatural God's choice to inhabit the natural, material world in the flesh and blood of Jesus. The great Prologue of his Gospel is assigned for this First Sunday after Christmas:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..."
excerpts from John 1
The hymns of the Christmas season, written in different places and periods of church history, present the natural world rejoicing as its creator takes flesh:
"Of the Father's love begotten, ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore! At his word the worlds were framèd; he commanded; it was done: heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one; all that grows beneath the shining of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!" Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-413)
"Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul and voice; give ye heed to what we say: Jesus Christ is born today; ox and ass before him bow, and he is in the manger now. Christ is born today! Christ is born today!" Valentin Triller, 1572
"Joy to the world! the Savior reigns; let us our songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy,repeat, repeat the sounding joy." Isaac Watts, 1719
"Angels we have heard on high Sweetly singing o'er the plains, And the mountains in reply Echoing their joyous strains. Gloria, in excelsis Deo! Gloria, in excelsis Deo!"
Traditional French Carol, trans. J. Chadwick 1862
(All lyrics from Oremus Index of the Episcopal Hymnal 1982)
These few Bible passages and hymns barely dip into a deep Christian river of reverence for God's pleasure, plan and presence in the natural world. One of my parishioners recently coauthored a book on the environmental awareness running through the works of C.S. Lewis, perhaps the most widely read Christian of the 20th century.
I don't have a quick answer as to why the church has lost its joyful proclamation that "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof..." (Psalm 24:1). Some usual suspects would be
- - Urbanization: the detachment of human life from natural cycles;
- - Fallout from the (so called) "Enlightenment": Endless analysis of particulars and rejection of meaningful connections between them. Intellectual dis-integration, such as "science and religion, natural and supernatural, material and spiritual are all separate categories with no overlap."
- - Humanism: Yeah, I said it. The College 101 myth is that "The Bible tells people to rule over the earth, and that's why there's environmental destruction." But the fact is that the Industrial Revolution and other historically harsh-on-the-environment seasons coincide with the rise of human-centered (as opposed to God-centered) world views. Don't forget Blake's 19th century poem, popularized as a hymn, in which Jesus strolling on "mountains green and pleasant pastures" is contrasted with the "dark Satanic mills" of Industrial England.
From a Christian point of view, St. John reminds us that our inattention to any aspect of God's pleasure, plan and presence is symptomatic of evil's constant (but blessedly futile) effort to obscure the truth: the love of God revealed in the birth of Jesus.
"The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it... He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God." Selections from John's Prologue, New Living Translation
Saturday, December 26, 2009
The national percentage of respondents who say that "religion is very important in their lives" is 56%... and that's right where North and South Dakota (lumped together, of course) come in.
The survey used three other measures:
- + Weekly attendance at religious services: 39% National avg.; 42% Dakotas
- - Pray at least once a day: 58% National avg.; 56% Dakotas
- + Believe in God with absolute certainty: 71% National avg.; 79% Dakotas
The higher belief in God figure might be influenced by Native Americans, many of whom believe in God but who value ceremonies more for key occassions than as a weekly event.
h/t Minnesota neighbor Anglicat.
"Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.' What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith." Acts 6:1-7
- If you are in the Episcopal Church, or on the Northern Plains, or simply a pastor in America, the statistical odds are that you are the spiritual leader of a small church. This means you deal with all of the institution with less of the help. As SD's Bishop John Tarrant rightly observes, "If the copy machine goes down on Christmas Eve, you are the one who's supposed to 'fix it'." Contrast our small church reality with the lesson. The apostles recognize the need for spiritual leaders, devoted to the work of prayer and preaching. Diluting their work, which is what religion tends to do through institutional demands, is "neglect" and will hurt the church in the long run. Notice that the lesson starts out with the church in a period of growth - and that the decision is for spiritual leaders to be more narrowly focused rather than broadly scattered in their efforts.
- The only authoritative act of the apostles in this lesson is to affirm their role as ministers of the word of God. The rest of the decisions and work are entrusted to the people of the church: "Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves..." In today's small church, we invert this. "Pastor" is rewarded for dabbling in and often running almost every aspect of the congregation's life while the congregation sets the boundaries for preaching - "We like it when you talk about... we don't like it when you..." I know a couple of clergy who've dealt with this head on in their initial interviews with a congregation, by saying, "OK, if you call me here I will preach and teach. What will the rest of you do?" That's the healthy clarity and boundary-setting we see in the lesson, and congregations asked that question often find the discussion fruitful. This assumption that each person in the church has a gift and a role is Biblical and is the foundation for "Mutual Ministry" models employed in many small churches - but the model often breaks down because institutional maintenance roles are assigned without providing a leader truly "devoted to prayer and serving the word."
- Notice that when the healthy model is in place, with spiritual leaders praying and preaching and the rest of the church developing and carrying out applications of the word, the church gains vitality. "The word spread... the numbers grew...many became obedient to the faith." The traditional American small church, with its inward focus, managerial pastor, aging building and fading membership, is breaking down because it devotes too much of its time, talent and treasure to organizational complexity while neglecting its core mission: The proclamation of Christ by preaching and works done in his name.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Merry Christmas, dear readers, commenters and critics. May the warmth of Christ's love thaw the "wintred and frozen" places in our souls, and may the words we share become a rich harvest of his wisdom, grace, peace and mercy.
Timothy, Melissa, Tim & Joseph Fountain
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Bible commentators call Titus a "pastoral epistle," because it contains advice for church leaders. Pastoral work has its share of stresses and hazards, but it gives amazing opportunity to be hanging around when grace - God's free gift of love - appears. All that we are meant to do or impart hinges on the fact that God has revealed incredible love for the people by "visiting them in great humility," in the body and blood of Christ on earth.
I've been trying to pay Christmas visits on folks who can't come out to the church. A few nights ago, my wife and I took Holy Communion to one great lady, a former legislator with a wonderful blend of wit, life experience and spiritual insight. There was grace in how much she delighted in seeing us and asking about our lives (yeah, I know, that's backwards but she kinda took charge on her home court - and after all grace is by definition a gift, not something earned.) And there was grace as the courtyard lights of her apartment complex popped on and seduced us into thoughts about another Christmas Lesson, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."
Today, several things conspired to give me a couple of "found hours" before the winter storm, and the Spirit moved me to drop in on one of our folks at a nursing facility. He's a brilliant man who suffered a stroke, and he's been in physical, speech and occupational therapy for some time.
God's grace appeared as soon as I saw him - he was tinkering with an old wind up alarm clock, and doing it without the mechanical aid he'd needed to grasp objects just a few weeks ago. There was some muscle tone showing in his arms again. He smiled and wiggled both sets of fingers, and showed off a cane that is replacing his walker for hallway strolls.
Best of all, he was making progress against one of the stroke's most frustrating effects. He had been losing words left and right since the stroke - it was hard for this bright and learned man to have a conversation. But today his conversation was fluid and his vocabulary ready. Now and then he would have a glitch searching for a word - and growl "dammit" - but the delays were not so long and he was always able to finish a story or thought. He was sober about it all - he was glad for each bit of progress but also clear that he would not be 100% again. And he was seasoned with grace. He kept accenting his progress reports with a smile and a decisive "Thanks be to God" at the end of each.
And if that wasn't enough grace for the day, one of my Lay Ministers got in touch to say, "Looks like I have some open time in the next few days - are there any folks who need visits?" What a blessing - to me and to the people. So he got in touch with two other folks to serve them on behalf of Christ and the church. And another of my Lay team is making regular hospice visits on the elder of three currently active generations in our congregation.
"The grace of God has appeared" - to show God's favor to those who are struggling, to give hope to those under oppression by the world, the flesh and the devil. To take the very simple, very human meetings of just two or three people who share Jesus' name and ignite them with divine love.
"Dear Members of Episcopal Churches on the Rosebud Reservation:
Due to our winter storm, which has been predicted by every news outlet covering the area, we sadly must cancel all Christmas Eve (Thursday), and Christmas Day (Friday) services. This includes services of Mother Judy Spruhan, Fr. Spruhan, & Fr. Webster Two Hawk. Tentatively, these services have been scheduled for Sunday, December 27th. More dates and times to follow. Please take care when driving to see relatives, wear your seatbelts, bring your cell-phones if available, and add a warm blanket to your car supplies, should you be stranded. If in doubt, don't travel or drive in the predicted weather. God knows that you will celebrate Christmas in your heart...it's not worth your life to venture into a blizzard.
-The Rosebud Episcopal Mission"
Things are still iffy in Sioux Falls. Storms that hammer the rest of the state just tap us sometimes. But I'm looking out the window at some pretty good wind-driven snow coming down right now...
5:00 & 11:00 PM
Snowplowing is planned to for the parking lot, weather permitting.
Good Shepherd is at 33rd & Williams,
Yet Jesus took on our whole human nature in the womb of Mary. He lived with passion and enthusiasm, and these must find expression in his church if it is to represent him.
When we put a lid on enthusiasm for Christ, the passion seeps out someplace else, usually in the form of "causes." Here's a quote from an Episcopal priest caught up in enthusiasm for the gay/lesbian church, a strange emotional blend of jingoism, religious language and the Pledge of Allegiance:
"...the American church is willing to take whatever consequences may come in order to save its soul, which means boldly and consistently advocating for justice for all."
Wall Street Journal, Dec. 7.
These words are a judgment on Anglicans. Because we fear our own enthusiasm and passion for Christ, we wind up venting the power into these kinds of eccentricities.
What is our hope? It is expressed in a lesson that Episcopalians and many other Christians will be hearing in the next 48 hours:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
"Self-control" is not ignored - it is right in the middle of who we are meant to be. But there is also the passionate effort to renounce (the Bible uses terms like "crucify, put to death") our ungodly ways and to become zealous for the work that Christ assigns us as his ambassadors in the world.
It is too easy to be enthusiastic about that which brings us headlines or victory over perceived enemies. May we become zealous instead for "manifestations of the glory of Christ" which, like his birth, are surprisingly small, humble and "off the grid" from a worldly point of view.
UPDATE: The major bloggers are sharing Ephraim Radner's analysis of things Episcopal - worth the read.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Many people will say, "Aw, I had to miss Christmas," meaning they didn't get to a service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. For so many Christians, Christmas ends when the mall muzak stops.
But those of us in liturgical churches are just gettin' started. We have a Christmas season that is all about Christ, not shopping. It begins on Christmas Eve and lasts until January 6. This Christmas season, we actually get two Christmas Sundays (Dec. 27 & Jan. 3).
The First Sunday after Christmas, I like to remind my congregations, is a chance for believers to dwell on the meaning of Jesus' birth, not just give a cultural wave to camels, donkeys, tinfoil halos, or to the revisionist assertion that it was a date grabbed by the church just to ruin a lovely pagan celebration of peace, justice and being one with nature or something.
The liturgical calendar was established by the church to make an annual presentation of the whole New Testament - of Jesus Christ himself. Not just one mystery, teaching or manifestation, but the whole apostolic testimony to what Jesus said and did, and what he left his church to do until he comes again. It is all about the fullness of God revealed in Jesus. Christ's birth is humble, yet he is the absloute ruler who will "come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end." "You must be born again," but you must also "grow up into the full stature of Christ." Christ made the one perfect sacrifice for our salvation, yet we must "share in his sufferings if we are to share in his glory." The liturgical year can smash our selective slogans on the cornerstone of Christ himself, and be a means of grace to become truly reliant upon him as we gawk at the fragments of any inert Jesus we've tried to fabricate.
The Gospel at the link above, always read on the Sunday after Christmas, is the Prologue of John. John gives no narrative of Jesus' birth - instead we get the mystery of just who came into our flesh and blood world. John provides the verse that explains why we should care about Christmas at all:
"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."
That's the Christmas message - the only thing that separates the wonder of Jesus' birth from the wonder of yours or mine. And it will not be preached or celebrated in most church services on Christmas Eve or Day - only on the Sunday after, when most stay home to sleep them off.
"If you think this snow is so wonderful, I present you with the exhilarating opportunity to shovel the sidewalks and driveway to your heart's content at the home of one of your friends. I know that answering phones at a call center* does not satiate your desire to enjoy to white stuff, and I thought that you may wish to delve into a much closer encounter ( or dare I say, "communion") with the dandruff from above.
One's enthusiasm for snow is in inverse proportion to the amount he has to shovel."
But: My wife and I were watching it come down last night, wondering how we ever spent so long in SoCal without the beauty and power of changing seasons.
But: I used to get the weather report in L.A. (like one really needs to check) from Jillian Barberie Reynolds. She grew up in the Great White North of Canada, and was a true defector. Her reports were something like, "A beautiful day in L.A. 95 degrees out with rising humidity and a smog alert - I just can't wait to get out of this studio and soak it all in!" Yes, I'm exaggerating, but not by much.
I suppose I should make some insightful quote about the human condition. But I've downed only one mug of coffee so far and I'm sure you have favorite aphorisms.
*scathing reference to my p/t job at the medical center.
The world is still longing for the Good News of great joy.
It's asking for the taking.
Oh, my heart is aching.
We're coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.
Let the river run,
let all the dreamers
wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.
Monday, December 21, 2009
At the City Council meeting, several folks thanked me "for coming out on a night like this," but I told them how wonderful it was to drive through the lit-up old downtown with snow falling. All of my senses filled with memories of Army days in Europe, especially Nuernberg's Christkindlesmarkt.
I took the dog for a walk when I got back, since the wind was not up and it was not insufferably cold. I was enjoying lights and silence; she saw a rabbit scoot under an evergreen. So a good time was had by all.
The Pettigrew Heights plan is item #14 and likely the main discussion item for the evening. There are several linked exhibits that are worth a look.
Last year, Sioux Falls blogger South DaCola raised questions about the project, as did at least one City Council Member he quotes.
A bit of historical flavor is supplied by Madville Times. Some earlier local news video is here.
Bishop John Tarrant of South Dakota will travel around The Yankton Sioux Reservation, visiting several mission churches. He will celebrate Holy Communion twice on Christmas Eve and once on Christmas Day.
The Yankton Mission has been without a resident priest for some time. The Episcopal Church Positions Open Bulletin has information for clergy who might sense a call to serve God's people there.
Please join the Diocese of South Dakota in prayer for the Bishop's safe travel and for joyful, fruitful time with God's people of the Yankton Mission.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Heh. Made ya look.
Actually, I'm talking about the scandal in today's lessons for the fourth and final Sunday of Advent.
- God's power unleashed in some podunk town instead of an impressive capitol.
God's plan wrapped up in a teenage girl instead of an action hero.
God's favor found when we say "Yes" to his gift instead of "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
The scandal of everything upside down: the mighty knocked off their thrones and the meek lifted up.
The scandal of all history turning on one child's birth, short life, humiliating death and empty tomb.
The scandal of one particular name to save the whole cosmos.
Oh yeah. The church got scandal.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I stood in my driveway and sang it as a prayer for my neighborhood while the dog went out in the dark this morning.
Creator of the stars of night,
thy people's everlasting light,
Jesus, Redeemer, save us all,
hear thou thy servants when they call.
Thou, sorrowing at the helpless cry
of all creation doomed to die,
didst save our lost and guilty race
by healing gifts of heavenly grace.
Thou cam'st, the Bridegroom of the bride,
as drew the world to eventide;
proceeding from a virgin shrine,
the spotless Victim all divine.
At thy great Name, exalted now,
all knees in lowly homage bow;
all things in heaven and earth adore,
and own thee King for evermore.
To thee, O Holy One, we pray,
our Judge in that tremendous day,
ward off, while yet we dwell below,
the weapons of our crafty foe.
To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
laud, honor, might and glory be
from age to age eternally.
Gregory the Great
Friday, December 18, 2009
Premier Bankcard, based here in Sioux Falls, will carry a 79.9% interest rate to evade fee limits that go into effect in 2010.
According to the report from msnbc,
"In a mailing sent to prospective customers in October with the revamped terms, First Premier writes '...you might have less-than-perfect credit and we're OK with that.' The letter notes that an online application or phone call is still required, but guarantees a 60-second status confirmation.
The letter also states there are no hidden fees that aren't disclosed in the attached form. That's where the 79.9 percent interest rate and $75 annual fee are listed. There's also $29 penalty if you pay late or go over your $300 credit limit.
Even if First Premier doesn't stick with the 79.9 APR, it will likely hike rates considerably from the current 9.9 percent to offset the lower fees..."
I've blogged about the Biblical condemnation of usury several times. You can type usury into the search function atop this blog and it will lead you to a number of posts. The bottom line is that God doesn't like it and places the moral onus on the lender, not the borrower.
It goes without saying that Christ is grieved by a culture that expects people to pile up December debt to celebrate his birth. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us...full of grace and truth becomes something like "God sent us this great deal, albeit with high interest and hidden fees in the small print."
Despite the Biblical clarity, usury presents moral conundrums today. To eliminate it would cost many South Dakotans their jobs in the lending industry. First Premier's owner is South Dakotan T. Denny Sanford, who has used the wealth generated by the lending industry to become one of America's top philanthropists, including a substantial research project grant to attack juvenile diabetes. (I work part time in a medical system named for him and carry my family's medical coverage through their plan - so I guess you can say I benefit from usury).
The private sector isn't the only problem. Government programs aimed at present social problems are funded by financially encumbering future generations. My wife's Social Security disability has relieved our financial stress - but one might rightly argue that this is essentially money that future generations will struggle to pay for.
And so we come back to the Christmas message, don't we? In a world full of good intentions and unintended consequences, clear standards and cut corners, we do not find perfection. But the Word became flesh in Jesus, And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10). We are saved by a gift, pure and simple. Found treasure on the manger floor.
Over at Stand Firm, I caught news of an attack on the Salvation Army. The source article, from San Francisco, is here.
I can understand gay/lesbian activists not supporting the Salvation Army, since it is a Christian organization with Biblical standards that impact its staffing and benefits policies.
But to try and shut it down? While there is debate about the relative affluence of the homosexual community, it is clear that it has media favor and influential access to the political process. In some cases (such as many courts)it is clear that gays & lesbians are a specially favored group for public policy decisions.
The Salvation Army, on the other hand, ministers out on the edge to some of our most marginalized neighbors.
What we see in the article is a group with social standing and power trying to defund compassionate ministry to those with no social standing or power. Those on the left frequently plead for "social justice" - but in this case they seem to defend the relatively powerful against a politically weaker group.
Certainly, gays and lesbians have been the marginal group in many places for much of history. Which should, one would think, make them more rather than less sympathetic to the homeless, the mentally ill and the working poor. And my guess is that many gay and lesbian people are sympathetic and probably drop some cash in the Salvation Army buckets without a thought to ideological issues.
But the hateful frenzy of the activists is an extra reason to fill those buckets in the run-up to Christmas. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).
Thursday, December 17, 2009
During our dark winter mornings I step outside amazed by the stars and constellations and I offer the day’s first Psalms to their Creator – our Creator.
Without deep darkness, we miss the most glorious light. We have great possibility in dark seasons. Economic turmoil and financial fears; the world’s polarization and strife polluting even the church; the sadness of deaths and departures from our congregation; these and so many other falling shadows can be just the backdrop by which we see the most glorious light:
If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night," darkness is not dark to you, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. (Psalm 139:10-11)
At Christmas we worship the one true light – because it shines for us. The light dimmed its own splendor to plunge into our darkness, so that we can escape the darkness and shine in splendor forever.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:4-5); For the same God who said, "Out of darkness let light shine," has caused his light to shine within us, to give the light of revelation—the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5-6).
Come out on our dark Christmas Eve and adore the light who adores you.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
...we recognize no good person who was left untested by the wickedness of the bad. If I may put it this way, the sword of your soul does not acquire a keen, sharp edge unless another's wickedness hones it."
Gregory the Great
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
In the first catch, the net was broken because of the huge number of fish it took in. In the present age the ranks of the unjust coexist side by side with the virtuous in professing the faith, and in the process the church is torn apart with their heresies. In the later catch many large fish are caught, but the net remains unbroken. The church of the chosen continues in the uninterrupted peace of its Creator, with no dissensions to tear her apart."
Gregory the Great
Monday, December 14, 2009
The Episcopal Church had a big ol' ad in USA Today. You can see it here.
The second-to-last claim it makes is
We clebrate our unity in Christ while honoring our differences, always putting the work of love before uniformity of opinion.
That's the claim. The national FACTS are:
- Membership profile is disproportionately affluent, older, white and homosexual, and with a high number of clergy relative to the small number of active members. This is even more exaggerated in denominational leadership.
- Disproportionately low presence of men, young adults, teens, children and working class people.
- Decline by attrition and lack of evangelism, indicating current members' inability and/or unwillingness to interact with people who are not already part of their social circle.
- More use of disciplinary sanctions against dissenting clergy than at any time in Episcopal Church history.
- Millions of dollars in litigation over church property, even when dissenting congregations offer to pay for title. Not to mention the elimination of national staff and programs while increasing the lawsuit budget and hiring a personal litigator for the Presiding Bishop.
- De facto exclusion of traditional Christians from governing bodies and ordination as clergy.
Yep, some mad love and honoring of differences in the Episcopal Church today. South Dakota presents an interesting anomaly. The diocese is multi-ethnic; clergy are hard to recruit and retain; congregations serve some of the poorest counties in the United States. But it's current trend is the same as the rest of the denomination: fading away by attrition.
Sarah Hey writes from the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, detailing the decay of the Episcopal Church there.
"-- Many revisionist clergy lie -- a lot -- so desperate are they to counter certain bishop candidates that they find threatening. I don't know if that's the way it was 30 years ago -- I wasn't around.
But here's a few examples of bald-faced lies told consistently by some revisionist clergy in this diocese.
1) Concerning an interview with Neal Michell in which he states something along the lines of "we traditionalists should be willing to stay in TEC even if we are ashamed -- shame is not the end of the world -- after all, Hosea was shamed by Gomer and yet was commanded by God to stay with her."
I literally received an email with a link to that interview with a line that said that Neal Michell wants to take the diocese out of TEC.
Of course, Neal Michell wants the opposite -- he wants people to stay in TEC. And the article itself said the precise same thing -- he hopes people will stay in TEC. But the people sending that email and spreading that word were lying. And it's hard to beat lies."
During my time in Los Angeles, there were phony "hate faxes" sent around by gay advocates in order to marginalize a traditional parish. There was a made up quote from a famous Anglican theologian, used as part of a Diocesan teaching to say that revision is tradition and tradition is revision.
Some time back, I detailed a rumor campaign against yours truly in the run up to a South Dakota convention.
"It's hard to beat lies," says Sarah. Amen. That's why the enemy of truth releases so many of them, even in the church.
I think she speaks for lots of people as the demands of the culture's season undo the first season of the Church year. Thinking of which inevitably leads me here.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The first ballot is in, and TitusOneNine linked to the diocesan web site:
December 12, 2009, 1:47 pm
Ballots cast: Clergy 114; Lay 232
Ballots voided: Clergy 0; Lay 0
Needed to elect: Clergy 58; Lay 117
The Very Rev. John B. Burwell
The Very Rev. Dr. Philip C. Linder
The Rev. Canon Dr. Neal O. Michell
The Rev. David F. O. Thompson
The Rev. W. Andrew Waldo
The Rev. Jerre Stockton Williams, Jr.
The Rev. Robert Brown (from the floor)
(I marked the three candidates with a traditional Christian theology in red.)
What's this saying?
- The denomination's clergy ranks are anti-traditional. Even if all the clergy votes for traditional candidates combined behind one, there would not be enough to elect. The clergy selection and deployment process weeds out traditional Christians.
- There just ain't that many traditional lay people left. Not that all are revisionists, but many are "institutionalists" who want little more from church than a pleasant hour's service and some social time. Upper South Carolina has some good traditional leaders among the laity. They organized well enough that a diocesan survey came out decidedly traditional. Traditional leaders blogged and circulated some off-the-wall stuff from candidate Waldo - and he still makes the strongest showing on the first ballot.
- What lay people say they want and what they do about it do not match up. Neal Michell in particular brings a strong and credible background in church growth and development - one of the Episcopal Church's weakest areas and one that most lay people say is most important to them. But when push comes to shove, Michell cannot get elected (this is not his first nomination for bishop). Revisionist clergy will not support him and there are enough lay votes to keep him competitive but not to elect.
- Episcopalians are embracing stasis - which in a declining denomination means decline. Folks who mouth revisionist slogans and whose congregations have declined keep being elevated to diocesan leadership, while people like them take their place at the congregational level. This means death by attrition given every current membership and participation marker of the denomination: Episcopalians are older than the U.S. church average, and there is no growth by birth, evangelism or transmission from parents to kids.
Note: just saw the second ballot results: Waldo is now only 8 clergy and 15 lay votes shy of election. (You can check it out here). The traditional clergy have indeed rallied to Michell, and they have nowhere near enough votes to influence the outcome.
And another Note: on-site report that Waldo is elected.
The impact of traditional Christian exodus from the Episcopal Church isn't just at the crazy national conventions in the news - it is now a fact of life at the diocesan and parish level.
"The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event, which happened to strike him, like illness or accident. To accept the cross as his destiny, to move toward it and even to provoke it, when he could well have done otherwise, was Jesus' constantly reiterated free choice. He warns his disciples lest their embarking on the same path be less conscious of its costs (Luke 14:25-33). The cross of Calvary was not a difficult family situation, not a frustration of visions of personal fulfillment, a crushing debt, or a nagging in-law; it was the political, legally-to-be-expected result of a moral clash with the powers ruling his society."
I would agree with Yoder that the cross of Christ wasn't some random tragedy. Jesus challenged his disciples to turn from "normal" lives under the curse of inevitable death and to follow him into lives fruitful for the Kingdom of God (Luke13:1-8).
But Yoder goes off track when he disdains family struggles. True, they can be the sort of meaningless dark comedies that have nothing at all to do with the Kingdom of God. But if we are to have a "moral clash with society's ruling powers," a Christian's family life certainly is an arena for it.
To hold onto a marriage in unsatisfying or even bitter seasons is counter to a culture that extols personal satisfaction and serial relationships. It is a painful, costly choice to stay put when divorce is "no fault" and there is more social stigma for staying than for running to the exit. To stay is to honor the New Testament version of love, which imitates Christ by putting others ahead of one's own interests, and is manifested in constant choices to forgive, hope and endure with kindness.
Yoder seems to be saying that the cross is visible only in the histrionics of political activists, a common perception from the religious left. In other words, a tenured Ivy League Professor of Gender Studies, or a TV reality show exhibitionist who weeps about climate change on Oprah, these are examples of the cross of Christ. A couple of married schlubs enduring sickness, financial challenges and disappointments but laboring to honor and care for their family are not.
In tomorrow's Gospel for Advent 3, John the Baptist - one of the Bible's activists - is in stereotypical prophetic fury, calling people "snakes" and presenting a wrathful God who is coming with "the axe and fire." He is approached by the Roman Empire's tax collectors and soldiers, despised regional "recruits" paid starvation wages to help "pacify" their neighbors. (Northern Plains note: government-employed Indian Police took part in killing Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.)
Does John the activist call for "activism" as proof of righteousness? Does he exhort the tax collectors to mount a general strike or the auxiliaries to lay down their arms? No. Even in Luke, the account of Jesus most often lauded for the "social justice" applications of his message, we hear John say, "Confess your sin and be baptized. Then just do your job and don't abuse others." Admit your need for God's mercy and start making choices costly to you but merciful to those around you. That's the righteousness of God - the righteousness ultimately displayed and perfected only by Christ on his cross. Christ is the righteousness of both activist and schlub, and of all who place their faith in him, obeying his words and suffering for them.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Some of my wife's disability money has arrived. Things are turning around in some major ways.
The older kid is accepted at South Dakota School of Mines, Ohio State and Penn State, with MIT's verdict still out.
The autistic kid eats neatly all of a sudden. I'm not kidding, he's just plain stopped making a mess of himself at the table.
My wife is much more her old self - she rolls with the sick/tired days, but personality wise, she's a blast to be around again.
I'm still doing p/t work at the hospital but I have a new daytime position and am home for dinner with the family every night.
You know how it feels when your foot falls asleep and starts to wake up? You want it awake but it sure hurts to get there. All of this good news is a bit disorienting after several years of havoc, and I find myself out of sorts, even as I experience profound relief and thank God for it.
I'm still dealing with burn-out symptoms. I expect I'll be taking short trips, retreats and generally reclaiming some enjoyments that were dropped while slogging through the last few wilderness years.
Anyway, lots of thoughts and most of 'em good. Our family will probably throw a party at the church, celebrating the triumph of prayer, generosity, compassion and endurance. In other words, a celebration of what happens with Christ in our lives and what could not possibly have happened without Him.
I suppose that this is going to end a fruitful run of blogging. Where will I be absent the angst? Minus the melancholy? Who will listen once the sobs of struggling faith fall silent? Brave Clarice. You will let me know when those lambs stop screaming, won't you? Uhh... sorry, now I'm wandering.
Happens when I'm... happy?!?!?!?!?!?!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I wish God and I could communicate more directly and pleasantly sometimes, but I'm just thankful that He's got some good things to say, however they get expressed.
Sorry, too much personal stuff to share details.
Other religion blogs and even MSM have been hyperventilating about the election of a non-celibate lesbian as an assisting bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, where I was born & baptized at the end of the 50s, confirmed in 1978, ordained (deacon '87/priest '88), married in '90, served some churches and lived most of my life until moving to South Dakota just five years ago. So I guess I should show up for the second quarter, cruise court side to high-five Jack Nicholson, and get on my way to something else.
Look, the lesbian election news is its own reward. The Episcopal Church (TEC) is the most drastically declining of the drastically declining "Mainline" historic denominations in the USA. So Press feels like success.
Maybe it's best to just have fun with it, as here. TEC is like one of those reality TV shows where "stars" experience pride and passion just by being in the camera's eye.
Still, a couple of bishops have stated that they will not give the required vote of consent to consecrate L.A.'s newest celebrity. Internationally, The Archbishop of Canterbury warns (or simply admits) that these latest antics will annihilate any claim that the global Anglican Communion has any common identity or message.
South Dakota's new bishop, John Tarrant, and the Standing Committee will be asked for consent votes. The last such controversial decision took place before Bp. Tarrant was entitled to vote. In that case, the Standing Committee voted against consent for a problematic bishop nominee from Northern Michigan.
Back in April, when John Tarrant and other nominees for bishop were asked questions about homosexual clergy, he said, "I don't know where my mind is on this." Since then, he has expressed concern for maintaining unity in the Anglican Communion. Like the rest of us, he tries to navigate a church with no common priorities or even language to create unity.
Growing up in L.A., I was used to incoherent architecture. So many neighborhoods sprang up when waves of post-WWII vets settled to build a peacetime American dream - so my Tudor house could plop next to your Ranch Style that you built beside the Mediterranean next to the Art Deco Bungalow. THAT'S Episcopalian decision making: My unified Anglican Communion doesn't go with your Gay Rights, which disagree with this other guy's reading of Convention Resolutions that really, really offend that lady's feelings even though we all represent "the broad middle" of the church.
"Broad middle" my broad butt. No common vision or values, just each of us building our own little place. Subject to approval by Gay/Lesbian/Etc. Inspectors General and justification by the L.A. Times. Amen.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Those are wild turkeys he's holding. He was recovering from shoulder surgery and a broken wrist (aka football), so he used his no-recoil AR-15 rather than the monster 12 gauge.
(Photo courtesy of parish huntin' buddies Mark and Rose Barker)
Saturday, December 5, 2009
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
Thursday, December 3, 2009
But of course there are still burdens, challenges and my abundance of shortcomings and abject failures. The refining is far from complete.
This was amplified as I read Evening Prayer on Wednesday:
The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined from ore and purified seven times in the fire. Psalm 12:6
Ouch. Seven times in the intense fire that destroys all but what is pure. That's a lot of frying to feel in my case.
But "seven" is the Biblical number for wonderful completion. Seven "days of creation" when God rested to enjoy the result. "Seventy times seven" choices to forgive if one is to rise to Jesus' standard of mercy.
This tells me that I am not going to be as "pure as God's word" overnight or after one quick heat treatment. God understands the time needed to bring perfection, and the respite that frail souls need between trips to the furnace.
Another Wednesday lesson came from The Gospel of Matthew. Jesus blasted the self-satisfied religious types and said,
Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him...
We who realize that we are raw, polluted and unrefined - living way short of what God desires - are going into the kingdom of God if we believe John the Baptist's announcement:
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Matthew 3:11
We can own up to our lost, sorry ways. And if we will make that turn toward reality, we can receive the one who "baptizes with fire," let him refine us, and thank God for the ultimate truth of the "Preface of Advent,"
...you sent your beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in him of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing. Book of Common Prayer
On the one hand, he uses some of the shifty language of our culture:
"Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions..."
I recognize that his use of the term "personal sin" is vis a vis media coverage. But that kind of language can also mean "It's all about me, and I'm only sorry for the unpleasantness that I have made for myself." But sin is not "personal" - God and neighbor are violated by it. Infidelity offends God, wounds a spouse and children, diminishes the daily efforts of married couples and poisons communities, especially when the media makes such behavior stylish for threadbare souls.
On the other hand, happily, there is some good moral vocabulary and insight in some of his other statements:
"I regret those transgressions with all of my heart... I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves."
That's exactly right. Transgression is the crossing of a boundary, violating the property of another. God's holiness. A spouse's love and dignity. A child's trust and security. The peace and order of a community.
And Tiger states what a Christian might call the "vertical and horizontal" relationships that are transgressed:
values are that which are above, with God;
family is that which is alongside, in humanity.
Tiger has rightly, if unintentionally, confessed to transgressing "the Great Commandment" that Jesus taught:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31
Advent reminds us that the problem is not with Tiger Woods, but with all of us who transgress the Great Commandment. And Advent urges us to turn to the one born to pay the penalty for our transgression:
God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14
“The hungry sheep look up and are not fed.” So they graze in other fields. They are “secular” not because they have lost the capacity for faith, but because our obsessions don’t touch their lives. Fr. Tony Clavier
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Thus says the LORD: As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who live in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed. Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob, says the Lord GOD, the God of hosts: On the day I punish Israel for its transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground. I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end, says the LORD.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, "Bring something to drink!" The Lord GOD has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. Through breaches in the wall you shall leave, each one straight ahead; and you shall be flung out into Harmon, says the LORD. Come to Bethel-and transgress; to Gilgal-and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; bring a thank-offering of leavened bread, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel! says the Lord GOD.
Amos 3:12 - 4:5
Watching it play out, Advent words of longing and hope came to mind,
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
h/t Kendall Harmon, TitusOneNine
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
From Brother Benet Tvedten, OSB in his November 2009 Letter to Oblates of Blue Cloud Abbey , Marvin, SD.