Friday, July 30, 2010

Prayer requests and blog excuses for the next couple of weeks

During the first week of August, there will be some family travel just for fun. Pray that it be safe and refreshing, and that the older kid (who will house sit) will get plenty of rest between the end of his summer jobs and the start of college.

Once we get back, I have just a couple of days to get ready and fly off to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers' Conference. Again, pray for safe travel, and for God's blessing on the conference. Pray that my writing will develop and bring God glory by bringing God's blessings to readers.

For our younger kid, who is autistic, the lull between summer school and the start of the full school year can be rough. He likes the routines of school days and, while we will involve him in some good stuff here and away, pray that he will be comfortable and calm, and free from seizures and falls.

I am already benefitting from the more relaxed pace now that the sabbatical is underway. My wife and I have knocked out one "deferred" house project and are enjoying the extra time together.

I am very thankful for folks who have given financial support to this time of rest and renewal. You've given some generous surprises and I pray God's blessing on all of you for making sacrifices to bless me.

I might blog here or there if opportunity presents. After the Philadelphia trip, I will lay out some more prayer requests and excuses for September.

Awful (and worsening) stats for childhood poverty in SD - and fuzzy thinking on causes

More S.D. kids living in poverty | | Argus Leader

Buried in the middle of the article (although included in a graphic in the print version) is this:

More than 57,000 children lived in one-parent families in 2008, compared to 44,000 in 2000.

So the final quote in the article, seemingly its diagnosis, made me nuts:

"It all boils down to the economy going south with jobs... And if the family struggles, the child struggles."

Yes, nobody wants a bad economy and financial strain. But an intact, supportive family is better poised to weather such seasons. Divorce trashes the finances of both former spouses. And having babies without a partner, as "an experience" or "an accident" ensures stunted financial opportunity and sets up all kind of deprivation for kids.

We need to reclaim or find some common assumptions about child raising. The havoc - the real, measurable harm - of separating child raising from any communal reference points is staggering.

You know what really worries me? The problems of single-parent households are well documented - and certainly obvious in day to day life - yet they do not serve as a brake on the behavior. It's obvious stuff: financial struggle, constricted opportunities and choices, just plain harder living. Most of all, kids will suffer. Are we so self-centered and short-sighted that none of those negatives cause us to adjust our behavior?

God asked via the Prophet Isaiah,

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?"

Obviously, she can. And she does so more and more in South Dakota.

NRO features review of Jon Lauck's "Prairie Republic"

Out There - Denis Boyles - The Corner on National Review Online

Favorite quote:

The ignorant, gun-slinging, oligarch-controlled West is not what Dakota looked like. The settlers named their towns after Virgil and Seneca. They read Tennyson, Pope, Byron. Such classical education did not, as today, destine young Dakotans for a life in academia. No, this was preparation for a life that took seriously the hard toil of the farm and the grave work of self-government.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Challenging question worth thought and response

Dakota Women, a feminist blog, posed this question and invitation to discussion:
"...what exactly is 'feminist' about making abortion illegal? How does that reflect a feminist world view? I'd be fascinated to know what people think."

It is challenging to think through, because it requires one to try and frame a definition of "feminist" (note that even the blogger herself put it in quotes), interpret a feminist world view, and address a massively contentious issue. One the one hand there's the temptation to come back with non-responsive tangents and avoid the question, on the other is the reflex to answer with all the usual slogans and just talk past each other.

So, I took a stab at it. I think there are reasons consistent with the rights, empowerment and dignity of women that could argue against unrestricted abortion, and there are pro-abortion positions that actually oppose the rights, empowerment and dignity of women. See what you think:

"Thanks for raising the question.

Elective abortion can be critiqued as anti-feminist for several reasons:

1) It implies that thoughtful choice (contraception) was neglected, and the woman was just a hapless reactor to circumstances. This diminishes rather than ennobles the woman as a moral agent.

2) The complex reality of abortion is that many elective abortions are not the reflective,individual choice of the woman, but involve considerable pressure (even violence in some cases) from a partner, family or 'friends.' (I have to admit that many woman make the choice based on their own reflection, but unless you are an ideological wing nut you need to confront the reality that abortion is pressed on many women who might not choose it left to their own devices).

3) You are looking at only one form of ideological oppression (men over women). But abortion also involves other utilitarian, corporatist forms of oppression: 'If you have it, the kid will be a drain on society.' In other words, there are messages in favor of abortion which actually minimize the woman's value and choice.

If 'feminist' is just a riff on the libertarian idea of 'I do what I want,' then, yes, any resistance to abortion makes little sense. But if feminism has something to do with articulating the unique aspects of female dignity in the mix of a complex, diverse and interdependent human race, then there are serious questions about the place and limits of abortion in honoring that dignity."

LGBT activists seek to centralize global Anglican decision making in unaccountable club

Covenant | Articles | Contrasting Futures for the Anglican Communion

The link is to folks who have stayed within the Episcopal Church rather than bail on it. Long analysis, but some important insights into what's going on. On the other hand, more and more folks are giving up on the enterprise, seeing the Anglican Communion as too corrupted by single agenda activists. The Anglican Curmudgeon, who also analyzes these issues, just noted that his posts on Anglican structural machinations are not getting many hits and he's going to stop covering that aspect of church life.

The Anglican Communion is less likely to splinter than to ooze apart, as the people rich, theologically traditional and evangelistic Provinces of the "Global South" simply cease to recognize the authority of the moneyed but numerically and spiritually impoverished Church of England, Episcopal Church (USA), Canada, Australia (minus Sydney) and New Zealand. Meanwhile, there's a sham "Instrument of Unity" claiming to speak for the Communion while actually carrying water for "networks" of LGBT activists.

I have placed the "Covenant" site in my Useful Links to the right of the page. Again, these are people who have not left The Episcopal Church while continuing to point out its departures from Christian consensus and practice. I have the Diocese of South Dakota's site in my links, but am simply unable to link the blatant propaganda and deception coming out of the national Episcopal Church site.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dare I say that lots of people have been praying?

Gulf Surface Oil Vanishing Quickly -

Let's not neglect to pray and act with thankful and changed hearts.

Reality Check

"The law is one thing, the execution of the law another. God himself has commanded: 'Thou shalt not kill,' thou shalt not steal,' 'thou shalt not covet another's goods,' etc. Will any one say these things are not done now as well as before these laws were announced at Sinai? I admit the law to be that 'no officer or soldier of the United States shall commit waste or destruction of cornfields, orchards, potato-patches, or any kind of pillage on the property of friend or foe near Memphis,' and I stand prepared to execute the law as far as possible... I cannot punish my whole command, or a whole battalion, because one or two bad soldiers do wrong... we must bear this in mind, that however peaceful things look, we are really at war..." General William T. Sherman, letter to the Editor of the Memphis, TN "Bulletin," September 21, 1862.

Sound like your town?

From a CMA pastor pal, via Facebook:

"There are so many un-reached people in Sioux Falls while believers continue to church shop instead of get grounded and serve."

"DISCLOSE" Act fails in Senate... UPDATE SD's Senators split

Proponents could not get 60 votes necessary for cloture motion.

The measure, which passed the House of Representatives, would have required politically active organizations to disclose the names of those donating to their political activities.

The Act was faulted for including loopholes to exempt some powerful interest groups from its provisions.

It was also seen as a tool to intimidate opponents of non-traditional marriage and pro-life groups.

South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson (D) voted for cloture (to proceed to a vote on the Act) while Sen. John Thune (R) voted against cloture - maintaining a filibuster that effectively stopped passage of the Act.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Just back from L.A.

The SoCal weather was stereotypically beautiful, although the smog inland was enough to hide the mountains. I was staying by the ocean in San Pedro to bless a really wonderful marriage. No good deed going unpunished, the groom found some embarrassingly young pictures of me to include in the slide show at the reception.

It was a rich moment when the couple knelt in the very spot where I was ordained 22 years ago, and another to celebrate Holy Communion at the altar where I'd first carried out that priestly ministry.

I had a chance to drive around L.A. I walked across the USC campus. It extends out to the Harbor Freeway now, with the new Galen Center for sports and arts. Prayed for Pat Haden as he takes over as AD, with a big reform mission in front of him. Had lunch at the Pantry Cafe where my dad was a waiter - there were lines out both doors waiting for tables or counter stools. The place was packed with every kind of Angeleno. I got a counter seat and gabbed with a guy from Reever-side who said he comes in to eat there every two weeks.

I visited my parents', brother's and godfather's graves at Forest Lawn, Glendale. Midlife musings went into high gear. It had been so easy driving around my massive but familiar hometown - there were plenty of changes but on the whole there was a sense of "permanence" in streets and landmarks. Yet the acres and acres of graves represented the richness and brevity of life upon life, generation upon generation. Saw an ant trail on the edge of the grass and saw the same complexity, intensity and anonymity. Either the atheists are right and we are just one more trivial product of the elements or faith is right and there is an incredible story seen only by God.

Went by the house in which I grew up. Man, it looks tiny. But whoever has it now has done a wonderful job landscaping. It is surrounded with sword plants, thick bushes, azaleas and assorted vines on the fences. Add in the new roof tile, and it looks like a place one might stay on a Mexican or Central American getaway. I really liked the look.

Flying back into Sioux Falls yesterday, I was dazzled by how lushly green the Northern Plains appear this late in July. There's been plenty of rain and humid heat. It wilts the people but the crops and gardens love it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sabbatical underway - prayers welcome!

Your prayers as asked as I begin a two month sabbatical. Today was my last Sunday at Good Shepherd until September 26th.

After 20 years in ordained ministry, I'm finally taking one of these here things. Blogging might get sketchy - heck, it WILL get sketchy.

Here are some of the things I'll be doing:

On the last weekend of July, I'll be at my first parish, St. Peter's in San Pedro, CA. One of my former youth groupers is the groom and he honored me with a request to bless his marriage.

Back from that, I'll be taking the wife and younger kid down to Branson, MO to use a friend's time-share for a week of rest and fun.

The main study piece will be in mid-August, when I'll be in Philadelphia for a Christian Writers' Conference. Author Marlene Bagnull leads the event. Her book (and idea), Write His Answer, have been helps to me over the years. I hope to sharpen my skills and use my writing gift more effectively in God's service.

Back from that, it's time to send the older kid off to college (sniff sob etc.) Will take a run out to Rapid City and then maybe down to the Pine Ridge Reservation to visit some folks after saying "Bye!" to the boy.

The fun 'n' frolic wrap up is a trip to Minneapolis for the USC vs. Minnesota football game on Sept. 18. Trojan Alumni Association party the night before, then a game day tailgate party, then sleep it all off and come home on Sunday.

Like I say, prayers welcome. A big thank you to several folks who donated via the Pay Pal port at the upper right of this blog! Donations are always welcome - the major fees for these events have been payed for (well, not college just yet), but any help defraying expenses is that much less stress on bill payin' days. Plenty of driving so extra gas money is a blessing!

God bless you all. Blogging has helped me keep at a God-given gift while seeking direction as to how it might be used more effectively and abundantly. I know from some kind messages that God has used even this goofy internet habit to bless some folks.

I'll close with I Peter 1:2, a passage I encountered via a Write His Answer reflection, and some of the thoughts I am trying to honor as I sit down to write, stand up to preach, or otherwise communicate:

I am putting out words that will be read by people

"who have been chosen and destined by God the Father"
Whether or not they know it. Some are Christians, some are not. I am not in charge of that, but God has me sharing words relevant to the destinies of some who will be reading.

"and sanctified by the Spirit"
I have to go on the assumption that some who read my words either have the Holy Spirit or are being guided by the Spirit toward new life. They are God's treasure, even if they seem buried or tarnished. I need to find words that unearth and polish the holiness that God has placed in them.

"to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood"
Some will read what I write because they need guidance to do what Jesus Christ wants and also the reassurance of his mercy when - not if - they fail to obey. He's calling them to follow, commanding them to love and consolling them when they stumble on his hard path to "new and unending life."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wake up call

"But he rises before light who before the dawn of the age to come seeks in this life, which is like unto night, to be raised up and to advance."
Gregory the Great

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fiddler in the Pulpit?

Commenting on this Bible passage,

Abraham was now a very old man, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh. Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women. Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.”
Genesis 24:1-4

Saint Gregory the Great said,

"But who is the servant who is sent to fetch a wife if not the order of Prophets and the Apostles and all the teachers who, when they speak the word of preaching to good minds, become, as it were, matchmakers for each soul for union with the Only-Begotten Son."

Now that is one sweet and inspiring ideal of preaching, in my opinion! It will send me to the pulpit with a smile and maybe a tune in my head...

Pay Day, for better or worse

" must always be in our minds in adversity and fear in prosperity, lest calamity lead us to desperation or good fortune exalt the spirit in self-confidence."
Gregory the Great

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I'm healthful but don't believe in organized health care

Doctors Reluctant To Report Colleagues For Being Impaired, Incompetent - Kaiser Health News

This is a good side-by-side read with clergy sex abuse stories.

It shows that any profession or institution can have misconduct, secrecy, self-protection, and all kinds of other ills. One hears people using clergy misconduct as a justification for lack of faith or, really, failure to practice a faith they claim to have.

When we get hung up on particulars, we are usually just fishing out an excuse to turn our back on some group against which we are prejudiced. "I knew they were like that. Their (beliefs, job, name-your-factor) always leads to something bad."

These abuse and misconduct cases are human problems, not problems-of-certain-people-we-don't-like. We are all part of a fallen race. We all make moral compromises or violate the good altogether.

For what it's worth, an MD gave me one of the best illustrations of responsibility ever, way back when I was being interviewed to go to seminary. He looked at a group of candidates and said, "I have a job where people walk into my office and I say, 'Take off your clothes' - and they do." He didn't need to say more than that. He was warning us that we were seeking positions that would give us influence over trusting people.

That doctor understood that the issue wasn't religion, or medicine, or law enforcement or pick-the-field-you-want-to-accuse. The issue was and will always be the values that shape our actions.

Hey, clergy - remember that pomposity that comes with ordination? Yeah, it was real. But there's hope...

"For them it often happens that when they see themselves goaded by the great gift of heavenly grace they reckon they are already perfect, and think they are obedient, but only because there is no one to give hard admonitions; they believe they are patient, but only because nobody assails them with insults and adversities. And it frequently occurs that, albeit unwilling, they undertake the spiritual ministry and are led forth to the government of the faithful. These when they are assailed on this side and on that, disturbed in mind, they find they are imperfect, they who when not attacked believed themselves perfect. Thus it ensues that they pull themselves together and inwardly blush at the shame of their weakness and, strengthened by their very confusion, set patience against adversity and progress from tribulation, they who before grew listless in repose from their own security. And they begin truly to be such as before they idly thought they were."
Gregory the Great

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stopping to ask directions ...


if I veer to the right I see a Mormon talk show host lining up with a TV preacher to give me times, dates and a political program for the the end of the world,

and if I veer to the left I get a lesbian Episcopalian seminary dean extolling abortion not as a mere choice, but as an affirmative good and quasi-sacrament.

Jesus, you said that the road of truth that leads to real life will be hard to find and tough to travel. There are so many loud, confident voices that want to lure me this way or that into smooth, slick paths toward deception and destruction.

Jesus, come speak to me on this journey. Hit me with the right questions if I am pondering distractions. Be harsh if you must to cut through my foolish thoughts. Open my heart to your inspiration and my mind to your truth. And of your great compassion do this for all who try your path, even with the most tentative steps.

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day
is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and
awaken hope, that we may know thee as thou art revealed in
Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake
of thy love. Amen.
A Collect for the Presence of Christ, Evening Prayer, The Book of Common Prayer

h/ts: retweet @anglicansaints, Matt Kennedy at Stand Firm, Christopher Johnson at The MCJ

Enjoying me and mine without thee and thine

"Truth calls His disciples back from a private to a common joy when He admonishes them as they return from preaching, delighting in the subjection of demons, saying: 'In this rejoice not...but rather rejoice because your names are written in Heaven (Luke 10:20).' For not all the elect cast out demons but the names of all the elect are nevertheless preserved, written in Heaven. Therefore the disciples are enjoined to lay aside their private joy and rejoice in common, eternal felicity."
Gregory the Great

There's our Anglican problem: we can't glimpse the bright spiritual joy big enough to eclipse the dim little satisfactions of our interest groups.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Episcopal Church abuse case outed in PA: some observations

Regarding Bishop Davis

Current Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania is communicating with his diocese and the wider church about sexual abuse committed by his late predecessor, Donald Davis, and possibly kept secret by an intervening (also deceased) Bishop and even a past Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

The letter is detailed and you can read it at the link. A few things I would observe:

- It's time to put a bullet in the head of that old "Roman Catholic Priests abuse because they are celibate" horse. This stuff happens in traditions with married clergy and even in permissive/promiscuous organizations like The Episcopal Church.

- The abuse revealed in the letter was perpetrated on young girls. Predators are predators, whether heterosexuals or homosexuals trying to "help young people explore love without society's hangups." Child molesters of whatever orientation, curiosity or fetish have all kinds of rationalizations and we fail kids when we stop to rub our chins and ponder predators' excuses.

- Predators go where there is prey. Yes, many find ample supply (and good concealment) in churches, but they do the same in education, sports, camping and any other venue that gets them trust and access.

- On a positive note, most (if not all) Episcopal Dioceses are requiring background checks and abuse prevention training for all employees and volunteers who work with children. My congregation has a parishioner put forward for ordination as a Deacon, and the Diocese of South Dakota has a law enforcement background check in progress. This is more and more common across denominations.

- As with all manifestations of evil, there are steps we can take to prevent it, but it can't be eradicated. Like all evil, it is driven by deep forces of deception and compulsion that aren't always stopped by rational thoughts about morality or even fear of consequences.

- Values and honesty are massively important in our responses. Be it a church, an LGBT movement, or whatever, cover ups to protect the "company name" or "tribe" taint many innocent people. The abuser's evil is magnified as secrecy, suspicion and sarcasm take the place of moral clarity and just action.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Church: a place to hide from ultimate questions?

"I respect this (atheist) friend because he takes seriously the ultimate questions of life and he is endeavoring to make sense of the world; I believe he respects me for similar reasons. While we often end in disagreement, there are those rare occasions where he finds harmony with the Christian perspective on compassion, humility, consumerism, and careerism, for example. While I disagree with my friend’s worldview, I cannot condemn it as being thoughtless. He has invested tremendous energy and effort into trying to understand and work out his perspective of life and the world. More so, I fear, than many professing Christians.

Furthermore, my friend remains willing to engage in spirited discourse that constantly challenges his beliefs, something that far too few Christians are willing to do even with each other, despite the fact that Scripture calls on us to “exhort one another” daily (Hebrews 3:13, ESV)."

h/t Dakota Voice, where you can read the rest

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Prayers for protection - they're not just for bedtime

In the last few days prayer requests for "protection" have been prominent at Church of the Good Shepherd.

-An email requested protection for people fleeing an ugly domestic situation.

-An LGBT person asked protection from vandals after a recent incident.

-A family asked prayers for their home after a series of damaging mishaps.

There were others like this, not to mention the news of a church robbery on the Rosebud Reservation and the reports from persecuted Christians around the world.

Traditionally, the late night prayers of the church, or Compline, emphasize divine protection, since our labors are suspended and we put ourselves in God's hands for the vulnerable hours of sleep.

One of the prominent Psalms of Compline is #91, which begins

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

It is a rich source of prayers for protection. It calls on God to show strong, attentive love amid life's hazards.

Although it's not one of the night Psalms, I like Psalm 18 as a resource as well. The old Hebrew preface for musicians says,

A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies...

It helps us put our anxieties into words of prayer,

The breakers of death rolled over me, and the torrents of oblivion made me afraid.

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.

then offers powerful images of God moved to action by those things that threaten us:

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

The earth reeled and rocked; the roots of the mountains shook; they reeled because of his anger.

Smoke rose from his nostrils and a consuming fire out of his mouth; hot burning coals blazed forth from him.

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

Psalms 91 and 18 both assert that God's justice is the quality that generates favor toward the afflicted:

With the pure you show yourself pure, but with the crooked you are wily.

You will save a lowly people, but you will humble the haughty eyes.

Your eyes have only to behold to see the reward of the wicked.

Because you have made the LORD your refuge, and the Most High your habitation,

There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

These are not magic incantations, of course. Just saying these words doesn't make danger go away - in fact, these prayers remind us that dangers are a fact of life. And Jesus taught about persistence in prayer and the need for much prayer in the face of some threats.

But frequent prayer, especially the God-breathed prayers of the Psalms, can shield us from some dangers, transform us in ways that eliminate other threats we are inviting, help with the healing of life's inevitable hurts, and most of all put us in touch with the eternal love and justice that can carry us through all things.

Good night. Good prayers. Good rest. I'll end with a Compline antiphon:

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake
we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

Rosebud Reservation Church gutted by thieves: you can help

Thieves tore all copper pipe out of the Church of the Holy Innocents in Parmalee.

The following message was on the Rosebud Mission's Facebook wall:

Some of the damage at Holy Innocents' will undoubtedly not be covered by the Insurance due to our thousand dollar deductable. Any donations would be gladly accepted, as Holy Innocents' is one of our poorest congregations (I must also add that they are vibrant and a joy to pastor). Any funds can be sent to P.O. Box 188, Mission, SD 57555, made out to "The Rosebud Episcopal Mission", Re: Holy Innocents' Robbery. Many thanks.

If you prefer, use my secure PayPal "Donate" tab at the top right. Your gift will be run through my church account and you will receive confirmation for tax purposes. I will also pass your name on to the Rosebud Mission unless you request to be anonymous.

Please do pray for the people of the Rosebud Mission and for Spruhan family: John and Judy have served as a clergy couple on the Rosebud for many faithful years, and their daughter Lydia has emerged as a significant pastoral leader in her own right.

Keep preaching, writing, blogging, tweeting...

I know, I know. Our words feel wasted much (most?) of the time. But yesterday morning's Old Testament lesson was encouraging:

When Moses had finished writing down in a book the words of this law to the very end... Then Moses recited the words of this song, to the very end, in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
May my teaching drop like the rain,
my speech condense like the dew;
like gentle rain on grass,
like showers on new growth.
For I will proclaim the name of the LORD;
ascribe greatness to our God!
Deuteronomy 31 & 32

Keep seeking and sharing God's words. The Prophet Isaiah spoke these God-breathed words, told his followers to write them down, and we still take them up in our Friday Morning Canticle,

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

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A creative presentation of Jesus where one might not expect

The cover of the July 7th issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) features "The Arrest of Christ" from Ireland's 9th century Book of Kells.

In the explanatory article inside, Dr. Thomas Cole does a commendable job of summarizing the Gospel message and the Christian symbolism of the illustration. Unfortunately, access to the full article requires a subscription - the link takes you to an extract only. If you can have a look (maybe you have a doctor in your family?), I think you will be impressed with how much he conveys with an economy of words.

Kudos to Dr. Cole. Not sure if he intended a witness or was just practicing fair scholarly comment on a work of art. But he gives us a good example of a calm, open presentation of the Christian message for a broader audience.

Not sure if I should laugh or cry

If Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians was Published in Christianity Today - The Sacred Sandwich

Great satire (laugh) but all too true (cry)...

"My advice to Mr. Apostle is to stick to spreading the gospel message of Christ’s unconditional love, and quit criticizing what God is clearly blessing in other churches."

h/t Creedal Christian

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Virtues I don't possess

I caught an angry email today. The message scorched me for taking too long to arrange a requested visit.

My first instinct was human (or at least animal). I wanted to defend myself and critique the tone of the message. But I took a breath and prayed and didn't do that.

Then I wanted to justify myself, to explain reasons why I've been slow to visit. I have to admit, I composed a reply that did some of that.

Then I went back to something I read this week, Gregory the Great's comments on the Biblically-documented fight between Saints Paul and Peter:

"Behold Paul wrote in his letters that Peter was to be blamed; behold Peter in his letters affirmed that Paul was to be admired for what he had written... (Peter) does not remind... that he would be called first of the Apostles, nor that he has received the keys of the Heavenly Kingdom, nor that whatever sins he loosed on earth will be loosed also in Heaven, nor that he he walked on the sea, nor that he had healed paralytics by commanding in the name of Jesus, nor that he had cured the sick by the shadow of his body, nor that he had killed liars by his word, nor that he raised the dead by his prayers. Then lest he scorn to hear the words of rebuke, he repelled it as it were, from memory all the gifts which he had received so that he could firmly grasp the single gift of humility. Who of us, I ask, if he had performed even a very little wonder, when censured by a lesser brother, would patiently listen to the words of rebuke? But we have performed no wonders and if anyone were to rebuke us for our action we immediately become angry, we silently regard ourselves as great, we summon to our spirit virtues, even such as we do not possess."

The email was right. I am failing, badly, to balance family and church obligations, and people are getting hurt and angry. I won't go into all the details because that slips into "summoning to my spirit virtues, even such as I do not possess." I want to explain myself, justify myself and thereby end the matter in my favor - but the matter is not in my favor.

I have not figured out a way, at this point in my life, to balance some unusual family needs with the demands of ordained ministry. A friend got in touch to say that I am having normal mid-life musings - taking stock, realizing that some stuff just hasn't come out the way I would expect, and fretting about what to do with the less-than-half of my life that remains on earth.

I am running on empty when it comes to care giving. I am not some bottomless well of "nice," an image that has served me well over the years. I can't keep up the deception that if circumstances were just a bit more favorable, I'd actually be a bottomless well of nice. My abyss of limitations - my lack of virtue - is plenty deep and real.

I don't even have a nice way to end this piece. I could make an atoning, apologetic visit, but that doesn't end my burn out or conjure up non-existent virtue.

It might be all I can do to say, "The guy was right. I'm not taking care of everybody adequately." And having confessed that, to go in prayer and throw my empty bucket at the One who claims to be the inexhaustible well.

Christian Colleges and Universities: 8 Ways to Ensure Your Kids Go to Church

Christian Colleges and Universities: 8 Ways to Ensure Your Kids Go to Church

Not a rocket science or groundbreaking article, but you can see right off the bat the serious disadvantage at which small congregations operate, especially in a city where there are other options.

Right now our parish is looking at collaborative ministry with other congregations, including other denominations, to generate enough relational opportunities to make a youth program viable.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Another way to go green...

"Almighty God... established the minds of His preachers in the love of internal greenness, so that they despise all transitory things, seek nothing finite in this world, and disdain all its joys as arid. Hence the shepherd of the Church himself, calling his hearers in pastures of eternal greenness, speaks of God saying: 'According to his great mercy hath regenerated us to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled and that cannot fade, reserved in heaven.'"
Gregory the Great

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More clergy-bashing by Jesus. We need your prayers and your progress.

Matthew 23 continues:

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.' You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, 'Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.' How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean."

These warnings cluster around the temptations of institutional religion. The church can be operating prolifically in terms of "buildings, budgets and bylaws" while failing "woefully" on God's terms.

In these verses, Jesus blames the clergy for an operation that "locks people out of the kingdom of heaven." Clergy can become spiritually blind - obsessing over institutional trivia and neglecting kingdom values in favor of earthbound organizational "success." Looking good displaces being faithful.

As in yesterday's post, I appeal to lay people to pray for your clergy, and for yourselves. Sometimes the corruption comes out of the clergy ego - we want to be successful and admired. But congregations often reward the clergy for "doing things the way we like" while attacking clergy who preach the challenging message of Jesus.

Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God, and all the other stuff will be taken care of." All Christians need to pray for this to be the standard, for spiritual leadership and for congregational life alike.

Mexico thwarts Hezbollah bid to set up South American network - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Mexico thwarts Hezbollah bid to set up South American network - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

The immigration tensions between our countries need a fresh approach - things are a mess. But let's remember the importance of good neighbors in a world of bad actors. It is telling that I had to catch this via an Israeli news outlet (h/t Chris Johnson) rather than it being crowed by our MSM or cable folks.

BTW for those who consider us the Isle of Whites out here, a Mexican Consulate is opening here in Sioux Falls.

Old Movie Houses Find Audience in the Plains -

Old Movie Houses Find Audience in the Plains -

"The revival is not confined to North Dakota; Main Street movie houses like the Alamo in Bucksport, Me., the Luna in Clayton, N.M., and the Strand in Old Forge, N.Y., are flourishing as well. But in the Great Plains, where stop signs can be 50 miles apart and the nearest multiplex is 200 miles round trip, the town theater — one screen, one show a night, weekends only — is an anchoring force, especially for families."

That's not the reality in cities like Sioux Falls or Omaha, but it's a good description of the vast Plains. Some would consider 100 miles to the multiplex a short jaunt - there are towns at much greater distance from city amenities.

It also explains some of the challenge in attracting and retaining clergy to serve the towns. The isolation can be formidable. Not only are denominational peers far away - in some cases there are few if any clergy of any tradition with whom to build supportive relationships.

h/t Jon Kevin Lauck

Monday, July 5, 2010

Some prayers that clergy need

Clergy-types of all faiths and ages get roughed up in this week's morning lessons:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Matthew 23:1-12

Selections from this chapter, continuing this theme, go on through Wednesday in the Daily Office Lectionary of The Book of Common Prayer.

It is a prophetic chapter. The leaders appointed to mediate of God's mercy are about to murder the one who is God's mercy:

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.
Matthew 26:1-4

Clergy face a constant, subtle and strong temptation to take out God and replace Him with ourselves. It can be horrible and obvious, as in the case of cult leaders. But it takes place in many little ways among the most well intentioned men and women of God. The sin we renounce yet lug around in our flesh, big yet brittle egos, the trappings of church, neurotic needs, pleasurable perks and more tempt us to betray the One we are suppossed to represent. We make Him invisible and irrelevant and draw the people to ourselves.

Jesus presents a problem that we can't fix. He calls us to preach his message, yet none of us are to assert ourselves as "the teacher." He calls us to be his public witnesses, but doesn't want us drawn to the spotlight. He wants a radical, absolute turn toward God.

Which is precisely what we cannot do - at least not consistently - while we live in this world. It's hard enough for lay people, but clergy are dropped right in the middle of the impossible demand, with no possible result but frequent outbreaks of hypocrisy.

Whenever Jesus brings one of these "hard sayings", the only remedy is grace. These impossible expectations expose the failure that can break down our pride and make us reach toward a merciful God.

Please pray for your clergy, and for yourselves. We need God's help and we most assuredly need one another's.

Pray for all Clergy:
Ask the Father to show us great mercy, to make us aware of the great mercy we receive, and to make us witnesses to His mercy.

Ask the Son to touch us with kindness whenever we are discouraged by our hypocrisies.

Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire our gifts for faithful work and to make our personal qualities fruitful.

Pray for all Lay People:
Ask the Father to cleanse you of any lurking paganism - any ways in which you say, "My clergy do holy stuff (prayer, Bible reading, caring for others, etc.) so I don't have to."

Ask the Son to honor you by revealing what part of his body, the Church, you are.

Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of all that Jesus said and did, and to guide you into understanding.

You see, the humbling and healing of clergy depends in part on the glorious rising of all the people - not as our "employers" or critics, but as awesome Christians in your own right. As one chosen, flawed preacher told a congregation:

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jesus and Madville Times... (or, Fountain tries to calm down from his earlier flaming)

Jesus and Madville Times. They have different reference points, but can share space.

Jesus assumes the reality and ultimate authority of God; Madville Times is written by an atheist.

Jesus assigns his followers missions for the Kingdom of God; Madville Times argues positions via secular reasoning.

Jesus seeks converts to follow his way; Madville Times seeks to persuade people to political positions and action.

The words of Jesus heard in many churches today make room for those differences.

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'

Stern words: there is an emphatic and demanding message that must go out.

But gentle words as well. Jesus never coerces people to accept his message or to follow him. He never gives his followers leave to coerce those who reject the message.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution were well versed in Jesus' words. Not all of them accepted their transcendent claims, but there was incredible consensus around his words as a source of enlightened ethics.

I believe that this Bible passage and others very like it shaped the thinking of those who gave us this national language:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

Emphatic, demanding messages about ultimate things can go out. There is no prohibition, save for the hearer's right to say "Not interested" or "I disagree."

But the message of the Kingdom of God, or transcendent claims of any sort, cannot be imposed upon the unwilling by force of law.

It creates a limit on Christians who walk into the public square. We can't impose something, even something we think is going to help peoples' eternal or temporal well being, unless we can make some common cause with other Americans who don't share our reference points.

It creates a limit on secularists who don't want to share the public square. Word games like "freedom from religion" and "free exercise of worship," deployed to restrict a free exchange of ideas, and policies derived from such slogans, must be rejected by people sincere about freedom and human dignity.

Jesus "appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go;" Madville Times sends arguments out into cyberspace. Jesus' witnesses and Madville's arguments will disagree with and sometimes antagonize each other, but in a free America they both have safe conduct to do so.

Happy (which is the simple translation of "Blessed", btw) Independence Day.

Fourth of July, 1889

Arthur Mellette, South Dakota's first Governor, with the first family -->

From Jon K. Lauck's Prairie Republic:

“On July 4, 1889, the weather in Sioux Falls was fair and clear. On the 113th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the city was already home to 12,000 people, approximately the population of Boston at the time of the American Revolution. During the 1889 Fourth of July celebration, Sioux Falls ‘entertained the largest crowd of people ever assembled at any one place in Dakota.’ The railroads ran special trains that transported an additional 9,000 people into the city, and horse-drawn carriages rolled in, carrying another 6,000. At sunrise, the city woke to the thunder of a forty-two-gun salute fired by the Sioux Falls Light Artillery company, the clang of the city’s church bells, and the wail of steam whistles. At 10 A.M., a holiday ceremony commenced, featuring speeches, music, an invocation by the Episcopalian bishop William Hobart Hare,

and the singing of ‘Hail Columbia.’ The festivities also included a parade, a baseball game at Base Ball Park, a band contest, tub races on the Big Sioux River, a greased-pole-climbing contest, a greased-pig contest, sack races, three-legged races, bicycle races, wheel-barrow races, horse races, and a grand balloon ascension featuring a man who would leap from the balloon basket in a parachute – all part of what the St. Paul Pioneer Press called a ‘monster celebration.’ The balloon ascension had to be delayed due to strong Dakota winds. When it was finally attempted, the wind caused an errant spark that sent the $450 balloon up in smoke, ‘a kind of ascension not fully satisfactory to the 5,000 spectators.’

At noon, after marching in the parade, the seventy-five delegates of the South Dakota constitutional convention gathered... The hall was festooned with American flags and red, white and blue bunting... Four large stars hung on the walls, symbolizing the four new states, including South Dakota, that were on the verge of entering the Union...

…The 1889 constitutional convention in Sioux Falls represented the culmination of a decade-long quest for Dakota statehood.”

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reality Check

"For biblical and theological reasons I judge real human freedom to be a myth. Outside of God acting in the gospel, there is no freedom. We may have superficial freedoms in political and economic structures. We can vote for [any candidate], or for higher or lower taxation. We can make choices between Pepsi or Coke, Ramada Inn or Holiday Inn, steak or fish. But in the hidden heart of human beings there is only darkness brought on by enslavement to the demonic powers of antichrist.

In this context we read of the glorious response of God. 'God sent' (Galatians 4:4) not because we were good, pious or loving, but because God wanted us for himself and we were in no condition to respond. There was no longer any human capacity for God. That is why God sent!

God sent whom? 'God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law' (Galatians 4:4). God sent himself."

Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry (IVP 2007)

And sometimes freedom manifests in the right to be a stupid ideologue

Cory Heidelberger (emphatically NOT the stupid ideologue, btw) has a post up explaining a) how secular people easily rejoice in the 4th of July - it being a day for all Americans and not a religious holiday - and b) how there are Christian voices that critique the bundling together of Christianity and American patriotism.

As usual, Cory makes coherent arguments and marshalls quotes and evidence. One can disagree with him through debate.

But then I started reading the comments (again, let me stress, NOT Cory's) and encountered:

American patriotism and christianity is code for the guns, rape, mayhem, genocide, and slavery that brought form to this country...

[responding to an oppossing point of view] I loathe the murder of truth by pigs like you.

Religion is a result of mental illness...

So that's the rational, secular approach that's going to bring us intergalactic peace and justice. Dismiss others as animals and lesser beings (hmmm, isn't it always the so called humanists who insist we not use language to "dehumanize"?) and throw up simplistic, scattergun assertions in such great volume that there's no way to answer them all.

Now,outrageous comments are common to all blogs. I get them here, even from folks agreeing with me. Snarkasm lives in the blogosphere.

But on this 4th of July, I will truly give thanks for freedom, including the political system that protects us (so far) from self-admiring uebermenschen who might build a system in which we are defined as animals, medical conditions, perpetrators of crimes against humanity or whatever else their "reason" decides. 'Cuz if their "reason" runs the world, those of us who are pigs get the slaughter house, those of us who are mentally ill get institutionalized and "treated," and those of us blamed for crimes against humanity get the gallows.

Freedom isn't pretty but it sure is fun...

The Dakota Territorial Legislature took up the capital's location at its first meeting in 1862. The debate got lively. One observer wrote,"a little blood was shed, much whiskey drank, a few eyes blacked,revolvers drawn and some running done."

Vermillion and Bon Homme fought for the capital. Vermillion settled for a university. Bon Homme never did get the penitentiary it was promised.

At a dinner party, Vermillion capital supporter John Boyle threw a catsup bottle at Yankton supporter Enos Stutsman. Stutsman tossed a volley of tumblers, cups, and chicken bones. Both were ready with fists, but friends intervened. The two shook hands once they cooled off.

From here, where there's plenty more South Dakota history for your holiday weekend.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Keep this handy for when the Bible is confusing

...the whole of Scripture was indeed written for us, but not all of it is understood by us.

So many truths were written there simply, to nourish children, but some in obscure sayings that they may occupy the strong, since things understood with effort are the more welcome. But some things in it are closed so that when we do not understand them, recognizing the weakness of our blindness, we may advance to humility rather than to intelligence."

Gregory the Great

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Keep this with you when you go looking for that perfect church...

"For what is meant by the Ark if not Holy Church, which is wide below and narrow above? ... wide amid her many worldly members and narrow in her few spiritual ones... we see that many within the bosom of this same Church are raised up in pride, destroyed by the delight of the flesh, yearn for the acquisition of worldly goods, cross seas at the bidding of avarice, are enslaved to wrath, indulge in altercations, injure their weaker neighbors. But because Holy Church still tolerates them that she may convert them, beasts, as it were, linger below in the width of the Ark. We already see that some do not seek others' goods, bear with equanimity the injury inflicted, are content with what they have, and lead a life of humility. But because those are yet few, the Ark narrows. Then we see others relinquishing their possessions, paying no heed to earthly matters, loving their enemies, breaking the flesh from all delights, suppressing all emotions beneath the judgment of reason, and spreading the wings of contemplation through heavenly desire... such people are exceedingly rare... Yet if we ask who among them avails to be without sin, none is found... Therefore the Ark is finished in one cubit because the One Author and Savior of Holy Church is without sin, He to Whom and through Whom advance all who know themselves to be sinners."
Gregory the Great

A bug eater and a departed shot blocker on Jesus

“Christianity is not about religion,” Grylls says. “It’s about faith, about being held, about being forgiven. It’s about finding joy and finding home. We all want that, but nobody wants religion. Why do people turn away from faith? They’re not, they’re turning away from religion most of the time. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want to be forgiven or held or find peace or joy in their life. We try loads of other stuff—we think booze or foxy women or whatever will fill it—but it doesn’t fill the hole.”
Bear Grylls

Bol, a Christian Sudanese immigrant, believed his life was a gift from God to be used in the service of others. As he put it to Sports Illustrated in 2004: "God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back."

He was not blessed, however, with great athletic gifts. As a center for the Washington Bullets, Bol was more spectacle than superstar. At 7 feet, 7 inches tall and 225 pounds, he was both the tallest and thinnest player in the league. He averaged a mere 2.6 points per game over the course of his career, though he was a successful shot blocker given that he towered over most NBA players.

Bol reportedly gave most of his fortune, estimated at $6 million, to aid Sudanese refugees. As one twitter feed aptly put it: "Most NBA cats go broke on cars, jewelry & groupies. Manute Bol went broke building hospitals."

When his fortune dried up, Bol raised more money for charity by doing what most athletes would find humiliating: He turned himself into a humorous spectacle. Bol was hired, for example, as a horse jockey, hockey player and celebrity boxer. Some Americans simply found amusement in the absurdity of him on a horse or skates. And who could deny the comic potential of Bol boxing William "the Refrigerator" Perry, the 335-pound former defensive linemen of the Chicago Bears?

Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not willing to be mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality-television stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan; he was a fool for Christ.

During his final years, Bol suffered more than mere mockery in the service of others. While he was doing relief work in the Sudan, he contracted a painful skin disease that ultimately contributed to his death.

WSJ feature on Manute Bol

h/t Treading Grain for both

Sometimes God decides to be clear instead of mysterious

From the Mankato (MN) Free Press:

When he was 3 or 4, Dustin and his family were in church when he started speaking the priest’s lines. His mother said the parishioners had different words to say.

He said, “No, mommy, I have to learn these words.”

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” said his mother, Beth, of his decision to join the seminary...