Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hope and frustration - the complexity of race and culture in SD

Two front page articles in yesterday's Sioux Falls Argus Leader have me pondering instead of pontificating.

The first was a positive piece on the increasing and increasingly well received immigrant population of Sioux Falls. The number of foreign born residents went up almost 60% from 2008 - 09, to 11,000.

"Once you get people in from one foreign country that like the community, you tend to get more, and Sioux Falls has been friendly to them," [SDSU Sociologist Dr. Mike] McCurry said.

The attraction to Sioux Falls is the same for foreign-born residents as it is for those born in the U.S.: low crime, great schools, job opportunities and family in the area, [Multi-Cultural Center Director Christy] Nicolaisen said.

"There's so many pluses about Sioux Falls, why not?" she said.

On the other hand, there's the continuing agony of the Indian Reservations, pointed up in a sad piece on the Indian Health Service.

Senators lambasted Indian Health Service officials Tuesday after investigators found that some workers in the federal agency had criminal records, stole drugs and embezzled money - all while patients endured long lines for medical services or were turned away...

...Health care is a chronic problem for Native Americans, particularly those on large, rural reservations where treatment options are scarce. As a result, Indians generally have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of diabetes, tuberculosis, alcoholism and suicide than other ethnic groups, according to federal data.

One story of different races and cultures harmonizing, the second story about on-going failure to find a way forward.

Many factors leap to mind.

Racism - yes, real, but why is it not the universal frustration of all minorities here?

Local vs. Federal - maybe some of that, but certainly immigration brings Federal involvement to the local scene just as history brings it to the Reservations.

Urban vs. rural - that's mentioned, but the immigrants who are close to Sioux Falls services can't always afford them.

Anyway, no simple "If we just fixed X then Y would follow" answer leaps out at me. The complexity of human problems presents, but so does the hope of progress. I'm certainly interested in perspectives.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

After answering hospital phones: one last thought on Jesus' warnings about Hell

I hold a second job to provide medical coverage for my family. Some of my hours are spent at a hospital's telephone switchboard.

Part of that job is to sound various alarms as quickly and accurately as possible. Some are the difference between life and death.

We can wish that life didn't have respiratory failures, or traumatic accidents, or fires, or any number of other harsh and deadly realities. But we are rightly angered if they are ignored by those who could reverse, temper or prevent the harm they bring.

We can wish, or hope, or firmly believe that there is no eternal reward or punishment for the human being. But we should be incredulous of those who assert belief in a teacher of eternity and do not sound the alarms he embedded in his message.

If a nurse asked for a certain emergency code to be called, and I didn't call it because I wanted to try out prayer or "positive thinking" or something other than paging the right personnel right away, the hospital would fire me, the victimized people would rightly sue me, and there might even be criminal charges for failing to take reasonable action.

What consequences await those who preach in Jesus' name while hiding his most urgent warnings?

Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (Sept. 29) - Jesus tells more of what angels are sent to do

Angels were all the rage a little while ago, before vampires got their 15 minutes. People liked the idea of personal communication via spiritual beings, and that's fair enough since the Hebrew and Greek words for angel mean "messenger."

But again, we cherry pick the pleasant and deny the whole of what Jesus had to say:

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. Matthew 13:40-43

By the way, one presentation of angels in the New Testament provides an intriguing similarity to the L/Dakota understanding of spirits at the four cardinal directions:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: "Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God." Revelation 7:1-3

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Matthew 25: Where does Jesus send us?

Many Christians speak of "Matthew 25 ministry," by which they mean the final of three stories Jesus told to describe the coming kingdom of heaven.

Those who focus on the third parable are clearly and rightly taken with the good works it enjoins. Jesus sends his people to meet the needs of those who are beaten down, vulnerable and in need. Here's an example from a parish web page. Here's an example from an advocacy group.

There is a tendency among those who speak this version of the parable to reduce it to a moral lesson about good deeds or a religious invocation over a partisan political platform. But there's something much bigger going on.

As in the uncomfortable Gospel many heard last Sunday, Jesus' story in Matthew 25 asserts the eternal destiny of humanity. Those who are about God's work, even with limited or imperfect understanding, can receive Jesus' commendation to eternal bliss. Those who ignore God's work in this life face eternal torment.

Some preachers told their congregations this whole message last Sunday. Others did not.

Matthew 25 confronts us with our tendency to cherry pick the Bible verses we like, to create a Jesus who suits us.

Those who would reduce eternal salvation to a verbal formula or feeling must come to terms with Jesus' blessing upon those who serve him - without realizing it - by caring for the world's weak and marginal people.

Those who would eliminate the eternal and reduce Jesus to a moral nag must come to terms with the clearly stated conclusion to his story:

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me...' ...Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Jesus sends us to care and serve in the here and now. But the most powerful words by which he proclaims this are intimately bound with the news that he will send some of us to eternal joy and the rest to eternal torment.

The church does not honor Jesus' message or humanity's honest questions by denying or editing of the Gospel it has received.

Priests' & Pastors' Prayers: so basic but so decisive

...the Cleargie, and specially suche as were Ministers of the congregacion, should (by often readyng and meditacion of Gods worde) be stirred up to godlines themselfes, and be more able also to exhorte other by wholsome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the trueth. Preface, 1549 Book of Common Prayer

That practice of praying over Scripture and the attendant description of the clergy role are elusive today. If clergy had to punch a time clock (and I have heard of congregations attempting to impose this), prayer would probably be logged as "non-productive hours."

In contrast, the readings at Morning Prayer today point to the essential place of prayer in Christian leadership. Christ himself models it: more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. Luke 5:15-16

Prayer was more urgent than the pressing needs all around? More important than stoking the momentum of a crowd?

Absolutely, warns the reading from the Prophet Hosea. When the spiritual leaders are not seeking God,

There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing. Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest... My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge... (4:1-4)

Without our own daily quest for God in prayer, our efforts to stay busy and relevant will simply ape the world's stuff. What Jesus wants for us and for his world is something much greater:
Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, 'We have seen strange things today.' (Luke 5:26)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Church sees a wife and kids as a pre-existing condition

When The Episcopal Church went to a nationwide clergy health plan, there was considerable hope that a larger pool of payers would reduce premiums.

Well, it did for some. The 2011 premium notice has arrived:

Single person: $785 monthly; $9,420 per year.

Employee plus spouse: $1,570 monthly; $18,840 per year.

Family: $2,355 monthly; $28,260 per year.

As you can imagine, the cost of the family coverage is a budget buster for the average Episcopal congregation. It would cost my parish well more than half-again my combined salary and housing allowance. So I continue part time work at a local hospital to provide family medical at decent premiums.

The Episcopal plan is a good one in terms of the coverage provided. But I leave it to the reader to figure out the demographic for which it was designed. It is a decided disincentive for congregations to call or keep an ordained minister with spouse and child(ren).

The flesh wants what it wants

Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" Gospel from Luke 16, assigned for this Sunday

The rich man in today's Gospel is not condemned for being rich. What did him in was doing whatever he wanted, with no attention to what God had to say about it.

"The Law and the Prophets" are Biblical shorthand for what Christians call The Old Testament; they are fulfilled in the one who rose from the dead, Jesus Christ.

The Epistle (New Testament Letter) read today assumes that there will be some rich people in the church. They are not commanded to liquidate their wealth, but

...not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

It is not a gloomy message. It says "enjoy what God provides." But it assumes that the rich are blessed - given a gift - not "self made." And so there is a purpose for the gift, a right use for it, and this is to use it to lift the circumstances of others. It is to reflect the generosity of God, who has entrusted the affluent with much.

The rich man in Jesus' story had a poor beggar right outside his door, and ignored him. "The flesh," the self-centered human condition that fights against the Spirit of God, convinced him to ignore the Law and the Prophets, the Word of God, by ignoring his neighbor's need. As the Epistle warns, the trouble comes when the flesh asserts itself over the Word of God:

...those who want to be rich fall into temptation... the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil... in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains... set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches...

Our flesh wants what it wants. As a Christian who writes, I can get caught up in getting published, getting compliments and other selfish goals rather than making sure to write what God wants. The flesh can corrupt any gift God gives.

But we are not without hope or help. Timothy, the recipient of the Epistle, is reminded of his baptism:

Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

It will be a fight. The flesh is assertive and persistent. As our current baptismal liturgy says, it is not a matter of "if" but "whenever" we fall into sin, surrendering to the wants of the flesh. But Timothy can win because he belongs to the winner, the one who overcame the flesh, did the perfect will of God, and now lives forever to help those on the battlefield,

...Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession... he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Exclusive Photo - Parish welcomes Rector back from sabbatical

Actually, that's the USC Trojan Marching Band and fans taking TCBank Stadium in Minneapolis prior to the the game on Sept. 18. I don't think Good Shepherd is quite this over the top.

"Remember, you are only a man."

Good stuff from Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls

During my sabbatical, attendance was steady and pretty close to normal, August financial giving was in the black - robust, in fact. (Small church miracle).

The people used their gifts and kept up the ministry, including the launch of a new year of home Bible study groups. The youth group had an outing at which a friend who came along committed his life to Christ.

Last night a new lector called to practice Sunday's Bible readings and make sure he was pronouncing the Old Testament names and places correctly.

Thanks, praise and glory to God in the highest.

Verses to pray, for ourselves and others

From Morning Prayer today:

May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork. Psalm 90:17

Part of our weekend should be to suspend our striving and labor and surrender it to God's gracious care.

There was also this verse, so wonderful for a proper Sabbath of holy renewal and rest from work,

The singers and the dancers will say,
"All my fresh springs are in you." Psalm 87:6

Friday, September 24, 2010

Peace is fruit of the Spirit

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why the Episcopal Church needs Dan Martins as a Bishop

We need him as a bishop because Fr. Dan Martins, by every indication, loves God and neighbor.

"Oh, everybody does that."

No, we don't. Not in this polarized, theologically incoherent, ego polluted church.

We need Father Martins to be Bishop Martins because we need exemplars of Christian love in leadership positions. And we need leaders like that to look us in the eye and exhort us to obey Christ by loving others as we are loved. I think that John Tarrant's election as Bishop of South Dakota has some of this in it, and the church needs all it can get.

Fr. Martins loves in the way Jesus commands: by what he does toward, for and with those who are not like him and who don't necessarily care for him.

Most of us don't rise to the Lord's teaching. I sure don't. I'll be the first to tell you that what I feel for the single issue activists, functional atheists and "I'm too intellectual to believe in traditional Christianity" snobs who run the church doesn't rise to "love" and I won't lie to God or to them by proffering some vague, pious niceties. And their actions toward the church - their deceptions, manipulations and lawsuits being just a few examples - show that their speeches about love, inclusion, justice and such are empty words. A tree is known by its fruit, says Jesus, and our denomination's produce is toxic no matter how many "peace, love and justice" statements they hang on it.

For a blessed contrast, go to Fr. Dan's blog and read, in his own words, his joy at real gatherings in which diverse and conflicted church members come together in peace.

Recite again and again and again the fact that he left a diocese that was leaving the Episcopal Church - a diocese where he was in basic theological agreement with most folks and where he could have risen to poobah status. He chose to remain a parish priest in the Episcopal Church, fulfilling his ordination vows in a church that is at best condescendingly tolerant and at worst totally rejecting of his presence.

See and hear videos of Fr. Martins taking the trouble to state the positions of his opponents with accuracy and fairness.

Pay attention as he consistently rejoices in what is true, good and beautiful, and takes up debate with obvious sadness over the pain of the church.

He loves the church. He's not part of a single issue faction or a cult of personality. And we really, really need Christ-like people with that kind of love to lead the church and to represent it to the world.

Sinners, hypocrites and failures like me need that kind of love, because its power heals, corrects and inspires us. And ours is a denomination dying in sin, hypocrisy and failure. We need leaders who can heal, correct and inspire us with the power - not empty words but real power - of Christ's love.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More than I could ask or imagine - to God be the glory.

At the Christian writers conference I attended in August, the event's leader prayed that God would use my writing in "an Ephesians 3:20 way." That verse reads,

"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." (New Living Translation)

Last Friday, an opinion piece I started at the conference made it into the local newspaper. It dealt with "usury," the sin of charging excessive interest on loans.

What I did not know was that on Sunday, the Revised Common Lectionary used by several Christian churches began a series of weekly lessons about money, the treatment of the poor, the responsibilities of the rich and other related themes. A Roman Catholic woman I know mentioned going to Sunday Mass and hearing the lessons more acutely because she'd read the Friday op/ed piece.

The conference leader's prayer was answered. God positioned the publication of the editorial in a more abundant way than I could have made happen, even if I had forseen the upcoming Sunday lessons. More than I could "ask or imagine," as the Book of Common Prayer renders Ephesians 3:20 in a prayer.

All thanks, praise and glory to God.

Episcopal House of Bishops: they are being given good mission info while being sabotaged from within

This report from today's meetings of the Episcopal House of Bishops, standing on its own, should be cause for celebration:

Episcopal Life Online - NEWS

They heard many realities of Christian mission in North America, and some good directions for the future.

But, while they are listening to speakers on evangelism, the national church dumped its evangelism budget and staff in order to fund lawsuits against dissenting members.

While they are hearing about the breakdown of institutional identities and the very personal, individual ways Americans choose churches, the Presiding Bishop is spending millions of dollars to sue for buildings and stressing institutional "hierarchy" and member obedience.

While speakers extol "being Christians in religious pluralism," the denomination's shrinking membership becomes more and more a club for the radically similar.

If you go to the link, note the Bishops who gave the press report today. Bp. Sauls is a key architect of the "sue at all costs" policy, whose mission record involves the significant shrinkage of his diocese. One whiffs the aroma of blown smoke on today's report.

Building my own gallows

From today's lessons:

Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king. Haman added, "Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king. Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate." Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, "Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go with the king to the banquet in good spirits." This advice pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made.

Good ol' Haman, the hissable villain of the Jewish Purim party. Totally taken up with getting praise and perks, yet none of it has value for him unless his pride takes down others as well.

...Spoiler alert...

He winds up hanged on his own gallows.

He didn't destroy himself just by building the scaffold, of course. His own self-centered world view and unchecked emotions hanged him.

Commenting on another Old Testament story, Shane Claiborne writes,

"God seems to have an aversion to power...not because people are a threat to Him, but because they are a threat to themselves. In the case of Babylon, it was not a lack of leadership or vision that destroyed the people. They were destroyed because the vision had become an idol and needed to be toppled."

Blogging, preaching, writing - all of it can devolve into idolatry. All of it can be a means of generating and basking in human attention. Anything I thrive on can become my gallows when I stop seeing it as an unearned blessing from God. I start to use it to my own, passing pleasure instead of His eternal purposes.

The Claiborne quote is from a book he put together with Christian civil rights leader John M. Perkins. I was blessed to have John Perkins sign my copy over the summer, and he wrote "Galatians 2:20" under his name. That verse can help dismantle the scaffold my ego likes to build, replacing it with the hangin' tree of love:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

That said, here's some old school musical support:

Sad on several levels

There's the revisionism in leaving out the Founders' assumption that human rights pre-exist and even pre-empt government.

There's the pep rally cheer for ethnocentrism busting in on his call for national unity.

There's the fact that a conservative (or even a Republican) offering the same comments would have been slammed for not changing "all men" to "all people."

There's also the reality that he was after a good point that nobody seems able to make or, if made, to get across.

Really too bad. And I think we make a big error if we wield this as a mere knock on the President. In this case, he's simply an icon of our rootless, petty partisan reality.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What Dan Martins actually said and what he meant by it, or, Does the Bishop of Washington know what his people are saying when he's out of town?

Fr. Martins was blogging from the July, 2009 General Convention in Anaheim, CA. He actually posted the statement he intended to make and his rationale. A video - really more of an audio because you don't see much - of him making the statement is here. This is what he blogged prior to delivering his statement:

What to Say?

In all likelihood, C056, the resolution on rites for blessing same-sex relationships passed by the House of Bishops yesterday, will show up on the HOD [House of Deputies] legislative calendar sometime today (which will probably include an evening session), and certainly by tomorrow morning. Debate time is already limited to one minute per speaker, and there will be lots who want to speak, so I don't know whether I'll even get the chance. But if I do, here's what I plan to say:

Madam President, if I had a dollar for every person who has come up to me during this convention and said something like, "I don't usually agree with you, but I'm sure glad you're here; we need your voice," I could finance a day at Disneyland. want my voice? Here's my voice: If there was any ambiguity in D025--and I have contended that there is, at some cost to my credibility--then there is absolutely none in this resolution. When we pass it, we will in that moment be undoing every shred of work that this church has done over the last four years in response to the Windsor Report. Time does not permit me to enumerate all the work that will be nullified by this action. We are utterly rejecting Windsor and the hope for life in communion that it represents. On this day my church is covering itself with shame, and I am profoundly sorrowful. What you are about to do, do quickly.

Jesus is Lord and God is good. But my next post will be from the bottom of a well. May the holy prophet Jeremiah pray for us.

The "shame" of which he spoke had nothing to do with sexuality - it was all about the word tricks and abandoned agreements that would damage "the hope of life in communion" with other Anglican Christians around the world. His focus is not on what the resolution would allow, but on church effort, trust and relationships it would undo.

The Episcopal House of Bishops is currently meeting in Arizona. Perhaps Bishop Chane of Washington, DC is there and not on top of what his communications people are doing in his absence. I hope that's the case, and that he will deal decisively with the misrepresentation and character assassination they've been up to in his absence.

An Episcopal Church Communications Office spreads a lie to discredit Springfield's Bishop Elect

The online ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC) is manipulating an undocumented quote to accuse Springfield, IL bishop-elect Dan Martins of goading homosexuals to commit suicide:

The Lead (*I have pasted the text below, in the form in which it appeared on the blog when I first read it. Just in case it suddenly disappears or is reworded).

If you go to the link, you will see that the Episcopal communicators give no link of their own to Fr. Martin's words from General Convention 2009, which adopted a series of resolutions to implement the blessing of same-sex relationships. Martins, an elected deputy from the Episcopal Diocese of Indiana, argued that by adopting the resolutions, the members of Convention would break promises made to other Anglican Provinces and would be "covering ourselves in shame." But the DC blog, which claims backing from a national Episcopal entity as well, claims that Martins deliberately aimed the word "shame" as a psychological assualt on LGBT people.

Fortunately, there is a video of Martins himself at the General Convention, making clear that the "shame" is about betraying agreements and representations made to other Christians around the world. The "shame" of which he speaks is all about denominational political process, not about sexuality:

The fact that the Diocese of Washington blog would engage in further duplicity to poison consent for Martins' consecration shows that the organization is, indeed, "covered in shame." DC's blog, the Diocese of Washington and possibly the national church owe Fr. Martins an apology and should make sure that any communication of false accusations against him are publicly rebutted.

h/t blog commenter jaybird

* "Resolution C056, which charges the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music with "collect[ing] and develop[ing] theological and liturgical resources, and report[ing] to the 77th General Convention" and authorizes bishops "particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, [to] provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church." You can read it here.

In the debate over this resolution, the Rev. Dan Martins, who was elected on Saturday as Bishop of Springfield, said that if the convention passed C056, members would be "covering ourselves in shame." He did not say he had a principled disagreement with the resolution, which would have been unobjectionable. He did not say the theological reasoning was weak, which is an opinion to which he is entitled. He did not say he could not accept the morality to committed gay and lesbian relationships, which, again, would not have troubled most Episcopalians who are accustomed to a diversity of views on this issue within their church.

Instead, he used the word "shame", the word that LGBT people have had thrown in their faces for most of their lives, the word that has rung in the ears of LGBT teens who have ended their own lives prematurely. It is a word meant to intimidate and to wound, a word meant to set one's self above and apart from those one is describing.

There is room in the church for bishops who do not believe that it is right to bless same-sex relationships. There is not room in the church for bishops who stigmatize LGBT people to score debating points or in self-indulgent dramatization of their own distress. Bishop-elect Martins will have LGBT people in his flock--although if they are familiar with his rhetoric, they may not be eager to introduce themselves. It seems fair for the bishops and standing committees that need to consent to his election to ask whether he is capable of speaking about these people with respect and whether he is capable of ministering them."

Prayer is waiting, not conjuring

This morning's assigned Prayer Book lessons remind me of the Jewish idea of "the hidden hand of God."

Psalm 80's plaintive refrain begs God to come out of hiding,

Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

The Old Testament lessons right now are from Esther, the story of Jewish survival in which God is never really mentioned. Chapter 4 comes about the closest to any kind of connection to God:

"Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do."

Communal fasting from food, drink, other needs and pleasures is a means to seek God by penitence, supplication and preparation. It is a method of emptying the self to make room for God. Yet the name of God is never invoked in this intriguing little book - God remains hidden even as the people are rescued.

What strikes me in these lessons is that prayer and fasting are not conjuring. We do not presume that our efforts, however heartfelt or strenuous, will place God at our disposal on our terms. On the contrary, these spiritual disciplnes are how we wait on God, putting ourselves at God's disposal on God's terms. This is one of the great spiritual treasures in the Prayer Books' "Daily Offices."

Today's Gospel lesson is from Luke 3, in which John the Baptist receives and delivers the word of God. It is set up by the preceding chapter's tributes to waiting,

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night...

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah...

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day...

But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

The "hidden hand of God" cannot be forced. Our spiritual disciplines are not magical conjuring. They are our patient treasuring and waiting.

While sometimes hard, it is not a grim work. It is hopeful, as Luke records for us in Jesus' teaching on prayer,

"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

More notes from the place I hate to drive

It is easier now - I think I'm getting a handle on the Twin Cities.

Beautiful weather, and TCBank Stadium has no bad seats. Nice place to see a game. Has a sports museum donated by T. Denny Sanford.

There is a guy named Tom Emmer running for Governor of MN. He has these signs up here and there. ^

Trojans had some flaky moments but put a good game together to win. Good to see the old "Student Body Left/Right" tailback sweeps back in the arsenal.

Kiffin needs to dump the hokey "line up for a 2-pt. conversion then shift to a kick" gadget. What's the point? They missed the first (unnecessary) try for 2, then two more attempts to get it back later.

St. Paul cops just arrested a guy from the hotel where I am staying. Why, as on the show "Cops," are these suspects always shirtless???

On my way to the tailgate party

Trojan colors on.

If I had cardinal & gold deodorant, I'd wear that too.


In my least favorite place to drive

I grew up in L.A., have traveled extensively, have taken on traffic as a newbie tourist in places like Atlanta - no problem.

But, to be a most ungracious visitor, I hates me some Minneapolis when it comes to driving.

Blocked ramps with no detour redirection, a tangle of highways, people driving at high speed suddenly going full stop, no parking, bizarre-o signage (multiple cardinal directions on the same road, for example), some exits right, some left...

Anyway, I keep figuring it out and getting where I need to be, but I can't say it's a pleasure.

Still, it's fall weather and a football game is at hand! Giving thanks for a blessed weekend of rest and fun.

WAKE UP!!!!!

I'm in the Twin Cities ("The Cities" as Northern Plains folks call Minneapolis/St. Paul). USC @ Minnesota kick of at 2:30 p.m., CST.

Friday, September 17, 2010

From the Rosebud Mission's Facebook Page - Bishop Tarrant's Address to SD Convention 2010

I copied the series of four photo images and pasted them here. You can click to enlarge for easier reading. Thanks to Fr. Spruhan on the Rosebud for making these available.

More confirmation that usury and things financial are worth Christian input...

Check out the Epistle and Gospel I'll be preaching from on my first Sunday back from sabbatical.

There's some discussion starting on the usury article...

At the Argus Leader link in the earlier post.

The objections so far are red herrings (or are they red walleyes? red lutefisk? I dunno I'm an immigrant here). Basically, "What kind of false Christian are you, rejoicing in people losing their jobs?"

The fact is, the credit card people said that massive job loss would result from restricting their usurious practices. But the "lost jobs" are mainly reassignments, positions eliminated after retirements and some early retirement buy-outs.

It is a bum economy and people are hurting. But that's not an excuse for making money by means disapproved of by God - means that in fact place terrible financial burdens on others.

And in an amazing follow-up...

...God gave me a confirmation on my usury perspective.

I drive an '89 Camry that my brother and then my son kept up very well. But it has a zillion miles on it.

So, to get to the Twin Cities for the football game, I reserved a rental car thru Alamo in Sioux Falls (actually, via Bill Shatner at Priceline).

So I get to the rental desk at Vern Eide Honda on Louise Ave., and not only is the car not there but Alamo won't send one because I want to put it on my bank debit card instead of a credit card. Businesses are set up to make you use these interest loaded contraptions.

So I called my long suffering wife to drive back and get me, and I drove the Camry. Made it just fine, using only 3/4 of its little tank of gas. I played a CD of chanted Psalms that my wife got me awhile ago and really had a peaceful, even prayerful ride. Took the more scenic trip via Makato instead of the drab I-90 to I-35 lost-city-of-Albert Lea route.

I'm just checked into the hotel and looking forward to 48 hrs. of fun.

My op/ed on "Usury" ran in Sioux Falls today

They archive this stuff and the links go cold in about a week...

My Voice: Loss of credit card jobs sign of better times | | Argus Leader

They edited out some key quotation marks (the banker's hypothetical questions were a direct quote from the same paper). They also dropped the citation on Ezekiel. But Glory to God for this opportunity, and I pray that it will comfort some burdened neighbor, or keep someone out of bad borrowing, or touch a conscience here and there. Here's my draft:

South Dakota is losing some jobs in the credit card business, and some see that as bad news. Let me tell a different story.

Late last year, my wife gasped out “What’s wrong?” She saw me hunched at the computer, the online bill pay program flickering, my face blank and my hands limp in my lap.

“It’s gone” was all I could say. Years of mounting debt, tens-of-thousands of dollars of it, had disappeared in five minutes. It was beyond belief, and I just sat staring at the screen.

Our financial deliverance was a big retroactive check for my wife’s first years of disability. I sat down immediately to pay off the credit cards that we had run up since she had to stop working.

That’s right, we paid our debts. We had borrowed to pay huge, persistent medical bills, used cards to buy groceries and medicine when paychecks couldn’t stretch far enough, and I worked extra jobs to juggle the payments. We tapped friends, family and church when unexpected, overwhelming bills landed. We sold one car and shared the one that was left. We struggled to keep paying the mortgage on the equity-losing home where we care for two disabled family members. We contemplated bankruptcy but kept clawing and crawling, sometimes to the lenders for “payment plans.” And when we had the money together, we paid.

In other words, we played by the rules and still came within a few months of being wiped out under them.

"Whose responsibility is it to know the balance on a card? Is it you or the bank? Is it the bank's responsibility to keep you from spending more than you have?" The questions were posed last February in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader by Dana Dykhouse, CEO of Sioux Falls based First Premier Bank. He affirmed the moral order of our culture: when there’s debt, the moral onus is on the borrower.

Allow me to speak financial heresy and say that’s upside down. There is another point of view, in which the moral onus is on the lender. Believe it or not, that’s what the Bible – often cited as the moral foundation of the Prairie – sets up.

The Bible warns lenders to refrain from overburdening borrowers. Seasons of debt forgiveness are commanded and there are harsh pronouncements against “usury,” the layering on of interest that keeps the borrower stuck in debt.

The Prophet Ezekiel, for example, warns against the “violent” person who “…does detestable things. He lends at usury and takes excessive interest (18:12-13).”

But America accepts the violence of usury.

We’ve allowed lenders to mail out unsolicited credit cards, pimping debt where none was sought, with the conditions and consequences buried in pages of small print legalese.

Until President Obama signed the Credit Card Reform Act late last year, “two cycle billing” was normal practice in the credit card industry, letting it heap interest on our balances coming into and going out of each month.

Lenders then tweaked their products to meet the letter of the law. Last December msnbc reported one of First Premier’s new products, aimed at people with poor credit. It offered a “79.9 percent interest rate and $75 annual fee... There's also $29 penalty if you pay late or go over your $300 credit limit.” In other words, banks ask you to establish credit by practicing bad borrowing habits.

“Pay Day” lenders continue to charge absurdly high interest for short-term loans marketed as compassionate help to the cash strapped.

The housing market is a mess because government entities solicited voting blocs by handing out money people couldn’t realistically repay.

Yes, people should repay their debts. But they should not be offered defective financial products that generate budget-busting interest and discouragement. Business, government and culture have colluded to dump both debt and blame upon moral, reasonable and hard working people.

So if some usury-generated, usury-generating jobs go away, I think things are moving in a better direction. +++

By the way, most of the "lost" jobs are by attrition or early retirement buy outs. There are not hordes of suddenly destitute bankers living under bridges as the industry apologists warned.

On the road... see USC play Minnesota tomorrow.

I will take the route thru Makato to avoid alien abduction or other disappearance in the lost city of Albert Lea. (Lots of family inside jokes, but it is a strange place even though positioned nicely at the junction of two major interstates.)

I'll probably have the laptop along for laughs, so might do some posting if anything interesting comes up. Who knows what I might hear at an alumni party or tailgate?


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dear Eric Cartman, Peter Griffin and Robot Chicken

Well, obligatory contextual statements first:

I have a sense of humor. Sometimes it gets a bit out there and I wish I'd reigned it in.

I'm not a prude. Looking back over my life, I wish I had been more of one at certain points.

Those things being said, I can laugh at shows like South Park, Family Guy and Robot Chicken, even when my wife shakes her head and leaves the room.

Lately, however, those shows and others seem to be loading up on material that mocks Jesus. South Park, it might be argued, mocks religion (<- as with the hilariously churned out Christian pop of Faith Plus One)and Jesus comes out looking OK, albeit in some very left handed ways. Stone and Parker at least understand the Christian message enough to give it the occassional prop.

OK, obligatory contextual stuff out of the way,

Why is there no substantial critique of this, outside of what you would expect from offended Christians?

Why are people who ask us to understand Islam in particular but all kinds of other spiritualities in general not offended by irreverent satire of Jesus?

If we should develop tolerancediversityrespectinclusionmulticulturalawarenesssensitivityunderstandingdialogue &c., how is that forwarded by public reverence for some faiths and what is actual blasphemy directed at others - well, one in particular?

Yes, blasphemy: If you are secular (or raised in some of our churches) you might not know this, but Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God. Goofing on Jesus is way more disrespectful of our faith than, say, burning a Bible or vandalizing a church. It is a direct insult toward God as we understand God to be.

OK, final question: Unless you are consistently against all religions, and an equal opportunity jerk about how you express it, why are you OK with the worst kind of irreverence toward just one?

"When the Nazis Came to Skokie"

Before you jump me, I am not saying that the Skokie controversy was a note-by-note overture to what's going on around Ground Zero. But Skokie is worth remembering as another Bill of Rights challenge loaded with conundrums, well summarized in this University of Kansas book blurb:

When the Nazis Came to Skokie

Our rights should be exercised freely but are not free. The ACLU won in court but lost thousands of members for its decision to defend the Nazis' position.

So we can exercise our rights, but let's not feign astonishment when other people use their rights to assert a competing vision, plan or position.

"thoughtful people drowned out by the explosions of verbal bombs"

I don't agree with every bit of his analysis but I think his main point is worthwhile.

Pitts: Words used as weapons of war | | Argus Leader

"Moore and Gingrich thus become liberal and conservative bookends, an illustration of the degree to which bomb throwers, people willing to say the simplistic, outrageous thing, because it is the simplistic, outrageous thing, have infiltrated American political discourse."

Our discourse in religion is often little better than our political debate. We know how to stick fingers in others' eyes, but we're not adept at opening eyes, even our own.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Maybe we can sue for their TV and Bowl revenues!

Founded as a junior college in 1932 by the Episcopal Church, Boise State only received full university status in 1974...

Who knew?

Embrace, don't confess?

Here in the Midwest, you don't complain.

Here in the Church, you should always be happy and positive.

Except in this morning's lesson (Book of Common Prayer), Jesus says,

"Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor."

To follow and serve Jesus takes us on the way of the cross. If we are with him, we will be in some gloriously miserable places. We will, if we are at all human, hate what we are experiencing.

That is to say, there is a kind of complaint that must be embraced, not just confessed and repressed.

Just remember that most people won't want to hear it or know what to do with it even if they do give a listen. It is God-sized. Embrace it in prayer, and give great thanks if God sends even one person to help carry the damn thing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wow, this is a sad story...

...and it points out the difficulty of trying to be among all the kinds of folks Jesus told us to serve. We romanticize "the poor" and either peep at them from a distance or wade into their world without "counting the cost" and going prepared for the challenges.

Controversial Santa Cruz Priest Charged By Church - Santa Cruz News

Please pray for all involved. "Calvary" - what an appropriate name for this parish.

h/t David Virtue

So if not the locker room or the sidelines, where CAN we enjoy some skin?

Why, I have just the venue.

Why the Washington Redskins management SHOULD apologize - to Clinton Portis

They are apologizing FOR him because he says that showing attractive skin catches peoples' attention.

If he's wrong, then why do the 'Skins put, well, skin on the sidelines?

"Oh, that's just because men are pigs," you huff. Oh really?

I know, I know. You're steamed at me for this disgusting line of thought. After all, when you see nude people, you think about the AP style book and sentence structure, right?


Why should Clinton Portis apologize?

OK, here's my understanding of the facts:

A female reporter was present to cover the New York Jets. There were sexually suggestive comments or actions when she was on their practice field and later in the locker room.

Commenting on this, Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins reportedly said,

"I think you put women reporters in the locker room in position to see guys walking around naked, and you sit in the locker room with 53 guys, and all of the sudden you see a nice woman in the locker room. I think men are going to tend to turn and look and want to say something to that woman."

The team management fell all over itself apologizing and now Portis is having to do the same. Why?

Out on the field or most other parts of the stadium, yes, a female covering male sports should be treated as a professional.

But Portis is pointing out the obvious - having a person of the opposite sex in the space where you relieve yourself, undress and otherwise deal with personal physical needs isn't going to work for most of us.

How is Portis not being subjected to "unwelcome conduct" that creates a "hostile workplace environment," the reigning language of Federal sexual harassment law?

Some will argue that restricting women from the locker room keeps them from fair access to the best interviews.

But you know what? Locker room interviews are crap. You can write them without showing up. The losing guy said, "We have to put this behind us and come back next week like it's a whole new season." The winning guy said, "I owe it all to my teammates and I just glorifymyLordfortheopportunitytoplay (points weary finger to the sky)." Seriously, locker room interviews never generate anything new or insightful.

Really, common sense would dictate doing all the interviews in some other space.

But this is 2010 in America. We have very little we hold in common, sense least of all.

Episcopalian Attorney documents almost $13,000,000 in denominational lawsuit spending

The detailed article is here.

He also documents some of the accounting tricks used to conceal this from the faithful, such as "loaning" lawsuit funds to bishops or dioceses, then booking them as "accounts receivable" with no expectation of repayment.

Also, the Presiding Bishop's practice of litigation is shown to be out of step with the very canon law changes she is supporting, which include

No Member of the Clergy of this Church may resort to the secular courts for the purpose of interpreting the Constitution and Canons, or for the purpose of resolving any dispute arising thereunder . . .

A makeup counter reflection that seems apt for Holy Cross Day

Dogwood Digest by Julie Coleman

One Middle-Aged Woman: Priceless

"For the Lord takes pleasure in His people." Psalm 149:4

I am no diva.

My daughter Melanie would roll her eyes at this statement and say, "No kidding!" Before every speaking event, Melanie insists on approving my outfit. She is afraid to let me leave the house without fashion supervision. "Put on some mascara," she urges. "Lipstick will make you appear more professional." I sigh and try to be obedient to her fashion sense, since I have none of my own.

This past spring on a shopping trip in Chicago with my cousins, we wandered into a chic makeup boutique. Right away I knew I didn't belong there as I noted the glamorous women browsing the store. But as I tried to stay inconspicuous and peruse the aisles (so as not to embarrass my cousins), a makeup artist swept over. It was like I had a bull's-eye painted on my forehead. She wanted to give me a makeover. I tried to explain that makeup wasn't really a huge part of my daily routine. A face like mine would be a waste of her time. She insisted.

I felt sorry for her. She seemed so nice and sincere, so desperate to please. So I put myself into her hands.

The woman worked wonders. My eyes looked brighter and my face younger. I wrote down every product she used to perform her magic. Then I went shopping.

Please note: previously, the most sophisticated cosmetic purchase I had ever made was at the drugstore. So as I shopped, I didn't think to look at prices. How expensive could eye shadow be? If only I knew.

Eventually I found myself in line with my little basket of purchases, again noticing the beautiful, stylish women now in line all around me. Obviously if you cared about your appearance, you bought your makeup in this place. I tried to pretend I was a regular customer and nonchalantly stepped up to the counter.

The young beauty behind the counter rang up my purchases. "Good news," she enthused. "You have spent over $150! That entitles you to a special gift!" One hundred fifty dollars?? For blush and powder? I almost passed out. Excruciatingly aware of the Beautiful People surrounding me in line, I gulped and handed over my credit card, trying to look casual, as if this was a routine purchase for a diva like me. My hand was shaking. I thought I might possibly throw up, right there in front of a bunch of super models. How would I explain this to my husband? How good can makeup really be? Was the stuff made of ground up diamonds?

My cousins and I left the store together. I was still shaken. "I j-just spent $150 on eye shadow," I stammered. "Those people think a lot of their makeup."

In the real estate market, a home's value is pretty much determined by what someone is willing to pay for it. Similarly, the boutique's confidence in their product was demonstrated by the cost they assigned to it. Apparently I validated their assumption, since I willingly paid their price. The signature on my credit card slip indicated this makeup was indeed worth $150. At least to me. Apparently.

We can say the same for our own worth, according to Scripture. Our value has been determined by the price God was willing to pay. "You were redeemed...with precious blood...the blood of Christ" (2 Peter 1:18-19). Our value to God is unfathomable. He proved it by shelling out an exorbitant, unimaginable price: the life of His only Son. "You have been bought with a price," Paul wrote the Corinthians. "Therefore, glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:20).

(NPA note: I was blessed to meet this author at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference.)

The Associated Press: US man's healing prompts Newman's beatification

John Henry (Cardinal) Newman was a major Anglican leader who eventually moved to Roman Catholicism and a distinguished ministry in that stream of Christian tradition. His beatification (a significant step toward sainthood in Roman Catholicism) will be a major event in Pope Benedict's visit to England.

The Associated Press: US man's healing prompts Newman's beatification

Now, I can't help but wonder - when Newman's spirit came to Christ, did he hear the promised, "Well done, good and faithful servant" or


Monday, September 13, 2010

He's campy but there's some moral truth lurking here...

The Associated Press: Filmmaker Waters: Let's ban heterosexual divorce

Bonds of Affection displaced by bureaucratic manipulation - the undoing of global Anglicanism

Stand Firm | A Timeline of the Dissolution of the Instruments of Unity of the Anglican Communion

A sad timeline. All the calls for "dialogue" generated global meetings, which were quickly undercut by unaccountable "committees" staffed with activists.

The people who say they want "inclusive love, not rules" change their tune very quickly when you give them plane tickets, a title and a other folks' money to burn.

This morning's Gospel: a reflection on taking church mission money for lawsuits?

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) John 11:4-6

Message in a bottle from (Carol) Gilligan's Island

Carol Gilligan is a well established writer on human development and gender issues.

One of her most available illustrations of gender differences came from the playground. She noticed that boys were more concerned with playing the game by its rules, and girls were more concerned with the impact of the game on the feelings and relationships of those who played.

The conventional wisdom, which I am not saying is Gilligan's but which cited her as it emerged, is that the "boy" approach is inherently bad - legalistic, uncaring and oppressive. The obvious corollary is that the "girl" approach is inherently good.

A healthier view is that "boy" and "girl" are meant to complement, balance and complete each other. But because the "boy is bad" riff is so uncritically accepted, let me give you a glimpse into the "girl" extreme, the Episcopal Church.

Not to go all Jungian on you, but our denomination's "girl" approach has a shadow side. In a time of denominational decline and conflict, rules are set aside as too confining, and we throw ourselves on "relational" approaches such as "dialogue" and "pastoral reconciliation." These sound sweet and tender, but they simply replace accessible and consistent rules with decision by "Who I like and who likes me."

I am in a church denomination where this debased "girl" approach is fully embraced by an increasingly small and homogeneous leadership clique. Our Diocesan clergy deployment officer, back from a national meeting, said that the Episcopal Church projects an all-female clergy in the not so distant future. The Presiding Bishop of the denomination and its ranking lay officer are women. One seminary is run by a lesbian who goes around making speeches about the "holy work" of abortion. The "gate keepers" to ordination and to positions of authority in the church are an increasingly small group of women.

Have they brought peace, harmony and vital community to the denomination?

No, just the opposite. Record numbers of sanctions - many of them with questionable application of church law - have been imposed on clergy. About 10% of the denomination's active members have left to form a separate denominational structure. Millions of mission and ministry dollars are being cannibalized from the denominational budget to sue these dissenters, in cases sprawling all over the country. The denomination's members are the oldest and among the whitest, most affluent and most female in America. "Relational" correlates with monochrome.

Lest you think I'm engaging in impressionistic generalities, here's something more concrete: the denomination just changed its disciplinary rules to massively expand the Presiding Bishop's subjective authority over the church, while calling it "pastoral reconciliation."

This has been accomplished with very little public discussion. It is very much a product of "we know best" insiders and their "relational" networks. I have info from last weekend's Diocese of South Dakota Convention that a resolution conforming Diocesan Canons to the national changes appeared with very little public scrutiny and was passed amidst the flurry of business.

Episcopal Church historians rightly point out the denomination's long record of women doing all the hard work while male figureheads took all the credit based on organizational titles and rules. Bad "boy" approach.

Now, we have a "girl" approach in which there are no rules, just an inner circle of friends who run things based on their feelings. That ranking lay woman I mentioned said this in a discussion of who should take responsibility for the denomination's out-of-budget lawsuit spending:

"Let’s say it’s not an either/or – it’s a both/and – find God’s abundance. Call on the Holy Spirit to make her presence known. We set the mindset of the [church legislative bodies]."

It's not a church - it's your worst nightmare of a home owner's association board or a sorority on the verge of closing.

From the weekend: three perspectives on being an American

Sorry, couldn't get the right light inside... but this is a group of folks from various states and nations visiting the room where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were ratified in Independence Hall, Philadelphia. If you click on the pic to enlarge and squint, the chair you will see dead center is the one George Washington sat in to preside over the Constitutional Convention. The top rail has a sun-on-the-horizon image, which led Ben Franklin to wonder, "Is it rising or setting?" After the Constitution was ratified, he opined that it must be rising.

Alex Haley, California:

"Our character is not what we are, or what we do, under any given President or Congress. Our character is that we can have different Presidents, and different Congresses, and that we change a good part of them every two years. That is the essence of America, what makes her enviable, and what makes her great."

Chris Johnson, Missouri:

"It’s summed up in three words that really are a far better national motto than E Pluribus Unum could ever hope to be.

Leave me alone.

At the end of the day, what does a man really want? He wants the chance to farm his spread or run his business, feed his family, bring up his kids and worship his God however he understands Him. And that’s pretty much it."

Janet Daley, UK:

"What is unique about the US – and indispensable to the understanding of it – is that it is a country of the displaced and dispossessed: a nation which invented itself for the very purpose of permitting people to reinvent themselves, to take their fate into their own hands, to be liberated from the persecution and the paternalism of the old cultures they had left behind."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

No news is...?

First, let me be fair to the culture. There isn't the urgency here about every bit of news, gossip or whatever launching out in real time.

So, it is not surprising that there's no news from the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota's Convention up on the diocesan site (see top "useful link" to the right), or the Episcopal Church in South Dakota Facebook page at Noon on Sunday of the Convention weekend.

But the MSM aren't covering the event, either. I went to the Rapid City Journal and put "Episcopal" in their search function - top news was a funeral to be held in an Episcopal church. For the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, top searches went to archives of the 2009 election of our bishop.

Now, before you read my next paragraph, know that nothing controversial was on tap for the Convention this year. My last paragraph is making a more general point about what gets covered...

Today's Argus Leader has a substantial article about GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender) advocacy programs around South Dakota. That gets covered - the Convention of a nationally known GLBT-friendly denomination doesn't. This goes to my point in the preceding post - most folks don't need the church around for causes they've already embraced, thoughts they've already had. Clubs, advocacy groups and other civic organizations can take care of these things.

Will talk of merging small/declining dioceses come to Dakota Episcopalians?

h/t Anglican Essentials (Canada) for this link:

Diocesan mergers ahead in the US and Canada: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 10, 2010 p « Conger

It is probably the efficient thing to do, and the most responsible use of resources. The more important question is how to reverse the trends that make it necessary - to create a compelling Christian mission.

Progressives in the church have a point: much of what is comfortable and familiar to existing members does not connect with the questions asked by people outside of the church. But conservatives have a point that the denomination's self-declared "hierarchy" won't address: Liberal Protestantism says nothing that secular people don't already think without the church.

As ever, the church needs to both open its heart to the messy stuff in the world around it while offering the truth and values of a heavenly kingdom that many worldly people will not care to receive. This will not be easy for a denomination that historically provided chaplaincy to a nominally Christian culture - a culture that already accepted and made a niche for it.

I've heard the merger idea come up informally around the Dakotas. With ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) for SD & ND combined at around 3,000, it might make sense to return to the old territorial days of one Bishop & staff for both.

The Episcopal Church in this part of the world was nurtured into existence with a lone bishop and small cadre of clergy, raising leaders in small communities and cross-culturally. So there is a rich and not typically denominational history on which to draw.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"...dying suddenly and unprepared..."

From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from
violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and
unprepared, Good Lord, deliver us.

From The Great Litany, Book of Common Prayer

The anniversary of an international act of evil and national trauma absorbs us. Yet, in a challenging rebuke, Jesus warns us to not fix our minds on the horrors and shocks of our time:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

He follows this with an encouragement to "repent" (turn) by yielding our time to him, letting his work renew us, to bring forth in our lives the goodness God desires,

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

May we live our short season of life responsive to Christ's love and fruitful to God's purposes. As we receive Christ's work, he delivers us - not from the circumstance of death, but from its worst possible consequence.

The Book of Common Prayer: "For Our Enemies"

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

Reuters: Baghdad church bombings leave tiny Christian minority trembling

Baghdad church bombings leave tiny Christian minority trembling | Analysis & Opinion |
“Attacking Christians can have a big impact on public opinion, because they are a minority and the international media will take this news seriously. That’s what the extremists want,” William Warida, a Christian and chairman of a Baghdad human rights organisation told me. “And some extremists just don’t want the existence of Christians in this country at all.”

I don't know if he's right about the media taking the news seriously, although I am glad that Reuters is reporting the situation. But if you go to the link you will see that the attacks have been going on for months. This isn't breaking news.

Please pray for Iraq's Christians, and for peace and stability in the region. As you will read, these bombings are an extension of Islamic fundamentalists' effort to stir up conflict as well as intimidate. Previous bombing campaigns targeted other Muslims to create sectarian tension. If you have means to give, Barnabas Aid sponsors several relief programs for Iraqi Christians.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sioux Falls man who lost sister on 9/11 does not object to proposed NYC mosque location | The Mosque And The Mistrust

Iowa Episcopal Priest Activated with National Guard Unit

The Rev. Martha Kester was recently promoted to Captain. She is blogging via her parish site:

St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Des Moines

Let us pray for her, the service members in her care, and for her parish.

"Good cop and bad cop went home. I'm a different kind of cop."

That's what TV's Vic Mackey said before thrashing a bad guy. It came to mind this morning as I read John's category crunching description of Jesus:

"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved... Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, 'See how he loved him!' ...Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb... he cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him, and let him go.'"

Bible scholars will tell you, rightly, that John is the Gospel writer who goes after the biggest ideas, engaging Greek philosophy with words and ideas that English barely translates. Some push this to say that John's Jesus is above it all, like Max Von Sydow's air brushed movie version.

Yet here this same John must report that Jesus was "disturbed" and in tears, pushed and pulled by the daily tragedies that stalk humanity.

Other Bible commentators will humanize Jesus to suit a cause du jour, from Jefferson's non-miraculous moral teacher to Dan Brown's enlightened-sex-in-the-French-countryside dude.

But here Jesus speaks with power to call life out of the tomb.

What an amazing set of verses. They break down the tidy categories of theology and ideology. We get a "different kind of God" from the one our ideas create.

The mysterious deity of heaven, the one we wave off as "unknowable," walks on the earth and weeps with us. Then this not so amazing Rabbi, the all too human guy who didn't show up when we needed him, raises his voice and banishes death. God with us, God beyond us. God experienced on our terms, God known only on faith's terms.

"Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man..." Council of Chalcedon, 451 AD

Is the press asking how this plays in the Muslim world?

Not just Crusaders, but gay Crusaders coming to corrupt the wondrous purity of Muslim lands...

Judge Strikes Down Military Ban on Gays -

Frankly, I honor a gay neighbor's choice to go in harm's way for my freedoms. It's the U.S. Army, not the Salvation Army. But we need to listen when military leaders raise cautions about operational problems that could arise, including the propaganda implications.

The theme this week seems to be "rights." Everybody got 'em. The interesting question is how to use them sensibly and constructively.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Qur'an burning cancelled, thank God

Lots of reports bouncing around but it appears that the provocation has been called off.

I'm still against burning Qur'ans, but wouldn't a "No bombing, decapitating or otherwise disfiguring or killing people" festival be nice

While we rightly criticize the provocation and call for a change of direction on the part of the group in Florida, more people than actually go to that church were killed and wounded by Islamic martyr wannabees in Russia today.

I say this as a "religious" person: we get into trouble when our holy things become more sacred in our eyes than the human being, made in the image of God. In Christian understanding, we are loved so much that the Son of God shared our nature to suffer with us and be sacrificed for us.

But Christians and Muslims are two sides of a coin, at least phenomenologically.

On our side, Western Christians have so trivialized God that we have no inhibitions about mocking or desecrating things that some people see as signs of the divine. I once read an article in which a Christian writer kept invoking "the Protestant hermeneutic of iconoclasm" - big words for "we have fun being jerks around religion." God becomes an excuse for the self-indulgent.

On the other side, Islam renders God so severely mysterious as to banish the divine presence from humanity, mocking and desecrating people - telling them to blow themselves up to score points with the hidden God, cutting off heads on videotape while shouting "God is great!," etc. God becomes an excuse for the sadistic.

I agree with Muslims who are outraged about the Qur'an burning. They are being insulted and provoked in this case. But I am also tired of their whiny global excuses for violence, the unholy cruelty they inflict even upon one another.

Powerful and precious

The latter part of today's lesson from John:

Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.' When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, 'The Teacher is here and is calling for you.' And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

The Episcopal Church released internal research data prior to our last General Convention. The honesty of the report was painful. It showed that the denomination is not adding people to life in Christ by conversion, by intergenerational transmission of faith, or by birth and nurture in Christian families.

This is not another rant about the stats, just a reflection on them in light of the Gospel lesson. We try to justify our Christianity by all kinds of things - "It works for me," "It makes me feel better," "It's the way to join with others to fix XXXXX," etc. While we say a Creed in our service, we are seldom challenged, individually or collectively, to answer the question "Do you believe this?" Martha, having answered it, is propelled to go and call her sister to Jesus. She goes "privately," John tells us. What she has to share is not only powerful but precious, worthy of discreet, intimate sharing.

I don't claim an expertise in moving from "Yes, Lord, I believe..." to telling others that my Teacher is calling them. I have all the inhibitions and compromised thinking that bedevil other church people. What if I say it wrong? What if I offend? What if I sound like one of "those" people? Do I really want to go this deep with some other flawed human being?

The church has potential to help its members overcome all the inhibition. While Jesus witnessed to himself, he sent his disciples out in teams. Our little congregation had a group go out over Labor Day weekend and their testimony is up on the parish Facebook page:

We came [to the Lifelight Christian Music Festival], we saw, we listened to great music, we gave free hugs, we packed school supplies for kids in the Philippines, we played hacky-sack, one of us gave his life to Christ... It was a good day!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When all your neighbors think you're a dork because you don't believe that gay Islamic vampires are bringing an enlightened reality show

'It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.'

Willful distortion or just stupidity?

Would Oklahoma City have opposed Okla21? -

A seminary president trots out the "Timothy McVeigh was an example of Christian terrorism" argument, despite McVeigh's own statements of agnosticism and his well documented final statement being a non-Christian poem asserting self-will.

McVeigh was raised Catholic but distanced himself from the faith. He made no claims of divine purpose in general or Christian activism in particular in conjunction with the Oklahoma City bombing. The effort in this piece seems to be to tie anti-government extremism (McVeigh's major motivation) to Christianity - to support Nero by accusing the Christians of burning down the city.

Union Seminary, source of this McVeigh silliness, used to be a prominent place, where the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer studied while in the U.S. Now, it's just another liberal protestant "feelings are facts" mill.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


"Many came to him, and they were saying, 'John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.' And many believed in him there." John 10:41-2

Sometimes, we are called to efforts that seem fruitless, even failures.

But to live for the truth is to preserve it for others, not to gratify our own egos but to glorify the one who will glorify us.

Local paper profiles Sioux Falls based flight nurses

Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft serve as ambulances in South Dakota, connecting far flung towns and Reservations to the major medical centers in Sioux Falls.

Good human interest piece showed up in Sunday's Argus Leader.

"The weather, of course, affects their demeanor. They can see the radar just like the pilots can. 'Sometimes you cinch your seatbelts up a little tighter,' VanDerVliet says.

And so does the frequent, inevitable question: Will they make it on time?

It's in those moments, Boik says, that she says a silent prayer for the pilot to go just a little bit faster. 'And somehow, some way, it seems like he does.'

That's not to say they make it back to the hospital in time all the time. Unfortunately, sometimes they don't.

'As hard as we try, sometimes there's a higher power in charge,' Boik says.

And that hurts. It really hurts, Boik and VanDerVliet admit. The two - along with the rest of their team - rely on each other for the emotional support required to do their job day in and day out."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Qur'an burning church - an example of why denominations are not all bad

I snark here a good deal about some of the silly things perpetrated by church bureaucracies.

But the current abomination in Florida:

Church plans Quran-burning event - CNN

is the kind of thing that can be prevented or condemned when you have a Bishop, conference, synod or some other oversight. No surprise that this is going on in a "nondenominational" church.

In the New Testament, there is a book burning:

"And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver."

The big difference is that the magicians had converted to Christ and were voluntarily renouncing old ways. The apostles didn't grab their scrolls and burn them.

In response to the Florida church's attention grab, there are understandably outraged demonstrations in Afghanistan and Indonesia.

General Mark Petraeus, commanding the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, condemned the church action and warned it could inspire reprisals against our troops. One can only imagine the situation this creates for Christians in Islamic countries or regions.

Islam does not have a central authority. Any Imam can declare just about anything. So for many Muslims, this Qur'an burning news must sound like any Christian, any place can declare a crusade. There's really no Christian leader who can step up and stop it.

Really appalling to me is that the church calls itself the "Dove World Outreach Center" - the dove being a Biblical appearance and well understood Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is present, you know what follows?
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."

Clearly, we have a church that is not guided by the Holy Spirit and with leaders who, by their behavior, demonstrate that they are acting without Christ. But they are their own authority, with no "episkopos" (Greek New Testament word for "overseer" and root of "bishop") to correct them.

(btw I am aware that Muslims are capable of the same kind of reprehensible behavior as the Florida church. This is a post about Christians betraying our teachings.)

Interesting perspectives on the national mood

South Dakota native Chuck Raasch calls Glenn Beck our "national Rorschach test."
"Who is Glenn Beck?

• An opportunistic, glib, modern-day Elmer Gantry, a provocateur for profit who calls the president a racist and is in the midst of one of the most public 12-step addiction recoveries ever (as columnist Kathleen Parker hypothesized)?

• Or is he the voice of a powerful surge of average, patriotic, unselfish Americans who think their government has gotten too big and their God too small in the public square?"

Eugene Robinson outs our quick fix, "spoiled brat" reactivity:

"Republicans got the back of the electorate's hand in 2006 and 2008; Democrats will feel the sting this November. By 2012, it will probably be the GOP's turn to get slapped around again.

The nation demands the impossible: quick, painless solutions to long-term, structural problems. While they're running for office, politicians of both parties encourage this kind of magical thinking. When they get into office, they're forced to try to explain that things aren't quite so simple..."

UPDATED - "Byzantine" jurisdicitional issues hinder law enforcement in Native American communities

An amazing AP report came out yesterday. There are all kinds of copyright restrictions so I won't quote anything here. But go to the link and give it a read.

Race is the real, legal factor in deciding jurisdiction when a Native American is involved in a case, whether as victim or suspect. A mind numbing matrix of possibilities emerge.

UPDATE: Read the first comment by Archer of the Forest. Then extrapolate the situation to a case like rape or murder and you get the idea.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sioux Falls hosts Miss Sudan America Pageant

OK, before you start flaming go read the whole article.

"Participants spoke of their dreams and ambitions, and young Sudanese girls were invited to watch and listen.

Biliu is studying criminal justice at Colorado Technical Institute with a goal of becoming a police officer and then a detective. She was born in Sudan, raised in the Middle East and moved to the United States at age 16.

She wants to be a role model for young women, including her young daughters, and educate them on the options and women's rights offered in America."

The Diocese of South Dakota's support for Pajut, South Sudan, has a special focus on rebuilding the nation through the education of girls. The wells and grinding mills now present in Pajut save the village's girls hours of daily work, time which is spent in the school constructed by the project.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

What will you hear in church this weekend?

Chit chat? Opinions? An interesting lecture? Bylaws, buidlings and budgets? Self-improvement therapy? Spend < 4 minutes with this little video. Passed along by Lt. Matt Perkins, MD, aka Northwest Anglican.

Costly Grace: America's Great Denial

While we fight over temporal things, there is a great denial of ultimate things. Fr. Hall of St. Paul's, Brookings (pictured) shares his thoughts,

Costly Grace: America's Great Denial

You need to pay attention to him. He recently asserted that his ankle had declared autumn, and lo our temps have cooled.

But seriously, his thoughts are deep yet accessible. Churches spend too much time seeking bandwagons to ride - Fr. Hall is in the sanctuary caring for the treasures God gave us to steward.

"I was in a liturgy class in Britain a few years ago when I was at Westcott House, and the topic of funerals came up. The professor asked point blank who in the class had actually ever seen a dead body. This was a fairly large group of mostly Anglicans. Most of whom were in the 21 to 50 age range. An Irish guy and myself were the only two people in the class that raised our hands. Ireland still has a wake tradition, and America still sometimes has an open casket at the receiving of friends or visitation at the funeral home.

I was astounded by that, particularly coming from a group of Anglican church mice. One would think that they would have seen a body somewhere, sometime, if they had grown up around the church and gone to funeral masses at some point. But in Britain, it turns out that no one ever sees a dead body unless they stumble upon it by accident.

Westerners just seem to have an aversion to anything having to do with death. I think America is quickly going down the path that Britain and other places in Europe have already tread. The trend in secular circles is to not even call them funerals anymore. They are referred to as "Celebrations of Life" or such as that. Even in Church circles, liturgical black is no longer permitted for funerals unless specifically requested. The liturgical color is white. I still have a black chasuble for requiem masses, if requested, but I'm a hold out. Even the Catholic priest in town has to come borrow mine if someone requests a requiem mass."