Sunday, October 31, 2010

Some Thanks-be-to-God! material

We made a quick run across the state to visit our son at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Very proud of him and God blessed us with a gorgeous fall weekend for this visit.

Today, October 31st, is six years to the day of my first Sunday at Church of the Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls. I've been describing the church as something like an old cathedral - always a work in progress, never quite done, but there pointing to God. The physical signs of this include parishioners putting new siding on the Sanctuary and a new paint job for the parish hall interior. One couple in particular touched my heart - they have been struggling with repair issues at their home and to see them leading the church upgrades is humbling and inspiring.

Then there are the wonderful signs of new life: baby seat handles sticking up from the pews like a welcome new crop. A weeknight kid's program. Sunday attendance starting to creep back up after a down year.

Much to celebrate, much for which to give thanks.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Episcopal Church posts a good fact sheet, prayers and advocacy links for The Sudan

This focus page has a good overview of the situation there, plus video of Sudan's Archbishop and other links to important statements, information and opportunities to help.

h/t Moses Deng-traffic Joknhial II

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Humanitarian Crisis: Northern Plains without soap, cologne, deodorant, perfume...

Katie Couric On Her Contract, CBS, and Love of the Campaign Trail - The Daily Beast

This is my favorite line from Howard Kurtz' love letter to Katie Couric:

"That’s why Couric has spent recent weeks in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is touring what she calls 'this great unwashed middle of the country' in an effort to divine the mood of the midterms."

Now, I have to wonder if she considers Chicago "the great unwashed middle," or if she's looking just beyond it toward the bleak moonscape on which our filthy Northern Plains children stand by wagon rut trails, calling out "Baksheesh!" to passers by.

For those of you on the left, seriously, this is where Tea Parties get started. When you look down your snout at people long enough, they react. The American left has become all noblesse and no oblige.

h/t Red Stick Rant

Archbishop of York hosts projection art display at York Minster

The Archbishop of York - Illuminating York lights up York Minster

There's more at the link. Tweeted @JohnSentamu

Nat'l Dem Party has a valid point, so why stretch it into a vile lie?

The national Democratic campaign apparatus is running an ad in South Dakota, where incumbent Stephanine Herseth Sandlin (D) is in a tight race with GOP challenger Kristi Noem.

Noem has a record for scofflaw behavior on SD's roads. That's a fair character issue, given the scope and severity of the incidents.

But the Dem ad is really disgusting:

That fade-to-black at the end is used in various TV reality and crime shows all the time. The clear implication of the ad is that we are watching the sad passing of a cute child that Ms. Noem ran over - when in fact there were no injuries involved in any of her traffic violations.

I am pretty sensitive to this kind of stuff, because it is the progressive, peace-love-bunnies people of the church who have concealed budget information, lied about their agendas, perpetrated excessive amounts of the behaviors they blame on everybody else, and generally screwed up the denomination into something truly tragic. If one's ideas and points have merit, why resort to deception?

The unavoidable conclusion is: Maybe your points and ideas have less merit than you think.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Well, that was short. We're already "After the Snow"

Hey, there in the sky... it's... isn't that? I think we have...

Snow - Informer
Uploaded by ptidavid. - See the latest featured music videos.

Rosebud Mission Vicar to Retire

Facebook | The Rosebud Mission of the Episcopal Church's Photos - Wall Photos

Sorry to see this faithful Vicar and his family go, but praying for many blessings for their years of service.

Len Goodman decries "injustice" on DWTS - a metaphor for the human condition?

Dancing Elimination Shocker: "No Justice" as a Favorite Goes Home - E! Online

What Len said,

"We [he specifically said Americans and Brits] like the underdog, but we like justice more, and there is no justice these two being here. It's nonsense,"

goes right to my biggest dislike of "reality" shows - the stupid "voting" factor. Reality TV sends the message that good effort and achievement are meaningless - that everything comes down to manipulation.

Of course that might well be human reality. It's what we act out every Good Friday, shouting "Crucify him!" and condemning the only one who was truly just.

NPA Facebook Page - picking up "Likes" and good content

NPA on FB just went over 100 "Likes." We are starting to get people from around the region and there are some folks working on more commentary and content. I'm liking the way that contributors are taking their time and coming up with thoughtful stuff, really searching out the quality contributions Anglican spirituality has to make.

Fr. Hall from Brookings has another good piece up about Daily Offices, the Anglican way of creating sacred time in the midst of normal days.

He's also posted some words from Bishop DeKoven, another of the missionary bishops who left the supportive structure and perks of Episcopalian life in their time and journeyed to a more challenging mission field.

The "Note" on Bishop Hare's statement that "the supreme desire and effort of a Christian should be to fix his own full gaze, and to fix the gaze of others, upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man" is getting comments, including an Anglican church planter and an Episcopal candidate for ordination.

On the FB page, we are staying away from the political fights - those can go on here on the blog and in many other venues as the institution destroys itself. What we're after on FB is finding the raw material to rebuild from the debris field that is coming.

So here at the blog, I'll still be posting some of the crazy, sad & bad news of Episcopal/Anglican chaos. There are some hard truths to be told for the good of God's people, and God calls spiritual leaders to sound warnings.

But if you have friends on the Northern Plains or the surrounding states, friends who might be unchurched or searching, who don't have an Episcopal/Anglican political axe to grind (or can at least let it hang in the wood shed for a bit), who want to dig out and inspect some treasures from a special chapter of Episcopal/Anglican mission history, point 'em to Northern Plains Anglicans on Facebook. God willing, we will preserve and polish some treasure for something wonderful, the blueprints of which are hidden with the Lord for now.

The leaders impose discipline for inciting dissent and boundary crossing

Thank a meme of universal goodness that we live in a community of justice-love like The Episcopal Church! Otherwise, an elite might rule by fiat, punish dissent, and tell everybody who raises questions to butt out.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

National Episcopal Church continues to slash budget, mortgage assests... and even "progressive" elements that agree on stuff are devouring one another

Episcopal Life Online - NEWS

The New York headquarters of the denomination will be mortgaged to service staggering debt.

More programs will be cut while the lawsuit budget is maintained.

Bishops don't want the flaky activist "House of Deputies" who don't want the House of Bishops. The Presiding Bishop is down on the Executive Council and both are down on any objections to what they do.

The "National Church" is an ingrown club of people who speak a coded language that makes sense only to them, and fight over entitlements and resources to cannibalize.

That our decrepit organization spreads disharmony and dysfunction internationally must have the master of the pit throwing one blowout Halloween bash.

We are a sick body. We need to seek healing. But it appears we're yet to hit bottom - denial reigns among those who assume entitlement to power.

Sub in your denomination for "Lutheran" and see if this ain't familiar...

Why We Suck at Evangelism: 5 Theses for Consideration « Idle Ramblings of the LutherPunk

I loved this paragraph, in a masochisitc sorta way,

"When I first got here, I proposed we take the Servant Evangelism model and make it our own. Doing little things like handing out water bottles, or free newspapers to commuters, or flowers on Mother’s Day to strangers, or free gift wrapping during the holidays. Simple things, things anyone can do. This was met with an uproar of resistance. So what did we do? A direct mail campaign. We sent out about 10,000 cards advertising Easter. My son decided to be born that Easter morning so I am unsure how many people may have been visitors as the result of the cards, but no one else bothered to follow up either. Some in leadership (who are thankfully no longer in leadership) began to grumble about the cost of the cards and effectively blocked ever doing them again."

h/t commenter David

Monday, October 25, 2010

"The supreme desire and effort of a Christian" - Really?

"Let us never in the midst of the business of the Church lose sight of the fact that there is such a mistake as that of being very busy with the affairs of the Kingdom of heaven and yet of possessing very little personal knowledge of the King; nor let us forget in trying to fit our work in with the conditions in which we find ourselves that the supreme need of men everywhere, whatever may be their superficial desires, is just that need which certain Greeks expressed, as we are told in St. John's Gospel, 'Sir, we would see Jesus.' I feel sure that the highest conviction of us all is, however much passing things may for a time divert us, that the supreme desire and effort of a Christian should be to fix his own full gaze, and to fix the gaze of others, upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man." Bp. William Hobart Hare, first Bishop of the Dakotas, 1891

Lately, my heart and mind have been tossing with that issue of "seeking the lost." I am of that generation of clergy bred to be "pastors" to existing congregations, and to seek growth by "techniques" rather than conversion. That's not what animated the missionaries of the Northern Plains - in fact they rejected such thinking.

What do you think? And if you agree with Bishop Hare, how can we better help one another to "fix our own full gaze and to fix the gaze of others upon Jesus Christ"?

This is up as a note over at the Northern Plains Anglicans Facebook page as well.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sioux Falls columnist discovers that "the young" see liberal religion as hollow, fallen humanity as reality

Matt Okerlund's column in today's Argus Leader blew me away. It bears the reality of what Jesus tells the church in today's Gospel, that our notions of our own goodness are deceptive:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14

Okerlund writes,

"In the high school literature class I teach, we've been reading "The Road." It is a novel about a man and a boy living in a post-apocalyptic world.

It is a dark story. Everything in this world is gray because everywhere - in the air, on the ground, in the water - there is ash. Nothing lives but humans, and like their surroundings, most of them are ruined.

I find 'The Road' harder to believe than my students do. That man could blow it to such a degree does not blow them away. That he could be so foul does not strike them as far-fetched, and when I ask them why, they tell me man has a history - past and present - of poor behavior, and at his core, he has but one concern: himself."

I was surprised when Okerlund quoted the iconic Archbishop Desmond Tutu's progressive Christianity, and it didn't play with the students,

" his book 'Made for Goodness,' the man who helped to end South African apartheid writes of human beings: 'We are fundamentally good. When you come to think of it, that's who we are at our core. Why else do we get so outraged by wrong?'

Evil, suggests Tutu, is the aberration. 'The norm,' according to the archbishop, 'is goodness.'

My students are skeptical of that. Such notions are not the world they know..."

Our early service at Good Shepherd uses the traditional English of the Prayer Book tradition, and I found the old "Comfortable Words" just that today - God's comforting response to who we are, and our true hope:

Hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him.

Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and
I will refresh you. Matthew 11:28

God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son,
to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but
have everlasting life. John 3:16

This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received,
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
1 Timothy 1:15

If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus
Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our
sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole
world. 1 John 2:1-2

Minnesota's missionary bishop: sermon at the consecration of the Dakota's missionary bishop, 1873

"The Apostles went everywhere 'preaching the Kingdom of God.' To the eye of man there was nothing more than a few lowly men going two and two, telling of God's love and pouring water upon willing listeners and breaking bread with benediction. Yet, wherever they went, the Kingdom of God went also. The Gospel they preached was no new religious philosophy. It was not a mere aggregate of religious doctrine. It presented to all men a real King and a real Kingdom. It told them of a risen and ascended Lord, who had made the trial of human sorrow, and knew the burdens which brought furrows to the cheek and deeper lines of suffering to the heart. It told them of a real Son of Man who loved them, who pitied them, who felt for them, and of a Son of God who was able and willing to help them. The Gospel which the Apostles preached centered in a person. It presented to all men a religion of fact."

The whole sermon is here.

Fr. Ryan Hall, Rector of St. Paul's in Brookings, SD, has an engaging commentary on the missionary theology that guided then-frontier bishops like Whipple (MN) and Hare (the Dakotas). Fr. Hall's thoughts are worth a good read, just like the sermon.

Hope lives at both links - because both resound with solid belief that God is good and faithful and that the unique message of Jesus Christ is true. Those who hold these beliefs within and demonstrate them in action are God's strongest proof in every generation.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Good guys screw up; the ones you love will let you down; some advice

This week's Epistle presents the picture of the Apostle Paul, sitting in jail and facing execution.

It has only excerpts of a full description of his circumstances. Here are some of the missing verses,

"Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message."

Let's get Alexander out of the way first: there are evil people in life. Paul does what Jesus says, not taking or encouraging revenge but leaving judgement to God. Sensibly, he warns others about the danger posed by a destructive enemy.

The bulk of the passage is about allies - fellow missionaries, in Paul's case - who bailed on him. Only one, Demas, seems to have abandoned the faith for "this present world." The others seem to be busy with other missions. They are like so many of us, who hurt and are hurt by the people we care about most.

On these people, Paul does not assert divine judgement. "At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!" Paul, understanding full well how much mercy Christ had shown him, prays mercy upon them. And lest we think that this is some pious platitude, we see Paul put the prayer into action by asking Timothy to bring Mark, who had abandoned Paul on a previous mission. Paul goes beyond words to really offer a second chance.

How is Paul able to do this? The key is at the end of Sunday's passage:

"...the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen."

He finds all he needs in the love of Christ. When people we care about let us down, we can discover that we have asked them to play an impossible, God-sized role in our lives. We freight them with our needs for love, loyalty, acceptance, amusement, reliability, comfort, patience and other qualities that only God can fulfill to perfection.

Paul can be merciful because he accepts the humanity and fallibility of his friends, and exalts the divinity and perfection of Christ.

There's a prayer said for the couple during the marriage service in The Book of Common Prayer,

"Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and
acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other's forgiveness
and yours."

Not if they hurt each other, but when. Hurts and disappointments go with love in this life. Paul, on death row, shows us that mercy is the good way. It brings us the perfect hope and help of the one we abandon and betray the most, who most painfully suffers our human limitation with grace and compassion.

Friday, October 22, 2010

NOT about the church controversies: some thoughts shared by a lay person burned by the church

I'm really glad this person shared a bit of journaling with me. This is a person the church really, profoundly let down several years ago. This individual is now back into church life, with a sensitivity for and evolving thoughts about what the church should and can be...

"I am sitting here playing Spider Solitaire on my computer and letting my mind wander. Since the game is not really important to me it gives my hands something to do as I think. I had a doctor's appointment this morning, everything looks great... The mail comes. I balance the checkbook and then read through the Newsletter from church. Father Tim is off on his sabbatical, Father Tim's Ramblings are not really ramblings as mine are, has has thought out a good many things, his hope, his fears and in stating them is giving us direction. I hope he comes back refreshed. Suddenly my mind thinks of the Good Shepherd whom when one of his flock was missing went out to look for the lost one. I wonder if one of the flock at Good Shepherd Church would suddenly come up missing, would any one go looking for them. Would anyone look around and say where is XXXXX, I have not seen him for some time, (he is missing). And if he is missing Why. Is he ill, car broke down, on vacation. Sleep in. Or has he simply wandered off and got lost with no one to guide him back to the flock. Of course he could just be unhappy with the flock and decided to go out on his own looking for who knows what. It's funny what the mind thinks of when set free to ramble. I think back to time of inactivity within the church and realize that I cannot remember a time when anyone called to ask if I was OK, Was I just taking a sabbatical to refresh or was I in need of a good Shepherd to come look for me. Time to get some house cleaning done and stop thinking for a while."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

From the Costly Grace blog: two excellent posts on the life and thought of a regional missionary bishop

Fr. Hall from Brookings posts in two parts full of rich material.

Part I gives biographical insight,

"Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple was a truly remarkable man; he was one of the finest examples of what a Bishop of the Episcopal Church can be and do on a number of levels, both within the Church, as emissary of the Church, and as a public citizen of the United States of America."

Be sure to visit the links Fr. Hall provides, especially to Bp. Whipple's passionate appeal on behalf of Native Americans sentenced to death - Whipple points out that the planned mass hanging almost seems small in comparison to the wider cultural devastation inflicted on the tribes. (President Lincoln ultimately pardoned 265 of the 303 condemned warriors).

Part II brings out Whipple's views of church mission. Fr. Hall includeds this worthwhile introduction, which is so necessary to exploring the thought of another generation:

"...being a good Victorian, Whipple did refer to Native Americans in what now appears to be highly politically insensitive (read: offensive) language. To be true to the sermon, the beliefs of his era, and to perhaps generate a bit of discussion on race relations particularly in South Dakota, I am including that point, noting them as [SIC]. Before you jump off your PC bandwagon to condemn him, however, you need read my previous blog entry and other testimony here, as I think Whipple was light years ahead of others in terms of treating Native Americans with incredible respect as Children of God."

This same caveat is necessary to read the thoughts of Bp. William Hobart Hare, first Bishop of the Dakotas. He speaks of Native Americans in ways which are offensive to contemporary ears yet his personal involvement with and work for the tribes shames our distant, impersonal, alternately romantic and bureaucratic treatment of them today.

Back to Bp. Whipple: Fr. Hall shares selections from the sermon "The Work of a Missionary Church" (1862). I suggest you go to the link and read rather than have me excerpt an excerpt, but here's a teaser - it stands up as well in 2010 as in 1862,

THE WORK IS DIFFICULT FOR THE WORLDLINESS OF WESTERN LIFE.-"If gold is the only end, it will here be sought by trickery, by falsehood, by extortion, by worldly work, without a day of rest, and by a life without faith in God or hope of heaven."

THE WORK IS DIFFICULT BY INDIFFERENCE.-"The heart is dead and cold. For long years they have silenced every angel whisper; they have cast off God, and sin holds them in its unchallenged possession. To reach such men, to break up this ice-bound sea, to lead them out of their benumbed stupor, is a work of difficulty. The only message which can reach such hearts is in the love of Jesus Christ."

Is the Episcopal Church using South Dakota's Reservations to troll for lawsuit money?

I caught an interesting report from the Diocese of Upper South Carolina:

"...our Bishop, +A. Waldo, presented his argument yesterday at the Diocesan convention of Upper S.C. for continuing full economic support of T.E.C. in the face of a $200,000 shortfall in the diocesan budget. To summarize, the rationale is that you have to send T.E.C. money so that they can continue to support the needy Native American tribal missions in S.D. and so that money can go to the Episcopal Church in Haiti."

While it remains true that the Episcopal Church here in SD is heavily subsidzed by a grant from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I can tell you that every conversation I've heard about that grant includes a caveat like "But we expect this to be reduced in coming years."

Meanwhile, the Presiding Bishop's lawsuit spending continues to spiral out of control, as documented in detail by A.S. Haley and simply ignored by most folks in the pews.

Dean of historic Wisconsin seminary on the statistics of Episcopal church decline

"...The Brave New World doesn't need chaplains. A purely horizontal [this-world-only] 'gospel' overlaid with a religious veneer just isn't appealing to anyone. If people want to support gay rights and the Millennium Development Goals, all they have to do is vote Democrat, and they can sleep in or take the kids to soccer on Sunday morning. And they can probably feel better after a Yoga session, an hour of transcendental meditation, a walk on the beach, or a work-out at the gym than they will after a service at the typical liberal church."

Read the whole commentary here.

Episcopal leaders remain in denial: stats show media gimmicks and pandering fail to reverse church decline

There is a display of Episcopal Church statistical charts assembled over at Stand Firm. They are the 10 year (1999-2009) displays of "membership" (always flaky - see the Bp. of Iowa's good critique I linked earlier in the week), financial contributions and average Sunday attendance (ASA - the more reliable measure of active participants).

As you will see, the trends are all about decline. This is true even in The Diocese of California, which is the San Francisco see of The Episcopal Church.

As the stats display, the front-and-center LGBT agenda of the denomination has not created any momentum, even in the most LGBT friendly city one can imagine.

A couple of the comments in the thread explain the leadership issues clearly. I especially like this one:

"TEC didn’t correctly account for the fact that the people who share their worldview don’t see much need for organized religion. It drove away the people who cared, and then turned to receive the applause of the crowd. The crowd did indeed applaud, but it also curtly declined the offer to join the congregation. It didn’t care about TEC or its ideas. The crowd simply wanted to see the old religion put down lest it trouble the conscience. When the show was over, the crowd went home and sought after other distractions. Now TEC is mired in multitudes of lawsuits with spiraling legal costs even as its membership hurtles toward a demographic cliff."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Edmund Kopietz: "Of Scandanavians and Lutherans and Episcopalians."

One thing that makes Episcopal/Anglican church development challenging up here is the ethnic identity and tradition that feeds the Lutheran congregations. A high percentage of folks have a church identity, even if it has become nominal.

Cultural groups that have some traditional identity with The Episcopal Church here are Native Americans and Anglican immigrants from Africa and SE Asia.

Edmund Kopietz of Minneapolis shared this on our NPA Facebook page, and it has historical perspective and some surprises:

"Fr.Tim asked for us to offer insights into Anglican life, in the Northern Plains, and for my first attempt at writing something here, I thought I'd write about Lutherans,Episcopalians and Scandinavians.

In the upper mid-west people of German and Scandinavian ancestry are major part of the cultural landscape, and writing about our context in the Northern Plains region, would not be complete without talking about this, as well as Lutheranism, which is also a major part of the cultural and religious landscape of the Midwest.

First lets start with Lutheranism, Lutheranism in many ways parallels Anglicanism, with somewhat similar divides between High and Low Church, liberal and conservative, and like us they are splintering, and entering a sort of self-destructive twilight. Like Anglicanism, Lutheranism was on the more conservative side of the Reformation spectrum, in everything from liturgy, to theology and in some cases polity. As an Anglo-Catholic Anglican and someone partially of Swedish and Sami ancestry I have particular affinity for the Swedish Church, which at the Reformation was very conservative, in what Catholic elements it retained,everything from fiddle back chausibles, to Apostolic Succession, to an utter lack of iconoclasm. More Catholic leaning Lutherans are a minority in American Lutheranism,but are still a vital part of the Lutheranism.Lutherans and Anglicans have been interacting with one another in various ways, particularly in the twentieth and twenty first century. I would strongly urge, my fellow Anglicans to learn more about Lutheranism, particularly the High-Church or Evangelical Catholic wing of Lutheranism. Many of the great minds of this strain of Lutheranism, have things of value to Anglicans and insights worth searching out for Anglicans. The ELCA and The Episcopal Church, have a history together, which I'll briefly note. Here is the transcript of a talk given in the 1950's at Seabury Western Seminary, concerning the Catholic movement in the Swedish church.

As for the Episcopal church, there is a history of ministry to Scandinavians in our church, particularly Swedes, and particularly in Dioceses in the Northern Plains and the Upper Midwest, Diocese with a history of Scandinavian ministry and parish life,that I am aware of are Minnesota, those in Wisconsin such as the Diocese of Milwaukee, Northern Michigan, Quincy, and Chicago. Here is link to report from 1929 regarding the place of Swedish background people in the Episcopal Church. It should be pointed out the first graduate of Nashotah House was a Swede Gustaf Unonius who founded and ministered at several Scandinavian Episcopal parishes in Wisconsin and Chicago. The church even translated the 1892 prayerbook into Swedish. It should also be known that in the colonial period, that Delaware was a Swedish colony and that what amounted to joint ministry occurred there, between Anglicans and the Church of Sweden. The colonial church of Sweden parishes where eventually folded into what became the Episcopal church.

Hopefully this brief note touching upon Lutheranism and Anglicanism was interesting and insightful."

The Niobrara Cross, and other examples of the missionary heritage on the Northern Plains

The Diocese of South Dakota site has this good summary of the sign given to those who are Confirmed in South Dakota:

Certificates of Baptism and Confirmation meant nothing to Indian converts who could not read. Bishop Hare desired to give to those who took upon themselves obligations as Christians some token that would not only mark them as communicants, but also serve as a constant reminder to them of their Christian calling. He therefore in 1874 designed a cross to serve this purpose.

The oval in the center is his episcopal seal. Around its margin in Latin is inscribed “The Seal of William Hobart Hare, by the grace of God Bishop of Niobrara.” The Greek letters on the cross, which quarters the oval read, “That they may have life.” In each angle of the cross is a tipi surmounted by a small cross. The seal signifies that Christ has come to the Dakotas and gathered them under the protection of the cross, that they have accepted him, and their homes have become Christian homes.

In June 1975, the Niobrara Deanery, by action of the one hundred and third annual Convocation, “in an expression of oneness of God’s family and the love of Christ in His Church,” voted to share with the whole church in the diocese the Niobrara Cross. The fifth annual convention of the Diocese of South Dakota resolved, in October 1975, that it “exhibit the same love and desire for unity by accepting both this Niobrara Cross and the Christian love this gift represents with thanksgiving.”

Please visit our Northern Plains Anglicans Facebook page (link at upper right of this blog). We will have several posts there about the missionary efforts in Minnesota and other places around the region. As I told a Catholic friend recently, "Episcopalians have no mechanism for telling a priest to go here or there. The missionary bishops, priests, deacons and lay people who built our churches in fly-over country chose to come here, giving up many of the perks and resources of 'normal' Episcopal Church life."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bishop of Iowa: good example of "reproof and correction"

Last Sunday's lesson from II Timothy exhorted Christian leaders to "reprove and correct" their people - to point out wrongs but always to follow up with a better way.

In his October message to the Diocese of Iowa,

Episcopal Diocese of Iowa - Articles Sermons 2010#Oct_2010 (h/t TitusOneNine)

Bishop Alan Scarfe criticizes the anachronistic method of counting church "members" and makes a simple call to get back to the basics of pastoral care:

"The apparent irrelevance, however, of the totals on baptized persons, or even communicants, for understanding our life as Church points to a huge weakness in our faith system. We are poor at keeping track of one another. This is so at the very place where we might hope greater commitment is being expressed, namely at Confirmation."

The irrelevance of our record keeping comes from its historical basis in the State Church of England. There, the "parish" really is everybody in the geographical proximity of the church. This has some spiritual potential, as the Vicar is to consider the spiritual well being of the whole community.

But in Protestant America, church affiliation is relentlessly voluntary, and denominations proliferate. The sense of "the village church" is replaced by "my church," and even the smallest village might have a few!

Episcopal churches have always had a hard time navigating this. People show up for baptisms, weddings and burials and get added to "the list," even if never seen again. A joke gets it right: The Rector of the Episcopal Church, the Catholic Priest and the Baptist Pastor get together for coffee, and are lamenting infestations of bats in their church buildings. The Catholic Priest says, "I tried a full day with the organist playing all stops out, and then some of our worst 'contemporary' Catholic music, and the bats flew away for a day but then came right back." The Baptist Pastor said, "I had some of the ol' boys drive their trucks 'round the church, we fired off our shotguns, and I rebuked the bats in the Lord's name. They flew off a bit, then came back." The Episcopal Priest smiled proudly an said, "Don't worry, there's a solution. I baptized and confirmed them and they never came back."

Bishop Scarfe points out our failure to expect anything of the people, especially those who make formal affirmations of faith in the rites of the Church. There's a symbiosis there: people who want cheap grace get it and the clergy get complemented for open mindedness without having to do the messy work of "keeping up with" people and calling them to follow Christ.

I appreciate that Bishop Scarfe addresses this as "our" problem - it really is an issue for clergy and laity to address together.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Not fit? Get into training.

Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Luke 9:62

If one is melancholic, Jesus' words sound final and fatal. "You had your chance and you blew it. You turned back, so you're lost for good."

But we can hear the words more soberly, as a simple statement of what is. We all "turn back" from God's perfection, again and again and again. We prefer the passingly pleasant and predictable to the hard path to life. We get out of shape for the things of God - we are unfit. And the danger is that we become so discouraged by how out of shape we get that we give up on getting fit.

We need to train, and we can. Last Sunday's lesson from II Timothy commends training through

"...the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

Christians get fit by regular reading or hearing of Scripture and applying the word to real life. The passage goes on to say that Scripture is breathed by God to help us learn, identify and recover from mistakes, and to train us toward the perfection of the kingdom:

"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness..."

The training is not toward an illusion of fitness like the machine produced models on the check out counter magazines, the secular version of "plaster saints." Rather our training is through little expressions of the kingdom of God that we can carry out in the here an now:

" that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work."

As James puts it we can become, "Not just hearers, but 'doers' of the word." In doing the word, we become fit to run with the One who breathed it. Quite the improvement in respiration!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"The language of the people" or gimmick? Check out the discussion at NPA on FB

Fr. Hall of Brookings, SD has the Dr. Seuss service up on our Facebook page. A couple of comments already there, including mine:

I think this points up a constant question for traditional churches like ours: how to present the Gospel faithfully in "the language of the people" without subordinating the message to the packaging. My post below ("NT Lesson: The Anglican Reformers...") speaks to this - the Preface to the 1549 BCP perhaps speaks to it best of all.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sunday's New Testament Lesson: The Anglican Reformers Were Correct

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. II Timothy 3:16-17, read this weekend.

Our churches get in trouble because

We substitute human personalities for the inspiration of God's word;

We employ anxious gimmicks du jour instead of steadily teaching of the word;

We critique and redirect the church and the world with earth-bound ideologies instead of the values of God's kingdom;

We teach our people theories and techniques instead of train them in life application of scripture;

We assume that anybody who shows up belongs to God and is proficient in what God wants them to do.

The Anglican reformers called the church back to right priorities:
For they so ordred the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest parte thereof) should be read over once in the yeare, intendyng thereby, that 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. And further, that the people (by daily hearyng of holy scripture read in the Churche) should continuallye profite more and more in the knowledge of God, and bee the more inflamed with the love of his true religion.

Friday, October 15, 2010

What's Burmese, Basic and Burned at the Stake?

It's Northern Plains Anglicans! Check out the fresh fly-over country insight on the DISCUSSION BOARD at our Facebook page.

Burma? Minnesota says "You betcha!": "As of late we have become a multi-cultural parish with the arrival of a number of Karen Refugees from Burma, who come to us already Anglican with their own Anglican traditions, and understandings."

Football metaphors from a South Dakota college town: "I think the basic plays of Christianity, like football, fall into Offensive, Defensive, and Special Teams plays.

Offensive plays include running and passing, akin to the knowledge of scriptural and the theological (creeds).

Defensive plays include man to man coverage (interpersonal relations with individuals both within the community and outside the community) and zone coverage (being able to respond to specific cultural questions and needs.)

Special teams plays include the ability to know one's own tradition and its limitations. Sometimes you have to admit your tradition needs to punt, sometimes you need a little chicanery to get the first down."

Wisconsin ain't cheesy when it comes to describing the saints: "Aside from Cranmer’s marvelous work on the Book of Common Prayer, it’s the political and personal struggle that ended his life that inspires me. He had deep convictions about things of this world, namely the imperative that a Christian be subject to the monarch. Of course in hindsight, we know that this certitude was an ephemeral value. We probably hold a few of those ephemeral convictions in this time as well, so we should understand his difficulty in releasing that “article of faith” for more timeless values of faith. But when Cranmer recognized his own departure from his utter submission of all his being to his faith in God, he fearlessly submitted to accountability. He submitted to martyrdom in fire."

Come check us out, and share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This weekend, check out the Northern Plains Anglicans Facebook page, because...

I am welcoming a group of new group of fly-over-country-Anglican contributors.

When I started this blog in 2007, I wrote

Northern Plains Anglicans seeks to connect treasure hunters. Back in the late 1800s, William Hobart Hare travelled about by horse and buggy sharing the treasure of Anglican Christianity:

+ God's good news in Jesus Christ, carried in the Holy Bible and ancient forms of Christian worship and ministry
+ Faith that does not reject reason, but blesses and completes it
+ God's love for all "races, tribes, languages and nations"
+ The Book of Common Prayer as a great spiritual resource, helping people gather in prayer with or without clergy

My hope is that the Facebook page will gather a community of treasure hunters, and get others to start exploring our spiritual riches.

The page won't be the place to hash out all the "issues" and controversies - there are all kinds of blogs 'n' such for that. The folks I'm inviting in as Admins won't agree on everything, but all have found treasure worth sharing by practicing their Christian faith in the Anglican tradition.

Coming up:

Fr. Ryan Hall is the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Brookings, South Dakota, home of the annual Wild Game Feed. A new dad as well as a new Rector, he is the host of the blog Costly Grace.

Kim Larsen is a true Midwestern woman: born in South Dakota, schooled in Minnesota and now a lay leader in an Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) church plant in Wisconsin. Amidst all the uncertainties of a church start up, she says "This is the fullest, busiest, happiest, most fulfilling time of my life thus far. I am very blessed."

Edmund Kopietz was warned that he would be my token "Young Person." He's decades younger than me, a denizen of Minneapolis, interested in "Anglo-Catholicism, World Domination, Historical Preservation, Anglican History, Gardening," and his TV watching includes American Experience, South Park, Bizarre Foods, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Daily Show, The Office, Seinfeld, The Shield, Family Guy, The Simpsons.

I am also in the process of recruiting Native American and Sudanese Episcopalian contributors (they were not an afterthought - I've been at it for awhile but other cultures do not sit obsessively at their computers like the White man. Cross cultural messaging takes more time - I'm just glad to have the friendships in place!).

I have a high view of the church. I don't accept calls to make it a "middle school" in which I can't be your friend if I hang out with that other kid. You will see Episcopalians-in-good-standing and Anglicans who've left TEC on the same page. You will hear from clergy and lay people, men and women, and God willing people of different cultures.

So check out the page this weekend - enjoy the blasting as treasure gets uncovered!

Sioux Falls native's latest book is about English mystic

The first woman to write a book in English was Christian mystic Julian of Norwich (1342 -1416). In today's Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Jill Callison interviews author Amy Johnson Frykholm, who was raised here in Sioux Falls and has a new book out on Dame Julian. From the article:

"Here we are, experiencing this intense need to do all the right things, say all the right things, be all the right things, and she just dumps it on its head and says there's two duties," Frykholm says. "The first is to wonder and be surprised; the second is let go and let be. That's it. You're done."

"In our worlds where we're busy - I've got to get my steps in, how many grams of sugar did I eat today, did I do devotions and do this and do that and is it good enough - I think she speaks to us," Frykholm says of Julian, one of the great English mystics who was the first woman to write a book in English.

"She says, 'Let go. You're fine. You're loved. Enough.' "

I'm glad to see the coverage but have to say I am stunned that Jesus Christ isn't mentioned in the article. Julian's "Revelations of Divine Love" came from intense visionary encounters with Christ himself, whom she describes as "courteous" in humbling himself to serve human need. Take Christ (and his sufferings, which figure prominently in the visions) out of Julian's message and you are left with "don't worry be happy" or "have a nice day."

Julian certainly presents the loving, comforting and hopeful aspects of faith, but she arrives at them through great suffering and a most assertive testimony to the reality of Christ.

Like John of the Cross and other true mystics, Julian wrote that her visions should not be interpreted to trump church teaching.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

As the Chilean miners step back into the light...

I can't offer anything better than the prayer of Jonah, which showed up in today's lessons:

"I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, 'I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?' The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O LORD my God. As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the LORD!"

This event touches something deep in the human heart. Yes, the need for "happy endings." But I think this goes deeper to the ultimate end our soul desires, to come forth from the tomb and rejoice in new life.

Christ has written himself on the cosmos, and so flashes in our minds and beats in our hearts.

Interesting commentary, comparisons with the Native American/Columbus Day tensions

This bit of international news touches on some of the same issues that continue in South Dakota:

Israeli Orchestra Set to Play at Wagner Festival - ABC News

Reconciliation after dehumanization isn't easy - the sad assessment of one Holocaust survivor is that it can't be done:

Moshe Sanbar, a prominent member of Israel's main Holocaust survivor umbrella group, said it is too early for Israelis to play Wagner.

"I think it's better they don't do this because Wagner was Hitler's music," Sanbar said. "They should play it in a few years when all of us death camp and Holocaust survivors are dead. It is really bad for our health, Wagner is too much for us, the memories are still very painful."

Sioux Falls Pastor Shel Boese offers an interesting look at history, both hemispheric and South Dakota specific.

State and Church (see p. 21) efforts continue.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bishop of North Dakota states the challenges and opportunities of Anglican ministry on the Northern Plains

Bishop Smith's Blog: House of Bishops Presentation

"...We built churches in anticipation of their arrival, especially for the Lutherans who we expected would become Episcopalians, but to our dismay brought their pastors with them. (As a result we have contributed a number of quaint stone churches for service as county museums throughout the state.)

And in almost every small town in North Dakota are one Roman Catholic church and several brands of Lutherans. (I have toyed with the idea of a church growth campaign with the motto: “When Lutherans marry Roman Catholics they are really Episcopalians,” but ecumenical sensitivity inhibits me.)

More recently, tribes from the Sudan have joined us. One of our largest churches is a Sudanese congregation which has three services on Sunday: one in English, one in Dinka, and one in Arabic.

Demographically, North Dakota is a very white state with over 90% of the population comprised of European Americans. In contrast, however, the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota is much more racially diverse, as evidenced by the fact the over one-quarter of our clergy are people of color, including Native, African and Sudanese Americans. This provides us with inroads into those communities that other denominations simply do not have. (We also enjoy an almost even 50/50 split between male and female clergy.)

We are being called, I believe, to grow in our own sense of discipleship as we reach out to these nations-in-our-midst with the invitation to join us as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ following the Anglican Way..."

How might a Biblically grounded Episcopal Church be like a gas station?

This guy, from here.

"The refueling station where people can go to get a fillup of some high octane, high performance stuff for their engines so that they can stay on the highway. Or they can stop, use the restrooms, flush out all the metabolized badness, and sit down and have a cup of coffee with fellow sojourners."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A hiccup in the Lord's Prayer

On the one hand, forgetting or confusing the words of the Lord's Prayer (the "Our Father") used to be proof that you were consorting with the devil. It could get you executed.

On the other hand, there is a charming Russian story about a holy hermit (a staretz) who lived on an island, praying all day.

The local Bishop was alarmed that the hermit was not versed in traditional prayers of the Church, so he chartered a boat to the island. He taught the hermit the Lord's Prayer, which the humble and obedient staretz promised to pray.

As the Bishop was about halfway back to the mainland, he heard a voice and turned around to see the staretz, running across the water and shouting, "Bishop! Wait! I forgot a line of the prayer!"

Today I took Communion to a lady in a nursing facility. We were praying the Lord's Prayer together and she suddenly stopped - I don't remember at which point. I finished the prayer and paused to make sure she was still connected to what we were doing.

She spoke up as if continuing the prayer, "And Lord...", then offered an extended, extemporaneous intercession for the well being and mission of our parish and for God's assistance to any members who might be struggling with problems.

I wonder if she ever got cold toes while running across a lake.

For the good of the city...

Today's lesson from the Prophet Jeremiah

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

casts a holy glow on today's editorial (2nd page) from Randell Beck

"On a more serious note, I hope all of you who lit up the phones at City Hall last spring with complaints about streets have taken a moment lately to send a note of thanks to our beleaguered public servants for responding.

You'll recall how bad it was as our long winter nightmare finally ended: seemingly endless potholes, fissures and crumbling intersections. Roads in town seemed to be falling apart in front of us - and it became a big issue in the mayoral campaign.
I'll never forget an afternoon in late April as I drove south on Cliff Avenue across 10th Street - one of the worst intersections in the city. Suddenly, a small sedan in the next lane just disappeared - the apparent victim of a really large pothole. Never saw that car again.

A lot of us, me included, whined and griped last spring about the condition of our streets. Then Mike Huether became mayor. Orange cones reproduced like rabbits. For a time, navigating downtown streets was a little like entering one of those corn mazes.

And in the past week, we've begun experiencing the fruits of their labor - and my hat's off to them.

Minnesota Avenue north of 22nd Street, one of the bumpiest stretches in the city a few months ago, is now a pleasure to drive. Ditto for a lot of city streets that now are better prepared for winter.

To be sure, some of the patches are just that - temporary until more money and time is available for full street replacement.

But they'll do for now.

Why not drop a line to Cotter, Huether and the hard workers in public works? City Hall's address is 224 W. Ninth St., and the zip is 57104.
It would be a classy thing to do."

Here's an apt prayer from Compline (the late night service in the Book of Common Prayer),

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live
in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day,
who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never
forget that our common life depends upon each other's toil;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Christians are, after all, exiles far from home. What Jeremiah said to Jerusalem's exiles goes for us - pray for our communities and work for their good.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Near Toronto, South Dakota: Matthew 9:37-8

Good news for the farmers - and a prayer for them as well

From a KELOLAND weather e-update:

"The latest computer models keep any rainfall west of I-29 until Sunday night. Even those appear to be very light - a few hundredths of an inch. They should have little or no impact on the harvest."

And from the Psalms for Saturday morning:
May our barns be filled to overflowing with all manner of crops;
may the flocks in our pastures increase by thousands and tens of thousands; may our cattle be fat and sleek.
Psalm 144:14

Winters here being what they are, I think we can save those flocks 'n' herds prayers for the spring ;>)

Friday, October 8, 2010

A prayer from the parable: patient endurance vs. "choking" cares

"As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance." Luke 8:14-15

Father, even in bad times many of us have way more than enough. Our minds might believe the word you've given us, but our spirits choke on worry in the midst of plenty and on pleasures that that never fill the empty places in our souls.

Help us to hold and cherish your word in our hearts. Let it transform us to bear the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Give us patient endurance in painful times and constant thanks that you have chosen us for eternal joy, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

WM porn peddler seeking multiple partners for court dates, overturning of SD setback law

As reported in today's Sioux Falls Argus Leader,

"South Dakota's attorney general is defending a 2-year-old state law that a Sioux Falls man says is unconstitutional because it unfairly targets adult-oriented businesses.

David Eliason, who owns The Love Shack at 2208 W. 41st St., is involved in two cases - one in federal court, the other in state court - that could test a zoning law restricting adult-oriented businesses passed by the Legislature in 2008. The cases:

•In Sturgis, Eliason filed a constitutional challenge to the law after the city of Sturgis denied him an occupancy permit for a store called Dick and Jane's Naughty Spot within city limits.

•In Sioux Falls, Eliason claims the law threatens the business he opened last November. Minnehaha County Deputy State's Attorney Dustin DeBoer has filed a permanent injunction against the store because it shares a block with Jefferson Park, putting it in violation of the state's setback requirements.

Under the 2008 statute, businesses defined as 'adult-oriented' cannot be located within a quarter mile of a park, school, church or residence."

As I've said before, about the only social idea that gets across the board political support is leaving adults alone in their own bedrooms - that is, their intimate moments.

So why can't we have the corollary - "Keep your intimate moments in your bedroom - or at least some place out of public view"? I think that's what setback laws like South Dakota's are about. People can look up these businesses and go to them, but what's unreasonable about saying they should be away from the view of minors and the homes of folks who don't want your sexual business in their face?

When is comes to sex stuff, you can't have it both ways. You can't claim sexual expression as a public free speech right while asserting it as a privacy right in which you want to be left alone.

Along with that, isn't the sexuality of the pious, prudes, the bashful, the introverted or any number of other folks to be respected? What about their privacy? Or have we decided that sexuality is necessarily exhibitionistic and/or a financial transaction?

Glimmers of improvement: front yard Fall Fiesta

I might just get the hang of this. Click on the pics - I think you'll be surprised.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dr. Radner's Anglican forecast: sober with a chance of hope

He does as effective a summary as I've seen of the "Four Instruments of Unity" that are intended to foster global Anglicanism's "Bonds of Affection," and describes their failures with brevity and a welcome absence of melodrama.

"In sum, I see the Lambeth Conference as the only real continuity into the future; Canterbury as a possible, if hoped-for, resource for the future; the Primates’ Meeting as giving way to some alternative Global South-oriented gathering of episcopal leaders that can move matters forward into the future in a provisional way (which may involve several decades); and the ACC as altogether finished. And this is perhaps all the Communion needs at the moment: we are learning to be less demanding of immediate solutions; more patient with less structured relations; more open to a future that does not depend on institutional sturdiness, but on God’s provisions and leading; less trusting in an ecclesial politics of maneuver and control; more joyous in the face of the Cross and the Resurrection. And in the course of such learning, individual Anglicans and their congregations are going to be drawn into new forms of witness, ones they perhaps never imagined, in a sense more globally bonded because less tethered to structures whose strength lay in local orderings we have now outgrown."

He admits that it might take decades - and the departure or demise of a generation of church leaders - for the beginning of this new witness.

Some Episcopalians I know speak of the need for a "third way," which is not lockstep obedience to the eccentric and destructive trends in The Episcopal Church, but also not reactive departure for other organizations like the Anglican Church in North America. As Dr. Radner says, "new forms of witness...perhaps never imagined," but drawing on the spiritual treasures of Anglican Christianity.

When "Choice" isn't free or good

It can be coercion:

Police say an Ohio man who wanted his pregnant girlfriend to get an abortion forced her to drive to a health clinic at gunpoint.

Columbus police say 27-year-old Dominic Holt-Reid became angry with the woman Wednesday because she refused to go through with an abortion scheduled at the clinic earlier in the day.

It can be a late, desperate and horrid abdication of moral responsibility:

BABIES that are surviving late-term abortions at Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital might be being left on shelves to die, according to an Anglican minister.

Dr Mark Durie, minister of St Mary's Caulfield, said staff were finding it hard to cope with a reported six-fold increase in late-term abortions at the Women's since abortion was decriminalised in Victoria two years ago. He said because conscientious objection by medical staff was now illegal, the hospital could employ only people who endorsed late-term abortions.

Dr Durie said even in 2007, 52 babies survived late-term abortions, according to government figures. In some clinics they had simply been put on a shelf and left to die, and the public deserved to know what was happening now.

All the propaganda about "choice" ignores the reality that permissive abortion policy still allows men, relatives or "friends" from pressuring women to abort, and also forces people who do not approve of abortion to take part in it or risk their livelihood.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Prophetic Compassion

Church people who care about causes or hold strong opinions often defend their most aggressive statements as "prophetic."

We become like some of the noted home run hitters - for our relatively few memorable blasts, we much more often walk back to the dugout having struck out. I don't think I need to say much to extend this metaphor to blogging.

What much of our "prophetic" speech lacks is the compassion that God seeks to send with any judgement. We like to declare the other guy wrong, and to heap metaphoric and even literal hell on him. We leave off God's compassion.

Consider this counterpoint from the Old Testament Prophet Micah, one of the Prayer Book's assigned readings today:

All her images shall be beaten to pieces,
all her wages shall be burned with fire,
and all her idols I will lay waste;
for as the wages of a prostitute she gathered them,
and as the wages of a prostitute they shall again be used.
For this I will lament and wail;
I will go barefoot and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
and mourning like the ostriches.
For her wound is incurable.
It has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
to Jerusalem.

Yes, Micah is clear, God is about to lay a well deserved punishment on the capitol cities of Israel and Judah. Yes, there is invective. But then there is mourning and self-abasement, a sharing in the pain of the punished rather than a judgemental distance from them.

Jeremiah, whose fierce oracles of judgement give us the term "jeremiad," also gets credit for the Lamentations, dirge-like observations that eschew delight when his prophecies prove true.

Shane Claiborne, a contemporary Christian outsider reminiscent of the ancient prophets, says this about our current "prophetic" pronouncements,

"Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it's that you can have great answers and still be mean... and that just as important as being right is being nice.)"

We need to strike a tough balance, not just strike the sensibilities of others. The Lord's marching orders to the church are,

"Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person."

I'll be your heretic

I attempted to reach a fellow Anglican via Facebook, and sent a message to somebody else with the same name. I received this reply:
"I am an orthodox Jew and you mixed me up with someone else. Did you know Jesus (Y' hoshua)died on passover and when he held up the third cup in the passover cedar that this cup is the cup of redemption in our cedar. Did you also know that he said that God was bigger than he and that he taught that those who hold the jewish law and teach others to hold the law will be considered the highest ones in the kingdom of God, and that those who do you not teach the law of Moses this will be the smallest ones in the kingdom. Did you also know that worshipping Jesus (Y' hoshua) violates the first 4 commandments and he does not like it when we worship him, and that he never claimed to be God."

Now, let's be clear - he is calling Christians in general and me in particular ignorant, incorrect, idolatrous and blasphemous.

I am not upset. He is honestly expressing an orthodox Jewish faith. He considers orthodox Christianity a heresy. In the same way, Christians have a view of Judaism that can only be considered condescending - the Jews remain God's people but are not complete until they respond to Christ the Messiah at his return.

It is the same with any other religion. Muslims make the claim that both Jews and Christians have corrupted the true faith, which was revealed (re-revealed?) to their Prophet several thousand years after the emergence of Judaism and a good seven centuries after Jesus' earthly ministry.

I could go on listing the sincere positions of various religions, and you would have to admit that our ultimate claims about God, in particular what we say about God's action in human history, are mutually exclusive. They can't stand together except around some very broad ideas, and even that position frequently fails to stand up to a shove from serious exploration.

What to do? Various options exist:

a) Debate and persuasion.

b) Agree to disagree and find some common standards around which to organize our necessary interactions.

c) Coerce submission.

d) Create superficial movements within our faith groups that minimize differences and assert points of agreement.

e) Ignore the whole enterprise.

Some of these can be used in combination, of course. All have their blind spots:

a can be annoying and, if not handled well, can lead to c.

b can break down when mutually exclusive standards (say, the role of women in society) come into conflict.

c is generally regarded as a bad choice, based on lessons of history and self-correction within faith groups. An honest look would admit that few, if any perfect examples of c ever existed - most "holy wars" involved need or lust for secular resources with religion as a handy recruiting and motivational tool. Yet c persists and it seems today that many who would condemn it as an approach are very, very accommodating to the demands of those who employ it.

d starts out with warm feelings of good will and degenerates into chaplaincy to causes. About all a Liberal Protestant or Reform Jew can say is, "All paths lead to God. Therefore vote Democrat."

e tends to cave when c shows up. The Iranian Revolution walked up and took over right under the noses of U.S. State Department "experts" who simply could not believe that religion should be taken seriously.

My personal preference, and what I believe to be embedded in the American experiment, is a combination of a & b. Obviously, these are under duress when c shows up. But the balance of religious integrity and freedom (a) with civic equality and protection under some ground rules (b) are what we find in the First Amendment.

So I don't need a law against that observant Jew or what he sent me on Facebook. I don't need a breathless TV or newsmag segment about "Religious Hate in Cyberspace," not for an honest and honestly expressed disagreement. I don't want my older son's college to invoke a "speech code" that would prevent the orthodox Jew's ideas from being heard or seen. One group's orthodoxy is another group's heresy. That's reality. The New Testament's advice is,

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tools: Word Count

Read at Morning Prayer today:

The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. Luke 6:45

This verse really nailed me. It is uncomfortable to review the "treasure" content of all the words I sling.

The platitudes and small talk - like Seinfeld, so much of what I put out is "a show about nothing." The workplace snarking and cynicism. Curses over unpleasant situations. There is a pile of "evil treasure" in my heart, according to Jesus.

Today is the church commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi. Tradition says that he sent his Friars out to preach "using words if necessary." That's quoted often by psuedo-mystics and piss poor preachers, of course, and Scripture itself says we need people to preach the word if Christ is really to be known. Still, Francis provides a worthwhile caution that sheer volume of verbiage is no substitute for a life animated by a transformed heart.

The treasure expressed in Anglicanism's traditional Books of Common Prayer exercised transformative powers well beyond the church walls:

"The BCP is generally reckoned a masterpiece of writing, as Cranmer’s use of idiom, cadences, imagery, repetition, contrast and general rhythm made doctrine, devotion, and the sheer use of English both memorable and exemplary. In this way, the language and indeed the whole culture of the BCP came to be a major ingredient in not only the religion of England, but in the thought-forms and speech of a large proportion of English men and women."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Episcopalians/Anglicans: good play book, bad execution?

Sports interviews are full of platitudes, but I perked up at something USC QB Matt Barkley had to say after a loss. When asked about his coach's play selection, Barkley said that he couldn't read the coach's mind, but felt that they plays were good ones and the team just didn't execute them well.

For Episcopalians/Anglicans, we might share a vague sense that God is good but we sure don't seem to know his mind. And whatever plays he's sending in, we are not running them well as our particular branch of Christianity argues and splits, and in places like the USA withers in irrelevance.

I'm wondering if folks have views on the "basic plays" of Christianity, and how we (Episcopalians/Anglicans) might better execute on the field?

Deep Anglican tradition: Monday is the Vicar's day off. So here's a movie review if the Vicar is deciding what to watch.

I had the kind offer of a review from Ohio Anglican blogger Elder Oyster. Since the autistic kid and his animal allies kept me up all night, I need to go get some sleep. So what a blessing to find Elder Oyster's review in my inbox, since I'm too beat to blog.


Movie Review: Devil
By Elder Oyster, guest contributor

Shyamalan is one of those guys (like the Coen Brothers and J.J. Abrams) who could make a film out of home movies of his family trip to Disneyland, and I'd still pay $9 to watch it. I am not sure if 'Signs' will be the zenith of his career, or if 'The Last Airbender' will be the nadir. But then again, I don't care. He's so good at what he does, that even his worst is better than most of what comes out on the screen.

'Devil' is Shyamalan's latest film. It is a supernatural thriller - part horror, part mystery. The premise is simple - five people are stuck in an elevator, and one by one, they are attacked by someone, or something. The mystery that begs to be solved in real-time by a hapless detective assigned to the case, is who is the culprit, and what is their motivation?

I respect the movie enough to not put in any spoilers. With that said, based on the movie title, it's probably obvious that the culprit isn't a someone, but rather a some-thing. Right?

Here are some things I appreciated about the movie:

I appreciated that we come face to face with the banality of evil. Everyone in the elevator seems normal at first; then they start to show their true colors. And then we start to hear about the real dirt. But even when we're looking at the dirt, we think, 'this is evil, but it's so .. ordinary.'


And these people could be our next-door neighbors, our schoolteachers, or our pastors. Heck, they could even be us.

The other thing I appreciated is that the movie explores the evil of making excuses for our evils. And that, ultimately, repenting of our evil as well as of our excuses, doesn't give us, or our victims, a tabula rasa. That's a dreadful thought, and perhaps it might seem more dreadful than the Evil One himself, but that's how God made the world.

Those are the things I liked about the move. Here are some things that I have weighed (heh) and found wanting:

I don't believe that the Evil One, commonly known as 'the Devil,' has authority to judge us. I know that he is in this world, and that he causes mayhem, that he hates God and hates mankind, and that he is the original liar-murderer, par excellence. But, if the Evil-One does not have the authority to judge, then he does not have the authority to forgive, either. That is God's prerogative (note: I am not speaking of humans forgiving other humans).

The other matter I take issue with is the basis for the suspension of judgment. It has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with Jesus Christ.

Oh well, that's Hollywood for ya. What are ya gonna do? :)

On the other hand, Shyamalan has already explored the concept of Divine providence in 'Signs.' It's only natural that his quirkiness would demand that he explore a theme of dark providence in another one of his films.

And hey, it's just a story anyway. And Shyamalan is simply doing what he does best - telling a story.

Besides, there is a cameo of sorts, for the Divine.

...Keep your eyes open for it, though !

(Oops). ;)

- Elder

PS - Not for kids or for the squeamish.

PPS - It's just a story.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Leaves falling and turning here - first attempts with a new camera

I've been doing p/t stuff at the hospital for 5 years now, and just got a digital camera as a recognition gift. So I am tinkering. My eyes are middle aged so this is going to take some work. But the colors are changing on my street and that soft autumn sunlight just feels good all over.

If your mind wanders in church (or anytime)

From Morning Prayer today, some of Jesus' most emphatic commands:

"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." Luke 6:27-8

When fretting about what time the game starts - think on our enemies and pray.

When anxious to launch into errands - imagine opportunities for kindness to those who hate us.

When stewing on insults - form a blessing over those who cursed us.

When safe in the sanctuary - cry out to God for those who pose a threat to us.

I don't think any of this means being a doormat. When Jesus goes on to say, "If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also," he is talking about absorbing an insult or provocation, even a shove or slap, and standing there toe to toe without escalating. He's not saying "curl up in a ball and take the beating like a good girl should." "Pray for those who abuse you" can be done from a safe distance - including when the abuser is in jail.

But we don't get to write off anyone, even those who trouble us the most. This is the key to Jesus' message: we must consider how much God puts up with any of us and then strive to apply the same patient mercy to others. "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful... Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

If nothing else, this means refraining from retaliation. That's the beginning of forgiveness. It means praying for those who've wronged us, even if we can't create the safety and good will to reconcile face to face. It means keeping an open door for sincere offers of peace, and seeking God's guidance to initiate reconciliation.

This is hard work on our best days. But in worship we can open ourselves to the divine power that makes it possible when we catch our minds wandering, and turn ourselves back to Jesus. We open ourselves to the Spirit when we receive the sacrament of Christ's body and blood, fully aware that they were given "for us and for many for the forgiveness of sins."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Regional Episcopal stats mirror denomination's national decline, denial

There is a .pdf summary here.

This is a 10 year chart of Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) reported by each geographical Diocese. The Dioceses are grouped regionally as Provinces. South Dakota is in Province 6.

You will see many negative numbers in the right column, which expresses the 10 year net.

For Province 6 (North Central USA), there were no net gains. North Dakota stayed even. The next best was Minnesota at -16%. The other Dioceses in the region all lost 20% or more over ten years, with Iowa and Colorado the worst at -24% each. South Dakota lost 22% of its ASA. The figure actually rose from 1998-99, to a high of over 2,900, but fell to just over 2,200 by 2008.

The chart employs an interesting statistical trick, apparently to mask the impact of the consecration of an LGBT bishop. The penultimate column breaks out percentage changes from 2003 - 2008. On first blush, this makes it look like declines actually slowed with acceptance of LGBT leadership in 2003. But if you go back to the annual columns, you will see that the big ASA drops, in most places, began in 2002, the run up to the General Convention that authorized the break with Christian Scripture, consensus and tradition. There were significant departures of those who saw the handwriting on the wall.

In South Dakota, 2002 ASA was over 2,800. It dropped sharply to 2,677 in '03, then began a more modest decline in the 2,500 range for three years before another large fall to the 2008 figure.

The 2009 statistics are available as bar charts at this site (enter name of Diocese, then name of parish to display - linking here does not work). South Dakota ASA appears to have decreased slightly from '08-'09.

Consistent with other diocesan reports, the SD 2009 graph shows an increase in financial giving. The increased giving reflects the generous efforts of remaining church people to try and keep things going, but this increased giving trend cannot long be sustained by a declining ASA.

The graph shows an increase in "membership," a vague number reflecting people on the church lists but not always active - as reflected in the disparity between membership and ASA. Many church development experts disregard "membership" numbers as unreliable.

The chart for my parish shows significant drop off in ASA and giving for 2009, after several years of growth. Denominational conflict contributed to this, as did family health problems that took a toll on my leadership. 2010 has stabilized and, in fact, is on pace for a record best budget year. This is due in part to the election of Bishop John Tarrant, who has invested time and energy in building a positive relationship with the parish.

Good to see St. Paul's, Brookings, gaining momentum with Fr. Ryan Hall.

Common Prayer: "dropping in on a conversation already in progress"

An insightful post from an hour up the road in Brookings, SD, where I'll be tomorrow night for their annual Wild Game Feed.

Costly Grace: What is Evensong?

"Evensong in Coventry Cathedral is a very tiny fragment of something else: it is a fragment of the worship which is offered to God by christian people, every hour of the twenty-four, in every part of the world. When you come to Evensong here, it is as if you were dropping in on a conversation already in progress-a conversation between God and men which began long before you were born, and will go on long after you are dead. So do not be surprised, or disturbed, if there are some things in the conversation which you do not at once understand.
"Evensong is drawn almost entirely from the Bible. Its primary purpose is to proclaim the wonderful works of God in history and in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its secondary purpose is to evoke from the worshipper a response of praise, penitence, prayer, and obedience.
"The English of the Bible is the language that was written and spoken by our ancestors four hundred years ago, when the Bible was first translated into English from the original Greek or Hebrew; it therefore sounds old-fashioned. But its meaning is not out of date.
"The service is in three parts.
"The first part (which is quite brief) prepares the worshipper for the story which is to follow.
"The second part is the narrative of God's redeeming work, beginning in the Old Testament (the Psalms and the First Lesson), proceeding to the New Testament (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis and the Second Lesson), and reaching its climax in the Affirmation of Faith (the Creed.)
"The third part is man's response to God who has revealed himself in history, in Jesus Christ, and in the Church.
"Worship without music does but easily soar; and wherever the Church has been concerned to make worship really expressive of truth, music has been used: simple music for the untrained worshipper, more elaborate music for a trained choir. The music of a cathedral choir is the counterpart of the architecture and the stained glass of the building: it is a finely wrought music, in which the musicians offer on behalf of the people what the people would wish to do themselves, if they had the ability."

For those who don't know, Coventry Cathedral was destroyed with much of that city by the Nazi blitz in 1940. From that great evil, the Cathedral rebuilt with a special vocation for reconciliation and peacemaking.

David Keller: too many Christians practice "selective outrage" on "family values"

It was just a comment at another blog, but I think he says this so well:

"... No one wants to comment on divorced clergy. I’ll bet there’s not one among us, lay or clergy, who are still married, who couldn’t have gotten a divorce at some point in our marriages, but somehow WORKED at dealing with whatever the problem was. My anecdotal experience is that very few of my divorced friends and acquaintances divorced over bona fide abuse, alcoholism etc. We all have crap in our lives. The issue is the commitment to marriage and then dealing with the crap. And clergy in general and bishops in particular should be setting the example. In an instant gratification society, most people don’t want to do that, and they don’t want to complain about divorced clergy, because they want to make sure that door is always open for them as well. I was at Minneapolis [2003 Episcopal Church General Convention that accepted consecration of an actively homosexual bishop] and can attest there was a fire storm from the right which has resulted in where we are today—the destruction of the Episcopal Church. That same passion does not exist for other Biblical principles, which makes me believe many on the right are very selective with their outrage. Since most of us will never engage in a homosexual act it is easy to point fingers at that sin. Yet we apparently want to keep the door open to our own potential heterosexual sin, so we just take divorce with a big yawn. This, to me, is a big example of not pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye, until you are willing to deal with your own crap. And one other point—I am not an absolutist on divorce, and I believe through God’s Grace we are all capable of receiving forgiveness. But no wonder the world thinks we are hypocrites. And when they think that they won’t listen the the message—the Good News of Jesus Christ."

Hey hey, ho ho, church's lawsuits got to go

From this morning's lessons:

"They utter mere words;
with empty oaths they make covenants;
so litigation springs up like poisonous weeds
in the furrows of the field."
Prophet Hosea 10:4

For those who don't know (and most don't - we've been good at making ourselves irrelevant to all but our own egos), Episcopalians avoid most issues by appealing to "our baptismal covenant." We say that the organizational membership established in the ceremony connects us to some spiritual reality that makes us unaccountable for anything but authoritative about everything.

Most people just want to ignore a very real symptom of this - the millions upon millions of dollars of lawsuits among North American Anglicans, the bulk of it generated by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The poisonous weeds of litigation grow up in furrows of empty language - pledges to work on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (the barest fraction of what is spent on lawsuits goes to these), broken promises to refrain from scandalizing other Anglicans around the world, broken baptismal promises to let Jesus be Lord of our lives and to show others the love he shows us.

My lay leaders don't want to hear about it. "Don't read about that stuff - it will just upset you" is their counsel. Most people in the public don't even know about it, but those who do are revolted. As several readers have pointed out, the "new atheists" don't have any new arguments, but they have plenty of examples of poisonous behavior by "Christians."

The lawsuits need to stop. The world has no need of an example of some "side" declaring a courtroom outcome. It certainly needs the witness of bitterly divided people who, in honor to Christ and their vows to him, make peace.