Friday, December 31, 2010

A Prayer for the New Year

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.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979) calls this the "Collect for Social Justice." It is ironic that "social justice" is part of the shorthand language of our "sad divisions." Some won't even look at a prayer with that title; others will roll their eyes because a prayer with that title doesn't assert their pet cause.

I post the prayer because it names some of the evils that bedevil us right now - barriers, suspicions, hatreds and divisions. They need to be prayed against and renounced by people of faith and good will.

The affirmative petitions - for the Holy Spirit's transformation of hearts, for healing of relationships, for the practice of justice and peace - are things we might well "resolve" to seek, both in contemplation and action.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fr. Hall's good summary rallies Sudan support at St. Paul's, Brookings SD

This message from Fr. Ryan Hall brought in the first gift in support of the South Sudan referendum bus:

Dear Friends,

As some of you may know, the southern part of the country of Sudan is having a referendum vote on January 9th concerning whether or not to remain a part of the country. As I understand it from Moses, it is basically a vote for independence. Many of the Sudanese in our communities in South Dakota are eligible to vote, but the only voting place in this part of the country is down in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Sudanese congregation at Holy Apostles in Sioux Falls in conjunction with the South Sudanese political organization and Father Tim Fountain at Church of the Good Shepherd-Sioux Falls are strongly urging their Sudanese community to vote. Because many of those in the Sudanese community lack reliable transportation, the trek to Omaha in winter is problematic or downright impossible for many.

As such, Moses and the leaders of the Sudanese community in Sioux Falls initially were arranging a few carpools, but due to weather, they would like to charter a bus to take those eligible to vote in the referendum to Omaha on January 9th. The cost for the bus is $850. They feel this is the best way to ensure both safety and maximum participation of those eligible to vote.

If you would like to help donate to this worthy cause, Father Tim down in Sioux Falls is working with Moses to hire the bus, so donations can be mailed directly to Church of the Good Shepherd in Sioux Falls or let me know I can work to arrange a check through the Rector's Discretionary Fund here at St. Paul's.

If you are unable to provide any monetary assistance, I also invite you to pray for the Sudanese and the Referendum vote, as many fear military reprisals in the event the referendum for independence passes.

Thank you for your attention and God bless,

-Fr. Ryan

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

UPDATED: Interview with South Sudanese Community Pt. 4 - A Time-Sensitive Appeal for Your Help

UPDATE: lead gift of $150 already in... please help us get to the goal.

As mentioned in Pt. 3, many in the South Sudanese community have entry level jobs and are sending a good portion of their earnings to support family in Africa.

Many share cars, and some of these are not road worthy for long trips in winter.

The Sioux Falls community is seeking $850 for a charter bus to get over 50 of their registered referendum voters to and from Omaha, NE on Sunday, Jan. 9th.

If you have means, please help. The PayPal port on the right of this blog deposits into my parish operating account (and we have a super good Treasurer, so you will be properly accounted for tax purposes). Please be sure to put "Sudan Bus" or "Sudan Vote" or something like that on the memo (PayPal provides a memo line).

If you prefer to send a check, please get it out ASAP to

Church of the Good Shepherd
2707 W. 33rd St.
Sioux Falls, SD 57105

Please send me a message to let me know the amount of any inbound checks - you can use my email that is at the top of this blog.

Thank you and God bless you for your help.

Interview with South Sudanese Community Pt. 3 - Hopes and Challenges

There are close to 400 South Sudanese here in Sioux Falls. U.S. citizenship,practice in democratic process and educational opportunities are valued as means to improving community life and as resources for the rebuilding of their homeland should independence come.

Moses Joknhial II earned a degree in electrical engineering and became a licensed pilot. He has raised tens of thousands of dollars across South Dakota to rebuild his hometown of Pajut, and to invest in its future. Fresh water wells and powered grain mills allow the girls of the town, in particular, to reduce subsistence work and attend the new school constructed there.

During his last trip there, he contracted a life threatening virus. Nursed back to health in Kenya and the U.S., he plans to return in the spring to continue the development of the village.

Adol Kang is studying security service administration here in Sioux Falls, and also works full time. "The money we make all goes back home. I am reponsible for nine brothers' kids." He uses his days off from work to organize the South Sudanese community toward participation in democratic government, with an eye to an independent state holding elections in 2012.

"The main issue is human dignity," he says of his community's preparation to vote on independence from the Islamic-led government in Khartoum. He recites a litany of violence spanning decades.

Lual Jol has served for two years as the Senior Warden (ranking lay officer) of the Sudanese congregation at Church of the Holy Apostles (Episcopal). Even with a Sudanese priest and deacon raised up from the church, the leaders can barely keep up with the needs of the refugee community.

Many in the congregation work their way up into better lives via entry level jobs, such as those offered at the John Morrell meat processing facility. They labor to learn English and to come to terms with the more complex society and technology they encounter in America. Most send support to families in South Sudan.

All this is against a backdrop of violence that has at times been categorized as genocide.

Smiling, Lual says, "We pray that God can make miracles happen."

Interview with South Sudanese Community Pt. 2 - Referendum Dates/Locations

South Sudanese living abroad were able to register to take part in the upcoming referendum on independence.

8,736 registered in the U.S., according to Adol Kang of Sioux Falls, SD.

They are able to vote at one of six regional sites beginning Sunday, January 9th and running throug Saturday, January 15.

The sites will be in

Washington, DC
Boston, MA
Chicago, IL
Omaha, NE
Phoenix, AZ
Seattle, WA

NPA Interview: Sioux Falls South Sudanese Community Preparing for Independence Vote (Pt. 1 of several installments)

Today I was honored to sit down with Adol Kang, the elected leader of the South Sudanese political party in Sioux Falls; Lual Jol, Senior Warden of the Sudanese congregation at Church of the Holy Apostles and Moses Deng Joknhial II, who has been the point man in the Diocese of South Dakota's cooperative effort with the village of Pajut, South Sudan.

These three men are all "Lost Boys," South Sudanese Christians who came to the West during years of persecution and Civil War. The Sudan at present is run from Khartoum in the North, where the Islamic majority frequently wields power against the Christians and tribal religionists in the South.

A "Comprehensive Peace Agreement" that stopped the Civil War is set to expire soon, and from January 9th thru 15th, South Sudanese people will be voting in a referendum to decide between remaining united to the North or forming a new, independent nation.

"It is the first time to put my finger in the ink," Adol told me this afternoon. "It is the first time since 1956 that all Sudanese people can vote."

When I asked about worries that violence might flare up in the wake of a pro-independence vote, Adol was more concerned to share the positive goals that the South Sudanese are after.

"First there will be a new, transitional government. Elections must take place in 2012. This is a test to show that we can practice democracy. There will be a new national name and a new Constitution. There will be no Sharia [Islamic law imposed by Constitution], there will be 100% freedom of religion in the South."

He also believes that independence is the best means to end the Islamic extermination of Black Africans in The Sudan's Darfur region. "Darfur will be free after the referendum," he said.

Adol, like Lual and Moses, has become a U.S. citizen. He was elected to his position in the South Sudanese expatriate community through a competitive election, and he looks to Western democracy as a political model.

"My work is to mobilize the South Sudanese people to vote. After Independence, we will look to South Sudanese now living in the U.S., Canada and Australia to help in construction of the new country."

Lual spoke of the prayer preparation going on in the community here. With South Sudanese Christians in a number of different denominations, they "go from church to church, coming together for a unity prayer for the referendum. This Sunday [Jan. 2] is our turn [Holy Apostles' Episcopal] to host the unity prayer."

Thoughtful treatment of the tough church controversy

Carson Clark grapples with the church's grappling over homosexuality. He's taking his time and choosing his words over two installments. The link is to Part I, in which he writes,

"Ours is a society of one-sided ideologues, and on no issue is this more apparent than on homosexuality. Both extremes are not only skeptical but are, in fact, vehement that there can be no middle-way. It’s all or nothin’. What is more, they both seem to have framed their entire position upon the slippery slope fallacy. For the liberals, anything but full embrace of the homosexual lifestyle will lead to sheer oppressive hatred. If you so much as try to nuance that position you get branded a bigot. For the conservatives, anything but a complete, unqualified condemnation of homosexuality will lead to absolute moral corruption worthy of God’s fiercest wrath. It’s believed to be an utter abomination and a scourge upon society. And, of course, these accusations are worst among professing Christians on either polarity."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Long time South Dakota journalist looks at upcoming legislative session

State budget is the biggie, but other issues await in Pierre as well

As the Sioux Falls paper reported on Sunday, the decline of video lottery spending will likely force some tough budget questions on the legislature.

There are also some of the national hot button issues likely to show up.

Archbishop of Canterbury's Ecumenical Christmas Letter: an appropriate message for this day

Today commemorates those who suffered at the hands of the violent. Archbishop Rowan Williams' Christmas Letter to all Christians is worth revisiting this week.

Dear Friends in Christ

“They were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod.” (Matt 2.12).

As soon as Our Lord is born, he is caught up in the terror and violence of our world. The wise men, without meaning to, prompt a tyrant to an act of dreadful barbarity. The life of the Incarnate Word of God is never to be spared the risk of suffering and death. Recalling the Massacre of the Innocents (on 28 December in the West) we affirm our faith that God’s action and presence are to be found in the darkest places of the world, alongside those who are exposed to pain and death.

In October during a pastoral visit to the churches of our Communion in India, I listened to a Christian from Orissa describe the murder of her husband as a result of his refusal to abandon his faith in Jesus Christ. In early November we had shocking news of atrocities against Christians in Iraq, and the whole Christian world prays and grieves with that small and courageous community living in daily danger. Regular reports reach us in the West of terrible atrocities against children in the war-torn lands of Congo, Sudan and other places. Every time such an outrage occurs, we are recalled to the reality of our involvement in the Body of Christ; when any member suffers, the whole Body suffers (I Cor 12.26).

But this in turn should rekindle our awareness of the positive reality of the Body, and the call and gift of God that comes with membership of the Body. Each of us is at every moment supported by every other through the life of the Body of baptised believers. Each of us is being fed and nourished by the Lord through this fellowship. And each of us is summoned to solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in prayer and action.

So we are called to daily involvement in prayer and advocacy for all our fellow-Christians in situations of oppression and danger – and all their neighbours too, of whatever belief, since the evils of violence and tyranny are not felt by Christians alone, nor can their sufferings be isolated from those of their neighbours. We are called to discover all the various ways in which we may express that solidarity. And we are humbled and gladdened by the fact that their courage and generosity in witness is God’s gift to all of us; their clear and brave service to the faith, even to the point of death, helps us grow and become firmer in our own faith.

Christ took a human body at Bethlehem so that he should always have a Body on earth. The body in the cradle is the first moment of the continuing life of the Mystical Body in which we learn how to be sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father and how to bring his love alive in the lives of our brothers and sisters. Bethlehem is the foundation for our mutual love and giving, and the responsibility we have for one another. And so it does not just inspire love, it makes love possible and actual in our world. Through our share in the Body, we are daily nourished in life and love, most especially when we celebrate our union in the Body through sharing in the Holy Eucharist.

At this season, let us thank God for the birth of the Word in a human body and soul, the birth which made it possible for us to be united once again with the life of God in unending communion. And let us resolve to live out that life of communion each day in our solidarity with and our work for all who live today in the shadow of the same kind of tyranny that threatened the life of Jesus himself.

To all who share the care of the churches of God and all their people I wish the blessings and joys of this holy Season.

© Rowan Williams 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

The man with the message

Christmas leaves many tender and memorable images and impressions.

But it is St. John, commemorated today on the church calendar, who carries the message and meaning of the celebration:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Another Christian joined St. Stephen in Jerusalem last week

December 26th is the Feast of Stephen, the church's first martyr.

Last week, Jerusalem's Anglican Christians laid to rest one of their own, the victim of a violent attack. A companion who had been on a walk with her continues to recover in a hospital.

As she shared Stephen's death in the ancient city, may she share eternal joy with him in the New Jerusalem, the City of God.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tumbling vice: smoking ban cutting into video lottery play, too

Ban changing bar culture in S.D. | | Argus Leader

Anybody know of a state that has junked public gambling after allowing it? SD isn't anywhere near getting rid of video gambling, but lo and behold a recently enacted smoking ban is reducing the time people spend at the machines.

For the record, I would rather pay a clearly stated income or property tax than depend upon state-sponsored gambling or "sin taxes' to fund public services. Yes, these gadgets probably keep my taxes lower. But they also exploit people at points of weakness and smack of hypocrisy: we say we don't want people smoking or gambling but then budget public revenue expectaions from those behaviors.

No joke: Regional types will compete on Norwegian reality show

Okerlund: all in on 'all for Norway' | | Argus Leader

The story's at the link, but be warned that the Argus Leader columnist spares no details of lutefisk. Don't read over dinner.

Dakota film maker at work on feature about nation's largest mass execution (Dec. 26, 1862)

The film is called "Dakota 38," referring to thirty eight Dakota warriors hanged in Makato, Minnesota on Dec. 26, 1862.

Over 300 of the warriors were sentenced to hang after a conflict involving the Dakota, White settlers and the U.S. Army. Appeals from Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple and others convinced President Abraham Lincoln to pardon the majority. The event still afflicts the memory of the Dakota, many of whom live in eastern South Dakota.

Sarah Weston of South Dakota's Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is a co-director.

"with the poor, the scorned, the lowly" *

*Well, actually these are lyrics from a beautiful Christmas hymn, describing the humble love of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

But they leaped to mind when I scorned the poor and lowly snowman in my front yard.

Fluffy snow is easy to shovel (thank God), but not for forming snowballs, snow forts or snowmen. Some church kids came over this afternoon, and gave it a try. Look on their works, ye mighty, and despair!

Big gifts for the First Sunday Sunday After Christmas

It's not a "normal" calendar day for this, but Good Shepherd will celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism today.

How wonderful an opportunity to preach on this part of today's Gospel:

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

Wonderful as well is the recent arrival of this new family in our parish, and the chance to preach this Gospel for relatives and friends that will come with them today.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Any other parents have this problem?

Our older kid said he needed shoes for Christmas. So I simply went to the closet and got the white ones he was wearing - what? - just yesterday?

Here they are next to the black ones he wore home from college.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"He came down to earth from heaven..."

Once in royal Davids city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little Child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

For He is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.

Peace and Blessing to You All

h/t FB friend Mariuccia

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Come, Let Us Adore Him

If you are going to be in or around Sioux Falls, come worship with us in the Christmas season and following. We'll keep the parking lot plowed and the sanctuary warm for you!

Good Shepherd is at 2707 W. 33rd St. in Sioux Falls (57105), on the corner of 33rd & Williams, 1 block East of Kiwanis and a few blocks West of Western.

Friday, December 24th, Christmas Eve
5 & 11 PM Holy Communion

Sunday, December 26th, 1st Sunday of Christmas,
8 AM Holy Communion & 10 AM Holy Baptism

Sunday, January 2nd, 2nd Sunday of Christmas
8 & 10 AM Holy Communion, Bishop John Tarrant Celebrant and Preacher

Thursday, January 6th, The Epiphany
1 PM Holy Communion, with prayer for the South Sudan Independence Referendum

Sunday, January 9th, The Baptism of Our Lord
8 AM Holy Communion & 10 AM Holy Baptism

It is my hope to lay off the blogging this weekend (Dec. 24 - 27). So I take this opportunity to wish any and all who visit this blog a Merry Christmas, filled with the light of Christ.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SD Gov-elect will have Cabinet-level post for Tribal liaison

Governor-elect Dennis Daugaard (R) is expected to name a Tribal member to this new position by the end of the week.

Daugaard creates Cabinet-level post for tribal affairs | | Argus Leader

"Rep. Kevin Killer, D-Pine Ridge, likewise called Daugaard's decision 'a step in the right direction.

'It's an acknowledgement by the state that there needs to be some kind of good relationship,' Killer said. 'And I like that he's looking at a nation-to-nation relationship between the state of South Dakota and the nine different tribes.'

Daugaard stressed that it is his philosophy that each of the nine tribes should be recognized separately, and that he thinks it's inappropriate to consider them as one combined entity."

Suggesting the need for a Savior

Madville Times would never take the data in the direction I'm about to go, but you should check out his excellent summary and links about the financial knowledge and habits of South Dakotans.

Basically, people here are very knowledgeable about how money and various financial instruments work. In fact, we test out at #3 in the USA on a simple quiz. Heck, even I went 5 for 5.

But when it comes to how we act on that knowledge, we are waaaaaaay bad. Almost 1/4 of us spend more than we take in, and an absurd number fall prey to "payday loans" and other forms of usury.

Which reminds me of this,

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Which reminds me of the church's message, that the world needs the Savior whose arrival we celebrate at Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"People who walk in darkness" - Cult(ure) of personal fulfillment has consequences, it seems

Kendall Harmon's blog, TitusOneNine, pointed me to closely related news stories that appeared in different papers on different days.

USA Today's piece presented news that shouldn't surprise. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)have released data suggesting that "adverse childhood experiences are common..."

"Almost 60% of American adults say they had difficult childhoods featuring abusive or troubled family members or parents who were absent due to separation or divorce, federal health officials report."

The New York Times also featured mental health, demonstrating the fallout of what the CDC data describes.

“It’s so different from how people might stereotype the concept of college counseling, or back in the ’70s students coming in with existential crises: who am I?” said [Stony Brook University Counseling Director] Dr. Hwang, whose staff of 29 includes psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and social workers. “Now they’re bringing in life stories involving extensive trauma, a history of serious mental illness, eating disorders, self-injury, alcohol and other drug use.”

The polarized right and left both contend for different aspects of radical individualism. The right tends to espouse this in terms of economics, the left in terms of behavior; both wind up arguing that what an individual does can be judged only by that individual's proclamation of satisfaction. If other people object to my self-serving ways, "That's their issue, not mine."

People Magazine interviewed singer Christina Aguilera about her decision to end her five year marriage (and break up the family of the couple's small son). It is truly ghastly reading (link only gives a teaser - you have to subscribe or find a hard copy to read it all). Basically, there is no assertion of abuse, infidelity, addiction or anything dramatic - instead it is a bland assertion of her personal feelings,

"When you're unhappy in your marriage, your children are the ones who suffer," says the Grammy-winning pop singer, whose own parents' tumultuous relationship led to divorce when she was 7. "That's the last thing I wanted for my son."

Since filing for divorce, Aguilera has been out in Los Angeles and New York City with a new man...

Note how the divorce culture is modeled and passed along. Without models of reconciliation and endurance, or a standard to which to aspire, the individual follows his or her own emotions and fills in justifications about that direction being best for everybody else. There is no reflection, a "rebound relationship" is established immediately, and everybody dutifully gushes about it all. Criticisms or objections are "judgmental" and the evidence of the social impact is simply denied.

Christianity describes humanity's "curse" as the misery we self-inflict by assertion of self-will against the will of God. At Christmas, we sing of hope for reconciliation, both with God and one another. In Isaac Watt's familiar lyrics,

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Christians around the world will hear the ancient prophecy of Isaiah at Christmas. May the One who is the light of the world come into our self-clouded hearts and help us to love God and one another.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them light has shined.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I pray that your shopping's been in budget...

...and the Ugley Vicar has been blogging for some time about the harm done to you by excessive interest - "usury" - and how the church has let us all down by giving this truly Biblical sin a pass.

Here's a bit of his work from last year, which suddenly put me in touch with the irony of how we slave for the gods of this world while supposedly preparing to welcome the Savior:

"The Western church, at least, seems to have nothing to say, just when a ‘prophetic’ voice might actually come in handy. We could, for example, be denouncing First and Second world debt, or warning about the credit-card culture, but we are not. Instead, we are paralysed by the headlights.

But the Church also seems unready for the spiritual challenges this implies and entails, for (as history again shows) economic hard times bring with them spiritual risk. This may not be the time before the End Times, but it certainly provides the opportunity for spiritual forces which have been at work throughout history to manifest themselves in ways which will be simultaneously both deeply attractive to the mass of humanity and deeply inimical to God’s people.

I am constantly reminded of the verses from Revelation 13 which express, I believe, not so much a prediction as a recurring theme of history: “He [that is the second beast who is the ‘false prophet’, 19:20] also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.”

Who, in 2009, could imagine the free countries of the West succumbing to a system of economic dictatorship? Yet who in 1950s England could imagine a London bus ticket costing over a pound? And who, in early Weimar Germany, would have imagined Christians would be unsure how to respond to a man who offered them economic security and a glorious future at the price of complete obedience?"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What's in your manger?

This folk art creche was a gift from West Coast friend Kerry many years ago. You'll notice just Mary and Joseph in the scene. One way to make Advent a season of anticipation is to keep baby Jesus hidden until Christmas.

And don't have the Wise Men, camels et al. arrive until the Epiphany on January 6th. Some families set up the travelers elsewhere in the house, moving them on a journey across various pieces of furniture until their arrival at the manger.

These are gentle, even playful ways to intrude the Biblical narrative into the cultural Christmas distractions. They are ways to relate the message to kids and to involve them in walking through it, which is the purpose of the church liturgical calendar for people of all ages.

Anglicans young and out-of-the-box

Controversial Anglican stuff is on simmer (or maybe just cold, icky and stuck to the pan) these days, so if scanning the blogs seems like same-old, same-old, here is some positive stuff for your weekend reading:

Coming into the Anglican world from an Evangelical background is the young Waco, TX blogger who offers Musings of A Hard-Lining Moderate. He "mini-blogs" his thoughts in short, tight posts. Good perspectives on how the Anglican approach sits within the wider Christian world - although you will need to scroll down through a recent series of politics and culture stuff.

A young family guy recently arrived in Rapid City, SD, and is blogging A Tribe Called Anglican. He has a couple of recent posts on Bishops providing good examples and good teaching to the church. "Episcopal" means "having to do with Bishops," after all, so folks in our tradition need some positive reports to counter the media enthrallment with wing nuts, eccentrics and neo-pagans in episcopal vestments.

And a bit of out-of-the-box effort is going on in Virginia, where Episcopalians and some Anglicans who have left the Episcopal Church are looking at ways to stop the lawsuit insanity and chart a Christian course through their profound disputes. They are invoking the Anglican hallmark of Common Prayer. I caught this news via the blog BabyBlueOnline, which is also a place for good Bob Dylan news if you're a fan.

Rejoice! There are some heaven-sent lights shining in North American Anglicanism.

A reflection by Patricia Hofer, relevant to this weekend's Gospel

Christian author Patricia Hofer was kind enough to send a copy of her book, Turning Aside to See. You can find out more about the author and her books at her website. The new book builds reflections on sayings gathered from around the world, exploring them through Christian wisdom.

This Sunday's Gospel shows us two workaday people, Mary and Joseph receiving divine visits they neither sought nor understood, but to which they kept saying "Yes." Patricia Hofer's new book contains a reflection relevant to this powerful Advent theme:


God often visits us, but most of the time we are not at home.

In this proverb, the French touch on something about our relationship with God that has challenged and perplexed Christians from the start, from the novices to the mystics. How can we know that God is visiting us?

Describing such a visit, St. Teresa of Avila observed that "God so places Himself in the interior of that soul that when it returns to itself it can in no way doubt that it was in God and God was in it."

Bernard of Clairvaux wrote of God's presence in his soul this way: "And where he comes from when he enters my soul, or where he goes when he leaves it, and how he enters and leaves, I frankly do not know." And then he paraphrased Jesus's description of spirit in John: "You do not know where he comes from, nor where he goes."

The difficulty with these "visits" is that they are so unsubstantial and mental. Which leads me to consider [C.S.] Lewis' more scientific explanation. He blamed our imperfect communication with God on the brain, which doesn't originate the interaction but operates as a faulty "receiving set." And this sometimes also appears to be true. Certainly, nothing puts more static and distraction into my "receiving set" than the challenges of daily living - being hungry, tired, worried or sick.

Lewis' idea, however, is largely contradicted by Brother Lawrence's experience. Whether he was riding the boat to purchase supplies or busy with his kitchen chores, he wrote that he ever applied his mind "to the presence of God, whom I considered always as with me, often as in me."

That sounds true to me as well. And it is supported by [English theologian Charles] Raven who wrote that the times he prayed best were when his brain was absorbed by some mundane task, leaving "the mind free to roam." Such moments opened him to "a glory of wonder and worship... a rapture in which there was neither past nor future, a rapture full of the song of the morning stars."

To conclude this discussion on visits, I must add another person's experience, perhaps my favorite. Oswald Chambers said, "God will give us his touches of inspiration only when he sees that we are not in danger of being led away by them." For God wants us to "walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7). And so, God's "exceptional moments" with us are, according to Chambers, "surprises." No need to sit in our room waiting. God knows where to find us.


As we are reminded in the Gospel for this last Sunday of Advent, God visited and surprised Mary and Joseph. Neither of them were "led away" by the inspiration, but were brought closer to God than we can imagine. Mary worshipped in rapturous song, and "When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him..."

And because they received the surprise, the surprise took flesh to visit and surprise us. "God knows where to find us."

Friday, December 17, 2010

RSS feed now available - you will subscribe - you will subscribe

Yeah, one of the younger bloggers called me on the lack of an RSS feed for folks who wanna know when I post something.

So now, I'm out of the Bronze Age and actually attempting to forge an iron tool or two.

So, looky up to the top right of the page and click the appropriate feeds if you want to be notified of my posts and/or others' comments.

A little football for your weekend... Troy Polamalu represents!


"So why was Polamalu nearly in tears afterward, apologetic to a fault about a rare error in judgment?

After making his second interception, Polamalu — about to be tackled — sailed a spiraling lateral across the field to teammate Bryant McFadden. The ball bounced around before McFadden fell on it, and the Bengals easily could have recovered it.

To Polamalu, one lapse ruined an afternoon's worth of mostly exceptional work.

'It was incredibly arrogant and selfish,' Polamalu said. 'I represent something bigger than myself — my faith, my family and this team. I'll try to never let that happen again. It was just a very arrogant play.'"

European Court of Human Rights delivers nuanced abortion ruling

State loses case on woman's abortion right - The Irish Times - Fri, Dec 17, 2010

In a case that originated in Ireland, the court sided with a woman who was unable to obtain an abortion in that country despite her life-threatening cancer.

But the court rejected the claims of two other women who sought to assert any abortion as a recognized right:

"The court ruled there had been no violation of the rights of A and B, the two other women involved in the case.

They argued that abortion restrictions had stigmatised and humiliated them, risked damaging their health and violated their right to private life. The court ruled by 11 votes to six that there had been no violation of their rights."

h/t Dakota Voice

Preparing for Holy Communion: an Orthodox perspective on self examination and financial responsibility

"The Mystical Supper demands the humility to acknowledge responsibility whether religion's improper role in making sacred an economic or political system; the family or individual's decision to use short-term borrowing on non-essentials that causes needless, ongoing debt; Christians within an industry that create marketing incentives for consumers to max out credit cards, set collection policies, fix high interest rates; or Christian members of Congress with power to better regulate the credit card, credit bureau, and collection agency industries.

The Eucharist is a sacrament. All sacraments, especially the Eucharist, occur through Holy Sophia [Wisdom]. The Eucharist is the starting point, the journey, the full, unbreakable spiritual circle of Christ. The Last Supper invites us to unite with the will of the Almighty. Two wills united as one 'so that together with God we can do good and creative things.' [quote is from The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology] This includes reaffirming the 'royal dignity' of man and woman created in the image of the Creator." Bishop Paul Peter Jesep

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good feature on a fine SD Anglo-Catholic Priest

Callison: Dedicated to serving others | | Argus Leader

We still keep him un-retired by borrowing him at Good Shepherd, sometimes as Celebrant and sometimes as organist!

Acting on what we await (Advent application of The Lord's Prayer)

I found this a striking thought that brings out the implications of Advent,

"Although the kingdom comes, it is also within every Christian heart (Luke 17:20-21). Christians are called and empowered to love unconditionally, without judgment. A manifestation of it would be to show compassion for the current plight of millions of Americans in debt. The kingdom within is also an active lay ministry to address the imbalance now in place so it does not continue to happen to others." Bishop Paul Peter Jesep

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

South Dakota's economic statistics are good overall, but there are staggering disparities by County

Stats were set forth at Madville Times over the weekend.

South Dakota, compared to other states, often fares well. But internally, there are challenging realities:

"South Dakota has seven counties among the 30 with the highest overall poverty rates. However, greater suburban Sioux Falls in Lincoln County has the ninth-lowest poverty rate in the nation, a mere 4.2%. Median household income in Lincoln County is $72,894, almost four times the median in Buffalo County."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Julian Mann, Vicar of Oughtibridge in Sheffield, England, is a good blogger who makes strong points with an economy of words. He finds a significant theological flaw in the lastest film version of C.S. Lewis' work.

"...Eustace's penitence is downplayed. He apologises for being a 'sop', rendering his previous negativism a sin against the spirit of adventure, which he atoned for by his derring-do as a dragon.

The film's under-emphasis on the grace of salvation is therefore the context for the controversial comment by the actor who provides the voice of Aslan, Liam Neeson:

'Aslan symbolises a Christlike figure, but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.'

Who unlike Jesus Christ taught salvation by works."

I've not seen the film nor am I as conversant in the Narnia details as some of my fellow Christians. But if CC is correct, the movie gets into just the kind of fudging that misdirects many a preacher and steers their churches into trouble.

A prayer request (or two)

Tomorrow we meet with folks from our autistic son's school and the Sioux Falls Unified District, continuing our request for residential placement. This is normally funded at age 21, but he's just about 17 and so our request is out of the ordinary.

These meetings are stressful all around. While we are happy with the school and the progress he's made here in the SF district, his needs are 24/7 and border on clinical in ways that my wife and I are becoming unable to provide.

At the same time, the District and pretty much all public services and programs are facing budget cuts and are hard pressed to meet requests like ours.

Please pray for our family and for the school folks as we navigate the needs.

(Note: I usually find something handy in the Book of Common Prayer, but there's really nothing on target for special needs people. The folks at Lent & Beyond are offering a season of prayer for people with neurological disorders.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

More shoppers avoiding credit cards this year... lenders load traps

Friday's NY Times Business section included an article on consumers shifting from credit cards to cash budgets this holiday spending season. (h/t Kendall Harmon, TitusOneNine)

"The lowest percentage of shoppers in the 27-year-history of a national survey said they used credit cards over the Thanksgiving weekend, while the use of general credit cards like Visa and MasterCard fell 11 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, according to the credit bureau TransUnion."

The article includes examples of the havoc and healing experienced by people who suffered the consequences of past credit card shopping and have moved to a cash budget approach for this year's gift buying. Many of their accounts support the arguments in Bishop Paul Peter Jesep's Credit Card Usury and the Christian Failure to Stop It:

"Financial stress can negatively - even severely - impact things outside of your wallet: your health, your job, and your relationships," confirmed David Alecock, a vice president of InCharge Institute, a non-profit credit counseling organization. Ted Hagen, PhD, a family psychologist and authors Judi Light Hopson and Emma H. Hopson, R.N. of Burnout to Balance: EMS Stress cited in an op-ed a debt counselor who described some seeking help as so anxious that they were exploring death as an option. The counselor also concluded, as have other experts, that credit card debt is destroying families and friendships.

Nevertheless, lenders who depend upon heavy interest (usury), card fees and penalties are trying to lure people back into bad habits, as detailed by the Times:

When people overspend, credit card issuers reap profit from consumers who pay only part of their bills. Shoppers using retailers’ branded cards tend to spend more and visit stores more, said Robert S. Drbul, an analyst at Barclays Capital. So all are offering big incentives to get people to use plastic.

The Chase Freedom and Discover More cards, for instance, are offering $100 bonuses when new credit card customers spend a certain amount within the first three months, along with 5 percent cash back on holiday purchases at department stores and other categories.

Citibank is giving Dividend cardholders 5 percent back on spending at department, clothing and electronics stores through Dec. 31. Target is giving its cardholders a 5 percent discount on purchases, Neiman Marcus is advertising extra rewards points on most purchases on certain days this month, and Sears has been running a variety of no-payment, no-interest offers on its credit cards throughout the holidays.

Bishop Jesep criticizes this marketing of debt, moving from Consumer Reports and statistics to a summary of ancient and current Christian critiques:

Even if the plight of debtors is in part by their own making it still doesn't excuse "luring consumers into debt waters," as Consumer Reports noted, "well over their head..." Creditors can't blame the class they created "then punish" them with "significantly higher interest rates and fees"...

...In 2009, $20.5 billion in penalty fees on credit cards will be assessed...

...Basil of Caesarea (330-379), Gregory of Nyssa (330-395), and Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389) were among the early church leaders to speak against usury...

...In July 2009, Pope Benedict XVI issues the encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). In it the Bishop of Rome warned against profit becoming an exclusive goal. He noted that "if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty... dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner..."

...Although it's been unconvincingly argued that better regulating interest rates will deprive the poor or lower middle class access to credit, it seems disingenuous when a constant revenue source is created through high interest... Credit card companies, by the way, refer to those who pay off debt each month as "deadbeats" and "freeloaders" ... profit models are now based on the expectation that consumers don't pay off debt each month.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Since most of us are close to the elderly (proximately or chronologically)...

...we should have a look at a good article in the USC Trojan Family Magazine. It is a large pdf, but once you have it loaded go to p. 36 for "Reaching Toward the Fountain of Youth."

There is plenty of current research in "anti-aging" strategies. It is likely that we or people we know will be presented with one or more. This article gives some details on intriguing approaches, but also cautions,

"The efficacy of longevity therapies marketed today will not be proven for at least a generation. Nature abhors a vacuum, and scammers are quick to spot an opportunity. The anti-aging industry is an obvious magnet for charlatans."

A street sign

Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see..." From the Gospel of Matthew, appointed for this Third Sunday of Advent

John the Baptist was in doubt. He reached out to Jesus, who replied with more than words - he gave John reassuring, visible evidence. "...the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

We need signs. The most faithful among us have episodes or even seasons of doubt, fear and despair.

Advent is full of signs - dreams and visions, prophetic promises and fulfilling events, a guiding star. But for those of us who, like John the Baptist, have already followed the big signs and believed, there remains the need for encouraging markers in daily life. We need reassurance that the difficult path of faith is the right one.

I was feeling a bit down and sorry for myself this a.m. I'm going to spare you all the whiny details of why. Along with the mood, I was shoveling a Camry-wide path through my post-blizzard driveway so I could get my car down to the street. The city had plowed the road, thank God, but that left a formidable snow wall across the end of my driveway. I created a path just wide enough to get my car through and started to head in for coffee and a hot shower before church.

Then I noticed a neighbor's garage door open; out he came with a wave to start his own version of the job I'd just done. I still had shovel in hand, so I went over to help him out.

We got his path done in short order, but I realized that those extra minutes were going to make me late to church if I took my hot shower. So I guzzled my coffee and I shaved, but kept on my less than pleasant snow clearin' clothes. I still had more than half of my driveway, my sidewalks and the walkway to the front door to clear after church.

I got home after the lightly attended services to find my whole driveway and the sidewalks cleared of snow - all I had to do was a few feet of walkway. I have to assume that the neighbor had done all that to say "Thanks," but he did work way out of proportion to the few shovels full I'd given him earlier.

It was a sign for me. It was a sign of kindness and generosity against my grim and self-absorbed mood. It was a sign of getting back from having given, and getting back way more than was given away. It was a sign that doing the right thing was, well, the right thing to do.

My morning blues plus the Gospel about John the Baptist had me thinking about the need for signs. What a blessing to have one waiting right there on my street.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Are we rejoicing, yet?

Advent used to be a solemn season of preparation. Over time, it went from being "Lenten" to "Lent-like" to (my fave) "semi-penitential" to "If we can get the decorating out of the way and plan at least a couple of shopping runs, we might be able to get in a Christmas pageant or that lessons & carols thingy."

In other words, we replaced religious heaviness with financial, personal and family exhaustion.

The third Sunday of Advent, like the third Sunday of Lent, developed special themes and symbols as a practical spiritual response to the weariness and discouragement that can set in during a solemn season. Hence the rose (no, not "pink," guys) candle on the Advent wreath or even rose colored vestments for the service on the third Sunday.

I found a decent explanation of the tradition here. I leave it to you, dear reader, to reclaim the rejoicing.

There's a lovely Advent meditation in music here.

And there's this,

Jesu, joy of man's desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright

Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned

Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne

Blizzard conditions today.

3 - 6" of snow for Sioux Falls, wind gusts of up to 50 mph to blow it around (no use trying to clear the driveway just yet), and subzero temps. Anybody up for some croquet, ice tea and watercress sandwiches? (btw we've got it easy compared to the folks in MN and other points east).

Words to our anxious nation and world

From Saturday Morning Prayer in II Advent:

Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

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

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

Psalm 30:4-6

"Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. He will become a sanctuary..." Isaiah 8:12-14

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you. II Thessalonians 3:16

Friday, December 10, 2010

S_X for the weekend

John Richardson is a priest in the Church of England, who blogs as The Ugley Vicar (title explained at the site).

He writes consistently good theological pieces, and this one appeared in The Guardian as an op/ed. It has a positive message on a topic most known for taboos on the one hand or trivialization on the other.

He begins,

How should Christians think about sex? Specifically, within what framework should we consider this aspect of life and experience?

Perhaps the first thing to clarify is why there should be a specifically "Christian" way of thinking about sex at all. What is it about Christianity that could make a difference? And the answer surely lies in the doctrine of the incarnation.

Christians, as distinct even from Jews (their closest theological neighbours), believe that God has been "embodied". The word of God, himself God from the beginning, "became flesh and dwelt among us" in the person of Jesus (John 1:14).

Therefore the body, the locus of our sexuality and the vehicle of its expression, is also a vehicle and means of expression of God's own self. And whatever Christians think about sexuality, it has to be integrated with this specifically Christian understanding.

This suggests, however, that the most appropriate theological category in which to put human sexuality is that of a "sacrament", which the Church of England usefully defines as, "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace".

But he doesn't go all ethereal on us, writing instead with considerable sobriety,

And therefore a fundamental feature of Christian thinking about human sexuality ought to be a recognition of its mere functionality and its commonality with that of other living creatures. (Indeed, such a recognition might be helpful in many of our wider cultural debates on this topic.)

Which is to say that The Bloodhound Gang expressed some of the truth when they sang, "You and me baby ain't nuthin' but mammals..." We are funny creatures, thinking that something so basically biological is a badge of identity and worth.

Still, Christians believe that we are "made in the image of God," and Richardson concludes with that guiding point of view:
But considered "inwardly and spiritually", human sexuality has an iconic significance, being a point where the divine finds earthly expression – where something that is true about the creator-redeemer God in his relationship with his created-redeemed people is imaged and embodied in human relationship and experience.

This is why the subject of our sexuality is so inescapable, despite various efforts over time to neutralise, demonise or trivialise the subject. It is a veritable Jacob's ladder – a place where heaven and earth combine. But until the two become one, it will continue to trouble us, as well as to enthral us.

That's a good line - "various efforts over time to neutralise, demonise or trivialise the subject." Our culture, it seems to me, is caught up in a crazy approach in which sexuality is at once ultimate - a defining issue of identity, self worth and rights - and trivial, a self-serving way to kill some time with little thought to anything past the moment.

Camille Paglia's recent piece on Lady Gaga nailed our strange culture (warning: article has explicit language),

...despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Gaga isn’t sexy at all – she’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation? Can it be that Gaga represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution?

Is there a way to recapture a sexuality that embodies the fullness of love expressed in the New Testament's original Greek? The passion of eros, the warmth of filias and the self-sacrificing commitment of agape are all rendered "love" in English, leaving us with just one word to express our preference of ice cream flavor, our fondness for our siblings and our most intimate life bonds.

I admire Richardson's effort on this. It won't resonate with non-Christians, or even many Western Christians, who will babble something about defending their absolute rights on the one hand and, in an amazing contradiction, their need to ignore the subject altogether and "concentrate on the really important issues facing our world" on the other.

Whether one is religious or secular, the reality of how we reproduce, and the amazingly long period of helplessness and need for nurture in human young, is a fundamental testimony to our social nature. It sets up all the larger questions about our values and how we organize to live them out.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Calvary Cathedral, Sioux Falls

Bishop Hare secured substantial funding from John Jacob Astor (yes, went down on the Titanic) to build the Cathedral of the Diocese of South Dakota in Sioux Falls.

< Bishop Hare's monument is inscribed with Jesus' words to Peter, "Feed My Sheep"

Reminders that "the church" is people

I bumped into this over-3-month-old post on another blog,

"Technology is just a spotlight, a magnifying glass, revealing overlooked or hidden problems with discipleship in the Western church and its progeny. If we don’t address the discipleship issues, we will create another generation of predominately shallow and infertile Christians…and we will have a great time playing with our websites and iPads in the process."

Bishop John Tarrant was here at Good Shepherd last Sunday. He pointed out that the new people he'd met in our congregation all came because of personal invitations from other church members.

"When I go around to small churches," he said, "they all want to know, 'What's the one perfect program that's going to make us grow?' And I have to tell them, 'There is no program...'" He then pointed out a newly confirmed person and her sponsor - the person who had invited her to Good Shepherd - and said, "This is how churches grow."

Decrepit facilities, weak technology, out-of-date-this-and-that can all hinder church growth, but just improving them won't create growth. That will always require discipleship, people who follow Jesus and bring others along.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Prepare the way of the Lord

John the Baptist looms large in Advent lessons and hymns. His fiery words build a bridge to the Old Testament Prophets who foretold Messiah's birth and also project the urgent preparation for Christ's return.

The great window of Calvary Cathedral, Sioux Falls, was installed in memory of South Dakota's first Bishop, William Hobart Hare. It expresses his missionary zeal to go and announce Christ outside of the settled, secure places in which most people conduct "normal" life.

The Archbishop of Canterbury - Radio Times Advent message

He has some fun with this:

The Archbishop of Canterbury - Radio Times Advent message

"...Christmas is one of the great European exports. You'll meet Santa Claus and his reindeer in Shanghai and Dar-es-Salaam; a long way from the North Pole. More seriously and less commercially, the story of the Nativity is loved even in non-Christian contexts (I discovered that one of the best and most sensitive recent film re-tellings of the story was one made by an Iranian Muslim company). The weary annual attempts by right-thinking people in Britain to ban or discourage Nativity plays or public carol-singing out of sensitivity to the supposed tender consciences of other religions fail to notice that most people of other religions and cultures both love the story and respect the message...

...Even more outrageously, the story suggests that this particular baby, the one born in the outhouse, the one who is rescued at the last moment from a village massacre like the ones that happen so regularly in forgotten civil wars today in Congo or Sudan – this baby is the place where the power of the creator of the universe is completely present. And what on earth might it mean to say that the ultimate power in the universe is more like a baby clutching at us in blind trust than it's like the President's bullet-proof motorcade?

Well, all that is to go a bit beyond the story itself, of course. Christians believe it and not everyone else does. But it still ought to make us think. The fact that this story of defenceless love - even when it's wrapped up in all the bizarre fancy-dress of Christmas as it's developed over the centuries - touches something universal is at the very least a fact that should make us think twice about giving up on the human heart's capacity for goodness and faith, however deeply buried. One-horse open sleighs in South India may be surreal all right; but surreal things can connect us with some surprising realities."

Navel gazing Nazis

I caught this sad story at TitusOneNine.

Closing down a church because a community has ceased to be happens all the time. There are rites for this, because it is a normal part of human life.

But in this case,

Witches, waves of misguided ghost-hunters and self-proclaimed spiritualists, along with common vandals, have swarmed the church in recent years.

“This is the only church that I know of that has been brought to its knees by people ... pursuing some sort of desire for supernatural experiences,” Archdeacon Edward Simonton said during the deconsecration service.

“We could not protect this building,” said Simonton, noting the community’s anger and sadness over the destruction of a holy and historic site.

Church and area residents say they have lost count of the acts of vandalism on church property and the number of graveyard seances they have interrupted.

“There has been a couple of hundred cases of vandalism in the last two years,” Simonton said.

The interior of the church has been virtually gutted. Artifacts, sacred items and pump organs were stolen along with the church bell and its replacement.

The graveyard has been desecrated, with more than a dozen headstones damaged, destroyed or stolen.

One of the affectations of Wiccans, White people who suddenly claim to have Native American Spirituality, and assorted others who claim to be "spiritual, not religious" is a claim to find connection "with nature and all things."

One would think that this "oneness" would include some empathy. That "oneness" would include respect for the property, material and symbolic, of others. "Oneness" with others would be a profound inhibition against aggression, one would think.

Guess not. People who claim to be "spiritual" are often navel gazers, profoundly self-centered and basing all on the "experiences" they have. Oneness with the rest of the universe can't happen when you are turned in on yourself.

"Religion" is much maligned, but at base religion is the sharing of spiritual experiences, taking them out of self-reference into relationship with others. Yes, it can be corrupted by any and all of the sundry flaws that corrupt humanity.

But don't tell me that "being spiritual" is an improvement. It's just the same old stuff in a new costume.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

He ain't Northern Plains, and he ain't a wacko...

...he's just a young Anglican sorting things out in Waco, TX and environs.

Have a look at his blog.

On first skim, I already liked this bit of Anglican treasure excavation:

"As my faith has grown over the years, I’ve acquired both an increasing yearning to be more worshipful around the holidays and directly proportional frustration. It bothered me that my churches did so little to facilitate a sense of spiritual “otherness” that time of the year. Their concern about not divorcing “real life” from “church life” produced a leeriness about overtly religious rituals, which resulted in a lack of build up. Sure, there were seasonal songs leading up to Christmas and maybe they celebrated Palm Sunday before Easter, but this did little to prepare my heart. Every year Christmas and Easter somehow seemed to spring from nowhere, and it was exceedingly difficult to instantaneously establish the right frame of mind during the special services. It was like attending a sporting event with a group of rowdy guys, then coming home to your spouse watching Schindler’s List. Clearly it’s a time to be low key and meditative, but it’s borderline impossible to emotionally turn on a dime. I find that this is especially so in our own society where holidays are the most hectic days of the year. This is where the christian calendar’s value comes in. From the season-specific colors to the specific prayers, there’s a process that cultivates anticipation, contemplation, reverence, awe, and thankfulness. I’m new to Anglicanism and this is my first time through so, honestly, I don’t write about this from experience. What I can say is that I love the theory. We’ll see how things play out."

Last night's Psalm spoke to my previous blog entry

Psalm 15

1 LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? who may abide upon your holy hill?

2 Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart.

3 There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend; he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

4 In his sight the wicked is rejected, but he honors those who fear the LORD.

5 He has sworn to do no wrong and does not take back his word.

6 He does not give his money in hope of gain, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

7 Whoever does these things shall never be overthrown.

The Biblical view of personal lending presents a practical expedient for getting one's neighbor through a rough patch. In the Old Testament, the lender could hold some of the borrower's property in pledge of repayment, but the idea of mounting up interest and perpetuating debt is condemned.

Banking and investment were not unknown; in fact Jesus used these as familiar illustrations for those who heard his parables about the coming Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible does not have a lot to say about this kind of normal commercial lending and investment, beyond general principles of honesty (including the marketplace).

What the Bible condemns is the manipulation of another's debt as a "profit center."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop calls out the church on its silence about usury

The mailman brought a nice surprise in the form of a note from Bishop Paul Peter Jesep of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, along with a copy of the just-released Second Edition of his book, Credit Card Usury and the Christian Failure to Stop It.

I'm not through the book yet but I really liked this section on how responsible borrowing must be matched by responsible lending:

"There is also the flip side to the personal responsibility of using a credit card. There is the corporate responsibility by bankers not to exploit the working poor and middle class with credit card fees and interest rates that will make them a permanent revenue source. There is the responsibility by credit card companies not to develop business models with the intent to make individuals max out their credit cards.

There is the choice for collection agencies to treat all persons with respect, dignity and humanity. There is the choice in choosing a fair profit over greed and unjust gain. There is the choice for credit score bureaus to demand far more documentation, though not yet legally required, from credit card and collection agencies. There is the personal responsibility by self-described Christians employed as executives in the financial services industries to set policies that are just and equitable reflecting corporate responsibility."

The part of the book I've finished mainly establishes the social problem and the systemic issues involved in credit card usury. I'm looking forward to upcoming chapters in which the Bishop applies Christian spirituality and theology to the issue, and I will share more in coming days.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thank you, St. Nicholas

This is a picture of St. Nicholas' Church, Encino, CA. My wife and I met and were married there. -->

The Feast of St. Nicholas is December 6th. I am thankful to have served a church under his patronage and give thanks for all of the blessings that came into my life there.

Here's a good site for more info about St. Nicholas.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"...a silent openness to God..."

Thoughts possibly of use in our sour economy and the hectic obligations of "the holiday season",

"Our own culture, a culture in which so often it seems that 'love has grown cold', is one in which work is so often an anxious and obsessive matter, as if our whole value as human beings depended upon it; and so, consequently, unemployment, still a scourge and threat in these uncertain financial times, comes to seem like a loss of dignity and meaning in life. We live in an age where there is a desperate need to recover the sense of dignity of both labor and leisure and the necessity of a silent openness to God that allows our true character to grow and flourish by participating in an eternal love." Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, quoted in the November - December Oblate Letter from Blue Cloud Abbey, Marvin, SD

You don't want my Jesus? Cool, I don't want your Ixchel. Or, Why the First Amendment is there.

Post Carbon - Cancun talks start with a call to the gods (h/t Chris Johnson)

To those of you who say "Keep religion out of public policy. Let science and reason decide," I would say, "How do I take you as serious or sincere when I read the following?"

"Excellencies, the goddess Ixchel would probably tell you that a tapestry is the result of the skillful interlacing of many threads," said Figueres, who hails from Costa Rica and started her greetings in Spanish before switching to English. "I am convinced that 20 years from now, we will admire the policy tapestry that you have woven together and think back fondly to Cancun and the inspiration of Ixchel."

Going to be hard for me to limit my carbon footprint while trying to dodge your Jaguar goddess paw.

You might not like the people you call "Fundamentalists," but don't they have a point that the only thing unifying some of your bizarre alliances (Gay rights and Islam, science and paganism) is hostility to Christianity?

And if they're not right, can you give some coherent explanation of your approach to public policy?

Thoughtful comment on the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" dilemma

Caught it here,

"Gays serving in the military is a difficult issue. Many have served with distinction. If being gay was not cause for dismissal, then there would be less chance of blackmailing gays or having them compromise security to avoid being outed. In many jobs and situations it would not matter. In small, high pressure combat or other such units it could make a significant difference. Banning gays from those positions would be even more controversial as some would say they were escaping the most dangerous jobs and others would say they were precluded from serving in the most rewarding career building jobs. DADT is a terrible policy. Only problem is I am not sure there is a better one."

I think that most people are conflicted around this issue - only activist types have definite, unbending positions.

I recently read some material on the Berlin airlift. About 48% of the heroic crews who flew those relief missions were treated for syphilis. Members of our armed forces have always left "war babies" in other countries. So, the straight military is not the place to draw the line for sexual morality, if that is one's issue. As I've written before, we are talking here about the U.S. Army, not the Salvation Army.

At the same time, the operational concerns raised by those who don't want DADT lifted are real. The example of organizations like my own church denomination show that once you get an unfettered LGBT activist or two into the ranks, the group's mission, cohesion and well being will all be secondary to melodrama, media coverage and systemic manipulations for the entitled few.

Prayer for the Commander in Chief...

O LORD our Governor, whose glory is in all the world; We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness; and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen. (BCP 1928)

...and for the members of our Armed Forces,

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and
keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home
and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly
grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give
them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant
them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 1979)

Unemployment at 9.8% - a prayer

Unemployment at 9.8% :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Business

Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Book of Common Prayer, 1979

John of Damascus: How can we think of God without visual representations? Plus some historical irony...

John of Damascus

James Kiefer's piece at the link should make you stop and think. He shares all the info about the Saint of the day, and fleshes out the big ideas with some wit:

(Here I digress to note that, if we reject the images offered in Holy Scripture of God as Father, Shepherd, King, Judge, on the grounds that they are not literally accurate, we will end up substituting other images -- an endless, silent sea, a dome of white radiance, an infinitely attenuated ether permeating all space, an electromagnetic force field, or whatever, which is no more literally true than the image it replaces, and which leaves out the truths that the Scriptural images convey. (One of the best books I know on this subject is Edwyn Bevan's Symbolism and Belief, Beacon Press, originally a Gifford Lectures series.[note - now out of print]) C S Lewis repeats what a woman of his acquaintance told him: that as a child she was taught to think of God as an infinite "perfect substance," with the result that for years she envisioned Him as a kind of enormous tapioca pudding. To make matters worse, she disliked tapioca. Back to the sermon.)

The historical irony:

"In his time there was a dispute among Christians between the Iconoclasts (image-breakers) and the Iconodules (image-venerators or image-respectors). The Emperor, Leo III, was a vigorous upholder of the Iconoclast position. John wrote in favor of the Iconodules with great effectiveness. Ironically, he was able to do this chiefly because he had the protection of the moslem khalif (ironic because the moslems have a strong prohibition against the religious use of pictures or images)."

What's not ironic is that John's feast falls during Advent, when Christian churches and homes are richest in visual symbolism. He didn't create the specific symbols we use, such as manger scenes, Advent wreaths, Jesse Trees and the like, but he provided the theological explanation and defense for their use.

He also wrote a number of hymns, two of which are used by Episcopalians at Easter, and one of those is one of my favorites:
The day of resurrection!
Earth, tell it out abroad;
the Passover of gladness,
the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal,
from earth unto the sky,
our Christ hath brought us over,
with hymns of victory.

Our hearts be pure from evil,
that we may see aright
the Lord in rays eternal
of resurrection light;
and listening to his accents,
may hear so calm and plain
his own "All hail!" and, hearing,
may raise the victor strain.

Now let the heavens be joyful!
Let earth her song begin!
The round world keep high triumph,
and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen
their notes in gladness blend,
for Christ the Lord hath risen,
our joy that hath no end.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Perspectives on why we won't be American (or any other nation's) Idols

Yikes - One of Jesus' warnings about clergy types came up tonight, as a reading for the first Friday night of Advent:

"Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." Luke 20:46-47

The recognition that we are not "better than" and in fact should seek a self-fading transparency is critical to our calling:

"The apostles could not do everything. They did not dispense miraculous gifts upon all occasions, lest more should be ascribed to them than was right... For many things were permitted by God that the weakness of human nature might be manifested."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on II Timothy

It is not ourselves that we proclaim; we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus' sake. For the same God who said, "Out of darkness let light shine," has caused his light to shine within us, to give the light of revelation—the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 (appointed for use in the "Order for Evening," Book of Common Prayer 1979)

Live from New York: fly-over follies

OK, this video makes me laugh, too (h/t FB friend and Twin Cities resident Dave).

But here's the thing: is this really what a New York audience assumes about Minneapolis?

In reality, Minneapolis has: bars that fly huge rainbow flags (let the reader understand), pro sports (Joe Mauer, anyone?), a major university, gridlocked traffic and no parking, Al Franken, in fact, all the amenities of a large coastal city except the coast (but it does have the Mississippi River running right on through).

The video's still funny, 'tho I'd love to see skits on some of the simply awful attempts at theatre that infest NYC, or a pretentious group of wannabee writers, or... well, let's just say I've lived in The Big Apple (saved my page of the 212 phone book just to prove it) and there's plenty to mock.

Christianity & Libertarianism: are South Dakotans then syncretists?

h/t FB friend Lisa

Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

I found this long article fascinating. Evangelical Christianity and Libertarianism both have strong voices in SD. When it comes to economics, they do tend to wind up on the same side, although on other issues less so.

From the article:

About the time Fortune was extolling Greenspan, I was putting the finishing touches on a book about finances for a major evangelical publisher. I included a chapter on Rand's quasi-religious philosophies, and another that encouraged Wall Street to embrace a traditional Judeo-Christian ethic. I wrote, "Ayn Rand, like Karl Marx, was one more self-proclaimed prophet who denied the existence of a loving God." I added this comment from a leading political commentator: "Libertarians have replaced Marxists as the world's leading utopia builders." I concluded that we would one day apologize to our children for what Rand had done to our souls, as well as to the political economy.

My junior editor removed the chapter on Rand. "No one has heard of Ayn Rand," she said. But my senior editor reinserted it. He said he had never understood his family until reading it. It made him realize that they had mixed Rand's strongly anti-government, unquestioningly pro-business, and individualistic worldview with biblical Christianity. Theologians call this "syncretism"—which George Barna calls America's favorite religion. It's a religion too many Christians have bent the knee to.

By the end of 2008, "Maestro" Greenspan was booed off the stage. Yet there are at least three reasons we should stay aware of Rand and her remaining disciples...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Prepaid? Dude, you haven't even begun to pay... (more on the usury front).

The poor Kardashian sisters, on a break from sticking body parts at us on magazines in the supermarket checkout line, were hired to represent a "Prepaid Kardashian Debit Master Card."

Now, the poor girls are trying to bail on the product, having discovered that the credit cards are by and large a poor instrument for personal finance.

I know the temptation is to type cheap jokes about the Kardashians, but the real issue here is the people marketing the card.

They hired the Kardashians to market the product to teenagers. Said a spokes-hack for the usurers,

“There are no other better people to represent this card because of their significant fan base, especially to reach the younger audience...”

The card is a wonderful instrument for training teens in prudent personal finance, after all, they can only spend the amount of money they actually pre-loaded on it. Oh, but then

It costs $59.95 for six months of use, $99.95 for a year, and $7.95 per month after that.

Use it for ATM cash? $1.50 per pop.

Check your balance? There's a dollar penalty for being responsible.

Talk to a rep on the phone? $1.50 per call.

Cancel the card? $6.

Lost card? $9.95 replacement fee. (High grade plastic, I guess).

Ahhh, but the Mobile Resource Card people (I wonder if that name means they operate out of their car) say it is an exercise in wise financial practice, because parents can choose to track their kids' spending. "Never mind the ridiculous fees at every turn, kids. As long as you don't overspend your balance I don't mind if they charge you whatever they want."

Once again, we let an industry allure people into bad habits, then blame the consumer for the negative impact.

Local coverage of the eclectic group that countered Westboro Baptist in Sioux Falls

Promoting love in face of hatred | | Argus Leader

Here's a bit,

Sometimes people at the rally would look over at the other picketers and gloom would settle on their faces.

"They were getting sucked into the ugly spirit," Tove says.

"Someone would say to them, 'Hey, man, that's not what we're here for,' and we pulled them back into the fold. I watched a whole bunch of people who don't believe in Jesus and don't believe in God sing 'Amazing Grace' in support of all the people who did."

On the one hand, I'd sure rather live around a benevolent group of non-Christians than the Westboro group.

On the other hand, as the article points out, the picketed SF churches (the Catholic cathedral and two liberal protestant congregations) chose to go on about their Sundays and not engage/publicize WBC. Which I think was was the right approach in this case.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum sponsors Sudan project

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Northern Plains Gain - new Anglican witness in Rapid City

Check out Jason Ballard's blog, A Tribe Called Anglican.

Jason just settled into the the western part of SD, in time to get a few feet of snow.

Three current posts on prayer, including thoughts from the Archbishop of Canterbury.