Monday, January 31, 2011

SAME Judges sanctioned abortion and predatory lending

It was that "moderate" Burger Court: Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Blackmun, Brennan, Douglas, Marshall, Powell, Rehnquist, Stewart and White.

Rehnquist and White dissented from the abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade (1973).

But the whole gang found Kumbaya unanimity in forbidding your state to pass laws to protect you from excessive interest and other forms of usury inflicted on you by credit card companies or other lenders operating from other states. That was in Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corporation (1978).

I wish I were a lawyer, better equipped to survey the Burger Court's various decisions for common themes.

These two cases alone inflicted conflict and chaos on the nation, creating problems as acute today as in the 70s. Arguable rights to poor decisions became cultural norms, and moral calls for discernment and restraint were refuted as busy-body intrusions.

Hey, other 49 states, if you think South Dakota usury culture doesn't impact you...

Check this out.

Short email to my legislators re: the usury bills. People, please speak up.

"It is my hope that you will support efforts like HB 1223 & HB 1224 to curb the excesses of payday and title lenders. These loans are simply not good financial practice any more than smoking is good for the health. The state has curbed smoking venues - it is my hope that we can curb lending practices that keep people in debt."

Please contact your legislators. The State Legislature site is quite friendly for this. It is very important that people speak up. Usurious lenders are organized and they depend upon borrowers' two part shame:

1) the stigma of having been in debt in the first place;

2) the stigma of having entered into the really stupid deal these payday and title lenders offer.

So please, get over your shame. They advertised as nice people who would help you out of a bad spot. Yeah, you got suckered. We all do from time to time, in different ways.

But why consider yourself worse than someone who would charge a neighbor 500% interest on a loan and roll it over more than once to bury him even deeper in the debt? What kind of neighbor takes the title to your clunker and then keeps it, giving you the choice between keeping the heat on in January or getting to work in February?

Please speak up - many legislators will blow these issues off if you don't.

BREAKING: two bills introduced to combat SD usury

South Dakota Representative Steve Hickey and State Senator Joni Cutler have introduced two bill that seek to curb the crushing interest and profiteering of "Payday" lenders:

House Bill 1223 aims to share the wealth of usurers for the common good, amending the lender licensing law to require a $5,000 fee for would-be payday and title lenders.

House Bill 1224, which includes sponsoring Representatives Hickey, Blake, Elliott, Fargen, Feinstein, Hubbel, B. Hunhoff, Killer, Kirschman, Kloucek, Kopp, S. Nelson, Russell, Sidgestad and Verchio, along with Senators Cutler, Holein, Lederman and Schleckeway, caps the interest rate (which can rise into the hundreds of percent) at 36% annual percentage rate (APR).

Please contact and encourage your South Dakota legislators to support restrictions on usury. You can look them up and track the bills at the State Legislative site.

South Dakota: bad loans are the norm and go unexamined

And by "bad loan" I don't mean one that isn't repaid. I mean a bad financial instrument.

"Pay Day" loans are short term advances, not requiring collateral (although there are also "Title Loans" by which folks can borrow by signing over their car or other property). Pay Day loans, in particular, have horrific interest rates and, in South Dakota, a "four time rollover" provision that allows the lender to extend the repayment period to the point that the borrower ultimately pays way more than the original loan principle and interest combined.

When I Googled "pay day loans south dakota," the first two and a half pages of listings were advertisements for Pay Day lenders. It wasn't until the third page that I ran into this:

South Dakota Payday Loan Laws | Debt Consolidation Payday Loans, which begins:

"South Dakota is one of those very few states that have made almost no attempts to restrict the predatory nature of short-term cash advances that are issued as payday loans."

The general defense of these loans is that they create small businesses. But South Dakotans recently took the risk of cutting into bar & casino profits by banning smoking in most establishments. There is no reason that an inherently bad financial business couldn't be regulated to protect consumers, who would inevitably spend the money sucked up by usury in other sectors of the economy.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

BBC News - South Sudan referendum: 99% vote for independence

h/t Fr. Ryan Hall for the link this morning!

If the result is confirmed, the new country is set to formally declare its independence on 9 July.

Hundreds of officials and diplomats gathered in Juba at the grave of rebel leader John Garang for the first official announcement of the results.

"The prayer I say the people of Southern Sudan have been waiting for for 55 years, the prayer of a country," Episcopalian Archbishop Daniel Deng said as he opened the ceremony.

"Bless the name of this land, Southern Sudan," he said.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Still trying to wring a sermon out of the Sermon on the Mount?

I mean, really, how are any of us going to out-preach Jesus himself?

Tomorrow sports "the Beatitudes," the incredible prologue to Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount." In the Gospel of Matthew, this opens a three chapter manifesto on the values of the kingdom, values which are out of step with (if not hostile to) the values of the world in which we expend most of our resources, including thought and effort.

In "Follow Me to Freedom," co-author Shane Claiborne gives some thoughts that might make for good preaching on the Beatitudes:

"But we are not just troublemakers for the sake of making trouble - we are people who plot goodness and whose commitment to the upside-down kingdom of God collides with the patterns of the world we live in...

After all, the same Paul who wrote in Romans 13 that we are to submit to the authorities uses the same word in Ephesians to say we wrestle against the spiritual demonic 'authorities.' The same Paul who said that the authorities are established by God ends up in jail for subverting them...

Simply put, just because the authorities are established by God doesn't mean God approves of them...the same way a librarian can order books on a shelf."

There are other good thoughts in this vein provided by Anglican blogger Sanctus, who applies them unsparingly to the church when it "falls in love with the things of this world,"

"They did not expect him to take on the enemy within. But that is exactly what Jesus came to do. He came to cleanse the temple and drive out those who had turned it into a den of robbers. The ones he came to judge first were those who should have known better. But they were 'in love with this present world' and did not realize their love affair was little more than a form of spiritual adultery."

An evening hymn

Thou, who in darkness walking didst appear
Upon the waves, and thy disciples cheer,
Come, Lord, in lonesome days, when storms assail,
And earthly hopes and human succours fail.
When all is dark may we behold thee nigh,
And hear thy voice: "Fear not, for it is I."
Christopher Wordsworth, v. 3 of "Day is Gently Sinking" (1863)

Beautiful thoughts on ugly stuff

Fr. Bryan Owen at Creedal Christian linked to this woman's thoughts, and I hope you will be touched by them, too:

"No, I will not try and appease your anger, your disillusionment, your doubts, but God help me weep with you when you weep and love you, serve you, just exactly as you are, lest the monsters, pride and despair, sink their teeth into my soul."

Junk debt usurers continue to leech off of cash-strapped people

CNNmoney reports on record interest rates.

"Revolving debt" is the polar opposite of a mortgage or other loan that goes away as you make payments. Credit cards and other instruments are designed to keep piling on debt and keep the borrower paying.

This is really vile in a time when unemployment is high, wages are stagnant and cost of living is going up. Oh, and when some of the companies doing this stuff received public money to stay in business.

As you look out on that small, aging church

"Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many." Isaiah 51:1-2

The first SoCal church I served as priest in charge had an average member age in the 80s. But several of them were hopeful, forward looking, dedicated leaders. One of them was an elderly lady of prayer, who slipped me this verse from Isaiah on a note one day. She'd perked up reading Scripture about an old couple with no future who became the foundation of God's saving plan for the whole creation.

My little group of senior saints sold off their cozy, familiar chapel and built a multipurpose building closer to the town's growth. Long story short, they transformed into a viable multi-generational congregation.

The verses from Isaiah came up in Morning Prayer today, and I remembered the joy of that church: one usually stoic gentleman coming up to me giddy the first Sunday we filled the parking lot, grabbing my hand and exclaiming, "I knew we could do it - I just didn't think we could do it so soon!"

While much younger than that church started out, my parish here in Sioux Falls still fits the description of a smaller, older mainline congregation. Yet this new year finds us rejoicing in real abundance. 2010 was filled with financial blessings and energetic ministries. We have momentum.

What's interesting is that things fired up in a year in which I was gone quite a bit. I was struggling with family health and financial issues, and finally took two months away on sabbatical.

This, I believe in hindsight, was God's way of bringing out the congregation's strong lay leaders. One of the drawbacks of older congregations is their expectation of a church in which members donate and enjoy fellowship, but in which all "ministry" is done by the clergy. That worked in the 50s, but it's no longer effective in a post-Christian society. Today, every member's spiritual gifts become critical to make the church into what the Bible describes, the thriving "body of Christ" in which each "member" contributes work that benefits the whole.

I think God laid me out, to some extent, to provide a "severe mercy" that brought forth some of our best lay gifts. The Vestry (the governing "board") is excellent. The lay people of the parish initiate ministry ideas and service projects. All give generously.

I wish I could say that I had more creative impact on this evolution of the church. I'm generally an encourager and supporter of lay peoples' ministries, so that was just there. But last year all I really did was evaporate a bit. The Holy Spirit did the rest.

Reflecting on this, a couple of other things strike me:

1) The Isaiah passage rules out haranguing the people into some kind of change. The Prophet speaks to a core group that already "pursues righteousness and seeks the LORD." Hammering a smaller, older congregation in theoretical sermons (not actually sermons, but lectures in disguise) isn't going to connect with what God is doing. What's needed is identification of and investment in key people of faith.

2) Clergy need to step back from the rewards of being in the center of everything. There's no denying that the compliments feel good, but they can produce a symbiosis by which the lay people become passive, the priest gets praise, and the church is satisfied but stagnant.

3) I am thankful that I am in a congregation in which the lay people expect things to happen. That means I get nudged and challenged a bit but it also means rewarding breakthroughs, personally and in the whole parish.

4) At the end of the day, the priest still needs to be the spiritual leader of the congregation. The priest needs to ask the key questions and keep presenting our loving God as the source and focus of all effort and achievement. The priest needs to spot and celebrate holy moments in the peoples' lives, both as individuals and as a congregation. The priest needs to set an example of prayerful reliance upon God, application of Biblical wisdom, and encouraging (and judiciously challenging) the people to grow in Christ.

5) I have changed every congregation I've served, and every congregation I've served has changed me - which is to say that God is faithful and active in the lives of those who seek and serve Him according to the New Testament presentation of "church."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Icy beauty

I proposed to my wife while we were snowed in at Yosemite. No, it wasn't to pass the time or because there was nowhere else to go. Anyway, enjoy this beautiful video of a fascinating cold weather phenomenon:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Honesty becomes me"

Costly Grace: Timothy, Titus, Silas, the Dude who sold them Doughnuts, and the Taxi camel driver...

Parish priest makes a good critique of yet another incoherent, top-down denominational innovation.

"I make no bones about the fact that I do not like the trial use Kalendar of Saints that the Episcopal Church is floating in the attempt to revise the Lesser Feasts and Fasts calendar. It is entitled Holy Women, Holy Men. You can find the daily blurbs here at the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music blog. I think the very name of it belies the politically driven motivations behind it. They could just as easily have called it something like the Holy People of God or even the New Feast Day Calendar. That, combined with the fact that the blog headings include Resources for Same Sex Blessings and Hymnal Revision, I have to cringe at the thought that the powers that be may soon have enough political chips to tackle Prayerbook revision again, but that's neither here nor there for purposes on this blog entry.

I did not like the way new saints were added to the liturgical calendar in a buckshot method at General Convention a few years back now. Heretofore each addition to the calendar of saints had to be proposed and debated on the floor on a proposed saint by saint basis. The way Holy Women, Holy Men was presented as a take it all or leave it all format just did not sit well with me from the get go..."

Yes, Church conventions, especially national church conventions, are pretty much live performances of Dilbert cartoons.

Dean of North Dakota's Episcopal Cathedral will join Roman Catholic Church

The Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota: From Bishop Smith re: Gethsemane Cathedral

h/t TitusOneNine

The new "Ordinariate" offered by Pope Benedict allows Anglicans to come into Rome's jurisdiction and formal fellowship. It is one of the routes of exit being taken by clergy and, in some cases, whole congregations unable to navigate the incoherent leadership and spiritual chaos of the Church of England, the Episcopal Church and other old line Anglican Provinces.

North Dakota's Bishop, Michael Smith, is well regarded as a faithful Christian and a sober voice in the midst of denominational conflict. Even with this good Bishop as his Diocesan, the Dean (the pastor to the Cathedral's congregation) perceived the need to move on. Although a Cathedral Dean is conspicuous, this story is being played out daily all over The Episcopal Church in terms of early clergy retirements, lay people leaving for other churches, or people simply dropping out of church life altogether.

The devil wants to crash the party - the preacher must be a bouncer

Big celebration planned for our Annual Parish Meeting this Sunday. God's really blessed the congregation, "beyond what we could ask or imagine."

Of course the evil one sneaks around, telling us "You deserved it because you are better than others" and "You earned it by hard work."

We've done some things well, it's true, and there are some very devoted, hard working people in the parish.

But as the Book of Common Prayer tells us,

Grace is God's favor toward us, unearned and
undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens
our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

This morning's lesson from Galatians 3 also proclaimed our reliance on God:

Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing? -if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

It is the devil's work to take the focus off of Christ and put it on lesser things. It is the job of the preacher to refute the liar and glorify the the One who brings us God's favor.

I think the preacher also needs to keep the question "Why?" in the congregation's mind. Why did God favor us with particular blessings at particular times? These are often clues to God's purpose for our mission as the body of Christ on the earth.

When God's people celebrate, the preacher must watch for the devil and "show him the door."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TMI or just right?

Wednesday Evening Prayer included Mark's account of the death of John the Baptist.

It is a jarring story in and of itself, made more acute by Mark's unusual amount of detail. In most cases, Mark gives the least detail of the four Gospels, but on this one event he gives more than the others.

Scholars tend to agree that Mark was written for Christians under persecution. Perhaps the account of a righteous and faithful witness, jailed and murdered by the powers-that-be, was important for them.

The powerful are portrayed in all their earthly glory. They drink and party at public expense, they seduce, they place themselves above written and moral law, they make expansive promises and use positions of influence to manipulate for petty, personal agendas. There's nothing the righteous can do when the rich and powerful decided to throw their weight around.

Yet Mark is clear that John is "righteous and holy" - even those who do him in know it.

Like the Christians for whom Mark wrote, we have to remember that earthly outcomes are not the measure of our worth in God's sight. That reality is affirmed in the evening Psalm,

But God will ransom my life; he will snatch me from the grasp of death.
Do not be envious when some become rich, or when the grandeur of their house increases;
For they will carry nothing away at their death, nor will their grandeur follow them.
Though they thought highly of themselves while they lived, and were praised for their success,
They shall join the company of their forebears, who will never see the light again.
Those who are honored, but have no understanding, are like the beasts that perish.
Psalm 49:15-20

Sioux Falls-based health system will use $100 million gift to fight breast cancer

Sanford employees received the following message:

While we planned to announce specifics about Mr. Sanford’s $100 million gift this summer some additional information is becoming public via media channels today. I want you, our Sanford family, to hear the new details first.

It is with a sense of pride and conviction that we confirm that Mr. Sanford’s $100 million gift will launch a national breast cancer initiative. According to the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, breast cancer is second only to lung cancer for new diagnoses (1,383,523) and deaths (458,367) annually. An estimated 10 million women are living with diagnosed breast cancer. This is a very personal cause for nearly everyone, whether it be with a mother, wife, sister, daughter or friend.

As promised, during the third week of August we will unveil the new breast cancer initiative. Built on the foundation of exceptional cancer programs at Sanford, this new initiative will create a world class center for the research, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

Kelby K. Krabbenhoft

President and CEO

Sharia compliant loans - are they proof that lenders can survive without usury?

Sharia Law Gains Foothold in US—Federal Judge Upholds Government Funding of Islam

Personally, I am not offended by Sharia-compliant loans marketed to the Muslim community. Such a product is no different than Kosher food on supermarket shelves.

I realize that the case cited in the article is a question about Federal dollars (our tax money) put to use for Muslims in a way that would send the left howling if applied to Christians, and that's a fair discussion.

But what really intrigues me is that loans that comply with Islamic law would have to be non-usurious. Islam is still strict about God's prohibition of excessive interest and gimmicks that keep borrowers stuck in debt for the lender's profit.

If AIG can come up with a Sharia-compliant loan, is it evidence that the interest rates charged to the rest of us are unnecessary and gratuitous?

h/t Dakota Voice

"Some days we are not meant to catch fish..."

Amazing photo and glorious thoughts over here:

Not Another Episcopal Church Blog: Upon Further Reflection

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Single issue, blind faith zealots

The Presbyterian blogger known as The Reformed Pastor nails the partisan denominational bureaucrats who make up the "Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,"

Gosnell: The Silence is Deafening « The Reformed Pastor

"It’s now been seven days since the Philadelphia Inquirer broke the story of the grand jury report on abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. So far, neither the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, nor its member organizations including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and Women’s Division, and various mainline church caucuses, have had a single word to say about Gosnell.

Keep in mind that this was a major news story that involved the killing of at least seven babies (and very possibly hundreds more) as well as at least one woman...

Now, here’s the contrast that comes to mind. After the mass murder in Tucson, the mainline denominations, along with the National Council of Churches, leapt in with a variety of statements. For example, the NCC has had four different items on its home page about Tucson. The Presbyterian News Service has published five (including one from the Religion News Service on [some] Jewish reaction to Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel”), the Episcopal News Service two (including one that tried to link the Tucson murders to the debate over health care reform), and the UM GBCS three in their January 18 newsletter and another one on gun control in their January 25 edition. Most of them were variations on the two themes of greater regulation of guns and gun accessories as well as the need to 'tone down' the political rhetoric...

Instead, through their creature the RCRC, the mainline denominations are pushing Congress to do what 80% of the American people, as well as a similar percentage of members of mainline churches don’t want to see happen, which is for abortion to become the one “right” that all of us have to subsidize the exercise thereof..."

Single issue, blind faith zealots - with very bloody hands in this case. It appears that even common sense health regulation of legal abortion clinics in Pennsylvania was scaled back in fear of the screeching from the abortion absolutists.

Folks on the left grouse about South Dakota's restrictions of abortion access. A plague of back alley bloodshed is threatened if the junk science and junk law of Roe v. Wade are one day overturned. But Gosnell's house of horrors happened with Roe as the law of the land, in a state where the government kowtowed to the abortion zealots rather than the enacted safety codes of the state. Gosnell is what happens when people claim to be "civil" when what they really mean is, "We're just scared when the crazy people scream at us."

I've participated in silent prolife demonstrations, saying nothing and just standing in place. I've never had so much profanity, screaming and hostile gestures come my way in my entire life. The current calls for "civility" ring hollow when the abortion zealots carry on like that, when front "religious" groups can only endorse but not correct their excesses, and when media coverage manifestly takes their side.

I'm surprised the Philadelphia Inquirer is allowed to stay in business after outing the evil at Gosnell's legal abortion clinic. There are certainly lunatics writing letters to the editors, blaming pro-life people for the carnage and advertising for other clinics to serve women put out by Gosnell's closing.

Civility? We're still a society in which the most unhinged shriekers get their way, even if it is bloody. And they are lobbying to have those who object pay for it as well - on the letterheads of mainline "churches."

What does Anglican Christianity say about the Bible? Does the Episcopal Church agree?

Kevin Kallsen's Anglican TV provides this video of Archbishop Mouneer Anis' (Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt in North Africa and the Horn of Africa) lecture, "Recovering the Word of God for the Anglican Communion." The Archbishop gives a good summary of historic Anglican statements about the Bible and how its place in the life of the church.

Kendall Harmon has a full transcript of the address here.

What Archbishop Anis' describes is a Christian fellowship that gives the Bible great authority on paper, but not in practice:

"It sounds from all I mentioned - all these Resolutions and Articles - that the Anglican Communion is a very Biblical Communion founded on the Word of God, formed by it, and our practices are examined by it. It also gives the impression that we are committed to read and interpret the Scripture together as Communion and with our sister churches in order to define the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of the Holy Scriptures. But the question is: ‘Are we really doing this?’ I honestly think that we are far from it. In fact if we followed what we and our predecessors decided since 1888 we would not be an impaired and dysfunctional Communion today."

The official website of The Episcopal Church does not have a formal statement on the Bible, but links to a series of papers on the Bible's place in the denomination. Some of the material affirms the vow made by all clergy at ordination, "The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, containing all things necessary to salvation."

But one of the main papers slips into the loopholes created over the years,

"Keeping Scripture, tradition and reason in balance" (Russell & Vogelsang, p. 5). This is the widely taught but made up "three legged stool," attributed to Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, who never wrote anything of the kind. Hooker believed that the Bible was primary, with reason a God-given tool for humans to understand the Word and tradition the church's means for passing on Biblical truth from generation to generation. He did not place them in any kind of egalitarian "balance."

"A Bible study session involves—as a first step—looking at the historical, literary, and theological settings of the text" (ibid). That's exactly wrong. The first step is to read the text itself, in context of the surrounding passages and other related Bible passages, to get at the meaning on its own terms. Then it is time to look at commentaries and other resources that might shed light on context, difficult words, and possibly competing interpretive traditions. Going to commentaries first is to intrude secondary opinions on the text, opinions which are frequently overturned as newer commentaries come out, based on more recent research into history and languages. There is a profound internal church problem when commentaries, which are filled with conjecture (albeit conjecture based on good research in many cases), are given absolute credibility and the Scriptures, supposedly containing "all things necessary to salvation," are held in doubt.

The Episcopal approach has become too much an exercise in saying, "This Bible text was about something way-back-when that isn't relevant to us today, so let's just apply our superior wisdom to stuff that really interests and pleases us."

This approach to the Bible, in which there is no assumption of a coherent message pointing to Christ the Savior, leaves us with a Jesus who is no more than another accident of history, easily defined and contained by reference books: "Jesus came out of a rabbinic tradition that was and is far more interested in raising questions about Scripture than in answering questions" (ibid).

What Episcopalians wind up with is chilling. Compare this teaching from the current Episcopal Church:

"What the Church chooses not to read in public worship also shapes the way we relate to Scripture... The lectionary of the church provides us with an outline of what the church considers relevant for the church today" (op. cit. p. 3),

to what the Anglican Reformers said in the Preface to the first Book of Common Prayer (1549),

For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once in the year, intending thereby, that the Clergy, and especially such as were Ministers of the congregation, should (by often reading, and meditation of God's word) be stirred up to godliness themselves, and be more able to exhort others by wholesome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the truth. And further, that the people (by daily hearing of holy Scripture read in the Church) should continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion.

To the Anglican Reformers, the Scriptures were inherently relevant to human transformation. The Episcopal Church documents, if I am reading them correctly, say that the Scriptures are relevant only when they support what interesting people find interesting, and that there is no unifying truth, only the truths claimed by each group of interesting people.

Monday, January 24, 2011

When good announcements go bad...

Amazing but true exchange at our 10 a.m. service yesterday:

Me: So bring a main dish or salad to share and come celebrate at our annual parish meeting next Sunday. I see our Junior Warden has a classic Ray Nitschke Packers jersey on today.

Jr. Warden: Yes, and I wear it proudly.

Lady two pews behind Jr. Warden: *cough*Bears*cough*Bears

Worship Leader: The church is amazing. It's the only place I'd shake hands with someone wearing a Packers jersey.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

23rd on the 23rd

Giving thanks this Sunday, January 23rd, on the 23rd anniversary of my ordination as a priest.

During my sabbatical last summer, I was blessed to celebrate a wedding at St. Peter's Church in San Pedro, CA, at the same altar where I first broke the bread for God's people on January 23rd, 1988.

"For what, indeed, is a position of spiritual authority but a mental tempest in which the ship of the heart is constantly shaken by the storms of thoughts, tossed back and forth, until it is shattered by a sudden excess of words like hidden rocks of the sea?" Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule I.9

Reading that, I am so grateful for the lessons of Daily Morning and Evening Prayer that have sustained me these 23 years, including last night:

"And Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, 'Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?'” Mark 4:39-40

Priesthood or any other Christian vocation means little if Christ is not there to protect, correct and redirect the storm-tossed heart.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Membership without message is misleading

Some thoughts from my upcoming sermon, based on Sunday's Epistle. Parish home groups have been studying I Corinthians.

It is uncomfortable the hear St. Paul say, "I thank God that I baptized none of you... For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel." He leaves himself open to the empty but effective argument that he "changed what Jesus said." After all, Jesus left his followers with instructions to "Go into all the world, baptizing... and teaching..." Paul seems to separate the baptizing and the teaching in today's Epistle.

But Paul isn't attacking baptism itself. He's after the goofy way that the Corinthians have reduced it to a mere sign of membership status, and done so in ways that mislead others. Instead of membership in Christ, which is baptism's true meaning, the Corinthians have made it a ritual of membership in cliques.

Paul points out that the Corinthians are valuing their baptisms based on the popularity of competing baptizers, including Paul himself. When Paul acknowledges reports from a faction within the congregation, "Chloe's people," he is admitting that there is a "Paul clique" in Corinth. The church is quarreling, each clique proclaiming "My baptizer is better than yours!"

Paul shows the absurdity of this by asking if any of the baptizers, including Paul himself, belong in place of Christ. "Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"

Then he goes back to the message that gives baptism and every other aspect of the church meaning: "the message about the cross."

Christ's offering is unique, and anything else by which the Corinthians attempt to define themselves will be misleading.

The Corinthians try to form entourages around celebrity missionaries, but none of the missionaries can do what Christ did.

The Corinthians try to argue about the best strategies for living among pagans, yet none of their approaches have the purity or the saving power of Christ's offering.

The Corinthians try to segregate by social class, but this only shows that they've locked Christ out of their gatherings.

The Corinthians try to rank themselves by "spiritual gifts," but this only draws attention to big egos rather than to Christ, who gave all members gifts so they could work together as his body on earth.

Paul's emphasis on meaning is not set against the sacramental means of church unity. Rather, he's frustrated that the Corinthians enter sacramental worship "in an unworthy manner," dishonoring Christ as they exalt individuals and cliques. He tells the Corinthians to examine themselves before receiving Holy Communion, which he defines as "a proclamation of the Lord's death until he comes." His teaching is not just words and ideas; it honors the outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace of "the message about the cross."

Paul's teaching is as urgent today as it was in first century Corinth. The State Church of England is considering baptismal rites that emphasize membership in a vague "spirituality" rather than new life in Christ. The Episcopal Church has stumbled into an unwritten dogma of "baptismal covenant," by which people do not need or receive spiritual change, but are simply entitled to certain perks for becoming club members.

Finite things - institutional survival and status, favored cliques and egos - displace the divine Christ who humbled himself so that people could find "new and unending life in him." May we rediscover the meaning of membership in the church, and no longer mislead one another toward lesser things.

Interesting link, but the comments thread has Northern Plains treasures galore

TitusOneNine - (Living Church) North Dakota Episcopal Bishop Proposes Becoming Cathedral Dean

The story is important and gives insight into Episcopal church work on the Northern Plains.

But I recommend that you read the comments at TitusONENine, which include clergy in North Dakota, South Dakota and Canada. You'll find windows through which to gaze on our unique mission field...

North Dakota: "I am one of the Canon Missioners for North Dakota. For me that means that I am serving 6 of the 21 congregations as Priest In Charge. They are located as far north as the Canadian border and as far south as the South Dakota border. I reside in Bismarck. Five of them are Native American Congregations on Reservations and one is an city congregation in Minot. I supervise and support the ministries of about eleven locally trained Deacons and Priests who serve in those congregations. We are making use of a partnership with the ELCA way up north and have joined their cluster/ecumenical ministry.

If we did not make use of Canons that allow for local training for non-stipendiary clergy many congregations in North Dakota would have closed. In some of our settings it isn’t that we are keeping our doors open when there are other congregations around that our members could have joined. This truly is a way to be missional within our tradition and maintain a congregation with consistent sacramental worship. It requires thousands of dollars to be used for travel. More than $40,000 a year is in the Bishop’s and Canon Missioner’s Travel Allowance. With $4.00 per gallon gas on its way that will need to increase or fewer miles will have to be driven. We try very hard to make our Canon Missioner assignments work to their best serving across cultures and across the miles.

Only three of our congregations can afford full-time clergy with their own resources. Native Ministry is largely dependent upon a base budget grant from the Episcopal Church. If we lost that revenue the Bishop would need to move to Standing Rock to keep Native work active in the diocese and then to be 1/3 time Bishop for North Dakota.
One of our greatest stretches in North Dakota is that a large population of Sudanese Episcopalians arrived here some years ago and have a congregation in Fargo-Moorhead. Even with all of our other economic challenges we try to raise funding for them to have at least a part-time priest in charge as well. They have three deacons, one priest and a congregation that is over 200."

Canada: Travel costs are -enormous-. Now while I’m in Canada, I’m working in a semi-remote area and to get down to my Bishop’s office for a meeting, it’s a 40 minute ferry ride, and around 5-6 hour drive. So that means staying overnight somewhere. One of my parishes is a 2-2.5 hour boat ride if I hitch a ride with the RCMP, a 6 hour fishing boat ride, or 30 minute plane ride. The first two are free, but only occasional. Flights are $300 round trip. While the flights are covered, it’s still a paperwork nightmare, and dependant on the weather. I’m trying to finance my own boat, but the costs are fightningly huge.

But on the whole, I’d say this was the best calling God ever called me to. The people, both First Nations and non are great. The First Nations communities have opened their arms and their homes to myself and my family, including apprenticing my son by one of the Master Carvers out here.

I’d love to stay out here for the rest of my ministry if I can. Lots of work to do, but it beats living in a city any day of the year. People look at me like I’m nuts, but I’d rather be out here doing God’s work than jockeying for a position amongst the other younger clergy.

South Dakota: think isolation is very much an issue as well. That’s an excellent point. I am probably a good 45-50 minute drive from the nearest Episcopal Church other than the one I serve. Luckily, I’m right on an interstate, so its not a major deal for me if I need to touch base with other clergy or the Bishop for whatever reason. But there are parished that are a good 2+ hours from anywhere. Clergy that serve those parishes are on the front lines. There aren’t clinical counselors or psychiatrists to refer parishioners to. There isn’t any sort of collegial ministerial associations in most towns. It can be depressing for priests because there is no ready support structure for them.

Case in point, I serve in a town of roughly 22,000 people. We have one of the major universities in the State, so that might go up to as high as 25,000+ people in town during the semester, give or take. We are the 4th biggest city population-wise in the entire state of South Dakota, bigger even than the state capital

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The '89 Camry was willed to my wife by her grandmother. My mom bought it from my wife for a nominal sum, then gave it to my brother, who eventually gave it back to me.

It served us well, but today its almost 200,000 miles caught up with it. No brakes, a cylinder that needed components, lots of body rust and all the exertion in the snow and subzero temps created conditions that made it more costly to fix the car than to buy something else.

So, I will be out chasing down the next ride for a couple of days... expect blogging to be light.

Creator, creatures, new creation

From today's Daily Office lessons:

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth; who frustrates the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners; who turns back the wise, and makes their knowledge foolish; who confirms the word of his servant, and fulfills the prediction of his messengers... Isaiah 44-45

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 'Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'
Ephesians 5

Rep. Dave Lust clarifies School of Mines charter benefits

Received by reply to query email:

"Privatization" is probably too strong of a word for my conception. A charter university would be more accurate.

At any rate, the benefits that would accrue to an institution (not just SDSM&T) pursuing this path would be greater autonomy and flexibility. Freedom from state and board of regents oversight would allow a charter university to set its own course. Specifically, it would have more freedom in the area of admissions, tuition, salary policy, and procurement to name a few.

I believe more autonomy and independence would create a tremendous opportunity for any state higher education institution to prosper.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


How priceless is your love, O God! your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights.

Psalm 36:7-8

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology issues statement on privatization issues: "currently, no plans to go private"

The following was sent from the school's administration to the student body:

Ongoing news reports have noted that South Dakota state legislator and House Majority Leader David Lust (representing District 34 in Pennington County) intends to introduce a bill that would allow the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to convert to a private college.

This is not legislation that either the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology or the Board of Regents has proposed or requested.

Rep. Lust has made it clear that his proposal would allow, not force, the School of Mines to pursue privatization, should we choose to do so. We currently have no plans to go private.

As the discussion proceeds, the School of Mines will ensure any proposed option guarantees that the institution will retain both a high-quality and affordable education. As we have done to-date, we will continue to grow the institution’s enrollment and research enterprise. Again, the School of Mines currently has no plans to to go private.

Members of the media seeking opinions on the matter have and can be expected to approach students on campus. We do not intend to interfere with such conversations.

Vice President for University Relations Graham Garner is the only officially designated spokesperson for the School of Mines and is working closely with President Robert A. Wharton and other senior administrators to coordinate responses.

Will $100 Million go from South Dakota to embryonic stem cell experiments?

Disclaimer: I have a part time job at Sanford Medical Center. The info shared in this blog post is drawn from stuff in the news, not from any sources within the Sanford system.

South Dakota credit card mogul and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford is giving another $100,000,000 to medical research, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

Sanford would not say where this particular gift is directed, according to the article. He indicated that details would be revealed in August.

Sanford has been funding significant research, especially toward a cure for Type 1 (Juvenile) Diabetes.

The possibility of embryonic stem cell experiments has come up with recent Sanford development and connections. In South Dakota, embryonic stem cell research is prohibited, but Sanford has built relationships with clinics in California, where it is encouraged.

The Sanford/Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, CA has a specific center for stem cell research. The Institute's events page has an upcoming fund raiser for embryonic stem cell research.

Embryonic stem cell experimentation is seen as a potential source of repair for significant medical conditions and injuries, because embryonic cells are able to differentiate into almost any other kind of cell the body needs.

However, they are obtained by destroying conceived human embryos. In addition, adult stem cells have shown some promising results without the attendant moral problem.

Quiz: Who's Charles Palantine?

I'm surprised that the finger pointing and punditry over the Arizona shootings haven't invoked Senator Charles Palantine.

He was the fictional Senator who was stalked by Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese's 1976 Taxi Driver.

Secret Service agents chased away the menacing Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro). But the movie, sans ideology, reminds us that there are lurking mad people among us, and that they will from time to time erupt for reasons that make total sense to them but have nothing to do with the thoughts by which we arrange our worldviews.

Here's the iconic scene from the movie. Travis Bickle, Jared Loughner; folks like this are out there and, while we might debate the best means to help, contain or otherwise deal with them, our political thoughts do not create or animate them. (LANGUAGE CONTENT WARNING):

Some ironic beauty in this morning's Psalms

January 18th is the church's commemoration of the Apostle Peter.

The morning Psalms, which just happened to come up at Tuesday Morning Prayer and were not specific to the Saint's day, included Psalm 26,

Give judgment for me, O LORD, for I have lived with integrity; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

Test me, O LORD, and try me; examine my heart and my mind.

For your love is before my eyes; I have walked faithfully with you.

Peter, an observant Jew who continued to observe traditional hours of prayer and their associated Scriptures, would have heard and even recited these words as he journeyed to proclaim Jesus - the same Jesus to whom he had been unforgettably unfaithful. Peter had indeed "faltered" and run away when bystanders identified him as a follower of Jesus the prisoner. His "heart and mind" failed the test, and he emphatically denied knowing Jesus.

Did these Psalms sear his soul as he heard them again and again over the years?

If so, other sacred words surely provided reassurance and comfort. This morning also offered Psalm 28, which ends

Save your people and bless your inheritance; shepherd them and carry them for ever.

This evokes the day that Jesus, risen from the dead, walked with Peter and restored him. Jesus made Peter a "shepherd," telling him to "Feed my sheep."

The church, whether built on the rock of Peter the Apostle (Catholic view) or the faith with which he proclaimed Jesus in a good moment (Protestant view), is full of faltering, failing and sometimes faithless people. Yet they have hope in the same Lord who saved, blessed, shepherded and carried Peter, and who still comes to do his work through people like him.

South Dakota's Senators jointly reject partisan explanations of AZ shootings

Senators: Challenges demand open dialogue | | Argus Leader

Sens. Tim Johnson (D) and John Thune (R) released this statement:

While holding a public event Jan. 8, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, along with a number of her constituents and staff, was shot by a deranged man.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy, as well as their families and friends.

At this difficult time, our focus should be on helping them through this tragedy.

However, since these horrific acts were carried out, there have been those who would like to point fingers or place blame on one political party or the other. This will not help the healing process, nor will it contribute to lasting solutions to the major issues that face our country and Congress.

It is important to remember that we are all Americans first and foremost and that is why, despite having run against one another in a hard-fought campaign eight years ago, the two of us work together even when we disagree.

During the months leading up to that election, we participated in several public forums and debates, giving voters an opportunity to hear our differences on issues. Those events began and ended with a handshake, and since that time we have, and will, continue to work alongside one another with the best interests of our state in mind.

We now have served together in the Senate for six years. We certainly have not always agreed on every issue, but we always have respected one another. Where we can find balance, we reach for it, and when it comes to South Dakota, we put the state and our constituents first.

We enjoy traveling around South Dakota, meeting with constituents and doing our best to help the people of our great state. As we hope and pray for the recovery of all of the injured victims of this shooting and mourn for those lost, we will continue to meet with constituents across South Dakota.

It is through open dialogue that we will find solutions to our nation's most pressing challenges.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fr. Robert Wagner, RIP

Received by email from the Diocese of South Dakota:

It is with sure and certain hope in the resurrection promised by our Lord Jesus Christ that I write to you today.

At approximately 2:00 am this morning, January 17, 2012, the Very Rev. Robert Wagner died peacefully with loved ones at his side. Two Requiem Eucharist celebrations are being planned. The first will take place at Calvary Cathedral, Sioux Falls on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm. The second will take place at Emmanuel Church, Rapid City on Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm. Further details will be sent out as plans are finalized.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon him.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon him.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant him peace.

via Dean Ward Simpson, Calvary Cathedral

Canon Wagner's distinguished service to the church here included time at Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls, my current parish. Family tragedies and his own illnesses did not dull his sharp mind and vibrant personality. TLF+

Book Review: "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake"

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, Doubleday, 2010

I had a couple of sick days last week, not to mention it being winter and stay-in-the-house time. So I had a chance to read Aimee Bender's latest novel. The author teaches at my alma mater, USC, and I saw a release about the book in an alumni magazine.

The story is about a girl who, at an early age, discovers that she feels others' hidden emotions when she eats the food they prepare.

In terms of this main character, Rose, Bender avoids formula. The strange gift is in some ways a curse, exposing the child to things for which she's not ready and which force painful shifts in her world. Although it opens some later opportunities, the gift seldom helps her. It is a novelty at best, a wound that refuses to heal much of the time. Only in adulthood does Rose begin to find constructive uses, but they are tentative beginnings rather than an ending to her story.

That being said, Bender neutralizes this central dilemma in the book's long middle passage. Rose simply learns to eat factory processed foods, which only impart factoids about locations and ingredients while sparing her any emotional ingestion. This created a distraction that almost had me set the book aside. The sections of the story where the food/emotion connection is on hold contain some moving material, but it is like a story within a story and I found myself constantly wondering if each scene was setting up the return of Rose's conflict with food.

Also distracting was Bender's decision to omit quotation marks. I think she was trying to suggest the messy spillover of thoughts, actions and emotions - but I'm not sure. I know it slowed me down as I sometimes had to think through and reread conversations that should have carried the story on their own flow.

Don't get me wrong, I was impressed with Bender's writing. Take this scene, in which she draws us into the emotions afflicting Rose's parents, without naming the emotions themselves,

I laughed. Mom laughed. She did not put an arm around him. The calm look I'd seen in her just minutes earlier had stiffened, her eye hollows deepening. Neither of them seemed to understand how things had gotten so strained - at the start of their courtship, Dad had thought Mom's lostness was a sign of her spontaneity and he let her lead the way on weekends, taking the BART around and getting off at unexpected places to buy discarded records at street fairs. Mom had thought Dad's steadiness meant he could handle and help anything, and she loved to watch him mailing his bills, studying, making his lists. All of which he still did.

At my door, my father kept his arm tight around her, but he suddenly seemed stuck there, like a person who stumbles in public and apologizes to the air..

You take good care of that, he told me, sternly, pointing at the stool.

Somebody has to, I said.

For a second, his shoulders tensed, in his blue blazer. I waved goodbye, to get them out of my room. Go to your party, I said. Have fun.

Mom fled first, in a circle of purple. Bye! she called, to Joseph's room. Out we go! said Dad, too loud, as they passed, sparklingly, through the front door.

Of course no writer can avoid formula, so Bender sets the unhappy housewife in an affair, that staple of male porn and female - well - I think it's a kind of chick porn. Not so much about the physicality, but about the endless arranging of thoughts and feelings. Either way, there's one person involved in self-something and the rest of the characters are furniture.

That also happens in this scene, in which Rose and a boy she craves share a first kiss:

The surge built and lifted, and I moved into him closer and he pressed into me, and it was turning a corner, heading down new and urgent byways, driving, gravity pulling us lower, but then both of us began to stop it, slowed everything down. Moved our faces apart. Kissing slowly, slower. Pauses. Embellishments. Punctuation.
See what I mean? Give that scene to a guy, and he shoves in a camera and starts panting. Give it to a girl, and she sits in a corner with a wine cooler and a Thesaurus. Voyeurism either way. There's really only one person involved.

Did I mention that this book with a central dilemma built around food ends with a reflection on... trees???

Despite these various distractions, which certainly reduced my enjoyment of the book, I found parts emotionally powerful and arresting. Likewise, Bender's refusal to make Rose's strange skill a source of disaster on the one hand or salvation on the other deserves applause - that temptation would have to intrude on any writer.

As a Christian, I found some good questions generated by the book. Do I run from any purpose or gift because I associate it with life's painful or unresolved passages? Are there some wonderful realities which, revealed to an ill-equipped child, are overwhelming and burdensome?

On a personal level, my heart was taken with the impact of Joseph, Rose's brother, on the entire family. I won't give any spoilers here. But as the parent of an autistic son (Joseph is not autistic, but he's decidedly "different"), I experienced a ton of moving truth in Bender's portrayal of the family. Which, by the way, is mainly that "middle passage" I mentioned earlier - it could be a stand-alone story since Rose's strange power is irrelevant for most of it.

"The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" has some great passages, but as a whole seems like a couple of good story ideas that did not blend into one.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

He's where a mainstream Episcopalian used to be

Shel: News, Thought, Theology, Teaching.. | Shel – A spiritual director in the grand orthodox Christian tradition

Pastor Shel is a Christian Missionary Alliance church planter here in Sioux Falls. Of late he's been teaching his people, from Scripture, about the dangers of selling the church out as a chaplaincy to one or another of our polarized political ideologies. That's where "broad" Anglicans/Episcopalians used to be: generally respectful of the culture but able to accommodate both critics and defenders of its various aspects. (For those in the vast majority who have no idea what an Episcopalian is, all of what I just said is irrelevant since the institutional Episcopal Church today is an uncritical chaplaincy that bases itself on the fortunes of one faction of one political party).

Shel's finding that many people, even Christians, are quite down with the ideologies, and that they don't flock to a different voice except in drive-bys of sarcasm.

He finds a good companion in the Prophet Jeremiah, who got so fed up with his role that he actually ripped God for choosing him - and had his harshest words written down for the ages:

O LORD, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me.
Jeremiah 20:7

And Shel asks God,

"Why can’t I just be a shiny, veneer-producing, pop-religion spiel-meister?"

"I ask your thanksgivings for _____"

The title of this post is from The Book of Common Prayer 1979, "Prayers of the People" Form II.

There really is a blank to fill in there. I'm sure many people offer thanksgivings in silence, which is fine. But I think that there is so much inspiration and authenticity that flow into a congregation when people speak up to thank God for blessings received.

Today at our 10 a.m. service, there were two wonderful testimonies to gratitude.

First, a group of South Sudanese neighbors came to thank our parish for helping them charter a bus to get their community to an important vote for their homeland. They stood up during the parish announcements to give thanks to God and our congregation, and to share what the referendum meant to them. "We thought that sending a thank you letter was not enough," one said.

Then, a long time parish family asked for a chance to speak. Through tears, the mom shared how her teenage son (an impressively tall acolyte, by the way), who grew up with a number of behavioral challenges and institutional placements, had worked his way back into mainstream high school. The family brought a cake and other refreshments for the celebration after the service, and invited everybody to share their joy.

There was plenty of applause and the social time after the service was boisterous.

I think that sincere and significant thanksgivings like these break down the image of church as a club for people who already "have it all together." Rather, the church is a place where challenged lives can find Christ's help: divine grace from Word and Sacrament, humanly ministered by other challenged people. With Christ's help, there can be transformation.

Sometimes, that transformation is made known only when someone makes bold to speak up and fill in the blank, "Thank you, God, for _____."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Movement to name El Salvador's airport for its modern martyr

SANN - Salvadoran American National Network

At the link, you can sign the online petition to honor Archbishop Romero.

Social Media and the Fall of Tunisia's Dictator

Revolution 2.0: Rebooting Tunisia

"This summer, Slim Amamou published a story showing a sophisticated DNS spoofing technique used by Ali's Internet police to steal Tunisians' logins and passwords for Facebook, Gmail and It revealed the capabilities of Ben Ali's cyberarmy to the Tunisian people and the French-speaking hacking community. (This force, according to our sources, was made up of at least 600 government men and a few contractors.) Ben Ali's cyber police was in fact operating some a kind of community management - but on a country-wide scale.

We ended up with a healthy Tunisian social network, and very good posts on Egyptian and Tunisian online activism (written by activists), not to mention local Barcamp and TEDx endorsement. When massive demonstrations started in December, we felt concerned and offered help. What happened this last month still needs to be documented, but this will be an easy job, thanks to the massive production of videos and pictures by the Tunisian people, the most Internet ready country in this part of the world, and to careful curation by the activist website, now a central part of the Tunisian infosphere. (Nawaat was censored until yesterday.)"

Picked up from this intriguing site.

Banned from Bowls? USC QB goes on mission in Nigeria

University of Southern California Official Athletic Site

"One day we visted the village of Dagon Na Hauwa, where 400 men, women and children were massacred last March by Muslim extremists. We walked with more than 100 children who survived the massacre to visit the mass grave and it was humbling to realize how these children went through such a traumatic event and are still able to laugh and be joyful. It made you thankful for the freedom and safety we have in America.

Another day, I asked some kids my age what was the hardest thing about being a Christian in Nigeria. They said that once they decided to become Christian, they became labeled and thus were a target. They live under constant threat and never knew when they might die. It was encouraging to me to see people stand up for their beliefs, whatever they might be, in spite of those threats."

"Precious in God's sight, and honored..."

Today is the last day for voting in the South Sudan Independence Referendum.

This morning's reading from Isaiah 43 touched me as I prayed for the South Sudanese people, many of them scattered by violence to other countries. Our culture tends to read the Bible for "personal spirituality," but in the South Sudanese and others we see it read as it was first proclaimed, the living word of God to a group of people.

Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, "Give them up," and to the south, "Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth- everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."

May their efforts to build a new way of life be blessed. Their flag is poignant:

Black is the color of the people.

Red is the color of blood, remembering many lost lives.

Green is the color of a potentially abundant land.

Blue is the color of the life-giving Nile River.

The star represents the unifying of South Sudanese states into one nation; some say it is like the Epiphany Star of Bethlehem that drew people from near and far to salvation.

And finally, just sneaking in with thin lines, White is the color of peace. May it come to their land.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Carson Clark: "We're all schismatics"

He continues to knock out great thoughts with economy of words.

In recent weeks a significant number of Episcopalians have been calling me a “schismatic,” which is a terribly offensive accusation within the Anglican sphere. The spirit behind the word is clearly one of anger, bitterness, and contempt. Part of me finds that’s laughable since I wasn’t an Anglican till well after the split. Yet there’s another sense to which it’s true. I have aligned myself within one of the new groups after all. No doubt this reflects my newness to the Anglican tradition as much as it does my personality, but I feel no need to defend myself. I’ll tell Episcopalians exactly what they want to hear: I openly acknowledge being a schismatic, although I’d nuance that by insisting we’re all schismatics...

Check out his explanation of that thought.

With our kid in an Engineering environment, do we give up hope for grandkids?

South Dakota opportunities...

1) Sioux Falls has a good Library system. The current director, Sally Felix, retires on Feb. 25th, and Mayor Mike Huether will be seeking the right person to fill the job.

2) Are you an Attorney, with your law school debts behind you and maybe more interest in quality of life than big income? South Dakota's many small towns and rural areas need you:

[SD Chief Justice John] Gilbertson also talked about the decline of lawyers in South Dakota's small towns, saying it's created "a rural sea of justice denied."

Cities have seen a sharp decline in available lawyers for hire over the years, and many of the lawyers who remain in rural areas are close to retirement age, Gilbertson said.

The economic burden for opening a private practice can be too much for recent law school graduates, he added.

Gilbertson said the issue cannot be ignored, but he opposes using public dollars without a solution.

"At this point, no concrete plan exists," he said.

I would welcome the immigration of an Episcopalian/Anglican Library Director. And our Diocese has churches out serving those towns for you Attorneys.

A prayer for Rep. Giffords' healing

[Jesus said], "And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” Luke 13:16

God of our ancestors, faithful keeper of Covenant promises, we thank you that you look with favor on Gabrielle Giffords, a daughter of Abraham. Thank you that her life is preserved. As Yeshua healed the unnamed woman with the chronic illness, against all expectations, please touch Gabrielle's grievous wound with healing. Restore her whole being to soundness and restore her days to the vocation of public service that you gave her. We bless your holy Name. Amen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One of tonight's Psalms provided prayer for the hassled

Several contacts (phone, email, Facebook) today came from people who were dealing with all kinds of "interference." Weird stuff kept happening that disrupted good things they were trying to do for others.

Psalm 14 was appointed for Evening Prayer, and I found that these verses helped me intercede for the people suffering these attacks:

4 Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers who eat up my people like bread and do not call upon the LORD?

5 See how they tremble with fear, because God is in the company of the righteous,of [offer the names of those who are under attack].

6 Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, but the LORD is the refuge of [offer the names again].

The lesson tonight was encouraging, too. It shows the value of carrying others' needs to Jesus, and his compassionate power in response. He also models our need to sustain our work with prayer.

"That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, 'Everyone is searching for you.' He answered, 'Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.' And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons." Mark 1:32-39

Give God the glory... or the devil his due?

I'm home today with a bug of some kind. But I've had two conversations (one by phone, one on the internet) with folks asking the same basic question,

"How do you know if adverse circumstances are God redirecting you, or the devil sabotaging you?"

"I don't know", is my honest answer. In the New Testament, the first Christian missionaries gave both answers, without explaining how they discerned the difference:

"And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them."

"For we wanted to come to you--certainly I, Paul, did, again and again--but Satan stopped us."

Any Christians out there have some thoughts? Folks of other faiths that posit a good God and a genius of evil in opposition? Sorry, atheists, to exclude you but by definition you would not assign any supernatural agency to such events.

Or am I just an ungodly malcontent?

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

Cold as it seems, maybe I've answered my own question. If God seems exasperating, perhaps it is because my list of expectations is too long, my recognition of essential blessings too short.

Simplicity of life gave me great freedom way back when, both pre- and post-ordination. But I was never at home with the "progressive" church's sexual permissiveness, nor was I at home with celibacy. Marriage was the right, God-honoring way for me.

But marriage and simplicity are seldom meant for each other. Even the Bible recognizes this:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.

Maddeningly, the Bible just says, "That's how it is." There's no remedy for the complexity of family life. There is praise for it, and warnings against running from it or trying "do overs" (serial marriage, which we've normed in the West).

And as most husbands will tell you, it isn't just about pleasing the wife, although a happy wife means a happy home and an unhappy wife means no home (hence the aphorism "I'm in the dog house.") There are kids to provide for from birth through - uh, does it ever end? - and this includes a God-given command to guide them in the faith. With longer life spans, there are parents, possibly sets for both spouses, who must be honored (yeah, God's word)- often with years of specialized medical care.

So, back to last night's post, yes, I am not content when the snowblower and the car break down. I'm not content when money set aside for one set of obligations must be raided for nuisance bills. I feel discouraged and exasperated, and those feelings color my perception of God. But then again we have our food and clothing - and way more than that, compared to most of the world's population. And a neighbor came and cleared the driveway for the second time this winter. So there are blessings to acknowledge.

Am I a conflicted mess? You betcha. Which throws me back on the hope and comfort I read in this morning's Epistle:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is God an aggravating, discouraging, disheartening and exasperating Dad?

Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.

Prepare your tiny violins, crying baby imitations, and other expressions of "Just get over yourself."

So I just helped scores of neighbors get the money to charter a bus to travel safely through winter weather (see the two preceding posts). You know what? It made me feel good. I won't lie. I was even - gasp - a bit uplifted and proud of my efforts.

Within 48 hours of that, my snow blower, which had been fully serviced prior to the winter, broke down as I tried to clear my driveway and sidewalks.

Even better, my car is losing traction on even the least bit of ice or mushy snow - several near accidents and exciting post-red light slides through intersections. It's also emitting a burning aroma and losing power going up hills.

The story is told of St. Teresa of Avila, stuck with her broken down cart on a muddy path, shaking her fist at God and snarling, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few."

I'm with her at the moment. The predictable "No good deed goes unpunished" crap of the last few days is, well, predictable.

Some will say, "Maybe it's not God, but the devil lashing out at you for doing what God wants." That leaves the same problem in place, though. It's like the Almighty sent me out to shovel the snow while he watches some Bowl games - and won't get up from his recliner when the local bully shows up to pelt me with snow balls and ice chunks.

That verse from Colossians, telling dads not to discourage their kids, gets really troubling when we look at Jesus' portrayal of the heavenly Father:

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

I know, I know. All of the adversity is good for me for one theological reason or another...

Monday, January 10, 2011

More pictures from the Sioux Falls South Sudan Referendum Trip

Rhonda Morse of Holy Apostles', Sioux Falls, who has been about the most active advocate and ally of the Sudanese ministry here, shared these...

Yours truly and Deacon John Mayen on the bus. (I had to rush right from a service to see them off... I don't normally go around in vestments, honest.)

Moses, the leader of "Rebuilding South Sudan Through Education," holding a very flattering sign that I didn't know about 'til I saw this picture.

And then there's all the joy and energy of the day...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pictures: Sudanese neighbors head out to vote; Governor inaugurated; Folks brave the weather to study preaching

I had quite a weekend. Saturday took me out to Pierre, the capitol of our wintry state, to teach a class on basic preaching for some clergy, students and lay leaders. A good group braved the cold and slick roads to take part and we had a great day. Here they are digging into Bible lessons for an upcoming Sunday.

Nearby, Dennis Daugaard was being sworn in as the 32nd Governor of SD. Here's the capitol building. Remember to pray for all those in public office! It is a Christian responsibility to do so.

Sunday was a blast as I got to see the South Sudanese community heading out to Omaha to vote in their homeland's referendum on independence. Thanks to all who contributed to charter a bus for them... here it is! Another church contributed a second bus charter, so a significant group was able to travel in safety and comfort to have a say in their nation's future. There were folks from all three Sioux Falls Episcopal congregations present to give a horn honking send-off to our neighbors.

Government of South Sudan site has many useful links and current news.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Getting ready to worship: two blogging Priests reflect on Holy Communion

The always thoughtful and well studied Reverend Dr. Leander Harding has a new book available, In the Breaking of the Bread.

"Liturgy is an English form of a Greek word that means literally 'the work of the people.' So here we have a plan for the holy work to which the people of God are called, and that is the proclamation of the Word of God and the celebration of Holy Communion. Through Christ, the eternal Son of God, we have a new and holy communion with God, with each other, and with the whole Creation. We are called to proclaim and celebrate this new reality through reading and meditating on the scripture and through fulfilling the command given by Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed,'Do this in remembrance of me' (Luke 22:19)."

There's more thought on this from Fr. Hall in Brookings, SD. Reflecting on the largely ignored "Concordat" between Episcopalians and Lutherans, he takes a hard look at questionable practices that make a mockery of claims about "Eucharistic sharing,"

I, for the life of me, don't understand the idea of Communion for the Unbaptized. I do understand the logic in that its supposedly an issue of "hospitality." In terms of the meaning of the actual term "Communion" itself, the idea of allowing Communion for the Unbaptized is preposterous. I mean you are literally allowing someone to join into Communion with God and the Church (Eucharist is not just a me-and-God thing but a me-and-you thing) having not been joined in Baptism. How can one join in Communion (through the Eucharist) if you have not in fact been joined in Communion (through Baptism)? You're joining but not really joining? You're just temporarily joining this one time?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Egyptian Muslims provide human shields for Christian neighbors - may their reward be great

"If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded." Jesus, Mark 9:41 NLT

“I want all of us to gather as Muslim human shields to protect all Christian congregations at churches, schools and other places,” Mohamed Abdel-Moneim El-Sawy, the head of the El-Sawy Cultural Wheel, said in a statement obtained by on Wednesday, January 5.

An old school diagnosis of the Episcopal Church leadership dilemma

The church ordained too many well meaning losers like me for local ministry:

"...a weak man yearns to assume the weight of honor, and even though he hardly bears his own burden without falling, he willingly adds the weight of others to his shoulders; he cannot bear his own burden and yet he increases what he must carry!"

Then, the church put over-confident, secular minded authoritarians over an ineffective national bureaucracy:

"Commonly, those who lust to govern seize upon apostolic phrases to serve their own desires... For one does not love the sacred office, nor even understand it, if by craving a position of spiritual leadership he is nourished by the thought of subordinating others, rejoices at being praised, elates his heart by honor, or exalts in the abundance of his affluence."

The net result is elimination of dynamic local congregations and the cannibalization of resources to sustain a small elite.

Quotes from Gregory the Great,The Book of Pastoral Rule (6th century), I.7,8

Top Ten Healthcare Fraud Settlements of 2010

Came across this in a Sanford Health Compliance Newsletter:

1. GlaxoSmithKline, $750 million for selling contaminated drugs to government health programs.

2. Allergan, $600 million for illegally marketing Botox and for paying kickbacks to prescribing physicians.

3. AstraZeneca, $520 million for illegally marketing Seroquel and for paying kickbacks to prescribing physicians.

4. Novartis Pharmaceuticals, $422.5 million for illegally marketing Trileptal and other drugs and for paying kickbacks to prescribing physicians.

5. Forest Pharmaceuticals, $313 million for paying kickbacks to prescribing physicians.

6. A tie: Roxane Laboratories, $280 million and Dey, Inc., $280 million for fraudulently inflating drug prices through an Average Wholesale Pricing (AWP) methodology ("AWP" has been dubbed as an acronym for "Ain't What's Paid").

7. Elan Corporation, $214.5 million for illegally marketing Zonegran.

8. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., $126.5 million for a similar fraudulent AWP methodology.

9. Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, $108 million for paying kickbacks to physicians for referring cardiac patients to hospitals.

10. Kos Pharmaceuticals, $41 million for illegally marketing Advicor and for paying kickbacks to prescribing physicians.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Assigning a rescue mission to incompetents

Our parish celebrated Holy Communion at midday. In talking with some of our folks afterward, I was struck by these words from the Epiphany Epistle we heard:

" that through the church the wisdom of God...

Through the church? This fellowship of fallible and foolish flesh is meant to carry and proclaim the mystery of Christ 'til the end of time? That's God's plan, God's own design. So we spend too much time, perhaps, in self-criticism when we should be basking in the radical inefficiency of God's love for us and, through us, for the world. its rich variety...

God's wisdom is never contained in the tidy formulae we use to manage it on human terms. So the church's always present fragmentation into denominations and traditions is at once a manifestation of our blunders and of our only true unity, which is the Father reconciling the creation to Himself though Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not a unity we can create; it just is, despite our earthly disarray.

...might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places...

Yes, this is the Letter to the Ephesians, which goes on to tell us that our struggle is not against other people, but against the spiritual powers of evil. We are to put on the full armor of God in Christ and confront these mocking, accusing powers with what they do not expect, a fighting formation of the flawed and forgiven, renouncing the hostilities that the "powers" would have us wage on our neighbors and ourselves.

Oh yeah, we lose most of the battles fighting this way. We mishandle the weapons and injure our own souls; we misunderstand the orders and wound those we are sent to rescue. The church is one big friendly fire mishap much of the time. But we are winning the war, because

...This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that God has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him."

Take one more look in the crib before you pack up your manger scene

"...the Mediator between God and humanity, who transcends the knowledge and understanding of heavenly spirits and who reigns in heaven before the beginning of time, even he shunned to take an earthly kingdom... He did not wish to become a king; instead, he went freely to the cross. He fled the glory of exaltation offered to him. He chose instead the penalty of shameful death so that his followers might also learn to flee the applause of the world, to fear not its terrors, to value adversity for the sake of truth, and to decline prosperity fearfully."
Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule I:3

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Yikes! Usury is good to go in South Dakota

I emailed the following question in to the State Senate round table. They were about to end without it, and my wife was good enough to enter the chat and nudge them to ask it. Argus Leader's Yvonne Hawkins read it to the panel:

"Are there plans to revisit limits on the excessive interest charged by
'pay day lenders' and other financial institutions in South Dakota?"

Only Sen. Shantel Krebs attempted to answer, and she wound up saying that efforts to restrict interest would be "starting to mess with an industry that employs a lot of people in South Dakota."

"Pay Day" loans are short term but can be rolled over for more than one cycle. Their actual interest rates are as high as 900%.

"Internet payday loans cost up to $30 per $100 borrowed and must be repaid or refinanced by the borrower's next payday," said Jean Ann Fox, CFA's director of consumer protection. "If payday is in two weeks, a $500 loan costs $150, and $650 will be electronically withdrawn from the borrower's checking account."

1 of 8 South Dakotans and half of births in state rely on Medicaid

The Argus Leader is webcasting a round table with State Senators Shantel Krebs, Todd Schlekeway, Mark Johnston and Phyllis Heineman. Much of the discussion is around budget issues.

Medical costs were mentioned early on. South Dakota is one of the states involved in litigation to stop the federal health plan. So, for the moment, there's statement of problems and ideas to reject, but no coherent, affirmative policy to address the burden of health care costs.