Sunday, January 31, 2010

Christians of many nations pray together in Sioux Falls

And tonight is their monthly gathering! Click on the flyer to enlarge it. Note the substantial time for open intercession prior to the worship service.

The Wesleyan Church is on the south side of 57th St., between Cliff and Tomar.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Christian recording artist Fernando Ortega joins Anglican congregation

I had the privilege to see/hear him live once in SoCal. What a blessing to Christ the King Anglican Church, Albuquerque.

Wonderful quote from Ortega:

One of his more recent works, "The Shadow of Your Wings," is influenced by the Book of Common Prayer, although Ortega was not yet an Anglican when he wrote the music. When preparing to sing for the funeral of a Presbyterian minister who was a close friend, he picked up a Book of Common Prayer and read the burial rites. "I couldn't believe how that assembling of passages and verses was so comforting when you lose someone. As a music minister I've been to a lot of funerals and so much of what's said is inappropriate. It doesn't acknowledge the grief and tragedy of death and then appropriately acknowledge Christ's victory over death and the hope we have in his resurrection. I found all that in the Book of Common Prayer," he said. South Dakota News - JDRF Walk Exceeds $200K Goal South Dakota News - JDRF Walk Raises Thousands We exceeded the goal by over $10,000 and they're still counting. Thanks, donors, for being part of this. There were about 2,000 walkers. The Sanford Medical team I was on had over 350 of them.

Sioux Falls is poised to be a significant resource in the push to cure Type-1 (Juvenile) Diabetes. Bless you for helping.

Crews doing heroic work to restore power... but some never had it in the first place

Please give thanks for and continue to pray for the crews working in subzero conditions to restore lost power around South Dakota.

But note how the news reports about 2,500 without power. That's based on towns and small cities that are on the utility grid - existing "customers."

There are plenty of other folks, many on the Reservations, who depend on propane to run heat and appliances in their homes. And the restoration of power won't fix the damaged water system on the Crow Creek Reservation. This is why the Diocese of South Dakota is seeking an Episcopal Relief and Development grant and other donations to get help to situations not always reached by the power lines.

Show me some love, now...

Stay with me. I'm bringin' the love in just a minute. But let me set the stage.

One reason I practice a boring, uncool style of Christianity - a reason I share readily with church newcomers, adult classes, incredulous non-denominationals, and others - is the calendar of the church year.

Huh? Well, it's the calendar that moves the church through the whole message of Jesus, not just our favorite parts. To give but one recent example, it is the calendar that gives meaning to the Christmas message when we are willing to keep it "lite". When all the cultural looky-loos have gone back to the mall, remembering little more of Jesus than the pageant's tin-foil halo, the folks who return to the church on the the first Sunday after Christmas receive the eternal, spiritual message: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, always assigned for the First Sunday of Christmas.)

The Anglican Reformers wanted church services to be a kind of stable platform on which the people were braced to to receive the transforming power of God's Word. The calendar was part of this vision:

...the common prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service... 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. (Preface to the first Book of Common Prayer, 1549)

But there are holes in our platform. We don't have a season or day that really sets the Christian vision of love (See? Told ya I'd bring it) apart from cultural abuses of that amazing word. And abuse might not be a strong enough term - if God is love (I John 4:8), then most of our proclamations of "love" are truly blasphemous.

When it comes to "love," our church calendar aids and abbets the culture instead of the Gospel. The great Christian exposition of love, I Corinthians 13, drifts onto the calendar this Sunday, but it is just visiting from its usual assignment as a reading for weddings.

Most people hear this lesson at marriage ceremonies and associate it entirely with romantic, sentimental notions of love - pop love songs and cake smashed in faces for the camera. Given the 50% divorce rate, the calendar's use of I Corinthians 13 makes Christian love seem weak and shallow.

Let's look at what this chapter of the Bible really has to say.

First off, it was not written about marriage, but about the church. Certainly, the qualities of love in these verses are apt (and essential!) for marriage and all relationships, but this chapter was written to correct the bad actors in a really messed up church - to show them "a more excellent way."

The church in Corinth divided into factions at the drop of a hat. Personalities, social status, and even "gifts of the Holy Spirit"...

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Certain people believed that their supernatural prayer language made them better than the other people in the church. In the preceding chapter, Paul had instructed them that even unsexy, earthbound gifts like "administration" were as much a part of God's design as miracles. Here, he says that the supernatural gifts are just noise if love isn't keeping them in rhythm with others' gifts, for the common good.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

As John Maxwell says of church leadership, "They won't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Self-proclaimed visionaries, mystics, scholars, prophets, miracle workers and the like are just legends in their own minds if their gifts have not connected people to God and other people in love.

If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Even great sacrifices and martyrdom can become meaningless if they do not proclaim the love of God. "Generosity" can be a mask for condescension and paternalism. Martyrdom can be a dressed up version of suicide or even a manipulative tool by one who likes to "play the victim." Unless the sacrifices really represent love, they are useless, because...

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

Paul teaches a similar message in Philippians 2. Christian love is meant to imitate - no, more than that - to participate in the divine love lived out by Jesus. Jesus sacrificed every privilege of divinity to accept every hardship of humanity. To love is to put others' interests ahead of our own, understanding that we are simply sharing what Christ has given us. The same patience by which God gives us time to become holy; the same kindness with which Jesus dealt with our lost souls, the same humility with which Christ walked in our reality, the same renunciation of our own agenda that Christ made to save us; his same example of attention to others' struggles instead of our own grievances. (Pretty far from commentary on the bridesmaids' dresses now, ain't we?) does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love is not fickle. The love that the Apostle describes has nothing to do with a spendy ceremony leading to an unceremonious divorce. Love is not the assertion of "my needs" to the abandonment of yours - but the recognition that we are of equal and enduring value in God's eyes. It is not the craving for novelty by which churches jettison long time members or the insistence on familiarity with which they reject newcomers. It is the willingness to go the extra mile with someone when the extra mile sucks.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

All the earthly stuff that makes us feel good? "You can't take it with you." Even our "holy stuff." Only love lasts forever, because God is love.

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Real love is defined from eternity, from a vantage point where we see it all with God. Just as God looked at the uncorrupted creation, those joined to God can look at the new creation with love and say, "It's all good!"

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Can there be love? No, not if "love" means somebody coming along to give you your way when you want. But faith assures us of a God-sized delight in others that is elusive in this life but permanent in the life to come.

Can there be love? No, not if "love" means a short reprieve from your whining about how "All the good men are taken" or "Why can't I get a girl like that one?" But hope connects our hearts to the One who loves us beyond measure, even when expected consolations let us down.

Can there be love? Yes, always yes. Because love is not an abstract idea or a passing emotion, but a life. A life in flesh and blood that shows us the eternal life of God. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18)

A life given for us and to us, in which we can come alive in love. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (I John 4:12)

This is the high calling of I Corinthians 13 - that there be people so connected by love that they become the body of Christ at work on the earth. Whenever and wherever that takes place, the true church exists.

Generous donors - thank you! I bring your names before God.

I've recevied several donations for Winter relief in the Diocese of South Dakota via Pay Pal here on the blog, and I know other folks are mailing checks to the Diocese.

In just a few minutes, I will be out the door to walk for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. A number of you helped me reach my fund raising goal!

You will be in my prayers this weekend - I lift your names up to God.

You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
II Corinthians 9:11

Friday, January 29, 2010

URGENT NEED - PLEASE HELP - Cheyenne River Reservation, other areas without power in depth of winter

By email from the Diocese of South Dakota. I realize that many of us have given to the relief efforts in Haiti, but here is another very real need that needs our prayers and offerings:

Days of ice storms and sustained winds that at times reached 49 mph with gusts above 60 mph have left residents of parts of South Dakota without electricity, heat, or water for nearly a week and counting. In addition, the loss of power damaged the aging water system that serves the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation and the communities around it. Over 15,000 people have been directly impacted by this disaster and current estimates are that some residents will not see the power return for nearly a month.

The Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota has applied for an emergency grant from Episcopal Relief and Development to assist in the immediate relief effort. The Rt. Rev. John Tarrant, Bishop of South Dakota, invites anyone who wishes to help to send funds to the Diocese of South Dakota. The Diocese will use these funds to supplement the grant we are anticipating from Episcopal Relief and Development.

Donations may be sent to:

The Diocese of South Dakota

Attn: Ice Storm Relief

500 South Main Ave.

Sioux Falls, SD 57104


Roll "The Bones"

I've not seen the film version of Alice Sebold's novel, The Lovely Bones. Another Anglican blogger beat me to it.

The book was powerful, and I have serious doubts about a movie doing it justice. But I am curious.

The book's narrator is a murdered girl. It's great strength is Sebold's agonizing realism in describing the after effects on the survivors. These are tragically credible and painfully well written. (And quite humbling for the humble blogger - if I remember right, Sebold developed the book in a writing class at UC Irvine!)

The book steps into presentations of afterlife and the supernatural. Obviously, points of interest for a Christian. I want to comment a bit on the book, but first

(if you don't want details given away, don't read more).

The afterlife sequences reminded me of the 1991 film The Rapture. That film always struck me as damning Christianity with faint praise - it presented a popular Christian "end times" scenario without criticism, but minus one key feature: a merciful, personal God.

The Lovely Bones doesn't dabble in Biblical symbolism like The Rapture, but shares the same absence of a personal God who can "wipe away tears and makes all things new."

It leaves afterlife as a somewhat less painful continuation of this life. There are supernatural pleasures - one can summon up lots of goofy dogs just by thinking about them - but much of earthbound life's confusion and uncertainty clings.

The most "new agey" scene in the book is a sex tryst. The narrator temporarily inhabits a girlfriend's earthly body to hook up with a boy.

Two things about this turned me off. First, there was too much supernatural certainty to this part - it didn't work with the ambivalence in the rest of the afterlife scenes. Second, it was oh so "American" - let's forget the hellish reality searing all of the survivors, as long as the narrator gets that orgasm she missed on the first pass through life.

On the other hand, (oh no, here he goes being Anglican again), that scene was one of the few that resembled the Biblical vision of heaven as the realm of healing, restoration and completion.

There were parts of the book that came tantalizingly close to a Christian point of view. The victim's father, spinning out of control in grief and rage, quite accidentally saves another girl from the killer. But the full reality is visible only from the narrator's supernatural vantage point. On earth, the dad looks like a fool and nobody even realizes the killer was about to strike. I really love that scene - it is rich with the mystery and immanence of God's grace. Even in our worst moments, "all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose." (Props also to Sebold for the empathy and skill to write believable, sympathetic male characters, of which there are several in the book.)

The murderous sexual predator (and I am told that Stanley Tucci is disturbingly effective in the movie portrayal) comes to an end that suggests divine justice... but without invoking a divine agent. That is reminiscent of the Book of Esther, a bit of our God-inspired Scripture that never mentions God.

So, The Lovely Bones. I will be interested in comments, especially if you read the book and saw the movie.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who said it?

"...progress, health care, and social services, together with the adult education, children's education and also tertiary education which the church brings to a people. These developments are functions of the gospel; they are products and evidence of an effective gospel ministry in any community...."

"...many Muslims... totally disagree with violence as a means of settling issues..."

", no matter how high or low, no matter of what faith or creed, should be exempt from facing the law. The national leadership should be lifted up to God, that they may rise beyond a concern for political success and seek to do good and right in all things for the benefit of all people. This is a most urgent prayer request..."

"...a large and ever-increasing army of leaderless, lawless, unemployable, unemployed, demoralized, and near hopeless youth. This, to my prophetic mind, is the big security issue..."

Was it an American denominational leader? A spokesperson for an ecumenical peace and justice committee? A religious left blogger?

How about...

Benjamin A. Kwashi, Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria.

Try to keep this in mind next time you traffic in stuff like, "Third World Christians are all emotion, no intellect." "Conservative Christians are intolerant." "Traditional Christians ignore social justice."

h/t Kendall Harmon, TitusOneNine

Representative Herseth-Sandlin's response to State of the Union Address

Posted to her Facebook page. Not too different from Sen. Thune's open letter in Politico on Tuesday.


Washington, DC- Rep. Herseth Sandlin released the following statement in response to the President's State of the Union Address this evening:

"Tonight, the President rightly highlighted the critical need to get spending under control and reduce the national debt, and the importance of meeting the needs of the private sector to achieve sustainable economic growth. These are our obligations to the current generation, and the next.

"I support the President's proposals to freeze spending but we must do more, including identifying ways to cut government overspending, passing legislation requiring Congress to spend within its means and establishing an independent, bipartisan commission to address our national debt.

“As our country's economy continues to recover, bipartisan tax relief proposals for the middle class will help South Dakota families struggling to make ends meet. As the Congress and the President begin crafting the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, I hope we will see true progress in restoring fiscal discipline, getting our private sector going and meeting the needs of middle class families."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mayan calendar's got nuthin' on Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls

The last things are right here in my church parking lot.*

*For my SoCal and assorted other confused friends: That means a car spinnin', slip-n-go-to-the-ER-makin' sheet of ice from the church door to the street.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Christ's peace and protection be with you

Glory to Thee my God this night, for all the blessings of the light
Keep me O keep me, King of Kings, beneath thine own almighty wings

Forgive me Lord, for thy dear Son, the ill that I this day have done
that with the world myself and thee, I ere I sleep at peace may be

Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below
Praise him above angelic host, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost

From lyrics by Thomas Ken, 17th century

Atheist brings reality to Liberal Protestant

Army Lieutenant and Med School Student Matt Perkins, who blogs as Northwest Anglican, links to Portland Monthly's transcript of an exchange between atheist Christopher Hitchens and a self-described "Liberal Christian" minister. Matt has the key exchange here...

Marilyn Sewell (Liberal “Christian”): The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Christopher Hitchens (Atheist): I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Attempting to confirm Tarkenton comeback talks with Vikes

This breaking story will be hard to verify. I-90 is shut down between Sioux Falls and Albert Lea. I am taking my '89 Camry offroad, but it is slow going. Hope to make Mankato in time for Vikings training camp.

Anyway, we know that Sir Francis woulda run for it, not thrown a cross-the-body pass. Just sayin'.

Latest area weather

By e-mail update from KELO. The first paragraph alone cracks me up when I think back a few years to driving home with KFI, Los Angeles...

"Very light snow is coming down from the clouds – but it is being blown around by fierce winds to create ground blizzard conditions that will continue through the evening hours. It will be difficult if not impossible for people living outside of some cities to get home after work, due to hazardous travel conditions created by zero visibility in open areas. Some plows have been pulled from the roads, where light snow has been drifting. No travel is advised in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa, where blizzard warnings are posted through 6 pm. But we do not expect a real reduction in sustained winds until the overnight hours.

Snowfall amounts have been minimal – officially under 1” in most spots – but winds have been gusting over 40 miles per hour and causing the light snow to drift.

As you might suspect, these strong northwest winds will bring in colder air. We expect overnight lows in the neighborhood of zero overnight, with subzero wind chills. Tomorrow and Wednesday we are forecasting highs only in the teens, with a chilly day of single digit highs on Thursday.

Better weather lies ahead, with much warmer air coming in for the weekend. Temperatures may even reach above-normal highs on Sunday."

Sioux Falls med team from Haiti: "... just when you think you know what is happening, it changes in front of you."

The Haiti medical relief team from Sanford/Merit Care is now posting updates on a regular basis. They are established in a small but organized clinic in Barahona, the Dominican Republic.

Now THAT's a snow angel

Argus Leader feature writer Jill Callison meets up with a 106 year old local woman and journal keeper. Among the lifetime of memories:

Marty's faith runs deep, perhaps preceding an event that took place when she taught school near Tyndall.

It was cold, bitterly cold, and the car she was riding in quit working. Her brother left to find help; Marty started walking to the school.
"I could feel myself freezing," she said. "Before you die, you become real, real warm. I got warm all over. I hollered for help, and it was no use to do that because no one could hear me."

Marty felt her knees weaken, and she began to tumble to the ground.
But, she said, someone or something stopped her, caught hold of her hand, led her across the field stubble to warmth and shelter.

"There was no one in sight, it was too cold for people to be out," she said.

Was it a miracle?

"Sure it was," Marty said. "It was some good angel. It wasn't meant for me to die."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Every Sunday is a little Easter. Are you looking forward to one or both?

"If we are members of our Redeemer, let us believe that what occurred in our Head is taking place also in us. If we are greatly disheartened concerning ourselves, we must hope that what we hear of the first of his members is also taking place in us who are among the last."
St. Gregory the Great: The Lord's Resurrection

Trying to tell me something

Today is the 22nd anniversary of my ordination as a priest.

On my calendar for today I'd written WORK ON TAXES. Today was to be unshaven, t-shirted, barefoot and over-caffeinated as I pulled together papers.

Instead, I've been emailing back and forth with key parish leaders, who are sending energetic thoughts about an upcoming planning retreat.

Then, I got a call from a local family needing a visit for a loved one who is probably in her last days for this life (but a jewel in God's treasure in the next).

Then, an invitation for my wife and me to have KFC and play cards with a special needs parishioner - an adult woman who is our smiliest acolyte at the altar.

Now, I'm sharing this with you on the blog.

God's got a theme going on here...

A son of the Northern Plains helps you get it

I am a transplant and therefore a permanent outsider, but DC columnist Chuck Raasch was born here. This column ran in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, and it should give you some laughs as well as some vital information. Here's a serving (which always comes with potatoes, btw),

"The guy shot back a puzzled look while mumbling something about the movie 'Fargo.'

I started to answer, but since the movie was named after a city in North Dakota and the movie mostly was about Minnesotans, resignation became the better part of valor. Why bother trying to explain the complex differences and relationships among Minnesota and the two Dakotas? Why get into superiority and inferiority complexes and the jokes about the wind, or buffalo chips, or 11 lakes and 9,889 mud puddles?

To him, it's all the Great Cold North, anyway.

Expat South Dakotans understand what I am saying."

I know they do, God bless 'em.


Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!
Psalm 32:1, appointed for Morning Prayer today.

We rightly honor God as the actor in this verse. God is the forgiver, the one who puts away our wrongs, never again to look at them.

But Christian spirituality also celebrates a "supporting actor," our own memory. How happy - blessed - are we to forget the greatest exposures of our distance from God.

I happened to run into this Psalm last night, while reading Gregory the Great's Sermons on the Prophet Ezekiel. Pondering the winged creatures who move with the presence of God in Ezekiel's visions, Gregory quotes Ps. 30 (numbered 31 in the Roman Catholic system)and says,

"'Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered.' We cover our sins when we place good deeds atop evil acts. For everything which is covered is placed below, and this, when it is concealed, is led away from above. Therefore, when we disown the evils which we have done, and choose the good which we shall do, we spread, as it were, a covering over the thing which we are ashamed to have seen."

Some 800 years later, an anonymous English spiritual guide wrote The Cloud of Unknowing. The title refers to the "cloud" of separation between God and our souls, which the spiritual life is meant to penetrate. But this upward effort must be matched with wise use of a "cloud of forgetting" beneath our feet, under which we must lose all thoughts that distance us from God.

This spiritual method - straining intently upward toward God while practicing forgetfulness on earth - is present in the New Testament itself, as St. Paul writes:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Sins must be forgotten because the recollection of them for anything other than confession, repentance and, where possible, restitution to those we've wronged simply creates dangerous nostalgia at one extreme or despairing shame at the other. Both of these become weapons of our enemy. The devil comes as tempter, to stir up memories of enslaving pleasures. But he comes also as "ha-satan", the accuser, to read out all the charges against us and crush our hope.

Sins must be forgotten because the memory of them is a vain obsession with self, ignoring the power of God to transform us and give us new life. God spoke to his banished, guilty people and said,

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:18-19

In a beautiful vision, Zechariah sees God transform a fallen priest,

"Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ And to him he said, ‘See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you in festal apparel.’"

Jesus, with quiet power, expunged the record against one woman and set her free to find the upward path,

"‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’" John 8

In all of these examples, God is the actor. God makes things new, God cleans us up, God rebukes our accuser. But we must support his act, clearing our minds of our old self and memorizing the part written for us by Christ, the author of our salvation.

And so God's people accept the supporting role...

Confessor: "The Lord has put away all your sins."

Penitent: "Thanks be to God."

Confessor: "Go (or abide) in peace, and pray for me, a sinner."

(Book of Common Prayer, Pastoral Office of Reconciliation)

...and God's people find freedom to reach higher:

In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our
The Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer B

Friday, January 22, 2010


1) For those of you who prayed for our son! We finally had to have a battery of tests, including ultrasound and CT scan, to find out that he has a rarely seen aggravation of abdominal lymph nodes - the ER doc said she sees only about 4 cases per year.

It is treated as a virus, and the meds are giving him comfort. He made it through a whole day at school and ate a good dinner tonight. Thank you all for praying - we have diagnosis, treatment and healing.

2) For our city services in Sioux Falls. Power went out across town this afternoon, but was restored in about an hour.

Please see the previous post and pray for God's protection of communities across the Northern Plains.

3) For 22 years as a priest! (Jan. 23 is my ordination anniversary).

4) For you folks who check out the blog.

Prayer Request - Urgent Need

By email from the Diocese of South Dakota:

"...a large portion of northern South Dakota/southern North Dakota (including Eagle Butte) has been without electricity since 10:00 pm on Thursday when the ice toppled a large tower in the Wahpeton area. (apologies for the fuzzy geography)

Please keep all the people of this state and surrounding area in our prayers as the winter storms worsen."

Another reason to refrain from putting a moral judgment on natural phenomena

Just got word that tonight's pro-life march in Sioux Falls is cancelled due to the incoming ice and snow storm.

This is not to deny that God, if God is what we claim, has the power to wield nature to divine ends. It's just that there are so many possible explanations, that it takes much time in prayer and in later outcomes to see just what was in God's mind.
  • + Perhaps the marchers had a bad attitude, and were not going to represent God well.
  • + Perhaps the marchers were in danger from abortion zealots or just plain crazy folks, and God wanted to protect them.
  • + I suppose one can argue that demonic forces called out the storm to stop the march, although what that says about God gets interesting.
  • + &c &c &c

We do well to keep Jesus' words in mind when we rush to explanations of natural events:

"God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matthew 5, "The Sermon on the Mount"

And we should remember that God's agenda is more amazing than our puny (and generally negative) judgments:

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us." John 9

A thought or two about this Sunday's first lesson (but don't scrap your sermons)

If your church uses the Revised Common Lectionary, you'll probably read from Nehemiah for your first lesson.

It is one of the many re-dedication ceremonies in the Old Testament. Constant covenant-breaking = constant "we'll get it right this time" liturgies.

As at other Old Testament turning points, the scrolls of God's word are opened, read and preached to the assembled people. What is striking in this case is how the leaders intentionally displace the expected wailing and breast-beating with joy:

"Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

The reading and preaching of God's word cuts to the heart, yet the heart is transformed for joy.

Anglicans are noted for fear of "enthusiasm." We are the "frozen chosen," even in our own church jokes. Our worship is known to be dignified if done well; deadly dull if sloppy.

But in the Preface to our first Book of Common Prayer, the Anglican Reformers chose anything but cold language:

"...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."

Such was the passion of the Anglican Reformers that "inflamed" signified the death several would suffer, as the stake became the cross they shared with Christ.

If we are staring out at a congregation of yawns, wristwatch glances and leaflet rustling, it is likely that we've ignored the Reformers. For them, the preacher's passion for the Word was a precondition for stirring the hearts of the people:

...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...

Too often, Anglican clergy are either bloodless on the one hand or passionate about things other than the Word on the other. I am not talking about passion as a style or personality type, but as a life-guiding conviction of the heart. Any ass can bray, and still waters are sometimes just a trivial puddle. The church, in the vision of the Anglican Reformers, needs clergy "stirred up to godliness" in order to "inflame hearts with love." And God's way to this passion is first and foremost Jesus Christ, as prophesied, revealed and exposited in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. This is what informs the vow all clergy make at ordination:

"...I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation..."

In too many cases, this is a lie spoken with pretensions of passion.

Sen. Thune's amendment to end TARP defeated

A slight majority of Senators voted in favor of curbing "bailouts" of the financial sector, but fell seven votes shy of the 60 needed to pass.

SD Senator Tim Johnson (D) voted against the ammendment.

Members who can't pay their dues

"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." From this Sunday's reading in I Corinthians 12.

"The mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, freely paid for us what he did not owe. For our sakes he offered the death of his flesh, which he owed no one, in order to set us free from the the death of our souls, which was our due... We have been truly set free from subjection to sin because we are united to him who is truly free. It is certain, and we cannot deny it: we have to confess that the ruler of this world has much against us. But even so, at the time of our death he will be unable to seize us because we have become members of one on whom he has no claim." St. Gregory the Great

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Do you preach from the Psalms?

Parishioner and campus minister Christina O'Hara pointed me to Why Preachers Must Preach the Psalms « Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown

Our parish home groups took on the Psalms this year... one group already bailed and is reading something else. It has been a formidable challenge for them and the linked piece gives some good insight into why.

The early Christians quoted the Psalms often and found them loaded with prophecies of Christ. Some of their allegorical interpretations could be too much of a stretch, and so over time a more literal reading of Scripture returned. This was needed, but because the Psalms are poetry a literal reading is very difficult. Not to mention our "modern" obsession with analyzing "context" and such - talk about taking the romance out of an evening!

In Anglicanism, the Daily Offices follow the Benedictine model and make extensive use of the Psalms as God-given prayer. Sunday-only Christians are not accustomed to this, and so preaching is impoverished.

Check out the link and see what you think.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hey, what if all that Episcopal Church/Anglican lawsuit & property liquidation money went into rebuilding Haiti?

The Living Church Foundation An Unrealistic Proposal for the Sake of the Gospel (h/t BabyBlueOnline)

The Rev'd. Dr. Radner is not on the Northern Plains, but he must have flown over or around us when he moved to the Great White North. We are, after all, fly over country.

I hate it when I can't take any credit

Back when I was a young, promising, competent priest, I spent most of my time working with Middle and High School groups.

Long story short, one of my former youth group kids (I blessed her marriage - the couple have jobs and kids and dogs and all that these days) posted an old youth group picture on Facebook. Suddenly, I'm in touch with several of the former "kids."

David Carr is one. In a humiliating turn of events, it turns out that he is a real, published writer (not some lame blogger). Here's one of his pieces on recent sports news: CWG Magazine Sports, Guns and Being a Man

Nice quote to wrap it up:

"In the world of sports we may need some common sense training. If it works, we can farm out the sessions to the world of hip-hop. In fact, I can see a whole series of trainings available for athletes who tend to be confused about protection or what it means to be a man. The trainings could be set up like the Jeff Foxworthy gag about what it means to be a redneck. If you give 110% even when you are injured, if you rally your teammates even when you are down by thirty points with two minutes left in regulation, if you are constantly working with your coach, if you feel the need to take care of your kids and be true to your wife, if you don’t feel the need to be anywhere near trouble or guns or both; you could possibly be well on your way, to being a healthy individual, a respected athlete… and man."

UPDATE: Aw, crap, and he interviews rockers for radio stations, too. Must God continually rub my nose in my own mediocrity?

If you want a trustworthy, detailed site to help Haiti...

Then check out Disaster relief giving : Christ Church Episcopal (h/t Sarah Hey)

This is an Episcopal parish in Upper South Carolina, with hands-on ministry established well before the earthquake and current reports from its people in Cange, Haiti. They have a secure donation site, which requires a few minutes of log-in setup on your part but then provides for secure giving, one time or recurring.

With hundreds of sites popping up for "Haiti Relief," and the obvious concern for fraud and questions about what your gift actually achieves, Christ Church's mission is a good option.

Former SD priest on the isolation and burnout of clergy & decline of congregations

Tony Clavier, who served in South Dakota in the years just before I arrived, has some great ruminations on local ministry up at his blog. (h/t A.S. Haley)

He is describing what many clergy today face: a system that makes clergy and the whole church irrelevant - an organizational system that seeks to perpetuate itself long enough for existing members to get what they need, but could care less about really reaching and transforming others for Christ.

This is exactly the choice that Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls is facing. We can very easily slip into the national pattern of fewer and fewer members giving more and more money to keep the familiar stuff in place "just long enough."

Do pray for us - our annual parish meeting is this Sunday and these issues will be laid out in black and white.

Keep preaching

As the word came to Timothy, "Preach in season and out."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Props to the Sanford ER for diagnosing our kid tonight, and to all of you who've been praying

Well, we have a diagnosis which I can't yet pronounce, let alone spell.

It took a trip to the ER (thank God for my second job & health coverage), ultrasound, CT scan... they had to rule out all kinds of internal stuff because Joey's autism doesn't lend itself to describing the kind of pain, exact location and helpful details like that.

Anyway, it is an unusual viral condition that masks as appendicitis. The Doctor said she sees it maybe four times a year. It will go away but we have to manage his pain and keep him on a pretty bland diet.

We give thanks for the diagnosis, for Dr. Sheridan and the Sanford ER staff who took our concerns seriously, and Joey's Neurologist, Dr. Bonnie Bunch (also an Episcopalian) who came buy just 'cuz she heard he was there.

The blessing of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit on you for all of your prayers - and we ask that you keep 'em up for a quick recovery.


Today, January 18, 2010 - Feast of Peter's Confession of the Christ - wife's retroactive disability came through:
  • + outstanding medical bills: ZERO
  • + credit card debt: ZERO

Thank you, Lord, for seeing us through these barren and scary financial years. Thank you for the kindness of so many you moved to help us through. Thank you for sitting with me on dark days when all I could do was read the Scripture and the prayers of the Church.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the feeling of freedom this day.

Broadening the narrow places in our hearts and minds

Last Saturday, the Diocese of South Dakota's Cycle of Prayer invited us to "Pray for peace and justice and an end to racism." This video is a worthwhile, practical insight into how we can start to broaden some of our narrow thinking.

h/t Anglican Curmudgeon

Do we even know any?

From the Morning Readings:

(An earthly priest) is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness...
Hebrews 5:2

As "mainline" clergy, we spend the bulk of our time among the polished and "normal." The stagnancy of our churches, I'm coming to think, is that we are just a small pool of the mutually interesting and admiring, with no flow of turbulent water in and out. No passion to stream Christ's "living water" out of the pond, no channel for the rough waters outside to get in and find peace.

The clergy selection process is built around academic credentials and approbation by those "normal" folks - a candidate's admission of "weakness" can mean elimination from consideration, and there are few if any among the evaluators who could truly speak from an experience of overcoming ignorance and waywardness through Christ.

I'm in touch with this because our parish recently gained, via marriage, a guy not afraid to speak of his own "ignorance and waywardness" and the joy he is finding as the Gospel changes his life. I'm thankful for him but also confessing the fact that we were not out looking for him.

My prayer is that our parish will be filled with the Holy Spirit and overflow the containment of four walls and a couple of hours on Sunday morning.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

MLK commemorations - a chance to glimpse the vision in Sioux Falls

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Revelation 7:9

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sioux Falls events, received by email from Pastor Dwayne Williams:

"Sioux Falls, SD On Monday, January 18, 2010, a combination of activities will mark the celebration of Dr. King Day in Sioux Falls, SD. These activities include a Prayer Breakfast, a Commemorative March and an Evening Celebration. All events are free and open to the public and carry the theme of Achieving the Dream.

An ecumenical Prayer Breakfast will be held at 7:30 a.m. in the Coliseum of the Multi-Cultural Center. Open to individuals of all faith backgrounds, the focus of the breakfast is upon Ethics in Leadership. The breakfast will include multi-faith and multi-cultural representation along with round-table discussions.

A Commemorative March to honor Dr. King will be held at 6:00 p.m. and will commence on the steps of City Hall located at 9th St. and Dakota Ave. in downtown Sioux Falls. The route of the March will follow 9th St. to Main Ave. into the Coliseum of the Multi-Cultural Center.

An evening Dr. King Celebration will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Coliseum of the Multi-Cultural Center. Join us to celebrate this special day and to Achieve the Dream of Dr. King."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Please pray for our younger kid

That's our younger son, Joseph. He's autistic, and in the last year he's had an unwelcome development of seizures as well.

Over the last two weeks, meds that have worked for him in some ways seem to be working against him in others. He's been sick quite a bit. It's been hard watching him hurt.

I would ask that you remember him at the altar or wherever you might be praying this weekend. Moms - you can imagine what this does to his Mom. Extra prayers for Melissa encouraged.

Haiti quake claims regional ministry student

Ben Larson, a Seminarian at Wartburg (Lutheran) Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa was one of the many killed by Haiti's earthquake. Fr. Ryan Hall of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Brookings, SD, knew Larson when both ministered in Lincoln, Nebraska. Fr. Hall posted a link to the report on his Facebook page.

Larson, only 25 years old, was from Madison, Wisconsin. He was with his wife Renee (a North Dakota native) and cousin Jonathan on a teaching and study term in Port-au-Prince. Renee and Jonathan survived the collapse of their building.

The somewhat impersonal, TV screen tragedy in Haiti has its places of grief across the Northern Plains. Let us pray:

Rest eternal grant to Ben and all of your people who died in Haiti's earthquake, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercies of God, rest in peace.

O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that
thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men:
Look with pity upon the sorrows of thy servants for whom
our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy,
nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of
thy goodness, lift up thy countenance upon them, and give
them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer for those "in Trouble or Bereavement," The Book of Common Prayer

MORE getting ready for worship: look for your preachers' piety, accept their limitations, and let your hearts become kindling for the Holy Spirit

For the words of the preachers are rightly called "sparks," because they set ablaze those whose hearts they have touched. We must also consider that sparks are extremely fine and delicate, because when the sacred preachers speak of the Heavenly Kingdom they do not avail to reveal in words so much as inflame with desire. Therefore, their tongue comes to us, as it were, as sparks, because in their voice something subtle from the Heavenly country is recognized with difficulty, something which is, however, loved by them without subtlety. Then, they neither suffice to see the Heavenly glory as great as it is, nor can they articulate as much as they see. Therefore, the glowing brass emits sparks when the preacher is barely able to declare faintly that from which he himself is strongly kindled. For he is moved by Divine piety, so that from these selfsame frail sparks, the spirit of the hearer is inflamed, because there are those who hearing trifles are replenished with greater desire and thence burn perfectly with love for God when they have hardly received the most tenuous sparks of the words.

Gregory the Great, preaching on Ezekiel 1:7

Friday, January 15, 2010

NPA Newsnight: Breaking Coverage of the Lutheran Crisis

SD Lutheran rift: at least 7 congregations moving toward disaffiliation

This might be bigger news than the Bishop and Synod want, since they are speaking to it on Friday, the news coverage graveyard.

KELO AM, Sioux Falls news just gave the following report:

Bishop: SD synod won't split
Friday, January 15, 2010

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - The bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America says seven congregations in the state have taken initial steps toward leaving the country's largest Lutheran denomination over its policy to allow gay clergy. The Rev. David Zellmer says he also has been asked to lead the entire synod into a new denomination. But he says that won't happen, no matter his own misgivings about the decision. Zellmer says this is not the first time he has been upset with the church, but he has never wanted to leave. ELCA convention delegates in August voted to lift a ban prohibiting gay and lesbian pastors who were not celibate from serving as clergy. The new policy will allow such people to lead ELCA churches as long as they are in committed, lifelong relationships.

Transcript from here, but you will have to scroll down because it is a 24 hr. news feed and the Lutheran story is already below a "lull in the flu" report.

Dakota Voice (Bob Ellis) shares a welcome report.

A few days ago, I picked up and posted the reports about South Dakota's rising divorce rate.

Today I caught this good news on SD conservative blog Dakota Voice. Christians need to teach and act on their God-given view of marriage. We do have our unique understanding of marriage and should act on it in shaping our people as disciples of Jesus Christ.

But even non-Christians should have a big investment in marriage,

The social implications and benefits of stronger marriages are massive, especially with regards to children, organizers say. Economic stability, thriving children, fewer people going to prison...

These same earthly benefits obtain in stable non-Christian homes. The Book of Common Prayer rightly understands that marriage is not the church's invention or sole property:

The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation... and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.

The church does not consider a non-Christian marriage as false or unworthy of honor. Couples who convert to Christianity are not required to have their wedding "done over" - at least I've not heard of that... I better get ready for the horror stories. (Some couples choose to have a church blessing after conversion, but this is a chosen addition to their marriage, not a required "repair" of some kind.)

And the article had this welcome paragraph:

The blame for the high divorce rate in the United States, the increasing number of out-of-wedlock births and the falling percentage of adults getting married does not fall on secular society, they say. It falls on the church.

Amen to that. We've been more concerned with keeping "members" happy (and contributing) than in challenging them to live as though "in the world but not of it." We have not been the "salt and light" that Jesus asked us to be.

Almost all couples are thankful for premarital counseling, even when the sessions become uncomfortable or challenging. I use the well established Prepare/Enrich program, but there are other good ones and some clergy are even good at their own home-grown methods. And yes, some couples do discover that they are rushing in rashly and decide not to marry. More grief is avoided, more stability and happiness nurtured by premarital preparation.

I know this is the Northern Plains, and there will be tales of "Aunt X and Uncle Y who met at the bar and ran off and started a farm and they were always happy." Fine. But that is the anomaly, not the norm. God can take care of the anomalies - we need to be responsible for tending the norm.

Getting ready for worship: "Whoever wrote this knows the Lord!"

Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls was blessed to have Professor Philip Thompson's liturgy class from Sioux Falls Seminary attend our Thursday afternoon liturgy, followed by Q & A with some Anglican blogger quack.

It was a precious time of Christian fellowship across an array of traditions (mainly Reformed and Baptist), and our parishioners stayed to take part.

My favorite observation - words that Anglicans/Episcopalians should ponder as we get ready to open our Prayer Books - came from a Southern Baptist student who said, "Yeah, in my church most of this stuff is 'heresy,' but the first time I attended a traditional Anglican Prayer Book service, I turned to my wife and said, 'Whoever wrote this knows the Lord!'"

Props to Thomas Cranmer, of course. We need to appreciate and RE-APPROPRIATE the wonderful heritage of Common Prayer that proclaims rather than hints at (or obfuscates) the New Covenant in Christ's Blood. I am not hung up on traditional vs. contemporary English (although today's contemporary can quickly become tomorrow's tacky). I am, however, emphatic that what we pray should articulate what the church believes. As Episcopalianism in particular and Anglicanism in general depart from that foundation, we offer nothing at all to the wider Christian church and, worse, nothing but deception to the world Christ came to save.

Sen. Thune to offer interactive video "Townhall" on Monday

You can sign up to participate here.

I can't even pray this. Who can?

Friday Morning Prayer included Psalm 17.

I think it impossible for any human being to offer verses 3 - 5,

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offense with my mouth as others do; *
I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

Who could speak to God in this way, except a clueless fool with no self-awareness or the insufferably self-righteous type that Jesus couldn't stand?

But that's the key - Jesus couldn't stand that sort because they put themselves in his place. He is the righteousness of God. His heart alone was pure, his words were the only perfect enunciation of God's, his steps were the only ones not wasted in wandering.

As I read the Psalm today, uncomfortably conscious of my inability to pray it, I was nudged to remember Hebrews 7:25, (The Christ) is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For just a few moments, I was in touch with Christ himself, offering this Psalm for me - for all his people - for all time:

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;
give heed to my cry; *
listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence; *
let your eyes be fixed on justice.

Only Jesus could face a trial of Divine justice and be vindicated;
he places himself before the court when we have no plea. Instead of our sorry record, the court looks at the One who can say,

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offense with my mouth as others do; *
I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

Instead of our mumbled faith and screaming doubts, the court hears a defense from the One who can say,

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; *
incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, *
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.

Instead of our long litany of complaints and excuses, the court is fascinated by a plea from the One most humiliated by our arrogant cruelty,

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; *
hide me under the shadow of your wings,

Then the universe is stunned as Christ points accusingly, not at us, but at our accuser, Satan, and all spirits who have despised Christ and deceived our human race,

9 From the wicked who assault me, *
from my deadly enemies who surround me.

10 They have closed their heart to pity, *
and their mouth speaks proud things.

11 They press me hard,
now they surround me, *
watching how they may cast me to the ground,

12 Like a lion, greedy for its prey, *
and like a young lion lurking in secret places.

And the court hears Christ call for dismissal of the charges against us, and a new filing against the evil ones who have enticed and entrapped us,

13 Arise, O LORD; confront them and bring them down; *
deliver me from the wicked by your sword.

He prays as though we are him and he us! And he asks that we be vindicated with him, accepted to live in the eternal joy that evil despised for passing things,

14 Deliver me, O LORD, by your hand *
from those whose portion in life is this world;

15 Whose bellies you fill with your treasure, *
who are well supplied with children
and leave their wealth to their little ones.

His summation is simple: he asks that we receive what he has received: passage from death to life and everlasting bliss in the presence of God,

16 But at my vindication I shall see your face; *
when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding
your likeness.

Jesus is interceding for us - for you, for me - right now and always. Can we quiet our protests and pleadings and hear the eternal eloquence being offered on our behalf?

South Dakotans discuss the theology of Haiti's earthquake

Cory Heidelberger's Madville Times critiques Pat Robertson's moral judgment explanation of the tragedy - and a fascinating theological thread develops in the comments.

Cory hosts a liberal, political blog - yet substantive thoughts about God go on there. Very often, I fear that the church is the place that many go to avoid serious engagement with God. (And from time to time God says just that. ) We need to wander around outside of our "religious Reservations" to get at the real questions, cares, idols, surprises of the Holy Spirit and other things of eternal consequence going on in people's lives.

Cory quotes from Shel Boese, a friend and creative CMA church planter here in Sioux Falls. Click on Shel's name above to read his serious, Biblical Christian treatment of disasters and tragedies (to Robertson, he says "Epic Fail, bro...")

For my part, the words of Jesus that come to mind are

But I tell you: Love your enemies[a] and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)

We are all subject to blessings and disasters in a created order that God called "good" but which has been corrupted from its life-sustaining purpose by human rebellion against the Creator. Like ourselves, the natural world bears the imprint of God's loving, creative work but is also full of deadly and tragic forces.

So, I don't think God "targeted" Haiti with a punitive strike.

Where I think Robertson might be on to something is in the social impact of Haitian spirituality. Haiti is a place where many people really, honestly believe that life is out of their control and run by "the spirits." (Sound familiar, South Dakota? Some of that is present in Native American spirituality as well). When that thinking sets in, there is very little incentive for human effort.

The direct consequence of this in the earthquake is the high loss of life. Building and infrastructure are haphazard, and that is a reality that flows from Haitian spirituality.

Eureka, California suffered a 6.5 earthquake last week. Didn't hear about it? That's because some stuff fell off of shelves but little else happened. I am not claiming that California is somehow a more "Christian" environment - far from it! But the Western thinking there had Christianity's hopeful influence at one time, and there are whiffs of it in the secular humanism that values reason, which is God's gift to help us order and tend our environment.

As I said about SD's divorce rate a few blogs ago, what we believe has a direct impact on how we behave and the attendant circumstances. Haiti's spiritual orientation is a strong part of its endemic social problems. It didn't cause the earthquake, but it makes the impact more costly, the misery more grinding, and the recovery more difficult if not impossible.

On another note, where are the advocates of "Gaia/Mother Earth" theology today? Mommy had a bad day so she had to kill a few hundred thousand of her children?

Jesus came to carry us

And when he has found the sheep, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. He laid the sheep on his shoulders when he himself bore our sins by taking on our human nature... Our lives are his joy. When we are brought back to heaven, we complete the solemn feast of his delight. I tell you that there will be the more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Gregory the Great

Thursday, January 14, 2010

(Building + full time clergy) - (people + money) = ?

The State of the Local Church - Part 1: Is the local church disappearing?

Interesting analysis from The Great White North. Widespread churches in small communities around the Plains are well into this reality. Now, it is coming into suburbs and city centers. Certainly, this kind of analysis applies to Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls.

The really interesting question becomes, "What's next?" As the Bible says, "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ" (II Corinthians 1:20). The Lord didn't promise a particular form or model of church, but he did say "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20)."

The church will be around, for it is the body of Christ and he is always around. What look will he wear for the new season?

h/t Anglican Essentials Canada

"...that he may dwell in us, and we in him."

"And as for the likeness of their faces: there was the face of a man, and the face of a lion... and the face of an ox... and the face of an eagle..." (Ezekiel 1:10)

...For the Only-Begotten Son of God Himself truly became Man; He deigned to die like an ox at sacrifice for our salvation; He, through the virtue of His fortitude, rose as a lion... Furthermore, ascending to Heaven after his Resurrection, He was borne aloft to the heights like an eagle. He is therefore wholly within us...

...since each of the just is formed as a man through reason, an ox through the sacrifice of mortification, a lion through the fortitude of composure, and an eagle indeed through contemplation...

Therefore in all which we do, we ought zealously to examine ourselves inwardly and outwardly, in order that, emulating the winged creatures, we may be present to ourselves and always walk before our face, having as our helper the Only-Begotten of the Father, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with Him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for all ages of ages. Amen.

Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel I.4
Theodosia Tomkinson trans.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Prayer for our Country

From The Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for ourheritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always proveourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, andpure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defendour liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudesbrought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Enduewith the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrustthe authority of government, that there may be justice andpeace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, wemay show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Governor Rounds reports on South Dakota's use of Federal Stimulus funds

From the official State of South Dakota site. Gov. Mike Rounds (R) will be leaving office due to South Dakota's term limit law.

PIERRE, S.D. – Gov. Mike Rounds announced today that the state Bureau of Finance and Management has submitted the second quarterly report required by the federal government under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA).

Data submitted by South Dakota show that state government, through Dec. 31, has spent $276 million of the estimated $655 million in federal stimulus funds currently allocated to state agencies. The report also shows that 845 jobs were created or retained during the fourth quarter of 2009 as a result of stimulus funding to state government.

“South Dakota has shown that it has been able to efficiently get the stimulus money into the state economy,” Gov. Rounds said. “Nationally, grant recipients have expended only 23 percent of their allocations – on average – while South Dakota’s number is an impressive 43 percent.”

The funds are intended to be fully used over three fiscal years.

State government used $78 million in stimulus funds to balance the budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009; another $101 million in stimulus money will be used to balance the current state government budget, leaving about $70 million in stimulus funds to plug into the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010.

“These federal funds have helped balance the state budget, but they will run out after next year and it’s imperative that next year’s budget be as frugal as possible,” Gov. Rounds said. “The economy has shown little sign of recovering in the near future, and state revenue collections continue to be weak.”

Of the $655 million allocated to state government in South Dakota for recession relief, $287 million is for infrastructure -- such as roads, bridges, water systems, building repairs and energy projects; $186 million will be used for education; $134 million will be used for public assistance programs, including unemployment assistance; $27 million will be used for public safety; and $21 million is for other necessary state services.

“We used much of the stimulus funds, where the rules allowed, for roads and water projects,” the Governor continued. “The next generation of taxpayers will end up paying for the increased federal funds we have received, so they should benefit from these improvements.”

South Dakota sent its ARRA quarterly report to federal officials Thursday. It is not due until Sunday, and the federal government won’t count the reports as late until Jan. 15 because the federal guidance on how to count jobs was recently changed in late December.

“I commend state agencies and departments for the hard work they did to get this voluminous amount of financial information into the quarterly report,” the Governor said. “The information has been posted on the state’s Web site, with a link from State citizens can examine the exact data submitted to the federal government and be assured that the money was spent prudently.”

The Governor said no stimulus funds were used for additional personnel to compile the information.

South Dakota stimulus data, including reports on stimulus funds that went to other units of government in the state, will be available on the federal Web site on Jan. 30, said Jason Dilges, commissioner of the state Bureau of Finance and Management.

“In the spirit of government openness and transparency, information on ARRA funds is posted on our state Web site in real-time, as soon as any ARRA funds are spent.,” Dilges said. “Some of the numbers from the initial reports may be refined as we work with the federal agencies during the January review phase, but a massive amount of work went into our efforts to be sure that we met all of the federal reporting requirements and could accurately account for all of the funds, as of Dec. 31.

Rep. Herseth-Sandlin sets priorities for 2010

From here, where there's more:

As the Congress continues to work through critical legislative priorities, I'm committed to finding solutions that do right by South Dakota. Recently, I supported a bill to reform regulations of Wall Street and our financial system in response to the events of last fall that led to massive bailouts of financial firms and other companies, bailouts that I opposed. The House also passed major legislation related to energy and climate change and health care this year. While each of these bills include good provisions, and seek to address urgent issues, they are not the right mix of policy for South Dakota. Going forward, I will evaluate legislation related to these issues for their effect on my constituents – individuals, families and businesses in South Dakota, as well as their impact on the future we leave to our children. I remain optimistic that we will find a way forward on these critical issues.

At the top of my list for 2010 is a focus on spending and the deficit. I’ve been working with the administration and House and Senate leaders to push for a legislative package early next year that will include pay-as-you go rules and a fiscal commission to tackle some of the hard questions about entitlement spending.

While we’ve made great progress in many areas, everyone acknowledges that we’ve got a lot of unfinished business as well. With two wars, tens of thousands of troops serving overseas, an economy in recovery, and other priorities at home, our work is clearly not done. In the New Year, I'm looking forward to continuing my work on behalf of our great state to enact meaningful solutions to the challenges we face. I wish you and your family a happy and safe new year.

Sen. Johnson, USD officals look at Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in SD

From Sen. Tim Johnson's website:

Sioux Falls, SD—U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) held a roundtable discussion today with officials from the University of South Dakota Center for Disabilities. Johnson and others discussed Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) prevention and what needs to be done in the future to improve services for individuals living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and their families.

“The folks at the Center for Disabilities are working hard to better understand FASD and to provide services to those affected,” Johnson said. “I will continue to use my seniority and my seat on the Appropriations Committee to fund programs that will help combat this entirely preventable disorder.”

It is estimated that 8,000 individuals in South Dakota have a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The USD Center for Disabilities is the state’s National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome affiliate. The facility offers a diagnostic clinic to help identify people who may have a FASD as well as on-site consultations, training and technical assistance to families, schools and human service agencies that are working with people who have been diagnosed.

In 2007, Johnson introduced The Advancing FASD Research, Prevention, and Services Act. The bill would require the National Institutes of Health to develop a research agenda for FASD, improve the screening and development statewide FASD community partnerships.

Johnson was joined at the event by Judy Struck, Executive Director; Kristin Blaschke, Director of Development; Shelly Grinde, Director of Services and Support; Marcia Maltaverne, Director of FASD Education Strategy and Austin Windberg, Project Director.

Today’s roundtable is one in a series of events Johnson held across South Dakota during the Congressional District Work Period.

Sen. Thune to Sen. Reid: "rhetoric about transparency has thus far amounted to broken promises"

From Sen. Thune's website:

January 7, 2010

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader, United States Senate
United States Capitol, S-221
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Majority Leader Reid:

As you know, the American public has been paying close attention to the health care debates in both chambers of Congress. This important issue affects one-sixth of the American economy, and the changes made by Congress will affect every American family, individual, and business for years to come. Previous rhetoric about transparency has thus far amounted to broken promises to the American people.

In the coming weeks, we ask for increased transparency in the process of merging the House-passed bill and the Senate-passed bill. Closed door negotiations and unprecedented special provisions in exchange for votes do not meet the expectations of the American people. Numerous Senators have reiterated the need for transparency and the President himself noted in August of 2008 that:

“I'm going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We'll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies -- they'll get a seat at the table, they just won't be able to buy every chair. But what we will do is, we'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies. And so, that approach, I think is what is going to allow people to stay involved in this process.”

To ensure that the American people have the ability to witness the on-going negotiations between the House and Senate, we ask that any negotiations regarding a final health care reform bill be conducted in the light of day. The Chairman of C-SPAN, the network responsible for broadcasting the deliberations of Congress, has offered resources to cover all negotiation sessions live. We urge you to take him up on this offer.

We look forward to your response and the commitment that the American people can expect full transparency as you work with Speaker Pelosi and White House officials to merge the House and Senate-passed health care bills.

Signed by Sen. John Thune, South Dakota and all Republican Senators

SD divorce rate rose 9.2% from 2003 - 2008

The Decorum Forum: Ok, so who's messing up SD marriages?

The blogger at the link, Michael Sanborn, tries to stretch it into an argument for gay marriage, which I don't buy. But he's on target about the shabbiness of marriage overall in this country, even in places where "family values" get the most lip service.

In the comments, SD BlogNet Wizard Cory Heidelberger raises a good question about economic factors that stretch couples to the breaking point. In SD, people spend a pretty good percentage of time chasing dollars, which don't grow on trees 'cuz the plains don't have that many trees. Lots of folks have second jobs, a high percentage of women are in the work force (mostly as second or third incomes for their families), and many of the jobs that open are part time or on-call with pretty low pay.

Nationally, people move constantly to find work. Some of that is the American dream of freedom for upward mobility, but much of it is simple necessity as positions or even whole industries disappear. Very few people stay with a particular company for an entire career and more people have to "retool" themselves for new fields, often more than once. South Dakota college grads are notorious for leaving to find more lucrative jobs elsewhere. The impact of these trends on married couples is the constant elimination of supportive family and friend networks, placing the full weight of marriage on just two sets of shoulders. That's one of the under-discussed realities of the high divorce rate, and economics is a big part of it.

But I don't think we can blame the divorce rate on economics alone, as though we are rats in a maze reacting to stuff. Values are a formidable buffer against bad behavior in adverse times, so a low valuation of marriage is going to jack up the percentage of marriages that fail.

Christians see marriage as God's design in creation and a mysterious reflection of the new creation that is coming. Spiritually, the enduring union of a man and a woman across their very real differences is a sign of hope that human souls and God can share eternal unity. Practically, stable marriages anchor and enrich communities on earth. Therefore the community is commanded to honor and support marriage - and the Biblical lessons about economic justice and compassion are just as much a part of this as are the moral teachings about marriage. As The Book of Common Prayer puts it, "(Marriage) signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people."

The guiding God-given principle for marriage is a communal one: LOVE. But we exist in a culture in which the voices on all sides shout out the claims of the individual: my freedom, my rights, my happiness, my money, my needs, etc. Even churches cave in to this when "my personal salvation" and "my private interpretation" are separated from the relationships of love that God reveals and commands. Regions of the country with the most individual-centered forms of Christianity have absurdly high divorce rates.

The cultural understanding of "love" is an individual's pleasurable feeling. The Biblical understanding of love has to do with a deep and abiding commitment, which brings delight yet also abides in times of suffering and struggle. But as Jesus warned, enough duress can squeeze all the love out of us:

"...many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved." Matthew 24:10-13

Sure, he's a prophet, but can he run the spread offense?

My friend Ross Tucker in Arizona and I Skype-chat about football when we are not chatting about matters of faith (hold the comments, please).

Ross followed up with an email, which was about a particular NFL player but could be about any number of pro and collegiate athletes:

"You know…I find it really funny or interesting when athletes point to the sky when things happen their way in sports, but when things don’t go their way in a game…the stop... XXXXX was pointing to the sky towards the end of the game when they made that comeback as if to say, 'God is helping me win this game' or whatever what was going through his mind. Although, I love it when athletes show their faith during games and it’s great…why wasn’t he pointing to the sky when things weren’t going their way any longer?

Come on XXXXX…what changed in your faith between when things were going well and then not so well?!?!?!?!? Why wasn’t he pointing to the sky when they lost the game?"

God's people should be giving glory in all circumstances. Paul knew how to "point to the sky" - "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13)

My favorite example of "pointing to the sky" is the Prophet Habakkuk from the Old Testament:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (3:17-18)

Like Ross, I like it when athletes acknowledge God's grace in their accomplishments. It moves me when groups of players kneel to pray for an injured opponent. But how about that next step - to glorify God in loss? Anglicans in particular should find this natural, with our emphasis on sanctifying all seasons of life in worship.

But for any number of reasons, we don't do much of that sky-pointing in the church, either. And if we can't, why should anybody else?