Thursday, April 29, 2010

What's that you say? e-bay user?

This was my message in my church's May newsletter. Some of the thoughts go beyond the parish, so I am blogging them, too.

Ebenezer? You mean, like, Scrooge?

I remember a church development speaker saying, “Check your hymns to see if they make sense to your people. Do they really know what ‘Here I raise my Ebenezer’ means?”

In I Samuel 7:12 we read: Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, "Thus far the LORD has helped us."

Ebenezer means “stone of help” in Hebrew. Samuel’s stone-of-help was a mark of the progress the people made under God’s blessing.

This month is a kind of Ebenezer at our house. On May 26th, Melissa and I mark our 20th wedding anniversary. It falls on a Wednesday, so we will most likely renew our vows at the 12:15 service at Calvary Cathedral – it is a Communion service designed for the downtown lunch hour, so please come if you can.

Also, this month is our son Tim’s graduation from Lincoln High. We are very proud of him and more thankful than we can express for the blessings God has given him through life in South Dakota.

All of you at Good Shepherd have been God’s own helping hands and voices to us. The parish as a whole and each of you in special ways are Ebenezers – to look at you is to see a mark of how God has blessed our lives in an amazing season.

May God set marks of blessing in your lives today, to encourage you on the path that leads to eternal life.

Episcopal Bishop who retired and left denomination returns to serve Diocese of Albany

By email from friends in Albany:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As most of you are aware, shortly after his retirement as the Eighth Bishop of Albany, Bishop Herzog resigned his Holy Orders. In so doing, he made one of the most difficult decisions of his life, one that he has struggled with these past three years. He did so in obedience to his understanding of what he believed the Lord was calling him to do at the time in preparation for returning to the Roman Catholic Church, which was the Church of his youth.

For the past three years, Bishop Dan and I have maintained our friendship and have talked on several occasions about his decision to return to the Catholic Church. After much thought and prayer he has discovered that his heart is still very much with the people and Diocese of Albany whom he truly loves and committed his entire 36 years of ordained ministry serving. Earlier this Spring, Bishop Dan asked if I would be open to him returning to an active ordained ministry as a priest in the Diocese of Albany. I asked him; if possible, would he consider coming back not only as a priest, but as a bishop in order to assist me in ministering to the Diocese.

On Maundy Thursday, Bishop Dan and I went to New York to meet with the Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev’d Katherine Jefferts Shori. Bishop Dan rescinded his renunciation and the Presiding Bishop with the advice and consent of her Advisory Council, accepted and restored Bishop Herzog effective April 28, 2010.

Earlier today, while meeting with the priests of the Diocese, during the Annual Priest Retreat, I announced that Bishop Daniel Herzog has been fully restored to the Ordained Ministry of this Church, with the attendant obligations of Ministerial office, and endowed with the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments in this Church conferred on him in his Ordinations. I invited Bishop Dan to celebrate the closing Eucharist at the retreat.

Though he has never really been absent from our common life, I invite you to join me in formally welcoming Bishop Dan and Carol back to the full communion of the diocese and the wider church. During the past three years, they have continued to support the work of the diocese and to participate in a non-ordained capacity. His restored role will be of help in carrying out the work of the Church, and I will be asking him to assist in this Diocese under my direction as is true of any retired bishop. Similarly, Bishop David Ball as been assisting me in various ways these past three years and by the grace of God will continue to do so. I am very appreciative to Bishop Ball a nd now Bishop Herzog for their willingness to join me in ministering to the people of the Diocese of Albany.

All baptized Christians, both laity and clergy, have a share in the apostolic mission the Lord holds out for the Church and I am delighted that Bishop Dan and Carol can officially take their place among us again in the Diocese of Albany. I ask your prayers for all who labor for Christ and his kingdom across these nineteen counties.

Faithfully Yours in Christ,
(That's Bishop William Love of Albany)

Statement from the Rt Rev. Daniel W. Herzog on his restoration:

I want to extend my deep appreciation to Bishop Love and to the Presiding Bishop for their kindness and pastoral solicitude. Carol and I are grateful for the continuing opportunity to serve our Lord and His church in the Diocese of Albany. My only plan is to assist in any way Bishop Bill directs. We are honored to resume a fuller place among the clergy and laity of the diocese.

Your Brother in Christ,

Prayer request for SD's man in the Sudan!

Received by email from his support team:

Dear Friends,

Please pray for Moses Jokhnial II as he recovers in an Ugandan
hospital from a serious infection called necrofasciitis. Two weeks
ago, he was airlifted from his village in South Sudan, where he has
been working on his school project since December. He became ill upon
returning from a week's trip away from his village to collect
additional building supplies. Months of hard work, heat, and lack of
good nutrition may well have left him susceptible to such an infection.

His doctors report him to be stable and showing good progress these
last several days. We are grateful for their knowledge and skills as
certainly they have saved his life. A blessing is our Ugandan worker
Moshe, who stays with him day and night. When I suggested Moshe take
a break one night and go to his home, his comment was, "I cannot leave
my father's side." He is in fact 15 years older than Moses. Such
loyalty and compassion he is offering Moses when just a year ago they
were strangers! Thanks be to God for all the good people in the world.

While we are very anxious for Moses to return home, we are listening
carefully to his doctors' recommendations as to when it will be safe
for him to travel. His recovery will be long. So once he returns
home, there will be many opportunities for us to give him lots of TLC.

Since feeling better, Moses never fails to ask me to send greetings to
everyone back home and to say that he misses everyone. He would want
me to share photos and progress of his school project in this
message. The school is 95% completed with the roofing, doors, and
windows finished last week. Four grinding mills have been installed
in his village and the surrounding villages to help girls attend
school. Eight sewing machines have been supplied. Ellie Keirnes and
Myrna Stanley, who traveled with me to his village in March, helped
deliver school supplies, medical supplies, sports uniforms for the
soccer and volleyball teams, washable sanitary pads, clothing, fabric,
wheelchairs, letters from American students, flags for the school,
banners for the churches, vestments - and much more. The celebrations
were many by the villagers in appreciation for the many helpful
changes coming to them!

Besides the school project, Moses is helping facilitate the building
of church structures for the three denominations in his village. Our
Ugandan workers have been hired to help the parishioners with some of
the construction and are installing the metal roofs this week. This
has to please Moses greatly to know the work continues.

The positive changes in one year's time in this community are
extraordinary. Moses's village was almost unrecognizable to me from
last year's visit to this one. The feeling of hope for a better
future is everywhere. Because of your generous contributions, Moses's
vision has become reality.

We appreciate your prayers for Moses's healing.

Anybody else hearing about an NFL lockout next year?

Chad Ochocinco of the Cincinnati Bengals just tweeted

I can't wait till football season,with the chances of a lockout in 2011 I will be playing like the world is comn to an end


Administration settles with Native Americans on land rights; now Congress can't come up with the money

A class action suit on behalf of Native Americans, claiming U.S. Government mismanagement of funds from mineral and grazing rights on Tribal lands, seemed to be over when President Obama's administration negotiated a settlement for 3.4 billion dollars.

Only Congress isn't sure where to get that much money.

Said U.S. District Judge James Robertson:

“The need for Congress to act is real. Until or unless Congress acts, the lawyers who have devoted themselves to this case for 15 years on both sides are on hold, and, more importantly, all of Indian Country is on hold. And I don’t want to be too melodramatic about this, but justice is on hold.”

Do you prepare to HEAR? If not, maybe that's why the sermon doesn't reach you

Expository Listening | Challies Dot Com

Short, simple and challenging book review at the link. I'll have to get this book into my stack.

I blog now and then with challenges and encouragements for preachers - so this one is for hearers.

...preaching is a joint venture in which the listener partners with the pastor so that "the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose of transforming your life. Nothing creates a more explosive, electrifying, life-changing atmosphere than when the lightning bolts from a Spirit-empowered preacher hit the lightning rods of a Spirit-illuminated listener. There is no telling the dynamic impact the Spirit of God will make through the Word of God any time someone who faithfully explains and applies God's Word comes into contact with someone who faithfully listens to and obeys God's Word." This powerful synergy is at the heart of so much lasting spiritual change.

h/t Treading Grain

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sympathy Rant on...

I was having lunch at the medical center today and eavesdropped on some supervisors. They were lamenting a new trend: would-be employees are now submitting job applications written as if text-messaged. Stuff like,

i think i can add the talent ur looking for i have exp in similar i know people in the field and have learned from them what you need i can give

I am getting more out of touch and irrelevant by the day. I find miserable company as I sympathize with people who offer jobs and receive this kind of crap in response.

Sympathy Rant off.

Rant on...

I am sick of trying to open my email via our internet service's news page. It's always a junk science report (today's gem is "A third say pets listen better than husbands" - which before you ladies get too uppity can be rendered "A third of women in somebody's poll are emotionally and intellectually stunted enough to think that one directional communication at an animal is conversation")or Kim Kardashian's boobs in my face (same pic but with a different outfit every day, I think). And don't even mention "Lady Gaga" (I actually caught a song and she's got pipes - but what's with the endless quest to look goofy? And why is that interesting?)

Rant off.

Peds program accreditation - Thanks be to God!

New pediatrics program could keep doctors in S.D. | | Argus Leader

SD is presently 48th in the nation in pediatricians per 10,000 kids. This new residency program is a big step forward in that field of medicine.

How others see us

Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen (Sydney, AU) comments on a recent meeting:

"In this group were representatives from Madagascar, Kenya, the Solomons, South Africa, India, Myanmar, and Burundi – a fair range representing the modern Anglican Communion and the very ones who value their membership of the Communion so highly. We were discussing covenants, and the issue of the Anglican covenant emerged. Very gently but firmly the group let me into a secret. It was all very well to have a covenant, but what if the people have different ideas as to what a covenant may mean? What if you were in covenanting with westerners, whose word could not be relied on? Of what use is a covenant then? Look at the state of marriage in the west. Consider the western capacity to use slippery words. What would a covenant be worth?"

h/t David Ould, Stand Firm

It's Wednesday, Preachers... how's that sermon coming?

"For every teacher, when he accepts any earthly hearer of the teaching of the heavenly words, takes a tile. When he has begun to speak to him of the recompense of the Heavenly Kingdom, the vision of supernal peace, he draws the city of Jerusalem on the tile. He lays this before him because with intent mind he considers the quality of the hearer, i.e. he perceives him as advanced or enfeebled, and moderates the words of his preaching to fit his understanding, so that the city of Jerusalem, i.e. the vision of peace, can be drawn in the mind of the hearer. Therefore it may be said, 'Take thee a tile,' viz. the earthly heart of a neighbor. 'And lay it before thee,' surely so that you may guard his life and understanding with an intent mind. 'And draw upon it the city of Jerusalem,' so that it may become clear to him what are the heavenly joys of inward peace, and to strive after the perception of the glory of the Heavenly Kingdom."
Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel I.12.23

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A different standard of success

"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

Jesus in Matthew 5:11-16

Tuesday's daily lesson from The Book of Common Prayer

Deception now business as usual for Episcopal Church?

When representatives of the Southern hemisphere's Anglican Provinces met last week in Singapore, their final statement expressed dismay that the Episcopal Church's

...refusal to honor the many requests made of them by the various meetings of the Primates throughout the Windsor Process have brought discredit to our witness...

After the Episcopal Church (TEC) ignored many of its own members, including a report from its own House of Bishops' Theology Committee, to affirm an actively homosexual Bishop in 2003, the wider Anglican Communion held global meetings in 2004, '05 and '07 calling on TEC to practice "gracious restraint" from more such elections because the Communion's stated teaching does not accept the practice.

The response of the Episcopal Church was to lie - to sign onto statements of restraint, give reassurances, and then proceed with "the agenda." Now, an active lesbian is to be made a Bishop in Los Angeles on May 15th.

The lying continues, even with the evidence in front of the world. A just disclosed communication from the Episcopal Bishop of Georgia justifies his affirmative vote for the lesbian Bishop this way (emphasis added):

I am aware of some concern about the so-called moratorium [on Bishops with sex lives inconsistent with Christian teaching]. The House of Bishops did agree to a moratorium a number of years ago. That moratorium, however, was not one-sided. It was accepted in the context that certain of our Anglican brothers would refrain from crossing diocesan boundaries. While the House of Bishops exercised the restraint of the moratorium for seven years, others did not practice such restraint even for a year. So, in my judgment, the moratorium was no longing a compelling consideration.

This paragraph is a complete distortion of the truth, as an alert commenter detailed:

...the Windsor Report recommended the moratoria in October 2004. In 2005 the Primates asked the Episcopal Church to consider the requests made in the Windsor Report. In 2006 General Convention passed B033 which responded to this invitation. In February 2007 the Primates requested clarification of the meaning of B033 and in September 2007 the HOB declared that it was correct to understand that B033 was intended to comply with the request.

Even under the most generous interpretation, the moratorium lasted only from 2006 - 2009.

Another observer teased out more details of distortion:

And as you put it, even 3 years is an EXCEEDINGLY generous interpretation. It helps to remember there was more than a single moratorium. It was not just about a moratorium on the consecration of further gay bishops, but also a moratorium on SSBs [same sex blessings].

And as we know, those considered full speed ahead in many dioceses, often with the bishop’s full knowledge and participation. Bishops like +Bruno, +Schori, +Chane, +Curry and former AK bishop +Maze and many others were all on the record as promoting, participating in, and in some cases performing SSBs. So all along the “moratoria” were a game for many TEC bishops. Say and pretend one thing, do another. [I remember vividly Susan Russell’s SSB and her trumpeting it on her blog in explicit defiance of the Primates and the moratoria. It wasn’t done in secret in a corner.]

And of course, at least 3 dioceses had partnered gays as candidates for bishop during the period… so, dioceses were actively trying to flaunt the moratorium on ordaining gay bishops. They just didn’t succeed until Glasspool was elected.

During this time, Global South and other Anglican Bishops did, in fact, end their intrusions into TEC congregations. Those who still come into the U.S. visit groups that TEC has rejected from its membership. TEC tried to sanction those who sought help from other provinces; TEC did not sanction its members who violated the other moratoria. So the Georgia Bishop's new claim that the moratorium was over because of foreign intrusions is yet another deception.

This sort of dissembling is now endemic to TEC leadership. Long, wordy answers to simple propositions and questions are a favorite form, and the Georgia letter embodies it. But it's not the standard of operations set forth by the one to whom the church will answer:

Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one. Jesus, Matthew 5:37

Monday, April 26, 2010

The radical message of Jesus

No, not some trendy version. Just the Gospel itself, which came up in the Daily Office readings of the Book of Common Prayer. These are words we tend to soften. We render them in lovely script on wall hangings. But consider the radical challenge:

Matthew 5

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying...

Contrary to popular art and movies, these words are not flung out for all to hear. They are suited to those who have taken on the "discipline" of following Christ's lead. They won't work well for dabblers.

3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The value system is not of this world, but based in a very foreign kingdom - the kingdom of heaven (or, in the other Gospels, "of God.") And it favors not the self-satisfied, loud and confident, nor the smugly "spiritual," but the empty and struggling.

4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Jesus isn't about "closure" and "getting over it." A heart that can break can love. Love is the standard of the kingdom.

5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Reality TV = Hell's media. The new creation will be done with exhibitionists, narcissists, manipulators and the like. In a reversal of fortune, people we ignore will be the royalty of the kingdom that is coming.

6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Not those who've already received some formal stamp of approval from the church or the world, but those who won't accept it and keep trudging ahead seeking something real.

7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Not those who get even or have the last word, but those who are gentle with those who've wronged them.

8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Not those driven about by feelings, opinions, group identity or whatever. Those who flush out old garbage and take in the kingdom's values as their own.

9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
God has a small family by this standard. "All paths lead to heaven"? Maybe not, judging from the state of the world.

10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Not those who win on earth, but those who seek citizenship in the kingdom and are willing to take lumps for it.

If you look at efforts to "enlist Jesus" in causes or movements of any ideological stripe, you'll see these kingdom standards getting tossed aside. They're too radical for even the most radical people. All fall short, and that is why sincere disciples learn to place their ultimate trust in Christ himself at the end of the day. He's the only one who lives by the kingdom values and can touch us with the radical tenderness they offer.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Last word on my last two posts: a lament over the land

O LORD, watch over us
and save us from this generation for ever.

The wicked prowl on every side,
and that which is worthless is highly prized by everyone.

Every one has proved faithless;
all alike have turned bad;
there is none who does good; no, not one.
Psalms 12:7-8; 14:3

MORE get past the ideology and call it evil: "SEC porn investigation nets dozens."

Federal Eye - SEC porn investigation nets dozens

Yeah, Goldman Sachs and other greedy market players are evil and harm us. And they mess up the free market by inviting more government regulation to curb their excesses.

But here are the people who are entrusted with our protection - paid, benefited and pensioned by our taxes - spending our time getting themselves off on porno.

Secular people, moral relativists, post-Christians, post-moderns, new Atheists - whatever you all are calling yourselves this weekend - now that you have the influence over public discourse, can you tell us your great moral vision to replace the broad Christian cultural consensus? What is your standard by which a Federal employee should refrain from porno on the office computer? Where, amidst your endless entitlements to self-discovery and gratification, is your language of responsibility to others and restraint of self?

Goldman Sachs: let's get past the ideology and call it evil.

Goldman Sachs Messages Show It Thrived as Economy Fell -

Here is the problem for free-marketers, especially Libertarians. What Goldman Sachs did is far, far from Adam Smith's vision of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers wisely and competitively marketing real goods and services to make a profit. The Wall Street shenanigans here are about moving an un-product, non-service load of junk paper around to service pure greed.

When I lived in L.A., Libertarian radio host Larry Elder routinely defended this kind of thing under caveat emptor - "Let the buyer beware." He didn't defend it as right or moral, but he basically argued that we don't need laws, we just need to better educate ourselves about what we buy. Our fault if its junk.

The problem is that the size and scope of the Goldman Sachs dealings send ripples through the economy. People who never even considered buying stocks find their finances worsened. There's an example I blogged just a few posts ago, in which the employees of Lutheran publishing company are having their pensions nuked by the Wall Street havoc.

This kind of evil leads to the call for regulation. I'm not big on big government. It tends to become Caesar, claiming divine right to itself and expecting people to burn incense to it on threat of severe penalty.

But Goldman Sachs certainly tempts one to flip a very visible finger to the "invisible hand" of the market.

"Shame is the most corrosive abuse... We must know that God will vindicate us."

From the Global South Encounter 4 in Singapore: Bible Study Thursday morning led by the Rt. Rev. Rennis Ponniah, Assistant Bishop of Diocese of Singapore

Today’s question for Bible Study is: “Is your vision of leadership too accommodating to your own comfort level? “

Today’s Scriptures are Isaiah 50:4-9 and 2 Timothy 1:8-14

3 questions on Leadership

We need to have:

•leadership that flows from intimate communion with God
•Leadership that expresses costly obedience
•Leadership that reflects holy confidence

We have each experienced the hostility of a world opposed to God. Isaiah 50:1 says that God has divorced our mother city; therefore we are in exile. We have a choice: we can trust God and take his provision or build our own fire or walk by our own torch. Which will you choose: your own ability or God’s merciful provision?

Isaiah 50:4: The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.

The Lord has given me an instructed tongue. Isaiah 49:2 says that he made my tongue like a sharpened sword. God gives the WORD that sustains this speaker and sustains the weary. Morning by morning the heart is prepared (by God himself) to hear His still small voice. This gift is new every morning.

My children ask me almost every day, “What is the word the Lord has given you today?” We talk daily about the Word from the Lord and I have trained my children to listen so they, when mature, can hear the Lord for themselves.

When we become disciples, we are given a gifted ear to hear the Lord and a gifted tongue to speak His Word. Therefore the servant can hear the still small voice and speak the Word of the Lord.

We function in a house that is an unrepentant institution (the whole Church, infected over the millennium by the world). Unless we seek the Word of the Lord daily, we will be shaped by the institution, not by God. We are rewarded by the praise we seek. Do we desire God’s praise or man’s? Where do your actions lead you? Whose praise do you desire?
Listening to God and saying so publicly will lead to criticism, antagonism and abuse, even from fellow Church members. We suffer the sting of shame when that happens because shame as an affliction is in the Church now. Even after the criticism, antagonism or abuse, we must be willing and ready to speak the Word of the Lord and not return evil for evil. We must be willing to pay the costly obedience that Christ paid on the cross and trust again in God’s ability to heal every conflict and every hurt.

50: 7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.

But, the Lord helps me. Therefore I have not been disgraced. Therefore, I set my face like flint. Therefore I shall not be put to shame. People will heap shame upon you. Shame is the most corrosive abuse, but conflict costs you friends, peace and mental anguish. Sometimes, we will make the wrong decision to avoid feeling shame because the poison behind shame is that you are secretly afraid that you are what is said: a fool who has taken the wrong path. God will shield and heal you, but it requires your costly obedience to His way and His Word.

Whatever happens, whether it is conflict, criticism, antagonism or abuse, we want to be found obedient to Christ. To do so, we must have Holy Confidence, based not on our own understanding or our own merit, but on the power of the sovereign Lord. God Almighty will help us and sustain us in the midst of the worst conflict and suffering.

Now we will go to 2 Timothy 1: 8-14. “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. “

God tells us through Paul that He is able to guard whatever He has entrusted to us, especially that deposit of His Word. This is so that I may speak His Word with confidence, for it cannot be taken away from me.

How can we overcome shame? We must know that God will vindicate us. No accuser or prosecuting attorney can overcome the power of the Holy Spirit.

God will vindicate and confirm and reconfirm, even if it is on the other side of eternity. Yes, it may be on the other side of eternity.

We must decide if we want to be an army of sheep led by a lion or an army of lions led by a sheep. Remember, “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.”

In summary, leadership flows from intimate communion. How is your communion? Have you lost your first love?

Leadership depends on costly obedience. Can you drink the same cup that Christ drank?

Leadership reflects holy confidence. Will you leave your country and enter a vulnerable location? Will you expose yourself outside of your comfort zone? If you want to walk on water, you have to first step out of the boat.

So let me ask you again, leaders of the Global South: Will we be an army of sheep led by a lion, or an army of lions, led by a sheep? AMEN.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Read it for yourself before you get scared

Global South Anglican - Fourth Trumpet from the Fourth Anglican Global South to South Encounter

Economic development, empowerment of women and young people, support for lay people as Christ's primary witnesses in the world, facing up to persecution... these and other important issues are laid out, and all The Episcopal News Service headline can shriek is, "Those people are attacking us!"

h/t KB

Can't grant you an extension - but maybe a laugh about your taxes?

The April 15 menu posted at the Sanford Hospital Cafeteria included:

EZ Mashed Potatoes & Gravy

Penny Pinchin Pork Chop

Refund Chili

Tax Credit Cuban Sandwich

Final Penalty Fries

Uncle Sam's Beef Chuck Tenders

h/t Donna, Sanford Nutrition & Food Services

Publisher's Employees Sue Over Church-Related Pension -

Sad to read about this Lutheran struggle. The suit is in Minneapolis, where Augsburg Publishing is headquartered.

Publisher's Employees Sue Over Church-Related Pension -

h/t Dale & Ingrid D., AAC/SDK

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Former Watertown priest gets to the point


Tony Clavier is an old school Anglican, in that he can abide an array of Christian positions within the church. He's progressive on many issues, as you will see if you read his whole piece.

I share this for those who wonder about all the squabbling over "the gay issue" in the Episcopal Church. Tony makes important points about the violence done to the church in the way the issue has been forwarded:

Set aside the matter of a church having Canons which require clergy not to engage in sexual relationships outside marriage, which elects and confirms people who engage in such relationships: set aside the fact that the blessing of same-sex persons in something resembling marriage counters the doctrine and discipline of our church...

...The crucial matter is one of honesty and trust. Even after the votes taken at the last General Convention which seemed to reject a principled pause in these areas, the PB and the President of the House of Deputies wrote to the leaders of the Anglican Communion stating that TEC still honored its agreement to a moratorium on the ordination and consecration of persons in partnered same-sex relationships and to authorizing same-sex blessings.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has made his dismay quite clear. Mutual affection and submission, the type of any loving relationship, depends on trust. The issue presented to the Communion now is that it cannot trust TEC, for no single agency of TEC represents its voice, and thus one “voice” may say one thing and seem authoritative, only to be drowned out by another which seems authoritative.This confusion of tongues is lauded as TEC’s superior form of government!

One might agree with the ordination of partnered gays and the blessing of their relationships, and still have to face the reality that incoherent and dishonest leadership harms the church. The "ends justify the means" approach taken by TEC's LGBT bureaucracy has degraded tolerance by destroying trust.

h/t Dan Martins

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Did Abe Lincoln or FDR have "secular purposes"?

I try, try, try to stay out of the eye poking and name calling of our polarized country, but I caught a bit of conservative commentary shared via South Dakota blogger Steve Sibson...

Sibby Online: It is irrational beyond description to assert that government can only serve a "secular" purpose

...and I just can't get over the silly court decision in which a Federal Judge said that the President can't issue National Day of Prayer proclamations because they "don't serve a secular purpose."

Check this out:

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


Or this...

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

Perhaps the "secular purpose" of prayer is to calm, encourage, unite, comfort and bring other positive power into the lives of a diverse people, facing all of the world's on-going challenges.

The Judge's decision, in logic, verges on an "appeal to ignorance." Because she can't figure out any public benefit from a National Day of Prayer, there must not be any.

Really petty and ridiculous.

"And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls..." *

...and Chris Johnson's blog.

This is too funny/sad/scary. The Anglican Church of Canada, which has pretty much gone the decline-and-die-whilst-issuing-trendy-pc-statements route, is offering corporate sponsor naming opportunities as a form of financial life support. Johnson joked about this sometime ago (detailed at the link), and he turned out to be prophetic.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT II | Midwest Conservative Journal

* Sounds of Silence, Simon & Garfunkle

Tomorrow's Earth Day. And the Iconoclastic controversy makes a comeback!

In the 8th and 9th centuries, the church struggled through the Iconoclastic controversy. Could material things point us toward God, or were they idols in place of God that needed smashing? In the end, St. John of Damascus and other defenders of the icons ("Iconodules") prevailed: because Christ had come in the flesh, material things were redeemed as means to worship God. But material things were not to be worshipped in and of themselves.

Earth Day, from an orthodox Christian perspective, can be a means to worship the Creator, give thanks for the creation we enjoy, and even to confess and repent of our misuses of it.

But we have to be careful about sloppy thinking and language, because when the creation receives the worship that is due the Creator, we are way into idolatry.

An April 15th news release from the Episcopal Church gets sloppy:

“Our role here on God’s good earth is to be servants of creation,” offers Michael Schut, Economic and Environmental Affairs Officer of The Episcopal Church, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22.

We are caretakers of the creation, not its servants. The Biblical message is that God has ordered things to take care of us, and we are to use (yes, use) them responsibly, generously and thankfully.

This is not a small matter, as the Iconoclasts and Iconodules understood. And even the first generation of Christian teachers recognized this, as the Apostle Paul warned the churches in Galatia:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted. (4:8-11)

Sloppy gushing about nature flows in and out of the Western mind, notably in Romanticism. A number of historical observers have pointed out German Romanticism's role in enabling the mythic and emotional appeal of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Sloppy thinking has consequences.

The Biblical view asserts a Creator with final authority over the creation, sees the creation as initially good until corrupted by human rebellion against the Creator, and announces a new creation begun in Christ. Humans are not the final authority over the Earth, nor is the Earth a law unto itself. In Christ, humanity and Earth both find hope:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25

Very simply put, the Christian view of the environment is:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving... I Timothy 4:4

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A few thoughts toward Earth Day

Nah, it's not on the Church Calendar, although there have been discussions of building a Creation theme into the fall/early winter - the end of the long, green Pentecost season and the preparation for Advent's prophecies of the new creation in Christ.

If a fond memory is right, a copy of this tapestry ^ was the backdrop of a chapel dedicated to prayer for the environment at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC. It represents a scene from the Acts of the Apostles, in which Paul and Barnabas dissuade a crowd from offering animal sacrifice.

Generally speaking, when Christian faith is put into the service of any movement (Divine Right of Kings, Civil Rights, you name it) the Christian content eventually leaks out and something all too worldly is left. Christians tend to be the original "useful idiots" of many causes. So it would be with "Christian Environmentalism." Everything pointing to God will be removed and we'll be left with the occasional picture of Jesus (or some vaguely spiritual guy with a beard) composting in Birkenstocks while we write hymns and prayers to shrubs.

But the Bible's message, taken as a whole, is that the creation is a good gift from the Creator, for our responsible and reverent use. Sane efforts to manage, preserve and share the world's resources can engage all people of good will - Christians add to this a special vocation to lift up thankful prayer to the Creator.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"The treachery of another Gospel which is afraid of and denies the deity of Christ."

Nigeria's new Anglican Archbishop, Nicholas Okoh, summarizes the Christian message in a plenary sesson of the Global South Encounter:

Global South Anglican - GSE4 Thematic Address 1: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ” - Abp Nicholas Okoh

He gives seven "motifs" of the Gospel of Christ:
1. Evangelism
2. Suffering
3. Obedience
4. Repentance
5. Transformation
6. Peace
7. Love

In his Conclusion, he calls for "economic empowerment" to overcome systemic evils in the Global South, and then calls BS on Euro-American culture Christianity:

"The treachery of another Gospel which is afraid of and denies the deity of Christ."

That is some penetrating truth. The end point of contemporary church disputes isn't "sex." Sexual minorities are used as a smokescreen by cyncial enemies of traditional, Biblically accurate and Credally faithful Christianity. At the end of the day, the effort is to get the Bible and traditional Christian teaching out of the way so that "another Gospel" - a false one - can put on religious clothes and serve as a fawning chaplaincy to worldly powers. It sounds liberating and compassionate, but it is just another effort to ration freedom and compassion by the whims of worldly elites.

Archbishop Okoh rightly sees freedom and compassion flowing from the inexhaustible stores of heaven, from an authority not subject to earthly powers. That is why such powers fear and deny that Jesus Christ is "God's only Son, our Lord."

The global church matters

The Daily Office lessons for today included this from Peter's First Letter,

Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. (5:8-9)

We learn from one another's struggles and in fact can "borrow faith" and other qualities from one another. In his Second Letter to Corinth, Paul pushes affluent Christians there to give money for the needs of the impoverished church in Macedonia, noting that the Macedonians are exporting "joy" and "earnestness" to help other churches (Chs.8 & 9 NRSV).

The potential break up of the worldwide Anglican Communion is poignantly sad from this perspective.

The 4th Global South Encounter is underway in Singapore thru Friday. It unifies the most vibrant and numerous Provinces of the Anglican Communion, which might be on the way to separation from the tin-earred and hard-hearted machinations of cash-rich, people-poor and theologically bankrupt Northern Hemisphere Provinces and bureaucracy (tragically represented by The Episcopal Church).

Other prayer and informational links for the GS4 are at the Lent & Beyond prayer blog.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Don't feel sorry for your pastors - pray for them instead

My sabbatical looks so far away tonight. It starts in August - really not long to wait - but I've had three parishioners' funerals since Easter and I am plenty wrung out.

Last night, God blessed our home with an unusually early quiet, so I sat up and did some spiritual reading. The bit of Gregory the Great's preaching that I read was like having an understanding friend drop by:

"Think, I ask you, dearest brothers, how much toil there is for the watchman, both to extend his heart to the sublime, and suddenly to recall it to the depths, and to refine the spirit in the heights of inward understanding and because of the exterior causes of his neighbors, so to speak, suddenly thicken in cogitation. Homilies on the Prophet Ezekiel I.11.28

In other words, if your pastor is going to bring anything of spiritual insight and value to the sermons you sit through, s/he needs time in prayer and contemplation of the Word of God; but if your pastor is to temper these insights with compassion for your human struggles, s/he will be wrenched out of the peaceful splendor of prayer to deal with all the "stuff" of daily life.

Gregory says that this is unavoidable - in fact, it is necessary if we are to find divine wisdom and apply it with tender care. So don't feel sorry for us. It is the way God set things up; it models our mysterious message that Jesus Christ is fully God of Glory and fully human of Earth.

But don't ignore our reality and just gripe about us, either. Gregory has this word for "the people in the pews,"

"Therefore it is necessary for me not only to expound the words of the Prophet but also to lament my own wretchedness before you. I therefore seek that your prayer make me such that I avail to benefit myself and you as well. He is powerful through your intercession to bestow such gifts on me, unworthy and weak." I.11.29

If our sermons are trite in your ears, pray God to give us insight. If our sermons are cold, pray God to warm our hearts with compassion. If our sermons are scattered and poorly prepared, pray God to protect our time in prayer and study. Whatever might be "wrong" with our preaching, ask God to help us and it will bring blessing to you.

Don't let us make excuses, but don't give us grief, either. We are wretched and broken and need God just like you. If you want awesome preaching - and Christ died for you to have it, after all - pray for your preachers throughout the week.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Forbes lists Sioux Falls #1 "small place" for business and careers

#1 Sioux Falls SD -

Hey, coastal snobs, fly over this.

NYT Tea Party Poll - missing questions leave the story incomplete

Here's the text of Wednesday's New York Times news alert email:

Poll Finds Tea Party Anger Rooted in Issues of Class

The fierce animosity that Tea Party supporters harbor toward
Washington and President Obama in particular is rooted in
deep pessimism about the direction of the country and the
conviction that the policies of the Obama administration are
disproportionately directed at helping the poor rather than
the middle class or the rich, according to the latest New
York Times/CBS News poll.

Plenty of adjectives - angry, fierce, pessimistic, poor, middle class, rich. What struck me was how they all applied to the Tea Party or to economic groups who might be impacted by government policies - but there were no adjectives describing the government.

I went to the full article and found that the paragraph was a quote from it, not a summary or paraphrase. Other than terms used by Tea Party respondents, there were still no adjectives describing government in the rest of the piece.

The net impression is that there are real people with perceived needs, real people with feelings, and government. Two "thems" and an "it." Two human entities subject to value judgments and an "above it all" entity that can't be evaluated for adjectives.

The missing questions that would flesh out the discussion are ones that would provide adjectives for "the government," that is, the people in political office:

Who are they, demographically?

What are their feelings about the country?

What opinions do they hold of various groups of citizens?

If the human dimension is important to sorting out the Tea Party and income groups for purposes of our public debate, then certainly we need to know the human reality behind the titles in DC.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hot Rod Anglican: The Beauty of Holiness vs The Holiness of Beauty

Hot Rod Anglican: The Beauty of Holiness vs The Holiness of Beauty

A good thought and discussion starter. I could not help thinking, as I looked at one of his matrices, that so much of what comes at us via cable TV, internet and other media is from the "Worst" box - lacking holiness AND beauty, celebrating evil and the grotesque.

Native American, African American children more likely to be taken into Oregon foster care

Native American, African American children more likely to be taken into Oregon foster care |

h/t Facebook Friend James C. Elliott

Wonder what the stats might be for South Dakota?

Zizzen me!

One of the perks of parenting is that you can remind your grown up kids of cute things they probably want to forget.

Our older son was very verbal from the get go, forming arguments rather than throwing tantrums. If he became exasperated by our intransigence on some matter, he would make a very serious little face and say, "Zizzen me!" We realized he was just feeding back our own means of taking over conversations, "Listen to me!"

Here we are at midweek. Those who will preach have, I hope, been in prayerful zizzening to Jesus Christ. Too often, we have an idea we want to pitch or an outcome we want to manipulate, and we seek to find a Bible text that either supports our agenda or can be warped so to do. How much more wonderful when we simply zizzen and let Jesus surprise us with something of himself, something he entrusts us to share with the people he loves.

Pastor Mark Gronseth serves the Methodist congregation in Wakonda, SD. His wife was our organist for several months before they moved there, and before leaving Mark brought me a little book called The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen. I started reading it, it got buried in a desk pile, but I recently retrieved it and finished reading. Hansen has some good zizzening advice for preachers:

"My ideas for the church, even those inspired by the Holy Spirit, have no place in the pulpit; they are not the material of proclamation. Jesus Christ is the object of proclamation. Preaching our visions and ideas for the church is cheap leadership, and it is not preaching. But biblical, Christocentric preaching is powerful pastoral leadership...

Christians who hear good preaching learn to 'taste and see that the LORD is good' (Psalm 34:8). They develop a taste for the Word. They love the hear the Word of God, thoughtfully prepared, lovingly presented."

Like parents with a precocious kid, we need to be tickled by Jesus and let him take over our conversation. We need to be zizzening when we prepare a sermon, not just deciding what we want to say.

In Seeking Life, Esther De Waal ponders The Rule of Saint Benedict and finds encouragement to zizzen:

"For I must remember that I am listening to the Word, to Christ. When I think about the voice of Christ I try to recall its various manifestations in his earthly life. I hear it sometimes encouraging and cajoling, at other times challenging and demanding. And then, since my reflections and prayers must inevitably be drawn to the paschal [Christ's Passion and Resurrection] mystery, I think of the voice from the cross where, even at a time of almost unimaginable pain, Christ is calling for forgiveness, making excuses for those who do not realize what they are doing, speaking in what St. Aelred of Rievaulx calls 'that wondrous voice, full of gentleness and love.'"

Zizzen well before you outline, write or otherwise compose that message. Zizzen to the one who loves the people who will hear it, and honors you to deliver it - Him - to them.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Southern Hemisphere Anglicans Gather in Singapore - visit their prayer list and be thankful for what we have here

Global South Anglican - GSE4 Participants’ Prayer Guide

Many of these provinces pray for peaceful elections and an end to political, ethnic or regional violence. This is poignant as we go freely, peacefully and well fed to the polls to vote for Mayor, City Council and School Board folks in Sioux Falls.

Christian life in these places is costly and dangerous. Yet these are the growing, vibrant provinces of Anglican Christianity. And we (Episcopalians) grow more estranged from them daily by our eccentric, narcissistic and money glutted dabbling.

Nebraska To Limit Abortion Due To Fetal Pain

Stand Firm | Nebraska To Limit Abortion Due To Fetal Pain

I am glad that Jackie Bruchi shared this at SF. Here's what I posted at the thread there:

The abortionists’ idol, Roe v. Wade, is based on junk science. The rapid pace of medical and technological change since the 70s gives us greater insight into life in the womb and greater ability to preserve it - Roe’s “first trimester” concept is absurd on its face. In other words, it is Roe’s defenders who are the flat earthers, the superstitious devotees, the appealers to ignorance.

An Election Day Prayer and a personal note

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers
and privileges: Guide the people of Sioux Falls (and all communities) in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your
purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p.822

On a personal note, our older son turned 18 late last year, and this is his first opportunity to vote. We are grateful that he is looking forward to this and that he takes the time to seek information about public issues.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Don't reach for the antacid - go with that bitter feeling

First Century AD: So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. Then they said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.’ John the Divine, Revelation 10:10-11

Sixth Century AD: For the mind which the Holy Spirit fills, It moves to bitterness at the temporal in delight at the eternal. For it is sweet to be among human things, except for him who has tasted of the joys of heaven... displeased with himself when he has now begun to please Him who created all things. Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Prophet Ezekiel I.10.43

Fourteenth Century AD: It should be known, then, that God nurtures and caresses the soul... like a loving mother... But as the child grows older,the mother withholds her caresses and hides her tender love; she rubs bitter aloes on her sweet breast and sets the child down from her arms, letting it walk on its own feet so that it may put aside the habits of childhood and grow accustomed to greater and more important things. John of the Cross, The Dark Night I.1.2

2007 AD: This energy causes you to act on the dissatisfaction that's been brewing deep within your soul and compels you to say yes to joining forces with God so that the darkness and depravity around you gets pushed back... Truth be told, the most inspired, motivated, and driven people I know are the ones who live their lives from the energy of their holy discontent. Bill Hybels, Holy Discontent

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Is there such a word as "Lunacracy"? I don't know how else to describe what one progressive Episcopalian is honest enough to out...

h/t Jeffersonian

Walter Russell Mead is a progressive Episcopalian and he and I would disagree on many matters. That makes his new critique of Episcopal "leadership" more compelling. I am sickened by the demise of General Theological Seminary, New York, where I was awarded my Master of Divinity degree. Mead unpacks financial details much, much worse than any of which I was aware. Open this blog in two windows, click the YouTube on one for background music, then go to the link in the other and read Mead's commentary. Not as splendiferously bizarre as synchronizing Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz, but hey, this is fly-over country.

Faith Matters: Will Barbie Save The Episcopal Church? - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest

Mead: "I hate to say this, guys, but I think God mocks us and holds us in derision. I think the disasters we have already experienced and the much greater ones that are coming closer every day are signs of his wrath. I think he is giving us the taste of wormwood and gall: he’s letting us face the full consequences of our own silly deeds. He waited patiently for decades as we frittered away the inestimable riches and advantages accrued over centuries. He bore our hypocrisy — incompetent busybodies and Mrs. Jellybys lecturing the rest of the world on how to manage its affairs as our own household fell progressively into deeper disarray — and our general inconsequential messing around with low priority issues like ’sexist’ hymn lyrics as our seminaries edged steadily closer to bankruptcy. But we’ve exhausted God’s patience and spent down our endowments. The Bailiff of Heaven is knocking at our door; the notice of eviction is in his hands."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A thoughtful critique of current preaching

The recent death of Michael Spencer, who blogged as "Internet Monk," led Pastor Shel Boese of Mercy Church to share Spencer's analysis of current preaching. Many warnings for those of us approaching a pulpit (OK, or platform) tomorrow:

News, Thoughts, Theology, Teaching.. » Blog Archive » iMonk Classic: On Christless Preaching

Leaders of world's largest Anglican Provinces: "gracious restraint" is toast


Key paragraphs:

We acknowledged that the issues that divide our beloved Communion are far from settled and that the election of the Reverend Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, as a Bishop in Los Angeles in The Episcopal Church (TEC), makes clear to all that the American Episcopal Church leadership has formally committed itself to a pattern of life which is contrary to Scripture.

This action also makes clear that any pretence that there has been a season of gracious restraint in the Communion has come to an end. Now is the time for all orthodox biblical Anglicans, both in the USA and around the world, to demonstrate a clear and unambiguous stand for the historic faith and their refusal to participate in the direction and unbiblical practice and agenda of TEC.

Two Videos of Mayoral Candidate Forums; Ueber-liberal blogger endorses Staggers, the most conservative candidate!

The Family Research Council videoed Friday's Candidate Forum, and you can find it here.

Meanwhile, Sioux Falls' snarkiest left-leaning blogger, SouthDaCola, has endorsed conservative Kermit Staggers for Mayor.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader provides this video of all six candidates at an earlier forum:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Steve Hickey stuns group of pastors as he gives up on the abortion issue

Heh. Made ya look. Actually, he very graciously skipped the question important to him so that four candidates for Mayor of Sioux Falls had time to respond to other pastors' questions about other issues.

The lunch time forum allowed local evangelical clergy to hear candidates address matters of particular interest to Christians. For the candidates, it was a welcome respite from their by-now-robotic responses to "Whaddaya gonna do about the Events Center?"

Four of the six candidates were able to attend: Bill Peterson, Kermit Staggers, Pat Costello and Janoct Ajda. Vernon Brown and Mike Huether sent written statements along with their regrets.

The range of questions was stimulating and stereotype-busting. There were the expected questions about porn businesses, computer gambling "casinos" and the removal of overt Christian content from public discourse - but alongside these were questions of commmunity infrastructure and quality of life, candidate fiscal policy and significant concern for how to support Sioux Falls' growing and diverse immigrant population. Spiritual questions helped the candidates relate some of their formative life influences and values.

All of the candidates presented thoughtful responses when it came to the First Ammendment's guarantees of religious freedom and equality under the law for all belief systems. All extolled free expression for all faiths - including Christians - rather than a "naked public square" with only "secular" language for public discourse. Staggers, who teaches at the University of Sioux Falls, criticized public education's failure to study religion as a powerful and prevalent influence in the real world. All were 100% against any effort to impose taxes on churches.

While all agreed that porn businesses and South Dakota's abortion facility are blots on the city, all also agreed that resistance to such influences must come through moral persuasion and example. Peterson was emphatic that attempts to zone such businesses into "red light districts" create more urban problems than they solve. Costello said, "If people want Lodgenet to stop selling porn, they have to stop buying the movies." All agreed that any legal resistance to gambling would have to be at the State level, as the codes give municipalities no say in the licensing of every-corner casinos. In the most provocative language of the session, all of the candidates agreed that Pierre is "addicted" to gambling revenue, and that reducing it would result in reductions in public services.

Janoct Ajda continues as the most out-of-the-box candidate. Part street preacher, part pilgrim monk, part prophet; he doesn't stand a chance of being elected but he challenges people with values from the kingdom of God.

My favorite post-meeting moment was when my wife told Kermit Staggers to get a navy blue suit. He was in tan today and darned if Melissa wasn't right - it made him look pale. Navy would favor his hair, eyes and complexion. He said he has one at home.

Changes in religious identity - a glance at the numbers

See how U.S. religious landscape has changed in nearly 2 decades -

h/t San Diego Anglicans.

For South Dakota, the percentage of residents identifying as Catholic or Other Christian is down 17%; Other or No Religion is + 11.

I doubt that the survey controls for Liberal Protestant groups (including many Episcopalians) that are not Christian by any serious definition and belong in the "other religion" category.

Nominal/cultural Christianity is fading and the church's energy and growth are shifting to Africa, Asia and parts of Latin America.

I don't raise this as an "alarm" - it's just what is. Makes for interesting discussion about causes and correlations, and questions about divine purpose and plan.

Stories the numbers don't tell

Received by email and blogged with the sender's permission. The numerical shrinkage of the Episcopal Church includes thousands of these stories that we don't hear over all the bluster and denial:

"This is to let you know that on March 27Th, Lazarus Saturday, I was joyfully received into the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Church after 72 + years in what is now TEo [*]. It was an incredible moment in my life which will unfold forever. Actually as I sat down with the padre the day before for my life confession, an awesome experience, I began to connect a lot of dots in my life and saw the hand of God leading me, saving me, refining me, healing me helping me learn to forgive others and myself, and God(I have been mad at Him in the past) and I just was in awe. There is nothing like going to the throne of grace.

The Orthodox celebrate the Saturday before Palm Sunday as Lazarus Saturday, signifying not only Jesus' last miracle in calling Lazarus out of his tomb but encouraging us to allow Jesus to call us out of our tombs. What tomb have I been living in? As I stood outside the main door of the temple and renounced all heresies and apostasies past and present and then turned around to face East and confirm my faith saying the Nicene Creed and professing Orthodox belief, which was mainly what I learned 50+ years ago in the Episcopal Church, plus a few more things like icons, prayers for the dead, asking saints to intercede for us, (I mean they have time), and relics(I figure God can heal anyway He wants-if people were healed when this sinner prayed for them in my bumbling Spanish He can use anything) I realized that I was really turning from not only my own darkness but the darkness that has invaded my former Episcopal parish.

God has certainly been pushing to get me to this place over the last 10 months. Heading "home" has been an absolutely incredible experience. As I told a friend, if someone had told me this time last year where I would be I would have called him a fool."

[*] TEo means "The Episcopal organization," a blog term descriptive of the denomination's spiritual emptiness.

How sad that she had to go to another tradition to find what the Episcopal Church taught and shared with all Christians just a generation or two ago.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Not my power or piety - or my feelings

For our Lenten discipline, my wife and I read a bit of The Rule of St. Benedict each night and joined with Oblates and other friends of Blue Cloud Abbey in praying for vocations - that is, for men to sense God's call to become monks there or in other Benedictine communities.

My wife and I just received a letter from the Oblate Director today, which read in part,

...thanks again for the Lenten prayers for vocations. They may be working. We may have three novices this summer (two for sure). Meanwhile, four associates are coming this month...

I want to spike the ball, do an end zone dance and point to the sky - it must be our awesome prayers working, right? But here's a long time monk, well practiced in prayer and spiritual counsel, taking a more sober approach: the prayers "may be working."

Earlier today I made a pastoral visit to a church member at his office. It was a no-agenda visit, just a chance to hang around and talk. He always has good questions about faith and today he asked about prayer. He isn't convinced that a person can say with certainty, "God answered my prayer." He wonders how much of that might be projection of our own inner needs rather than conclusive experience of divine communication. Although this man is newer to the practice of faith than the monk, both took the same sober approach where I would rush to enthusiasm.

Their wisdom might have been explained at our church altar earlier. Each day of Easter Week has assigned readings for the service of Holy Communion. In today's first lesson, a crowd oohs and ahhs over the Apostles Peter and John, who appear to have healed a permanently crippled man. But Peter responds,

"...why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? ...the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus... And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you."

Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus when confronted by one crowd, now denies himself and extols Jesus to a new audience. Peter recognizes the real power he's wielded to heal a man, but quickly points away from himself to the one who is the power.

The devil knows that virtues can be turned into vices with very little effort. We can be caught up in the drama of spiritual power and tempted to give ourselves credit and praise due only to God. The oohs and ahhs of others, however well or innocently intended, are our spiritual enemy's best tool to flip our point of view.

As Benedict warns, "Do not aspire to be called holy before you really are" (Rule 4:62). And Christ tells his followers, "don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

So I give thanks and rejoice that there are men exploring the holy vocation at Blue Cloud Abbey. I can say with certainty that this is a desired blessing, one for which I've been praying. But anything beyond "Thanks be to God!" might be a vain, even dangerous claim.

Sioux Falls makes top 50 of most bicycle friendly cities - Minneapolis is #1

That's according to Bicycling Magazine.

Sioux Falls has miles of wonderful trails that take you along quiet river banks, through forrested parks and historic neighborhoods. There's also good signage to remind car drivers that they are sharing particular routes with bikes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

White businessmen take up arms in South Dakota...

Because they rejoice in God's creation and the expansion of natural habitats. There's a good human (and divine and natural) interest piece on today's Sioux Falls Argus Leader Sports page.

I post this as just one more corrective to the stereotype of hunters - and flyover country folks - as barbaric yahoos. The overwhelming majority of hunters are protective and reverent toward the created world. Most hunters know more about and interact more with the natural world than many urban "environmental" ideologues who lump hunting in with strip mining or toxic dumping.

There were two burials from our parish yesterday. Both were hunters and both were remembered thankfully by sons, daughters and grand kids for life lessons and blessed moments shared while hunting and fishing.

I can't find the quote but I think it was Thomas Jefferson who feared that urbanization would warp us, by depriving us of interaction with the natural cycles of life and death. Having grown up urban, I think that most hostility to hunting reflects a warped point of view.

Some might cite the near extinction of the buffalo here as an argument against hunting. But that was a machine-like campaign designed to destroy the Plains Tribes' main resource and ability to fight - more comparable to bombing factories and railroads than to hunting. For the Tribes, hunting was and remains an honored part of life.

In this Easter season, it is worth noting that Jesus attracted some of his first followers by guiding them to a big catch of fish (Luke 5), and then proved his Resurrection by showing up on a beach to grill up some fish they'd caught (John 21).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Juan Williams tries to cut through the name calling

Juan Williams: Tea Party Anger Reflects Mainstream Concerns -

He continues to be one of the saner voices for liberal positions. And he's able to engage in give and take on both NPR and Fox - that's impressive in and of itself.

Representative Herseth-Sandlin's (D - SD) detailed objections to the Senate and Reconciliation versions of Health Care legislation

Received by email in reply to my questions about Federal abortion funding. She sticks to the negative economic consequences of the legislation as her reason for voting against it. She also provides some very specific analysis of certain provisions, including weakened cost-containment features, impact on specific industries and companies in South Dakota, and a Federal takeover of certain educational grants and loans tucked into "Health Care" reform.

...The Senate health care bill, H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 21, 2010. I voted against this bill, as well as a separate bill, H.R. 4872, the Reconciliation Act of 2010, which made several changes to H.R. 3590.

As with the original House legislation, the final version of health care legislation that the Congress voted on does include a number of good provisions that I support. Provisions I strongly support include eliminating insurance companies' ability to exclude people with preexisting conditions or to cancel coverage when someone gets sick; allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26; creating transparent health insurance exchanges for individuals and small businesses, where private insurers compete for their business; and reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

However, while supportive of such provisions to expand coverage, I ultimately was not able to support the bill because of its serious shortcomings related to cost and reform. For example, the amount of overall spending included in the bill to expand coverage increased significantly as the legislative process progressed. The Senate bill would have spent $875 billion, while the spending in the reconciliation bill grew to $938 billion.

At the same time, key cost containment measures were weakened in significant ways. For example, two provisions I support as important steps to help contain costs from within the health care system were changed through the process.

First, the proposed excise tax on high cost plans. In the Senate bill, this provision would have significantly reduced overutilization and reduced deficits. However, its thresholds were changed and watered down in the reconciliation bill, and the date it will go into effect was pushed back until 2018. This delay raises serious questions as to whether the excise tax will take effect at all. Indeed, some Members of Congress and others are already noting there is plenty of time to repeal it.

Secondly, the concept of an Independent Medicare Advisory Council, which is supported by the Administration and a number of health economists as a way to help Congress make the tough decisions that will guarantee the fiscal sustainability of our health care system, was weakened considerably. The new entity, known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board, doesn't even start to function until 2015, and some providers aren't subject to this oversight for a number of years.

In order to make up revenue that was lost through weakening of cost containment provisions, the reconciliation bill broadened the Medicare Hospital Insurance Tax base for high-income taxpayers. The provision raises more than half of the total revenue in the bill, but was not indexed for inflation. As we have seen repeatedly over the years with the Alternative Minimum Tax, the failure to index is a temporarily convenient mechanism that can make a bill look fiscally responsible now, but actually sets the stage for growing fiscal problems in the future.

Overall, the way the final bill took shape--with spending levels increasing, cost containment measures weakening, and the inclusion of an unindexed provision like the increased Medicare tax described above--gives added weight to caution expressed by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in its March 20, 2010 report on the legislation: "The reconciliation proposal and H.R. 3590 would maintain and put into effect a number of policies that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time. Under current law, payment rates for physicians' services in Medicare would be reduced by about 21 percent in 2010 and then decline further in subsequent years; the proposal makes no changes to those provisions.The projected longer-term savings for the legislation also reflect an assumption that the Independent Payment Advisory Board established by H.R. 3590 would be fairly effective in reducing costs beyond the reductions that would be achieved by other aspects of the legislation."

The legislation also significantly increases Medicaid costs for South Dakota. The State of South Dakota has projected that, from 2010 to 2019, the Medicaid costs for South Dakota increase significantly from the Senate bill, rising from $53.7 million to $62 million with the changes made through the reconciliation bill. For each year after 2019, the state has projected about $36 million in increased general fund costs for Medicaid. These costs are of increasing concern given the current economic and budget environments at the state level.

I am also very concerned about a last-minute change made in the manager's amendment to the reconciliation bill on Saturday, March 20, 2010, the day before the House vote, that adjusted the medical device tax in the legislation to apply the tax to many Class I devices. 3M Company, which has facilities in Aberdeen and Brookings that employ 700 and 900 people respectively, manufactures a number of Class I items in South Dakota that may be subject to the tax. 3M Company is concerned that the tax will increase costs to health care consumers because of added costs to product innovation designed to improve quality and efficient health care outcomes.

You may know that the reconciliation bill also included provisions mandating that, beginning July 1, 2010, the federally-guaranteed loans made through the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) will be terminated and all new federal student loans will be originated through the Direct Loan program administered by the federal government. These provisions could threaten jobs in South Dakota, even though there was a fiscally responsible alternative proposed. The alternative would have made the same historic investments in higher education as the provisions in this bill, as well as providing mandatory funding for Pell Grants, early childhood education programs, and a higher level of assistance for community colleges, while still maintaining a role for the private sector in originating student loans. Unfortunately, this alternative was rejected.

I listened closely to thousands of South Dakotans throughout this process, and while it is clear to me that the majority of my constituents either do not support this health care bill or have serious reservations about certain elements of it, most agree that some essential reforms must be made. I will continue to work to improve this new law, and make changes necessary to achieve responsible, sustainable health care reform for all South Dakotans...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Beatrix Potter fans rejoice!

Yes, in my spiritual reading I came upon Good News for Mrs. Tiggy Winkle:

"The high mountains are a refuge for the stags, and the rock for the hedgehogs" (Psalm 104:18). Then let them have mountains of intelligence who can already make the leap of contemplation. But let the rock be a refuge for the hedgehogs because we children, covered by the spines of our sins, even though we cannot understand profound truths, are safe in the haven of our rock. viz. in the Faith of Christ.

Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Prophet Ezekiel I.9.31

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"We shall be no more deluded..."

No man ever saw God and liv'd; and yet, I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him I shall never dye. What have I ever seen in this world, that hath been truly the same thing that it seemed to me? I have seen marble buildings, and a chip, a crust, a plaster, a face of marble hath pilled off, and I see brick-bowels within. I have seen beauty, and a strong breath from another, tels me, that that complexion is from without, not from a strong constitution within. I have seen the state of Princes, and all that is but ceremony... he that sees God, sees every thing else: when we shall see God... as he is... we shall see all things... as they are; for that's their Essence, as they conduce to his glory. We shall be no more deluded with outward appearances: for, when this sight, which we intend here comes, there will be no delusory thing to be seen. All that we have made as though we saw, in this world, will be vanished, and I shall see nothing but God, and what is in him; and I shall see him In carne, in the flesh...

John Donne, 1572 - 1631 Easter Sermon at Lincoln's Inne

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dame Juliana of Norwich: "I laughed loud and long"

"...I saw our Lord scorn [the devil's] malice and reduce his powerlessness to nothing, and he wills that we do the same thing. On account of this sight, I laughed loud and long, which made those around me laugh too, and their laughter was a pleasure to me. Then I thought I would like all my fellow Christians to have seen what I saw, for then they should all laugh with me. I didn't see Christ laugh, but I knew well that it was the sight he had shown me that had made me laugh. For I understood that we may laugh, comforting ourselves and rejoicing in God that the devil has been overcome."

Revelations of Divine Love (14th century), Del Mastro translation, Chapter 13: "The fifth revelation is that the temptation of the devil is overcome by the passion of Christ, giving us an increase of joy and the devil everlasting pain."

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Archbishop of Canterbury on the meaning of Holy Week

WE confess - Holy Saturday, April 3, 2010

“There is no celebration of the Eucharist on this day.”
Instructions for the Liturgy of Holy Saturday, The Book of Common Prayer

This is the one day of the church year in which we are forbidden to share Holy Communion with Jesus. It takes us to Jesus’ time in the tomb, when the world lost his voice of truth, his healing touch, his eyes of love. For long, dark hours, the world had no sign of the Savior who “came not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And this leaves us a challenging question:

Would it make any difference if Church of the Good Shepherd suddenly disappeared?

Would the world around us weep and say, “They have taken the Lord’s body, and we don’t know where to find him”? Would it shrug and say, “You mean there was a church there?” Would it smile and say, “Good riddance! Let’s build something useful” ?

How we answer that question might tell us what we need to confess.

And in confessing together, we might well discover hope that our “transgressions and wickedness,” our “things done and left undone,” are like the big stone over Jesus’ tomb…

big, cold but not able to stand in the way of what’s about to happen in the morning…

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Friday, April 2, 2010

"But see how his name has increased..."

"If he is the king of Israel, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him...

When the bystanders saw that he was not coming down from the cross at their derisive remarks, when they saw him dying, they believed they had prevailed. They rejoiced as if they had consigned his name to oblivion. But see how his name has increased throughout the world, how the multitude which rejoiced over his slaying now grieves over his death! They perceive that it is through his suffering that Christ has arrived at glory."

St. Gregory the Great

(Photo of the Altar of the Crucifixion, Mission San Buenaventura, Ventura, CA. Praying there, I became acutely aware of Christ's identification with our sufferings and had a life changing experience of his power).

The cross makes sense on a Montana ranch

I heard the former Rector of Emmanuel Church, Rapid City, share this in a sermon years ago. It showed up in an e-newsletter this week and I share it with you this Good Friday.

The Lamb Story
By Bishop David Anderson

Most of us have trouble remembering what we were doing on a particular day even months ago, but now 34 years later, a particular Sunday afternoon in March, 1972 still stands out in my memory. March of that year found me completing my first year as rector of St. Mary's Church in Malta, Montana. Actually I was rector of two other churches as well: St. Matthew's, Glasgow and All Saints', Scobey. That happened because the then-bishop of Montana, Jackson Gilliam, had convinced a very young priest in the Diocese of Washington, D.C., that if being rector of one church was good, being rector of three was three times better. And so I found myself starting my second year of residence on the Great Plains but still with much of the mindset of an east coast, urban dweller. Culture shock was going from the nation's capital to a lovely small ranching town of 2000 souls under the big sky of Montana.

A parish member, Harold, was always looking for ways to build a better understanding of the country and people into this new young priest. On a particular Sunday in March, he wanted to drive me to a sheep ranch south of Malta to show me what a ranch looked like during lambing season. We drove the 30 some miles under a stormy March sky and arrived at a large ranch where a Basque family cared for sheep in the tens of thousands. Harold had called ahead, told the family that he was bringing his priest down, and asked them to show us their lambing operation. As we got out of Harold's pickup, someone in an old, warm-looking coat came over to greet and welcome us. Spread out over several acres were four or five steel warehouse buildings; each seemed to hold several thousand sheep. Our guide explained that the sheep outside were watched closely during the lambing time, and when the ewes were about ready to birth their lambs, they were brought into the shelter of one of these large sheds.

As we walked toward the door of one of the buildings, I saw something that I was not prepared to see, and for which I had no frame of reference to deal with. City raised, I had heard, and now I could see that ranch life was hard. I could tell that economy and bottom-line financial viability preceded sentiment when it came to livestock. As we came to the door, we passed by a large heap of dead lambs, at least 50, perhaps a hundred. And all were missing their fleece! The pile of small lambs was 10 or 12 feet across and four feet high, and their poor little blood- stained bodies were already hard in the chill Montana March air.

Of course lambs die; I knew that! Sheep seem to die too easily, more easily than other livestock. It would be expected that some would die in birth or from disease, all cooped up as they were in large numbers in these sheds. But was bottom-line profit so important that they needed to skin the poor little things to make an extra dollar on such a small fleece? My urban mind raced ahead, already passing judgment on such practice. I was upset, offended and feeling argumentative over this.

As we went into the relative warmth of the building I turned and asked, "What was that pile of dead lambs all about?" The guide kept talking as he walked us to a pen: "Lots of these ewes give birth to twins, and for some reason known only to God, they will reject one and keep the other. Nothing we can do will change their mind. If we were a small farm, we might bottle feed the rejected lambs, or one of the kids might take a 'bum' lamb as a 4H project and raise it. That won't work here, we've got hundreds of 'bum' lambs, and we can't afford to lose all of them, just because their mama doesn't want them."

Passing an enclosure with just such a ewe, one lamb beside her and another penned in a corner, we came next to a solitary ewe. "This one lost her lamb after it was born. It's one of those in that pile you asked about. Sometimes they just die. So we have a ewe without a lamb in one pen and a rejected lamb in the next, but a ewe will only nurse its own; it won't accept another ewe's lamb. That's why the dead lambs are missing their fleece," he said. "When one dies we take the fleece off, cut leg holes in the fleece, and put it on a rejected lamb. We take some of the blood from the dead lamb and rub it on the forehead of the abandoned lamb, and then take it to the ewe who lost her lamb."

"She smells the fleece and recognizes the fleece as her own," he continued. "She sees the blood on the lamb's head and licks it off, and she can taste the scent of her own body in the blood of her lamb. She cleans the new lamb and claims it as her own and lets it suckle. In a day or two, her milk passes through the body of the new lamb, giving it the scent and taste of the mother, and the adoption is complete."

I left the ranch overwhelmed by the experience of death and life and the sheer number of sheep being cared for. And even with the good of the adoptions, I felt sorrow for the abandoned lambs and all the death. It made my calling as shepherd of three small Montana congregations look so much more manageable, so much more enjoyable.

It was some years later, during the Easter Season, that I saw our story in the lambs. It was an image of Christ as the knowledgeable shepherd, and Christ as the dying lamb, offering his fleece. And God the Father, as a mother sheep who looks at you and me, wrapped in the fleece of Jesus Christ, and with the blood of the lamb covering the stain of our estrangement from God. When God the Father looks upon you and me, it is the wrapping of Jesus that He sees, (as St. Paul said, "put ye on Christ Jesus"), and the blood, the salty taste of the blood, is the same blood shed on Calvary. And God sees his own, and claims his own, and we become his own, by adoption and grace.