Another big one on the way...

The weather reports are out and another big storm is on the way.

During last week's storm the LaCrosse area took the brunt with almost 30 inches of snow but now its our turn, just a few hours north but a world away in weather terms, to take the hit. Rain, sleet, and then up to 20 inches of snow in the next three days. Snow banks will look like they did when I was a kid. The commutes through Minneapolis will be legendary in their crawling horror. Tow truck drivers will circle the streets like vultures seeking unfortunates who didn't understand the snow emergency rules.

Yet we need the snow. Snow is water and water is life. So we'll put up with it all and do the best we can. In the end, no matter how big we think we are or how important we imagine ourselves and our technologies to be, creation still calls the shots.

Alwasy will.


Lent is underway and the struggle is on.

Now it's not about the meat. As I have gotten older I eat less and less of it and it wouldn't be unusual to go without it for months at a time. But would to God that I could control my sins in the same way, that I would know they, like meat, would taste good at first but then sit in my stomach like a rock. How is it that I've learned that lesson with meat but not with the sins which could kill my soul?

Being who I am, of course, I've been able to for the most part master the appearances and mostly avoid, as it were, what my pride would consider to be the "biggies". But in my heart its another story. There are things inside that need to go, things dark and miserable so deeply imbedded their removal could even damage what little is healthy. I invited them in, or they came in disguised as something else, or hitchhiked their way along, but the door was mine to open and now it looks like they won't leave without something more than a subtle hint. The party is long over but some guests just don't want to leave.

And I don't know how that's all going to work out. I just know that I don't like to feel the way that I do, helpless and under the control of small and vile things. There are times, as well, when I wish that God would simply remove them from my life but there must be something important for me to gain in the struggle.

In it all I gain glimpses of why people of true Christian faith would be unafraid of death because they embrace the release from the struggle against the darkness within and the realization of mercy to come.
And that's where my hope probably should be as well, not in death, not in my own abilities to conquer the demons within, but in the mercy of God that can somehow transform the mess that I've made of things into something good and holy even as I have only a small idea of how and basically no idea of the why.


Much ado...

Those of you with the memory will recall the writings of the late Dr. John Boswell of Yale University. A scholar, theologian, historian, and openly gay man Dr. Boswell made a huge splash when he unearthed obscure documents of Christian antiquity he claimed were proof the Church had once celebrated gay marriage. The media went wild. Here was a story that allowed them to mask their anti-religious and particularly anti-Christian attitudes with scholarship and strike a blow for that sacrament of the hippie culture, unlimited sexual expression. The problem came when other scholars started examining the claims, especially the claim of a long lost rite for same sex marriage, and soon discovered that Dr. Boswell had played fast and loose with some of the evidence and liberally inserted his own wishes into his interpretations of the text. Only hard core activists now consider this part of his work to be serious scholarship.

Some years later Dan Brown made headlines over the world with a novel he claimed was truthful, well researched proving Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and a secret order of people through the ages, including Leonardo DaVinci, had protected the dynasty founded with Jesus and Mary's child. Again the media went wild and many Christians felt the blast of his claims. In the weeks that followed the fervor scholars examined the book and found numerous flaws, inaccuracies, and distortions. DNA evidence taken from the royal line claimed by the author to be the family of Christ turned out to have no evidence at all of semitic origin. No one now, except for conspiracy theorists, sees the DaVinci Code as a serious historic work.

And now the same carefully scripted media machine is at work with the unvieling of the supposed tomb of Christ and his family in a documentary by "Titanic" director James Cameron. Timed for a holy period in the Christian calendar, Lent, the director takes information that has been in circulation for decades and repackages it via film as "proof" that he has the bones of Christ. Two months from now, of course, when scholars have basically torn apart his "proof" and exposed his profiteering and shoddy scholarship the media frenzy will have passed and the story, if there is one, will be buried on the bottom of page 20 in the local paper.

So what do we need to do when the next one comes down the line?

First, don't panic. The Christian faith has been challenged from the very days Christ walked the Earth and we've survived and always will. In fact most of the current crop of people taking shots at the historic Faith are actually just repackaging stuff the Church has faced centuries ago. The Faith has remained constant and so have the heresies and we'll get through whatever comes next just fine.

Second don't be impressed with credentials, star power, or media savvy. They have no direct relationship or claim to truth. People with important titles, advanced degrees, or media competence can be wrong or choose to lie for their own ends. Even educated people can sometimes say or write very dumb things, or have their vision clouded by an agenda, and just because its in print or on TV doesn't mean its valid. Christians need to develop a healthy skepticism as consumers of popular culture and always look beyond what it presents.

Third, learn your Faith. I am consistently amazed at how little even people who would claim to be devout Christians know about what they believe. Knowledge is power and when you know your Faith you will not be easily panicked or impressed when someone comes out with a well written book, a powerfully staged documentary, or impressively footnoted lecture. Opponents of Christianity are counting on you being uninformed and will, given that chance, attempt to fill that void with their own skewed vision. Its tough, though, to crack a Christian who has taken the time to know their Faith.

Finally, consider being attacked a kind of honor. If Christ and the Faith didn't matter no one would bother but the truth is they do, and those who attack for whatever reason they choose give, in their own way, a kind of respect to our Lord and to those who struggle to follow Him. It makes one wonder what they are afraid of and points, in its own way, to the power, often unrealized by even those who claim Christ, of who we follow and what we believe. And when the claims, as they always have been, are proved bogus it is our Faith and not the critics who will be stronger for it all.


Snow stories...

At roughly 11 AM, Saturday, we passed through Cannon Falls heading south towards Rochester and the big left turn to take us, via Interstate 90, to LaCrosse. As the miles passed the sleet, which had been an annoyance in the Twin Cities was now heavy and the road was covered with ice the consistency of mud and slippery enough to turn one small twitch of the steering wheel into uncontrolled trajectory.

Looking out over the fields, now white, and the road now gray with ice my thoughts were first about the long journey ahead as the weather turned worse and the mph went down. Four hours to LaCrosse? Five? Then they turned to vertical LaCrosse with its winding driveways to homes tucked into valleys and the brunt of the storm sweeping by at that moment. My wife and I talked about it a bit, then there was silence, and when the opportunity presented itself we turned back north and went home.

A few miles from where we turned we stopped at a local gas station and made the calls. Everyone was fine with staying home. There was already a foot of snow on the ground, then rain and sleet, and another foot was expected. The hotel we were supposed to stay at still hadn't gotten their parking lot cleared. LaCrosse was locked down and would be for some time. Perhaps we could have made it down but we would not have gotten back, at least not on Sunday.

The truth is that I wasn't happy with having to turn around and 20 years ago who knows what I would have done. Caution triumphed over duty and part of me is glad because the news this morning indicated that around 30 inches of snow had fallen in Winona, Minnesota, just north of LaCrosse. I made the right decision.

Does this mean I'm getting mature or just old?


And now back to the road...

The winds are already starting to blow up from the southwest, which in this part of the world and this time of year means snow is on the way. On the TV the talking heads are trying to make their best guess and they mostly say some freezing rain today and 6 - 12 inches of snow over the weekend. Most of it will be in southeastern Minnesota which is exactly where I'll be traveling. Oh well.

The truth is we need the moisture, we're way behind on the snow and in this watery state we count on it to help keep us from drying up and blowing away in the summer. What can be a nuisance for us is a major source of replenishment for fields now resting in the cold for spring planting and lakes covered in ice but still needing fresh water to sustain thier ecosystems when the sun finally triumphs and the melting begins.

The stores are already full of people getting stocked up with food and supplies for the hunkering down to come. Its part of the drill in this neck of the woods and most people just stay off the roads, watch TV, and wait for everything to blow over. The big winners will be the folks driving snowplows who stand in line for a windfall of work and overtime and the pizza delivery people with four wheel drive who'll have barely enough down time for a cup of coffee.

My Saturn Vue shines in this kind of weather. Tall and kind of ungainly in the intricacies of urban commuting it becomes masterful when the weather turns bad. The extra foot of clearance makes for good road vision, the transmission is geared for traction, and there's space aplenty to store items needed to make the long run endurable and even, God forbid, survivable if need be. There's something to be said about a car that actually can sleep two people comfortably. It's gassed, the windshield wiper fluid is full, and ready to go.

So we'll keep an eye on the skies in the hours to come. First for the weather because these storms can take so many turns and we may not know the extent of things until its actually upon us. Second, and more important, for the blessing of God. It's always wise to do both, prepare as best you can and trust God for the unexpected. Then which ever way the wind blows it will still be okay.

I'll get back to you on Monday.

Why the articles...?

From time to time I will take a break from jottings about my travels and views on things to give you links to various articles of interest.

Why? It's basically the "pastor" part of me kicking in.

I started this blog in part to provide a place that hopefully isn't as nasty as much of the blogosphere, shares some of my life, and provides access not just to complaints about the nature of things but to solutions as well, most especially the good news of Jesus Christ.

I've noticed over time that many Christian feel overwhelmed by the waves of popular culture and the sometimes very anti-traditional ideology of our times. They don't know there are well written, thoughtful, cogent, and reasoned arguments for the historic faith of the Church and often don't know where to find them. Bombarded by junk, especially from theologians and clergy who have abandoned themselves to the tides, they may begin to wonder "Are they right after all?"

As I wander about the www I find articles of interest and blogs of worth to share with you. I hope they will strengthen your faith, encourage you to carry on, and above all rediscover the great depth of wisdom found in historic Christianity. Above all you need to know you're not alone, not some kind of freak, and, regardless of what the TV tells you, actually on the right side of history as you (and I) seek as best as sinners can to know Christ and follow in His footsteps.

Enjoy the articles. Know your faith. Live with confidence.

Worth the read...

A powerful and well written article on sexuality and the Scriptures. Worth the read.


Better to burn?

A powerful article on cremation and the Christian.

A recovering secularist writes...

Read the article.

A little bit about electric razors...

Not all the women who read this may understand, but most of the guys will. A man often has a personal kind of relationship with his electric razor. I'll explain.

When a guy first starts shaving he usually borrows his dad's electric razor or buys one for his immediate needs at the local discount store. There's usually not much to shave so any razor will do. But time changes all of that.

As the facial hair comes in thicker and shaving stops being a novelty and starts becoming a necessity a sojourn also starts. Not all facial hair is the same and its consistency and growth patterns can sometimes be as unique as a fingerprint. For example the hair on my face is fairly straight but as you proceed down the neck there are several areas where it slightly swirls. Because of this not just any razor will do, you must find the one that matches your face and so the journey begins.

Sometimes a guy is lucky and the first razor he gets is the perfect one. Usually it may take an attempt or two to find the real deal, the razor whose design and cutting features do the best job with the greatest amount of comfort. Now I may be letting some of you in on the secret world of guys as it were but most manufacturers of electric razors actually tell you it may be a while after you make your purchase before your skin and the razor match. They have to get used to each other. Really, I'm not kidding. If they don't you can be literally rubbed raw.

That's why men, when they've found that perfect shaver, may keep it for many years, often longer than a car or even a house. Well meaning wives often say "Why don't you get rid of that old thing?" without realizing it took some hard searching (they don't have demo models for shavers) and more than a few unpleasant experiences to finally find the right razor and most guys would rather not have to do that over again. In this world where everything seems disposable there are still small shops hidden here and there where men can take their decades old friend of a razor for cleaning and repair. An older man is usually sitting behind a cubby hole desk in a room smeeling of three-in-one oil with shavers and parts about the place and a silence that pervades everything, a silence of work, of expectation, and of a unique dread that comes when the man behind the desk holds your razor with the grim look of a doctor diagnosing terminal illness. There are men out there with fewer shavers than wives.

Now my facial "soul mate" if you will is a Braun 5414 that I purchased almost ten years ago. It wasn't the most expensive shaver out there but the cutter is straight, the head swivels, and it cleanly mows through those pesky swirls on my neck with the elegance of a well handled rapier. And then a year or so it disappeared, lost somehow in my travels. I searched the house and every suitcase I owned but to no avail.

For a while I muddled on with plain old straight razors. They can shave smooth but a slight slip of the hand and you can turn a piece of face into a fillet. Then, for some reason still unknown to me, I chose a Norelco with the three pivoting heads etc., etc.. Perhaps I thought I needed the change, but the truth is that I've been paying the price ever since. Well beyond the usual two week "break in" period the Norelco has continued to be the "little engine that couldn't" and every morning leaves red marks on my neck. It has nothing to do with the Norelco, it's just not a good match for my face and yet even when I finally found my Braun I consigned it to a drawer and still used the Norelco. We guys can be hard to figure out sometimes.

But enough is enough and today I found the old Braun, cleaned it up, and installed a new cutter head and screen. Now in the old days you could get easily get parts for a very old shaver but things have changed.
There is evil in the world and the capitalist swine who own the shaver companies have sacrificed loyalty for crass profit by implementing one simple policy. If they stop making replacement cutters and shaving heads, or make them the search for them daunting enough, eventually even the most die hard man will have to part with his old friend and buy a new one. Never mind that the mechanics of the razor may be just fine, just stop making parts for models over ten years old and eventually the sheer pain of using a dull razor will compel a purchase. If there was ever evidence for the devil...

Thankfully, my local store still had the parts, which together could easily be stored in a 2 inch square box, for about $25 US and even now my old friend is getting some new life through the charger while awaiting tomorrow morning and that all important first shave with a fresh cutter and screen. I wonder what my neck will look like without the red marks? I hope my old friend won't hold a grudge for being left in a drawer for about six months.

Maybe I'll just say the Norelco was a fling and it really didn't mean that much to me. After all, we were made for each other.


A little treat...

Driving back from St. Elias on Sunday I had the chance to pay a final visit to a Dairy Queen * in Lake City, Minnesota. Lo and behold they had a favorite of mine, "twist" cones with chocolate on one side and vanilla on the other. For some odd reason many Dairy Queens have taken out the special dispensing nozzle required to combine the two flavors in one cone and even more have simply eliminated chocolate soft serve all together. So finding a place that still serves the "twist" cone was an unexpected treat.

And now I know where I'll stop on the way home after Agape Vespers!

*For those who read this blog from outside the US or Canada, Dairy Queen is a chain restaurant that serves, among other things, a kind of ice cream called "soft serve" which in consistency is somewhere between actual ice cream and whipped cream and can be mechanically pumped into a cone.


A little thought...

Why is there a part of me that secretly wishes DNA tests would prove that none of the men clamoring to be named the "father" of Anna Nicole Smith's baby is the real one?

What a cross that small child will have to bear some day!


A little humor that came my way...

Thanks to Fr. Rick Andrews, Pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church, St. Paul, MN

As a young minister, I was asked by a funeral director to hold a grave side service in a new cemetery for a derelict man with no family or friends. He had died while traveling through the area. The funeral was to be held way back in a new country cemetery. This man would be the first to be laid to rest at this new cemetery.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods area, I became lost. Being the typical man, I didn't stop for directions. But I finally arrived an hour late. I saw a crew and a backhoe, but the hearse was nowhere in sight. The workmen working on the grave were eating lunch. I apologized to the workers (who looked puzzled) for my tardiness, I stepped to the side of the open grave, to find the vault lid already in place. I assured the workers I would not hold them long, but having a prayer service was the proper thing to do.

As the workers gathered around, still eating their lunch, I poured out my heart and soul. As I preached the workers began to say "Amen, Praise the Lord and Glory." I was feeling good that they were enjoying my sermon. I preached, and I preached, like I'd never preached before. I began from Genesis and went pretty much all the way through to Revelation. I preached for two hours and 45 minutes. It was a long and lengthy service. I closed in prayer and it was finished. The workers thanked me as I left the grave.

As I was walking to my car, I felt that I had done my duty and I would leave with a renewed sense of purpose and dedication, in spite of my tardiness. As I was opening the door to my car and taking off my coat, I overheard one of the workers saying to another, "I've been putting in septic tanks for 20 years, and I ain't never seen anything like that before. "

High school rejects and grace...

A must read article from Mark Shea on not being asked out to the dance.


Somehow, some way...

I'm certainly no prophet and often don't understand the ways of the world. My wisdom is shallow. My thoughts are tepid water.

But this is true.

Somehow, some way, God still loves this small blue orb in space and all who inhabit, and sometimes seem to infest, it. I can't tell you why this is or how it all works out. That would be because I am not God.
But I see glimmers of it and every time I feel like nothing is left and faith is gone there is always a shred of light, sometimes just a pinprick, that makes it through.

More often than not I struggle to make sense of things and sometimes get lost and feel angry and wrestle with angels or give in to my demons. Yet I am convinced there's a plan to it all. I wish I knew what it was but somehow it is certain that God holds all things in His love. More than that I cannot say with any clarity at all and probably won't until this Earth's air leaves my lungs and the breath of heaven fills them.

But I still believe, or I'm unable to not believe. Is that faith? I don't know. But somehow I feel safe in the storm.

The hardest day of all...

Tonight my wife and I will go out for dinner and then a play. We'll drive home and she and I and the three cats will all tuck in for a winter's sleep. Together.

Now the origins of this day are the subject of debate and who St. Valentine actually was is shrouded in obscurity but hearts and flowers and dinner are the order for those who share thier life with someone. Those who've belonged to each other for years, those who are new at it all, and those who are still trying will all be busy tonight whether the task is making the best impression or the relaxed celebration of the years.

But for some this is the hardest day of all.

For everyone "in the dance' as it were there are those who sit by themselves on the chairs by the wall. For most its not about being ugly or mean but rather that time and circumstances and the chance winds of life have swept them aside in the waltz of love. Some sit to the side because thier hearts have been broken and the fear of pain's return is stronger then the hunger for belonging. Others have tried and tried but the fates have weighed against them even as they wait in hope. A few have someone to love but the call of duty has taken them far away so they are alone this day but not forever. Many have belonged at one time, to another, and that belonging has been broken by strife, or hurt, or the too soon arrival of death. They may have the comfort of moments past but the dance goes on without them.

No one on this Earth knows the whys and wherefores of it all, how it is that some are joined and some are alone on this night where everything screams "together" and those who aren't can be run through with a hundred arrows by the thought of it. If the answers where easy the solace would be as well but as certain as love is in the air this will be a night of tears for some.

For those who have been graced with the presence of someone they love this day reminds us of our fortune and how easily we take it all for granted. We often pass by even those who are intimate with us with a casualness whose effect only occurs to us when they are gone. We too easily ignore and even hurt the ones we love simply because we assume thier presence is a given and so we can treat it like something common and disposable. Today, despite its marketing tackiness, can remind us of the gifts we have been given and those we need to share.

For those who will endure this day with a certain pain of longing a harder calling comes to mind, the task of finding the love of God of which our human loves are a type and shadow without that love being present to show us the way. Human love is a solace, a foretaste of that which God gives, a blessed taste, when it is holy, of that which is to come and those without must transcend the foretaste and discover the substance without the normal direction markers. But God is good and when our love cannot reach up His reaches down and embraces us and carries us through.

Whatever your state this Valentine's Day, whether everything passes in a blur of events or so slowly you can hear the clock ticking on the wall that highest love remains the greatest of all and those who see even a glimmer of it can make it through the night.


The gift of Lent...

Lent arrives on Monday of this next week and probably not a moment too soon.

As a child growing up in the Plymouth Brethren we had no Lent and only a smattering of holy seasons, or rather holy days like Christmas and Easter. There were, as I remember, times of fasting and prayer where individuals or "assemblies" (what we called parishes) would practice this discipline but no set season as such.

In seminary the ancient flow of the church year, with its cycles of fasting and feasts, was a kind of flavoring added to the eclectic flow of self designed worship. Professors looking to add a dose of depth or flow or novelty to worship would occasionally take snippets of the ancient ordo and attempt to graft them on to whatever form of worship prevailed at the moment. I distinctly remember a class at the Church of the Brethren seminary across from Northern Baptist where we were tasked with designing a worship service and my group grabbed "Jubilate Deo" and stuck it in with a scripture reading and a few other things to make our "service". If I remember correctly it actually brought out a few tears in those who attended and looking back probably more in some of the Fathers. But we were at least trying to be sincere and for a few of us a taste of those ancient things pushed us to want more and were the first faint impulses of that which brought us to Orthodoxy.

And when one arrives in Orthodoxy there is a fascination with the rubrics of it all, the whys and hows, and what you're supposed to do and what should be left behind. Having been starved from the richness of all that so many who lived their whole lives in Orthodoxy take for granted the new arrivals often plunge in headfirst and with some passion. There's nothing wrong with that, I suppose, as long as people see that the rubrics and techniques and services are means and not the end in themselves. We don't fast in Lent just because we want to be in compliance with ancient canons. We fast because we have need of that which it brings us, repentance and a life drawn closer to God.

I need to fast because I have a need to be free from all that is dark and unholy in me, and believe me there's a lot. I need to fast because in a gluttonous culture I too have become a glutton. I need to fast because more often than I wish I have lost control of my appetites and need to bring them back into thier proper place. I need to fast because I sin and have made myself a captive and wish to be free.

At the heart of Lent, of all the seasons of the Church year, is that primal need, the need to be transformed from within and draw close to God. It's that need that keeps the bars open at night as people seek for a moment or two to be right with the world and know joy, or at least a bit of happiness, and perhaps find a person with whom they may connect. It's that need that keeps people at thier desks all day pursuing the money and things they feel will fulfill them. But the truth is that only God will do and in a strange twist of logic it is in the giving up of ourselves that we obtain what we need, and in the sacrificing of our desires that we are made whole. It was that need that made the Plymouth Brethren fast, we naive seminarians reach out for some fragment of a Tradition the rejection of which defined our denominations, and calls those who have traveled far to the safe shores of Orthodoxy to realize again the precious gift of Lent. Underneath the history and rubrics of it all is that hunger to be close to God, to be other than the person we see in the morning mirror, and we fortunate ones have been given a means to that end.

So I can't tell you how this fast, once started, will end. I may make a total mess of it. But I've got to try. Something deep inside of me needs to. Bright and early on Pure Monday the struggle begins.


The spark...

There is a crucial moment in the life of any small group of people, including churches, when time, history, people, and events, align to move that orgnaization from its smaller place to one larger. It's not unlike those old cartoons where a small snowball tips the crest of a hill and gets larger, every avalanche begins with a snowflake. In the same way there is also a moment when years of an organization wandering, struggling, and drifting tip it finally towards irreversible decline.

A term describing this is "critical mass" borrowed from physics and referring (please understand that I am not a physicist) to the amount of elements required to create change, usuable energy, or an explosion. In every church that is now stable or growing there was a point where it was small but the right people, right events, and right inspiration moved it from its tenuous spot and on to growth.

This idea of "critical mass" is also important in the history of mass movements of people. A Hitler could use the discontent and chaos of his time to create the all encompassing darkness of Nazi Germany and the preaching of even one man, blessed by the Holy Spirit, can bring fresh winds of faith and life to the Church. Every revival in this country was a moment when the people of God, events, and leaders impacted each other to create a time of deepened fervor and faith.

And in the Christian understanding it is the Holy Spirit, the wind that blows without our knowing where He comes from or where He goes, whose presence marks the manifestation of genuine revival over and above just emotional manipulation. Sadly much of what we call "revival" in our culture is just skilled showmanship applied to the parochial setting. Any good preacher can make people cry just like any good movie. But when revival comes the culture is changed because people act differently. In this country if revival comes again we'll probably notice it not by the people falling out all over the place but rather by the millions who expose their dark sins and refuse to buy into the myths of our consumer culture and the relativistic morality that underlies it.

The hard thing, of course, is that times often have to get very tough before God can get our attention and we have to be faced with threat or famine or chaos or war or some other terrible thing before the layers of indifference are peeled away from us and we fall on our knees in humble prayer.

But if we do...


A thorn in the flesh...

Tomorrow I go in for a cortisone shot in my hip.

Sometimes I think the chronic pain of the past few months was everything dark and frustrated in me coming out sideways but it appears after years of sports, a motorcycle accident, and only God knows what other abuse the pain in my hip will not go away. At times it has been so difficult that serving the Liturgy became a lesson in endurance, walking with a cane a necessity, and getting out of a car a gradual process of grimace and unfold.

I would like to say the pain comes from a lifetime of ascetic practice and many prostrations but alas it is not so. I am in my middle forties and some things, especially those damaged before, are reminding me again of thier wounds. I would like to have had a miraculous healing with the faith it would inspire and the simple, practical, freedom to sleep through the night but such is not the case.

As I get older I become more and more like the seniors I serve in my "day job" and my empathy for thier various aches and pains increases. Each time I stand I am reminded I am mortal and prone to decay. Each day I learn in this small way, because others suffer at levels which make this pain insignificant, that grace is sufficient for each day.

Now if I can just get myself to the doctor tomorrow...

A site worth visiting...

I remain amazed at the Orthodox Resources out there on the WWW.

Here's one worth checking out.


Out of the depths...

It has been almost five months now since my brother, Paul, died.

In our adult life our journeys were often seperate. The life of a minister took me around the country. When Paul moved he literally bought the house across the street. He lived in the suburbs. I chose the city. He navigated corporate waters and I always sailed close to the Church. We each had our friends and the path ahead and behind.

Its popular these days to think of family as whatever you want to make it, a thing to be molded in the shape of your current needs. But the void inside reminds me it is something more. There is something about family that transcends need, and chance, and personal convenience, and legal convention. That something can be stretched, twisted, separated by time and distance, and flower in a thousand ways and yet it still somehow binds.

People who hate thier families still give witness to the bond. Siblings distant from each other by the miles still sense the presence. We may be as different as night at day and yet there is something that says we still belong together. And when the link is temporarily broken by death the absence is felt not so much in the disappearance of the other but of something of ourself.

There is a picture of the three of us brothers, in better days when cares of health and life were far away from our thoughts, on my office wall. No matter where life takes us and who is standing at the end this is the way it will always be.

We're family.

Death to the unfit in Switzerland..

A link to a story about how Switzerland, following Holland's lead, is contemplating allowing the active participation of doctors in ending the lives of the mentally ill.

A question or two arises.

How do we determine the capacity of a mentally ill person to make such a decision? At what point are they sane enough to request death yet mentally ill enough to provide the rationale to end their suffering? Do we treat them until we think they're sane enough to make a decision for suicide? Perhaps, since it would be hard to determine whether a person with a mental illness has the capacity to request suicide there should be a panel of doctors who determine, based on their diagnosis, which mentally ill person should live and which should be euthanized

At least we have a model for that.

Cold enough for ya?

Spent the weekend driving up and down the hills around LaCrosse doing house blessings and surviving, by God's grace, the cold temps. Right now (Monday morning) its warmed up to a balmy -15 below farenheit.

Ironic, isn't it that just after a group of scientists sponsored by the UN talk about global warming large sections of the US, and I've heard Russia as well, go very cold. A part of me is cynical when all these studies come out. I've long ago disabused myself of the notion that scientists are impartial and apolitical sorts who only seek the truth provided by empiricism. Quite frankly, large swathes of the academic world lean to the political left, incestuously relate to each other, and vigorously enforce thier orthodoxies. A Phd in climatological studies means absolutely zero outside of the small world of academics so toe the line or take your degree to McDonalds.

And do you really trust the UN to get anything right?

Some of us who are a little older remember the panic in the seventies about the coming "global ice age." Those who are a little older yet remember the hysteria about the "population bomb" and how the world would soon be overrun by billions of people and we'd all be reduced to eating grass in a global desert. Various other scientists have predicted all sorts of doomsday scenarios with the fervor of Hal Lindsey all of which have the fact they were wrong in common.

The Psalmist told us long ago to not put our trust in princes or in the sons of men because all humans are fleeting and all our ambitions and fears die with us. We know, as well, that all history is in God's hands as is the very creation itself. So we need not give in to panic, and should face all attempts to create the same whether they come from crazed preachers, politicians seeking power, or scientists caught up in academic fads, with discernment and without fear. Our faith gives us perspective and allows us to stand back from the ever changing winds of time and see the world in a remarkably different, even eternal way.

As Christians we've always known we are caretakers, and not owners of creation. Our faith tells us to exist without extravagance, share our wealth, and live with a minimum impact on what God has made for our sustenance and pleasure. So we need no one to panic us to live with an eye on conservation and care for the Earth. In fact, Christian faith is very much more attuned to the rythm of season and time and nature then much of what science has developed, as helpful as that can be, and if the world needs an ecological handbook they might just try dusting off that Bible in the library.

So who knows what the weather will be like next year? The truth is no one for sure. But come what storms or pleasant breezes our trust in God will carry us through. And to the extent we practice the care of creation in the fullness of the Christian tradition we will always be the gardener priests we were meant to be and our blue island in the depths of space will be preserved.


This week's sermon in advance...

Sunday of the Prodigal Son
February 4, 2007

What does it mean to forgive?

I still struggle with that at times, and I suspect that most of us do as well. We struggle with what the word means, what it calls us to do, and how it changes our lives.

And many of us have vey little knowledge of what forgiveness entails especially when the wounds are deep and the harm catastrophic. Well meaning people talk about “just letting it go” or “moving on” but sometimes its not as simple as that. When we were kids and got into a fight the teacher would make us stop and shake hands but in this broken world people sometimes do great damage and sometimes not by accident yet still we are called to forgive. Many will spend their whole lives learning to forgive.

In our Gospel today we have an example of forgiveness, of a father grieviously wronged by a shallow and selfish son. When this son comes on desperate times he realizes the error of his ways and seeks to return home. A stumbling apology comes out of his mouth, the brokenness pouring from him. Even as he speaks his father embraces him, removes the ragged clothes, and celebrates a feast of joy at his return.

What isn’t in the story is how the father came to the place where he endured the hurt, worked through the insult and the pain, and came to be at a place in his life when the return of the very one who had caused such harm could bring joy.

But the Scriptures give us a clue about how this happens.

We know that Jesus told His disciples they should pray to be forgiven as they forgive those who trespassed against the. Sometimes we pray that prayer so casually that we can say it and read a book at the same time, but from it we understand that our own forgiveness is tied to the forgiveness we give others. A sobering thought.

We know that when someone wrongs us they incur a debt to us and that forgiveness is our releasing of that obligation. The sins we all do are not only against God but also each other and when we have wronged we have a moral obligation to make it right and when those who have wronged us seek forgiveness we have a moral obligation to release them.

The Bible teaches us that forgiveness doesn’t mean the wrong that was done never happened or that consequences won’t remain. The prophet and king David was truly forgiven of his rape of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband but the repercussions of it haunted his whole life.

We see numerous examples in the Scripture of the bitterness and pain that was brought into the life of those who held grudges, who clung to the wrongs done to them, and acted in vengeance.

The Scriptures also teach us that forgiveness sometimes takes time. St. Peter asked Jesus “How many times should I forgive a brother who sins against me? And Jesus answer of seventy times seven meant more than just 490 but rather implied that forgiveness may need to be repeated until it takes hold, until the fulness of it has come to pass.

Above all the Scriptures and the Tradition of our Church teach us that forgiveness is among the most prized of virtues. It marks a Christian life, and when practiced brings healing to both the one wronged and the one who offended.

So how are we to become people of forgiveness, people who model God’s own loving forgiveness and in turn receive forgiveness for themselves?

First we must determine in our will that forgiveness will be a part of our life, a value we hold, an act we practice, and a skill we develop. In the same way we grow in all the graces of the Christian life through study, prayer, and practice we should grow in forgiveness as we mature in Christ.

Along with this we must also develop the grace to be a person not easily offended. Sometimes we are full of pride or self justification, quick to take offense, hyper-sensitive, unwilling to listen, and too ready to pick at each other for no good reason. How quickly we look for words that we can single out, or actions for which we can demand redress. How often we desire to score points against another to claim some kind of victory. How many years go by while we still hold grudges often for no good reason at all. A gentle spirit, slow to take offense and slower still to take vengeance is a spirit where forgiveness exists even before the wrongs that may draw on its graces.

But sometimes the wrongs are profound and the wounds authentic and deep and still we must forgive. In these times we come to see that forgiveness is more than an event but rather its a process, an attitude of the heart, a commitment of the will, and a state of the soul. We may need to revisit a deep wrong against us many times, weep over it many times, experiences its pain again and again as we slowly give it to God and purge it from our lives.

We come to terms over time with the reality that our life has changed and that we’ve been damaged. We take care to protect ourselves. Yet there is also a part of us that sees a greater reality that begins to transform what has happened to us. The outworking of God’s grace, even if it takes a lifetime, produces in us both the grace of our own recovery and the hope of the transformation and salvation even of the one who has done us harm. As long as this lives inside of us we are granting forgiveness in a way similar to God and ensure our own forgiveness as well.

Perhaps in this coming Lent the task that will be laid before you will be the challenge of forgiveness. For too long you’ve held on to wrongs done to you or were too quick to imply wrong in others. Somewhere inside you is a hard bitter place full of grudges, offenses, pains, and slights real and imagined. It sits in your soul like a jagged rock. For others it may be a deep and hidden pain, a wrong done that has cast a shadow over all of your life and from which you need to be free. Each of us has our own place of unforgiveness, our place of struggle with hurts inflicted and pains endured.

It makes no difference. You can come to God and lay every dark corner of your life before Him and ask Him for the grace to heal your wounds, and the grace to forgive those who have wounded you. If that is yet still too hard you can just say “God here I am all messed up. Please help me.”

After all what have you got to lose?

A sign of the times...

"Health officials urge gay men who have unprotected sex with multiple partners, use methamphetamines or have another sexually transmitted disease to get tested for HIV every three months."

The above was a paragraph from this article in the Seattle Times regarding the emergence of a new strain of drug resistant HIV now appearing in the local gay community.

Here's what it should have said.

Health officials urge gay men who have unprotected sex with multiple partners, use methamphetamines or have another sexually transmitted disease to have consideration for their lives and the lives of those they could infect and cease their sexual activity while seeking treatment for their addictions.

It's a sign of the times when the very thing that could make a real difference and heal what has to be a very broken person (how else could anyone rationally describe a person who has numerous anonymous and unprotected sexual encounters while tweaking on speed) cannot be said and the lie that makes it worse gets the offical governmental stamp of approval.

That's why our message, our Gospel, matters.

If the time should come...

News from Canada where the Province of Saskatchewan is using its authority via Canada's infamous "Human Rights Tribunals" to purge those who disagree with same sex marriage from their positions as marriage commisioners (civil servants who perform marriages). Here is a link to a story describing the British government's proposed new rules for adoption agencies which will require all agencies, even those with religious backgrounds, to offer adoption to same sex couples (a policy position already in place in Massachuesetts).

In Western cultures, and places where these cultures have significant influence, the force of law is rapidly being used by homosexual activisits and their secular sympathizers as a tool to marginalize and discriminate against religious believers of all types and Christians in particular. Those we are able to read the times and seasons have argued for years that these various "hate crimes" and "discrimination" laws had a larger agenda then merely protecting people from violence and allow equal access to government services and were, in fact, permeated with a larger desire to use the force of law to coerce a new kind of secular morality and penalize those who dissent.

And there is a possibility that it could get worse.

We in the Church have either compromised ourselves by bending with every cultural wind, given ourselves over to shrill voices, or simply put our head in the sand and failed to make a case for our vision. The result has been two fold. First people are sick and dying because they have believed and acted on the big lie that underlies the secular understanding of morality; the idea that all urges (consumer, sexual, and personal) are normal and beneficial to human happiness and thus should be acted on and protected as rights by the larger society. Second the church has often become irrelevant to the greater culture because it provides no meaningful counter culture, and hence no hope for something better to those millions who are suffering emotionally and physically and seek answers.

So the time may come when our clergy are harrassed through legal proceedings and the faithful subject to public and social ridicule by a culture bent on mindless suicide by ignoring the wisdom of the past, an asylum where the inmates rule and the sane are considered to be mad. The truth will emerge of course, it always does, but the cost will be high in pain and lives and struggle.

But hope is not lost, not by a long shot.

First Christians need to take what happens in the larger culture very seriously and stop passively accepting the darkening night as normal. And we need to see how in ways small and large we ourselves have bought into its lies. Then Christians need to pray, faithfully, vigourously, and passionately about the state of the world. We need to be like the woman with the issue of blood who pushed her way through the crowd to touch Jesus and would not be deterred by the masses or Jacob who grabbed hold of the angel and would not let go until he was blessed even if he walked with a limp for the rest of his life because of it. Finally we need to know and practice our faith on an ever deepening level. Christians who are actually living this life shine in a way that even our enemies have to admire and they make the salvation of those around them possible through their example.

Finally our Lord promised us that in the world we would have many troubles but that we were not to fear because He had overcome the world. Whatever happens in the years to come or in the short time of our lives that promise is sure. We may have to walk through fire to know it, but it is also the hope and the promise that keeps our lamps lit, gives confidence to our shaking voices, and keeps on the journey one step at a time.


No embarassments...

One of the blessings of these times for Christians is that some, in the face of a rising secularism and militant Islam, will look to the roots of their faith and perhaps see for the first time this Jesus the secularists mythologize and Islam distorts.

I think if they do they'll be very pleased with what they see. Let me explain.

In a few weeks we'll be having a presentation on Islam here at my work (I'm a bi-vocational Priest) by the Islamic Association of the University of Minnesota. The intent is good, it's always worthwhile for people to have a basic working understanding of other faiths, but it'll probably be a generic whitewash. Islam is about peace, jihad is personal struggle, it's all about brotherhood...

No one there will probably have the ability to ask a few basic questions that could make all the difference and puncture the veil of political correctness that surrounds our vision of Islam. Here's one question no one will ask. "In Islam the Prophet Muhammed is considered to be the ideal human being with a purity of action and thought that transcends all others and a life that is worthy of emulation. Would it be proper, then, to allow your six year old daughter to marry a forty year old man as Muhammed did when he married Ayesha?" Imagine the silence that would follow.

Now Christians have often done terrible things in this world. In fact some have posited that the best argument against Christianity is Christians themselves! Looking at my life I understand that point. But when a Muslim goes to the founder of their faith they find Muhammed, who married a child, exterminated whole villages, thought for a while that he was possessed, and used his faith to rule as a tribal chieftan and excercise control when he could and vengeance when he needed to to solidify his power.

The truth is that Christians have done all of that in one form or another throughout time. But Christ never did. If a Christian destroys a whole village because they refuse to become Christians our Lord weeps for the sins of his followers. In Islam they are following the example of Muhammed. Christ loved all, killed no one, had no political power, and forgave the very people committed to torturing him. The contrast between Christ and Muhammed could not be more stark and if people prompted by the turmoils in the world bother to investigate they will quickly come to the conclusion that if one must submit to God, as Islam claims, the God revealed in Jesus Christ is by far the better choice.

Whatever Christians have made of their faith and life, and sometimes we've made a real mess of it, we never have to run away from our Author, Jesus Christ. Not from the way he lived his life, the words he spoke, the miracles he performed, or the holiness of his being. However we have failed there is no awkward silence needed when we speak of Christ, no apologies for the things he did, and no need to play intellectual games to try to make sense of him within his time.

For all our lives we followers of Christ will struggle and often fail to be what we claim to be, but Christ stands and transcends without peers.

And that makes all the difference.