Thursday, November 23, 2006

More of the Spirit of Thanksgiving

A group effort this year, the dressed turkey is in the oven, the potatoes are cooking on the stove, the table set, and I'm taking a break to read/write!

On this national day set aside to giving thanks for the promise of freedom from religious persecution and the sharing of a meal with those who are culturally different, comes this news which I will share for those who--like me--may not be well connected with news from the news services of the Church of the Brethern denomination. (Now I am only because I recently joined the Voices of the Spirit listserve.)

Before I post the article, I give thanks in cyberspace for my "liberalchurch" and it's members and pastor. Open Circle is my home on my religious pilgrimmage and I am very thankful for its shelter--or should I say I'm thankful for it's openness. Not so much like a shelter, but more like a place where I/we can be more uncomfortable than comfortable. Both challenged and nurtured at the same time!

Now, here's the news--hang on, it's a long but important story for those who know just how important church polity can be for their church and their pastor friends!

Newsline Extra
Nov. 22, 2006
"But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way intohim...." Ephesians 4:15a


Divisions over issues of sexuality, the authority of scripture, and otherrelated issues have surfaced in recent months in at least three districts inthe Church of the Brethren. The districts of Northern Plains,South/Central Indiana, and Illinois and Wisconsin are dealing withdivisions in different ways.Northern Plains DistrictIn Northern Plains, "our board is trying to deal with this in a way that weactually talk with each other," said former executive minister ConnieBurkholder, in an interview conducted while she was still serving thedistrict. Divisive issues for the district are not just about sexuality, butalso the authority of scripture, Jesus Christ as the only savior, anddisagreement over use of funds.Another concern, Burkholder said, is whether new church projects willwelcome homosexuals without expecting them to change. Open CircleChurch of the Brethren in Burnsville, Minn., the newest congregation inthe district, has become a focal point for the concerns.A factor in the situation was a decision by the district board to give aloan--taken in part from money gained in the sale of Camp Mon-Dak--toOpen Circle to pay off its mortgage. Brethren in the area of the camp hadrelinquished claim to the camp property, although some still feltconnected with the camp, said Burkholder.Six congregations have sent letters to the district on various concernsrelated to these issues. One was framed as queries for district conference.The district also has received communications from "people at theopposite end of the theological perspective," Burkholder said, including aletter from Open Circle explaining its viewpoint.The district board invited congregations to a day of prayer in mid-May,outlining in the invitation the main issues it perceived in the district. Thedistrict board also began planning for a district face-to-face conversation.That gathering took place Oct. 7-8 at Camp Pine Lake. The main focus ofdiscussion related to homosexuality and church leadership, said TimButton-Harrison, who is currently serving as interim district executive."The gathering really was giving members of the district an opportunityto be in respectful conversation with one another, and to both listen andshare the range of views represented in our district," he said. More than150 people attended, representing most of the congregations.The district has benefited from the gathering "to bring us together as thechurch and prayerfully listen and share with one another," Button-Harrison said. Also, the district board has received a 15-page documentof participant feedback to the gathering, including individual responsesand some group responses from congregations. The feedback rangedfrom appreciation for the gathering, personal insights gained, andbenefits gained for the district, to identification of frustrations anddisappointments, hopes for a resolution to differences, and ideas for whatthe district board's next steps should be.Many in the district "desire to work at these issues in a different kind ofway that is upbuilding of the church and honors the variety of ways ofunderstanding that are in our churches," Button-Harrison said. "We feelcalled to draw from the best of who we are to model another way."South/Central Indiana DistrictSouth/Central Indiana District also has attempted a process of dialogue inresponse to Manchester Church of the Brethren, an "open and affirming"congregation in North Manchester, Ind., according to executive ministerAllen Kahler. However, district meetings for dialogue and discussionhave not healed divisions.Instead, on Oct. 21, a specially called district conference responded toManchester's holding of a same-sex covenant ceremony by deciding tosanction any church that holds a covenant service in the future. Thedecision was not retroactive, and Manchester is not under sanction at thistime.The action of the district conference, which was recommended by thedistrict board, stated that a congregation "that allows a same-sexcovenant service on church property or with the assistance of churchministerial leadership will have a three-year moratorium placed upontheir participation in elected and appointed district offices, includingseating delegates at district conference."It also includes follow-up activities a congregation under sanction will berequired to "submit to," possibly including work with the district board,the Ministry of Reconciliation of On Earth Peace, and the AnnualConference Council; and direction to suspend the holding of covenantservices on church property or with the assistance of the church'sministers.The conflict in the district has been brewing for many years, beginning asearly as 1996 when Manchester decided to become "open and affirming."The congregation's decision-making process included a lengthy study ofsexuality from a biblical and scientific perspective. With 605 members,Manchester is by far the largest congregation in South/Central IndianaDistrict--the next largest having 264 members (statistics from the 2006"Church of the Brethren Yearbook.")In 2002 the district sent a query to Annual Conference, which wasanswered in 2004 by the paper "Congregational Disagreement withAnnual Conference Decisions." (For the full answer to the query go district also created an advisory council that included members fromManchester. The advisory council functioned for a year or more, Kahlersaid, and it attempted to find a way to have conversation betweendiffering groups, helped keep the district board apprised of the situation,and helped care for the situation of conflict while the district boardcontinued to do the regular business of the district.Then came news of the same-sex covenant ceremony at Manchester inOctober last year. District leaders met with leaders of the congregation.There followed a series of written communications between thecongregation and the district board, and the board also receivedcommunications from other congregations about the issue.A final letter from the district board to the Manchester congregation, sentearlier this year, reportedly was perceived by the district and thecongregation in very different ways, according to Kahler: it wasperceived by the district board as a statement of last steps in the processAnnual Conference has outlined in the event of congregationaldisagreement, but may have been perceived by the congregation as athreat.On June 11, Manchester reaffirmed its "open and affirming" position in acongregational business meeting. It communicated that commitment in aletter to the district board, which also requested that the district engage ina process of reconciliation.The district board, however, responded instead by making itsrecommendation to sanction congregations, and scheduled the speciallycalled district conference. At that Oct. 21 meeting, attempts to amend therecommendation failed and it passed by a two-thirds majority.Illinois and Wisconsin DistrictIn Illinois and Wisconsin District, leaders have been working in severalways to hold together congregations that are in very different places onissues of human sexuality. The variety of efforts have included visits toall congregations by the district moderator, an invitation forcongregations to respond to a draft of a "District Covenant," and a timefor open prayer for concerns of the district at this year's districtconference.The district has been in conversation about issues of sexuality for at leasttwo years. The district includes three congregations that are "open andaffirming" or have statements of welcome for people of all sexualorientations.In June 2004, five congregations proposed a query titled "The Church ofthe Brethren Position on Homosexuality and Lesbianism." The query wasreceived during a year of transition in the district. The district's transitionteam attempted a series of meetings with representatives or members ofthe five congregations, and then determined that the query was not madein proper form. The five congregations reframed and resubmitted thequery, and five more congregations joined the original group.After several months of study, a district study team determined that thequery had already been answered by Annual Conference. The query wasreturned along with a detailed response providing information thatsupported the answers to the query, according to Kevin Kessler, who hasbeen named district executive minister to begin in the new year.In the meantime, Springfield (Ill.) Church of the Brethren announced itsposition as "open and affirming."District leaders are continuing conversation with the 10 congregations,which have not resubmitted the query and have not filed a formalgrievance with the district, and with the Springfield congregation.Astoria (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, however, has sent a letter ofgrievance directly to the Annual Conference officers.District leaders have tried to be very careful in responding to the query,to the 10 congregations that brought it, and to the Springfieldcongregation, said former district executive minister Jim YaussyAlbright, interviewed for this article while he was still serving thedistrict. "The study team was balanced, (including) people who thinkhomosexuality is a sin and those who do not," he said. In its dealingswith Springfield, the district has been equally careful, and has tried tofollow the latest Annual Conference guidelines."Christ made us brothers and sisters," Albright said. "We didn't chooseit. We are covenanted to deal with each other despite the differences."(For relevant Annual Conference statements referenced in this article, for the 1983"Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective"; for the 1979 "Biblical Inspiration and Authority"; for the 1998"The New Testament as Our Rule of Faith and Practice"; for the 2004"Congregational Disagreement with Annual Conference Decisions.")--Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for theChurch of the Brethren General Board. She is a member of Illinois andWisconsin District, at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pilgrims and Persecution

As we prepare to celebrate a time of Thanksgiving tomorrow for all our many blessings. I think of those Pilgrims long ago who came to a new place so they could be free from religious persecution. What irony it is that here in my own "free land" religious persecution of the worst kind is now again rampant.

My heart goes out to the six Muslim clerics who were publicly discriminated against after praying their evening prayers before boarding a flight here in the Twin Cities. We must learn to put our fear and prejudice aside and treat others with love and respect for their individual rights if we are to honor the spirit of America!

I will pray for the person who passed a note in fear to the flight crew. I will pray for the flight crew who made a decision to take one action instead of another. I will pray for the Homeland Security personnel who govern the safety rules and will be reviewing this incident. And I will pray that in the spirit of the first Thanksgiving we will let faith, hope, and love, govern our thoughts and actions as we work to put aside our fears and doubts and learn to love and accept all people despite their differences from our cultural and religious experiences. When the Native Americans accepted the Pilgrims ate together, it was America's first lesson in multicultural acceptance.

Monday, November 20, 2006

What's Next for Progressives

Online Newsletter Article for this week:

Well, I was quite pleased with the outcome of the election. Some friends did not win and that was too bad, but some did and on the whole it was a very good day for progressives in the state and nation. I am particularly gratified that a huge message of dissatisfation was registered at the national level with the policies of the Bush Administration, which I truly believe are doing great damage to the country. Now there will be a Congress that can act as a genuine check on the President who has had no oversight for six years.

But will this election be a momentary interruption of the right-wing movement that has ascended to power over the last twenty years and set the political and cultural agenda for the state and country? Or is the beginning of a swing in a different direction? I believe going forward that the answer to that question depends more on the actions of you and me than on what our politicians do.

They, the politicians, even the best of them, are human. Whatever good intentions they have as they go to St. Paul and Washington, they will be tested by the lure of special interests and money and all the trappings of power. Some of them undoubtedly will not live up to our hopes and their potential. But as a whole they will not succeed in changing the direction of the state and nation unless we remain engaged and active and work to keep them honest and responsive.

This past Saturday Howard Bass and I attended a conference in Minneapolis of the midwest chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. We were joined by more than 600 spiritual progressives from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. (I suspect the Iowans were actually in town to attend the Gophers-Iowa game but showed up at the wrong venue!) We were there to hear Rabbi Michael Lerner speak. Lerner is author of The Left Hand of God, editor of Tikkun magazine, and together with Cornel West and Sister Joan Chissiter, shepherds the national organization of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

It was Lerner's contention in his talk, and in his book, that nothing will change in the country unless there is a mobilized organization of spiritual progressives around the country who hold politicians accountable to a new bottom line of thinking and voting. The old bottom line is fear-based, selfish (me-first, my salvation, looking out for number one), authoritarian, and violent; it is what he describes as the right hand of God. The left hand of God values community and social justice, nurture and compassion, democracy, and peaceful conflict resolution.

Both the left and right hands of God are present in every individual, and in our communities and societies we swing back and forth. In the 60's, for instance, when we made great strides forward in social justice for women and minorities, the left-hand of god was in ascendance. Over the last 20 years but particularly since 9/11 the right hand of god has been in control.

The recent election was a sign that the country is growing weary of the right hand of god. But there will be no genuine change unless we do our part. As Lerner says in his book:
What I learned from my brief encounters with the Clinton administration confirmed something I had known before. If your goal is to win narrow material rewards or ego gratification or fame, then getting close to the powerful, whispering in their ears, having "access," can make a huge difference. But if your goal is to heal and repair the society, and you want to enlist the politicians to pursue policies that require courage, if you want them to feel safe to examine the part of their own selves that is responsive to the Left Hand of God, then there is only one thing that can work: building a social and political movement in the larger society that is so visible, noisy, and persistent that the powerful cannot ignore it and instead feel that it provides them with the political cover to take stands that might otherwise be perceived as risky.
As Lerner noted Saturday, all those politicians who walked arm-in-arm at the front of the civil rights marches in the 60's did not start out in the front of the line. It wasn't until the movement was a large unstoppable force that they jumped in front to make sure history caught them crossing the finish line. Our new and returning representatives will lead our state and country in a different direction if we provide them with an energized movement that values and embodies the left hand of God. Open Circle is one small part of that larger movement, but we have an important role to play.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Good news from Pittsburgh!

I posted about this trial a few weeks ago noting that the accused sent out invitations to her friends to join her and celebrate. I wonder whether she'd rather had a "decision on the merits"? A neighboring synod has a good precident on the books that could have resulted in another pro-gay marraige ruling from her case.

This article is from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette....

Charges against Presbyterian pastor dismissed
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
By Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A church trial for a Presbyterian minister ended this morning after a panel decided that the charges against her for conducting the wedding of twolesbians were filed four days too late. The Rev. Janet Edwards, 56, a minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) anda pastoral associate at the Community of Reconciliation in Oakland, facedcharges for a marriage ceremony she celebrated in June 2005. The denomination's high court has said that clergy in the Presbyterian Church(USA) may bless same-sex couples as long as the ceremony does not resemblea marriage liturgy.But the Rev. Edwards has been clear that she celebrated a marriage. Sheargues that there is no ban on same-sex marriage ceremonies because theruling said clergy "should not" conduct them -- language she believes fallsshort of a prohibition.Her trial took place this morning at the Priory, a small hotel on the NorthSide. The panel of judges -- made up of clergy and elders - voted 8-0 todismiss the charges after deliberating for 1 1/2 hours. The panel said the decision does not constitute a vindication of the Rev.Edwards or any kind of decision on the issue at hand. Rather, it was basedon the defense contention that the charges were filed four days past thedeadline. Charges had to be filed within a year of the date when theinvestigating committee began meeting on the case, which was in September2005. The Rev. Edwards had announced that she welcomed the trial, and had issued formal invitations to the trial and a "worship celebration and lunch" she is holding at the Pittsburgh Golf Club in Schenley Park after the trial's conclusion. The Rev. Edwards, a former moderator of Pittsburgh Presbytery, has been an activist for gay people in the church since her ordination in 1977. She said she was inspired by the long, devoted relationship between a beloved uncle and his partner.

(Staff writer Ann Rodgers contributed to this report.)

Don't Take your Guns to Church (But we don't have to post a sign!)

State churches have leeway under handgun law

Minnesota churches aren't bound by a state law requiring them to either post a sign or verbally inform people that concealed handguns are barred from their parking lots and sanctuaries, a judge has ruled.

Minnesota churches aren't bound by a state law requiring private property owners to either post a sign or verbally inform people when concealed handguns are barred from their parking lots and sanctuaries, a judge has ruled.

Hennepin County District Court Judge William Howard issued a permanent injunction Tuesday freeing religious institutions from the law's requirements. He extended a temporary order put in place by another judge last year.
"The state simply has no answer for the plaintiffs' contention that a secular sign on their front door infringes on their religious beliefs. Thus, the signage requirement, as written, infringes on the plaintiffs' freedom of conscience,'' Howard wrote in his ruling.

David Lillehaug, a lawyer for an Edina church that was part of the case, said the injunction is the latest in a string of rulings made in favor of religious institutions.
"Religious institutions have the complete right to ban firearms from their properties and to notify others of the ban as the religious institutions see fit,'' he said. "The rules that apply to commercial property don't apply to religious institutions.''

The handgun law allows people at least 21 years old with a clean record, no mental illness and proper training to get a permit to carry a gun.
Property owners that want to keep guns out must give notice individually to people entering their buildings or put up a specifically worded sign.
Gun-carrying people who defy a sign face a petty misdemeanor and possible fine of $25.

The lawsuit challenged a 2005 law the Legislature passed to replace a 2003 version struck down by the courts on a technicality. The earlier law required businesses, churches and property owners to use both forms of notification if they wanted to ban guns.

Prior to 2003, local law enforcement authorities had more say over who received a permit.
The Edina Community Lutheran Church and the Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, which were involved in challenges to the earlier version, said the newer law still interfered with religious beliefs. They said the requirements dictated how they communicate with members, visitors and employees.

A spokeswoman with the state attorney general's office wouldn't say whether the state would appeal the decision. Amy Brendmoen said the office was reviewing the decision and considering its options.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Prayers for Friends and Friendships

Yesterday I did a couple new things that are going to bring me new or deeper friendships.
The friends I will come to know by "font" but may never meet, will come from reading posts because I subscribed to the Voices of Spirit listserve yesterday. Liberal pastor was hoping to go to the conference this group held last weekend but was thwarted by a snowstorm. Since I'm very recent to COB denomination, I wanted to learn more about this group and see what they were writing about on the listserve. (I will say the last 24 hours lurking on the list have been interesting.)
Secondly I attended my first meeting as one of two new people called by the liberalchurch congregation to the Pastoral Leadership team last evening. While I've already come to know the others in this group, I know our understanding of each other will deepen by being a part of this group.
Today ?coincidently? two friendship prayers came my way. The prayer for the day on Beliefnet is for "New Friendships". The other friendship prayer was offered in tribute to someone who had been a part of the Vocies of Spirit group.
Here they both are...
Prayer for New Friendships
I honor the place in you where the Spirit of Truth of the entire Universe resides. I honor the place in you, of Love, of Light, of Truth and of Peace. I honor the place in you, where if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is no experience of separation.
Friendship "in kinship with Wisdom there is immortality, and in friendship with her, pure delight." Wisdom 8:17
Today I am immensely grateful for friends who come in all shapes and flavors,who love me as I am with my strengths and with my never-may-be-transformed foibles. I am keenly aware of their touches of goodness. Their warm, considerate elements of care are comfort and encouragement to me. They leave my heart more open and alive. I thank you for every friend I have, for each one brings me a unique gift of love. You, Cherished Wisdom, are astir amid all these loves. You are the gold within every loving relationship. You are the faithfulness in long-enduring friendships. You are the energy of endless goodness in each of us. Thank you for those who have let me into their hearts. May I be a woman/man of love for all whom I meet. May understanding and kindness be the gifts I give. Today I hold in my heart those whom I call "friend," and I entrust them into your compassionate care. I also bring with me the many in my world who question if they are capable of being lovable, those whose love has died, choked in the weeds of bitterness, betrayal, doubt, or despair. Keep reassuring those who feel friendless that they have the ability to love and be loved.

The voices aren't always from God...

Discerning which messages we get are from God and which ones aren't, he's another tragic example from the "NOT" column as reported in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Preschoolers drugged; charges possible
Mother says a voice from heaven directed her; neighbors' call likely saved pair
Pioneer Press
A troubled St. Paul mother who claimed God told her to give her young children dangerous doses of psychiatric drugs — and then prayed by their side as they lay unconscious — could face criminal charges, police said.
The children, a 4-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl, survived the ordeal. Their mother, Ayan Mohamed Omar, is in a secure psychiatric ward of Regions Hospital.
Omar, 30, initially refused to talk to officers but told the children's father "someone from heaven told her to give the pills to the children," according to police.
The two children were rushed to Children's Hospitals and Clinics in St. Paul on Nov. 5 for treatment of the apparent overdose. St. Paul Police Sgt. Paul Schnell said they've been re-leased and are staying with their father.
"This is obviously a very extreme situation that has the potential to be horribly tragic," Schnell said. "These kids were exposed to a very dangerous situation that was quite severe. Fortunately, people called for help. Fortunately, we have access to excellent medical care locally."
Neighbors called Omar's relatives after noticing the two children appeared to be staggering around the Highwood neighborhood apartment complex as if they were drunk. Omar's family called police to the apartment in the 300 block of Winthrop Street South at 10 a.m.
Officers found a relative holding the girl, who was slipping in and out of consciousness. The boy lay on the couch unconscious and unresponsive. The mother was kneeling on the living room floor.
Both children were hospitalized. The girl remained overnight for observation after her condition was stabilized. The boy, who was in unstable condition, was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit.
Omar first denied giving the children anything. During a Nov. 8 interview with police, she said she gave them Tylenol, which doctors ruled out as the possible toxin. She then told an officer that God instructed her to give the children the medication, which she usually kept out of their reach.
Police said they would likely turn the case over to Ramsey County prosecutors this week.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Thank you Dean Elton Johnson

Among the people who lost in Tuesday's election was MN Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson (DFL Willmar, MN). He was the victim of a targeting effort. During his tenure as MN Senate Majority leader he worked hard to block attempts to pass legislation that would discrminate against GLBT on a varitey of occasions. (A sad irony is that he often thwarted Michelle Bachmann with the help of his collegues and now she is the freshman U.S. Rep. elect.) Tens of thousands of outside the district dollars and many workers were brought in to assure Johnson's defeat and they were successful in unseating him.

Aside from his ability to stand firm and do the right thing when confronted with threats and pressure, (even being taped without his consent during presumably private conversations with other pastors), I admire him because he has lived a thoughtful life journey. As many came to know over the past few years, Johnson's life has many facets. He grew up on a farm. He's an officer in the MN Army National Gaurd. He's an ordained Lutheran minister. And he's a former Republican.

We will miss his presence at the State Capitol. I hope he will land on his feet and find equally good ways to serve God and make a living outside of the offices and chambers of the MN State Capitol. Thank you Dean Elton Johnson for your good and FAITHFUL service in the MN Senate.

Along with being tough and smart, Johnson is a quick wit. Here's an article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press that highlights some of his quotes during his tenure in the Senate:

The Dean Johnson file
Dean Elton Johnson, 59, was first elected to the Minnesota House as a Republican in 1978.
• In 1982, he was elected to the Senate and from 1992 to 1997, he served as the Republicans' minority leader.
• In 2000, he switched parties and became a Democratic-Farmer-Laborite.
• In 2004, he was elected the DFL Senate majority leader.
Johnson, a Lutheran minister, has been a voluble public speaker, always ready with a quip. Some of the highlights:

"I need a second chance today."
— In March, when he admitted that he "sanded off the truth" in his claims that he had conversations with Supreme Court justices about Minnesota's marriage law.

"The cow's got no milk and the dog ate the cat. … Everything's so damn bad you can't express it."
— The translation of "Uff da!" according to Johnson, a self-described "Norwegian Lutheran farm boy."

— When asked what to call him — Senator Pastor General? Mr. Brigadier General? Sir? — when he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the Minnesota Army National Guard.

"It was hog manure that saved my life."
— Retelling of an accident in which 7-year-old Johnson was hot-rodding with his 12-year-old brother in their parents' car. Johnson spilled out of the car and his brother ran over him. Rather than being crushed, he sank into the family's pig pen.

"I got sworn in, now I get swore at."
— In 2003 after the Senate swearing-in ceremony, on anticipated legislative battles.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Off To VOS Tomorrow

I am off to Indiana tomorrow for a VOS (Voices for an Open Spirit) gathering to talk about district and denominational strategies for effecting change in the denomination. Back Saturday night.

Thinking encouraged in Canadian churches too

Thinking encouraged, diversity welcomed...that is the language on liberalchurch's logo.

Now, the United Church of Canada is launching an advertising campaign to get Canadian citizens thinking about church too. Along with that is a website where they can then go for a discussion lounge to talk about what they are thinking.

Read this article from the Canadian t.v. website.
A new $10.5 million advertising campaign is being launched by The United Church of Canada in an attempt to spark debate about hot button religious issues like gay marriage and sexual boundaries.

One of the advertisements shows a wedding cake with two groom figurines and asks the question: "Does anyone object?" Another advertisement shows a whipped cream bottle in the fridge along with the question: "How much fun can sex be before it's a sin?"
A third advertisement shows a child at a mall sitting on Jesus' lap instead of Santa Claus with the question: "Would you still take your kids? After all, isn't Christmas supposed to be about Him, not the guy in the red suit? Or can it be about both?"
The project is the largest campaign ever for the church and will include advertisements in magazines, community newspapers and on the Internet.
A website,, has been launched where all of the print advertisements can be viewed. The website also has a discussion lounge where the controversial topics can be discussed.
"We hope is that it will be much more than a website, we hope that it will be a gathering place for people with their faith questions -- the big questions of life as well as the small ones," Right Rev. David Giuliano, moderator of the United Church of Canada, told reporters in Toronto on Monday.
Ad guru Malcolm Roberts, who developed the ad campaign for the United Church, said he wanted people to recognize that the church encourages open, honest dialogue.
"We wanted people to recognize (United Church members) do have humour, they can laugh at themselves," Roberts, the creative director for ad firm Smith Roberts & Co., told CTV Newsnet on Tuesday.
"People can ask them questions about moral, spiritual issues, whatever is on their mind."
While the church is still the largest Protestant denomination in the country, membership has been on the decline with current numbers at about 573,000.
"We are trying to increase the visibility and awareness of The United Church of Canada," Reverend Keith Howard, who is heading the three-year project called Emerging Spirit, told The Globe and Mail.
"We have become aware that particularly for people in the 30- to 45-age group, many of them do not even know that the United Church exists, much less what we stand for."
Howard told The Globe that the church spent more than a year researching why people, specifically in the 30- to 45-age group, have become so turned off by organized religion.
The research found many people view followers of established churches as judgmental, arrogant and unwilling to listen.
"The United Church of Canada must establish its own unique positioning, promote its own values and help people break damaging stereotypes of organized religion," researchers hired by the church stated in a recent report.
As a result, the church is planning seminars to help teach its 3,500 congregations how to welcome newcomers in a more endearing way.
The campaign objective is not to convert people to Christianity but to evoke existing Christians to talk about ethical and religious questions, said Howard.
The website says the campaign was set up "because at The United Church of Canada, we love open-minded discussion on issues that matter to you. And because we believe that it's important to have a place at which you can explore your spirituality and life's big questions on your own terms."
Some of those big questions include, "Why get married, given the low success rate?" and "Does God hate me because I am gay?"
The website also has a "Church Search" feature where visitors can locate a United Church in their area.
The campaign garnered full support of the church's general council meeting last August despite some who said the money could be better spent elsewhere, The Globe reported.
"It was a tough decision for the church because we know we live in a world in need and the United Church has always had a strong commitment to justice and social issues," Howard told The Globe.
"I think, though, in the end the church sees this as an investment in our being able to equip a church that will be able to continue and grow in that kind of work."


Be sure to go to the CTV website, to see the actual advertisements, click here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rumsfeld Gone

So after saying just last week that Rumsfeld is his man for the duration of his term, the day after the election the President dumps him and chooses one of daddy's boys, Bob Gates, to be the new Defense Secretary. It is a hopeful sign that may signal a much-needed change in Iraq strategy.

But who are the people most unhappy with Bush about this turn of events? It has to be all of those Republican Representatives that went down in defeat in part because they were caught up in the wake of the country's unhappiness with the war. They were sacrificed on the altar of Bush's stubborn reluctance to dump Rumsfeld.

If he had made this move two or three months ago it would have made Rumsfeld the scapegoat and allowed the House members to say the President is signaling a change of course in Iraq and they wholeheartedly agree with him. I daresay the House might well have stayed in Republican control. But Bush waits until after the election and they suffer a colossal defeat.

If I am one of those defeated Reps I am mighty unhappy with my President tonight. The Rove magic is definitely gone.

4th Grade Metaphysics and Theology

While talking to each other in the van today, my daughter told me that she sometimes she felt like she and the world around her were all part of a giant videogame.

A natural worrier myself, I immediately imagined that she was feeling powerless and totally not in control of her life. (We don't own the standard videogame equipment at our house and her experience is limited to computer pin ball and an occasional arcade game so you can see why I was worried.) I probed with several more questions. She said she felt empowered and in control of her life. So I didn't further cross-examine her. Apparently she was having her first expressed "metaphysical/theological moment" and was sharing it with me!

I knew better than to get into a long esoteric discussion about free will, predestination, etc...But it came totally out of the blue and caught me off guard. I kind of dropped it after determining she was not uncomfortable with this feeling and feels that she has the power to make choices and has free will and also reassured her that she can tell me if she feels powerless about anything in her life and we will at least discuss it.

Anyone have any words of advice to share on where to take this with her when I check back and follow up on this later?


I get a daily "Prayer of the Day" e-mailed to me from Beliefnet. I know--how undisciplined can one get? Anyway, they do provide some basis for thought as they are selected from a wide variety of faith traditions and belief systems. For that reason alone, I like to receive and read them.

Even though this one is "theologically incorrect" for Progressive Christians on several accounts, I thought it was a cute rhyming verse and it might provide some common ground for people who might be reading this blog and often are consternated at what they read...

The lake behind our house was frozen over all weekend. It is shimmering today in the sunlight however.

Fisherman's Prayer

I pray that I may live to fish
Until my dying day.
And when it comes to my last cast,
I then most humbly pray:
When in the Lord's great landing net
And peacefully asleep
That in His mercy
I be judged Big enough to keep.

- Unknown

Awesome Night

It wasn't a perfect night as friends Coleen Rowley, running for US Congress in MN-2, and Mike Germain, running for State Senate in SD37 lost. And Governor Pawlenty squeaked by Mike Hatch.

But it was an awesome night at both the national and state levels. A convincing majority in the US House and a probable majority in the Senate will put the brakes on the train wreck that is the Bush Administration.

In Minnesota, in the south metro the dominoes fell all night as Republican legislators went down to defeat in "reliably" Republican territory. For this I am most pleased. And Pawlenty, like Bush, will have to learn to work with a legislature controlled by the opposition.

Tired this morning, but very, very happy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Neuroscience and Speaking in Tongues

The New York Times takes note this morning of a study of the brain scans of church goers who speak in tongues:

The passionate, sometimes rhythmic, language-like patter that pours forth from religious people who “speak in tongues” reflects a state of mental possession, many of them say. Now they have some neuroscience to back them up.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues and found that their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior.

The images, appearing in the current issue of the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, pinpoint the most active areas of the brain. The images are the first of their kind taken during this spoken religious practice, which has roots in the Old and New Testaments and in charismatic churches established in the United States around the turn of the 19th century. The women in the study were healthy, active churchgoers.

“The amazing thing was how the images supported people’s interpretation of what was happening,” said Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, leader of the study team, which included Donna Morgan, Nancy Wintering and Mark Waldman. “The way they describe it, and what they believe, is that God is talking through them,” he said.

What is amazing to me is the statement of Dr. Newberg that seems to suggest that the brain images support the interpretation that God is speaking through the people. While I have no interest in challenging the interpretation of those who experience speaking in tongues as the voice of God flowing through them, it's another thing altogether for a scientist to look at a brain scan and say, or at least seem to say, that the science supports their interpretation. I also have to wonder about the possible bias in a study where one of the co-authors, Donna Morgan, is also a practicing Christian who speaks in tongues.

But it is interesting to read of the different ways the brain lights up in various spiritual practices, like meditation and speaking in tongues. And it will be interesting to see if there are follow up studies to track down in a more systematic way what is happening in the brain when people are in ecstatic states.

Long Lines at Polls

Son Ryan and I arrived at our polling place at 7 a.m. and found a fairly long line, especially for a mid-term election. He registered with no problems and voted in his very first election.


That's the word of the day. For the first time in 6 years, this President may be held accountable for his lies, arrogance, and stupidity. I haven't looked forward to an election day like this for many a year.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Haggard Admits to Gay Sex

This story took a bizarre turn when Ted Haggard responded to questions in an on-camera interview and said he didn't have sex with the male prostitute but did receive a massage and buy drugs from him. Apparently there was a moment when he hoped to stanch the blood-letting by denying engaging in gay sex but admitting a lapse in judgment about purchasing drugs, which would presumably be a more forgivable sin in his evangelical community.

But now he has admitted the truth:
Less than 24 hours after being fired from the mega-church he founded, evangelical Pastor Ted Haggard confessed to a "lifelong" sexual problem.

In a letter read to members of his New Life Church Sunday, Haggard said he is "a deceiver and a liar." Haggard apologized to his congregation in the letter and asked for their forgiveness.

"There is part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life," Haggard said in the letter read by Pastor Larry Stockstill, a member of the board of overseers of New Life Church.
So Haggard is gay and it has been tormenting him his entire life. For this I can have compassion for him; it must have been a living hell for him in his rigid world. But what pain he has inflicted on himself, and how tragic for his wife and children, and it might have been avoided if he had had the courage to come out long ago. And what a more humane world it would be if it really didn't matter whether he was gay or straight. It doesn't matter to God. It shouldn't matter to us.

Spirit and Letter

Over on the BRF (Brethren Revival Fellowship) website I saw this post by Craig Alan Myers today:
We oppose the practice of homosexuality for the same reason that we oppose short hair on women, long hair on men, baptizing infants, and telling lies. These are practices which violate the teachings of Scripture. The Bible is our rule of faith and practice. The Church of the Brethren should take a united stand against the evil of homosexual conduct, and that we should not take any steps that give credibility to the homosexual lifestyle. To call homosexual relationships such terms as "marriage" or "ritual" or "rite," gives them a credibility that is not called for. Jesus blessed and sanctified marriage between a man and a woman, and taught that God's intention is that. Our Annual Conference has affirmed that heterosexuality is "the" proper way, not "a" proper way. Anything else is beyond the pale of proper Christian living, and is properly termed a novelty.
The only appropriate response to this is a scripture quote from 2 Corinthians 3:
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, chiselled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

The letter kills; the spirit gives life. Where the spirit of the lord is, there is freedom. In this BRF post the gospel has been turned into the law.

Being Called and Speaking Your Truth

This article brings up an ongoing debate that plays repeatatively in the minds of all those who are trying to discern the best way to live out their call on their journey of life and faith. Does one stay in your birth denomination and bear witness, or does one go elsewhere? Everyone's truth and path is different. Here's one person's story...

By _Eileen E. Flynn_ ( AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFSunday, November 05, 2006

As she prepares to graduate from seminary, Karen Thompson knows she might never be ordained in the Presbyterian Church. Worse, as she learned Friday, she might not even have the opportunity to try, despite the four years she's spent earning a master's in divinity and the support she's won from many clergy members. Even if she stays, any ministry Thompson has will probably be limited because of the denomination's policy on homosexuality. But this is where the 44-year-old lesbian believes that God wants her. "I keep feeling like God has called me to this place at this time," she said. "I feel what I am called to do is just keep saying yes. I don't think now is the time for me to say no."

Last fall, Thompson, who attends Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, was approved by regional church leaders to become a candidate for ministry, the step that precedes ordination.The move was controversial because noncelibate homosexuals are banned from ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church, and some felt that the regional governing body disregarded this policy. A retired minister filed a complaint against San Antonio-based Mission Presbytery, prompting a trial that ended in a split decision and is now likely to be appealed to the national church. A decision against the presbytery would mean Thompson can no longer be called a candidate.Thompson, who will complete her course work next month, said church officials didn't notify her of the appeal. And she isn't sure what the future holds. But, she stressed, "not one minute of this has been wasted. I have been preparing for ministry, and God will use me. "Thompson could have pursued a pastoral job in a church that ordains gays. But when she thought about the hurdles she's already cleared and the gay seminarians who will follow her, Thompson felt called to be a voice of change from within. Her plan now is to work with That All May Freely Serve, a Presbyterian group that promotes ordination for homosexuals. "I feel I'm called to share the good news," she said.

Thompson nearly backed out in September after the Mission Presbytery trial, which was held at the seminary. Thompson, who was not allowed to testify, remembers sitting in the back of the room before opening arguments. A woman handed out name tags and a marker to the observers. Thompson held the sticky tag in her hands for a while before writing her name."You just have to understand what it was to be Karen Thompson in that room," she said. She listened to people talk about her. The unrepentant homosexual person. The sinful lifestyle. The person they were praying would change. They didn't describe the flesh and blood, 6-foot-2-inch woman who carries pictures of her kids in her purse. The woman who loves God and has served the church as a deacon and elder.

"The greatest power we carry is our stories," Thompson said. "It's in the stories of being human. It's in the stories of how we love other people. It's in the stories of how we serve the church. "When the trial ended, even though she remained a candidate for ministry, Thompson felt defeated. She went home and cried for two days. Maybe, she thought, she should switch to the Metropolitan Community Church, a denomination founded specifically for gay people. She had recently taken a job at a local Metropolitan Community congregation as a staff team leader. But then it struck her, she said, "This is not about Karen Thompson being ordained. This is about people who are called by God to serve in the church and who are being told no." Thompson now plans to speak to Sunday school classes, informal church groups, parents of gay children, people who have given up on the church because of the debate on homosexuality. She wants to make herself available not just to tell her own story but to hear the stories of others. She'll be following in the footsteps of other gay Presbyterians who have been blocked from ordination. Lisa Larges, who works for That All May Freely Serve in San Francisco, has been a candidate for ministry for 21 years."As long as I feel called to ministry, in good conscience I can't drop out of the process," Larges said.

The Rev. Toby Brown, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Cuero, supported the complaint against Mission Presbytery over Thompson, but he's also determined to assert his views with a Christian spirit."There's no name-calling. No one's mad at Karen Thompson," he said. "It's that we're concerned that this lifestyle is not what we believe is appropriate."It's one thing for an aspiring minister to sin and acknowledge her weakness and vow to do better. But, Brown stressed, Thompson, Larges and others don't view their homosexual relationships as sinful."That's the key," he said. "Presbyterians believe that every human being is a sinner, that they need forgiveness from God. That's not the issue. However, we expect our ordained leaders to be able to say, 'I need God's grace in my life to be able to repent of these things and continue to grow and to grow out of sin and into the faith more.' "Brown said he thinks the tension over this issue might force a denominational schism.

As the shadow of uncertainty looms, Thompson's network of support keeps her motivated to stick to her convictions. She relies on her friends at Metropolitan Community Church, along with Central Presbyterian, the church that sponsored her as a seminarian, and Faith Presbyterian, where she worked previously. She knows people will continue to tell her to leave the denomination for one that ordains gays. But there's the rub, she said with a weary smile: "The Presbyterian church is my church." And as far as she's concerned, God is asking her to "get on with the ministry."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Muslims Out to Take Over America

At least that is what the Rev. David Clippard, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention told delegates meeting this week:
"Today, Islam has a strategic plan to defeat and occupy America," he told the 1,200-strong crowd of delegates (called "messengers"), pastors and lay people, many of whom cheered his words.

Clippard said the Saudi Arabian government and royal family had funded teaching positions and 138 Muslim student centers on university campuses across the United States, three in the University of Missouri system in Columbia, Rolla and St. Louis. "What they are after is your sons and daughters," Clippard said. "They are coming to this country in the guise of students, and the Saudi government is paying their expenses."


Clippard said that Muslims were hoping to take over the United States government one city at a time, and that they were starting with Detroit, where there is already a large Muslim population.

"They are trying to establish a Muslim state inside America, and they are going to take the city of Detroit back to the 15th century and practice Sharia (or Islamic) law there."

In an interview Tuesday, Clippard said he believed the Islamic "strategy for taking over America" was to wait until there was a Muslim majority here and then "eradicate those who don't conform to their religion."

On Monday night, he told the crowd that "your freedom is on the floor with their foot on it, with their sword raised, and if you don't convert, your head comes off."
This is the kind of thing that makes it so difficult to claim the name of Christian. Clippard's views are bigoted and disgraceful. They are held by far too many Christians, and they have absolutely no relation to anything to do with Jesus.

The Missouri Baptists are associated with the Southern Baptists. Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention was scheduled to speak today. Sen. Jim Talent, R.-Mo was also there to speak.

Evangelical Leader Resigns Amidst Allegations

We all have our dark sides. But it is often the case that the dark side of those who preach the most stridently about the evils of sexual "sins" are the ones most tormented on the inside by their own sexual struggles. From the Los Angeles Times:
The president of the National Assn. of Evangelicals resigned Thursday after his Colorado Springs, Colo., mega-church opened an investigation into allegations that he had repeatedly paid for sex with a male prostitute.

The Rev. Ted Haggard, who regularly consults with the White House on policy matters, told a Denver television station that he "never had a gay relationship with anybody" and had been faithful to his wife of 28 years.

In a statement released by New Life Church, where he is senior pastor, the 50-year-old Haggard added: "I hope to be able to discuss this matter in more detail at a later date. In the interim, I will seek both spiritual advice and guidance."

The allegations were made Wednesday on a Denver talk radio station, KHOW-AM. Mike Jones, who described himself as a male escort, said he had a sexual "business relationship" with Haggard for the last three years. Jones, 49, told the Associated Press that he had saved voicemail messages from Haggard, as well as an envelope that he said Haggard had used to mail him cash.

A committee of pastors from across the country has been convened to investigate the allegations. They can "discipline me if I need to be disciplined, fire me if I need to be fired," Haggard told KUSA-TV. He also placed himself on administrative leave from the 14,000-member church pending the investigation, saying he could not continue to minister "under the cloud created by the accusations."

A father of five who dresses in blue jeans and drives a Chevy pickup, Haggard is well-known, and widely praised, as an energetic, charismatic pastor who has pushed to expand evangelical activism into issues such as global warming and world poverty. But he hasn't shied away from the traditional culture-war issues of abortion and homosexuality.

A lengthy profile in Harper's magazine — which is quoted approvingly on Haggard's website — recounts how he built New Life Church in part by hanging out at gay bars and inviting the patrons to come to his sermons and be saved...

Real Men and God

I am always fascinated by the various cultural expressions of religion. This article about "kick-ass" men's religion appeared in the recent issue of Newsweek. It just makes me smile:

This wasn’t your Daddy’s religious revival. Last Saturday morning, 200 Christian men gathered in a downtown warehouse in Nashville for a day-long spiritual extravaganza. Inside, strobe lights flashed, and tracks by the Killers thumped from speakers stacked on either side of a stage. Four large video screens showed clips of karate fights, car chases and Jackass-style stunts. Then the music lowered and Christian comedian Brad Stine appeared. With his rat-a-tat delivery and aggressive style, Stine quickly whipped the crowd into a chorus of “Amens!” “A lot of guys out there wouldn’t have the balls to be here,” he shouted. “Are you ready to be a man? Are you ready to kick ass? Are you ready to grab your sword and say, ‘OK family, I’m going to lead you?’ Buckle up. This is GodMen!”

The event was the first of what Stine and other organizers hope will be a series of testosterone-fueled Christian men’s gatherings across the country. Their purpose: to reassert masculinity within a church structure that they say has been weakened by feminization. They call it an experiment for now and don't expect, or even want, their numbers to grow too quickly. Stine and his friend and manager Mike Smith dreamed up GodMen after reading David Murrow’s 2005 book, “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” In it, Murrow points out that on any given Sunday, 13 million more adult women than men attend church in America. “We have to find a way to give [men] something that matters to them,” says Stine.

One way is to create a worship space where guys can be guys. “In most churches, you’ll see flowers and ferns at the front,” says Stine. “That’s saying, ‘This is a place that a woman has composed.’” So GodMen sought to create a place where men could admit to flaws without being judged bad Christians and be unapologetically male, including plenty of rock and roll and sex talk. “There’s this idea if you don’t drink or don’t say bad words, you are doing your Christianity appropriately, and meanwhile, that same guy is on the Internet looking at pornography,” Stine says. “It’s all a smoke screen. We need to admit these issues in order to be free.”

The group has three rules. First: only laymen are allowed as speakers, never pastors. “If a pastor says the wrong thing he can get fired,” Stine says. “A layman has nothing to lose.” Second: no one under 17 is admitted. “One of the biggest issues with men is their sexuality,” says Stine. “We are tired of Christianity sounding so candy-coated. If we can’t talk about real issues, what’s the point of the church?” And third: no women allowed. (This female reporter was allowed to observe the events while remaining largely out of sight from the crowd.) “We want to create an environment where we can talk to each other the way men really do,” Smith says, adding that existing men’s groups like the Promise Keepers—an evangelical ministry for men—often mimic the same church environment that turns some men away.

The GodMen approach certainly enticed John Crawford, a father of three teenage sons from Elkhart, Ind. Between bites of barbecued pork during a lunch break, he explained that he appreciated the rawness of GodMen. “It is not wrong for a guy to be bold and to have some testosterone,” he said. “Jesus kicked over tables in the temple when he saw bad things going on.” The GodMen gathering “is a little more rated R than PG,” said Crawford, “but Jesus wasn’t always PG.”

For the GodMen, the popular portrayal of a meek Jesus promotes an emasculated ideal for the Christian male. It’s a Jesus that never existed, says author Paul Coughlin, who wrote the 2005 book, “No More Christian Nice Guy,” a seminal text for many in this crowd. “Christian men need to know that it’s OK to be tough,” he says. “Jesus is tender and he’s tough. Right now, we are more disciples of Emily Post than we are Jesus.” During a talk on Saturday titled “Jesus—A Very Bad Christian Man,” Coughlin spoke while a projector beamed a “Wanted” poster of Jesus behind him “The idea that Jesus was always meek and mild is as fictitious as anything you’ll find in Dan Brown’s books,” he told the crowd. “Jesus was mighty disrespectful toward authority.” Then Coughlin riled the audience up: “You will never be able to be a warrior of light, to really fight on behalf of justice, if you think you have to be nice all the time!”

The GodMen also reject typical Christian music. It “doesn’t usher me into the presence of God,” says Smith, Stine’s manager. “It just ushered me into boredom.” Not so with the GodMen band that played on Saturday. On stage, as a series of words flashed on screens—Boss, Bold, Brash, Bully, Blunt—the band ripped into their first tune, “Testosterone High”: “Forget the ying and the yang/ I’ll take the boom and the bang/ Give me another dose of testosterone.”

Beyond the thrashing music, Saturday’s event included a number of risqué panels. One forum, titled “Training the Penis,” addressed struggles with masturbation and pornography. These were regarded as morally reprehensible but as weaknesses that should be addressed honestly. In another talk, Nate Larkin, a former pastor, told the crowd how he picked up his first prostitute on the way to preach at a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Larkin says that he only began to overcome his sex addiction when he stopped pretending to be a perfect Christian. “This group targets the guys who went to Promise Keepers once and didn’t go back, the guys who believe in God, but relationships in church to them seem forced and fake,” he says. “There is an under-served market and I think it is a rising tide.”

Among the new adherents is Seth Kalb, 29, from Spring Hill, Tenn. The edgy nature of GodMen, which he jokingly described as Promise Keepers on crack, drew him in. “I wanted the real meat,” he said. “They touch on real things here, like masturbation. That’s something that would never be discussed in church, where you are supposed to keep your shame quiet.” Another fan is Adam Rundell, 25, who drove 13 hours from Clay Center, Kansas, with his buddy Brian Tholstrup, 32, after reading about the conference on Paul Coughlin’s web site. Rundell says the day empowered him. “People think that you have to be a goody-two-shoes to be Christian and I hate that,” he says. “This has strengthened me. I am a man and I can stand my ground and I’m not afraid to show my impurities and if someone has a problem with that, that’s their problem.”

When the GodMen band seized the stage again, they tore into an anthem called “Grow A Pair!”: “We’ve been beaten down/ Feminized by the culture crowd,” they sang. “No more nice guy, timid and ashamed/ We’ve had enough, cowboy up/ In the power of Jesus name/ Welcome to the battle/ A million men have got your back/ Jump up in the saddle/ Grab a sword, don’t be scared/ Be a man, grow a pair!” Said Tholstrup, as he surveyed the crowd: “If 200 men are feeling this, other men are feeling it too.” Which ought to provide enough testosterone for plenty of GodMen gatherings to come.

How Shall We Vote?

My newsletter article this week:

Tuesday. Blessed Tuesday. The end of non-stop political commercials, and at least for me, hundreds of political e-mails a day. Tuesday is election day. If you need to find out where to vote you can go to the MN Secretary of State web site and find your polling place (click here). If you are not registered yet, you can still register at the polling place. You will need to bring a legal ID with you. For more on what kind of ID works, click here.

Now let me take this opportunity before you vote to tell you how I think you should vote. Vote for... well, you know I am not going to tell you who to vote for.

But how should you vote? I would suggest that you vote with discernment. Discernment is a spiritual skill that I allude to often on Sunday mornings. Where can we see, how can we see the presence of God in our midst? It is one of the spiritual tasks of our lifetime to learn to see God and to learn to listen for the voice of God in the midst of every moment of our lives. In every word we speak, in every action we take, God is present. Discernment is the spiritual skill of learning to see and hear the presence of God in the midst of the most ordinary events of our lives.

It would be nice, of course, if God made her presence known clearly in these moments. And it is certainly true that some people believe that he has. They believe that God has spoken clearly in the scriptures or in Jesus or in their ears. But I have never found it to be that simple. It has been my experience that the voice and presence of God is often hidden, even in the scriptures and in the life and message of Jesus, and certainly in the many voices that I hear speaking to me in my head (and don't tell me you don't hear voices in your head!).

Hearing the voice of God and experiencing the presence of God is also compounded by our inattention. We are easily distracted by our busy- ness, our culture (think of those political commercials), our undisciplined inner world. In fact I don't think there is anything automatic or simple about learning to see the presence of God.

Without the spiritual discipline of discernment. Learning to reflect on our own inner lives and motives. Learning to listen deeply to others. Learning to touch base with the faith stories and life stories that speak of values that transcend moments and lives and decades and scriptures but that also take shape in concrete words and actions that are unique to each moment.

What are these values? We can name them easily: love, justice, peace, beauty, grace... But learning to believe and see that in each and every moment of our lives we have an opportunity to experience them and make them come alive with our words and actions, that isn't so easy.

So my challenge to you on this weekend before election day is to spend some time practicing discernment. What deeply held values are shaping your decision? What emotion is carrying you into the voting booth? Fear, anger? Hope, love? How will God be present to you as you cast your ballot?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The cost of War

I recently read the 'fictional' memoir of a Vietnam soldier titled The Things They Carried by Tom O'Brien with friends in my book group. Most of them found it too gruesome and painful to read the entire book. Many of them have children that are draft age and/or in the military. During our discussion no one pondered the larger question, "Why have we as a nation continued to invade nations and begin wars such as the current one in Iraq?" The war in Iraq has some obvious similarities to the Vietnam War. The most obvious similarity is that our young men and women are dying--and more and more each day.

In today's New York Times, is the story of a medic in Iraq.

What have we learned about the cost of war in these past decades?
Not much, I guess.

I pray for these soldiers. I pray for their safety and I pray they can come home before they die.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Happy Belated Birthday!

I just learned that there was another Halloween Birthday yesterday. It was also Liberalchurch's leadership team member, Steve C.'s, birthday. Happy belated birthday to you, Steve! Are you a "Burnsville Baby"?