Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

I wish that each of you has a blessed Christmas, full of family, joy, peace, and love.
I offer up the words to a Shaker Carol from The Rose Ensemble's latest, and beautifully done, Christmas CD "And Glory Shone Around"

Give Good Gifts - Annonymous
Give good gifts one to another
Peace, joy and comfort gladly bestow;
Harbor no ill 'gainst sister or brother,
Smooth life's journey, as you onward go.
Broad as the sunshine, free as the showers,
So shed an influence, blessing to prove;
Give for the noblest of efforts your powers;
Blest and be blest, is the the law of love.

It's difficult to be more simple and honest than that. May God's grace and understanding shower down upon you this and every day. May your travels be safe.
Peace,
Jeff

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Enculturation


Enculturation has been a thread running through the Christology class I'm currently taking - and will finish this afternoon. I was getting things ready for our family Christmas cards and found the one we chose this year to be a fitting end to the semester. It's from Fr. Guiliani, a Conneticut-based priest who does some very interesting iconic-like work from a Native American perspective.
Advent Peace,
Jeff
(you can find more of this work at www.prairieedge.com)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Beginning to Take Shape

On Thursday morning I was able to discuss my future plans with Don Saliers, a meeting I wish I would have had months ago. One of the distinct disadvantages of being at St. John's is that Don is probably the only faculty member with any knowledge of the UMC ordination process and requirements and he is only in Minnesota a few months of the years. We looked at some of my goals and interests, chatted about 45 minutes. He not only advised me on a variety of aspects of my studies, he also challenged me to truly define what it is that I want to do with my studies. The later is something I've been struggling a bit with lately. I had initially wanted to get my degree, work towards ordination as a deacon and then work in an area of ministry that dealt with environmental issues and creation care (a term that I'm really beginning to dislike, but that's a topic for another time). However, since I started school, I've learned to love exegetical work and scripture and I'm growing more interested in liturgy as well (sometimes I definitely feel like a kid in a candy store!). That's something that an MDIV or a PhD would be more appropriate for but would require more schooling. What came out of the meeting was certainly a series of more questions but also a game plan. I'm planning on visiting Candler School of Theology at Emory University in March to talk with some UM folks there and get a feel for the ethos of the place. This summer perhaps a trip to St. Paul Seminary in Kansas City for the same. I'm also going to work at developing a relationship with the BOM at the Annual Conference.
All in all a very good week here. It's an interesting journey and I'm glad you're along for the ride.
Peace,
Jeff

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Top Ten



I've mentioned before that the drive to and from campus, about an hour each way, generally gives me time to think. Lately I've been trying to figure out the next step in my theological studies, trying to figure out if I should continue (which would be required for ordination) or give them a little rest for a bit. I've been looking at some other schools and last night on the way home I was thinking about why I've come to really love St. John's. I mean, I've driven by the place hundreds of times prior to starting my studies there and never gave it much of a thought. So, here's my top ten list:
10. Tradition - Whether it's the liturgy, lectio, feast days or what have you, it's interesting to see and participate in such a rich tradition. Jeanne (my wife and former Catholic) refers to me as Catholic-light these days.
9. St. John's Bible - it took me a bit to get used to the iconic nature of this work, but having one of the artistic directors for an instructor really opened my eyes to the relationship between art, music, and scripture. The image of Creation (above) is among my favorites.
8. "Old Campus" - including Luke Hall, the masonry and the ivy covered walls are awesome.
7. Oratory at the Episcopal House of Prayer - One of the best places to pray ever!
6. St. Benedict - The Rule is fascinating and fits so wonderfully well with Wesleyan Theology.
5. The Legacy of Virgil Michel - the ground breaking work, that the liturgy and the Body of Christ are the basis for all forms of social justice is still strong today.
4. Bernie and Bobertz - All of the faculty are great, but I'm awestruck by these two gentlemen.
3. The Arboretum - The monks walk the walk with regard to sustainability. The forests surrounding campus are managed on a 100 year cutting rotation - that's long-term thinking! - and much of the prairie and oak savannah have been restored.
2. Morning Prayer - great way to start the day. There's something pretty cool about participating in a ritual that's been ongoing daily since the 6th century.
1. Community - based on the monastic tradition, we learn in community. We support each other. Unlike other academic settings I've been in, there's a true spirit of wanting everyone else to succeed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Liminality

Liminality. It's a term that tends to get tossed around a lot this time of year. I guess I remember hearing/talking about it in the past, but this year it seems to be particularly striking. Maybe it's the election, we certainly stand on a threshold of some potentially huge changes in our political being. Maybe it's the economy. I don't think anyone has a clue where we stand in respect to that ... which in itself is somewhat liminal. I'm certain that one reason it has been more prevalent this year is just the weather, it's been cold and gray, basically winter but here we're still waiting on any kind of significant snowfall. We're past fall but haven't fully found winter yet. I'm also getting some "liminal feelings" about my studies. I'm really on the cusp of finishing things up at St. John's, one more semester and my coursework is done. I've been exploring what to do next and that's lead to some anxiety, some ambiguity, some limbo. As I sat in the choir at morning prayer Thursday it dawned on me that I only have a few more opportunities to do what has become a fairly regular routine for me (next semester I have an afternoon and an evening class). In any case, there seems to be a great deal of uncertainty these days.

Advent is certainly liminal. We look for light to provide us with hope from the darkness that surrounds us. Of course that light comes in the birth of Christ, a monumental light-filled event. As the season progresses and we reach a crescendo on Christmas, I wonder if we too often expect the same kind of light event in our lives. It's as if we expect God to send angels, shepherds, and wisemen to let us know where we're supposed to be. I'm fairly certain God is more subtle than that. Maybe that's what Jesus is saying in Mark when he tells us to be prepared. Be patient. Being prepared requires being in synchrony with our surroundings and our own being. It takes being quiet enough and open enough to let the Spirit reach us in ways that we might not even imagine. How often do we look externally for a sign or message? The news of Advent reminds us that there is a light within each of us, that rises in our hearts and provides that illumination. It takes courage and hope to stand on a threshold, willing to take the step that moves us from our current state of being to one of fully participating in the Kingdom, regardless of the time of year.
Advent Peace,
Jeff

Monday, December 1, 2008

New Link

I've added a new link to Jan Richardson's Advent Door, a series of reflection pieces for the season. Enjoy.
Peace,
Jeff

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Approaching Thanksgiving

A little over four years ago I picked up the book "Neither Wolf nor Dog" by Kent Nerburn. Since then, I've never looked at Thanksgiving the same. Since then I've spent almost two months on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Since then I've come to call several Native Americans friend, good friends. Quite honestly, it's difficult for me to enjoy this holiday. The ironic thing is, that on Thursday, I'll get at least a few emails from my native friends wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving, and they'll mean it. For that I am most thankful.
Perhaps what irritates me the most about this holiday more than any other is that it has come to be a celebration of our excess. We eat too much and we eat too much of the wrong things. The following day we spend too much and we spend too much on the wrong things. In these times, when we face a huge climate crisis, an economic crisis that only our parents and grandparents can even begin to relate to, perhaps we need to revist our approach to Thanksgiving. Would it be un-American to be a little less extravagent one day a year?
The folks over at Wild Idea Buffalo have been blogging alot lately, about "gentle" living. There are so many little things each of us can do, and do today, that can change the world we live in for the better. It's worth a couple of mouse clicks to read what they're saying.
May your Thanksgiving be full of family, safe travels, and food that's good for you and the earth.
Peace,
Jeff

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just Enough to Get Me into Trouble

I know just enough economic theory to get me into trouble. Economists hate that. Probably just like I tend to get a little annoyed when someone tries to tell me what is wrong with "their lake". But let me back up a bit. 20 years ago, I was just starting graduate school at Auburn University. I was lucky to be there and I knew it; my undergraduate days weren't exactly exemplary and I was fortunate to find an advisor who was willing to take a chance on me (only to find out later that he had trouble finding anyone dense enough to take on the research project I was assigned!). The project that I ended up working on was examining the role fluctuating populations of fish, in this case crappies, played on local economies. The task was three-fold, find out how predict when the fluctuations (termed recruitment) would "boom" and "bust", determine how these cycles affected fishing-related businesses and see if there was a way to dampen the "booms" and "busts" through regulations or other means. Due to the second task, my advisor wanted me to take some courses in economics. Because the School of Fisheries was in the College of Agriculture I ended up taking a few courses in Agricultural Economics. The instructor was a supply-sider, which was pretty interesting. We discussed a number of models and such and about half-way through the first course it dawned on me that not one of the models took into consideration a certain human behavior. Basically they were all predicated on everyone being honest. I recall asking how they took greed into consideration and was actually scolded in class for trying to put feelings into a deterministic model. I had no real feelings about this, I was just curious how I was going to account for human behavior in some of the surveys I was developing to assess the economic affects of a fishery. These last few months I've thought a great deal about that class and that particular day in class, wondering why in the course of 20 years apparently no one has figured out the importance of incorporating greed into our economic models and regulations. Perhaps this has been done and the results weren't what people in power wanted to hear. Who knows. It seems to me though, that until we can account for certain human behaviors it is going to be extremely difficult to move to the kind of sustainable economy that we, and the resources of this world, really need.
Peace,
Jeff

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Follow up on "Swirling Thoughts"

David Bard was kind enough to provide me some very interesting feedback on my post "Swirling Thoughts". They're well worth reading. I'm going to need to think on them for a bit before I post a follow-up. Thanks David!

Peace,
Jeff

And they all fall down ....


The ginkgo leaves that is! Yesterday morning I was walking across campus and noticed that the ginkgo leaves were beginning to fall. I watched for a few minutes, and made my way to the bookstore. By the time I headed back to the School of Theology, less than a dozen leaves remained on each of the three trees. I recall reading in my undergraduate botany class that ginkgo's drop all their leaves at once, but was amazed that in less than an hour these three trees were nearly completely denuded of leaves. I grabbed a couple, figuring they'll make nice book marks for the books I purchased. They'll also remind me of a wonderful fall day on the St. John's campus.
Peace,
Jeff

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sermon Notes from 19 October

I wasn't going to post this. But actually got a request to do so, so here it is.
(By the way, when you're looking at modifying your blogger layout with backgrounds and widgets from someplace other than blogger and they suggest that you back everything up .... back everything up.)

From Laity Sunday, October 19th, Alexandria United Methodist Church (these are notes, and as such aren't necessarily all grammatically correct, etc.)

A few weeks back I was sitting in the library at St. John’s reading through some commentaries on today’s lectionary readings. I had my Ipod on random play and while I was sitting there thinking about how I was going to approach today’s texts, this song came on and the lyrics stuck in my head:

You may be a state trooper, our you might be a young Turk,
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich, you may be poor, you may be blind or lame,
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well it might be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Anyone know the song? The artist?

The question then is – is Dylan right? Are we obligated to serve somebody? The devil? The Lord?

I believe today’s Epistle Lesson and the Gospel Lesson that (note liturgist) read sheds a little bit of light regarding the question. For the Thessalonians there was no need to even speak of faith or service. They lived it. They lived it with consistency and with authority. Paul lauded them for that.

The Gospel story is a little different. Jesus is back in the temple. The same place that just a day or so before he sort of went ballistic in, overturning the money changer’s tables and sending everyone scurrying. If you recall Jesus was furious that the moneychangers where in the Temple because they were doing transactions that included Roman coinage; coinage that carried the idolic image of Caesar. That’s a directly forbidden under the 1st of the Ten Commandments. So forbidden that Jesus’ actions are described such that he takes on the Mosaic image – overturning the tables is a metaphor for smashing the tablets on the ground.

While he’s been in Jerusalem, He’s been making enemies, directly challenging the authority of the Pharisee’s and Sadducees and high priests. In this passage, they are absolutely out to get him. The Pharisees and the Herodians, a group of Jews that were loyal to Rome, had cooked up a scheme to entrap Jesus in an impossible situation. It’s interesting that normally, these two groups would have had nothing to do with each other, which tells us that they’re pretty serious about their little scheme. They approach Jesus, flattering him. They speak the truth, he is sincere, he teaches the way of God in accordance with the truth and he does show deference to no one, and he does not regard people with partiality. But the truth from the mouths of liars is a lie and Jesus sees that they’re trying to flatter him.

They ask him, if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. The tax they are referring to was one that was charged to each Jewish resident of the Roman Empire. It was highly resented by the people, people who were likely struggling to just get by on a day-to-day basis. It was a constant reminder of their situation – a people oppressed in bondage in their own homeland. But the question is the trap. If Jesus answers “no” as they suspect he will, his answer will be considered treason against Rome and he would be arrested on the spot. If he answers “yes”, the people to whom he’s leading will see him as a sell-out to the Romans and his status as a prophet will be ruined. There’s no doubt that he’s in a difficult situation. Caught between a rock and a hard place.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and the Herodians that pose the question to him, calling them hypocrites and He asks to see the money. Remember, this is a coin that has been minted specifically for this tax. As such it bears the image of Caesar on the coin. Possessing such a coin by any Jew would be considered idolatry – possessing such a coin in side the temple … beyond belief. But that doesn’t seem to bother the hypocrites who seek to teach Jesus a lesson about devotion to God actually carry an image of Caesar into the temple themselves.

Jesus refuses to answer their question directly, instead he asks whose head is on the coin. It’s rather curious that Jesus asks to see the coin – he just looks at it. Had he possessed the coin, he too would have been guilty of idolatry.

Just when Jesus is presented with A or B, he comes up with “C”

He looks it over and says “give to God the things that are God’s and the to emperor the things that are the emperors”.

I’m guessing you could about hear their jaws drop on the temple floor. Others were probably giving a good old first century Homer Simpsonesque “doh”. They scurried away “in amazement”. I’m guessing that “amazement” is a more user-friendly term that what actually happened!

Now, traditionally this text has been neatly packaged dividing our reality into two spheres – loyalty to God and loyalty to government. I'm not so certain. Jesus has never ever been about dividing our selves or our loyalties. He’s saying that by possessing those coins at all, the Herodians and Pharisees are idolaters. He’s not recommending that we learn to live with divided loyalties. He’s saying that all the idolatrous coinage be sent back to Caesar. The reality is that there can’t be such a distinction because everything, other than a bunch of coins stamped with the image of Caesar, is Gods!

To get a bit better look at this, I find it helpful to look where this story sits in Matthews Gospel. It’s mixed in amongst a bunch of parables in which Jesus is trying to explain what the Kingdom of God is all about. He’s compared it to a king hosting a wedding banquet, a landowner and his vineyard. In this story he is continuing that teaching, explaining that God’s Kingdom is free from the need to idolize an emperor or his coins. He’s talking about pledging an allegiance not to Caesar’s economy but to God’s. He’s giving us more clues about what it means to be a disciple and a citizen of God’s Kingdom.

So, other than a bunch of coins stamped with image of Caesar what are we supposed to give back to God? The things stamped with God of course! US! We are to give ourselves to God – our entire selves.

Giving our selves to God is a tough thing to think about. What does that really mean? How are we to live in a society like ours that is so nationalistic and materialistic and still give ourselves to God? For me, this is when I look to the monks at St. John’s for a bit of guidance. These are some holy men. They get up every morning at 5 a.m., pray, eat breakfast in silence, go to morning prayer, go about their work all day, stop at noon and 5 p.m. for prayer and Mass, and then end the day with evening prayer at 7 p.m. Every Day!!! But there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that these guys are really like you and I. They have their good days and their bad days. They have holy days and some not so holy days. Some days are just plain unholy. I think there are two really obvious traits we can take from the monks. First, being a disciple, being holy, is something that we need to constantly work towards, every day. It’s like John Wesley talked about going on to perfection. It’s an every day thing. Second, we need to realize that we can’t do that every single day. When you sit in the choir with the monks for Morning Prayer a number of times, you realize that the chants and prayers go way beyond any single person. It’s the sum of the parts that makes that community function. They know that if they’re having one of those less than holy days, there is someone there to pick up the slack. They also know that when they’re “on their game” they’re picking up the slack for someone else. That’s community. That’s church.

In the next couple of weeks we’ll all be asked to put in our pledges for the next year. This is going to be tough for many of us this year. We’re unsure of what the economy holds. We’re unsure of the future. Things are likely to get even rougher. It’s now more than ever that people are going to need church. They’re going to need a community that is there for them. They’re going to need a community, a church free of conditions and questions. Is this going to be that kind of community? Are we going to pledge our allegiance to God’s economy? Are we going to pick of the slack for people that are struggling economically, physically, emotionally, or spiritually?

This summer I was reading a book “New Monasticism: What it has to say to Today’s Church”. I think Jeanne was worried that I’d been spending a little too much time with the Monk’s at St. John’s when she saw the title, but I assured her it was OK, I wasn’t running off to the Abbey. In the book Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove tells a story about a medium-sized church in a small midwestern town. Their rural location really limed their growth. As Wilson-Hartgrove says, “if every soul within 5 miles had suddenly found Jesus, they could probably still fit into their building.” Still, some folks had heard about church growth and that if you wanted to grow you needed to expand your physical facilities. So they started planning a new education wing and multi-purpose space. I’m seriously NOT making this stuff up! They launched a building campaign. Hired a consultant. I’m not kidding. Here’s the book. But unlike us, they didn’t really do their homework, either that or they didn’t have a Carol Meyer or Bruce Pohlig on their steering committee. After a few years, they’d only reached about half of their goal. Resigned to the fact that the new building wasn’t going to happen the looked around to see what they could do with the money they’d raised. It turns out that during the campaign a family had joined the church that didn’t have much money. To make matters worse, the father had been in a car accident and was disabled. They struggled to make ends meet. But this church knew another economy. They knew the economy of God’s Kingdom that has generosity in its foundation. They took the money they’d raised and built a house for that family. That’s God’s Kingdom. That’s God’s economy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I genuinely believe in this building project. Churches need space to do God’s work. Yet a church that shows God’s economy and the generosity of God’s Kingdom is NEVER, EVER going to have to worry about church growth.

We all get busy. We all live within financial constraints. And we often complain about how hard it is to balance church with everything else going on. We don’t want to sacrifice “alone time”, family or travel time for worship. We tend to give God our leftovers. But God deserves to be on more than equal footing with work, recreation, whatever else we have going on. It involves sacrifice.

Stan Hauerwas is a theological ethicist at Duke Divinity School. He says that in this story about Jesus we’re put in a very difficult position. It’s really unsolvable. How do we give God everything and still function in society? Hauerwas says that when you realize that struggle, the sacrifice involved, you’ve taken the first step to becoming a disciple.

Bob Dylan says you’re gonna have to serve somebody. I think Dylan is right, the question is, who’s it going to be?

Amen.

Sources:
Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas, Brazos Press
New Monasticism by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
The Best of Bob Dylan
Sarah Laughed http://www.sarahlaughed.net

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hmmm ... really?


I hope that "B" I got in Intro isn't going to be held against me!

Monday, October 20, 2008

In a matter of seconds




Saturday afternoon Jeanne and I spent some time hiking the trails at Lake Carlos State Park. It was a nice afternoon to leave school work and sermon prep and just enjoy what has been a pretty nice fall.
Along the way I noticed some orangish aspen leaves that had become stuck on some maple trees. The orange of the leaves provided an interesting contrast to the dark, rough bark of the maple. I snapped a picture and then accidentally a second, just moments later. When we got home I was surprised at how different the two pictures were. Just one cloud, or shifting branch completely changed the picture. (Unfortunately, the photo quality on blogger doesn't really show the dramatic difference.)


An infinite God providing us infinite ways of looking at things.

Peace,
Jeff

Friday, October 17, 2008

Swirling Thoughts

This week has been incredibly busy. Trying to get caught up on some reading, working on a mid-term, trying to get my paper work lined up for our church's charge conference, and preparing a service for this week's laity sunday. There's been a definite need to purposefully slow down and focus. Luckily I've been able to make it to morning prayer twice this week. In and amongst all the scholarship and church stuff, I count those 30 minutes as a blessing. The other time I count as a blessing is when I'm driving back and forth to St. John's. This week has been a little distracting since the fall colors have been phenomenal. Otherwise it's a wonderful hour of reflection time.

One of the thoughts I've been working through, or at least attempting to (this is a "draft thought" if you will), is how much ownership should protestants take in the current state of our economy and the overall materialism that shapes our culture. I see a direct correlation to the self-interest and greed the has gripped society and the existentialism and self-based salvation that the likes of Bultmann and others have thrust into Protestant Theology. Before I go any further, I should note that I don't think Catholics can be let off the hook either. They've become what Stanely Hauerwas calls Super Americans, basically kicking their faith to the curb so they'd fit into society as well. Admittedly, that somewhat weakens my arguement for a direct correlation, but my response is that Catholics were merely falling in step with Protestants to fit into the culture. That isn't cause and effect. I also think that this existentialism is one of the main causes of the decline in mainline Protestantism. People have been preached about developing an individual relationship with God so much that the next step is to find and develop that relationship on their own. Who needs a church for that? That's exactly why new age shamans like Eckhart Tolle are so successful. Obviously, one can argue that the mega-churches and some evangelical modes have been quite successful using the existentialist thought and the personal relationship with God and Jesus. However, I'd counter argue that success if based on poor theology and false promises that manifest themselves in things like the prosperity gospel and weak or non-existent ritual and liturgy. In essence the success if based largely on super-sized existentialism and a capitalized Christianity.
I see mainline Protestantism struggling to overcome something of their own doing. The push to individualism has cost them community. Now, I'm certain people are reading this (all 5 of you) saying "but wait, I've got a vibrant church community". I'm equally certain you do. But I think we need to ask why we consider 30 to 40 percent of church membership on any given Sunday a good week. Why is the number of "unchurched" in our community becoming larger than those that do belong to a church? Do we offer them that sense of community? Even more, do we expect them to actively participate in that community?
In answering my initial question, I believe we need to take at least partial ownership in what's going on on Wall Street and even more on "Main Street". We're at least partially do blame for setting people down the path of individualism that has led to greed and materialism. I also believe it is our responsibility to bring them back.
One a more individual plane (don't think I can't see the irony here) I'm struggling on where I fit into this landscape of Christianity right now. Just another swirling thought that comes into my mind traveling down I-94 I guess.
Peace,
Jeff

Monday, October 13, 2008

Anger

Anger. That can pretty much sum up my Sunday afternoon. Oh, Sunday started off well, church as good and the Sunday School class involved a pretty lively discussion. But then in mid-afternoon, as is our custom, my mother called. We usually just chat a bit, about the kids, how everyone is feeling, school, the weather. We generally avoid politics, she's a single issue voter and I've told her enough times that I can't put all my electoral eggs in one basket, that the world is much too complicated for that to dominate my politics. We agree to disagree. She's a very sweet, intelligent lady - even after 35 years in an elementary classroom. Yesterday though, she blindsided me and what she said angered me and ruled my thought process all the rest of the day. I wasn't angry at her but at the Republican Party. I was, and still am, angry that all of the threats, distortions, and down right lies about Obama's ties to terrorism, Islam, and radicalism had made my mother scared. I'm angry that the person that taught me about racism and compassion, is now afraid of having a black man as President. I'm angry that despite living through the Great Depression and World War II in poverty, my mother says she's more afraid than ever. I'm angry that despite falling victim to this same type of smear in 2000 (when the Rovians killed his campaign in South Carolina by starting rumors of an illegitimate black child, an alcoholic wife, a homosexual lifestyle, and that he was some type of Manchurian Candidate) John McCain has adopted these same campaign tactics. He has tried to quell some of the more radical notions in recent campaign stops, in Wisconsin he did say Obama is "a decent person and a person you do not have to be scared of as President of the United States", a comment that was greeted by a chorus of boos. But I'm afraid that train has already left the station Senator. I'm angry at a campaign that allows this rhetoric to even enter the dialogue, that fear, hate, and racism are being used as a campaign tactic. I'm angry because all of the hate that has been cultivated in the last month is only going to generate more hate; hate that has the potential to consume each and every one of us.
Dr. Martin Luther King said "hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that". I pray he's right.

Peace,
Jeff

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

These Guys Know How to Throw a Party

I apologize that I haven't really posted anything of "substance" here lately but I'm afraid that the election would permeate anything I write so I've been avoiding it altogether. I've also been trying, fairly successfully I might add, to keep up on my school work so this kind of gets shoved to the back burner. School has been going well and I am keeping on top of things. I've mentioned this a number of times, but one aspect that drew me to St. John's is the Benedictine community. With an 8 a.m. course on Tuesday and Thursday, I've taken that opportunity to leave home a little early so I can make morning prayer at 7. It's become one of the highlights of my week. I treasure the opportunity to learn from these men, both in a spiritual as well as an academic setting. (As a bonus, how incredible is it to learn about the Psalms from someone that reads them on a daily basis?) The members of the community are part of the University and the School of Theology and it is very apparent that they love having the students from the School of Theology around. Last night they held a reception for us, and it was awesome! The food, the drink (hey, Methodists - these guys know how to pair food and wine, imagine that!) and socializing were top notch. What I find most amazing is how interested the monks are about me, a Methodist fish squeezer. Imagine, a internationally-known poet or biblical scholar asking me about my studies, my work, and my interests. It's that sense of humbleness that I appreciate and which I hope resonates in me and from me.
Oh, and they know how to through a party too.
Peace,
Jeff

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who did you have lunch with today?

This evening the School of Theology at Saint John's is awarding its annual Dignitas Humana Award. This years recipient is 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Environmentalist, Womens Rights and Social Activist, Dr. Wangari Maathi. Dr. Maathi stopped by the Emmaus Hall dinning hall during lunch and answered a few questions posed by some of the graduate students. She made it a point to mention the influence her Benedictine undergraduate studies had on her view of service. It was a great, albeit short, opportunity to interact with one of the leading environmentalists in the world. Dr. Maathi's big program, the Green Belt Movement, plants trees in Kenya to fight desertification that is a result from poor land use practices and more recently a result of global climate change. Although she answered our questions, she also posed a very pointed question to a bunch of theology students - instead of acting like a bunch of domineering power grabbers, when will Christians start acting like stewards of God's creation?

Great question. Great Lunch.

Peace,
Jeff

Monday, September 29, 2008

Social Sin

Social sin is part of this weeks lesson from James that I'll be talking about in Sr. High Sunday School. One social sin that continues to be largely ignored is that of the genocide in Sudan and Darfur. In that regard, I've got to give a little bit of recognition to my wife's niece, Kristin, who is now a senior at Southern Methodist University. To say that Kristin surprised us with her activism might be an understatement. (We're the blacksheep of the family, so we were very pleasantly surprised!) Kristin has been very active in Amnesty International, and protesting the treatment of "enemy combatants" held at Guantanomo. She and another student most recently started "Art for Darfur", a program based in Dallas that raised money through art shows for humanitarian and relief programs in Darfur. From two events, they've raised over $12,000 that will be used to build and maintain water supplies via the group Thirst No More. They also support Tents of Hope which will have a large, national event in Washington D.C. in November.

The efforts of a few benefitting a great many. Nice job Krissy.

Peace,
Jeff

New look and a few changes

Ever since trying out google chrome and then explorer v.8, blogger hasn't been working very well for me. It logs me out at in opportune times like when I'm uploading a blog (I write these blogs in Word, usually in the morning while I'm eating breakfast and then upload them when lunch rolls around). So, I've tried changing a few things and it seems to be working a bit better. I've also rearranged a few links and added a couple of new ones.

I'm kind of wishing the weather would get nasty .... too much nice weather and all I want to do is play! A few rainy, cloudy, fall-esque days would do wonders for my school work.

Peace,
Jeff

Thursday, September 25, 2008

From the Clinton Global Initiative Forum

From the Clinton Global Initiative forum:
"I am not qualified to comment on what has happened in the last week where this city has changed shape, certainly psychologically, and in terms of some people's wallets. And I'm not qualified to comment on the interventions that have been put forth. I presume these people know what they're doing. But it is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day of preventable, treatable disease and hunger."

You can see the entire forum here:

http://video.clintonglobalinitiative.org/health_cast/player_cgi2008_nointro.cfm?id=4551#

He's got more to say, and it's worth a listen. Also on the panel and worth listening to are President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Her Majesty Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan. If you're short of time, Bono's clip goes from 1:06:20 to 1:15:38.

Peace,
Jeff

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Debate, My Rules

Evidently, the first of the presidential debates is coming up. I’ve been wrapped up in schoolwork and haven’t been able to pay much attention to the rhetoric as I would like, although perhaps I should count my blessings for that. I honestly don’t recall the last debate I watched or listened to, probably 1988 or so. I just find the entire made for TV debate thing worthless. They aren’t real debates – no candidate in their right mind would do that in today’s world. We couldn’t stand to hear what we really need to be told.

But this whole thing got me thinking, IF I could run the debates, what would I ask? What kind of format would I use? With that in mind, here’s the outline of Jeff’s First (and probably last) Presidential Debate – moderated by me, questions by me.

Ground Rules
Since this is really a forum, not a debate, here are some ground rules.
Three minutes per response. Period. Microphone goes dead at the three-minute mark.
(If you can’t summarize your thoughts in three minutes you’re not cut out for this job.)
This, like all elections, is about the future. Candidates are not allowed to discuss their past achievements, nor are they allowed to speak about the opponent or the opponent’s position. Because there is no need, no time will be given for rebuttal. Each candidate will be asked 12 questions, 11 of which are generic. Each candidate will also be asked a question that is specific to their candidacy. Questions 4,5,7,8,9,10,11, and Senator McCain's all require a yes or no answer. Once that is provided they can proceed with the rest of the question if so required.

Question 1. What are your specific plans to make a college education affordable for all Americans?
Question 2. Based on what you’ve seen in the housing market and most recently on Wall Street, what specific steps will you take to restore confidence in a free market?
Question 3. What are your specific plans to end the following crises in Africa:
Genocide in Sudan/Darfur; AIDS, Disease, and Poverty?
(I'll give them 5 minutes for this one.)
Question 4. Are you willing to make the U.S. a global leader in combating climate change? If so, what specific steps will you take? If not, please explain.
Question 5. Are you willing to end our nations addiction to oil, both foreign and domestic? If so, what specific steps will you take? If not, please explain.
Question 6. Please discuss your view of Just War.
Question 7. Are you willing to make sound science the foundation of your energy and environmental policies? If so what specific steps will you take, if not why not?
Question 8. Will you fully fund the Federal Government’s obligation of costs associated with special education for local schools?
Question 9. Will you be willing to offer a full and unconditional apology to the Native American people of this country for the genocidal actions taken by this government since its inception?
Question 10. Are you willing to make universal health care for all Americans an reality by the end of your first term? Are you willing to do that with a model that doesn’t use an outdated, free-market economy model as its base?
Question 11. Are you willing to implement meaningful immigration reform that maintains the dignity of the worker and the human being? If so, how?

Question Extra for Senator Obama
Given your pro-choice stance, what specific steps will you take to ensure that abortion is a rare occurrence in this country?

Question Extra for Senator McCain
Given that you are a Medal of Honor recipient, would you be willing to posthumously rescind the more than 20 Medals of Honor awarded to members of the 7th Cavalry for the massacre of over 125 Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1889?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Community Day


Yesterday was Community Day at the School of Theology. This year's theme was ecotheology, a topic that is obviously of great interested to me. We started the morning off with a short worship/prayer service which was followed by a lecture on ecotheology by Dr. Dennis Patrick O'Hara from St. Michael's College in Toronto. Now, to be honest I get a little nervous when I hear that a theologian is going to be talking about ecology. Afterall, I spent the better part of 6 years just learning the basics of ecology and am still learning. So, when someone that has been a theologian claims to know ecology I'm a bit skeptical. Yesterday was certainly an exception to that vague rule of mine. Dr. O'Hara knows his science and he knows his theology. He does hang a lot of what he's talking about on work by Thomas Berry, some of which I just can't go with. There were two concepts of the talk that stuck with me and that I'm going to have to investigate much deeper. First, from Berry, is that God creates a universe that creates itself. This isn't a model of intelligent design since the universe isn't a deterministic entity. Neither is it random. God set this energy into motion and what it is ... is. The other concept is that of Christ the Redeemer and Creator. Dr. O'Hara pulled in a number of Patristic-era theologians, Ireneaus, Basil, Origen, and Augustine to demonstrate that we've lost this idea of Christ as a creator. It's fascinating and is shaping up to be the subject of my major grad paper or thesis.
Following the lectures, students and faculty headed out to the woods and St. John's Arboretum for a little Benedictine work. We spent the better part of two hours pulling European Buckthorn from the woods - putting out ecotheology into practice. Tom Kroll, Director of the Arboretum talked about St. John's being among the first actively managed forests in the state to be certified as "green" by the Forest Stewardship Council. While certification means good land stewardship is being practiced during cutting, it also means the forestry is sustainable and based on social justice as well.
Days like yesterday leave no doubt in my mind that I'm where I'm supposed to be.
Peace,
Jeff

Monday, September 15, 2008

Two Books that have had a Great Influence on Me

This morning I was pleasantly reminded about two books that had a great influence on me.  Today is the anniversary of the birthday of Robert McCloskey, author of Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal.  Two of my favorite childhood books.  Make Way for Ducklings had a particularly big influence on me.  I used to spend hours drawing and redrawing the ducks that were illustrated in the book.  I can honestly say that book started what has been a life-long love affair with waterfowl.  It is because of that book and the resulting infatuation with anything ducky that I choose to be a biologist. It is because of that book that I flirted with a career in art - I still do some drawings but haven't had the time paint for a number of years.   

I still have flash backs to Blueberries for Sal everytime I hear something hit the bottom of an empty bucket and I'm always a bit on edge whenever I'm in the woods - wondering if momma bear is just around the corner.

Both of these books opened doors to a love of animals and the outdoors that were largely shut for me.  My parents aren't outdoorsy people but they encouraged me explore things that were of interest to me.  For that I am grateful.

Peace,
Jeff  


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I didn't quite work out the way we expected

Here's what you get when you put five theology students - two of whom are scientists - together over a lunch break and the subject of the Large Hadron Collider comes up.
It was decided that once the LHC was fired up it would inevitably spit out a black hole from which Jesus would emerge. However, that wasn't the only surprise. Turns out that Jesus is actually John Cleese and "The Life of Brian" was actually sent as a revelation from God as a true 5th Gospel (apologies to Thomas, again). Only those that had watched the movies were raptured. Which lead to further discussion about our personal creeds that each of had to write for Christology - should we modify them to reflect this new revelation or not?
The personal Christological creed was really an interesting and useful exercise. It's pretty rare that any creed shows up in an UMC liturgy these days, when they do, we generally whip right through them and don't give what they're really saying much thought. Have you stopped and really read the Nicene Creed lately? How about any other creed?
One thing that really struck me was that how the Nicene Creed begins each belief statement with "We". Our personal creed statements (at least mine did) began with "I". That's a HUGE difference. I would have a difficult time reading parts of the Nicene Creed with "I" statements, but not with "We". With the "We" it falls on the community of believers; someone has me covered and I've got someone else covered kind of thing.
So, I got home last night, finished up some readings for Psalms and watched some "Life of Brian", just in case. Guess it didn't quite work out the way we'd thought.
Peace,
Jeff

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More on "Country First"

Evidentally, I'm not the only one that found the campaign slogan borderline offensive. Please check out Rory's blog for a link to what Sojourner's founder Jim Wallace has to say and also what Christian Scharen has blogged about. Both can be linked from the side bars on this site. I really sense the possibility of something big coming from this. So much so that I'm thinking about making a "God First" yard sign.
This must be a popular topic as I had over 400 hits on yesterday's blog!
Peace,
Jeff

Friday, September 5, 2008

Jottings

A quick follow-up on the books I mentioned a couple of posts ago. I did finish American Buffalo by Steven Rinella. As I mentioned, I wasn't overly impressed with the book at first. I thought the writing lacked strength and failed to really get the reader interested in the subject. However, once the story turned to Rinella's actual hunt of the bison it got much, much better. Along the way he brings in more history about North America's bison and finally brings the reader along with him. I found two comments within the story rather interesting. First, after killing his buffalo, he talks about the feelings he has about taking the life of an animal that he sincerely loves. Having been in that situation a number of times, I thought he did a wonderful job of explaining his emotional state. I also appreciated is not so subtle jab at non-hunting meat eaters who will readily condemn hunting yet have no problem downing a hamburger or a t-bone. I also appreciated his discussion on Native Americans. He makes a great point about some of the misconceptions we have about how Plains people lived. He notes that while it was very true that Plains people did use nearly every part of the buffalo, they didn't use every part of every buffalo that they killed. However, I don't think he did a very good job of relating the spiritual component that bison play to Plains people to the reader. It's a decent book that I'd certainly recommend you pick up at the library.
The other book I've been reading is Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris. I'm still working my way through that one and it will likely take me a while now that school has started up again.
Speaking of school, I've really enjoyed my first week back. I've been leaving home at 6:00 a.m. to get to the Abby Church for morning prayer, something that always sets a good tone for the day. Reading and chanting the Psalms at morning prayer is an interesting contrast to studying them in an academic, exegetical manner. I hope to be able to attend morning prayer throughout the semester.

One final thought. I've been purposely avoiding all the political rancor these past two weeks mainly because I get too worked up about these things. However, I can't let the McCain slogan slide. Certainly puts those biblical fundamentalists on the ropes .... doesn't scripture say that God is first? I guess that's one of those little things that can just be conveniently overlooked.
Peace,
Jeff

I Wonder

I wonder what I've gotten myself into. They must have been desparate. Bottom of the barrel. How else would I have ended up teaching Sunday School? To high schoolers no less! Actually, this a good group of kids and we've all been on the Rosebud trip together over the course of the last three summers so we all know each other pretty well.

We're going to try something new with this. I've set up another blog (appropriately named "I Wonder") that each week I'll post some discussion items for the kids to think about during the week. They'll be able to post comments and such but they'll also be able to see how the discussion items might fit into their daily lives during the week. Then during class we'll dig through our thoughts. My hope is to expose them to a wide range of topics, experiences and maybe even some theology. I'll keep you posted.

Peace,
Jeff

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Transitions

This last week my office has been on Lake Carlos. Yes, for the last seven working days I've been on the lake completing a survey of the plants that lurk below the surface of the water. The survey is part of a state-wide effort to set bench marks that will enable us to better anticipate changes in aquatic systems from land use alterations, shoreline development and climate change. It was interesting and a lot of work. We sampled just under 650 points on the lake - which involves driving around to a set of predetermined points, tossing out a double-sided rake, and identifying the plants that are hanging from the tines as you drag it back into the boat. Who would have thought there would be more than 25 different types of aquatic plants in Lake Carlos? Of course this last week has been windy as well. I'm more exhausted from fighting the wind for 8 hours a day than from anything else. But it's a transition time and along with a transition of seasons in Minnesota comes the wind.
We're also transitioning at home as well. Tomorrow begins my third semester at St. Johns - I'm taking Christology, Mark, and Psalms and I'm really excited about each one of the courses! Thursday we'll be moving our son Anthony to Eau Claire, Wisconsin where he'll start the next phase of his life at UWEC. (In addition to moving, he's also auditioning for a spot in the music department's voice performance program - hopefully switching from violin. So that's a bit of added stress for him.) Our daughter Sarah is entering her senior year at UW and is looking to enter some type of medical related field (OT or PT), so she's already looking towards next year's transition. Next week Will begins junior high - which among all the transitions that are taking place this year is the toughest for me! Where did that little kid go? Next week Jeanne will also transition back from beach bum to great science teacher. It's fun to watch her get excited about each new school year.
Tomorrow night is our second contemplative service at Alex UMC and I'm grateful that I'll have that reflection time to deal with all of these transitions.
Peace,
Jeff

Friday, August 22, 2008

Advance Readers

My wife works part-time at the local, independent bookstore during the summer. It gives her a chance to get away from the house and be around books, which in addition to yarn, are among her favorite things. One of the cool perks about working at a book store are the advance reader copies that publishers send out prior to full-scale publication; you get a sneak peek at what's coming out in the next three to six months. Every now and then she'll see one that she thinks would be of interest to me and brings it home. Last week she brought two, American Buffalo by Steven Rinella and Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writers Life by Kathleen Norris. I'll write more about the first one when I finish it but as of now I'm not overly impressed with neither the writing nor the author's heavy reliance on frontier journalist accounts of life on the Great Plains during the 19th century. The second book is a fascinating read. I've always like Kathleen Norris's work and while this one might not be as interesting as Dakota and Cloister Walk, it is worth setting time aside to read. In the book, Norris examines the topic of acedia theologically, psychologically, and spiritually. As is her style, she relates the topic to her own life. And as is her style, she enables the reader to do the same. I'm only about half way through the book and there have been a number of comments that deeply resonated within me (see my last post). So far it has been interesting to read how early Christian monastics viewed "sin". Again, I'll write more about the entire book once I've finished it, just be on the look out for it when it hits the shelves of your favorite book seller next month. (As an added bonus the book features an appendix of collected quotes from theologians, psychologists, and spiritual leaders on acedia that give one a greater appreciation for what acedia truly is.)
Peace,
Jeff

Saturday, August 16, 2008

This daily prayer thing is hard!

I was just reading Michelle Hargrave's blog entry, it is a wonderful piece of writing. She concludes by talking about fitting prayer into her life, something that really resonated with me. One of the "requirements" of becoming an oblate is to read the daily office or liturgy of the hours at least once a day. I've been using "Benedictine Daily Prayer - A Short Breviary" by Max Johnson and the Monks of St. John's Abbey. The monks pray up to 8 times a day which is pretty impressive since I've been trying, and struggling, to get just that one each day. It is hard to believe, and admit, that my life is so busy, so convoluted that I can't set aside 5 or 10 minutes a day to pray. I've tried early morning, but the dog usually needs some attention. Evenings are pretty hectic around here and I do need to be present at work most of the day. So, my routine has gotten to be that I pray when I can, in the car on the way to work, as the computer is booting up, at lunch. It might not be the liturgy, but it is prayer and as Michelle says "it will have to do for now".
Peace,
Jeff

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eucharistic Beginnings

We had barely unpacked our gear and unloaded the week's groceries. I was putting a few things away in our van when a young Lakota man stopped by the Tree of Life guest house and asked for something to eat. I went in and made him a ham sandwich, grabbed an apple, and a juice box. We sat on the tailgate of the van making small talk as he downed the sandwich and the juice. He put the apple in his pocket and said he was going to give that to a friend of his that needed to eat that day too. The entire incident tore me up inside. That was last summer. It wasn't until an evening this past March, when my instructor in Pauline Studies commented that "all we do in love, all we do in the name of God, goes through the table, the eucharist", that I realized what had happened that summer day was quite literally communion.

I really dislike missing communion and this year we were leaving on communion Sunday. So, I arranged to have bread and juice and a short service that evening. Some friends from Duluth joined our group which included people from Alexandria UMC, Jeffers UMC, and St. Paul's UMC in Mendota Heights. We sang and reflected on the lectionary (Mt. 14:19) I noted that I had just read a passage from Frederick Buechner that seemed to fit into the lectionary and what we hoped to do that week. He writes, "Greed is the mathematical truism that the more you get, the more you have. The opposite of greed - the selfless love of God and neighbor - is based on the truth that the more you give away in love, the more you are." We shared the gift of bread and the cup. It is this gift that allows us to focus on our work as church and to find God's love in a world where people are hungry, homeless, and oppressed in a world where there is what seems to be only a limited amout of fish and bread on hand. I think it got the week off to a grace-filled start.

Peace,
Jeff

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Great Spirit meets the great lie.

The Great Spirit meets the great lie

That’s a line from the song “Hanging from the Cross” by John Trudell. John Trudell is an Indian activist/poet/blues singer/philosopher. His path through life is intriguing. To many Native people he’s seen as a prophet while others see him as a troublemaker. I like his music and am interested in what he has to say. I don’t agree with all of his stances, but some are spot on as they say. As those lyrics would indicate, Trudell’s poetry cuts right to the bone and is intense. This particular song is about “evangelizing” Native people and is honestly quite uncomfortable to listen to. I mention this because this year, more than in past years, I’ve seen more passenger vans touring the Rosebud Reservation emblazoned with various church logos. (Disclaimer, we’re traveling in one such vehicle.) The noteworthy aspect of these vans is that they are generally touting some “bible church” or other evangelical-leaning denomination. One group we ran into while getting gas this morning asked us about what we were doing, basically said “oh, that’s nice” and proceeded to tell us about all the children they were saving during the vacation bible school they were holding for them. In my humble opinion there are so many things wrong with this kind of evangelizing that it sickens me and makes me angry. (So, as you read this keep in mind, I’ve been fixing up a trailer home that 99% of Americans would have bulldozed. There is absolutely no excuse that people are living in these conditions in this country. Period.)
First, there can be no way these people have any idea of the damage that has been done to the Lakota people in the name of Christ. If they are clued into the history of the Lakota, then as Trudell says in the song, “they lie to us, then lie to themselves about lying to us”, and they just don’t care what’s really going on around them.
Secondly, I think this truly gives these kids a false sense of hope and believe me, hope around here is as rare as surplus, commodity brie. It’s pretty damn easy to live in an air-conditioned dorm, drive around in an air-conditioned van, get out, play some games and tell kids that if they just believe in Jesus, everything will be O.K. The saddest part of all that is then they’ll pack up the vans, head home thinking they’ve saved the world. Meanwhile, more than half of those native kids will be going without food until school starts in a couple of weeks.
Additionally, in my mind this shows a great deal of disrespect for the Lakota culture and spirituality. The opening line from “Hanging from the Cross” states, “we weren’t lost, and didn’t need any book”; the more I understand the spirituality (and I’m just scratching the surface) of the Lakota, the more I’m convinced of the truth within this statement. The more Meister Eckhart I read, the more St. Francis I read, the more Hildegard of Bingen I read, the more I’m convinced of the truth in that statement. Think about this, Vine DeLoria, a famous Lakota writer and cultural historian correctly notes in his book “God is Red” that no indigenous culture on earth has a messiah figure in their spirituality. His stance is that it was only the Christian, Hebrews and Muslims that really needed a savior figure! Lakota culture and spirituality are rich and beautiful and we need to respect that.
Finally, I can’t get past the remark “for them”. I honestly don’t see mission trips as something “for them”. Each time I come to Rosebud, I leave with much, much more than I came with and I honestly feel guilty about that. People who are among the poorest of the poor give me more than I can give in return. Sure, I can replace a few windows, put in an insulated door, offer a sandwich to a homeless guy walking down the street and all of that is slowly making a difference. But in each case, it pales in comparison to what I receive in return, and like I said, I struggle with that.
One reason Tree of Life is so successful here is that it follows what I feel are Benedictine values; that is, to see Christ in every person you meet and to offer the same hospitality to that person as you would if that person were Christ. There are no preconditions when homes are fixed, or when meals are served. There is no cramming Christ down people’s throats, evangelizing is done by living as Christ. All are treated as children of God because they are children of God.

Peace,

Jeff

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Live from the Rez ...

I meant to post this yesterday (Tuesday morning) but didn't find time to hook up to the net.

One of the wonderful things about a VIM trip to Tree of Life is the cultural events that are available each evening. This evening we were fortunate to hear a presentation by Chief Duane Hollow Horn Bear. Chief Hollow Horn Bear’s story is truly amazing. In some ways it is a mirror of the saga the Lakota people have endured for the last 150 years. In other ways it is almost triumphant, if not triumphant certainly filled with hope. Rather than go into all the details I would encourage you to schedule a VIM trip to Tree of Life and hear Chief Hollow Horn Bear yourself.

Part of the Lakota saga centers on the fate of the Black Hills. The famous tourist area full of cheesy amusement parks and the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally is also a central part of the Lakota creation story. Despite “promises” from the U.S. Government in a series of treaties, the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa, were illegally taken from the Lakota. The legal battle for the Black Hills remains the longest unresolved court case in U.S. history. With that little bit of background, this morning’s reading from the Benedictine Daily Prayer was Psalm 42(43). As I read it, it occurred to me that if one replaced God with Creator, this could be a Lakota prayer.

Defend me, O Creator, and plead my cause
against a godless nation.
From a deceitful and cunning people
rescue me, O Creator.

Since you, O Creator, are my stronghold,
why have you rejected me?
Why do I go on mourning,
oppressed by the foe?

O send forth your light and your truth;
let these be my guide.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.

And I will come to your alter, Creator,
the Place of my joy.
My Creator, I will thank you on the flute,
Creator, My Creator.

It’s 5:30 a.m., it’s thundering, lightening, and raining which should add to what already promised to be an interesting day.

Peace,
Jeff

Friday, August 1, 2008

Happenings

Sunday morning I leave with a group from Alex UMC on what has become our annual mission trip to the Rosebud Reservation. This will be my fifth trip to Mission and Tree of Life. It is something I certainly look forward to each year. The trip will probaby be my only chance this year to take in some really wide-open spaces and the awesome prairie vistas of western South Dakota. This is the first year I haven't organized the trip, it was time for someone else to take that responsibility. In a way it's a relief, and I'm looking forward to letting things just happen this year. Having been to Rosebud a number of times, I've made a few friends and I'm looking forward to seeing them again. I'm not sure if I'll be able to blog while we're out there, but I'll try to get online at least once during the trip.

In other happenings, I just put together another blog that we'll be posting the outline and notes for the contemplative/Taize-style service that we've started. Once we get that finalized I'll link that from here too.
Peace,
Jeff

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

WALL*E

Last night Will and I went to see WALL*E. Now, to get a 12 year old to see a movie with his dad is one thing, to get him to go see a Pixar movie with his dad is quite another thing. I was pleasantly surprised when he actually jumped at the chance when I suggested it at dinner. Sunday, he and I spent the better part of the afternoon cleaning his room and boxing up a number of toys that he's outgrown. It's a bittersweet deal, knowing your youngest child is, well, really no longer a child. But I digress. I had read a number of really good reviews and comments about the movie. I was intrigued by the entire premise of the movie - that earth is no longer habitable and earthlings had become fat, lazy, drones of a corporation who no longer really lived but rather existed. Intermingled within this story is a love story about two robots, WALL*E and EVE, that I found less compelling than many critics have. Yet this is a really good movie, one that takes a not so subtle swipe at the choices we humans have made with respect to using our natural resources as well as the rampant hyper-consumerism that we now view as a standard way of life. Which leads me to the biggest problem I have with this movie. Well, not the movie itself, but rather the Disneyfication of the message. Despite ripping on the hyper-consumerism during the movie, Disney/Pixar are marketing this movie and all the associated trinkets that go along with it, i.e. toys, bed sheets, back packs, etc., just like every other movie that has come from their studios. How refreshing it would have been to not be able to link to a page full of WALL*E toys? Still, a movie worth seeing and discussing.
Peace,
Jeff

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Look and Some Updates

I've added a few new links and changed a few things around. A couple of the links are UMC-related and have been added to the "People doing good things" section. Thanks to Pastor Rory for bringing the UMCOR link to my attention. I think we tend to overlook the good things that we Methodists do! I recall a trip to Tree of Life a few winters back and unloading a truck with supplies from Global Ministries. When you see something like that you get a greater appreciation for the importance of apportionments. I've also added a couple of links to some sites that offer up some religious-based humor. Finally, I added a link to Wild Idea Buffalo. WIB, is a sustainable bison operation run by author Dan O'Brien. He's a first-rate author, wildlife biologist, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. Be sure to check out his Cheyenne River Writings and if you haven't read "Buffalo for the Broken Heart", please do.
Peace,
Jeff

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We're heading into one of my favorite parts of summer. It's the time when the prairie's palette starts to really get full. Currently, among the common roadside plants, one can see the oranges from the butterfly weed, the purple flowers from the lead plant and the yellows from the grey-headed coneflowers. A little more searching and purple coneflowers, purple prairie clover, and one of my favorites, common spiderwort can be found. I like the spiderwort for a few reasons. First it produces a lovely, delicate bluish flower. However, the cool thing about the flower isn't just the color. It's the fact that each bloom lasts for only one day. Each day for a couple of weeks each plant produces a single flower that blooms just at dawn and by mid-morning has folded into a small gelatinous sack that will eventually form a seed. The gooey mass in the sack is a dark blue and was used by indigenous peoples of the prairie to make a form of paint.
One of the reasons I love the prairie is the vast diversity of life that lives there. The prairie is a harsh place to live. Drought, severe heat or cold, and excessive moisture are part of life on the prairie. However, the plants and animals that live there have adapted to these harsh conditions which means there will always be prairie. It is that diversity that shields the prairie from these harsh conditions. It is that diversity in nature that should remind us, as humans and part of creation, we need to embrace the diversity of humanity as well. Just as the prairie has evolved and flourished through diversity so too should humanity.
Before summer is over, I'd encourage you to do a prairie walk. Get out and experience some diversity. If you need some places to look, let me know.
Peace,
Jeff

Monday, July 21, 2008

Faith and Slime

We had a nice break and a good visit with my parents over the last four days. Friday, Will, Jeanne and I took a little excursion up to Wisconsin's Door County. We did some tourist stuff, visiting some little shops, ate lunch along Green Bay, and then headed over to the Lake Michigan side of things. I've mentioned this before, I'm drawn to big landscapes like the Great Lakes and Lake Michigan is great. Granted, it doesn't have the awesome geological formations that can be found on Lake Superior, but it is still a great lake. We stopped at Cave Point Park and walked along the limestone formation that is part of the Niagra Escarpment; this is the same limestone formation that on the eastern most point forms Niagra Falls, on the western edge it can be seen as a ridge that forms the Door Peninsula then runs southward forming the eastern edge of Lake Winnebago and the famous Horicon Marsh (second only to the Everglades in the size of a freshwater marsh). It's rather easy to find fossils embedded in the limestone and we found some sea fans and sponges. We watched the waves crash into the caves and wished we had brought along the kayaks so we could have done some exploring as well. But this trip did provide us the opportunity to plan a longer future trip.

While I'm drawn to open spaces, I'm also always on the look out for examples of God's presence in nature and how those examples of the natural world can help shape our understanding of the natural world as well as our faith. (For example, this past spring I wrote about how we can learn about faith from Canada geese.) This particular day I found two examples of how creation can demonstrate faith for all of us. The first was the algae that was growing on the limestone just at the point where the force of the waves hitting shore was the greatest. Because the area is relatively shallow it has the greatest amount of solar energy, something that's pretty important if you're a plant. Nearshore areas like this also tend to have high concentrations of nutrients as they mix from running off the land and as the currents and waves keep them close to shore. That's the upside. The downside of course is that the area is constantly bombarded by waves. I sat and watched as the waves tossed the algae filaments back and forth, watched as the waves crashed on top of the colonies. This algae was lush, long, dark green, and thriving. It occurred to me that perhaps we need to be more like these algae. As life gets tough and beats down on us, we need to open ourselves up to God, show some faith that as we weather the waves we can still grow, still have lush, thriving lives. Algae are the basis for all life in an aquatic system. Similarly, faith is largely the basis for a full life and for developing a relationship with God.
I'll write a bit more about the other example later this week.
Peace,
Jeff

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thoughts from the road

I've spent the last few days at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute with the other members of the DNR's Fisheries Research Unit. I enjoy getting together with my collegues from around the state. We talk about the new things we're doing and what we'd like to do in the future. We do a lot of "cutting edge" research on fish and aquatic resources and we push each other pretty hard. Despite that, it isn't as cut-throat as some academic settings I've been in. Overall, it's a group of very good and intelligent people and I'm glad that I'm part of it. However, I must admit that while being generally supportive of my theological studies, there is some obvious tension that has developed over the last year. Unfortunately, that has probably become expected between scientists and theologians.

This afternoon, we're heading to Wisconsin to visit my parents for a few days. It will be nice to unwind for a few days and see what's new in the old home town - although it is small enough that not much ever changes!

Peace,
Jeff

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Candidacy Ceremony


Monday evening I followed the thunderstorms down I94 to St. Johns. I arrived just before 7 p.m. just in time for evening prayer at the Abbey Church. Suprisingly, the choir was quite full which made for a rich, full sound as we all chanted the psalms. Following evening prayer I met with the Director of Oblates for the Abbey. I'd heard about oblates a while ago, but always just assumed that you needed to be R.C. to become one. I've since learned otherwise and as my interest in the Rule of St. Benedict has blossomed so did my interest in oblation. So, for the last month or so, I've been mulling over this path and last week decided that it was something I wanted to pursue. There are a number of reasons, including a continued bond with St. John's; no matter where I end up with my theological studies I'll be forever bound to the the St. John's community. I've also found the Rule fascinating and wish to delve into it at a much greater level which will require some assistance.

The ceremony was short, and simple. A couple of my instructors, who happen to be monks, stuck around as did some folks that are already Oblates (the Feast of St. Benedict is this week, as is the Annual Oblate Retreat). I received my St. Benedict's Medal, a guide to Benedictine study, and a series of questions about the Rule that I need to discern and write about. The entire candidacy period lasts at least a year, in which I'll need to write about 9 aspects of the Rule. I'll try to post those on here as I do.
The one part of the Rule that drew me into this path deals with hospitality. At its root, Benedictine hospitality requires one to treat everyone they encounter as though that person is Christ. I've found it valuable to frequently ask myself "Did I see Christ in that person and did that person see Christ in me?"
Peace,
Jeff

Thursday, July 3, 2008

An interesting question ...

Fellow blogger David Bard, recently posted an essay on the debate over whether or not clergy should endorse candidates. (You can read his entire essay here.) There are a couple of reasons that I'm uncomfortable with this possibility. First and foremost I see the responsibility of the church to work with and give guidance to government to solve social problems. There needs to be a partnership to solve problems of poverty, racism, and other social justice issues and the church needs to be able to work with whomever is sitting in the big leather chair in Washington D.C., St. Paul, or where ever power sits. If clergy are picking favorites and endorsing people, that relationship gets to be very tenuous should the other person win. I would go as far as to say that if that happens, the working relationship can suffer to the point that the big losers are those whom have no voice, the people and issues that need attention the most.

The second problem I have is this seems to be more about the ego than about really wanting to help people. The recent flap over a pastor from International Falls going on record that he will openly preach about and endorse John McCain for President wreaks of self interest and self promotion. Chances are pretty good that anyone that attends this church already knew the pastor's position, was it really necessary to grand stand about it? I feel for the person in that congregation that might have a slightly less favorable opinion of Sen. McCain and is now silenced through intimidation.

So, what is the role of clergy in our political system? It is my belief that their responsibility lies in telling people the truth about what it means to be a Christian, to preach the life of Christ. Though largely ignored, I believe if social doctrine based on Christ-centered teachings such as the UMC Social Principles or the Catholic Social Teachings (this would also include other religious traditions) were routinely included in sermons and liturgy there would be no need to for clergy to be endorsing candidates. Having written a few for course work, I can attest to the fact that these sermons are difficult to write; it is difficult not to step on toes or make people sitting the pews feel uncomfortable. Yet giving preference to the poor, being tolerant of all, and promoting peace are what Christianity is all about, no matter how uncomfortable that might be for WASP congregations.
With that in mind, here are a few books worth considering:
Lazarus at the Table: Catholics and Social Justice and Vote Catholic? Beyond the Political Din both by Bernard Evans. (Bernie is my co-advisor of sorts at St. John's and is one of the most thoughtful people I know.)
The Truth about God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon.

Peace,
Jeff

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sweet Grass

Yesterday many of the roadsides in the area were being hayed. It is a bittersweet cutting in June, I miss the tall grasses along the roadsides but I get the occasional fragrance of sweet grass as I travel. That seems worth it; the grass will grow back.
Last night I cut my sweet grass, it never gets really tall anyway. I spent some time sorting it by length and got some braids done. My braids are never very fancy like the ones you can get on the rez. This morning the garage smelled like sweet grass, it was wonderful. One of those great things about summer.
Peace,
Jeff

Monday, June 30, 2008

More on the food crisis


Yesterday, Jeanne and I spent the afternoon hiking at Glacial Lakes State Park with our black lab Sophie. We took advantage of the cool breeze to walk the prairie and get that sense of openness that I spoke of earlier in the week. We sat and ate lunch on the high point, watching the grasses seemingly crawl across the landscape as the wind moved them. The amount of rain we've received this year has made the prairie very green, it is really very lovely. Glacial Lakes is one of the few places left in Minnesota where one can walk for over an hour and still be on prairie. Over 99% of the prairie that once covered the state has either been plowed up or paved over. It is the most endangered ecosystem in North America and with the pressure to produce more food to meet global demand for food as well as to take advantage of the highest commodity prices few, if any, farmers have ever seen, the prairie is under even greater pressure today.

With that in mind, it is interesting to note that during the debate that centered on the recently enacted Farm Bill, conservation programs were very unpopular. Basically, they are an easy target; it is easy to pick on something without a large constituency, easy (albeit wrongly) to make the claim that they cost jobs, easy to make claims about needing land for more food production. (Again, I've noted before that nobody seems to ever talk about food conservation or reducing our waistlines to save some food.) However, one aspect of food production that few people realize is that in the last 25 years the United States has lost, on average, 2.2 MILLION acres of farmland. Total losses equal an area the size of Maine, New Hampshire, and a good portion of Vermont. Despite these losses we've maintained a food production system that until now had very few bumps in it. We've done that by genetically modifying plants, adding more chemicals and fertilizers to the land, and industrializing our meat production.

Where may you ask has all this farmland gone? Some has been lost to erosion and can now be found at the bottom of our lakes, rivers, and even the Gulf of Mexico. However, most of it is now paved. It is either a suburban yard, a school, a strip mall, a parking lot, or a church. At this rate, the most endangered ecosystem in the U.S. will not be prairie (that will be long gone), it will be farmland.

Instead of plowing up prairie, perhaps we need to take a closer, much closer, look at our zoning laws that allow us to pave anything for any purpose. Perhaps we need to declare farmland an threatened commodity. This is particularly needed in suburban areas where farmers, out of necessity, have to subdivide their land because taxes have increased to a level where they can no longer afford to farm their land.

Churches are as guilty of this transformation from farmland to pavement as anyone. In Alexandria alone three new churches have been built in the last 5 years that have consumed nearly 40 acres of crop land. In suburban areas surrounding the Twin Cities it is even worse. Churches need to be leaders in this area by redeveloping areas in down towns and main streets. Otherwise, they're taking food directly from the mouths of those who need it.

Peace,
Jeff

Friday, June 27, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Week's Events

Not surprisingly, but still disappointing, the Supreme Court yesterday made a huge mess of the nation's gun laws. I'm still trying to figure out how Justice Antonin Scalia ever passed an english or grammar class, let alone law school, without a basic understanding of the difference between singular and plural. How does one get an individual's right from "peoples" and "militia" - both plural forms of their root. The bottom line, this is a bad decision. All the gun advocates will rejoice and tell you how safe we'll all be now that criminals will have to think twice about who they attack, however one fact remains, in 2005/06 there were 50 gun-related homicides in England and Wales while in the U.S. that number exceeded 30,000.

Also disappointing was the Obama campaign's response to James Dobson's attack. It was disappointing in that I see it as a missed opportunity, particularly from his religious advisors, to point out that everyone reads and interprets the bible through their worldview. Hence, for Dobson to claim Obama is changing or misinterpreting biblical text is of course, highly hypocritical. It's also disappointing that Jon Stewart did a better job responding to the hypocrisy on the Daily Show than did Obama's staff. Rabbi Rami wrote about this earlier in the week, it's an interesting read and a bit more critical than mine.

The good news is that the strawberries are ready to be picked, there is still some fresh asparagus at the farmers market, and last night's cold front has brought a refreshing breeze.

Peace,
Jeff