Thursday, December 29, 2005

The power of a mnemonic device

Morgan Spurlock is a hero of mine.

I admire the questions that Spurlock asks through his provocative documentaries. Congressional debates on minimum wage sound like adults talking in a Peanuts television show--while Spurlock gives his viewers a glimpse at minimum wage life in an episode of his documentary series "30 days," where he guides viewers through walking in someone else moccasins for a 30 day period. I hope that Spurlock's series on F/X "30 days" comes out on DVD soon.

I hooked in to Spurlock's work, like many others, through the documentary Super Size Me. This is one of my favorite films of all time. I showed it to my confirmation class, parents, in-laws, even my daughter watched it. She was too small to comprehend the film...or was she? I am no Piaget, nor do I have more than trivial knowledge of cognitive development. But I know that music can register with a child. I know this personally, because I would not have earned an A on my 8th grade U.S. History exam without Schoolhouse Rock teaching me in music about the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution. I still know that song.

At least six months passed since I last watched Super Size Me, maybe longer since I sang the theme song. In those days, my daughter would sing that theme along with me. A few days ago at the dinner table, much to my shock and awe, the song came out again without my prompting.

Super size, super size, the American way
Super size, super size, the American way
Going fat, going broke, either way, you're gonna pay.
Super size me. Super size me.

At first, I sat in disbelief. Then, when I realized what she was singing, I laughed in amazement, and called to my wife to listen.

For the most part, she has not repeated some of the less choice words that have come out of my mouth--although she yells at the dog like I yell at her (as well as the dog). I can learn much from what comes out of her mouth--she is a mirror of my communication.

Words of grace and words of warning.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas is ruined? Lord, have mercy.

My daughter and I watched "Merry Christmas, Charile Brown" on the average of once per day during this Advent. I loved this story as a child. For some reason the storyline of Charlie Brown struggling with the meaning of Christmas in relation to commercialism is more tastefully executed and thought provoking than anything I have read or heard in public discourse in recent memory.

As a teenager, I recall coming home from Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Olympia, Washington during the Advent and Christmas seasons and finding my mother upset because one of our pastors saw it as his homiletical duty to rip on the retail industry and its relationship to Christmas. During that time in our lives, the retail industry provided employment to my mother, and essentially food on our table, clothing for our bodies (at a discounted rate from the employer), and an opportunity to help my brothers and I pay for our college educations. Certainly I am no paragon of virtue--I like stuff. I am a pagan heathen. My family sending my mother into employment was another story of a stay at home mother moving into the workforce. I am sure that my mother selling women's undergarments was a key reason for ruining Christmas for a local pastor. To some degree, my mother's employment encouraged the family to get stuff that we did not need. Such are the lives of sinners. I buy all kinds of junk I do not need.

One of the things I miss about Lutheran liturgy is that I had the opportunity to sing "Lord, have mercy" almost every week.

Lord, have mercy. All kinds of people are complaining about how their Christmas is going. Some conservatives complain that the athiests and liberals are ruining Christmas because the culture has drifted into using the greeting "Happy Holidays." Liberals make speeches that conservative complaint about Christmas greetings carry no substance when they encourage market forces for people to buy, buy, buy without any reflection on why, why, why? Idealists on each side of the political spectrum complain that people cannot seem to separate themselves from buying stuff and that Christmas is ruined through the work of the retail industry. A recent Sojourners article pushed me to this reflection when one more writer declared that Christmas is ruined. Many people have come to the church looking for assistance during this season--hoping to pay for food and maybe a gift for their families. Without our assistance, their Christmas is also ruined. Christmas is ruined...

Lord, have mercy.

First, a little perspective. Since the post-Civil War era, Christmas has been ruined in America. Rebecca Edwards in the Christian Science Monitor chronicles the history of American commercialism and Christmas. The public often sees commercialism and Christmas as a recent issue. I would guess that Christmas was even ruined before that. The Evangelists known as Mark and John did not include Jesus' birth into their final draft about the claim about the centrality of Jesus in salvation history. I am sure that Mark and John also had horrible Christmas holidays and did not want to remember Jesus' birth.

The way Christmas is set up on the calendar, people will always complain during this holiday season. Regardless of the hemisphere of residence, Christmas is in a season of extreme temperature. It is either really dark, or the sun shines well into the night. Both of these natural rhythms in the year tend to send our bodies out of balance--either craving the sunlight or the peaceful darkness in hope for some rest. In the midst of this state of imbalance, Christmas is a time to get together with family. When I get together with family at Christmas, I recognize how much of a sinner I am, and I see the sins that have been passed on from generation to generation. The chance to be reminded of family divisions, personal failures and being presented the frightening opportunity to reconcile is anxiety ridden. I eat too much in this swirl of anxiety, and I imagine this is a struggle for other as well.

If the above paragraph is true, then I ask and plead, Lord, have mercy.

On this Christmas Eve, I plead for anyone who cares to take in my words to plead to God for mercy. Certainly because you and I are sinners, but mostly because it is our tendency this time of year to be complainers. My plea is for the people of God to be gentle with one another, because when faced with our shortcomings and temperature and light extremes, we have a hard time welcoming peace. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the season, we celebrate a God who comes to us in Jesus not because we make it happen, but a God who comes because we are loved by God, and that because God comes, we are called to sit in awe. If only but for a moment.

Lord, have mercy.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Food that is not "Norwegian spicy"

When I served at a congregation in Hudson, South Dakota, I often ate with some of the local senior citizens at their local cafe. One day, one of the folks inquired about my favorite meal. I had become accustomed to the bland food in the Northern Great Plains, even though I avoided the local favorite--Scalloped Ham and Potatoes. My favorite was lasagna, to which one person replied, "exotic!"

I knew that bland was the norm--I didn't know that basil was an exotic spice.

Urban legend in Sioux Falls holds that ethnic restaurants that would normally serve spicy food do not do good business until they tone down the spice. One Chinese restaurant in town, Peking, has gone the way of non-spice that confirms urban legend. I had never known Chinese to be bland...until Sioux Falls.

One member of another congregation--a proud Norwegian once said that if the food I served was not brown and/or white, that he would make in brown or white by adding potatoes or by adding gravy.

Over this holiday season I have served this side dish (could be a main course) frequently. Some in this area have called it "interesting," while transplants have marvelled and found it to be a culinary oasis of spice. I pass it on from the book "Vegetarian Entertaining" by Diane Shaw.

My mother in law (another proud Norwegian) is not against spicy food, but doesn't quite have the spice thing down. I usually ask her about a particular dish--is it spicy (like a hot curry) or Norwegian spicy (like basil).

This dish is not Norwegian spicy. It has a good kick. Enjoy!

Cold Sesame Noodles (aka Spicy Thai Noodles)
6-8 servings

1 cup chunky peanut butter (no added sugar, salt or shortening works best)
1/2 c. soy sauce
6 tbsp. dark sesame oil
1/4 c. rice vinegar
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp chili paste w/garlic ( I have used Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste, and that works well)
1/4 c. hot water
1 lb. linguine, cooked and drained
1/2 c. minced scallions (white part only)
1/4 c. chopped peanuts

Combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, vneagar, sugar and chili paste. Add hot water 1 tbsp at a time, whisking until well-blended and smooth. Add the drained linguine to the sauce along with half the scallions. Toss until noodles are coated with the sauce. If the mixture is too sticky, add more hot water and toss again.

Turn out onto a serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining scallions and chopped peanuts. Can be served cold or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Peaceful Advent...


Friday, December 16, 2005

Wanderlust longing creates Yukon dreams

When XM Radio picked up Major League Baseball in its lineup, I began to question my investment in Sirius. Howard Stern and Martha Stewart will not attract my listening time, and I could live without NFL Football if forced to make a choice (but believe me, am I ever on the Seattle Seahawks bandwagon). I like the music stations, and the BBC, Air America and the diversity of American opinion is a worthwhile investment. I can also listen to collegiate sports.

A few weeks ago, Sirius picked up CBC Radio, and has added an all-Canadian music channel known as "Iceberg." I was thrilled. Sounds Like Canada in the morning and As It Happens in the evening. These radio shows remind me of what NPR and the BBC used to be. I remember turning on these broadcasts over the years and depended on stories that covered the continents in a way that no other media outlet covered. In a 12-hour window I had stories on Kazakhstan, Uruguay and Ireland. At some point NPR and BBC became overly devoted to stories from the Middle East as if George W. Bush himself were calling the shots. If I wanted most of the stories in a publication or broadcast to cover the Middle East and American politics, I can read Time or Newsweek. I need perspective. I get caught up in my own world easily and my mind can turn to mush.

Last week, Sounds Like Canada, the morning show on CBC Radio One broadcast from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. One of the journalists set up shop in a local bar to talk about the future of mining in the Yukon. Many are anticipating a boom similar to the 1800's when Whitehorse was about the size of San Fransisco. I also learned about a Newfoundland band on the show called Great Big Sea. I only heard one song ("Captain Kidd")--it was a hearty song took me to memories of many boat rides on the Puget Sound. I love the salt air--I could almost taste it with that song.

Brother Bingo once talked with me several years ago about cheap land available in the Yukon...I Googled extensively on the subject, but could find no links. I can dream. I may not own the land--but I am ready for a trip to Whitehorse, Dawson and eventually see the Newfies in St. John's for a lager while I listen to Great Big Sea. I hope my family--any of them--would like to join me.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Melting Snow

I take some pride in that I do not brood over things I cannot control.

Melting snow does not make the list. Without the snow, South Dakota is painfully ugly in the winter time. High temperatures in the mid to upper 30's has turned our winter wonderland into a drab collage of carbon stained slush and the worst of earth tones. Sunshine does not even make it look good.

I would love to will the weather colder, but my will is futile.

Melting snow is for spring training time, not mid-December.



Thursday, December 08, 2005

Saying Good-Bye to Cassettes: What is their Legacy?

I like to believe I overcame my life as a pack rat.

What am I supposed to do with this musical format of the 80's? I have a hard time throwing away my a-ha cassette.

They will go for nothing on e-bay.
Why waste my time selling them for a nickel at a garage sale?
I think the local used music store would ask me to pay them to take an a-ha cassette off my hands.
Along with the others:

Spandau Ballet, They Might Be Giants, REM, Clint Black.

Cassettes are the outcasts of the music industry, along with their sad cousins, the 8-track tape.

Vinyl has fabulous sound quality, while the CD and MP3 are convenient and easily manipulated.

What will be the legacy of the cassette? Do they have any redeeming value in music history?

Vinyl lasted decades and still has a cult following (can you imagine having a cult following for cassettes?).
The CD may be on its last years, but it introduced us to digital music.
Love my iPod...

A friend/colleague of mine in a conversation a while back and I shared some laughs about "the mixed tape." How could I have shared love with my wife without the mixed tape? I think I put together at least 8 tapes when we were dating...but why save the tapes? The sound systems I have don't play the tapes at a decent sound quality--and the tapes have deteriorated from time in the sun, overuse, and our daughter getting a hold of them.

The cultural place of the mixed tape is profound when referenced in an episode of "Family Guy," when baby Stewie is hot for his babysitter and makes her a mixed tape.

I will get rid of the cassettes. I may regret it someday when one of them is selling for a couple of grand...but I am not that kind of collector.

I saved the covers to the mixed tapes for our scrap books...

(Special Note to Brother Bingo: If I need to correct any of my musicology, let me know.)


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

If You Want A Funky Christmas...

When I was a boy, my father and I would occasionally watch television and come upon James Brown. The Funkmeister himself on Soul Train, or Sonny and Cher, Flip Wilson or some other variety show. We would both watch in fascination the man shuffle his feet and truly get down. We would laugh--not because the King of Soul was funny. James was so far from our experience.

James moved from fascination in my musical appreciation when I worked with Bingo at a music store in Seattle in the winter of 1997. On the regular rotation of music during the shopping season was this fine album that you see here. By the time I left my short stint in Seattle and my only direct foray in working retail, I was looking forward to the time James made the music rotation.

This CD is oh, so cool. I would almost guarantee that no one else is singing "Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto."

Any James Brown Christmas is good (I have one other), but this one has the best cover.

If you want a funky Christmas (I never thought of a funky Christmas until 8 years ago), get this CD.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Citgo politics heating up

The Cold War made inquiries into politics of the left-right continuum a secretive chess game with propeganda pawns. Gathering information in the 00's is not a stealth activity. The apathy of the American public about acquiring news creates the road block to intelligent public discourse today. We no longer have the Iron Curtain to blame for any lack of knowledge.

I recently wrote that I was going to be buying Citgo products more often in response to the populist move to provide Citgo heating oil for some impoverished residents of Massachusetts at a reduced rate. My brother Bingo did not like that I called Chavez wacky. I still think he is. Though Chavez portrays himself as a champion of the poor, he creates conditions that subsidize gasoline to the point of irresponsibile environmental degradation. Petrol at ~15 cents per gallon seems dangerous. Chavez makes classic populist moves. I find that George W. Bush's conclusion that Chavez is threatening to U.S. interests laughable--and the apathy of the American public will carry this through. Bush must think he can stir similar anti-left sentiment the way Reagan used to denounce more quality Latin American advocates for the poor like Daniel Ortega. What is amusing is that you have two heads of state running cults of personality proclaiming each other dangerous. Cults of personality are dangerous in general. The problem with Bush is that he has access to many more weapons and resources, and he happens to enjoy destruction.

A colleague and friend recently identified me as a pugilist. I took that to mean I will use provocation to encourage discussion.

Fair enough.

The fact that I drove an extra two miles to buy Citgo gasoline last night is not a statement of allegiance to Hugo Chavez (although a Bushite might say it is...I do not care). Conversations about poverty and how it can be addressed need to happen. Until conventional wisdom is disrupted and typical patterns of thought are redirected (including the tired usage of the left-right political continuum), renewal will be slow to happen.

However, my faith does not place hope in the renewal of society through government. Or the market. I am a benefactor of both the government and the market. I ask God that I can be made into a faithful participant in both--doing justice, loving kindness and walking closely with my God.

In the meantime, I'll also remain a pugilist.

I am surprised to find interest in the politics of Citgo. Maybe I shouldn't be:

Even someone in South Dakota has taken interest.

I certainly was not the first one to think about buying Citgo products.

Captain Capitalism said that Kennedy-loving liberals and Democrats would be flocking would be flocking to Citgo.

I may be going to Citgo--but I don't care for the Kennedys, and I'm not a Democrat.

But I do participate in the market. I am going to buy Citgo gas.

And other Citgo stuff.


Friday, December 02, 2005

My Connection with "Intelligent Design"

When I attended the University of Kansas as an undergraduate, my family and friends thought it was funny to send my greeting cards, post cards and other paraphernalia related to The Wizard of Oz.

This is but one of many reasons to make fun of Kansas. A top ten:

1. The Wizard of Oz.
2. Sen. Sam Brownback.
3. School board evolution debate/Intelligent Design.
4. A state that placed their major city in Missouri.
5. A US Senator (Bob Dole) who brought erectile dysfunction into public discourse--spawning thousands of products and commercials for "male enhancement."
6. A lack of creativity in naming high schools. They have an unusual attachment to naming schools after directions. Take the Shawnee Mission School District. When I attended KU, their schools were named North, South, East, West and Northwest. Even Sioux Falls, South Dakota is slightly more creative (Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt).
7. The Topeka Sizzlers.
8. Great headlines for high school sports. One of the high schools is the Topeka High Trojans. Another high school (creatively named) is known as Seaman high school. Urban legend says a sports headline once read: "Trojans Stop Seaman."
9. An accent that mixes a Southern drawl and a Chicago pronunciation of "ass" or "sausage" or "God."
10. Kansas State University in "Manhattan," Kansas. Actually, to my knowledge, KSU is distinctly more popular throughout the state, but the people who are loyal to KU are fiercely loyal.

Kansas has many fine attributes like any state. I enjoyed my 3 years of school there. I made great friends. Lawrence is probably one of my top 10 favorite municipalities--a quintessential college town. There is natural beauty that an outsider would not expect to find in Kansas.

In reference to #3, Kansas isn't necessarily the Mecca of Intelligent Design, but it is the source of public discourse about the "failings" of evolution. The Lawrence Journal World reports on an Intelligent Design story to which I have a loose connection to the subject of the story. Dr. Paul Mirecki was the teacher of a Bible overview course I took at the University of Kansas. At a state university, Dr. Mirecki was going to teach the Bible as only a piece of religious literature. It was understandable the conservatives in the class took issue with this methodology. He handled the challenges well. If the article accurately reports the situation--it sounds like the good professor did not handle teaching Intelligent Design as mythology well.

I hope the Univeristy does handle a course on Intelligent Design well--The University of Kansas does not need to become #11 on the list.

On a related note--I tend not to get involved in the discussion of Intelligent Design, let alone making fun of it. The issue for me is that I do not care to engage in an anxious debate where many people seem to be asking the wrong questions. I think our discussions about Biblical truth and its relationship with science are off kilter. Not to mention the crux of the discussion seems to be who can be louder with their arguments.

No thanks.

I did receive an amusing example of poorly framed questions from my fine colleague, Rev. Darth (check out the link to his blog on my links). For some high quality laughter, take this exam.


Pastor Elihu

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Connection with my idealistic tendencies

I admire people who read well. Their libraries are stocked with a variety of genres with ability to make poignant references in conversations without sounding like a book snob--it is merely a desire to access the literary gifts of others into public and private discourse for the pure edification of ideas and their development. I admire stewards of the written word.

I struggle to read well. Consistency is the issue. I wish I knew more about literary classics. I could stand to be better versed in theology. There are so many good ideas in the world, yet so little time to ponder their breadth.

I begin reading many books. I finish few of those books. Now that I have some income, stacks of magazines, books and articles do not mock me any longer--they either take their place in a handsome form of storage, or I ignore the mocking and simply quit collecting.

One article never mocked me, yet I could not throw it away. I wanted to throw it away because it was a cover article in Time Magazine.

"How to End Poverty."


Those who know me well know me as an idealist. My Meyers-Briggs Type preferences are INFP. Supposedly this means my hallmark in life is idealism. I don't go for blind idealism. The Time article sat on a short stack (meaning that I could actually read it) for 4 months or so before I finally looked at it. I was skeptical. For idealism to move to active passion, quality ideas need to make the foundation. The ideas were good enough for me to buy the book highlighted in the article by Jeffery Sachs. I read about 15 pages while my daughter splashed around in the bath tonight. I may have moved farther along, but the little girl said "all done." This is part of my problem. Distraction happens easily. How long will it be before I pick up the book again?

My idealistic tendencies have been stirred. I hope that I can be stirred to greater action.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Creatively sticking it to George W. Bush--I'm going to be buying Citgo gasoline whenever I can

My grandfather often found it blasphemous that I found American politics boring, even more so when I studied Soviet/Russian, Scandanavian and African political systems in college. By no means am I an expert, but I learned enough to have a conversation. The topic interested me enough that after I graduated from Minnesota State U., I might go get a Master's in Political Science. Seminary won out obviously. Maybe Political Science will be the degree I work on after I retire.

Soviet/Russian politics were more of a novelty. Anything Russian or Soviet in my youth held great mystery. The Beatles and Sting wrote songs about what might be going on back there. What was really going on behind the Iron Curtain? I wanted to be on the front lines of that conversation. At least beyond my grandfather's beloved Time magazine.

African politics, though interesting because of their struggle to move beyond dicatatorship and to find harmony with modernity and tradition--did not offer much improvement over what I saw in the United States.

Scandanavian Politics, on the theoretical level, were quite compelling. Each country's systems offered stable government with multiple viable parties across a wide political spectrum. I was also drawn by their generosity--Scandanavian governments consistently give away the highest percentages of their budgets to humanitarian efforts.

If you are a regular reader of The Mad House Gazette, you know that I am no George W. Bush lover. In this country, that basically leaves me with the Democrats. What I dislike about the 2 party system is that it takes good ideas and morphs them into something that will supposedly please more people. I would guess that people on the left and right would have some innovative and useful ideas for the health of the United States. These ideas get morphed into what becomes the corporate, media driven political parties we see on television. These talking heads trade barbs and collect more money to feed their media machines of self-promotion. Democrats and Republicans are both part of this circus and I distance myself from them as much as I can.

I also believe in being a citizen. I vote. One thing I admire and miss about Minnesota is that they are able to put together some viable 3rd and 4th party candidates. Tim Penny ran with the Independence Party. The Green Party can even make a little noise. In South Dakota, 3rd party candidates tend to buck left and right and move toward wacko.

In today's Christian Science Monitor, I read a story about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez teaming up with a politician from Massachusetts to provide subsidized heating oil for the poor in the Bay State. Certainly a populist move from Chavez--also a much more creative move than anything that Democrats can put together. Chavez is a bit wacky, but at least he is creative. I did not know that Citgo was related to Venezuelan oil, but I think they gained a customer.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Jesus is watching you...urinate

Even though I am a big time sinner, I still take comfort in how Jesus tells his disciples that he will be with them always.

I have faith in the presence of Jesus, but there are times that image is taken too far.

If a man needs to visit the lavatory in the congregation I serve, Jesus is looking out of the corner of His (this is the only time I have ever capitalized the masculine pronoun for Jesus, but hey, this depiction of Jesus is pretty important) eye at my execution of the #1.

I wish I had the minutes for the committee that Jesus should watch men pee.

I haven't found much in the Church that surprises me, but I wanted to know the thought processes that brought a wooden carving of Jesus into the bathroom.

Jesus is looking out after you--but I hope that Jesus isn't watching you pee like this image.

I am thankful for a lot of things...but Jesus watching me pee is not in the top 100.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Pastor Smales

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The liturgical game: a pilgrimage passed on to the next generation

I recently returned from a family weekend trip to Lawrence, Kansas. We wanted to take our nephew to a college basketball game--someplace special--a pilgrimage of sorts. Pilgrimages have captured my imagination for years. My grandparents' and aunt's travels varied travels inspired my dreams with their stories and artifacts. Today I say thank you to a high school English teacher, Mr. K, for recognizing and cultivating my wanderlust in the scope of literary history. In Mr. K's class we studied Chaucer's Canterbury Tales--I loved the Prologue and its discussion of the long pilgrimage.

Difficult to say if Mr. K was prophetic when he signed my high school yearbook. He wrote "Don't goon on too many long pilgrimages." An internal debate of my life these days involves pilgrimage frequency. How often can I go on a pilgrimage? There are many opportunities. Can I bring others? Will my family come with me? When I go by myself, how much is too much time away? How will I share the pilgrimage? The early life longing to depart was only a longing, today pilragmages are planned and experienced, and I have moved into another season in my life where it is time to share the gift of the pilgrimage.

Our nephew grasped the concept I attempted to share--even my wife and his grandfather in their own way understood what I was trying to do--and they became joyful participants along with my wife's mother and our daughter (though they were only recipients of the post game stories). There are particularities to a college basketball game in Lawrence. In my life as a theologian I have come to notice liturgy in public events. Back in 1988, I had no idea that a gathering of 16,000 people in Allen Field House was a liturgical event. Coming to a game 17 years later, I see the liturgy in a basketball arena. It is one of the reasons I like college athletics. The attendee is drawn into a sacred participation with layers of meaning, formed into a story. Music, movement and narrative give recognition to a sacred event. I named this observation to our nephew in the post-game discussion. My wife and I named the liturgy of the event. Our 11 year old nephew asked "what is liturgy?" I am glad the pilgrimage provided a midrash for that question. God provided a holy space, indeed. Six people representing 3 generations "goon" on a long pilgrimage. That pilgrimage carries a dual responsibility--to be thankful in the moment, and to share the experience so that others may enter into a holy space.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

First snow of the season

Snow can still throw me into a state of youthful giddyness. The novelty of snow lives with many natives of the Pacific Northwest--I remember entire winters when we would receive nothing but a brief flurry. Even with a blanket of an inch or two, the white covering would be gone by lunch. Snow days were truly heaven sent. In the fourth grade, we received about 13 inches of snow in the Seattle Metro. That snow stuck around for nearly two weeks--we missed seven days of school. Urban legend held that we only had one snow plow in King County, so we were stranded at home, many folks in their rear-wheel drive cars couldn't get around. This meteorological event was a fourth graders dream! I've never sledded so much in my entire life. My brothers and I went through three pairs of jeans a day--snow pants would be a silly investment--but we had a dryer and a supply of Brittania jeans for all of us. I didn't even mind that I was still going to school in June because the blissful memory carried through the entire year.

The first snow has come to Southeastern South Dakota for the season. Every first snow and every big snowstorm brings back memories of snow-filled joy--the aforementioned story is only one. The other big snows of my life:

+Halloween storm in Mankato, MN, 1991. Four feet in less than 24 hours. Wow.
+SE Wisconsin in December 2000. It snowed everyday that month but 3--my family was there for Christmas and my brothers, wife, doggie and I relived that big snowstorm of our youth.
+SE Wisconsin in 1999. My wife and I were struggling with sermons. The snow came. We had to cancel worship services so as not to endanger the congregation trying to get to church.

What is it about the snow that enlightens souls? Is it the clean white blanket on the ground? Is it that the land is sleeping and our own longing for rest? Is it the white that brings a spot of hope in a dark day?

I'm not generally a person who has to look outside to feel balanced, but I can't help but look outside today. God does nice work...


Friday, November 11, 2005

Reflection on American Civil Religion

On the day my wife and I celebrated the rite of ordination, we certainly recognized a distinct transition in our lives--but the future also remained a mystery. I am not one to complain about how seminary did not prepare me to do certain task. I believed that the task of the seminary was to prepare us for theological study and reflection. Spiritual and theological disciplines comprised the majority of our learning, while the practical applications served as a supplement.

Days of observance such as Veteran's Day and Memorial Day represent a struggle for me as a resident theologian. In Sioux Falls resides many clergy who can serve as a chaplain of American Civil Religion--so I have not been asked to lead any services on these days of rememberance. Leading Services in American Civil Religion was not a class in seminary--but I was asked to participate as a pastor in services in smaller towns. I can see why the presence of clergy is important in attaching meaning the work of the State. The government calls upon women and men to sacrifice their lives for the good of the State, without the possibility of debating the integrity of their mission. I have noticed that people seek meaning and respect in such matters of life and death, and recognizing the presence of God is important.

While serving in a large country congregation a few years ago, I was asked to lead services on Veteran's Day and Memorial Day. Theological perspective or tradition does not seem to matter in the context of American Civil Religion, only the presence of clergy and a "short prayer" or "a Bible reading." It does not matter that I am a Lutheran, nor am I asked to share a sermon that interprets a particular text for the life and faith of a particular community. American Civil Religion is its own entity with its own set of rules. At one time or another, many clergy have been given a lesson from a veteran about etiquette with the U.S. Flag--in my first congregation, a veteran gave me a booklet on flag etiquette. To my knowledge, this etiquette has not been a subject of theological debate, only a set of rules to be accepted and followed. I feel uneasy about this kind of participation in American Civil Religion. As a pastoral theologian, the gifts I bring to interpretation are valued. This does not necessarily mean the congregation is called to agree with what I share in my sermon, only that as a community of faith we are called to enter into the questions that the word of God presents.

Earlier this week a member of the congregation I serve, a practitioner of American Civil Religion came to my office to question something that I said in my sermon. Actually, it wasn't really a question, it was a statement that my use of the word "hell" in my sermon was "inappropriate." This was not a matter of discussion. Supposedly "a lot" of people had been talking about this. My use of hell was to convey the fury experienced in what appeared to be an unfair action by God. I believe that the tradition of lament in the biblical witness deems the use of hell as a faithful representation. In American Civil Religion, the word "hell" has no place. Hell is not vulgar--it does not inappropriately depict sex or defecation. Hell represents fury and torment. To say the use of hell is inappropriate is a statement of American Civil Religion. To the practitioner of American Civil Religion who came to my office, I would not apologize, nor would I acknowledge "a lot" of people who didn't like my use of hell. I asked him what he thought. He said hell was inappropriate in church. At least we clarified that thought.

Hopefully at some point the community of faith can talk about the why.

P.S. Pat Robertson has taken another leap into the public attempting to dictate the direction of American Civil Religion. I do not mind participating in American Civil Religion that seeks meaning. I reject American Civil Religion that is abusive. To say Pat Robertson is abusive is not a revolutionary statement, but when he makes an idiot of himself, it is good for a laugh.

Pastor Elihu

Monday, November 07, 2005

A tip for the best in roots music

Today I received a tip from John, someone who has expanded my musical horizons for years.

The list connected to me by John in my collection is varied: U. Utah Phillips, Evolution Control Committee, Alison Krauss, Nirvana, The Posies, Devil in a Woodpile, Ween--only to name a few. John knows his stuff--he works at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

John has a radio show from 8-9 Eastern on Monday nights.

Here's his intro to that new radio show:

Hi There,

Just wanted to let you know that I'm rejoining the ranks at WEBR with my new radio show, "Free Dirt." It's a one-hour show each Monday night from 8-9pm Eastern time, featuring roots music in all it's forms. What does that mean? Well, Americana, classic country,, folk, bluegrass, blues, gospel, and cajun for starters. It also will include roots traditions from around the world, i.e. music from foreign lands that has inspired and been inspired by american roots musics.

If you're in Fairfax County, VA, you can listen to it On Cox digital cable channel 37, and basic cable channel 7. On Comcast Cable in Reston, we are on channel 27. You can also hear it over the web at



Our lives should be filled with good music. Accept no junkfood.



Saturday, November 05, 2005

My daugther, the carnivore

For at least since 1991, I have skewed my eating habits toward the vegetarian side of the fence. I can only describe the looks received when making the reluctant proclamation about my dietary relationship with veggies and other non-animal death products in this way: my grandmother thought I was in some sort of cult. My grandmother is from the Pacific Northwest as well. I've had it easy being a vegetarian back in the Northwest. At least only some folks from the homeland merely thought suspiciously of me. But I also knew that there were many others who had made a similar dietary choice as me.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota has been rated by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals--aka in SD--"People Eating Tasty Animals") as the least vegetarian friendly city in the United States. My observations are anecdotal, but to not eat meat does not merely create suspicious looks...but it becomes an offensive statement to residents of this region. So I only try to stay away from meat. I am reminded of this hostility when I drive west on Interstate 90. A billboard by the side of the road reads "In South Dakota, we REJECT animal activists." On that drive I might see a bumper sticker that reads: "Eat Beef--The West Wasn't Won On Salad."

I wouldn't consider myself an animal rights activist--I've just found that it is the best health choice for me, and I believe it to be good stewardship.

I found it interesting that my daughter put away about a half pound of taco flavored beef tonight. She ate it like she was a vulture. Her eyes were fixed as if she was stocking up her body for hibernation or waiting for the next kill. I wasn't offended. I was in awe. This growing girl needs food. She may become Miss Beef America--I'd be okay with that. Regardless of how our diets my diverge, I was still in awe of the consumption I saw.

Now I am starting to understand what my parents saw when they watched their refrigerator empty in front of their eyes at the hands and mouths of my brothers and me.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Weaning myself off of ESPN Radio

As a native of the Pacific Northwest and a sports fan--I am glad that in this day and age for the internet and sports radio. I can follow the Seattle Mariners, Seahawks, Sonics and the University of Washington in reading the Seattle Times and P-I online. I can also listen to the games on either satellite radio or through a web feed. I also listen to ESPN Radio to get other tidbits about what is going on with these teams.

Recently I had an epiphany that the ESPN radio thing became a sick attachment. I'm not sure what pointed me toward this reflection, but I tuned in to how much the broadcasters shout and imply that their topics are matters of life and death. I can't tell you the degree of elation I would experience if the Mariners won the World Series or the Washington Huskies won another national championship in football (not likely soon) or in basketball (a growing possibility). But I can't say that any of these topics warrant 24 hours worth of radio shouting. It is pure entertainment, nothing more. Since I don't aspire to be a hedonist, I realized that ESPN Radio wasn't making me any smarter--so I'm just checking in from time to time. will serve me adequately. I have merely moderated my ESPN radio time.

With all that empty airtime I have been listening to the BBC World Service. The Brits don't seem to do much shouting. This is good radio journalism. I still prefer the CBC, but I can't pick that up anywhere but through a web feed. Between the Monitor and the BBC--I have enjoyed the coverage--and I have learned many things as well. There is even some entertainment value. I love to hear a Brit say Addis Ababa.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I did go back to the Monitor: a sweet reunion

After a four year hiatus, I am once again a subscriber to the Christian Science Monitor. As I have shared in earlier posts, newspapers are an important part of my family's heritage. The newspaper was a family activity--not like a game the whole family could play, but as a valued contribution to the well being of the household. This was especially true in my Gram and Granddad's house. The clergy proverb about the importance of "a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other" resonated with me in my growth as a homiletical practitioner.

I would love to have a conversation about the declining influence of newspapers in the information age with my Granddad if he were still alive. I would also let him know that the Monitor was better than his beloved Time magazine. As a student of the Journalism School at the University of Washington, he proudly stated that Time magazine was one of his textbooks. I think since Time has become a corporate whore over the years, he found the publication more difficult to defend--I remember Granddad questioned my interest in the Monitor--it was somehow sacrilege to him, much like my study of Russian at the University of Kansas. I told him I was going to be a foreign correspondent for Time, for Pete's sake! Was that not enough? Secretly I wanted to work for the New York Times as I got older, but I hate those people now for making me pay to read Maureen Dowd online. I'm still torked about that.

I also find it interesting discussing the Treeless Edition of the Monitor with other Monitor subscribers. A colleague of mine says that holding the paper is important to her. Holding the newspaper does not necessarily get me to read it. What caused me to end my subscription in the past was the stack of Monitors that sat waiting to be read. It also comes a day late by mail about as soon as your mailing address crosses over from the Eastern Time Zone. The articles have always been keepers. I was truly appreciative when I found a gem for a sermon or a conversation in the Monitor. I waited for 2-3 years to use an article I found that discussed global warming and the opening up of the Northwest Passage--a change that could direct the US to be Canada's dancing monkeys in the future (I'll have to do some digging to find this link. I will try to get that one posted). The Treeless Edition does not mock me as much. Another benefit--isn't a laptop for bathroom reading a classy accessory?

The real return with my renewed investment? I have been glad to read articles about Iceland, foster children, a good book review about the myth of meritocracy in the Ivy League and alternative perspectives on the common news of the day in the past two days.



Tuesday, November 01, 2005

An ode to the other pastor in my house, my wife

It is coming upon 4 a.m.

I am awake because my life is a bit out of whack because:

a. I have had my gums scraped as treatment for gum disease (I don't recommend gum disease as a hobby).
b. I have been ill for over a week--equilibrium toussled by massive amount of stuff in my sinus cavities, taking naps to recover, turning back my clocks, and generally not knowing what time it is.

My wife will attempt to get up in about an hour with hopes of continuing to work on a project for her Doctor of Ministry degree at Luther Seminary (our Alma Mater and the place where we met--but you won't find that on the LS website). She may not be the most organized person--but she goes about her work with grace, passion and a desire to connect all of these with her family life--life with me and life with her daughter. She facilitates good morale in any place she goes--a laugh or a smile is not far away in my wife's presence.

I hope that God provides her stamina to see this feeding of her gifts continues--I know she feels stress and the pull of many parts of her life. I know that many are clouded by the burdens of their minds--but if you have a prayer for my wife and her work, please offer that prayer. She is passionate about the action of caring for people--I love to watch that gift development grow.

Time to go back to bed.

Pastor Smales

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Worshiping at the cathode cathedral: recovering from a (literally) shaky sermon

One of my favorite professors at seminary--a fine Old Testament scholar--used to talk about how he would have been a much better scholar if he didn't spend so much time in front of the "cathode cathedral." I took great comfort in that confession during the 2-3 times I slacked off from my studies while in seminary (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

I just spent another Sunday evening of vegging watching Grey's Anatomy. Another hour of my life that I won't get back. If I don't get in to Boston University, I am going to blame it on Ellen Pompeo's sorry excuse for acting (I can't miss a train wreck like that). How did she get to be the lead character? Then again, if Ellen Pompeo can become the lead actress in a network television drama, then maybe I can get into Boston U. I'm still waiting for Sandra Oh to beat the crap out of someone like she did in Sideways. That was cool.

I would have been better off reading, but I have so much fluid packed into my sinus region that it hurts to think. This was a problem in my sermon today. Sermon #1 was a B. Sermon #2 became an excercise in maintaining equilibrium. I had that clammy sweat going, voice almost gone and drifting in and out of the head spins. I almost wasn't sure if I was going to connect the theological dots and get out of the sermon.

I know that people are not generally going to feel compassion for my severe congestion condition. This is something that I brought on myself after a stupid travel schedule that I completed 2 weeks ago, tied in with my feeble attempts to "prove myself" to this congregation that gave me a great opportunity. Some things in my life must change. Peeling myself away from the Ellen Pompeo train wreck is a small step. There will be other changes.

I must rest and prepare for another 75 minutes of fun having my gums scraped in the morning.

Stay classy, blog readers.

Beavis, Butthead (coming out on DVD...) and Elihu, maybe I'll be Rev. Dr. Elihu if I stop watching crap like Grey's Anatomy.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I hate carving pumpkins

Last year my spouse discovered that I do not care to take knives and other cutting instruments to members of the squash family.

"Why in the hell do we have a pumpkin carving party, anyway?"

The point is not having a place to carve pumpkins, but a family friendly activity that gives people an excuse to take in a few joyful beverages and listen to music--and talk about Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Alison Krauss, Cowboy Junkies and the Grateful Dead. We all learned something, including that Summit Oktoberfest Marzen Style Ale tastes like pumpkin flavored syrup. It sucks.

I'm not sure if it is South Dakotans, or it is just people in my stage of life, but it is hard to get people together where they don't get their undies in a bundle about child care and can relax long enough to enjoy some good conversation. We were on our way last night, but everyone left by 9:30. Huh?

I remember as a child going to many a party with my pj's on and a sleeping bag. We wouldn't leave until about 1-2 in the morning. Are these days gone? Or do our parties just bite?

I welcome your comments. Please. If anyone is reading.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Seasonal melancholy

I will always appreciate what the Midwest is able to display in autumn colors--the diversity of earth tones give me the feeling that I take part in bringing forth the harvest--if all I do is drive around the countryside to look at the corn and soybeans brought in by the combines. Combines, these behemoth machines that tend the fields like giant lawn mowers, give perspective of the magnitude of grain it takes to feed the earth.

I know that people flock to the northeast to see fall foliage each october, but I still believe that few places rival the Minnesota River Valley. The autumn view was one of the blessings of living in Mankato.

To see the leaves go away is a time of melancholy for me, for it is only a brief time that I experience such beauty and carefree temperatures. I raced around the blue highways in the tri-state area (Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota) trying to capture my own mental pictures of what a gift the seasons are in this part of the world--images that will carry me through the dark and dreary days of mid January-April. I hold on to these images along with the many hours I gaze at the white Christmas lights that hang from our back deck.

Melancholy is not a painful emotion--bittersweet it is. Sacred ground.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I think I'm going back to the Christian Science Monitor

Not that I would ever expect the Argus Leader to be something that it is not, but I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor that I would never find in the Argus. Consider the article the Anti-Argus. This is not a problem. No news source can even pretend to be all things to all people. The issue where I put my reading energy. Debate over the welfare state is narrow in scope in South Dakota, let alone this country.

I also think it is cool that there is an article about Finland in an American newspaper. I'm wondering how many articles about Finland have appeared in the New York Times. My imagination needs to be expanded--I have been able to do that when I read the Monitor.

I think that Americans experience a crisis of imagination--anything I can do to fight that tide is going to be helpful.

May you find resources that tweak your imagination.

Pastor Elihu

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

John Thune's comments on Supreme Court nominee

Many South Dakota liberals (not that big of a group) thought the apocalypse might be upon us when Tom Daschle was defeated by John Thune. I am no fan of John Thune. I have a hard time looking at the guy. I can't really say exactly why. I just do. When I drive into Sioux Falls and see a sign that says "Home of U.S. Senator John Thune" I will do something more pleasant, like stare directly into the sun.

That being said, I have come to some peace with John Thune being Senator. He truly represents South Dakota views. He should be the senator if that is the way people will vote. I will not be a life long resident of South Dakota. But when I think he is flat out wrong, I am going to say so.

In an Associated Press article, Thune questioned Bush's nominee Harriet Miers. He was hoping Bush would choose someone in the mold of Scalia or Thomas. It doesn't matter if I think Scalia and Thomas are buffoons--can't Miers be her own person? I am far from being a Bush apologist. I would like to be real here. The Republicans hold the cards and Bush will get his nominee through, most likely. I want to speak to this from a perspective of an interim pastor who works with the legacies left by others. One of the most destructive things any organization can do is look for someone "in the mold" of someone else. God created Harriet Miers as her own person. It is destructive to hold expectations that someone will be in a "mold" of someone else. God created people uniquely and they contribute to community based on what God has given them. At least that is always what I hope for and support in any organization I participate or watch. The organization of the Supreme Court should recognize and incorporate Miers' own gifts--not form her to someone else's mold. Congregations, sports teams, businesses, committees, what have you--people should be what God created them to be. Think of a time you have followed someone in the workplace. Doesn't it stink to have expecations attached to someone else laid at your feet?

To seek someone who fits in someone else's mold is wrong.

Thune may have questions about Miers' standards, but he should direct his energies away from Thomas and Scalia.

John Thune is wrong.

Rev. Smails

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Writing style and word choices: following in the footsteps of George Carlin

There is a scene in the film A River Runs Through It that reminds me of my own childhood. Norman talks about going to school under the instruction of his father. Norman learned to write Presbyterian style, which meant with the principle of thrift. As I have noted in an earlier post, The (original) Madhouse Gazette was my first foray into journalism back in the late 1970's. My other grandfather (Not Elihu) would sit with my published newspaper and critique its content for layout and use of language. Because I was more concerned with ideas than details, my grandfather's instruction has gently eroded. I became more deeply concerned with getting the idea out in a timely manner than the construction details.

The stakes have never been as high for me as they are now.

As a senior pastor and a (hopefully) a future doctoral student, I wish I had my grandfather around to discuss the importance of words and the construction of language. My preaching professor would have been glad to know that I was raised in environment where words matter.

When I used to write for the The Olympian newspaper, I occasionally received memos regarding language we should no longer use because they have lost their meaning, or violated the principle of thrift.

Reading the letters in the Argus Leader has reminded me that the time has come in my life when I create my own list of words to avoid in both writing and speech. I have a long way to go before I become a writer of worth, but my grandfather reminded me on a regular basis that clarity of thought through diction is a worthy endeavor.

Thanks, Granddad.

The List--Installment (Like George Carlin, I will add to the list when I feel like it)

1. Whether or not--my grandfather used to scream at the radio or television when he heard this one. Though Granddad has been dead for a few years now, I have taken up his cause. He said the statement is redundant, which is against the thrift principle. Whether or not may be appropriate in limited circumstances when it can be replaced by the word "regardless." Regardless seems better.

2. In terms of--Granddad never made a statement against this phrase, but I imagine he might these days. I hear it frequently, and occasionally it comes out my own mouth in torrents. This can't be good.

3. Clearly--I have seen this word attached in many letters to the editor to create emphasis on a particular point in a debate. A well crafted point does not need a word like "clearly."

Enjoy your sabbath. I hope you are practicing one.

Rev. Elihu

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

On Generosity

I should not be reading these letters to the editor at 2 in the morning.

Excuse me while I acquire some knitting needles. My undies are in a bundle, and it will take some work to get them detangled.

Today's feature letter writer is not unique to South Dakota. This letter could be written to any newspaper at any locale in the country. This letter is about human nature.

The fear of being screwed (human nature) impedes generosity. At least my understanding of the Christian faith and the teaching of Jesus says to me that being wrong about the integrity of someone receiving God's charity through me should not be a roadblock to generosity at all. If you want to theologically convince me that I am wrong, I encourage you to do so. Honestly, I will listen. Any amateur political philosophers from the school of Fox News Channel or the National Review can save their energy. I don't want to hear it.

Basically, if someone wastes the opportunity that I share through generosity, I don't give a f***. This doesn't mean that I won't be discerning about where my resources are allocated, it means that my fear cannot guide my generosity. I hope and pray that I can still be generous. Who is to say that the next person's generosity will not transform that person who seems to be repeatedly taking a "free ride"? I am really glad that God hasn't given up on me for all the bad decisions I make every day. I am blessed enough that today I don't have to worry about the things that many of the working and non working poor worry about. I am thankful that I am not living on the mercy of today's featured author. I'm not called to be the judge. I'm called to be generous.

If I happen to dispise taxes from the Federal Government, I can bypass them quite a bit by being extra generous. Then the organizations that I feel are doing the best job will receive that money. In my imagination, my taxes go toward great, efficient arms of the government. Like FEMA. Check that. MY taxes go towards important things, like good roads (I like road trips).

The acts of generosity and mercy transform lives. When I look at my life, the generosity and mercy of God have truly changed my life.

I feel better now. Not because I vented--but because I have been chewing over this concept of generosity and how it plays out in this political culture for a few years now. Today's feature letter writer gave me a reason to articulate my prayer and thought.

Praying that I can live in God's generosity...

Just plain ol' Elihu

Monday, September 19, 2005

entertainment in mankato and other jokes

Here's a slice of Minnesota culture...

In my last post I talked about the MSU Reporter. My favorite column in that fine publication was the entertainment column that appeared every Friday.

If you can decipher it, you will have the pleasure of knowing a little bit of Minnesota culture.

"Watts Gohn Ahn"

Let me know if you figured out what it means.

Have a swell day.

Pastor Smales

scars left in mankato reopened by the new york times

The regular readers of my blog (I think this might total 1--me) may recognize that I take on an abnormal fascination with letters to the editor. I don't engage in the practice of writing letters to the editor myself...

This lack of letter writing has a lot to do with a letter I wrote to the student newspaper of Mankato State University (a.k.a. Minnesota State University-Mankato) known as the MSU Reporter. Regardless of the topic, I was ticked off that my letter was copied with typos and mis-dicatations. If I am going to appear to be a moron to the public, I want to do it based on my own writing. Not the misdictation of others. I have not written a letter to the editor since. That was 1993. The scar is SOOOOOOO deep...

Though I have not written a letter of complaint/concern/affirmation to a publication since 1993, my reading of the New York Times has brought me to writing about a complaint once again. Parts of the daily (non-archived) NY Times are no longer free on the web. They are charging money for reading op-ed columns online...maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I am quite peeved about this. They call it "TimesSelect." In the realm of the Web, I call it a travesty.

So here is my note to the NY Times. If I am to be judged a moron for my thoughts, it will be because I copied and pasted, not because of poor dictation.

Here it is:

To whom it may concern:

This new TimesSelect feature is a disappointment. I know that any company will look for opportunities to raise revenue, and the Times has selected a method that will choke circulation of the Times on the web. Your article about the McClatchy newspapers facing "clouds" on their horizon shows that newspapers need to be creative about finance. Are you seeing those clouds on the Times?

I have been frequently forwarding your articles on the web for years--articles that include your advertisements. I felt like I was participating in the genius of the web. Even though the cost is minimal to participate in TimesSelect, I believe the new service goes against where web presence should be going.

The few extra dollars in the Times coffers will not make up for the choking of the free flow of information.

Rev. Elihu Smales
Sioux Falls, SD

I'm sure there will be no takers if I call for a boycott of the New York Times, so I won't even bother.

Pastor Elihu

Saturday, September 17, 2005

south dakota vs. san antonio

i recently returned from a few days in san antonio with the congregational staff.

even though i have been back for a few days, i think it is only today that my sweat glands have stopped working overtime.

san antonio kicks south dakota's butt in humidity--between 90-100 percent every day we were there. that kind of humidity only occurs about 7 days in a summer in sodak. however, san antonio is a beautiful and proud city that has done some remarkable city planning and maintained some sense of architectural integrity in the midst of a budding tourism industry.

but what about the letters to the editor in the san antonio express-news? granted, my sample was a little small, but i seemed to find similar issues being covered by the letter writing populace in san antonio and south dakota (by the way, if you think comparing a city and a state is a stretch, san antonio has the bigger population by about 400,000 people). anecdotally, the ratio of ignorance seemed to be about the same as sodak--only the ignorance in san antonio held a significant cosmetic upgrade. if you're a dork like me and don't have anything else better to do, compare letters to the editor in the argus leader and the news express. i would enjoy your observations.

but i won't hold my breath.

have a happy.

rev. smales

Sunday, September 11, 2005

untapped resource for sodak cultural study

i am a newspaper guy.

though i have virtually abandoned picking up inked newsprint and moved over to bringing my computer to various reading stations throughout my home and work, i will always remain a newspaper guy. everyday i read and look through the new york times, the seattle times, the seattle post-intelligencer, and the sioux falls argus leader--with occasional trips to the university daily kansan, edmonton journal and a variety of other dailies and weeklies.

this is in my blood. thank you to my other grandfather (not elihu) for being a hobbyist related to the newspaper. i think about the art and science that is building community through journalism. i once thought this would be my vocation, but i found that building community through the church would be my primary calling. as a peon writing for the olympian back in younger days was a clue that the daily newspaper life was not for me. i did not come out being a hater...only with a better idea that i needed to look in a different direction to fulfill my calling.

letters to the editor, contrary to the opinion of some, are not a representative sample of opinion or culture in any given locality. the letters to the editor section of the sioux falls argus leader is something i would not miss on a morning where my time is short. reading this section has replaced my reading of the comics section. they download faster, and they are often more humorous. i can almost count on average one letter per day that makes me laugh/smirk/smile/shake my head. after all these letters, one might anecdotally conclude that the circulation reach of the argus leader is full of people who struggle to put together an intelligent thought. there are many intelligent people in this region of the country.

not many of these intelligent people write letters to the editor to the argus leader. if they are intelligent, they have let their wacky thoughts get the best of them.

this guy has something against preachers. because he has something against preachers, he has a great idea about social welfare.

there are going to be more of these. they are too amusing not to share.

have a groovy day.

preacher smales

Thursday, September 08, 2005

geographical wonders of sodak: confessions of a map dork

My brothers (Bingo and Beaker) and I have a hobby of keeping track of where we have been--though Bingo and I are more intentional about it. Open up one of our special atlases and take note of highlighted highways of a beloved road trip. After years of studying the atlas, I just knew that when the opportunity arose, I had to get to Lake Winnepegosis. You may have taken note in a previous post that I sometimes keep track of the job market in Flin Flon--and I may still get there--but for the time frame I had, Lake Winnepegosis was a reasonable goal. 1300 miles in 36 hours is really no big deal...

On my first trip to South Dakota, I was not impressed. My friend Kevin and I loaded up a beat up Honda Accord that he refused to address maintenance issues. The jalopy made funny sounds. We stuffed this vehicle to the gills, so much so that even the slightest of bumps would cause the tires to scrape the wheel wells. Kevin was unfazed--I went along with it for the sake of adventure. From Olympia, Washington, we headed to Lawrence, Kansas. Maybe I refused to be impressed because by the time we arrived in South Dakota, we were ripe from lack of showers after 3 days. We certainly weren't going to spend money on a hotel. After a brief stop in Rapid City, we trudged along Interstate 90. South Dakota is more of a chore at 55 miles an hour, though that Honda couldn't even really go that speed, unless going downhill. Central South Dakota is an acquired taste: miles and miles of ranch land with no visual break at all, minus the Mighty Mo. Wyoming and Montana hold much of the same terrain, but there are other visuals to change the scenery.

I had almost given up on South Dakota geographically. I found Mount Rushmore overrated--and still 5 hours away from my recent home in Sioux Falls. Hardly in my backyard. Eastern South Dakota is essentially farmland, interstate, with a few small rivers and prairie lakes. In this land of Lewis and Clark, it takes an explorer's eye and a willingness to take the blue highways at a different pace to find geographical joy. A few recent trips have plugged me into this.

Big Bend Dam is a fisherfolk's nook a bit south of the State Capital in Pierre (pronounced "Peer"--don't mess that up--just like you don't say "Ore-eh-gone" to a Pacific Northwesterner). Dams themselves are not beautiful, I am just interested by the attempt to tame something that God created. A juxaposition of perceived power, power and beauty.

Howes, South Dakota. I can say that I will probably never go there again. This blip on the map at the junction of State Highways 73 and 34 is the kind of junction that is special in South Dakota--you have to want to go there to get there. I caused my mother pause on a recent trip to the Black Hills when preparing to drive through Howes, I stocked up on water--just in case. There are very few stops on the road from Sturgis to Pierre. It takes a love of geography and blue highways to take that trip. What is the difference from one rolling hill of ranchland to another? I enjoy being an afficianado of God's craft. One rolling hill is different from another. From the prairies I have become a student of the gallery with God's palet/brush/easel/potter's wheel/clay/glaze/kiln.

Aspiring to this next South Dakota stop: Ladner, South Dakota.

If you are a map dork, or even if you love geography, I have two recommendations:

1. See the film "Motorcycle Diaries"
2. If you like trivia about world capitals, take this geography quiz

My grandfather's golf nemesis, Ty Webb, had many problems with geography...might even be the anti-map dork. At Bushwood Country Club, Webb would often ask..."this isn't this Russia?"

Map dorks unite!

Rev. Elihu

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Low-grade ignorant sarcasm: new vision for South Dakota worship

Up until this point, South Dakota and I have decided to peacefully coexist.

This peaceful coexistance took some of the fuel away from my blog. I did not want to merely bash South Dakota with feeble attempts at witty analysis of South Dakota life. But the thought processes I experience here in commentary of many state residents is irreconcilable with how I want to live my life. I believe that diversity of thoughts, philosophy and theology are God-given. However, the use of sarcasm from South Dakota voting members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (see the New York Times article (sorry you'll have to pay for it) , regarding a divisive issue has made me reflect upon how I live in community. I am seeing how damaging sarcasm can be to community life. This is not particular to South Dakotans, it only reveals that the stack of values I see in South Dakota will be hard to reconcile in the long term. This reflection does not come as a surprise, but I have forgotten some of these reflections as I have been living and serving in a community of faith, albeit still in a situation with political views divergent from my own, a more cosmopolitan and civic personality. I had almost forgotten what it was like to serve out on the prairies.

Such is life in Sioux Falls.The vastness of the priaries is right at the doorstep of the city. But there is almost no reason to leave--and it is easy to forget how the way of life influences thinking. To clarify: A Sioux Falls resident could easily stay within the city limits for a long period of time and not experience the rest of the world. Plenty of shopping. Plenty of places to eat (doesn't really speak for the variety available). I have found that since I have worked in Sioux Falls that I can go weeks without getting on the interstate. Surrounding cities don't offer enough to lure people out of Sioux Falls. Other than the occaisional trip to the Black Hills, or a trip to drop off or visit junior at South Dakota State University or the University of South Dakota--I find there is no compelling reason for a Sioux Falls resident to ever leave the city. I don't even think Sioux Falls is the be all, end all, and I find it hard to get out of here. I imagine that someone who thinks Sioux Falls is the best place in the world finds even less reason to leave.

I find this Sioux Falls brand of insularity a bit creepy, but tolerable.

I once thought I would be counting down the days until I was leaving South Dakota. Now that I see a time where we will leave this place, I will look on this chapter as a time when I truly lived in the vastness of what God creates in culture. Living in Denmark, Washington DC and Wisconsin, I was merely an observer. In South Dakota I attained a new depth in the life of a particpant observer.

By the way, this may be a post about low grade ignorant sarcasm, but you can tell the cook that this is low grade dog food.

Rev. Elihu

Monday, April 11, 2005

Being A Vegetarian In South Dakota and Other Jokes

Today I brought a snack to the break room at the church.

One staff member was interested in my snack (I have recently undertaken the vegan experiment again). From a plastic container I munched on green peppers, mushrooms and cucumbers. I said that I had been a vegetarian in a previous life for seven years--but South Dakota had brought me to a different place. Actually, life as an ordained pastor has taken me to a different place (more on that later) PETA identified Sioux Falls, South Dakota as the least vegetarian-friendly city in the United States (Green Bay came in second place). The staff discussed whether a vegetarian restaurant could survive in Sioux Falls. We thought not.

However, if I knew that if I was going to be living in South Dakota for the rest of my life (though the place has grown on me, and it has been a good place to live--we will not be living here the rest of our lives--that is, unless I get thrown under a bus in the next few days...) I would open a vegetarian restaurant out of spite to the culture. Why spite? Though I have not seen anyone openly hostile to vegetarians in South Dakota, every so often on the back of a pickup truck I see a bumper sticker that reads: "Eat Beef--The West Was Not Won On Salad." Maybe PETA came to Sioux Falls and made their rankings based on how many of these bumper stickers were seen.

My diet has made an interesting journey over the years.
+ During boyhood quantity was the only issue.
+ In my more youthful athletic years I would religiously eat pasta with nothing on it (carbo load) 2 carrots (for my vision) and cranberry juice (vitamin C so I wouldn't get sick) everyday.
+ To my college years and early adulthood years when I went vegetarian.
+ To my life in the church as a pastor--where food equals love (at least in the upper midwest) and if you reject anything, whether it be snicker salad, tater tot hot dish, or some beefy noodle pork sausage in cream of mushroom soup stuff, you are outright rejecting the bearer of that culinary delight. Oregano is an exotic spice in this life. And dessert is always required.

On my good days I say in my internal dialogue: no one is going to dictate my diet but me. I know what is good--how can anyone argue with me that fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes should not be my primary diet? On my not so good days I say to myself--I know in my heart of hearts that this stuff that you are putting before me is not good for me...but you are so sweet to make something for me, so I'll eat it. Or my internal dialogue will involve that I do not want to deal with the crap of trying to explain vegetarianism. My grandmother seemed to believe that I was in a cult as a vegetarian. Others want to know what kind of political statement I am making and why in the hell I would want to be associated with PETA (I don't). Others want to know--don't you miss steak, or hamburger? Not really.

The stuff I have eaten over the past seven years...ack.
I cannot say that I will never eat cheese, or beef, or chicken, or processed foods ever again--but why if I do not absolutely positively have to? There really are very few times where it is a cultural imperative that I eat something that is contrary to my knowledge of what is right for my body. What I need to do is actually think about what I am eating, taking the few extra moments to make a better decision.

Food/beverages can be a buffer from reality. My Grandfather Elihu used to offer folks a Fresca (yuck) because he had a hard time dealing with relationships between the generations. I never understood why he chose Fresca as that buffer, I guess he thought Fresca was cool and hip. My Grandpa Elihu may have been a dork, but I love him--and that is reality.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I guess I don't understand

I know that many people in the church may not share my view.

Some family members asked me this past Easter weekend about what I, a minister, thought about what was going on with Terri Schiavo.

If Terri Schiavo wants to marry her lesbian lover, shouldn't she be allowed to?

The Rev. Elihu

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Wrapping one's mind around SoDak

I do not have deep roots in South Dakota. The reason I live here is rooted in my beloved's alma mater. She graduated from Augustana College in Sioux Falls.

It is difficult to explain some of the idiosyncracies of this part of the country. We have lived here for four years now--working in Sioux Falls, my experience feels a little more integrated, as if I am a part of something. I live here, I work here, my wife works here, my daughter is growing up here. Integrated. Living here has grown on me. Living in South Dakota for the newcomer is an acquired taste.

From time to time I will give an outsider's perspective on South Dakota life. It may help some of my family and friends and whoever gives a damn an idea of where I live.

Some fast facts:

+ The entire state of South Dakota has a population of about 750,000 people--approximately the population of San Fransisco, California. Sioux Falls (approx. 130,000) contains nearly 1/6th of the population of the entire state. About the entire rest of the state shows up in Sioux Falls on Saturday to shop. I try to stay home.

+ South Dakota has ONE telephone area code.

+ South Dakota has 15 towns/cities over 5,000 people.

+ South Dakota has one member in the US House of Representatives (Stephanie Herseth)

My mother came to visit last February to help me and my daughter after I had had reconstructive knee surgery. I had a speaking engagement near Waubay, South Dakota, that I wanted to keep. My mother was agog at the lack of visible civilation on this drive. Sure, we could see some signs on that trip--life in Brookings and the outskirts of Watertown--but generally not much. Lots of farmland we could see beyond the snowdust that was blowing across the interstate and US Hwy 12.

South Dakota is not for the faint of heart. However, it is where I live. I have been steadily learning to embrace it--the wideopen spaces, the quirky culture (someday I will tell you about Snicker Salad), and the people who love their communities and have deep connections with land and people.

It is not easy to wrap my mind about South Dakota.

But God created it. And here I am.

Rev. Elihu

Providing scholarly funding for budding students at St. Copious and other fine academic institutions

My Grandfather Elihu the First knew a young caddy named Danny Noonan who was struggling to find the means to attend college at St. Copious of Northern Nebraska--a school with not many women (mostly nuns), but nonetheless a fine liberal arts institution. A caddy scholarship was one of the only ways to fund attendance for Mr. Noonan...

Funding the dreams of aspiring students is a noble cause. Although when my alma mater came calling night after night after night, I told them I wasn't available (Yes, it was me saying that). I was too damn tired to listen to their pitch. Last night I aquiesced and listened to the promotional ability of a student making a few buck an hour at a University phone bank.

I try to be generous, much like Grandpa Elihu, who was well known for offering a Fresca to passers by in his daily life. I ended up having a good conversation with that student solictor of contributions. I talked to an MSU student from Aberdeen, SD, who shunned the school in her home town (Northern State University) in order to meet new people and have new experiences and perspectives. I'm not sure if Mankato, Minnesota would fall under the definition of broad, but I admire her intestinal fortitude. She was a pre-pharmacy student, eventually trying to get back home by attending pharmacy school at South Dakota State University. Sounds a little bit like the Wizard of Oz. I'm sure there have been many people along the way who were generous so that I could find my way in this world at Minnesota State University, Mankato. I was asked good questions, reflecting on the growing experience I had--fine professors, wise mentors. I connected my story through to the next generation of students.

Not a bad deal for a little green.

What pulled me to separate me from the contents of my wallet? First and foremost? I was asked. Second, someone who had the courage to persist beyond my shell of cantankerousness. Third, a gift of connecting me with my story and the generosity I received.

Not a bad deal indeed.

Pastor Smails

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Are there cloverleaves on the vocational interstate? An anti-ode to partisan hacks

Damn! There are no jobs available with the CBC in Flin Flon.

Ann Coulter said that what she wanted for Christmas was that libs would actually follow through on their threats to move to Canada. It would take a significant amount of diplomacy (on many levels--national, ecclesiastical, home) to move my family to Canada--which seems to go a long way to make any partisan hack bubbly with joy.

Someone I admire says that those of us discouraged by the 2004 elections should not move out of the country--that means that "they" win.

Actually, I don't really care about who gets victory. At this point I have decided that it is my job to ignore partisan hacks and do the best I can to find some quality news. Though the CBC may not have a job for me in the place I want to go, I can still buy their crap and plan a family getaway to the land of the Newfies (and Labrador (-ians?)).

Until next time--I've got a sermon to prepare. And if God and I can't seem to get that in order, the world needs ditch diggers, too.

The Rev. Elihu

Friday, February 25, 2005

My cousin, Don Cherry: My Development as a Canuckophile

Bingo and Beaker (my brothers) and I grew up watching the CBC. From our various homes in the Pacific Northwest (if we were lucky enough to watch cable television) we would have the opportunity to see a new culture without ever having to travel. Different commercials. Different spellings, accents and pronunciations. The coup de grace: Hockey Night In Canada. I have alway been drawn to the event--especially the sporting event. The sporting event is a cultural study in popular liturgy and what fuels a social gathering, especially around men. Strategy. Competition. Bragging rights. Diminished pressure to be on top of social conversation, but available if you need it in small doses. Cathartic enthusiasm stemming from the thrill of victory. What really lifted Hockey Night In Canada to event status for me, and to some degree for my brothers was the nationalistic/patriotic eboullience. Don Cherry is now driving that bus that is Hockey Night In Canada. The CBC would be moronic to lose him. Unless they wanted to break into the retro Don Cherry market...

While at Beaker's bachelor party in Calgary a few years ago, some of his new family members and I talked about Don Cherry for what seemed to be 30 minutes over a few "Canadians (that's a Molson for you underprivileged)" He is an icon and my soul cousin. I know little about Don Cherry other than his public personna. But he has instinct for the event and the boldness to say what is on his mind and what is important for him. I would also love to meet his haberdasher.

If I could somehow work Don Cherry into a sermon...

Rev. Elihu

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Dislodging spiritual wedgies

After reading the latest edition of The Onion today, I have realized that the Church has lost its ability to creatively laugh at itself. The Wittenberg Door used to be a publication that did this. I catch myself in this pattern of forgetting to laugh--and the result is I end up with a spiritual wedgie (insert your own mental imagery here) because I cannot stop brooding on a mindless comment that is not really about me. The Church is full of sacred cows--not to be made into gourmet burgers, but rather into running shoes that I can pound into the pavement. This running helps me breathe, get stronger and find joy in the goal of authentic service. Running also involves pain--there are hills--there is testing of endurance.

I see the Church after 7 years of service as this gathering of loosely connected factions who often see themselves being attacked. At least this is what it looks like from the outside. I make my living in the Church as an outsider looking in, although I enjoy the benefits of an insider. I see that anxiety abounds. Anxiety perpetuates the feeling of being attacked; Murray Bowen called this increasingly tangled web of anxious living societal regression. On occasion I see that people do connect with God and each other, and I do my best to name that uncontrollable connection that we so desparately try to control. The Danes call this concept of uncontrollable connection "hygge" (hoo guh). Hygge is a gift from God and evidence of redemption.

Anxiety is hard to manage. I have spent my vocational life trying to understand it, identify its effects on organizations, and free myself from anixety in its destructive forms.

Sometimes I just suck at it.

But the joy will not be sucked from me. At least I pray that joy will still be a gift to me. I am on the lookout for hygge.

Pastor Elihu

Finally back in business after 24 years

In 1979 at Kennydale Elementary School, I published the first edition of "The Mad House Gazette."

The Mad House Gazette was the name of my newspaper I produced for my 2nd grade class and continued to publish under various names through the 6th grade. I just decided that's what I would call it. With the help of my teacher, a Ditto Master and the school secretary--I could generate a forum for many kinds of ideas. That publication began my quest to become Editor In Chief of Time Magazine. This never came to fruition, but now I can once again work under the same principle--a forum for many kinds of ideas.

I get a lot of ideas. Occasionally good ones.

Maybe this blog would be indirectly helpful to my wife, 'cause then she wouldn't always have to deal with the deluge of ideas that come forth. She has always been great, but she needs a break at times.

Enjoy at your leisure.

Pastor Smails