Friday, September 22, 2006

Winner, winner, pheasant dinner!

Common critique out here in farm and ranch territory often drifts toward how most of the United States lives lacking awareness regarding from where its food comes. I like to think I hold some awareness of food production...some of my favorite books deal with food production--namely Food Politics by Marion Nestle and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.


Today I encountered the culture of food source and production in vivid detail. At least the vivid nature of my dinner tonight did not hit me until I had to remove this talon/claw from a pheasant I received from our neighbor several months ago. The bird sat in my freezer, mocking me, reminding me of how disconnected I am to a major part of South Dakota culture. People come from all over the world to hunt these birds. I live in close proximity to world class pheasant hunting. After opening the bag and preparing tonight's dinner, I realized I know nothing of food sources. Reading about the sources of food did not prepare me for the view of a talon. I am thankful my wife wasn't around. She may have had to leave the house in an apoplectic rush.

My neighbor gave this bird in a spirit of friendship and neighborliness, I could at least cook it. It took me five swipes with my largest kitchen blade (a cleaver would have been nice) to remove this talon from its appendage. With the first swipe I hit a muscle just right--and the talon opened (btw, everytime I think of the word talon, I think of Napoleon Dynamite inquiring about the size of a bird's talons).

City boy, out of touch, out of my element--all the sound bite commentary fits. At least I took a little bit of South Dakota culture into the fiber of my being. A strange journey for a Pacific Northwest boy and a former vegetarian.

I baked the pheasant, basted it with Famous Dave's BBQ Sauce, and served the meat with classic Upper Midwest staples: rice (I diverted from custom and used brown rice) and cream of mushroom soup. Bon appetite!


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Response to a shakeup in the organization

My friend Theobilly has decided to evaluate his organizational priorities and shuffle his favorite blogs.

I don't want to be sent to the minors! Elmira is a hell hole!

Since my circulation would be even more suspect without my Theobilly connection, I need to inform my readers that I have lived the past several weeks on the injured reserve. Real injuries of joint, muscle and bone need not prevent me from writing. In fact, my writing in times of physical injury allow greater space in my disposition for writing. In reading a compelling memoir of Maryann Buck Carver, first wife of the late, great short story writer Raymond Carver, I learned that a certain amount of instability in his home life prevented Ray the space for his mind and pen to roam free. I appreciate Carver's need for some stability for the creative process. Life with my wife and daughter has occupied most thoughts in August and early September. Since our recent rehab assignment to the University of Minnesota, I am ready to come back to the big club and contribute to the Theobilly team of crack(pot) observers of life.

Life is better in that we have a developing routine. Good for our household and outlook.

Check in with me in late October/early November when the baby comes. At least I will have a few weeks to write. I miss the writing life. I never wanted to leave it in the first place--but at least I won't judge myself for the break.



Thursday, August 17, 2006

Spiraling out of control

After a few weeks away from my blog, I come to tell you that my sermon this week is spiraling out of control. I lose my balance during a writing hiatus--I should make it a point everyday to pray, read, write, show love to my wife and daugther and exercise every day (in no particular order). Organization is not my strength, and I avoid ruts. I am also easily distracted.

My sermon sprials out of control because I "finished" it early. When I think I finish it early, my mind continues to process the ideas. I continue to find ideas until I develop what could be a 150 minute sermon. This worked for famous Danish patriot and pastor N.F.S. Grundtvig in Vartov Kirke--this wouldn't fly at my congregation this Sunday.

In working with this Sunday's text from 1 Kings 2 and 3, the topic of wisdom and Solomon piqued my interest. Much is made of wisdom, but what is it? Supposedly wisdom is desirable according to many passages in the Bible, but how is it desirable? My favorite theologian, Walter Brueggemann, discusses wisdom in the biblical witness as a way that humans relate to God, along with trust and obedience. Trust, obedience and wisdom ideally exist together in our relationship with God. To ignore one at expense of the other is only to our own peril.

In a recent episode of Morgan Spurlock's documentary series "30 Days," Spurlock facilitates a debate on the hot topic of immigration. In this episode involving an intense relationship between a Mexican immigrant family and a fierce anti-illegal immigrant crusader, I see an opportunity to illustrate the meaning of wisdom in 1 Kings. In my research of 30 Days and immigration, I learned some folks avoid the love fest I often share about Morgan Spurlock. Radley Balko of the Cato Institute (and GULP! a regular contributor to Fox News) wants to hold Spurlock accountable for his research and journalistic deficiencies. Fair enough, Morgan is not perfect. If I were writing an academic paper, or even an article for the New York Times, I might not make some of the leaps that Spurlock does. But I think he works with his forum well. I like Spurlock because he takes public discourse in a good direction in 30 Days: what is it like to live in someone else's shoes? Certainly 30 Days is subjective; a documentary title does not necessarily require academic level research. Any viewer should be aware of the program's limitations. If a viewer finds the topic interesting, they can be moved to read more, learn more, and formulate their own reaction and action.

My research on immigration in relationship to my sermon took me down the path of reading material from the Cato Institute--not on my regular reading list. But today I found an article I wanted to share with you. Compelled by Brueggemann's triune theology of wisdom, obedience and discernment, I offer you Richard Rodriguez. Rodriguez has his own critics, but I admire his sociological and theological reflection.

Clearly, I will not be able to develop these ideas well enough to create a tight 12-15 minute sermon. My interest runs wild enough that I will continue to read on this topic hoping that I can tie these compelling ideas (at least to me) into my sermon. Wishful thinking on my part. I will miss this part of congregational life when I am not a pastor--wrestling with a biblical text and its meaning for God's people and discerning the prophetic word for society.

Time to return to wrestling.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Humbled by grace

This morning in the midst of some prayer and study time an old patriarch (Mr. B) of the congregation came for a visit to talk about some outreach possibilities to consider. After that exchange, he inquired about kks. He was one of the first people outside of close family and friends to find out about kks and her developmental struggles. Mr. B only found out because the Sunday after we learned about the magnitude of her struggles, I was trying to keep it together enough to preach a sermon. I also knew that Mr. B prayed, and that if I told him what was on my mind and heart that he would truly pray for kks. Nearly two months have passed since I told Mr. B about the situation, while I struggled to fight back tears. Today I told him about current strides and frustrations, and he reminded me to be patient.

Good reminder for me.

I also told Mr. B about anxiety and hope related to our upcoming evaluations at the University of Minnesota. He asked about the evaluations and the specific dates. He wanted the dates so that he could pray specifically about and on those dates.

Specific dates????????

My episodic indignation with congregational life establishes the building blocks for me to be a cranky old man. (One good thing about that indignation, I will at least be less likely to talk about "the good old days." In my mind, they don't exist.) However, there are times when I am so moved by the grace of God that congregational indignation falls into the background of my thoughts. Currently I live my life as a pastor, one called to hold up the community of faith in prayer, and I could not live the prayer life of Mr. B. I do at times, but I am not wired like this man. This humbled by grace event does not surprise me. I believe in the ability of the people of God and the Holy Spirit to move the church far more than I believe in the clergy. If anything, I/we hold back the Church. Mr. B provided another example of what is possible in God. Today, if but only for a moment, I am healed. I thanked Mr. B, and we wished each other well.

Another God moment came after I sat down to pick up where I left off with my reading. I was in the middle of Philippians chapter 4, no ordinary reading in my faith life. The first pastor I ever really knew used to close every sermon with Philippians 4:7. My faith in the power of God as a child centered on that passage. It connected my life experience to a faith passed passed on from generation to generation, over thousands of years. Few passages in the Bible offer me comfort, but this one does, and sometimes I take this word for granted. Not today.

Here is the section of Philippians I was reading when Mr. B came in:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I spoke of my worries and hopes today, and someone who offered to pray for me and my family guarded my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Neither my indignation, nor my anxiety will rule the day, nor will they consume me. The peace of God which surpasses all understanding serendipitously came through my door, and I had enough of God's wisdom today to recognize it.

May God's peace come through your door today as well.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Still hot

I think I was outside a total of three minutes yesterday. It was a good thing my daughter and I didn't go camping.

I don't think I have ever lived in a state where the tempature rose to the levels it did in South Dakota yesterday..

If you have a spare prayer, pray for the people of Mobridge, South Dakota (a town in N. Central South Dakota on the Missouri River--check out this drought map), and all people whose livelihoods have been devastated by drought. It's debatable whether this area was ever suited for agriculture, or even ranching in the first place, but some folks say this year's drought is worse than the Dust Bowl years.

We're going to the water park today to wear our daughter out, so she can get to sleep before 11 pm--maybe I can be asleep before 1 am.


Friday, July 14, 2006


My daughter and I planned to go camping this weekend in our new Honda Element. I dreamed of exploring the outback of the Northern Great Plains in NW South Dakota--not really a tourist destination--an opportunity for kks and I to spend some time together and leave my wife with fewer distractions while she writes.

We decided not to go because the forecast calls for triple digits in Sioux Falls and near or above 110 west of the Missouri River. I remembered how much I love going to the Missouri River with a day trip to meet colleagues in Pierre yesterday. The temperature rested at a chilly 95 degrees. I am vividly reminded of the Columbia River Gorge in Washington/Oregon when I approach the bluffs off the Missouri River. To cross the bridge makes me feel closer to the land of my youth and the land of my heart. My home right now is in South Dakota, and that is good.

The weather only works for going outside about 6 months out of the year. At least for this guy. The heat is dangerous for a we stay inside most of the weekend.

I am a delicate flower, you know. I wilt in the heat.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Differing perspectives on ethanol

Ethanol is a big deal in South Dakota. The state US House and Senate delegations continue to tout corn-based ethanol as a means to gain independence from foreign oil. I struggle to buy in to ethanol as the centerpiece of US energy policy--mostly because I am leery to trust farm subsidy type of investments.

I do not know enough to be able to speak definitively about ethanol--and the discussion is rather one-sided here in South Dakota. To speak suspicion about ethanol sets one up for a fight. I know this because ethanol probably saved one of the towns I served: Hudson, South Dakota. Leave it to a Seattle paper to call for a balk at ethanol development in the stories it chooses. I could find just as many persuasive articles about opportunities with ethanol.

I believe we live in the center of a propaganda in relation to energy policy, and the key players do not operate like they deserve any trust: the oil lobby and the farm lobby? For all the posturing about smaller government that comes from farming and oil magnates and workers, there are fewer industries outside of farming and oil that suckled more at the teat of a bloated government.

As gasoline prices rise (you won't catch me acting like Chicken Little over this development) the debate over ethanol will only escalate--I can't believe everything I hear.


Friday, July 07, 2006

An interesting personal experiment and statement about consumerism

Leave it to someone from my home state...more accurately, Seattle.

The Seattle Times reported today about a woman, Alex Martin, in Seattle who decided to wear a brown dress for 365 straight days. You can check out the above link if you want the details and your questions answered. A few brief comments about the experiment:

1. I would love to do something like that. Just to be different. Although it wouldn't be all that different if someone has already done it. My lame excuse would be that I could not find an outfit that would work in South Dakota. It's too damn cold in the winter and too damn hot in the summer. Yes, Ms. Martin did wear outerwear, so I could handle the winter part. But the summer? Forget it.

2. Seattle is the perfect climate to pull off something like this, and I might have to consider the experiment if I ever move back.

3. Now that I think about it, I wouldn't be able to run or bicycle in a single set of clothing. Martin did put a swimsuit on, but she bicycled and danced in the dress. This experiment seems to suit women more than men. Men have a much easier time with clothing, I agree. My wife can work herself into a frenzy about finding the right something. I can finish my clothes shopping for the year in a collective 2 hours. But a little brown dress on a woman can be quite functional.

I suppose I could take up wearing brown dresses. I think I'll pass on that one. For those of you who know what I look like, can you imagine a big, hairy dude like me walking the streets of any town in a brown dress? Ack.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Silky vocal harmonies on tap

The CBC hooks me with some great music. If you're in Winnipeg this week, go check out Winnipeg's own "The Wailin' Jennys" at the Winnepeg Folk Life Festival. This is some of the best harmony I have heard in years in the folk genre. And since Winnipeg doesn't have The Jets any more (how does an NHL club have a team in Phoenix and not Winnipeg?) The Wailin' Jennys might be worthy of the same energy as the Jets.

I won't be able to get up to Winnipeg this week, but I can download lots of Wailin' Jennys and David Lee Roth turning old school Van Halen into bluegrass hits...



Monday, July 03, 2006

How my friend and I "discovered" the real Midwest

We Pacific Northwesterners are curious folk. I remember my high school class scattered all over the country after graduation for adventures in vocation and education. My friend Boaps and I were the only ones out of our class (minus a guy who took off for Northwestern in Illinois) to explore and brave the area of the country known as "The Midwest". Though no one thought we were idiots for going to the Midwest--Boaps to Grand Forks, North Dakota and I to Lawrence, Kansas, people thought this area of the country to be a great mystery. One of my friends wanted me to send a souvenir when I arrived in Kansas, "something that smelled like wheat."

After living in the Midwest nearly half of my life, I wonder if Boaps and I have learned a damn thing. Sometimes I think I know less about this place than when my father and I crossed the Rocky Mountains in the summer of 1988 on my way to McCollum Hall at the University of Kansas. However in the Midwest, Boaps and I did well in the spousal department, and we have made great friends and received great opportunities. Sometimes however, we have been distinctly out of our cultural element. That's okay, I suppose. God often communicated to the Israelites that they will always be reminded to care for the strangers because they and their ancestors lived their lives as strangers in Egypt for many years. If that kind of life is part of God's story, I suppose I can tolerate being a stranger for awhile.

When do I get to cross the Red Sea?


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Why the two party system is deeply flawed

Rev. Darth and I just had a discussion about who we might vote for in the 2008 presidential election. I don't believe Barack Obama is electable right now. He said he wasn't going to run, anyway. I would vote for Russ Feingold. I don't care for any of the other candidates. No Kerry or Gore or Clinton. This post is not about presidential candidates, I only mention the candidates because I told Rev. Darth that the two party system is bogus. I don't have to vote for the Democrats. I don't know if I trust them any more than the Republicans. Even though I voted for Ralph Nader on multiple occasions, I never ascribed Nader's idea that the differences between the two major parties are negligible. They hold vastly different ideas. The issue for me is that I don't trust them to uphold ideals for a democratic society.


Take the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold gerrymandering in Texas. Republicans and Democrats have done this for decades not for the sake of democratic ideals, but for the sake of maintaining their own power--and the Supreme Court just gave this kind of act a rubber stamp. Republicans and Democrats have meager accountability in the system we have. This is CRAP! If you have an excuse for why gerrymandering is a good thing, I would love to hear from you.

Let's compare the US Congress district maps of Texas and Iowa.

The Texas Legislature created their redistricting project. At least the Supreme Court shot down that wacky district you see in southwest Texas. This map represents why the Democrats held hostage the Texas Legislature a few years ago by escaping to Oklahoma. I can understand why no one really responded to their cries of "foul!" I imagine that the Democrats did their own gerrymandering when Ann Richards and her folks were leading Texas several years ago. Gerrymandering is not new, and it shouldn't be supported by the Supreme Court, of all places.

For all the Iowa jokes floating around Minnesota and South Dakota, I admire them for drawing sane (and democratic) district boundaries. Their accountability structures are sound, and the results were determined through an independent commission apart from party leadership. This structure of liberty and democracy is not enough to make me move to Iowa, but it is good to know that democracy is possible.

A congregation member whom I had pinned as a Republican (my mistake, my sin--I would hate to be put in a box as well) told me over lunch that he wasn't a Republican. He loves America, he just doesn't trust government. I'm not sure I agree with him about government trust, but I can understand the sentiment--I don't trust the two party system.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Theories on a sense of place

I repeatedly listen to songs by Great Big Sea these days. Why?

Picturesque scenes in the Sioux Falls metro are not easy to take in. The namesake Falls represent a destination, not part of the daily commute. The Big Sioux River looks more like a muddy creek or an ice skating venue most of the time, although my family and I enjoy the water when we use the trails for a family hike or a bike ride.

In Douglas Coupland's book City of Glass--he writes about crossing the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver and how crossing it grounded him--the way he describes the bridge and its surroundings--I would go as far as to say he is filled with awe upon each crossing. The mountain views and seascape from the bridge represent a constant reminder of place and the importance of place in our lives. I would never say that people who live in the Sioux Falls metro have no sense of place, but from where do they attain their sense of place? The Falls indeed inspire reflection upon the magnitude of what God does through water and stone, but do people constantly think of the Falls in their daily living? Do people wax poetic about the Falls? I'm not so sure...

My next door neighbor grew up on a Hutterite Colony near Huron, South Dakota. He talks about how he loves living in Sioux Falls--but he didn't tell me about how great Sioux Falls is, rather how the Missouri River near Chamberlain inspires awe in him (in so many words--guys can talk about that kind of stuff over a beer). The Missouri River is a deep source of his grounding. I also know how easy it is to go for weeks at a time without leaving Sioux Falls. How does Sioux Falls metropolitan living maintain any connection with the land? For my wife, Augustana College inspires a strong sense of place--though not largely connected with South Dakota.

Our family carved a new ritual for land connection, at least during the summer. Our Saturday morning takes us to the Sioux Falls Farmers' Market--these days for lettuce, peppers, and new red potatoes. We walk by the river, take in the Falls, and contribute to the local produce trade while we take a look at other folk. We may even run into someone we know. Because of this new ritual, along the regular bike rides along the Big Sioux, I have finally developed a budding sense of place in Sioux Falls that is my own (gee, it only took me 5 years). As an interim pastor, I have served in other people's communities--I learned to appreciate the space in which they lived and worked, yet I never developed my own sense of place. Maybe this subject would never have entered my reflections had I always been serving in the place I lived...

The band Great Big Sea sings many of their songs about a life on the sea. Though I have never been much of a boater, my long term sense of place and connection with the land comes from my constant relationship with the water--much like in Coupland's reflections on the Lions Gate Bridge. One does not have to be a seafarer to maintain a relationship with the water. I cannot help water's grip on my soul (sounds like baptism, eh?) I am reminded of that soul grip in my musical rotation of Great Big Sea's "A Boat Like Gideon Brown." The song sings about the hopes of a father and son, the inspiration of the relationship between humanity and the sea, and the realm of possibility. I've listened to the song 15 times in the past three days. In that song I remember the seascapes of my youth, my sense of place, and the realm of possibility.

In the early days of my youth, our daily tasks took my family along the perimeter and across Lake Washington.

During my high school and breaks from university life, I frequently crossed and drove along the perimeter of the South Puget Sound.

The land and the realm of possibilities...


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Continuing in the love affair for the underdog: public higher education; collegiate baseball in the north; and beavers

Every beaver has their day. Some beavers may have more than one day.

In the realm of collegiate and professional athletics, college baseball attracts little attention. School is not even in session when the annual crowning event of collegiate baseball gathers in Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series. As I do not have cable television that accomodates ESPN, I could not view the games. I did follow the results and stories--I feel a connection with the sport having spent two years of my life devoted to being a baseball "student-athlete." My youngest brother had a solid collegiate career playing at Portland State and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. College baseball is a worthwhile event if you choose to watch sport.

I hoped that Oregon State Univeristy, (aka "The Beavers") would win the College World Series, because I pull for the Pac-10 in general, especially for the non-California schools. Also, a northern school had not won the College World Series since Ohio State in 1966. I have always found warmth and sunshine overrated, and I love to see that good baseball can be played in places where sun and warmth are not regular weather patterns. Go Beavers!

In researching OSU, I discovered that a Beaver alum attained an honored position of Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church, USA. Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori earned two advanced degrees at Oregon State. Without knowing anything about Bishop Schori (although my Episcopalian friend Hawk speaks well of the new Bishop), I like this development for many reasons.

1. The Episcopal Church in the USA did not bow to the pressure of the Anglican Communion by backing away from its election of Gene Robinson, a gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire.

2. With the election of Schori, the Episcopal Church also snubbed others in the Communion who do not believe in the ordination of women.

3. I love to hear about clergy who are given the opportunity to serve in the Church from backgrounds in public higher education. In my experience, people whose primary course of study involves theology in a Church college have superior backgrounds compared to us stiffs who attain their higher education from State U. We State U. folks may have less experience with theological lingo, but God has given us no less ability to engage in sound theology or to lead in the Church. I have not found explicit exclusion because of my educational background, however, the hierarchy seems implicit in favoring folk from Church college backgrounds--at least as I have seen in Lutheran circles. Schori holds advanced degrees in Oceanography. How cool is that for the Church? I would love to know if Bishop Schori has any interesting perspective on Leviathan from the Bible?

I enjoy the underdog story as much as the next person--though middle class folk may not truly live the life of an underdog, stories that reflect the diversity of God's people and creation give me hope that the Church can join what God is doing in the world. Even the beavers.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Time to start a Canada club?

In taking a business meeting on the golf course, Rev. Darth took a look at my golf hat and inquired about the logo.

It's the CBC logo (little CBC logos sit to the right of some of the dates on the schedule below).

Rev. Darth shook his head. "Dude, you need to move to Canada."

I don't know if that will ever happen, but I can dream. If it would be a good move for the whole family, we'll do it. If not, we trust God will lead us to the right place. As much as I hate to admit it, Sioux Falls, South Dakota was the right place for us for this period of time. My wife has a good place to serve, I have learned from a breadth of congregations, we were able to afford a house...all good things. The time will come, sooner than later, when we will live out our callings in some other place. Canada is on the short list. If we do move there someday, this would not be our CFL home team, but "Sasketchewan Roughriders" does roll off the tongue.

Canadian subjects fills my recent reading list. Specificly, Douglas Coupland. I finished JPod last weekend. I loved it, though the reviews out there seem mixed. I like its commentary on technology and culture, neurological conditions, China, and life in Vancouver. Coupland seems married to Vancouver, in that he recognizes its gifts and warts. The depth of that love is supplemented by two previous non-fiction publications by Coupland: "Vancouver: City of Glass" and "Souvenir of Canada". After reading these 3 books in the past two weeks, I decided to fill out the collection. I bought 5 more Coupland books on

I don't think there's a Canada Club in Sioux Falls.


Wanna go suck tailpipes with me?

Where are my colleagues when I need to share some righteous indignation? In the summer people around the congregation scatter into their own Sabbath taking rhythms. I support that movement. However, I have some righteous indignation to share and the people with whom I usually engage in such a discussion are either on vacation or gone for the day.

Apparently, the United States Supreme Court will rule on a case that will dictate whether the Environmental Protection Agency and States can regulate carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles. The debate in principle sounds reasonable. Who gets to regulate and under what auspices seems like a reasonable discussion. Just because the premise is reasonable does not mean the arguments presented are reasonable.

Take this quote on the subject from an article from the Associated Press today:

"Fundamentally, we don't think carbon dioxide is a pollutant, and so we don't think these attempts are a good idea," said John Felmy, chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing oil and gas producers.

Okay Johnny, please join me on 41st Street in Sioux Falls Saturday afternoon, and we can go on a bender where we suck on tailpipes of the idling cars on the busiest street in South Dakota.

Maybe this tailpipe treat isn't as big a deal in Sioux Falls as it would be in Manhattan (New York City, not Kansas), but PLEASE, tell us HOW carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. If carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, why do we need to exhale? If my science is bad, blame my teachers. Kidding, but John Felmy hardly seems like a reliable source, either.

The Associated Press went to a crappy source for a quote on this one.

Have a happy.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ready to share a word?

By the time I offer a sermon next Saturday for a wedding, my preaching hiatus will have reached nearly five weeks. For some of my colleagues serving in large congregations, this is no big deal--a typical homiletical lifestyle. For others, preaching becomes a weekly rhythm, rarely changed. I fall somewhere in between, but the Lent/Holy Week cycle challenges even the most adept preachers. About 9 weeks ago, I instinctively knew of my weariness of expression, lining up colleagues to share their gifts as exegetes and homileticians in order that I rest. I know that I rested: I forgot the process of sermon preparation. My mind finally stilled. This "stilling" took several days. As my wife, daughter and I walked with our friend in the Surrey County village of Guildford near the beginning of our respite, I took photographs of a church whose structure was altered because it inconvenienced a king. I had a sermon illustration in mind. My wife and friend told me to stop it. We were on holiday.

Stillness takes a long time. Physical stillness is difficult enough. Mental stillness ranks higher in difficulty. Only after two weeks of not preaching could my homiletical mind be stilled. This makes me wonder about North American Old Line Protestant worship. How can I receive the gifts of God if I know in my heart it takes me hours, sometimes many days, to become still to the point of reception? How can reception of God's grace occur in many neat packages that cannot last more than 60 minutes? I sometimes identify myself as a closet Roman Catholic, only because I know that in at least some expressions of the Mass, silence takes on as much importance as vocal prayer, music, even Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Worship for me often becomes like hearing the adults who speak like a muffled brass instrument in a Charlie Brown television cartoon, "Wha wha wha whaaaaa." I know I sound like that cartoon adult as a worship leader. I seek a sacrament. Silence for me is sacramental. After the stillness I can be ready to receive, and possibly share a word.

Thursday evening I awakened from my rest from homiletical expression--gripped by the words of the Gospel of John, Jesus said "you did not choose me, but I chose you." I read this lesson at the South Dakota State Penitentiary to the St. Dysmas Prison Congregation. A powerful word--though I have heard that word many times, after the silence, it was like I heard it for the first time. With a moved spirit, I learned the pilot light of soul was not extinguished, I was ready to receive and share a word.

Surely my next sermon will sound like the creakiness of muscles and joints after a long night's sleep, but the dawning of a new day offers a new opportunity to live in the grace of God and give in the grace of God.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Influence weary

Still living in the haze of anesthesia, I pull myself toward the computer. My hiatus from the blog grew out of a state of weariness from influence. Pastors, Michael Jordan, the guy in About Schmidt, they all linger in their working worlds after their "retirement" because they miss the cameraderie. They miss the life of influence brokerage. There may come a day where I find myself hanging around gatherings of fat, old, nostalgic pastors hoping to peddle my illusion of influential wares.

Since April 24th, when I preached the sermon and shared a benediction, I rested any desire to influence others. Eleven days in England with friends and family without any expectation of leadership, wisdom, or pastoral presence. Seven days of surgery and recovery. It took me that long to see the unhealthy grip on my existence that the church and I have placed on myself. The Church for me has failed to be about relationships for me--with God and with others--I serve an instititution--and my faith is challenged.

Where is the soul care?

My pastoral care professor spoke of this concept of soul care. I would love to sit in the office of my professor, sip a cup of tea, and talk about God's love, with no doubt about the presence of that love.

I long for that presence.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I lost my connection with a convicted felon

Yesterday I replaced my expiring South Dakota Driver's License. In renewing my identity in this state, not only did I lose the photo that could have gained me access to a Charles Manson look alike contest, but I also lost a conversation piece. No longer will I hold a license with the name of a convicted felon as governor (William J. Janklow). I lost the name of a convicted felon, but I gained the name of a governor who signed the most draconian state abortion law ever (M. Michael Rounds).

I'm sure Mississippi will give South Dakota a run for their money.

Maybe I lost one conversation piece. I suppose I gained a replacement conversation piece.

The South Dakota Driver's License intrigued me from the day I transferred my residence here. As I registered for my license five years ago, I did a double-take when I heard the request for the six dollar fee. Six dollars! Did that pay for the plastic, the photo, the paper of my form, the labor, my use of the parking lot and the use of the Minnehaha County Administration building? Really? Okay, if you insist. Inflation hit South Dakota since then. I paid eight dollars to carry a new license until April 28th, 2011.

The fun thing about yesterday and today involves participating in democracy. Yesterday I signed two petitions, one for legalizing prescription medical marijuana (destined for failure in South Dakota), the other for repealing a cell phone tax. Today I get to choose a mayoral candidate from a slate of 28 Republicans and 1 Democrat (a little hyperbole on the Republican side, but not much). Party affiliation for a mayoral candidate never seemed to be a concern. The mayoral office relates to infrastructure, not social policy. I don't mind the current offering of a Republican mayor. He has worked well in pushing infrastructure needs toward public awareness and implementation. But I will vote for the Democrat today, for the sake of some diversity on the final ballot.

It is a good day when I can participate in the democratic process.

Off to more Holy Weeking.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

I think I may have an OC problem...

Occasionally I use clips from movies or television shows to illustrate points in sermons. Sometimes I use movie clips to piss off people who think movies are inappropriate in church. This adds up to a lot of movies. Since August 2005, I have used clips in about one third of my sermons. Some of the movies have included:

Shipping News, Tortilla Soup, Dead Man Walking, Motorcycle Diaries, etc.

Recently I recalled that expanding my horizons on the film front might be a good idea, especially after my confirmation students in 2004 let me know in so many words that I needed to broaden my perspective of film in order to connect illustrations with a wider array of populations. My parents are old movie buffs, but I have not had the patience to watch old films. Realizing I needed to expand my horizons to the west and east, I tried a few older films out in the generational theory class I taught for adult education. I started with "From Here To Eternity" and "Singin' in the Rain." To the other side of the horizon, I consulted with a few middle and high school youth about what they enjoy watching. First of all, many of them said they did not have time to watch TV. But given ample time for reflection, many shows and movies blurted out. One show held common esteem--the O.C., a teen/family drama on FOX. I wanted to learn from the perspective of youth and how the show spoke to them. I was glad that I could rent the show, rather than pay 60 dollars for one season at Best Buy. I became increasingly glad after the first two episodes. I kept searching for something I could use in class or in a sermon, but to no avail. Then I started to care about the characters. Then I turned off a basketball game so I could watch an episode of The O.C.

Am I a sick man???

I like the show now, and I am headed back to Blockbuster so I can get another few hours of an O.C. fix met. I don't even know if the show is still on...

Before I go to bed, off to the web for more O.C. research.

Sleep tight!


BTW, the other show that was recommended to me, Laguna Beach, I can't watch it. I would much rather watch the fake fake people in the O.C. than the real fake people in Laguna Beach. Just call me the next gourmet TV critic.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Chocolate Lab gets loose

Surprisingly, the chocolate lab residing in our house has never run away. We let him out to roam our yard without a fence or a leash. Because the dog wants to do nothing but please us, he stays close to home, doing his constitutional and sniffing routine. I have recently given him the screen name "CoDependentChocolateLab."

He was let outside this morning--occasionally we forget he's out there. Usually he sets his skinny butt on the front porch and checks out the world, waiting for us to remember his existence.

This day, the doggie decided to take off, and we frantically looked for him for an hour. His cousin--a black cocker spaniel living in Mankato, used to take off often, eating everything in his path. With his bloated belly dragging on the pavement, this blind dog crossed busy intersections all over town. I thought he was a cat with that many lives. Our lab was found a little over an hour after he was lost--happy to be back in the fold. We welcomed him with vanilla ice cream with a dollop of peanut butter on top.

Our pooch is taken for granted at times in this household, but we shall have a sad time when he is gone. He does nothing but love us and celebrate our prescence. He is a saint for tolerating our daughters poking his eyes and ears, pulling his tail and wrestling him to the ground. He is all love.

Not bad for my 30th birthday present.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What is Lent for a pastor?

My writing has suffered once again during Lent.

One of my favorite scenes from The Simpsons involves the Simpson children lamenting having to stay inside. Marge suggests "why don't you play the game of Lent?" in a box dressed up like the game of Life. By your lack of laughter, I guess you had to be there...

Lent is a game for me. As a child, Lent was a tight rope--my family received a meal with plenty of soup and bread. Quantity was the goal in food during boyhood. Egad, but I had to go to church. My stomach won out in that game. The food was good.

Lenten services failed to arise in my yearly routine until college, when getting together with friends from Lutheran Campus Ministry seemed like a reasonable Wednesday evening activity--usually a Compline service or something similar.

When I arrived in South Dakota, I learned a new practice. Lent became a keeping up with the Jones' affair for pastors. I call this game: "How much can your Lent suck? My Lent sucks way more than your Lent!"

"I have 2 funerals and two extra worship services."

"Oh yeah, I see your funerals and worship services and raise you two extra Bible studies and a building addition project!"

Give me a break. I have never found Lent to be a time where spiritual growth is cultivated in my life, and usually I can't wait for Easter to be over. I suppose this is sacrilege coming from a pastor, but where is the joy in working myself to death? I certainly make some choices about how I use my time. And actually, the Presbyterians don't find special pride in beating themselves up during Lent--so it's a little bit better.

I have to hand it to my colleague and friend, Rev. Darth, who has invited the staff to come to worship with him on Monday and Wednesday mornings at Augustana College. I have found great peace in that worship service, and the grace of God permeated my hardened soul.

That makes a good Lent for me. Nothing like the Spirit of God dwelling in my being. I didn't have to do a thing except show up.


Friday, February 24, 2006

The South Dakota Ignoramus

An ignoramus is not particular to the state of South Dakota. In whatever state you live, you could probably tell me about the ignorami surrounding you. The ignoramus in your midst might even write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. As I have noted before--I keep thinking there could not be another letter from the Argus Leader that would find its way into the line up.

I could not resist this letter.

A real head shaker.

I cannot make this stuff up.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

A good anniversary

I recently returned from my ancestral land in the Pacific Northwest. My daughter and I connected well with our kin--the result for me has been pure exhaustion. Despite traveling minus my wife, I felt at home. Mountains, trees and water provide a reorientation. I have yet to read Giants of the Earth in its entirety, but I know that one of the characters becomes disoriented when living on the prairie. I associate with that feeling--I appreciate the prairie. God has taught me to see the beauty. The people have been good to me. I have lived almost half my life in the Midwest--but this place can be profoundly disorienting. Is it the land? Is it the value system? I hold a strong desire to express what a sense of place means in a theological framework. How does God provide us a sense of place? What in our sense of place comes from the sinful self? I continue to experience renewed energy to explore the aforementioned questions (among many others) that keep me up at night. Literally. Although I was exhausted, I still read well into the night last night about the sense of place in the Pacific Northwest. I was glad to share with my parents the burning questions and the continuing discernment process of vocation.

On this day one year ago--I began publishing this blog. I have started probably hundreds of journals in my lifetime. I'm not sure if I have ever maintained this level of consistency in my lifetime. Maybe I'm growing up. I averaged just over one entry per week. I am thankful to be reconnected with my writing.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Coming out of the fog visiting a new patch

After the Super Bowl, a difficult two weeks in the congregation, and concern over my grandmother's health, coherent thoughts escape me. Along with the city of Seattle, I am slowly coming out of a fog. For me, this move comes from necessity--God help me--I need a sermon tomorrow and a coherent thought would be nice.

Inspiration--a movement of the Holy Spirit--can lift the mind and soul out of a pit. This article inspired me. I appreciate that a nation has chosen to think creatively about a positive future without oil rather than dogma or platitudes. Here's to the Swedes--their cuisine may be milquetoast, but their ideas pique interest.

Speaking of platitudes, during his State of the Union address, GW Bush said the United States was "addicted to oil." Many conservative pundits, including George Will, accused this statement of being meaningless. Supposedly the Republican Party is committed to limited government, and even then their use of government is nonsensical at best. The sin of our government relates to an addiction to mammon. It's my sin as well. I find it difficult to let go of privilege when it means a better life for others. Oil is a prime example of a privileged commodity. Opening energy opportunities appears to me a democratic move. Though I prefer Hugo Chavez over George W. Bush at this juncture--it would be nice if they were both put out of business.

After Sunday's sermon, I get a break from preaching until Ash Wednesday. I am traveling to Seattle to be with my grandmother. She could live for a long time--but when the brain fails to work properly (as her brain health deteriorates), the person I have known my whole life may not be that person for much longer. The opportunity to invest in primary relationships cannot be overlooked. I pass on these investments often. Christ, have mercy.

That mercy needs to move over my homiletical work as well.



Sunday, February 05, 2006

I can't watch

I have to seriously adjust my media patterns tomorrow.

No Seattle Times.
No Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
No Tacoma News-Tribune.
No ESPN Radio.
No Sports Illustrated.
No CBS Sportsline.

At least for a week.

I even switched my home page to

I cut down on my sports intake over the past several months--but I can't even take a discussion of how the Seahawks blew it. It's gonna go down to zero.

I can't stand it.

Maybe I can catch up on my other reading.

I'll let you know how that goes.

A Depressed Elihu

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Only Seattle Seahawk blog entry written by a Seattle area native in Sioux Falls, South Dakota?

Though I do not often write about sports on this blog, one look at my blogger profile reveals that I follow many teams--and I follow many of them closely. With the internet game feeds and Sirius, I don't feel like an exiled fan in the Northern Great Plains being forced to watch the Minnesota Vikings or Twins. These teams have nice followings, and they are compelling franchises--they are just not part of the fabric of who I am.

The Super Bowl for me this year takes me to an exciting place--Seattle has not had a major professional sports championship since the 1979 Seattle Sonics of the National Basketball Association. As a nine year old I remember running out in to the street and jumping up and down, glad for my favorite basketball players--Gus Williams, Jack Sikma, Dennis Johnson, Lonnie Shelton and Downtown Freddy Brown. The yellow and green t-shirt from that season is still alive, worn by brother Beaker's wife--though with a baby on the way, I'm not sure how much longer she'll be wearing that.

As a sports fan who reads sports publications and listens to sports radio (a lot less than I used to), coverage of Seattle area teams is often muted because the density of professional teams becomes less significant the farther west one moves on the U.S. map. West Coast games are missed by most of the country because often people in the Eastern and Central times zones are moving toward their beds rather than following a team from the west. This phenomenon provides the foundation for what is commonly called in public discourse "East Coast Bias." This entry is not a debate about ECB, only to provide background for what a Seattle fan might be experiencing these days.

I feel a mild euphoria these days--euphoric that a team I have followed since my childhood has made it to football's grandest stage. The euphoria is mild because the Seahawks are not in the highest echelon of my fanhood: this is how it breaks down in echelons:

Seattle Mariners/Washington Huskies/Kansas Jayhawks
Seattle Seahawks/Edmonton Oilers
Seattle Sonics

The euphoria comes from civic pride: the cartoon above depicts one kind of Seattle fan--I like it because it is the COMPLETE opposite of what kind of fan would be found in the Northern Great Plains (let alone anywhere else in the country). This makes me proud because the culture in which I was raised is distinctive and contributes to who I am. I wonder if I could ever move back to the Northwest because I wouldn't be different anymore...

I love hearing the stories about the futility of Seattle Seahawks and sports history. I love the stories about Seattle culture. I have particulary enjoyed being a Seattle area native the past two weeks. I have run around Sioux Falls looking for people with whom I can enjoy the game, share the excitement and beam some civic pride (a difficult venture here). Thank you to the friends who will share those moments with me. I'm not sure what they're getting into. I want my team to win the game only because even though I want to remain distinct as a native of the Pacific Northwest, I wish that somehow that Seattle will not always be seen as culturally or morally inferior. I'm not sure a football game can accomplish that--but when more people tune in to the Super Bowl than any other event during the year--the Super Bowl is as good a shot as any.

I talked with my 83-year old grandmother the other day--she said to me "I never gave up on the Seahawks." I can't say that I did, either, although following the Seahawks these days is more difficult considering my Sunday obligations... My grandmother and I watched many Seahawks games together over the years. This national stage allows me special reflection over relationships in my life and a means to relate and share. Sports have provided a context for my family to become closer--an entry point to other conversations about the stuff of life.

Regardless of the outcome, I will be on the phone with my siblings and family about the meaning of this game for weeks to come--we are all meaning-seeking creatures. This meaning-making creature is ready to enjoy the game.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Here's to Sioux Falls, South Dakota

During today's normal morning routine, I breezed through the Seattle newspapers. Though I spent a few minutes looking for new stories I also looked for continuing coverage of the gay civil rights bill in Washington, and some hometown perspective on the State of the Union address. One of the lead stories in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer covered a group of folks who gathered at a local pub to watch the State of the Union address. This gathering involved one of three chapters in the Seattle/Tacoma area of Drinking Liberally, groups of left leaning folks who get together over an adult beverage and talk politics.

The Drinking Liberally website offers an interesting map of its 131 chapters--I thought there might be a 50-50 chance for a chapter in South Dakota. Even though South Dakota is generally a heavily red state, this is also the state that produced George McGovern and once had two Democrat U.S. Senators (although it was questionable whether either of them were truly Democrats--Tim Johnson just voted in favor of Scalito). I think this could be an organization I support--although as public figures and pastors who are not Episcopalian--I need to have a conference with the Pastor With Whom I Sleep to consider the consequences of being a part of such an organization. The other observation of the Drinking Liberally website is that moving west along Interstate 90 from Sioux Falls--there is not another Drinking Liberally chapter until reaching Spokane. There are also no other cities over 100,000 until Spokane along I-90, either (Billings, Montana is close). An interesting correlation.

Even though the glass will be empty this morning, I raise a glass to my town of residence, Sioux Falls, South Dakota! Thanks for at least hosting a Drinking Liberally chapter. That makes my remaining time in this state a little more comforting, even though I may never join the organization. The unfortunate factor is the lowering of my righteous indignation quotient about the one dimentional nature of South Dakota politics. Righteous indignation is much more enjoyable when the blacks and white contrasts are much more stark.

Here's to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


Obama in '08--on one condition

After seeing this picture I have to say that I would at least support Barack Obama for President in 2008. I will support him on one condition. If he delivers at State of the Union address, that he would not allow any of his supporters to give ANY standing ovations during his speech. This practice is annoying regardless of political persuasion. This practice should be banned. First Amendment, Shmirst Amendment.

I changed my mind after seeing this picture of the triune doofuses--three of the whitest, most privileged guys setting the course for the country. Where is the perspective?

My fear in supporting Obama (I'm writing as if my support actually means something--forgive me), is that if he loses he will become as politically insignificant as John Edwards or John Kerry. I liked Edwards better than Kerry from the beginning. Kerry is another privileged doofus. I couldn't bring myself to vote for him (and before any libs get all huffy, my non vote for Kerry didn't mean a damn thing in South Dakota--even more of a red state than those in the South--Bush is VERY popular here) Edwards had some good ideas, but little clout or experience. Where is he now and what effect does he have after losing on the Kerry presidential ticket? Unless Feingold gives the presidency a good college try, let Hillary lose in 2008 and build up further disgust in the Bush family when Jeb wins.


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Brain science, youth and juvenile justice

Part of the process of aging and maturing involves the recognition how much different we are from our parents and how much we are the same. I notice any mention of this to many women I know becomes an irritant--do we really want to become our parents? What was once awe steadily becomes suspicion--which in maturity eventually becomes acceptance of identity. We are products of both nature and nurture--and I do not believe I will ever be able to distinguish either pole in the magnetics of my identity.

My parents and I rarely discuss politics in this season of our lives. Maybe we have too many raw memories of getting together in the 70's and 80's during the holidays as a family where the well-prepared meal and festivities turned into a shouting match because I had an aunt who would inject her views into any conversation. My colleagues in my current congregation might call her a "freaky Bible person." At this juncture in our lives, getting together 3-5 times a year is a time to celebrate the family and to watch our daughter do whatever it is that she is going to do. Once in awhile, any one of us my lob a discussion topic out there as an experiment in conversation. On the last trip in December-January, I lobbed a discussion about juvenile prosecution as adults. I believe this is a sick practice, one of the most disgusting symptoms of a zero tolerance culture. In my interest and study in congregational systems, I have also studied the brain. Though I do not pretend to be a neuro-scientist, I have learned enough to know that there is not enough we know about the brain. We do know that brain development is fragile and tenuous--it is neither fair or just to punish for a lifetime someone whose brain is not fully developed. Throw in all the ritalin, paxil and other chemical soups we create and give to children--and the brain reaches new levels of complexity. Punishing children as adults is nothing short of barbaric. I lobbed this discussion to my parents several weeks ago--I was visibly disgusted with a story related to this topic and my mother said "I agree." My father seemed surprised at the discussion, at least reflective. He asked, if this is true, what do we do?

What do we do?

Our anxious political culture would not allow a politician to say juvenile punishment for crime needs to change. In an anxious political climate (big time anxious), no politician interested in keeping their high status job will be interested in acknowledging the complexity of the brain and say that trying children as adults is barbaric. Even the most liberal of politicians do not want to be pegged as soft on crime.

I hope the discussion of juvenile criminal justice (oxymoron?) will once again enter public discourse. Hope springs eternal after reading an article in the Seattle Times originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article may not be a scientific journal article, but at least an article in a mainstream publication may bring back some helpful conversation about justice and children.

I have also been inspired to reflect upon this topic after hearing about the child of a colleague who is being punished for understandable brain activity and a system that encourages non-reflective formulaic anxious responses. Zero tolerance is a preferred value over honoring the complexity of the brain that God gave us as a gift. As a father, I see that I set up all kinds of systems that separate me from my daughter--I don't know if I have the courage to break these systems. I see that it will be harder for both schools and the juvenile justice system to break the barriers society has created when zero tolerance is the primary value.

Zero tolerance culture was created in the name of safety and security. Relationships are not safe and secure--they are difficult and take hard work. I often fail in this work and know that society often fails as well. This condition is known as sin. Relationships are the only way we learn the love of God. Since the beginning of time, we have been running away from that love in all forms.

Christ, have mercy.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sabbath practice and sermons

Another colleague of mine known as Theobilly and THE c.a.b. posted this comment:

Rev. Smails,

Amen. If not for Sunday nothing would ever get done in my pastoral life.

So how do you celebrate/observe the Sabbath on Friday?

I just try to stay around the house and play with the kids, I like to take a walk but not always possible. I struggle with the whole keeping sabbath deal. but i would like to.

why not post a sermon or two on the blog?

i want to see the simpsons episode with prarie home companion. it took me awhile to get the hang of the show.


Sabbath practice begins with work stoppage (Walter Brueggemann reminds me of this). The biggest temptation is to read church email--so I put the halt on that practice. Sabbath has become more difficult since the pastor with whom I sleep has been working feverishly on her Doctor of Ministry--every free moment goes into homework and thesis. Even time away from school work the work hangs like a cloud. We used to keep each other on sabbath pretty well--it was a play day, movies, walks, etc. Another sabbathesque practice takes place on Sundays--we try not to buy anything. I can fudge on that, but my womanpanion is rather strict about that.

On posting sermons...some of my colleagues cringe when I say I do not write my sermons. From one who cares about writing as I do, my sermon preparation goes against my writing avocation. I am not sure if my sermons would make any sense beyond me, and on a good day, my congregation.

I shall consult the Simpson's geeks I know and see if they know of what episode I speak.

I am off to play volleyball this afternoon--a good Sunday practice--my temptation during the afternoon is to lay around like a log.


Rev. Smails

Friday, January 27, 2006

Proud of my home state

Today a gay civil rights bill passed both houses of state government in Washington State. I know that some people believe that this is a sad day for Washington State. I am thankful that leaders in the state courageous in governing. The question is framed well by one of the senators: does a gay or lesbian person have the right to exist in society? I think the questions need to go much further--but a basic civil right has been established in the law of Washington State--for this I am proud.

I remember my week as a Washington State Senate Page in 1985, running errands for various Senators and observing state government in action. I was a freshman in high school at the time. Amazingly enough, I was curious about Republicanism in those days--I trusted my grandfather who was a supporter of Ronald Reagan--I'm guessing he was a Reagan Democrat. He was a campaign manager for Democratic State Senator Avery Garrett, who sponsored my week as a page. During that week, I had many conversations with State Senator Pete Von Reichbauer--I remember thinking that supply side economics was a compelling theory. I also held a fascination with the actions of the Soviet Union and that somehow SDI could keep the United States safe. My curiosity never led me to side with either party in the United States, only led me to ask more questions. When my grandfather was angry that I decided to study Russian, Soviet Politics and History at the University, I began to realize that questions about politics as usual in the United States are always threatening to the two party system, and my mistrust of current party politics began. The story about gay civil rights has reminded me today that developing my own observational skills of politics began with my week in the Washington State Senate.

Though I remain suspicious of two-party politics, I am thankful for what Democrats in Washington were able to achieve.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

More on the freakin' prayer service

The blog malfunctioned a bit today. I received a comment on the "prayer service" from my friend Hawk. He offers fine perspectives on liturgical matters. With the malfunction, I have to post his response:


My guess is that someone somewhere thought that this is what the Episcopalians do. Using the BCP there is a service of Ministration @ the Time of Death which typically never happens. The service is like the RC "Last Rites" although it can happen hours or even days after the death. There is also "Prayer for a Vigil" which the BCP comments, "It is appropriate that the family and friends come together for prayers [i.e. Prayer Service] prior to the funeral [i.e. night before]. Suitable Psalms, Lessons, and Collects (such as those in the burial service) may be used. The Litany at the Time of Death may be said...

Anyway, you get the picture. I think "Prayer Service" is actually the Protestant way of saying "Wake" or "Vigil" without sounding to papist. Maybe a way to get rid of the "Prayer Service" is to point to its papal roots (or does that work anymore?).


My post on the prayer service had as much to do with my mood as it did my ignorance. I hold little patience for congregations that do not know why they do things, yet continue to do them anyway. This is one of my patterns. I get pissed off about something I have to do yet choose not to deal with the confrontation about the ideals to which I hold tightly--then in the midst of my brooding, God shows up anyway. Sounds a little like Jonah. Tonight's prayer service was an example of grace. A grieving family and community had an opportunity to experience God's presence.

Still Learning,

Pastor Elihu

P.S. My sermons are completed. Miracles do not cease to exist. Our Children's Minister said I "must have taken speed" to get 95 percent of the sermon done by 830 this morning. No speed. But it's done.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Loathing completion

Life is much easier at church and at home if I manage to complete my sermon on Thursday. I get the sermonic machine rolling earlier in the week--a little Greek, some theological reading, some midrash with my colleagues, some prayer (help me, God. Please.). I begin on Sunday night (Friday is my sabbath day). Gaining closure on the questions, ideas remains elusive. Conditioning renders my adjusted homiletic calendar useless. I guess God cares not about completing the sermon at a time that it is convenient for me.

My parents used to give me the business as an adolescent because I waited until the last minute to get a project done. I think if I started the day the assignment was made it would not have made a difference. The closure of ideas and questions creates pain. I hate letting the ideas go. I suppose the work is not my own in the first place--the only way a sermon is ever completed is that Sunday comes. Every week.

Pastor Elihu

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Excuse me today for being cranky

This blog suffers from recent neglect, although I wonder if I should put off writing a few more days until I get my head straight. Do the great writers produce well when cranky? My thoughts on the following topics are developed, except the filter might be out of balance. I have much to write today.


Breaking a New Year's Resolution--responding as one of the "coast people"

I generally do not make New Year's resolutions. Change has to come from other places than a calendar. I promised myself recently that using the letters to the editor from the Argus Leader as blog fodder was past its usefulness and did not reflect the peace I have reached with the state and its people.

A mythical line has been crossed and I have to call attention to it. More than once have I heard the reference to "people from the Coast" or "Coastal people" and ascribing sweeping generalizations to people from the East or West Coasts of the United States. I make sweeping generalizations. At least I try to be careful with them. My generalizations about the Midwest and/or Northern Great Plains are often affirmed by Garrison Keillor (also known by my friend Theobilly as the "guy (who) makes fart jokes"). In my early days of watching The Simpsons--there is an episode where the family is gathered around watching "A Prairie Home Companion" on TV with the audience engulfed in laughter. The Simpsons sit there with a blank stare. Until I moved to these wonderful Northern Great Plains--I did not understand the laughter attached to Keillor's work. Now I have lived the stories that Keillor describes.

Several friends and colleagues and I have wondered if the film depicting the lives of two gay ranchers known as "Brokeback Mountain" would ever come to Sioux Falls (it has). It turns out that one of the writers spent some time in South Dakota, and one of the stories in a recent Argus interviewed the writer. I looked forward to the buzz around the article and film--which has been minimal. The generated buzz did cross the line in the form of this letter. I was really pissed off when I read this letter at first--but I have since calmed down. With this letter I am reminded of the burning questions that keep me awake at night and why I would have any desire to subject myself to the pain of becoming a doctoral student. The assumptions of this writer reflect a theology of place--that regional differences matter in how people look at God, the Church and faith. That theology of place assumes that people from the "Coast" are morally inferior. I tire easily from that assumption. This woman is disturbed by Brokeback Mountain, even though she won't have the opportunity to see the movie in Lesterville, and I doubt she will try to see the film.

As a theologian, if I can somehow provide a bridge for the church to somehow have a conversation about faith and Church recognizing regional particularities in a productive way--then "here I am, Lord."


What is a freakin' prayer service?

Rev. Darth and I were talking today about the 15% of the job that we both dislike (especially in South Dakota)...

The prayer service.

If you do not know what a "prayer service" is--please tell me. If you do know the meaning behind a prayer service, I would like to know that as well. I have consulted Cliff Clavin and Google. Google gave me this link.

When I write my book about South Dakota culture someday, I will describe what amounts to a second/first funeral. You get together the night before the funeral, gather family and friends with the body of the deceased--read Bible passages, have a reflection from the pastor and family members, maybe some music and prayers, even a little liturgy...this sounds like a funeral to me. I found it jerks the family around and it amounts to another funeral on the next day. One funeral seems like plenty to me.

Please excuse my ignorance...I have not spent my entire life in the Church, and the Church in the Pacific Northwest is a bit different than what I have experienced in the Midwest. But I never received information about a prayer service linked to a funeral in the life of the Church during my seminary training.

I am supposed to lead a prayer service Thursday night. I am tempted to start the service by offering a Trinitarian blessing (just to shock out the Presbyterians) then asking the question: "What is a freakin' prayer service?" I am certainly an advocate of prayer--but I don't believe the prayer service is for prayer. The event appears to be a visitation run amok. I think the prayer service in its current form was created by a moronic doormat co-dependent Lutheran pastor who was looking for a reason to hover over a grieving family. I know these folks exist--one of my fellow Lutheran pastors is well known for spending about 72 hours straight with a family when a death occurs.

If someone can explain to me the purpose of the prayer service-funeral tradition, I will gladly publish the writing and put my foot in my mouth. No colleague or funeral director can explain the origins of this practice, and it slips into the tradition of "well, we've always done it that way." I want to know WHY.


Pastor Elihu

Refreshing political dialogue from the Great White North

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that I have followed the recent Canadian parliamentary elections. I look forward to discovering if any United States residents assume that because Canadians voted for a party called "Conservative" means that Canada is moving toward a Republican-style government...ha.

What I found refreshing about the coverage from CBC Radio One on the morning after the election was the panel discussion involving fringe candidates. The panel consisted of a Communist Party candidate, a Green Party candidate, and a Christian Heritage Party Candidate (you can probably guess where this guy was coming from). They reported how their candidacies were respected in the Canadian process--they participated in debates (a novel concept), were received well by constituents (for the most part). The process was honored as opposed to nitpicking over the content of their ideas. I enjoyed the exchange of ideas--but the process that upheld a broad exchange of ideas and gave listeners the opportunity to consider that range.

For all the grief I ever gave Minnesotans about their cultural proclivities--I have always respected their political process. Make fun of Governor Jesse "The Body/Mind" Ventura all you want--Minnesotans respect a diverse political process. A Green Party candidate may actually win an election in the next 20 years--the Independence Party has offered respectable candidates, one being former Congressman Tim Penney. Minnesotans have also given leadership opportunities to respectable conservative voices, namely multiple-term governor Arne Carlson. South Dakota politics offers some of the most milquetoast political dialogue I have ever witnessed, even though the politicians themselves can be interesting on their own. Take our convicted felon four-term Republican Governor and former Congressman, Bill Janklow. George McGovern continues to live the life of an activist for positive social change. I never thought much of Tom Daschle, but I found it a novelty that people outside of South Dakota were interested in his race with John Thune (I like him even less).

I dread the upcoming elections in 2006 and 2008, mostly because I think the candidate I truly wish to be involved in the presidential election, Barack Obama, is too inexperienced to be a serious candidate for the presidency. To clarify, I think Obama a good candidate right now, but I think his lack of experience would get shredded in public discourse. If he runs, I want Obama to have the best shot possible. That time will come in 2012. Some of my older colleagues and friends say: "what about JFK?" He was only a one term Senator! I think we live in a different media era, where points about experience can be dissected to the point where too many will believe lack of experience will be a problem. About the only Democratic candidate I can get excited about is Russ Feingold. I had the privilege of voting for him in the 1998 Senate election. If the city of Madison, Wisconsin did not exist, Feingold would have lost in a landslide. Some have called Madison "The People's Republic of Dane County." Feingold is the closest thing to Paul Wellstone we have in the Senate today.

I digress into content. As is the case with my service as an interim pastor, I want to see good process. I saw a good process in Canada-even though the Conservatives won--which was not my preference--the Liberal party reaped what they had sown. A pocket lining finance scandal eroded the trust they had built over 13 years in leadership, and the Canadians wanted to build new leadership. The process worked well, and I hold high admiration to my neighbors to the north.

And to my fellow U.S. citizens I say about our process of choosing government: Sacre Bleu!


Monday, January 09, 2006

A time for balance in Appalachia

Each passing day brings the urge to write, but the ability to release my thoughts to public consumption lacks significant force. I compare this state to a chest cold and exercise. I know I should exercise--and I crave exertion, but the visualization of labored breathing and painful movement of phlegm keeps me from putting on my running shoes. So my body rests in order to achieve balance, with the hope I do not drift into inertia, or even sloth. What the holidays may lack in meetings at the church, the presence of people accelerates. I live for these gatherings with family and friends, but I lose what fills me up and brings me back to life: solitude offers me the opportunity to ponder my place in the cosmos. I give thanks for my God, my relationships and my vocation. I arrived in Hayesville, North Carolina early this morning, thankful for the several hours of travel not required to speak with anyone. A blessing came in not sitting next to anyone chatty on the airplane trips. I sit alone in a simple room after some time to sleep--balanced enough that letting words out of my head seems the appropriate thing to do. I approach some sort of balance. After writing, I will put on my running shoes and take in some Appalachian air. I need a good dose of ruach.

Connecting the past two weeks with my family leaves me with special snapshots in my mind of my wife, daughter and other family members who made the journey to Sioux Falls. With good rest and a vocational charge at the Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, NC, I can greet them Friday night with a smile. I hope I have grown over the past 2-3 years. I have taken these vocational and collegial journeys and gorged upon their stimulation like a hungry person might consume food in the presence of a feast. For the past two years I came home from these trips exhausted, not worth a damn to my family for a few days because I gorged upon the conversations and connections--staying up too late, not listening to the utterance of my soul to take some alone time. I cannot miss anything...or can I? Is the engorged self really the self. Is a conversation at 3 in the morning all that important? What I have lacked in friends and colleagues is not going to be solved in one sitting. Friendships, colleagues, relationships in general require care and wisdom to grow. I pray to God for that wisdom.

I look forward to writing again. Thank you for joining me.