"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

28 November 2008

Anglican Mainstream reports: "The Archbishop of Jos, Rt Rev Ben Kwashi, reports that following peaceful elections whose results have not yet been announced, at 2 a.m. this morning crowds of Muslims burnt Trinity Church, Bauchi Road, Jos, and then moved in to Jos itself macheteing people. He reports that Christians are clearly the targets of the violence."

I think it is difficult for Christians, especially comfortable Western Christians, to realize that persecution for our faith is not something that happened once a long time ago, that it's ongoing. Every continent of the planet has a story of such hatred and violence. People still die for the Christian faith in the Middle East, North Korea, many parts of Africa, every day even in this modern age. And persecution is not just a phase that a region goes through and grows out of, as if, once it's happened here or there, it can't happen again. We don't culturally evolve past these things. These things are the product of sin, of hatred for the Gospel, and this side of paradise, we shall not outgrow an attraction to sin.

But there is good news here too. People die for the faith because they know the faith is worth dying for. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth living for if it's not also worth dying for. Comfortable Westernized Christians don't understand that either. We don't understand how to submit to a seemingly unscientific book, a dusty rule book from ages ago, we can't fathom living for it. What that reveals is that we really can't fathom dying for it.

But our African brothers get it! We don't understand why the African church is so conservative on so many of our hot-button issues, but that's because we don't know their story. How, in their eyes, can we call ourselves Christian and say that homosexuality is acceptable behavior? After all, in their not so distant history, thirty two young boys were martyred because they had become Christians, Christianity had taught them that homosexual behavior was wrong, and the king was a homosexual who wanted to have a relationship with them. In faith they refused. They submitted to the mandates of only one king and were willing to die for their faith. And they were martyred for what they lived for.

The Christians of Jos have suffered frequently and bravely at the hands of mostly Muslim persecutors. The bishop himself has had attempts on his life. Bravely they remain steadfast. They share the Gospel unashamedly with others while Westerners lower their eyes and shuffle their feet, ashamed.

Since I quoted the bishop of Jos so recently below, scroll down, re-read his words. I am thankful for his ministry and I bid your prayers for bishop Kwashi and his people.

21 November 2008

Blame Game (moved)

"A little less "I'm Lovin' It" could put a significant dent in the problem of childhood obesity, suggests a new study that attempts to measure the effect of TV fast-food ads.

A ban on such commercials would reduce the number of obese young children by 18 percent, and the number of obese older kids by 14 percent, researchers found.

They also suggested that ending an advertising expense tax deduction for fast-food restaurants could mean a slight reduction in childhood obesity.

Some experts say it's the first national study to show fast-food TV commercials have such a large effect on childhood obesity. A 2006 Institute of Medicine report suggested a link, but concluded proof was lacking. "
The rest can be found here.

I had no idea! I'm shocked!!! All these years I thought it was the parents who were responsible for their kids being unhealthy. No, really it's the commercials' fault. Yup. Kids watch those commercials and then they just can't resist getting in the car and driving themselves to Mickey-D's and grabbing a bucket o' fries and sticking their innocent little heads right in until they've licked up the very last smattering of salt and grease.

Get a clue America. The single sole responsibility belongs to the parents. The parents are the ones who let their kids glut on TV in the first place. Invite that box into your house, don't monitor the content, leave little darling on his rear for hours on end (because hey, he's quiet that way) and what do you get... children who watch "tens of thousands" of fast food commercials, yeah, sure. Kids who are learning that sedentary spread is a way of life, yeah, even more sure.

It's the single sole responsibility of mom and dad who actually let junior get away with the whining fit if he doesn't get what he wants, who drive little darling to Taco Hell for another rolled up tortillia of greasy slime because the little chihuahua dog said to.

But no, we'll blame it on the commercials themselves. Absolve the ones really responsible for letting that garbage into their homes. Absolve the ones who control the wallet and car keys. Absolve the ones with a God-given duty to protect young minds. Absolve the ones who obey the commercials and infomercials call to buy, buy, buy while turning themselves and their offspring into mindless automatons. Fat, dumb and happy, America!

Instead, let's sue the providers of the garbage we willingly and mindlessly buy! Let's inivte government control over our companies and eventually over our very selves, even what we eat, because we're not adult enough to make those choices ourselves.

Forget 'the devil made me do it." The Gen X-Y excuse is now "the TV made me do it."

17 November 2008

A Fitting Tribute (moved)

Today the church said fare well to one of its finest priests, a parish grandfather, and a gentle sweet man. It was time, in so many ways. His body had so long been frail. His mind was beginning to slip. I recall, several years ago, when he commented that he no longer celebrated the Eucharist because he did not feel he had enough control over his failing body to rely on himself to do the service with dignity and right order. Of course, he would have done just fine, but he wasn't interested in fine, he wanted to render the very best to his lord and savior. And perhaps I heard a little pride in that voice that day, he didn't want to be a dottering old priest, after all.

I always watched him when I preached. He was a touch hard of hearing and would cup his hand to his ear and strain to catch the words. I knew I was doing well if he leaned forward, really well if he looked as if he'd topple from his seat. Such a visual listener is a valuable sermon barometer and I always treasured his face in a congregation. Whenever I saw him he always had a kind word, he'd take my hands in his as he spoke to me. Though so many people seem to turn up their own volume when their hearing goes, I never heard him speak harshly, either in tone or in the words themselves; only a broad smile and a gentle laugh and a few good words. He never sought to be the center of attention, but you could never fail to notice that he was there.

Just a year shy of six decades as a priest, Father Don Gross was also a healer of souls. A psychologist in the other half of his ministry, he was a remover of spiritual obstacles, bringing people back to right relationship. And thus it was a fitting tribute that there were cherished brothers there who represent both sides of the current and currently very deep, episcopal divide. I saw a couple of priests who I know have been at the center of the firestorm, beloved friends who I realize had to gather up a good deal of courage to come to that funeral, knowing that Bishop Duncan was the celebrant. Their love for a brother priest was greater than their feelings of alienation and their fears of a poor reception. I honor them for their presence and their courage and humility in not stepping away from this opportunity.

What a fitting tribute it was that these folks were drawn back together, so soon after such painful parting, by a love for this precious man who so often did just that, draw folks together and helped put relationships between people and with God to rights. And I give thanks for those brothers in Christ who sacrificed a bit of themselves to be there today. I honor that. I really do. And I am encouraged that in the moments when it is most necessary, we can bring ourselves to move forward with courage and Christian charity.

14 November 2008

Let's Get Something Straight (moved)

Christmas is Jesus' birthday, not yours. I heard that quote recently, and have already forgotten who said it. But how wise it is in our gift giving and getting culture, America's insane gluttony of merchendise. Perhaps this year will be the breaking point but I doubt it. What can I say, I'm a cynic in a lot of ways.

I caught a statistic today on KDKA (news, for all you non-Pittsburghers) that twelve and a half million people are still paying off last year's Christmas debt. What is with that? Twelve and a half people used the celebration of the birth of the guy that said "give all you have to the poor because it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven" as a reason to buy so much more stuff that they can't afford that a year later they're still in debt and thinking of doing the whole darned thing over again. There's a word for that. It's a word that as a small child I was told not to use. I'm an adult now, so I'll say it. The word is STUPID. It's also sinful and disordered and rather grotesque.

So this is my motto this year, Christmas is Jesus' birthday, not yours. There's no reason for "presents to self" while you shop 'til you drop. There's no reason to shop 'til you drop, for that matter. There's no reason to expect your friends and relations to shop 'til they drop. Let them out of the obligation. After all, how many more knicknacks and doodads do you need? Instead, do something nice for the world. Give a gift to World Vision or Samaritan's Purse. Volunteer. And after its all over, if you get yet another scarf, donate it to warm the neck of someone cold. Yet another sweater can warm a homeless back.

Yup, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Please do not buy me battery powered electronic thingamobs. I don't need another whatzit on my mantel. Instead, let's share a cup of coffee and pass an hour together. I like you for you, not for your stuff. Give a gift to Jesus, and take the time to be Jesus' gift to me.

13 November 2008

My Favorite Saints (moved)

One of my friends emailed me last night, asking me to list for him a number of my "favorite" saints. An unusual request, but it turned out to be a fun one. Here was my reply:
*Athanasius-- Contra mundum! Athanasius was willing to fight for the orthodox faith when it seemed nobody else would, hence the phrase "Athanasius against the world." His short but heafty book "On the Incarnation" is a foundational read in Christian formation.
*Benedict-- we named our homeschool after him. He was the recluse turned abbot, thrice the victim of an attempted murder, dreadfully strict and I am not sure I would like him for my abbot, but his rule of "prayer work and study" is the foundation of a healthy Christian life.
*Hilda of Whitby-- abbess in the right place at the right time and knew how to use it. She was abbess over both a men's monastery and a women's convent. She convened the council that reconciled Celtic Christianity to Roman Christianity, however awkwardly that was acheived.
*Stephen-- my brother deacon! Stephen delivered such a rousing sermon that the enemies of the Gospel rose up and murdered him!
*Nicholas-- Everyone knows him as Santa Claus. Bah! I know and love him as the bishop of Myra who at the Council of Nicea got up and slapped Arius for his stubborn heresy.
*Ephraim the Syrian--another brother deacon, poet, theologian. Ephraim was the deacon of deacons. He died of illness contracted while caring for victims of a local epidemic.
*Anselm of Canterbury-- Anselm's poetry is at times a total trip: "Adam was so full he belched" but Adam's children are starving. His theological thought was beautiful. Anselm definitely wins the entertainment award as well as the serious theologian award.
*Nicodemus, though I'm not sure he was ever officially made a saint. Nicodemus was the inquirer who approached Jesus by night, seemed to go away with no response to the answers he got... but he comes back later and offers seventy-five pounds of burial spices when Jesus is removed from the cross. That's over the top love!
*Ansgar-- missionary to the vikings... and the more I read about the vikings, the less I want that job.
*the Uganda Martyrs-- who were murdered for their refusal to have a homosexual relationship with their king because their faith forbade it. And one wonders why the Ugandan church is appalled at the current state of the Episcopal Church, USA.
*John the Evangelist-- who wrote that we might believe

There were a few others, but those were the ones I find most endearing. What does this combination mean about me? Perhaps that I value spunk... and an offbeat, unusual story. I like the guys that seem like real people to me.

But it does make me wonder who other people like best...

12 November 2008

A Perfect Storm (moved)

Admittedly, this is a re-write of an earlier blog post, which I removed when the tide of politics antiquated it. And nonetheless, there is still something necessary that one must hear, something good that can come of awareness. So I shall make a second attempt.
We’ve all heard of the phrase “the perfect storm” used when the weather conditions are right for something cataclysmic in the atmosphere. I’ve come to observe that a perfect storm in brewing in American health care too, most notably in the passage of Washington’s assisted suicide law, making my former home the second state (the first being Oregon) to allow doctors to administer a lethal dose of medication to patients who are terminally ill, cutting short their lives for the sake of “death with dignity.” (As an aside, I was impressed with a quotation on House, MD… how rarely I quote television, as I do not even own one… in which House states that there is no such thing as death with dignity, only life with dignity, death is always undignified. How true indeed!)
The perfect storm is brewing in this way:
The first condition to be met is that we must develop a culture in which some lives are easily discarded, no longer considered to be life at all. We will develop a whole new vocabulary for these lives, blastocyst is a perfect one, it makes humanity sound like worthless tissue. We will focus on a made-up problem of over-population (rather than under distribution) and assign control over who lives or dies to individuals rather than to God. Best yet, we’ll give the whole process a nice sounding name, something like “freedom of choice.”
A materialistic society will assist us in promoting this death ritual. Human life comes to be seen as burdensome, an obstacle to the greed of the individual. Babies are punishments inflicted on the irresponsible. No one who is too young, too old, or already has more than one or two of these little burdens is entitled to have another mouth to feed. We will scorn the family that has more than the allotted number, we will ban children from the public square. They are too noisy and messy. We will praise those who are “childless by choice.” The children we do have will be reduced to yet another possession, trophy children who are expected to excel for mommy dearest but never require sacrifices from the adults in their world.
On top of this we will overlay a lack of respect for aging and the elderly. We’ll bend over backwards to puff out our wrinkles, cover our grey, nip and tuck and lift. Our elderly will be removed from the family environment and the public square. Age will not be seen as a source of wisdom, instead it will be seen as a progression to becoming dependent on those who do not want to provide care, make sacrifices.
We’ll decide that some lives are not worth living. Anyone who is not physically perfect will suspect, seen as a burden on society. We will test children in the womb and encourage mothers to murder their unhealthy offspring. Mothers who fail to do so will be called “selfish” as they called Sarah Palin for bearing her son Trig. (And already in Austria a family has been denied the right to permanent residency, despite the fact that they immigrated from their home country to help Austria in the face of a shortage of doctors in the area—the father being a medical doctor—but they are denied the right to remain because the child has Down Syndrome and is too imperfect for their pristine society to want him around.) These lives will be conveniently snuffed out in utero, as 90% of Down Syndrome babies in America already are. This will also effectively reduce medical progress and societal acceptance of those who slip through the abortionist’s grasp, shortening their lives as fewer resources are available for them.
On top of these things, we’ll add an economic crisis, such that lives are reduced to dollars and cents, people worry about their own possession and finances, taxes and lack of profits are the great cultural fear.
And when all these things are accomplished, which in America they are, we will socialize health care. Suddenly your government will know the costs of keeping you alive, providing the care you need. Your imperfect self, your unhealthy fetus, are seen as leaches on the public dollar. The elderly and the infirm are no longer human, they are dollars and cents.
We’ll say we’re being compassionate, that we want to give them death with dignity, put them out of their suffering. We really mean we want to put them out of our economic suffering. We will encourage them to just shut up and die, then we will absolve ourselves for we can believe we are not their killers. Already in Oregon, patients have received letters from their insurance companies telling them their care is too expensive, especially compared to their income potential (think twice those of you who not only receive your health care from the government but are also living off the government dollar by being retired or on disability or welfare), they will no pay for your care because they see your life is not worth their expense, not worth living. But they’ll gladly pay to kill you, should your now untreated condition become too painful for you to bear.
In short, we have a perfect storm for a state which has the right to tell its citizens when to die.

11 November 2008

Cast Off Statistics (moved)

I admit to being a bibliophile and a regular visitor to used book sales. Since the seminary library where I regularly do research has a standing used book sale, I refer to my used book purchases as "my other library fees." I never pass up the opportunity to scout the new additions to the sale. At one point, in perusing the offerings, I found a thick blue binder among the dusty old tomes. The binder contained professional looking collection of resources entitled "Celebrate Life in the Parish," a resource of National Episcopalians for Life (now Anglicans for Life) which had been produced in 1997. Considering it was germane to a project I’m researching, I pulled it off the shelves, paid my dollar, and took the binder home.
As soon as I opened the text, I found this quotation (from Bishop John Howe) staring at me from the randomly selected page: "If you tried to honor the aborted dead with one minute of silence apiece, it would take you sixty-eight and one-half years to observe their passing." As staggering and sobering as that quotation is, it is, of course, over a decade out of date.
I admit that I looked up more current statistics. Using the information from the Guttmacher institute (which is admittedly in relationship with Planned Parenthood and is probably a conservative estimate) I discovered that: "From 1973 through 2005, more than 45 million legal abortions occurred." Additionally, approximately 1.21 million unborn children are aborted every year since 2005. I did the math myself. At that rate, the 2008 number for Bishop Howe’s statement would be this: If you tried to honor the aborted dead with one minute of silence apiece, it would take you ninety-one and one half yeas to observe their passing." That is more than a lifetime for most of us.
In addition, you would never complete the task. For each minute of silence to honor one aborted child, three to four more would be added to the holocaust. And this is only in America, the worldwide statistics are beyond staggering.
To be honest, I’m not sure what to do with those numbers. Obviously the fight we are fighting is not one we are winning. Marches and organizations are helpful, but they aren’t winning the war. It is as if we are standing on a beach and trying to hold back the tide. It is a spiritual battle and everyone seems to understand that prayer is the only effective answer, and at the same time I read in the Scriptures how God allows sinners to go on sinning, how God "gave them up" to their evil ways, how for their hardness of heart they were given the freedom to reject him. And all the while, millions of innocents are dying.
I want to fix the problem. I want a simple solution, something I can just do to put things to rights, and there is none. If medical technology that reveals that life in the womb is indeed life and the public repentance of Norma McCorvey, the famous Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade fame, is not enough to stop the tide, surely my meager efforts hold no hope.
But I know this: that I may not be able to fix the problem, but I can be part of the solution. I can honor life, support adoption, care for single parents, pray for those whose lives are lost or damaged by abortion, and raise my sons to understand that promiscuity can result in a pregnancy over which, as men, they would have no power to save their children from abortion and to be prepared to accept their responsibility as fathers when God does grace their lives with children. We cannot solve the problem, but perhaps, just one child at a time, you and I can make a difference.

10 November 2008

An Open Letter to the Republican Party (moved)

As a small child, during the Reagan years, I recall writing a letter to then Vice President George H.W. Bush. I told him that I thought he was a good person and a good vice president and that when I was old enough, I would vote for him to be President of the United States. In 1992, at the age of eighteen, I kept that promise. I proudly voted for Mr. Bush, though none of my friends on my liberal undergraduate college campus would have had anything to do with him. I do not, for a minute, regret that choice, though President Bush was not able to win re-election. Eight years later, I voted, less proudly but still without major reservations, for President Bush’s son.
I have been a registered Republican since I became eligible to vote. I have voted faithfully in every major election and most primaries. I have studied the candidates, kept up with the news, and made my voice heard. Furthermore, I’ve kept my eyes open. I’ve watched as the Republican Party has slid more and more into the nanny state policies of the Democrats and walked further and further from its socially conservative roots. I have grown more and more disappointed with my party as the years have ticked by. In 2004, I voted for Michael Peroutka, the Constitution Party candidate for President. I was aware that it was a hopeless cause, but I could no longer support the Republican platform in good conscience.

I was encouraged this year by Ron Paul, and voted eagerly in my primary election, even though by the time the primary was held, John McCain had already clinched the nomination. I had hoped that the groundswell of support for Dr. Paul would encourage the Republican Party to return to its roots. Alas, no such message has been received. Throughout the remainder of the election I repeatedly asked myself, ‘can’t we do better than these?’

The Republican Party has shown itself to be impotent. Even with Republicans in office, I find that every year my civil liberties are eroded a little further, my tax dollars spent more foolishly (most recently on a bank takeover, dubbed a bail-out, which further increases our national debt while reducing our private enterprise) and even immorally (in the subsidizing of abortion of innocent children whose only fault is to be inconvenient or somehow imperfect). I have watched the Republican party stand helplessly by as the schools are further degraded, children taught all about sex at an early age but nothing about thinking for themselves. I have heard not a peep from the Republican Party as parental rights have diminished, the courts have made themselves legislators, and the United Nations taken a stronger voice in the formation of our legislation than the American people. I have stood helpless while my family’s hard earned money is plundered for corrupt and worthless legislation.

I have no power to change your policies. I have only one small vote among millions. I cannot change the world. Nonetheless, I can change my behavior. I shall no longer consider myself a Republican. Unless the Republican Party changes drastically, unless Republican leaders can do more than shake a finger at the evil of abortion and look the other way as our foundational liberties are eroded, I am compelled to move on. I acknowledge that it is time for a new political party in America, some old-fashioned American competition in the political industry. History has shown us that parties rise and fall, and it has been all too long since such a rise and fall has taken place. If the Republican Party has chosen a path of impotency and oblivion, then it is time that we ordinary members of that republic put forth the effort to form a new party.

Personally, my hope lies in the Constitution Party. The idea of a republic which is faithful to its founding documents, legislated by legislators and not judges, governed by a small government and small taxes, and where citizens are expected and given the freedom to take care of themselves, these thoughts encourage me.

So close following this recent election, I am sure no one wants to think of politics at this point, but now is the time. This cannot be left until the next election "season." Preparation and grass roots mobilization is essential. So I am casting my lot with a third party. I shall no longer be a Republican; there seems to be no real difference between the Republicans and Democrats anymore, anyway. In order for Americans to have actual choices, we need a third party. Borrowing the words of that first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, we need this upheaval to ensure "that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

08 November 2008

A Quote I Love (moved)

"An eagle is a remarkable bird. Strong enough to carry a lamb or a small goat, it can fly exceptionally high. It is reputed to be able to see two miles, has no fear of clouds. Scripture says that those who wait upon theLord will be like eagles. But in fact, when we look at... all the persecution that [is] happening today, Christians are tempted to be like chickens, who scratch the ground, around the ground with their eyes down and their vision limited to the next speck of food. Eagles are visionaries." Bishop Ben Kwashi

07 November 2008

We Have A Bishop (moved)

Serving in the Episcopal DIocese of Pittsburgh is a real treat. I am often in awe of the godly and gifted clergy that I serve alongside here. Day in and day out, they are my friends, and sometimes in the ordinariness of that friendship I fail to notice what extra-ordinary people these folks are... but on days like today, one cannot miss the incredible joy and committment of these great men and women.

Today we re-elected bishop Duncan to be our bishop; making him effectively the seventh AND eighth bishop of the diocese. (Does this mean churches have to hang two pictures of him on the wall of episcopal fame?) Of course for those of us who do not recognize the deposition, it was a formality and simply a reconfirmation of what was already there.

What was amazing about it all was the spirit of joy and freedom and even levity, while at the same time it was obvious that these folks are committed and serious and ready to move forward, following Jesus whatever the cost. Of course it's that combination of joy and fearless committment that I love the most. And tonight that incredible combination was everywhere.

After he was elected, Bishop asked us will we pray, and the response was (of course) an overwhelming "yes". He asked us if we were willing to "cast out into the deep" and join him in mission, saying "you don't catch many fish close to shore. and we've had to stay close to shore, but now there's no excuse to stay close to shore. " When asked to stand to affirm that we were willing and ready to cast out into the deep, everyone within my field of vision eagerly stood. This wasn't just to look good, these are people who can't wait to cast out into the deep.

And there was laughter. One thing Pittsburgh does well is laugh together. The other thing we do well is fight for the Gospel together. These are some intense people in intense times, we work hard, we play hard. I'm honored to serve among them. I'll spare you the varous quotes, but even Bishop Duncan was more joyful and at ease than I've ever seen him. I feel that we have a renewed Bishop... and even though our assisting bishop is leaving us to return to England, I think there is a little of him in our new-old bishop, now, too.

As is frequent, bishop reported to us greetings from around the world and from our brothers and sisters in other parts of the Christian Church. It is so wonderful to know that we are in a wider communion, that the faith is tremendously broad (and that we need not compromise the integrity of the Gospel to encompass that latitude) and that we are so able to encourage one another.

Bishop is always reminding us to be ourselves at our best. Tonight, I think we were.