Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: Mormonizing of America (Part II)

Mike Huckabee at the Republican National Convention last night said, "I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country." This may be just pragmatic as Romney is the Republican nominee for President, or it may signal of a larger shift within the Republican base of accepting Romney's Mormon faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has come a long way. Stephen Mansfield in his book "The Mormonizing of America" does a masterful job of showing us how this American religion has come from its birth in New York State through times of persecution to today where it is just a normal part of everyday America.

I appreciate Mansfield's teasing out how American this religion really is and how through "the ability to draw practical inspiration from the LDS journey, the earthly affect of Mormon spirituality, the power of celebrity and the valuing of hardship" (p. 222) the Mormon faith has come to prominence at this moment.

I don't personally take offense at statements within the LDS faith that calls it the only true church. There is within the Roman Catholic Church the understanding that it is the only true church that the rest of us are deficient in some way. In Evangelicalism, there is a lot of talk about who the "true believers" are, who have accepted Christ. So the LDS is no different in that aspect.

I can see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of the family tree that is Christianity but their main beliefs as illustrated on pages 157-161 and in Appendix A of the book, clearly show that it is its own branch even as it shies away from any systematic theology of its faith. (Even as Joseph Smith believed he was bringing back primitive (authentic) Christianity.) I don't see it as a 4th Abrahamic Faith alongside Judaism, Christianity and Islam as Mansfield talks about on page 238.

As I said in part one of my review, I wholeheartedly recommend Mansfield's book. Since then I have come to look at a Christian Century magazine that examines the LDS faith and its scripture. It says many of the same things that Mansfield does. I have also begun following @askmormongirl to see how a Mormon is viewing the state of things. I credit Stephen Mansfield for helping guide my curiosity and making me look further at the Mormon faith. Bravo!

Now I think I will download and read his book on "The Search for God and Guinness" and break open a Black Lager I have in the fridge...

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

For our Country & the Election

from The Episcopal Public Policy Network

This week and next, Congress remains in recess, and our nation's electoral process continues as the national political party conventions meet. Our Book of Common Prayer provides prayers for almost any moment in our common life. Below we’ve included two -- For our Country and For an Election.

For our Country
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.  Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;  from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue  with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.   In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For an Election
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States & this community in the election of officials and representatives;  that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Prayers for the Start of School & those in track of TS Isaac

Prayers for schools and colleges:

O Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, and universities and especially the Monroe School District which starts school today, that they may be lively centers for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayers for those in trouble:

O merciful Father, who has taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve your children: Look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants for whom our prayers are offered, for all those who will be affected by Hurricane Isaac. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Review: Mormonizing of America (Part I)

I was invited to blog a review of the book, The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield. After I read his interview, I thought his book would be a good follow-up to a discussion we had in my parish in 2011 regarding the religions born in America, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to name a few.

I grew up an Episcopalian and I knew my great Uncle on my mom's side was a Mormon (he lived next door to our cottage). As a child, I had no idea what "Mormon" meant. We drove by one of their wards when I was a kid, to our Episcopal Church, but I never thought about them. It wasn't until seminary and I met a friend who was Mormon that I got to know it more personally and actually experience one of their church services.

I found Stephen Mansfield's book to be a delightful read regarding the LDS faith, its history and how it is lived out today. His prologue, "Scenes from the Land of the Saints," is a beautiful introduction into the myriad of ways that the Mormon faith appears throughout the U.S.A.

Mansfield continues his prologue for each chapter begins with a nice vignette of a real life example of members of the LDS church in America today. I found that Mansfield, who is not Mormon, tried hard to be as even handed about presenting Joseph Smith, the LDS faith, its history and all that goes along with the LDS worldview without being too judgmental. He does ask hard questions, he doesn't buy into their faith or its worldview but he lays out how their moment came about and captures the essence of who they are.

As someone who loves history, I do wish he explored more of the other offshoots of the Mormon faith, some of which he mentions in passing but I understand that his book wasn't a history per se, but an exploration of how the LDS Church became such a driving force within American and what it means for all of us today.

Part II will explore more of my thoughts on this book. It is well worth the read. 4 out of 5 stars in my book.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26 Sermon (Wordle)

Wordle: August 26 Sermon

August 26 Sermon

Help us Lord:
to live in your light
to act in your might
to think in your wisdom
to walk in your kingdom
to abide in your love,
your presence to prove. Amen. (David Adam)

“It’s hard work.”

That’s what Jared said to me after his football practice on Friday at Masuk. Indeed it is! To do anything well it takes hard work, dedication, effort and energy. That is true of football as it is of life. I can’t think of anything worth doing that doesn’t have a component of work. Be it our relationships, raising kids, our jobs, sports, all of which take hard work and dedication.

The same is true of our faith. We have to work at it, through prayer, silence, study and service. And sometimes it’s just plain hard.
Those following Jesus had a hard time with his teaching: Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
We hear those words, think of the Eucharist and don’t realize what a stumbling block those words were for Jews & Gentiles of Jesus’ era. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"
Jesus goes on to talk about the Spirit which brings life, not the flesh. He’s trying to move the conversation forward from body and blood (bread and wine), to think about the Spirit. Jesus aid, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
The community that Jesus was talking about, one embedded within in his body & blood, challenged those who followed him in his day, challenged them to be reconciled with God and their neighbor, to live as he lived and accept his words as spirit and life.

Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with Jesus. But there were those who continued to walk with him, like our patron saint Peter, “You have the words of eternal life.”

In every time, there are those who have found in the words of Jesus eternal life.

This year would have been the 100th birthday of Clarence Jordan. He was born in Talbotton,
Georgia on July 29, 1912. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Agriculture in 1933 and a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1939.

We remember him today because as he read what Jesus asked of his followers, Clarence Jordan was determined not to walk away and to live as faithfully as Jesus asked.

So in 1942, Clarence and his wife Florence along with Martin and Mable England, bought a 440-acre farm, in Americus, Georgia, that they named Koinonia Farm (Koinonia is greek for our understanding of community & fellowship). Their idea was to create a Christian community on that farm for reconciliation between races (esp. blacks & whites) and between rich and poor. The farm’s purpose was to teach agriculture to poor rural farmers and to demonstrate brotherhood and peace through community and they did by working with local African-American families and inviting some to live with them. It was in Jordan’s own words "a demonstration plot for the kingdom of God."

The community that farmed together and had whites and African Americans sharing work & meals together. For manhy in the nearby community, it was seen as a threat. They suffered property damage, shootings and bombings. The Jordans and Koinonians were thrown out of the local Baptist church they attended, and crosses were burned on the Farm by the KKK.

The Americus community decided it no longer wanted Koinonia Farms in the area, and every local business began to boycott the farm. The Farm survived the boycott largely due to Jordan’s writings and a mail order pecan business. It also became the spiritual birthplace of what we know today as Habitat for Humanity, when it began to look at ways to help the poor build their own homes.
Jordan’s most famous work was his Cotton Patch Version of the bible, most notably several gospels and Paul’s letters. As he put it, “The purpose of the "cotton patch" approach to the scriptures is to help the modern reader have the same sense of participation in them which the early Christians must have had. By stripping away the fancy language, the artificial piety, and the barriers of time and distance, this version puts Jesus and his people in the midst of our modem world, living where we live, talking as we talk, working, hurting, praying, bleeding, dying, conquering, alongside the rest of us. It seeks to restore the original feeling and excitement of the fast-breaking news-good news-rather than musty history.” He knew that his version would not be perfect. “To be sure, this is a risky undertaking. For one thing, it simply can't he done with absolute accuracy. But admitting the risks, perhaps the rewards will more than offset them.”
Clarence Jordan died at age 57 in 1969. He died in his writing shack behind his house while he was translating the gospel of John. He was buried in his work clothes in a simple coffin on the Koinonia Farm. The funeral was small, with members of the farm, some of the local community and others attending. "He be gone now," reflected a neighbor in 1980, "but his footprint still here."

I find that Clarence Jordan was one who heard Jesus speak and knew the words were spirit and life. So much so that he and his family endured so much in the 1950s and 1960s that would have led most people to flee, but he couldn’t. Clarence Jordan once said that what he hoped to achieve in life was “to have been faithful.” In that he excelled, he did the hard work.

Today, let us follow Jesus and hear his words for us, for they are Spirit and life, and Clarence Jordan maybe the guide to help us with that! (His words from John 6 – Cotton Patch Gospel)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

August 19 Sermon

This sermon was given at the 9 AM service at Monroe Congregational Church (our 2nd joint service of the summer).

“Awaken me this morning, Lord to your light,
Open my eyes to your presence.

Awaken me, Lord to your love,
Open my heart to your indwelling.

Awaken me, Lord to your life,
Open my mind to your abiding.

Awaken me always, Lord to your purpose,
Open my will to your guiding.” Amen. - David Adam

What gives you life? I mean what are the things in your life that give you vitality, hope, energy, that without them, you wouldn’t really live? Like Family (spouse, children), Friends, Special Places & Memories – maybe even sacred things.

And yet we live in a culture that tells us there are other things…

· Cars, wealth, power, sports and my own sin new technology, the latest & greatest gadget… (all of which may have a place in our lives but they do not give us life!)

But what gives us life really speaks of what also gives our lives meaning.
Thomas Merton put it this way, "A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire."
Our life, our desires, our hopes all connect with the end we live for and it is scripture that constantly reminds us that we all are made in God’s image.

As we think about being made in God’s image, that our lives are shaped by the end we desire, in comes Jesus, saying to us “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…”

Living Bread – from the one who was born in the House of Bread (that is the town of Bethlehem), Jesus tells us that through him, we will find life. Jesus is the staple of life, something without which, we wouldn’t really live.

But Jesus isn’t just saying follow me, which of course he is, but he is also saying we must take our part, make our footsteps worth following too.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
For when we follow him, when we consume him, Jesus becomes a part of us, something we know we need. Isn’t that one reason we gather each week at MCC & St. Peter’s, because we find Jesus here in these sacred places and in each other?
I read an article recently that talked about a small church just outside of Pittsburgh, the biggest day of their church year, after Christmas & Easter, is Chili Sunday. Every year on a Sunday in mid-January, members of the parish make their favorite chili recipe and bring it in a Crock-Pot to church. Volunteers set out serving bowls on long tables in the church hall, with little placards that identify the person who prepared each bowl and what is in it, beef chili or turkey, chicken or vegetarian chili. People hurry to the hall after church, plunge into the banquet and find their way to seats at the round tables.

The pastor writes, “As the pastor I butterfly around their small talk. I used to hope that they were all talking about the lofty themes of the sermon. [They weren’t…] And yet It is over bowls of chili that the theology becomes incarnational and takes on all of the fleshly concerns they brought to church that day. What they say is, “How is your job search going?” Whether they realize it or not, they’re actually asking each other, “Do you think God cares?” After 30 years of pastoral ministry, I have finally discovered the theology of small talk over a bowl of chili. It’s not small at all. The folding tables in the fellowship hall are not formal pieces of ecclesiastical furniture like the sanctuary’s communion table. But they give us a sacramental glimpse of the Christ who is among us in ordinary places. This has always been one of the church’s best ideas—we are a religion whose faithful need to eat together.

People crowd into the fellowship hall for a bowl of chili because their souls hunger for an ordinary variety of holiness. We expect to find Jesus the Savior in the church sanctuary, hospital or places of crises. We yearn to find him on laundry day.” [From "Holy Small Talk" by M. Craig Barnes, The Christian Century, May 30, 2012.]
Living Bread - the simplest and most basic of foods - Jesus connects our most ordinary lives with his life & the love, compassion and mercy of God.

Whenever we gather, let us remember that Living Bread – that which truly give us life and share that with one another; at the tables where we break bread, where we celebrate family and connect with friends; in sharing the bounty of the harvest, where we create communities of support and reconciliation, at the times we are gathered in community to share a sacred communion, or even in a moment of enjoying ice cream together after service. Amen.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Choice of Paul Ryan

I don't often blog about politics. There is just too much of that on the web! Yet, when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, I thought about the budget that Ryan tried to get congress to adopt. A budget that his own fellow Catholics said, "will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.” (from a letter in April from the Bishop's Conference of the RC Church)

With that in mind, I thought about a resolution passed by my diocese last year that speaks to that budget and the sort of budget that congress should pass...

A Circle of Protection: A Statement on Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor
In the face of historic deficits, the nation faces unavoidable choices about how to balance needs and resources and allocate burdens and sacrifices. These choices are economic, political—and moral.

As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). They do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources. The Christian community has an obligation to help them be heard, to join with others to insist that programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected. We know from our experience serving hungry and homeless people that these programs meet basic human needs and protect the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable. We believe that God is calling us to pray, fast, give alms and to speak out for justice.

As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice. We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people. Therefore, we join
with others to form a Circle of Protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad.

1. The nation needs to substantially reduce future deficits, but not at the expense of hungry and poor people.
2. Funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. It should be made as effective as possible, but not cut.
3. We urge our leaders to protect and improve poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance to promote a better, safer world.
4. National leaders must review and consider tax revenues, military spending, and entitlements in the search for ways to share sacrifice and cut deficits.
5. A fundamental task is to create jobs and spur economic growth. Decent jobs at decent wages are the best path out of poverty, and restoring growth is a powerful way to reduce deficits.
6. The budget debate has a central moral dimension. Christians are asking how we protect “the least of these.” “What would Jesus cut?” “How do we share sacrifice?”
7. As believers, we turn to God with prayer and fasting, to ask for guidance as our nation makes decisions about our priorities as a people.
8. God continues to shower our nation and the world with blessings. As Christians, we are rooted in the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our task is to share these blessings with love and justice and with a special priority for those who are poor.

Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world. It is the vocation and obligation of the church to speak and act on behalf of those Jesus called “the least of these.” This is our calling, and we will strive to be faithful in carrying out this mission.

If you agree with this, as I do, I invite you to sign your name to it here.

Maybe, if enough people say it, Paul Ryan and others will try to adopt budgets that do not overwhelmingly hurt the poor and try to balance the interests of all people in the USA, not just the golden few.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Religious Freedom?

First we had the Fortnight for Freedom because Roman Catholic's freedom was in jeopardy and then there was Missouri's Amendment 2 because Christians' freedom to pray was in trouble. This persecution complex is problematic because it paints us Christians as paranoid for our "rights".

And yet the real fight for religious freedom is not there...

It happened in Wisconsin when a Sikh Community was attacked.
It happened in Missouri when a Mosque was burnt to the ground.

I think the Christians in the USA should worry less about their rights and more about the other religions in our country who are attacked, defamed and made to worship in fear everyday.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Mormonizing of America

I was asked if I was interested in reviewing a book by Stephen Mansfield called "The Mormonizing of America."

He has written about the faith of politicians and now turns his attention to the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints.

I have just started the book and it looks very promising. Stay tuned.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

August 5 Sermon

A mother in a Sudanese village has no food left for her children. The pots in her hut are empty - but only she knows this. Her children trust their mother. They have no idea that they are poor. While her children play outside, she fills a cooking pot with stones and water and places it on the fire. Then she calls the children and asks them to keep the fire going. Dried meat takes a long time to cook, she tells them. Thinking they are cooking meat, the children forget they are hungry.

While her children tend the fire, the mother then goes into the woods in one last desperate attempt to find food for her family. Suddenly, she hears a lion roar. She is deathly afraid of lions, but creeps closer. From behind a tree, she watches a lion devouring a buffalo. She is terrified but she knows that the meat will feed her children. She takes the circlet of grass, with which she balances her basket, and flings it near the lion to divert it. It works. When the lion pounces on the grass ring, the mother quickly throws sand on the buffalo meat, knowing that the lion will not eat soiled meat. When the lion returns, it recoils from the meat and stalks away. The mother fills her basket with buffalo meat, goes to the river to wash it and runs home.

The children have been tending the fire as instructed. She sends them outside so she can "finish" and quickly cooks the meat. Her children have something to eat that day. Only the mother knows how close they had come to starvation. [A true story told by Bishop Paride Taban, in The Long Road to Peace: Encounters with the People of Southern Sudan by Matthew Haumann.]
A mother's love is greater than her own fears; her resourcefulness is unmatched when her children's welfare is at stake; her courage is formidable in the face of any threat to her family. I told this true story because it is in many ways, unfamiliar to us living in the US. We don’t fight in the same way for the survival of our families, esp. when it comes to food…

Last Wednesday, we held a simulation at Camp Washington with the 60 or so teen campers. The global simulation was called "Cornish Countries" and we broke the campers and staff up to 3 countries representing the 1st, 2nd & 3rd world. The simulation examined the distribution of wealth throughout our world, as well as how people face hunger on a regular basis. It was an amazing experience. I played my part, as a member of UNICEF looking out for those in need.

The simulation really hit the campers at lunch, when we continued the simulation and the campers in the poorest country were relegated to the back dining room with no chairs just plastic silverware and plates and not enough food for everyone in their group. The kids from the two richer countries donated some of their food, but it was interesting to see how many Lay’s Chips were donated when the back dining room wanted meat!

It reminds me of the parable that Nathan tells King David…

There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children…

Now we might think we are not King David, what we have is very little but compared to most people on this planet, we are rich indeed. My income puts me in the richest 9% of the world’s population. My income is more than 12 times that of the typical person on the planet. (Developed, Developing & Underdeveloped parts included) -

Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.

The campers came to understand that they weren’t giving from their abundance but the scraps they didn’t want. Soon they began to send what was needed, meat and bread and ice! I believe they came away with (we all did!) a better appreciation of what abundance we truly live with in our country and that we need to give back, not just the scraps, but the abundance we have.

We may not commit such an egregious act as King David, destroying a man to have his beautiful wife, but that parable is also for our ears, that we may too learn the way of compassion and kindness. We like David collect too much stuff and sometimes forget the needs of the poorest among us. For as Jesus put it, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

In a world, wear a mother has to figure out a way to get food from a lion, and people who live nearby us also wonder where their next meal comes from, I think about their parable and the poor little ewe lambs nearby and far way, What am I going to give for the life of the world? (or will I take the lamb away by doing nothing to help…)

Let me end with a prayer from the UK that reminds us of our role to play…
O God, whose Spirit moved upon the waters, we remember those who live in lands of drought or flood, whose harvest is not-enough or not-at-all. Today, they sow in tears: Soon, may they reap with shouts of joy.

We remember those whose water supply is polluted, by negligence or need, those to whom water brings disease, poisoning or radiation, whose gift of life is cursed by death. Today, they sow in tears: Soon, may they reap with shouts of joy.

We remember ourselves: We waste our water and devastate the fruits of the earth, & neglect to share our abundance. We are unwilling to form one circle with our brothers and sisters around the world. Merciful Creator, help us to share their tears that soon we may all reap with shouts of joy.