Monthly Archives: May 2009

Recovery Church


Communion at Recovery Church


Today’s Mpls Star Tribune reports on a pair of downtown twin cities Methodist churches that have become “The Recovery Church.”  It started one Sunday in 1999 when the Rev Jo Campe offered an addiction recovery service at Central Park United Methodist Church in downtown St. Paul, and now recovery has become the spirit of regular Sunday services there and also at a sister church in downtown Minneapolis.

 “You look at the socioeconomic diversity — the doctors and the lawyers sitting next to people who are coming in off the street,” Campe says, ” — and you realize that one thing that ties us all together is that we understand brokenness. We’ve all been through major issues in our lives in which, in some way, shape or form, we lost control.”

This blog offers my favorite quotations that randomly appear along the sidebar.  One of them is my paraphrase of the first AA twelve steps:  I am powerless, and my life is unmanageable, but a power greater than myself can restore me if I only let go.  An ELCA  pastor and addiction counselor that I know tells the story of his first visit to an AA meeting in which the presence of the Spirit was palpable and powerful.  As an occasional public speaker, I have borrowed an idea from the recently popular book (All I needed to know I learned in Kindergarten), by suggesting that all I needed to know about God I learned in AA.  I say that as one who has studied theology voraciously, both formally in graduate school and informally.  In the trite one-liners of AA lies great wisdom (“One day at a time”, “let go and let God”, “there but for the grace of God go I”, etc.).

So, Rev Campe, keep up the good work.  One of these Sundays, I’m going to hop on I-35E and drive up to St. Paul and soak in some of that spirit.

Dr. Miguel Diaz: St John’s and St Ben’s

Dr. Miguel DiazThe President has appointed Dr. Miguel Diaz to be ambassador to the Vatican. 

Blogger Andrew Sullivan comments on his Hispanic background (Diaz is Cuban-American) and notes that he is an academic with outstanding scholarly credentials. 


James Martin, S.J. of America, the National Catholic Weekly applauds the choice. 

[T]he nomination is clearly going to a talented and faithful Catholic (like Mary Ann Glendon), rather than a straight political appointee, and it is also going to someone who clearly understands not only the Vatican but also Catholic theology at the highest levels. 

Diaz is a theology professor at St. John’s/St. Ben’s in central Minnesota.  St. John’s School of Theology is where I pursued post-graduate studies in theology and Christian history although I was there before Diaz.  But, I can attest to the progressive spirit of ecumenism as well as a committment to the highest standards of critical scholarship amongst the Benedictines of these fine institutions.

Recent St Ben’s graduate Beth Dahlman of Faith in Public Life concurs. 

St. Ben’s and St. John’s (the two schools have a close partnership and share an academic program) are special places to me; they embody a commitment to a lived faith that is theologically and spiritually serious while still engaged with the needs of the wider world.

Dahlman was a theology major at St Ben’s where she served as TA for Diaz’ systematic theology class, and Diaz served on the advisory committee for her honors thesis.  She suggests that Diaz is an outstanding choice for ambassador based on “the passion with which he taught theology and his inclusion of theologians from diverse backgrounds, in the way he hosted classes at his home for end-of-semester celebrations, and in his obvious love for his family–that will serve him well in his new position.”

Rainbow Sash Movement

The Rainbow Sash Movement is an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and  transgender Catholics, with their families and friends, who are publicly calling the Roman Catholic Church to a conversion of heart around the issues of human sexuality.

Brian McNeill of the Minnesota Chapter has advised Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis that LGBT Catholics and their allies would be present wearing rainbow sashes at this year’s Pentecost Sunday noon Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul.  McNeil also reiterates:

We cannot repeat too often that we attend Mass on Pentecost to celebrate who we are, not to protest.  We participate in Mass in the same way we do all the other days of the year.  But on Pentecost we come out of the closet as lgbt Catholics, family and friends to remind our fellow Catholics that we too are part of God’s loving family.

The archbishop has responded with a letter in which he states:archbishop john neinstedt

Anyone wearing a “rainbow sash” will not be permitted to receive Holy Communion, since their dissent is a sign that they have publicly broken communion with the Church’s teaching. I also ask that those not wearing the sashes refrain from sharing the Holy Eucharist with those who do. Such an action is unbecoming the dignity of the sacrament.

Read the full letter and additional commentary at The Progressive Catholic Voice.

Pentecost – three perspectives (Update plus a 4th)


An African Pentecost

An African Pentecost

In the calendar of Christendom, Pentecost is celebrated each year fifty days after Easter.  The gospel writer, Luke, tells the story in his second book, The Acts of the Apostles.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the spirit gave them ability.  Acts 2:1-4 NRSV


From Christine Sine at God Space, a blog of spirituality:

Pentecost is coming.  Pentecost, fifty days after Easter Sunday celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.  As the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples, the barriers of language and culture were broken down – not so that everyone thought and looked the same, but so that everyone understood each other in their own language and culture.  This festival draws us beyond the resurrection to remind us that through the coming of the Holy Spirit we become part of a transnational community from every nation, culture and social class.

 “My peace I leave with you.”  The story of Pentecost is a story of a wonderful international cross cultural gathering. God’s Holy Spirit draws us all into a new family in which we are able to understand and break down all the cultural barriers that separate us and create conflict. In spite of our cultural differences we are, through the power of the Spirit, enabled to understand each other and treat each other as equals, with love and mutual care.


From Dignity USA which believes that “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics in our diversity are members of Christ’s mystical body, numbered among the People of God.”

Noise, wind, fire; things which bring consternation and confusion, not peace and security. Have you ever seen a painting or stained glass window which actually depicts the event as Luke describes it; people’s clothes blowing in the wind, hands covering their ears? We usually see a group of people piously sitting or standing with neatly formed streaks of fire hovering over their bowed heads.

Luke deliberately chooses these disturbing images because his community has already experienced the Spirit at work in its midst, especially on such occasions as the controversial opening of their faith to non-Jews – an event prefigured by the non-Jewish languages the Spirit-filled disciples are now able to speak.

Those who believe their church already possesses all truth will be greatly disturbed to discover that, according to Jesus’ plan, there’s always more truth to be discovered.


The Christian celebration of Pentecost grew out of the Hebrew Festival of Shavuot, which  jointly celebrated the spring harvest of barley and wheat and God’s gift of Torah on Mt Sinai.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow offers these comments on God’s Politics blog:

The ancient rabbis assigned a special reading for Shavuot: the book of Ruth, which focuses on harvesting, on tongues of native and “foreign” speech, of wealth and poverty. What does Ruth mean to us today?

For Christians, that day became Pentecost, now counted 50 days after Easter (this year on Sunday, May 31), when the Holy Spirit came like the rush of a strong and driving wind, helping the early community of believers speak and understand all the languages of every nation under heaven.

When do we ourselves experience the Holy Spirit, that rushing wind that intertwines all life? The Holy Breath that the trees breathe out for us to breathe in, that we breathe out for the trees to breathe in? The Holy Breath that now is in a planetary crisis?

Both of these festivals look beyond the narrow boundaries of nation, race, or class.

In the biblical story, Ruth was a foreigner from the nation of Moab, which was despised by all patriotic and God-fearing Israelites. Yet when she came to Israel as a widow, companion to her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, she was welcomed onto the fields of Boaz, where she gleaned what the regular harvesters had left behind. Boaz made sure that even this despised foreigner had a decent job at decent pay. When she went one night to the barn where the barley crop was being threshed, he spent the night with her — and decided to marry her.

But if Ruth came to America today, what would happen?

UPDATE:  A fourth perspective

In a recent editorial of The Jewish Daily Forward (Online), we are reminded of the obligations of sharing the harvest, by “Leaving the Gleanings“.

Shavuot, the biblical Festival of Weeks, arrives on May 29 this year, with a special urgency. Holidays on the Jewish calendar often speak to us with particular force at pivotal moments in our communal lives – Passover, for example, with its theme of freedom, or Yom Kippur with its call for repentance. This year, we need to be reminded of Shavuot, the spring harvest festival with its often-overlooked — or suppressed — teachings about the rights of the poor and the dangerous seduction of wealth.

The text spells it out as plain as day: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings” — the bits that fall to the ground — “of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord.”

The message of Shavuot is that the harvest you’re celebrating isn’t yours alone. Part of your crop belongs by right to people you don’t even know, simply because they don’t have as much. And if we restate this as a broad principle, as most of us agree the Bible is supposed to be read, the rule is this: A portion of one’s income shall be redistributed to the poor.

Nor is this to be taken as a recommendation of charity or generosity. It’s intended as a legal obligation, “a law for all time, in all your dwellings” — not just on the farm, and not just in the Middle East — “throughout your generations.” It’s almost as if the ancients knew we were going to try to wiggle out of it.

Conservatives in Washington these days like to dismiss taxes and regulation as “socialism.” But if you read your Bible, that’s just a fancy name for traditional values.

The National Voice of Jewish Democrats also comments on this editorial.

Writing my novel: Part 2 (the research)

In an earlier post, I summarized a few events of my life that brought me to 2006 and the decision to write the historical  novel that had long been fermenting in my mind.   Around Labor Day in 2006, the time was right  – I closed an online business and began to devote full time efforts to the novel. 

read more …

Prima not Sola Scriptura (Updated)

A twenty-year old seminarian, Blake Huggins, suggests that the Reformation cry of Sola Scriptura is outdated, but that substituting Prima Scriptura suggests a continued reliance on the primacy of Scripture.  I think the young man is right, and I recommend reading his entire blog post at Emergent Village Weblog.

So, admitting the immanent [sic, but interesting] end of Sola Scriptura is not a categorical rejection of Scripture as much [sic, less interesting]; rather, it is a coming to terms with our own limitations and finitude as human beings and adopting a certain humility about our readings. I seriously doubt whether the Bible is infallible since it was written by pre-modern men (yes, they were men). But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the Bible is authoritative or instructional.

This ties into the discussion on Doug Kings’ blog, Cyber Spirit Cafe,  in which he suggests that our ELCA is not honest about Scripture with the people in the pew.  See my earlier post on the subject.  I like the line, which I paraphrase, our seminaries teach the historical critical method, but whisper on the way out ‘don’t tell anyone’.  Doug is especially critical of the ELCA “Book of Faith Initiative” which he sees as a wishy-washy, don’t offend anyone, response to Biblical illiteracy, which only perpetuates the problem.

Doug also suggests, rightly I think, that ambivalence about how we read Scripture is at the core of denominational struggles with issues such as gay clergy.  In the ELCA,  the conservative opposition to all things new calls itself, “Word Alone”, which confirms that the threshold issue is how we relate to Scripture.

Doug suggests we deal honestly with what Scripture is and what it is not and let the chips fall where they will.


In a hard hitting and incisive post, Pastor John Shuck of Shuck and Jive, criticizes today’s California SC Prop 8 decision by challenging a “high view of scripture”, ie the sense that the Bible is divinely inspired and hence beyond criticism.  He argues that certain Christians, in reliance upon their misguided interpretation of scripture and fundamental misunderstanding of what Scripture is, are responsible for the California decision.

If there is going to be any forward movement for humanity, we will need to relieve ourselves of our superstitious past. This will include the evolution of Christianity into something that is reasonable and decent. The key will be discarding the authority of any supposed “special revelation.”

The Bible is a book. It is like all books, creeds, liturgies, songs, and rituals, created by human beings. Most of the Bible isn’t even that good. Until we can admit that reasonable piece of common sense, we will continue to make life more miserable for our fellow creatures and for Earth itself.

Whew.  Tell us what you really think, Pastor Shuck!  Read his rant in his blogpost, but its not for namby pambies.   Shuck and Jive: Prop 8 and Superstition

Church of Scotland affirms gay clergyman (Updated)

scott-rennieThe Church of Scotland is part of the Presbyterian tradition.  A gay clergyman, Scott Rennie, was recently appointed to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen, but the bigger news is that his appointment was affirmed this past week by the churchwide assembly. “In a ground-breaking move, the church’s ruling body voted by 326 to 267 in support of the Rev. Scott Rennie, the church said in a news release Sunday,” according to CNN.

Elisabeth Kaeton, in her blog, Telling Secrets, includes a copy of a different news release from Ekklesia with more details than the CNN report.

In his blog, Madpriest, (an Anglican priest in England) commends the Scots for putting principle ahead of concerns over possible schismatic fallout.

What really struck me about how the Scots handled this potentially damaging matter was this. Although the reactionaries, as reactionaries are wont, immediately played the schism card at the start of the troubles, the elders of the Church of Scotland pretty much ignored it. When they came to debate the matter they concentrated on theology and the constitution of their church not on pragmatic issues concerning the future of their church. They consistently refused to be blackmailed or intimidated.

As my own church (ELCA) prepares for contentious consideration of gay clergy issues this summer at their churchwide assembly, church unity is often raised as a reason against affirming gay clergy.  The fractious experience of the Episcopal church is cited as an example.  But, the  polity over principle argument merely postpones and does not resolve the issue, and is inherently unfair.  Neither Martin Luther nor Martin Luther King shied from the unsettling consequences of their actions, and kudos to the Scots for their courage.

In his latest post, Madpriest suggests a movement is afoot by some dissenting Church of Scotland congregations to withhold funds from the churchwide organization.


Tennesee Presbyterian minister John Shuck suggests this morning that the celebrations over the Church of Scotland sitituation may have been premature.  While the ordination of gay clergyman Scott Rennie stands as reported, other actions by the church body are less progressive:

Mother (Dearest) Church Reconsiders

John Knox struck up the alleluias too soon it appears. The Church of Scotland (behaving like all superstitious and fearful cults–like the PCUSA) gave into its homophobic element. I praised it yesterday for approving an openly gay man as minister. The backlash has begun.

Instead of outright rejecting a motion similar to the PCUSA’s G-6.0106b (effectively banning gays without mentioning them), the General Assembly decided to set up a commission. From the BBC:

At its General Assembly in Edinburgh, it was decided instead that a special commission should be set up to consider the matter and report in 2011.

There will be a two-year ban on the future ordination of gay ministers.

Church of Scotland has avoided a potentially damaging debate about whether gay people should be allowed to become Kirk ministers.

“Avoided a potentially damaging debate” says the news. Potentially damaging to whom? Those of us who have watched commission after commission in the 35 year struggle in the PCUSA know what these commissions end up doing.

The Church of Scotland will experience a shit storm of fear-mongering for two years. At the end of this time, the beleaguered commission will come up with some report. It makes no difference what the report will say. Fundamentalist forces will wrest control and tell the same lies and offer the same threats that have been made here for the past third of a century. Then they will come up with some horrific rule (just like G-6.0106b).

The Church of Scotland will be no further ahead then than they are now.

It was fun for a day.

Favorite Quotations

I have added a permanent page to my blog entitled “Favorite Quotations”.  Here they are in post form.

A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last.  Do you fix your eyes on such a one?  Job 14:1-3a NRSV 

 The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is part of this world may enter into relationship with Him who is greater than the world; that man may lift up his mind and be attached to the absolute … How does one rise above the horizon of the mind?  How does one find a way in this world that would lead to an awareness of Him who is beyond this world? It is an act of profound significance that we sense more than we can say … concepts are second thoughts.  All conceptualization is symbolization, an act of accommodation of reality to the human mind. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel   

I believe that Christ was a man like ourselves; to look upon him as God would seem to me the greatest of sacrileges and an evidence of paganism.  Leo Tolstoy 

Paulinism has always stood on the brink of heresyKarl Barth 

It may be said that myths give to the transcendent reality an immanent, this-worldly objectivity.  Myths speak about gods and demons as powers on which man knows himself to be dependent, powers whose favors he needs, powers whose wrath he fears.  Myths express the knowledge that man is not master of the world and his life, that the world within which he lives is full of riddles and mysteries and that human life also is full of riddles and mysteries.  Rudolf Bultmann 

It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ.Lucretia Mott, Quaker abolitionist and women’s rights advocate (1793-1880) 

I am powerless, and my life is unmanageable, but a power greater than myself can restore me if I only let go. AA Twelve steps (paraphrase)

Prop 8 Court decision due

The California Supreme Court has announced that its Prop 8 decisions will be made public at 10:00 on Tuesday, the 26th of May.

Episcopalian priest, Susan Russell of Sacramento, and her partner will be among those waiting.  She calls the GLBT friendly faith community to vigil in her blog, An Inch At A Time.

California “Decision Day” is Tuesday … May 26 … stay tuned for more info as it comes in! Meanwhile, here are some links from our friends at California Faith for Equality:

By 10:00am on Tuesday, 36,000 of our community will know if their marriages will continue to hold legal standing. Thousands more will know if our Constitution really protects all Americans.

We have been waiting for months, but we have not been idle. Our faith and LGBT communities across the state are prepared to act for and celebrate justice. Here are three things you can do to be prepared for Decision Day and the days after:

Sign up for National Center for Lesbian Rights text service to know exactly when and how the Decision comes down.

Dial in with hundreds of other people of faith on Friday @ 10am. RSVP to for call-in information.

Attend a Decision Day event in your area and Meet CA Faith for Equality in the Middle at our “Faith Tent.” You can find Decision Day events listed in the websites in the right column.

I’ll be sitting at my desk in Northfield, Mn, but my thoughts and prayers will be with all.