Wednesday, October 1, 2014

sinner, hell, change of mind, and all that stuff

'What does the Episcopals teach about hell?' she asked at the side of the grave. I never really like to answer that question. At the side of a grave. After all the prayers have been said. The Easter acclamation pushed in to the air. The sound of the dirt hitting the top of the coffin.

It hasn't happened all that often --and the first few times it felt like pastoral defeat. But, now I know... I know it is commentary on the journey we have just had to get to the edge of the grave. The person saying it wants me to know that I am wrong, all wrong. That heaven's expanse isn't wide enough to include the person we just buried. That God has made throw-away persons. That eternal suffering is, ultimately, God's will. That life is a test, and we will all fail, unless we have JesusChristAsOurPersonalLordAndSavior.

And an academic answer like --The Episcopal Church has no absolute doctrine on hell-- makes it even worse....

But, she obviously wanted to tell me what she thought about hell, so I turned it back to her, asking, 'What do you think about hell?' I suffered in silence as she spoke of hell, of her children refusing to read the Harry Potter series in school because it's all about sorcery and the devil and magic and the bible condemns such things.... She went on and on. It started to rain. The earth stuck to the shovels. A sudden wind gust pushed me off my balancing point on the clump of weeds. The sky descended to the surrounding hills. I had forgotten what winter sky looked like --so close one can imagine touching it --draping the horizon over the next hill.

And I got so sad. Standing there. Listening about hell. Which was made for everyone except her. And her children. And I knew her thoughts about hell were not meant for me, but spoken loudly enough to tell the rest of the family gathered there that they were all bound for hell.

I swear. Even though I knew it wasn't so, prayed it wasn't so, it suddenly felt like all the work of wake and prayers and conversation and presence were a giganormous waste of time.... She got the last word in: Hell. Freakin' hell.


It's enough to give all Christians a bad name... the deceased's father is a Baptist, and he was tormented with the thought that his only and beloved son were going to hell because he had not professed that JesusChristWasHisPersonalLordAndSavior --the father and I had spent so much time over the meals as he shoved his meat around on his paper plate and looked at his plastic fork --Trust God, I had said... There is nothing more powerful than God's love. In the end, that is all there will be: God's love. Trust God.

It was at that very moment of frustration and despair that I coughed, and knew I was sick... I had been fighting it for more than a week. It had been going around, everybody had it --sore throat, enlarged lymph glands in my neck, minor congestion --my body working overtime to keep it at bay. And now, bottabing. The crap incarnate. In my flesh and blood.

And the crud ran through me like a race horse. In the hour-long drive home from the cemetery, I lost my voice and got the chills. I stopped in to the clinic --but they couldn't see me any time during the rest of the afternoon, and my doctor was on vacation for two weeks. Which meant I was going to have to fight to tell the other doctor I was not a 23 year old with a functioning immune system, and I lived in a household with someone with a compromised immune system....

Fight about hell.
Fight about being sick.


I went home and collapsed on the sofa. Joel brought me hot tea. The dogs greeted me as though I had been gone a week... well, I guess I had been... Clergy conference, funeral, Diocesan Convention, Sunday, Sunday night wake, Monday funeral, Monday night wake, Tuesday funeral.... Couldn't stop... gotta teach Wednesday night.

Why the hell do we always start bible classes with the Hebrew Scriptures? Why? Folks grow up thinking that's the Gospel....

--I shut my eyes in a delirium of self pity. Disgust. Frustration. And exhaustion.

At prayer this morning (Acts 21:15-26)

After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.

When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”

Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.

Paul. Paul. Paul. What a chicken. You succumbed to peer pressure, entered back in to the old rituals of purification to satisfy their demands and postulations that God's grace through Christ was not enough... to prove you had not forsaken Moses....

and this... (beginning at Luke 5:27)

After this Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Pharisees and scribes and messy people at the same table? Way to go, Jesus... !

Sinners, --amartolous-- Meaning:   --a = without     --martolous --from the same root as martyr or witness....    So,   sinners = without witness...   hmmmmm... unless you are a witness, you really don't have much to say....

Repentance, --is really --metanoia-- Meaning:   meta = change    --noia = mind.  Change of mind.

Those who are well, don't need a doctor; those who are not well, need a doctor. I don't call those who are doing okay and hitting the target; I have come for those who really don't have much to say --to change their minds....

Jesus has come to call those who really don't have much to say to a change of mind....

Yeah. That works.
Or... was that a way tell them they didn't really have much to say... ! I need to find a line like that for those who want to talk about hell.... like... folks who talk so much about hell, really don't know about God's love....

They are wrong about sin. They are wrong about righteousness. They don't have a clue about judgment.... (thank you John).

Well... I have need of a physician....
Off I go.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wake up! People!

Another funeral and burial today... and it is rainy and windy. Blowing hard enough to rattle the windows. We will bury a young man in his early 40s --he quit doing dialysis... said it was no way live. He was an artist --a maker of traditional dance regalia --made a living moving around the powwow circuit. Some believe you choose the weather on the day you are buried. If so, he's not making it easy on us....

--and, I guess, it shouldn't be easy.

It's never easy.

But, I quickly scan the headlines so that I can pretend I am informed about the world. Global warming. War. War. War. Unrest in Hong Kong. The wealth divide is even greater than people know. Apple avoiding taxes.

I wonder why I scan the headlines --nothing changes; it seems to become more and more entrenched in what already is....

--but I know I do it for one reason, at least.... There are some clergy here who have become hardened, who shield themselves from the pain and the suffering. I keep telling myself I do not wish to become like that. I keep telling myself that even though it is my third funeral this week, it should never become rote, never become easy.... So, I keep looking in to the face of the weeping child, I keep looking at the grandmas, the eyes of the thirteen year old boy... I keep my heart open and fresh to the grief and pain, because it should never become rote. Never easy. Never.

And the headlines, even though they feel so remote, they should never become rote, either. Never. Ever. While it is not always my direct pain and suffering, if I go in to escape mode, it is surely denial --the great lie. The lie that Apple and all the other corporations tell themselves so that they avoid the responsibility of shouldering living in community. The lie that the rich tell themselves. The lie that the great majority of people tell themselves... it doesn't effect me. It's not me. See, I'm okay....

I know it may seem strange... but it is in the pain, the devastation, the grief that I find the seeds of hope. That's not strange, actually... by his wounds, we are healed, by his death, we are made fully alive.

Hope. Seeds of hope. I was reading and praying about new old war, you know, the new efforts of bombing we have engaged in, seemingly without end. I remember my old uncle --he was 103 when he died, had been a spy in Germany, had been awarded medals by Hitler, had been caught and imprisoned.... He was a war hero. Decorated war hero. I was sitting with him when the first President Bush made a move against Iraq. He said, 'there was a study during World War II that proved that bombing does nothing but strengthen the resolve of those being bombed... we shouldn't be doing this.'

--and here we are... twenty years later.... Same. Old. Thing. Over. And. Over. Again.

But on to the hope. I first went to see if Bill Moyers had any pungent analysis. Find it here. the discussion itself gives me hope....

And, Matthew Hoh.... he resigned in 2009 over U.S. policies in this region --a Foreign Service Official, and a Marine. Resigned. He said in an interview then: (my emphases in bold)

Question: Have you forgotten about 9/11 and the failed state that existed before we entered Afghanistan? Do you want to give all we have accomplished, removing the Taliban from power, taking away al-Qaeda's safe haven, making it possible for women to get an education, etc., back to the Muslim extremists? Isn't that letting them win?

Matthew Hoh: I disagree and I think it is emotional arguments like this that keep us tied to Afghanistan and to a policy that fuels the insurgency as well as adds credence to calls for global Islamic jihad.

9/11 was a tragedy for this country and we cannot let another event like that happen, particularly as we have still not recovered from the emotional shock of the event 8 years later. Additionally, events like 9/11 cause tremendous shock to world financial markets, something we cannot allow to occur, especially at this point in time.

However, since 9/11 al-Qaeda has evolved and no longer will tie itself to a political state or geographical boundaries. They have turned into an ideological cloud that exists on the internet and recruits worldwide. Look at the makeup of the attackers for the 9/11, London and Madrid attacks and additionally looked at where they planned and trained for their operations. Heck, the 9/11 attackers trained here in the US! The people we are fighting, for the most part, in Afghanistan are fighting us because they do not want to be occupied by either a foreign army or a central government force. Simply put, al-Qaeda does not exist in Afghanistan and 60,000 troops with the hope of stabilizing the Afghan central government which may or may not succeed in 5-10 years time will not defeat al-Qaeda.

And a little more, same interview:

Question: Don't [you] think that our over-emphasis on collateral damage and nation building is harming our effort to wage war effectively as we did in WW II?

Matthew Hoh: This isn't WWII and there shouldn't be a comparison. No one can kill better in this world than the US military, however, if killing was the means to victory we would have "won" this years ago. This is primarily a political fight.

--which is precisely why our Congress refuses to have the debate....

Yes. I find the seeds of hope in this.

And what is Matthew Hoh doing now? Well... he is one who wrote that the beheadings were 'bait' and as painful as it is/was, that we shouldn't fall for the bait.... But, it seems we are following the script of the terrorists and extremists instead of writing our own.

Please --do go read some of his articles... particularly the one on Perpetual War, and Shame, Is Our Policy....

So.... Now.... Off to step in to the middle of grief and suffering. And strive to find words of hope and peace....

At prayer this morning (Hosea 4:1-10)

Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel;
for the LORD has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
and no knowledge of God in the land.
Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing.

Yet let no one contend,
and let none accuse,
for with you is my contention, O priest.
You shall stumble by day;
the prophet also shall stumble with you by night,
and I will destroy your mother.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.

The more they increased,
the more they sinned against me;
they changed their glory into shame.
They feed on the sin of my people;
they are greedy for their iniquity.
And it shall be like people, like priest;
I will punish them for their ways,
and repay them for their deeds.
They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
they shall play the whore, but not multiply;
because they have forsaken the LORD
to devote themselves to whoredom.

Oh yikes! (actually, I used a much stronger word than that in my head!)

--my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge....

--like people, like priest...

So... no more denial.

--no more easy street....

Wake up, People!


(heheheh --spell check wants to change 'whoredom' to 'boredom.' heheheh)

Monday, September 29, 2014

funny, isn't it!

Friday. I had to leave the clergy conference. With regret. But with purpose. To bury a young woman. I planned to arrive at the cemetery a half hour before the services were supposed to begin, mediating the time zone changes and the back road to White Horse.

When I arrived, there were a couple of cars at the parish hall, and a few pickup trucks and an SUV atop the cemetery hill. I was early. The day was still early. And it was hot. Not dripping hot like it gets where there is more water in the air; but hot like there is no buffer between your nostril and the sun. And there is no shade on the prairie. No. Shade. At. All.

One of the trucks came down the hill. 'Getting coffee,' he said, swinging his long braid back over his shoulder and greeting me with a nod. 'Waiting for the hearse,' I said, running my fingers through my hair. It had decided to stand contrary to my shadow and every other which way. 'She's already up there, the funeral director too,' he said, pointing with his chin back up the hill while he took the truck door in both hands and slammed it shut. The truck hinge screamed as the door swung shut.

I eyed the cluster of cars waiting on top of the hill. 'Oh No! I guess I better get up there,' I said. I decided to walk up on foot, wanting the heat to infuse me with its strength. It might be the last warm day for quite a while. The ruts of the road were lined with bits of rock that shone in the day light. White, round rock, imported from Some Place Else. I tried to avoid the barbed stickers. The prairie cactus. They both come with this time of year. But the mosquitoes should be gone. Should be, but weren't.

In the cemetery, the sweet clover still stood three or four feet tall, brown now, with woody stems like small trees. There would be no way to clear the part of the cemetery that had not been mowed --other than to ask the fire department to come out and burn it all, sometime next spring.

The funeral director sat in the shade of the open door of the SUV. We greeted each other --always laughing. He is the one that got pulled up out of a grave once, and ripped his pants front to back --at the very same time he got a phone call asking him to come to the hospital morgue to pick up a body. He worried and hemmed and hawed. He couldn't go to the morgue flapping in the breeze like he was; he couldn't drive the 100 miles back to the funeral home and then back again, making a family wait. 'Borrow a pair of my pants,' I had said. So, he did. And within hours the jokes were circulating all over town that the funeral director was in my pants.... The hilarity continued even the next day when his wife called to berate me for letting her husband in my pants. Such silly laughter.

And now, we had the pit of a grave before us again, the familiar density of death and dirt and grief and prayer. I took the time to greet the one in the coffin, although I did not know her. This would just be graveside; she had been in California for the last forty years or so, went there as a child and never really returned. But she was a relative, and so she would be laid to rest among her ancestors. Pulled here. Deep. On the hill. Above the river. Hidden in the middle of the prairie. Where even the most solid of gravestones would one day be ground to bits by the harsh realities of this place. Where the lightening strikes indiscriminately. And roads and homes and all the bits of human existence become one with the grasses and the strong dirt. Or blown away. Flotsam.

We began the prayers after the two grandmas arrived. The four men struggled to carry the casket to the grave. The star quilt flapped, threatening to take flight. We said the prayers. No one was there to sing. We lowered her in, nailed the plywood rough box shut. The grandmas began to cry. The four men began to sweat as they shoveled the heap of dirt back in to the grave. I picked up a shovel too. And joined the rhythm of the agony of burial. There is never a clean escape at a burial. Never.

It took us quite a while to fill the grave and make the mound. Others had showed up to help and give the five of us relief. Then we went to the parish hall and ate. Soup. Pulled meat. Cucumbers in yogurt. Fry bread.

It was surreal to make the drive back to the conference and diocesan convention. I stopped in to see my beloved. Briefly. All was well. As I completed the 200 mile round-trip and neared the first stop-light of Pierre, I decided it would be good to go fill my eyes and heart with something beautiful --something crafted by human hands that would give me pause to celebrate and remember. I would go to the Dakota Emporium, look at the beadwork, the leatherwork, the blankets and quilts, the clothes.

I cut across the intersection and took the back streets through Fort Pierre, along the River. Turning left, then right, then left --I suddenly found myself caught in the middle of three fire engines with their lights blazing and flashing, the sirens screaming. My heart raced. I couldn't pull over, I was surrounded. As I neared the intersection, the police were there with their lights flashing and pulsing. I began to panic. I tried to turn to the side of the road again, and the police scowled at me, standing in the middle of the road, signaling with their elbows out and all fists forward for me to follow in the midst of the fire trucks. I couldn't hear myself think. I needed to scream to let the panic out. I kept looking over my shoulder, left, right, peering through the windshield, in my rear view mirrors.

There. Was. No. Way. Out.

And suddenly. I saw. The lines of people. Sitting on the curbs. In chairs. Eating candy. The children running alongside the fire trucks.

I was in the middle of a parade. Stuck in the middle of a parade. My panic abandoned its horror, and embraced embarrassment.

Still. No. Way. Out.

I just slunk in my seat. Hoping no one would see my little white car and the little white old lady all done up in a funny plastic collar thing and black shirt covered in dust amongst the fire trucks. And scowling police.

I laughed as I remembered that I should wave... perhaps like the Queen of England, rotating my palm from a stationary wrist, first this way and then that way....

At prayer this morning (Psalm 8)

O LORD our Lord, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.
You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What are human beings that you should be mindful of them? *
mortals that you should seek them out?
You have made them but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn them with glory and honor;
You give them mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under their feet:
All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.
O LORD our Lord, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
What are human beings that you should be mindful of them? We were made for joy. Only joy. Funny, isn't it --that when I intentionally went to look at something to restore my soul, I should end up in a parade...

Funny, isn't it.

Please keep the Sanchez family in your prayers, especially the grandmas who cried.

Please keep the Yellow Horse family in your prayers. We have another funeral and burial today which began last night.

And tonight, please keep the Pipestem family in your prayers as we gather at another wake and begin the long journey to another grave.


Saturday, September 27, 2014


Clergy conference.
Funeral. (Had to help fill in the hole... a very small family. Got covered in holy dust.)
Diocesan Convention (covered in holy dust).
Good people.
Vine Deloria (Sr.) --his daughter and her husband here to witness the naming of the new Deloria center in Pierre --a meeting place, hostel, some day Diocesan offices.
And, now, this morning --off again and running.

Thankful for my Bishop.
Thankful for the other clergy.
Thankful for the people here.

Lots of adventures. The trees not as autumn-like here in the River valley.

And now the power just went out --but not the wifi... must be a hint.

Off I go.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

why did he have to go off on a tangent

I have only a few minutes this morning --and then running off to Pierre for the diocesan clergy conference, and then coming back up for a funeral, then returning to Pierre for the diocesan convention.

But, this morning, in prayer, I followed links on poverty-- and was astounded at the assertion that in South Dakota, having a total population of 107,846 people (yes, in the whole State), there are only 5,355 living in poverty....


Dewey County (1/2 the Reservation) has a population of 5,586...

Ziebach County (the other half) has a population of 2,834

--8,420... folks living on the Reservation....
--with the fourth and eleventh lowest per capita income in the Nation....

Ziebach has approximately %50 living below the poverty level....

--which means approximately 1,300 of the total number (5,355) of folks living in poverty in South Dakota live here.... not to mention the folks in Dewey County....

Hmmmmm...... I'll round the number off: that means roughly one quarter to one third of all the households that live in poverty in the entire State of South Dakota live on the Cheyenne River Reservation?

Hmmmmmm..... me thinks the 5,355 --the number of folks living in poverty in the State is way too low. Just sayin'.

Other links:

how the census bureau measures poverty

poverty 2012 and 2013
total population of SD 107,846 5,355 in poverty

In 2013, about 48.8 million people or 15.8 percent of the U.S. population had income below the poverty level.

census bureau on poverty press release

huffpost article

Sigh.... off I go.

At prayer (Luke 4:14-30)

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'”

And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

What.... the good people of Nazareth wanted to hurl Jesus off a cliff? They had just finished saying nice things about him... why did he have to go off on a tangent about ignoring prophets and lepers and all that....

There we are.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

commonplace unexpectedations

By 10am, I had received the call for a funeral on Friday morning. No problem, I said. Honored to be there with you.

At 10:30am, I got the call from the family that cooks hot lunches for folks every Tuesday and Thursday in the parish hall... 'There's ashes. We found someone's ashes on top of the refrigerator.' Not wanting to believe it... But, I had to believe it.... I went over... 'We saw the clutter up there. It's been up there for a few weeks. Wrapped up in that jacket.' The looks on the faces made me know this was just more than unsettling for everyone.

So, I inspected the bundle. A jacket. A shoulder bag. A sock. A velvet bag that held the steel urn. I opened the urn. Yep. The tell-tale glint of crushed bone and ash. Nothing else like it. I closed the the urn. 'I'll be right back,' I said, and placed the bundle on the counter out of the way.

I returned to the house. I called the funeral home with the question of --was there someone who wanted to put somebody's cremains in someone's coffin any time in the last month or so? All the funeral homes said no.... One told me to look through the ashes for a tag or a number.

I called the police. 'Do I need to make a report?' No, probably not, said the guy, yawning... this is a first, never had this before, so, let's just say no. I'll write down that you called to ask, just in case.


So, I gathered the ceremonial sage and flat cedar, the abalone shell, and returned to the parish hall. I took the cremains outside and sifted through them, looked for the ID tag. Nothing. No such luck. Then I made a ball of sage and lit it, and put flat cedar on it too, in a pile in the abalone shell. The aroma brought the sweet scent of the prairie inside. I took the smoke to everyone, and they "washed" in the smoke, pulling it to them, over their head, breathing it in.

It's holy because it comes up out of the earth with rain, becomes smoke with fire, and rises through the air to the Creator, completing in itself a whole circle of existence. It cleanses the place and any one who washes in it. It sends wickedness and spirits on their way. It brings holiness.

'Get the pantry too. Someone has been in there, throwing our pots around.' So I go in the pantry, and turn clockwise in a circle, fanning smoke in to the corners of the room.

Then they begin to tease me --am I going to make them do a whole funeral service? --who is going to be the choir? --should we have communion? I tease them back --who will be the pall bearers? --who will dig the hole and then fill it in? We laugh and laugh.

I carry the bundle with the still burning cedar-sage in to the sanctuary. I set it before the altar. I begin to say some prayers... but I don't know if this is someone's cat or dog or husband... And in the end, I choose husband, but refer to the remains as 'The One Known Only To You...' and I apologize....

I go get Joel and the dogs. We load the car with the shovel and the bundle, and drive to the closest Episcopal cemetery --about twenty miles, nine of it down the gravel road alongside the river. The trees have turned dark yellow and dusky brown. It seems to have happened suddenly. The grasses have turned pink or brown. Such different washes of color from the spring and summer colors.

We choose a place that will be easy to find in case we have to dig them up and carry them to their loved-one's grave, as was probably intended. the grave is not easy to dig --the tough grasses, the sod... it's an inch by inch endeavor. We finally get deep enough, and put the urn and all the accompanying bundle in to the hole. We say the prayers. The Easter acclamation. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia. Wopila. Amen.

Rest in peace. Don't miss being on the fridge. Free, at last.

Mr. Witty and Paeha both tried to eat the wild prairie grass, both ripped at it with swift gnashing of the teeth.... Paeha's beard turned instant green. You are what you eat, said Mr. Witty. We are wild and tough.

Yeah. Right.

We returned home. Another call. My father died. Last night. Can you help us with a comfort service tonight? Honored to be there with you, I said.

We prayed, late at the funeral home. The sun set. We shared soup. The little girl next to me said there was a waterfall in the bathroom, and she described it to me... it sounded like a urinal, with water running down somewhere. 'That's for the boys,' I said. 'No,' she said. 'It's got buttons to press, and it's nice. I'll show you.'

So we went to the bathroom, and she showed me the beautiful glass bowl sink that sat atop the counter with the lever to turn on and off the water. She pushed it on. The waterfall. See. Not just for boys. Her wonder filled me with gratitude. And she showed me the padded bench that sat against the wall in the spacious room. The gilded mirror. The clean glossy surfaces. 'It's so beautiful,' she said. On the way back down the hallway, we passed the men's room. 'Look,' she said. 'Theirs is like a leaf.' Sure enough. It was. 'Yeah, it is,' I said, and nodded and prayed silently. Full of gratitude. Remembering that the very commonplace is most always awesome. Especially when it takes the form of a sink, a spigot and has running water....

At prayer this morning (Canticle: Third Song of Isaiah, Isaiah 60:1-3,11a,14c,18-19)

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land; *
deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise, *
and his glory will appear upon you.
Nations will stream to your light, *
and kings to the brightness of your dawning.
Your gates will always be open; *
by day or night they will never be shut.
They will call you, The City of the Lord, *
The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
Violence will no more be heard in your land, *
ruin or destruction within your borders.
You will call your walls, Salvation, *
and all your portals, Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day; *
by night you will not need the brightness of the moon.
The Lord will be your everlasting light, *
and your God will be your glory.

Grandfather, thank you.
You have given me health. So, thank you.
Off I go.

A gift through my beloved Joel:

If you put all the miracles ever wrought into one pile, they would look like a grain of sand compared to the galaxies full of noninterventionist, luck-of-the-draw operations by which God normally lets the world run itself.

And do you see what that means? People always talk as if miracles were the holy thing and ordinary events were simply profane. But if God's all-but-total way of managing the universe is simply chance (which, even in the Bible, it certainly is —biblical grass grew mostly by luck or by gorry, and biblical rain fell the same way), then luck is just as holy as miracle because it's just as much God's way of doing business.

Maybe it's even holier, because he seems to like working by it a lot more of the time. And you don't even have to single out good luck for the accolade: as Charles Williams was fond of saying, "All luck is holy" —for the simple reason that all luck, good or bad, is God's chosen métier.
- Robert Farrar Capon

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

a strange way to wake up

I woke up to the sound of screaming. Joel thought it was me. It wasn't. Not him, either. A persistent scream. And then more --the anguish of something that continued --not fear, but pain. I pulled back the curtain and looked out the window by the bed, and saw nothing. For the other view, I got up and looked out the other window.... nothing. Then I heard it again. And it sounded like there was running --I heard feet, running.

It was way too early for kids to be on the path to school....

I slipped on my shoes, the dogs jumped down and began to lead the procession down the hall, through the kitchen to the door. They were delighted and quite satisfied that I was up and on my feet so quickly. It meant their usual job of coaxing and kissing was unnecessary this morning. I could almost see Paeha turn to Mr. Witty and say, 'Well, that was easy. It's not even really light out. Wonder what's going on. Wonder if the grass is wet today. Do you think there will be more headless mice? You really should try rolling on one. I wonder what's been dumped behind the tree this morning....' And Mr. Witty, not glancing back, would just say, 'It's too early to talk' in his usual superior and grumpy way.

I heard the scream again. I grabbed my sweater by the door, and Mr. Witty, Paeha and I spilled out the door. We went to the right out the door, by the tree and in to the grass. Mr. Witty always prefers the path, but today he risked the grass. And the scatter of leaves. Leaves. Fallen leaves. Mr. Paeha ran at top speed, announcing 'I'm here! I'm here! I'm here!' and ran the fence line around the back of the house.

I heard the scream again --low, loud and in agony. Was it a teenage boy? A woman? It wasn't a man.... I scanned the back yards that present themselves to our yard. I saw no bodies, no figures. I went around the corner of the house and saw down to the corner. Nothing there. I looked at the yards around the tin tipis. Nothing.

Mr. Witty and I went out to the pine tree and then cut across to the lilac and fence along the path. We had lost Paeha to his surge of energy --his streaking run. But we heard him. Suddenly. He cut loose with the kind of bark he gives when he believes something is eminent. We couldn't see him, couldn't see why he was barking. "Paeha," I shouted. "Paeha!"

And then silence. A sodden light. Overcast. Low clouds. Everything looked old. Worn out. The shrubs. The trees. The weeds, bent over in the weight of their seed. The leaves on the ground were not full of autumn color --they were just done, finished, and discarded.

A bus chortled on Main Street. Somewhere to the north, a truck on the highway monstered its brakes with that obnoxious rumble they are not allowed to do most places, so they do it here as they approach the intersection with the street light. Some dogs were barking. Over there.

Mr. Witty finished sniffing the grass around the base of the lilac and looked toward the gate to the yard. Paeha appeared. "Where have you been?" I asked him. He turned to the house. 'I deserve a cookie,' he says, and skips toward the path.

On the way back to the door, I glance again to the other back yards. I see the bulky figure of a neighbor. He has on a t-shirt. His pajama bottoms pluff out over the top of his trousers that he has pulled on quickly. One hand is on his hip; the other is pointing and shaking a finger at something.

A flood of relief awakens in me. Perhaps he has seen what the scream is about. I hear him yell, but I can't understand what he is saying. Mr. Witty and Paeha shove each other to see who gets to go in the door first. I let them in and they run to the kitchen. I kick off my outside shoes and add them to the stack by the door. I go back to the bedroom window for another and closer view of our neighbor. "Joel," I say. "Did you hear the screaming?" He is still not awake. "I thought it was you," he says again. "No, it wasn't." I pull back the bedroom curtain. Again. Our neighbor finishes yelling at someone. The thought to go back outside crosses my mind, but then I see him turn and head for the door of his house. He's barefoot.

And then, it's over. His door slams shut. A school bus honks its horn. Someone starts their car. Paeha demands a cookie. Mr. Witty makes him do it again. The popping sound the water makes just before it boils in the pot. Joel put the water on... I return to the kitchen, count out the scoops of coffee.

What a strange way to wake up. Frightened. Unresolved. Wondering who, what, where, why....

At prayer this morning

Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance;
Govern and uphold them, now and always.
Day by day we bless you;
We praise your Name for ever.
Lord, keep us from all sin today;
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.
Lord, show us your love and mercy;
For we put our trust in you.
In you, Lord, is our hope;
And we shall never hope in vain.

Hey God, I pray for those locked in to the unending cycle of poverty here; for those facing and suffering from the unending and re-escalating cycle of violence in the wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine --Gaza, Israel, and all the nations in that part of the world; for those soldiers still suffering from the wounds of mental violence; for those whose greed drives them to ruin this good earth; for the perpetrators of violence and degradation; for the oppressors; for the grandmas and grandpas who care; for the children, especially those who miss school and meals on account of their parents or guardians; for those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit --especially those I saw in the hospital yesterday; for those caught in the teeth of addiction and other mental illnesses; for those who labor in dehumanizing and dis-spiriting jobs; for the faithful and those moved to pray, work and support those who suffer; for the person who screamed this morning, and for all those who knew and saw; for all those things done and left and undone; for the wrongs done, known and unknown; for C,D,S,J,M --and all those preparing for our diocesan convention and clergy conference. Amen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

they were all around us, near us....

“Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from heaven,
That slid into my soul."

He began the morning like that... over coffee... and then moved on to Blake... I shut my ears, not my heart, just my ears, and I had so much to sort through. Because my eyes were still full with all the children in that great hall. Running. Pulling. Screaming. There was the singer in one corner, his electric guitar slightly out of tune, singing in a gravel pitch about Jesus. When he would finish, the boys in the other corner would sing around the drum, the sound piercing and throbbing, pulsing through crowd, their voices yet unchanged.

I still had so much to sort through... all that had slid into my soul....

It was all an offering. A celebration. A wopila. Earlier this year, late at night, I had received the call from the hospital. They had told the family to put her in the hospice wing for observation; the family was fighting to get her moved out to an ICU. In the meantime, they called for prayers. I went with my oil and stole. Stayed late. It was the next day K and I drove to Rapid and shared communion with the same family in the Walmart parking lot --they had left, following the ambulance, without a change of clothes. This party was to thank all those who had helped out, who had prayed, who had visited in the hospital. She had survived. And this was the big honoring and give away in thanksgiving of that.

Four of her eleven children present, the spirits of the three who had gone before them represented (and therefor present) in the picture on the cake; her other children were scattered all over, she had said, shrugging her shoulders and getting a distant look in her eyes as though she was looking for them on a horizon known only to her soul. Her grandchildren and their children packed the hall. The tiniest one was only weeks old, her baptism being planned as the next great event. She will need extra water, one auntie said. She's got five older brothers. We laughed.

Seventy or eighty people there.

And a huge feast. The party was supposed to have started between 2 or 3pm so that the other elders could get back down the rough gravel road before dark. At half past three, when I arrived, the elders still sat in the cars. The party was not going to start for a while. I went in the building, killed the over-size spiders, set up the tables, swept the floor... soon, someone arrived with the table clothes and balloons. Then the streamers. And the cake. The give away gifts began to be stacked against the wall. Quilts and blankets began to be hung on the cord that ran the length of the wall above the door. The elders processed in, helping each other, heading for the padded chairs before the children arrived.

The food was traditional --bapbap soup (boiled dried meat with fresh vegetables in large hunks added to the broth). Wasna (ground grain, dried fruit and lard pressed together and lightly baked). Wojapi (boiled plums scooped out of a bowl with fry bread). And then the pulled meats, fresh fruit and the less locally traditional but necessary party foods such as the macaroni with hunks of commodity cheese, and potato salads....

The elders were honored first. They sat in chairs between the singer at the guitar and the singers at the drum. The drum began, reverberating throughout the room, and the boys --her great grandchildren, sang an honor song. The room moved forward to stand in a line and greet the seated elders, shake their hands. It took a while. The children were called from their playing --come, honor them, they were told. Even the littlest ones shook hands. I spoke with the lady in line before me --she was missing her brother who was in prison. 'This would be healing for him, help him remember who he is,' she said. 'It is too easy to forget,' she said.

Behind me, the older couple told me they were Roman Catholics, and wondered if I were a Sister. 'No,' I said, laughing. I told them who I was. They told me of the awful snow storm that once locked them in Cherry Creek for weeks. 'We all ran out of fuel,' they said, laughing, looking at each other. 'That's when we all went to the church over there because it had a big wood stove, and we cooked and ate and slept together in the church, family by family. We moved all the pews to make little rooms for each family. It was like the old days we heard about from our grandparents, melting snow for water, being all together. After about the second week, we all decided to have communion.' 'Really?' I asked. 'The priest got through to you?' 'No,' they said, shaking their heads and laughing. The woman said me, woman to woman, 'The bread and wine was all we had left, so this guy here put it on the altar, said the blessing, and we all ate it. Best communion ever, but the priest was furious with us for doing that.' They laughed, remembering. She touched his arm as if remembering how she had stood by him then, and then said more to him than me, 'Whenever I take communion now, I remember that.' And then she looked at me, wondering if I understood that they had had their last supper, that snow-filled hungry night, and every night since then. 'We got dug out shortly after that --they came with food from Dupree --that was the only road in, back then. Forty miles of snow they went through to get to us. We've been sober ever since!' They laughed. I laughed. We laughed together.

The boys at the drum were still singing. I looked at their faces, so intent, the old words being prayed in the song. Cherry Creek was so very remote, they kept the oldest songs alive, long after other places had forgotten them because such singing was outlawed.... I looked around the room. Praying with them. Giving honor. Letting my heart and mind be filled. Letting my soul be fed with the manna all around me.

At prayer this morning (from Romans 10)

For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.”

But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).
The elders were afraid to drive the road home in the dark by themselves. I offered to lead them out. It was painstakingly slow --they had trouble keeping up with me at twenty miles an hour. It took two hours to travel the forty miles... no moon, thick stars spread across the deep. We travelled uninterrupted --no deer, no unexpected things in the road. That in itself was so unusual....

I passed the 'live bait' sign all done up in glow-in-the-dark letters, and knew we were getting close to town. At the crest of the hill, I looked back in rear-view mirror, checking their proximity. I was suddenly startled at all the lights. There were thirty cars behind us, all of them unwilling to pass us.

A slow procession. Into town. In the dark. After the feast.

--wondering who had cleared the road for us --who had gone before us...

--knowing they were all around us, near us.... in our hearts.

Friday, September 19, 2014

the Pharisees at Walmart

First, I fell in the aisle, twisting my ankle and giving a shocking blow to my wrist and shoulder that played itself out in my back. I was carrying a flat of dog food and hadn't seen the white rope belt with a wooden bead. I had stepped right on the bead; it went like a wheel and the rope twisted around my shoes.

A young man who was helping his grandmother in a wheelchair was the only one who came to my aid. 'That must have hurt,' he said. And he helped me up and picked up everything for me.

Limping, I got in line behind him. 'Im closed. Closed. CLOSED. C.L.O.S.E.D.' The cashier might as well have been throwing snot. Still smarting from my fall and her rudeness, I got in another line. In my mind I was thinking she should have turned the light off over her register, put up a sign, or something, to indicate she was closed...

In the new line, the toddler smiled at me from the seat in the shopping cart. Her face was dirty, crusty around the nose and mouth; her hair was disheveled. The woman she was with was staggering and churning the air around her, swaying as she lifted the t-shirts up in front of the cashier. Wanting to avoid eye contact with her, I switched my focus back to the child.

'You hab dotlers?' she asked. I presumed she was asking for dollars, and I shook my head, no. I felt instantly stretched and sad that a toddler was begging from me...  'I'm dotler,' she said, nodding and smiling, pointing to the woman. Oh --a daughter, I thought instantly. Shame crept up hot on my neck. 'Your mama is so lucky to have a daughter like you,' I said. And we grinned at each other. I could see the pain in the child's face, behind her eyes.

Then her mother grimaced and screamed at her, 'Shut up. Get out.' The child looked confused and suddenly withdrew her contact with me. The cashier motioned in the air, quickly called me forward, telling the lady to wait for the approval. I saw the voucher card in the mother's hand --a voucher for school clothes, but the things in the basket obviously weren't for the child. I saw the cashier's eyes suddenly search for mine, full of fear and fire --she had turned off her cashier light. I was betting she was calling for security, and the quickest way to empty the line area was to get me through it a.s.a.p. So, she did.

I limped away, praying for the child in the cart, praying for her mother, praying for the boy who had helped me up, praying for the cashiers. Working in the retail trenches. I was glad to leave. I had to show my receipt to the guard at the door. He nodded his head and shrugged apologetically. Just doing his job. Didn't really suspect me....

Out at the car, Joel organized the purchases in the car while I put the dogs on their leashes for a last stroll by the bushes before we headed back the three hours toward home. A woman with her badges on a lanyard around her neck began to yell at me. 'Hey, thanks a lot,' she said. The anger and sarcasm in her voice were violent. Mr. Witty lifted his leg for a long and satisfying pee. 'Couldn't you walk your dogs some place else? We take our breaks here. This is the only place we come to take a break. Thanks for being so considerate.'

I looked around at the ground. I had a plastic bag in my pocket in case one of my dogs did something with stature... but the ground was already covered in feces. I fought the urge to tell the lady I was prepared to clean up after my dogs, and wave the poop-bag in my pocket like a flag of truce. Instead, I kept my eyes to the ground. Pretended she wasn't speaking to me.

'We sit there. Thanks a lot.' She kept hounding me. 'Thank a lot. We really appreciate it.'

Mr. Witty stopped and looked at the woman. I pulled him further down the grassy strip, trying to keep up with Paeha who pulled on his leash. The parking strip was only about five feet wide, was swimming in litter, cigarette butts, and dog feces. A few trees cast a feeble shade. The shrubs marked a fence line. The asphalt lot was littered with plastic bags and pools of oil. The dumpsters behind the fence ahead stained the ground all around. This strip of grass was the outer edge of the parking lot, out on the north side where the big trucks came in and unloaded and loaded again. The noise of the lumbering trucks began to overwhelm the woman's voice.

And anger welled up in me. At the fall I suffered. Maybe I could own this Walmart. Maybe I should sue. I was still hurting. The rudeness of the first cashier.

And now this lady, beating me with her words... was I wrong to walk my dogs in the back of the parking lot --along the fringe?

And then I remembered the boy. The pain of the child. The eyes of the second cashier. The situation of a mother, high on something, verbally violent to the child, trying to out-smart something that was way too obvious --abusing a benefit.

And then I thought... Oh God. Is this really the only area for Walmart employees to take a break outside? To grab that smoke? To clear their hearts and souls of the chaos of all the me-firsts, disappointments, blinking lights, intercom voices, and scams on the inside? To make room in their head for the oppression they might suffer with each pay-check --having to compliment the inadequate pay with food stamps, vouchers, bargains, and public assistance.

The front-lines of the epitome of capitalism. The trenches of commerce.

No... I thought. The wrong is not mine --I certainly would not walk my dogs next to picnic tables or other signs of human occupation. And the wrong is not hers in yelling at me. The wrong is deeper than that....

So, this morning, one of the things I will do is write that Walmart in Rapid and tell them they need to provide a safe, clean, decent, outdoor, grassy, tree-shaded, picnic-tabled area for their employees... a place for them to touch their humanity, to become human again, to take a break from the trenches....


At prayer this morning (John 12:36b-43)

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,

“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

Yeppa. Dear God, help me always... to see your glory... and not fear the Pharisees.... Especially the Pharisees at Walmart, who dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" and buy the laws and strive to force the people to bite each other at the fringe....

Off I go.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

then as now

Heaven and hell.

What? When? Where? How? Who?

We've discussed that for two weeks... I encourage the lay readers and catechists here (not folks who are licensed to read at services as it is off-Reservation, but more like the 'old' term which is a license to lead worship and teach) to speak at funerals, lead wakes and comfort services. Many are not comfortable doing so.

So, I thought a class on the breadth and depth of Christian thought on these topics might help them know where they are in the spectrum of such things --to help them speak with greater confidence those things God has put in their hearts --where their experience has led and cultivated their thought.

We began with our woundedness. Which can be a source of great strength, and a source that might make us hurt ourselves and others even more. And then we read about the words as they carried meaning in the Hebrew scriptures and meaning in what Jesus said --the meaning of "time" and "eternal life" and the "kingdom of heaven" and "hell."

It scared some folks... but they understood that words don't really mean the same thing when trying to say in English what was said in Lakota. For example, there is no future tense in Lakota..... One cannot say 'I will do such and such' as we do in English.

But it was scary for some to find out that when Jesus spoke of 'hell' --Gehenna, it was an actual valley outside of Jerusalem --the city dump, the site where human sacrifices were once made to another 'god' --where fire burned to consume the waste, and wild animals fought for the scraps and, yes, the corpses dumped there as part of civil punishment.

What we might think about heaven and hell are certainly not, in the best sense, scriptural --Hebrew or Greek  --they are cultural constructions.

It was also scary for some to find out that the words of scripture might have other meanings....

It was also scary for some to think that the Episcopal Tradition has placed scripture as an equal amidst Tradition and reason/lived thought... and there was no place for me to move from that triad and begin to explore the weaknesses in the oh so 'modern' thoughts of 'reason'.


But as part of the notes, I wrote:

Many who follow Jesus believe life is a “test” –you get one chance, this life, which is done and over with at the time of death; if you pass the “test” you go to heaven; if you don’t pass the “test” you go to hell. God is the judge, and the Bible is the rulebook to help us figure out the test. In this way of following Jesus, the Bible is the most important thing in building a relationship with God.

There are others who follow Jesus who believe that life is about participating in God’s great love for the world, sharing God’s love for the world, and that God offers abundant love, not everlasting judgment. The judgment happened for the whole world and for all time when Jesus offered himself for the sake of all people, and God’s judgment to our nailing Jesus to the cross is cancelling the debt of sin and giving new life, resurrection. Resurrection, then, is a sign of that life that God invites all of us to share in. In this way of following Jesus, the ancient signs of God’s presence among us –the gifts of water, fire, oil (baptism), bread, wine (Holy Communion), knowing the ancient stories of those who have gone before us (Holy Scripture, the teachings of the elders of the church, –and our Tradition), and our love for one another, ---these are the most important things in building a relationship with God.
We talked about those things --water, fire, oil, bread, wine, the ancient stories, the elders (patriarchs and matriarchs, the saints too) and Tradition in light of the culture here. For some, it was a relief --a loosening of bonds --a greater understanding of the differences between our church and other Christians in town.

For others, it threatened to obliterate their very foundation.

Which brought on the conversations of death... of dying to live, of losing one's life to find life --all those paradoxes we draw from the claim of Jesus dying so that we might live --of dying itself.

--all of which cannot be addressed in a couple of evening conversations... if ever. But it opened the door to the conversation of being comfortable with what we perceive --what we call faith --of their being a whole rainbow of understanding, all of it being part of the wide stream of Christian faith. That faithful Christians can believe wildly diverse things... and making room at the table for all... and being comfortable with what we perceive... and how what we trust (believe) fits in to the bigger picture.... Of being comfortable with asking questions... of being comfortable with being challenged... of being comfortable to discard some things we have held as faith....

I suppose that was the most difficult. I don't think any 'minds' were changed --I was not after that... besides, that is up to the Spirit...

But, I can pray that the door was opened. The door to exploration and delight.... I mean, after all, it is part of our baptismal prayers....

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy
and wonder in all your works.

--an inquiring and discerning heart.... yeah.

At prayer this morning (Job 28:1-28)

“Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness. They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people. As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire. Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold.

“That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it. The proud wild animals have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it.

“They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots. They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing. The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light.

“But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be gotten for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. The chrysolite of Ethiopia cannot compare with it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.

‘Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’

‘God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’”

OMG. That is so beautiful. (--and certainly, 'fear' is a magnificent word, carrying a very broad meaning)

(from John 12)

Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out."

Now is the judgment.... The war is over, folks....

--and, then as now, it is abundant life, life that overcomes death. Every time.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

junk and life and seeds and death

Today... I will drive east. Some one's car has not been working, and is stuck in someone else's yard ninety miles from here. They were going to get someone to look at it there and fix it. Perhaps that has happened... but, in any event, today we will drive 100 miles east to buy a new car... well, "new" ---something that is about twenty years old and somewhere around 200,000 miles on it, and will probably run for another two or so. With any luck.

But, it's better than the other cars that have been looked at.

Cars never run cheap around here. And sometimes broken cars just sit where they are. Tires get re-used. Parts recycled. Windows get broken. Ghosts come and party in them. But it's too expensive to haul them off, and why spend good money after bad trying to get them fixed when you can spend that and a little more to get another car. Some folks have more than uummmm three sitting in their yard.

A few years ago, some guy came through with a huge truck and bought the ghost cars right out of people's yards. Cars that had been sitting there for twenty years or so, and were now worth something to somebody somewhere. Vintage cars. I heard that the guy started buying the heaps for $50 or so --and then the story went out, and the priced got jacked up to $100. Sometimes more.

Funny that.

In a book I was reading this summer, Neither Wolf nor Dog, (Kent Nerburn) the white author was asked by a Lakota elder to take his thoughts and writings and compile them in to a book --and one of the conversations had to do with 'junk' in the yard. I can't find the quote right now --I looked, but can't find it. But the white author had asked, in a shrug or a glance or something, why folks didn't clean the junk out of their yards. The Lakota elder responded by saying something to the effect that what white people didn't realize is that it's all junk --not the broken discarded stuff in the yard, but the asphalt, the high-rises, the dams, the clothes --it's all junk. Everything that has been valued and built by white society --it's all junk. We just don't see it as that. But to the earth, it's all the same: junk. And to the
People, it's junk. Whether it works or runs or not. It's junk. In time, the earth will swallow it all up; so why waste the effort and time moving it all in to a big toxic pile? Why hide it? It's just junk.

And we've built our lives on it, around it --based our whole economic systems on it... and it's junk.

So... here comes the white man with the big truck... buying up the junk in the yard.... Gonna sell it for more to someone else. Junk.

I remember when some places used to call themselves 'junk stores' --now, they're antiques and collectibles.

Funny that.

I suppose when Jesus urged the young man who sought eternal life to go sell all his possessions, he was pretty much saying the same thing. Get rid of your junk, and follow me....

Geee.... trouble is, I like some of my junk....

Well, there we are.

At prayer this morning (John 12:20-26)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

Hmmmmmm.... So, why in the world would Jesus start talking about seeds and grain when a couple of Greeks asked to see him.... I know, I know... yadda yadda --all that stuff about the hour come, outsiders seeking him, and the seed and grain being a metaphor for his death and resurrection....

But something is tugging at me to see and hear it differently... Don't know how yet... but I will work on it today as we cross the prairie... thinking about junk and life and seeds and death....

--as if there's nothing else to do....

that's all....

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

under the whole heaven

the cats, mocking,
flicking their tails,
sit on the other side of the fence
asking what are you going to do about it
what is a fence to us
while the dogs threaten thunder
lightening swift justice
for any trespass

don't do that
come away I say
knowing that the cats
outweigh the dogs
and have survived,
even taking over the abundance
of the church dumpsters
from the cruel jaws
and collarless necks of rez dogs

they are monsters, I say,
fierce, piercing hunters
they will play with your corpse

last night I had found their warning,
the severed head and torso
of the country mouse
come too close to town
left beneath the cedar tree
the small feet
upright to the stars

this morning in the weeds
by the house under the bushes
the great find
of another head with open eyes
and small ears, no body in sight,
the dogs' frantic moves
to track the culprits
fail at the gate
where the last summer flowers
(because there are no weeds
in this garden)
pushed through path and fence
answering the call
of sun and earth

were you seeking winter shelter
in my house
little mouse
perhaps you moved too soon
perhaps it's my fault
cutting all this green so low
no place to hide

so I carry what remains of you
couched in the spiral loop of the locust pod
and leave you free
on the outside
of the fence

one day
like the veil in the Temple
this fence too
shall be torn
its borderlands decimated
the wildness of the outside
bursting through
and the inside
and outside
shall be one.

At prayer this morning (Job 40:1; 41:1-11)

And the LORD said to Job:

“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it make many supplications to you? Will it speak soft words to you? Will it make a covenant with you to be taken as your servant forever? Will you play with it as with a bird, or will you put it on leash for your girls? Will traders bargain over it? Will they divide it up among the merchants? Can you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fishing spears? Lay hands on it; think of the battle; you will not do it again! Any hope of capturing it will be disappointed; were not even the gods overwhelmed at the sight of it? No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up. Who can stand before it? Who can confront it and be safe?—under the whole heaven, who?”

Be forewarned.
Cats, like the great Leviathan, will never respect a fence nor keep a covenant....

Monday, September 15, 2014

that dream where condemnation itself is judged and hung out to dry

Even though she was surprised, she smiled as I put water on her head. A huge smile. A huge three-year-old smile. She was outright giggling the second and third times. When I told her to share the light of the world, she nodded, as though I had told her to share her cookies or something. When I invited the congregation forward to shake their hands and share the Peace, she asked me why I was standing with her family. 'Because we're related now,' I said. She shook her head as though that made perfect sense.

The feast was immense. And delicious. The donated school supplies were put out on the table, and the children got to pick five things each. The party atmosphere enthralled everyone. It seemed the shocking taste of the winter to come in the snow, chill and frost of last week could be a distant memory for a little while yet. We would all hold on to that thought.

There hadn't been any general assistance money for a while --nothing to pay bills with, nothing to buy pampers with.  And the Food Stamps hardly make a dent in things.

I learned a new rez word --Foodies-- that's what Food Stamps are called. Except now foodies come on a credit card. And the market stays open past midnight on the date when the credit become available. They work all day to overstock the shelves; it's a veritable party, everyone crowding in the aisles to stock up.

But, there had been money suddenly made available late last week, and those in that office had been working way in to the night and all weekend to process the claims. They took a break to come to church. More party atmosphere.

Then I packed school supplies and bread and wine, and took off for Cherry Creek. I wasn't sure how many folks would show up for church because the last powwow of the season was going on in Bridger, south west of Cherry Creek. Sometimes I have gone and sat for an hour or more and no one shows. But this morning folks had called, so I knew a few would be there.

When I arrived, I couldn't see a trace of smoke or heat drifting out of the chimney. I noticed that someone had left one of the door slightly ajar --I was grateful for that. No one has a key, so someone always has to pick the lock with a knife or something. I haven't yet mastered that art completely, although I am getting better at it....

I entered the cement block building, and it was warm. The person who had left the door slightly ajar had also built a fire in the wood stove and swept the floor. I felt of rush of gratitude and bewilderment --now what would I do while I was waiting?! I checked the fire, and added some more wood. I killed two wasps that were struggling to get warm enough to fly --there are always wasps there. I watched the big spider run and hide. Two more large spiders watched me from their perches in opposite corners.

And after an hour, I added more wood... I saw the car approaching slowly down the street. I went out to greet them. 'Is it warm in there?' the elder asked from the car window. 'It's all ready for you --nice and toasty,' I said. Someone had built a ramp for the wheel chair. That was new. Another rush of gratitude.

Within minutes, the church was packed. The elders all sat by the warmth of the fire. The children ran around --in Cherry Creek we push all the benches up against the sides of the room, leaving an open area in the middle of the room. It's perfect for the children.

We killed two more wasps. Some more spiders. We talked about the readings. What did it mean to forgive and forgive and forgive. The difference between being forgiving and being a door-mat... being forgiving didn't mean the same as accepting abuse...

--and then in the middle of the Eucharist --the snake arrived. I saw it first out of the side of my eye. It was moving away from the crowd of people... 'Oh, look,' I said, laughing. The children didn't need to be told to stay away. It was a baby snake, just over a foot and a half long. I went over to look at it, and it coiled up. It tried to shake its tail at me in a way that told me it had never tried to shake its tail before. It had the characteristics of either a bull snake or a rattler.... One of the men went to the closet for the shovel and a broom.

'Eeeeeee,' I said, grimacing. 'Don't kill it ---eeeeeee---' and I winced. 'It's not its fault its mother was a snake!' I said. We all laughed. I asked one of the little girls who was jumping up and down on the bench, 'Do snakes scream?' She jumped some more. He swept the snake up in to the shovel and took it outside while the boys hovered at the door to watch.... When he came back in, I warned him that another wasp had landed on the handle of the broom right where he was going to grab it....

'It was a rattler,' he confirmed as he put the wasp outside....

I think I went back to the part in the prayer where we thank God for creation... and included snakes and wasps in the litany, to the great delight of the boys... asking for forgiveness in the silent prayers of my heart....

Afterwards, we shared some cookies, talked some about what we might want the missioner on poverty from church headquarters to know about life here.... and had to kill the black widow that suddenly emerged from the stack of napkins right at the child's hand....

At prayer this morning (Numbers 21:4-9)

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

--and this (John 3:11-17)

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Geeeeee... Jesus and the snake... lifted up.

I suppose then, that there is a certain poetry in killing a snake just as we break bread....

--but, I dream of a Sunday when the child shall stick its hand in the snake den and not be bit --and the lion and lamb feast on grass together...

--not a fake-oh dream, not a dream paper-clipped to a devastating reality...

--but that dream where condemnation itself is judged, and hung out to dry.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Let's not be silent

Earlier this week, I said:
In the bigger news, it seems everyone is upset that some millionaire who is paid to be brutal in the arena punches his wife out in an elevator... upset because it's on video, a fuller and more complete image of the madness.... Could they not imagine what it took to knock her out otherwise? Wasn't the way he dumped her on the floor and shoved her around with his foot enough?
As well as Rice beating his now wife, there are at least two other recent NFL domestic violence cases.... Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, and Ray McDonald of the 49'ers. While Rice has been dismissed, the other two men are still playing... McDonald has not yet been charged for beating his pregnant fiancé. Hardy has been convicted already, but is seeking to overturn his conviction and is still playing.

In the last fourteen years or so, there have been 83 arrests for domestic violence in the NFL --which averages to about 6 arrests every year.

--domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.

So... if NFL players are arrested at a rate twice the national average, I do think the NFL has a problem... just sayin'.

But it's not just the NFL. There are 1.3 cases of domestic violence every year... and

--most cases of domestic violence are never reported to law enforcement, and that boys who witness domestic violence as children are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they grow up
--and... one in three women and one in ten men have suffered abuse by an intimate partner...

No one group is exempt from this violence --rich, poor, ethnicity... I am proud to know Lisette, a parishioner when I served in Richmond, Virginia. Lisette survived the attempted murder. Her husband shot himself after he shot her three times. Their children survived, but witnessed it all --had to run for help because their dad had cut all the phone lines to the house. His violence was not an impulse. It was thought through.

I remember arriving at the house --Lisette had maintained consciousness and was repeating the church number over and over and the ambulance crew called me saying there had been a "gun accident." I remember the look on the cop's face as he plowed through the trunk of the cop car looking for gear. The ambulances had just left --one with Lisette, one with her husband. "Where are the kids?" I asked the cop. He shrugged his shoulders. I spent the rest of the daylight hours finding them, making sure they were safe. Then I went to the hospital.

I remember the nurse calling me back in the ER to be with his family. She stopped me in the hall and told me that he had been shot "through and through" his head --which meant an entrance and exit wound. He had survived his wounds for those several hours. I remember administering last rites --ignoring the police mandate not to touch him. I remember his death.

I remember arranging with her family and friends for the children to be brought in and checked over by a doctor and a counselor. I remember having to tell those kids that their dad was dead and their mom was in surgery...

I remember leaning over Lisette in the ICU, long after the sun had gone down. I remember whispering in her ear as I held her hand that she had survived, and that her children were safe. I remember the surprise I felt when she clutched my hand with a determination and unexpected strength at the news of her children's survival.

I remember preparing for his funeral as she still worked her way through the ICU.... I remember standing up there to preach, some still insisting that she probably pulled the trigger on herself to cover up her murder of her husband....

I remember. Pushing Lisette to pick up some of those things she had put down --like her passion for writing --she needed to tell her story. For her sake, and for the sake of others. And I know, over the years, she has.

And today. I checked headlines at the Huffington Post as I usually do. And there she is. Pushing all other news aside. Front and center. Lisette, I am so very grateful for your continued witness and ministry. For your courage to grapple with the aftermath and the hard questions. For your continued willingness to be present to your vulnerability.

Thank you.

Too often, we try to shame the women who find themselves caught up in the cycle of abuse and terror. Too often, we mock or blame them --why don't they just leave? And we miss the crux. Often, it is the very time that the abused decide to leave that is the most dangerous --the very time when deadly violence takes place. That time of separation must be carefully planned. Orchestrated.

The mirror to the question of 'why don't they just leave?' is --why do the abusers abuse? If we can begin there, perhaps we can begin...

Domestic violence here on the Reservation is fairly rampant. And, it seems from my point of view, too often tolerated. It has been more than once that a woman has come to the door asking for something, and I know if I turn her away empty-handed there is a beating waiting for her --and not just by her man... I know of brothers and mothers and aunties who are the perpetrators. There are so many factors contributing to the situation...

Not the least of which:

American Indian women residing on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence and physical assault at rates far exceeding women of other ethnicities and locations. American Indian women experience physical assaults at a rate 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic, African-American males. About one-quarter of all cases of family violence (violence involving spouses) against American Indians involve a non-Indian perpetrator, a rate of inter-racial violence five times the rate of inter-racial violence involving other racial groups. In all, 39% of American Indian women report being victims of domestic violence.

Compounding this problem, and likely contributing to it, is the current state of federal Indian law. Non-Indians who commit acts of domestic violence that are misdemeanors on Indian reservations are virtually immune from prosecution in most areas of the country.
Yeppa. There we are.

So.... at prayer this morning (a portion of Psalm 40)

Let them be ashamed and altogether dismayed
who seek after my life to destroy it; *
let them draw back and be disgraced
who take pleasure in my misfortune.
Let those who say “Aha!” and gloat over me be confounded, *
because they are ashamed.

Let all who seek you rejoice in you and be glad; *
let those who love your salvation continually say,
“Great is the LORD!”

Though I am poor and afflicted, *
the Lord will have regard for me.
You are my helper and my deliverer; *
do not tarry, O my God.

---and.... this is the gospel I used at Lisette's husband's funeral.... (John 11:30-44)

Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

God is funny --in that today of all days this was the gospel reading.... at his sermon I remember preaching something like --Jesus won't let Martha stay where she is in her grief--shifting her from the 'last day' to the present moment, to the love constantly coming into the world. Calling her further in to relationship with him.

Yes, let's none of us get stuck in the IF ONLYs.

If you know someone in an abusive relationship, don't stop being their friend; listen.

If you know someone who is an abuser, don't stop being their friend; encourage them to get help. Don't let them blame the abused.

Here is more.

And, further information on "why women stay".

Local number for help: Sacred Heart Shelter: 605-964-7233

Let's not be silent.
And, don't forget, not all abuse is physical ---emotional abuse is just as damaging.

Let's not be silent.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

none of us can win this war

I didn't get to watch the President's speech last night. I was in a group of lay leaders who are licensed to lead liturgy here, and we were talking about what to say at funerals... what to say in the face of death and loss so pronounced in this community --such a large part of the ministry here.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to participate in a survey regarding suicide on the Reservation. In the "further comments" section I said that we need to train clergy and spiritual leaders not to say "they've gone to a better place," which is a comment heard frequently here. Last night, there was emphatic conversation regarding that very statement --how bitterly painful it was to hear it within the context of their own losses. And, someone said, "I believed that we live to die."

Aaaaaachhhh.... !!! Face to face with the culture of death, the recumbent beast of unresolved sometimes inherited grief, trauma, despair... heads were nodding all around the table. The tears and the opening up began. The Spirit so very present. Humbling --the power of the strength, the endurance of the People.

This morning, I carry that with me, pray with that. To address such grief family by family, community-wide, who will speak of the bit of heaven in our hearts?

This morning, I also come face to face with the culture of death and war in our Nation. The President, it seems, will do nothing to interrupt this cycle of escalating violence. I remember the feeling I had as a child when they used to make us practice bomb drills in schools --crawling under our desks and tables for cover. I remember the feeling of looking at ads for bomb shelters --the fury inside me that grownups couldn't control their own fights. Worse behavior than us kids. The hypocrisy.

And, now, the man that was elected on the promise to disengage us from the unending violence begun by the Bush/Cheney regime, is marching the whole Nation further down that road, in to the thick of it.

The irony, the tragedy that his speech for more war was made on the eve of 9/11 does not escape me.

There is too much at hand here to do to survive --the next week, the next month, the next disaster or tragedy or death, the coming winter. So, there is very little overt discussion or involvement in National politics --except when it comes to broken Treaty rights and the plight of the American Indian in general --which is overwhelming enough. And, the armed forces is sometimes seen as a ticket outta here, so veterans and the circumstances of war are never highly criticized.

That irony, the tragedy that a People who were put on reservations functioning as generalized POW camps and could be shot if they were caught outside the ever-shrinking boundaries --that they could fight for those who so cruelly defeated and punished them....

--it's as ironic as the poor and marginal so-called middle class and women purchasing the Koch brothers' bilious propaganda and voting those who feed at that Koch trough in to office to enact policies that will further oppress and disenfranchise them.

Not an irony that makes me laugh....

So. Here we are. 9/11. And still marching down that road...


Billions Wasted. Perhaps the only thing we can be sure of when it comes to Guantánamo's 9/11 proceedings is that Guantánamo is costing the American people an exorbitant amount of money. According to the government's own figures, we are spending over $400 million per year holding the remaining Guantánamo detainees -- more than half of which are already cleared for release. These detainees could be held at a high security facility in the U.S. for less than $12 million per year.

Even worse, the $400 million figure does not appear to reflect numerous other costs, including: (1) millions that we spend annually on the detainees' massive defense teams; (2) the cost to bring detainees to sit in the $12 million courtroom (where I observed more than 20 military personnel in the courtroom area and another dozen or more outside of the courtroom, all there apparently for security); (3) the cost of the prosecution's investigations; (4) the cost of the government's efforts to block attempts to unwind the secrecy surrounding the alleged torture and mistreatment of detainees; and (5) the anticipated $100-150 million that we will need to invest in Guantánamo in the next few years to keep the camp open. Further, there are untold costs that are not shared with the public because they are deemed "classified."

In sum, Guantánamo is furthering no one's goals. We are paying heavily to ensure conviction of the 9/11 terrorists in a way that enables us to say that we tried them fairly and consistent with international law (if not the U.S. Constitution). The reality is that neither outcome is assured, and we are further victimizing the American people by wasting billions on a process that is likely to leave everyone dissatisfied and could taint the American legal system. It seems far more responsible to transfer the detainees to a high security facility on U.S. soil and afford them a more normal process. This has worked in other terrorist cases and would cost a fraction of what it costs now. It might also produce results in the 9/11 proceedings, unlike the Military Commissions proceedings in Guantánamo.

And here --perpetual war....

The United States, by agreeing to airstrikes without end in support of a corrupt and sectarian government in Baghdad; by championing a Shia and Kurdish invasion of Sunni lands; and by promising arms, munitions and money to rebel groups in the middle of the Syrian Civil War, the same groups that sold Steven Sotloff to his beheading, has adopted a policy that will exacerbate the civil wars in both Iraq and Syria and deepen the nightmare existence of their people. President Obama's speech will be remembered as a mark of moral shame on the United States, so very opposite and so very contradictory to the courage shown by the president five years ago in Cairo, Egypt.

Today, on the thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it is clear to me that the cowardice evinced by the president is directly proportional to the never-ending 9/11 fear mongering that continues to paralyze and retard this country. In reply to the deliberate provocation by the Islamic State through the ghastly executions of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, the United States has fulfilled the Islamic State's wishes by committing to add more violence to the uncontrollable cycle of violence that has already authored the deaths of 700,000 Iraqis and Syrians.

Pressured by the panicked and hysterical cries of members of Congress, President Obama offered no solutions to the underlying political causes of the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, instead he obligated the American public to a renewed partaking and sharing in the bloodshed and slaughter along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.

....Through all that, as long as the United States is shackled with the debilitating psychosis of 9/11 and the resultant moral weakness of our elected officials, the Middle East will be full of targets for our bombs, Iraqi and Syrian mothers and fathers will raise children destined to kill and be killed, jihadist narratives of Crusaders will be validated, and our perpetual war will be as boundless as our shame.

And the failed path... but ideas on how to do things differently.... we can't win this war....

So why is Obama leading us further down this failed path? The US fights these failed wars mainly because of domestic politics. Here the precedent of Vietnam is as deeply instructive as it is widely forgotten (or denied). The US wasted two decades and many billions of dollars, killed more than a million Vietnamese, and left over 55,000 Americans dead in a futile and ultimately lost war. Why? On the public level, the fight was supposedly about the communist threat, regional dominoes, and communist world domination. The Vietcong were the ISIS of the day. Yet the real reason for two decades of futile war, as revealed devastatingly in the Pentagon Papers, was US domestic politics. Each U.S. president knew the war they were waging was unwinnable, but they fought it to avoid the embarrassment of looking "soft on communism" before the next US election.

This time, the timeline against ISIS will be at least through 2016. We can't win this war any more that we could win the Vietnam War, but Obama dare not "lose" the war on terror before the next election. Therefore we continue the same hopeless policies of the past dozen years, double down, and carry them through 2016.

These wars are therefore as open-ended as they are futile. How, then, did the Vietnam War actually end? Simple. Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974, and Ford let the final defeat occur a year after (and then was himself defeated in 1976).

If the US had a real strategy for national success, we would let the Middle East face and resolve its own crises, and demand a UN framework for action. We would team up not with NATO, but with the UN Security Council, and put others (for once!) into the lead. We would actually mobilize to solve the real problems facing the region: poverty, hunger, drought, and unemployment. Those are the crises that at the end of the day cause men and boys to fling their lives into useless and suicidal slaughter. If just once in our times US politicians had the bravery to build coalitions to improve the lives of the people through development rather than through bombs, the US public would be amazed to see how much agreement and goodwill could quickly generate. Instead we head to war.

Perhaps we should rescind ALL money we give to that region. ALL money. No matter the nation.

At prayer this morning (from Job 31)

[Job says] --what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? Did not he who made me in the womb make them? And did not one fashion us in the womb?

If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not eaten from it—for from my youth I reared the orphan like a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow—if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or a poor person without covering, whose loins have not blessed me, and who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; if I have raised my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had supporters at the gate; then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket. For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty.

Hey Job.

Hey nations of the world.
Let's stop the madness.
None of us can win this war....