The Smiling Heretic's Blog

Government: Stay out of my church!

Well, it looks like the Republican majority in the Minnesota Legislature has finally gotten its way... At least for now.

You see, they’ve been trying to push through a voter referendum to write discrimination into the Minnesota Constitution. They want to make it illegal for gays and lesbians to marry. Never mind that gay marriage is already illegal. Nope. The Repubs want to put this into the constitution. A constitutional amendment to discriminate against a group of people.

A Senate committee on a strict party-line vote has approved a gay marriage ban. You can read the story here.

So let’s get this correct: Amid all the other issues that we face in this state—a six billion dollar deficit, rising unemployment [especially among people of color], defunding municipalities [resulting in higher property taxes and cuts in local services], and gosh, even the prospect of losing the Vikings—the committee decided that discrimination against gays and lesbians was too important to pass up. Interesting that the Senate has not even really begun to tackle the other issues mentioned above.

Easter 2 :: Seeing is believing?

Poor Thomas! He gets such a bad rap.

So he didn’t believe that Jesus had really appeared to the disciples on Easter night. Would you have believed it had you not been there? Wait a minute. You weren’t there, were you? Well, neither was I. I sometimes wonder, if I had been a disciple back then but, like Thomas, was not present that night, would I have been disbelieving of the testimony of the others? [I use the word disbelieving because that is closer to the Greek than our usual translation of doubting.] It’s difficult to speculate on such things, but it seems that I am very much like Thomas. I would have been incredulous at what the disciples told me. I mean, after all, no one has ever been raised from the dead before, right? Well, no one save for Lazarus, and the widow of Nain’s son, and a few others, but perhaps I’d have been suspicious of these as well!

Easter Day, Part 2

A friend is talking to a coworker [this after I had invited her to bring her family to Easter worship with us. Her response? "Sunday is my one day of the week to sleep in"]. She said, "I asked my son if he wanted to hunt eggs this year. 'Of course!' So we’ll spend Saturday decorating eggs. I sure hope the weather is nice on Sunday morning so we can go outside!"

I don’t know. Perhaps she’ll take her family to church after all… I mean, there is a church near here that is holding an Easter Raffle of 3/D TVs and game consoles to get people to church!

It is actually sad that so many will celebrate the day of Resurrection apart from the fellowship of the church. But perhaps it is even sadder that some feel the need to be bribed in order to come to church.

Easter Day :: Christ is Alive!

This past week has certainly run the gamut of emotional overload, huh?

We started the week off with Jesus entering Jerusalem to the cheers of disciples and followers, who had hoped he would be the one to restore Israel to its former glory. At the Passover, Jesus broke bread and shared wine with his close circle of friends, inaugurating a new rite that would become the cornerstone of worship for generations to come. Soon, though, he was betrayed by one of those friends, handed over to the religious and civil authorities, brought before the governor, whipped in public, and shamelessly crucified. For what? For challenging the status quo.

And we, the faithful, have walked with Jesus every step of the way, our initial cheers turning to shouts of “Crucify! Crucify him!.” He challenged the status quo for us, too.

Good Friday :: Crucify! Crucify Him!

Well here we are, shovels at the ready, eager to see this man-who-would-be-king dead and buried.

And yet, how can we—how can I—still cry out for blood when he is there, silent? He says nothing. At least he doesn’t respond to our taunts and vilification. In the grip of pain and agony his concern is not for revenge—after all, at any time he could’ve called on God to stop all this and rain down fire from heaven. His concern is for his mother, that she be taken care of. He asks for a little something to assuage his thirst. Aside from his last words, "It is finished," this is all he says.

But he needn’t say much. His actions make him known. This innocent, sacrificial Lamb of God, has taken away the sins of the world. He forgives even those who killed him. And as difficult as it may be to understand why his death affected this forgiveness of sin, something much more is going on.

Maundy Thursday :: Ritual, Remembrance, Service, and Love

Today is about ritual. It is also about remembrance. And it is about service. But perhaps most importantly, it is about love.

On the eve of their escape from bondage in Egypt, the Israelites were given quite explicit instructions on how they were to prepare for their journey. They were to share a final meal, standing up to eat, staff in hand, ready at a moment’s notice to flee the oppressive Pharaoh. They were to mark the entryway of their homes as a sign of protection from a terrible and final plague. They were to mark these events as the beginning of a new year—indeed a new era—in their lives and in their relationship with God. And they were to commemorate these events every year, lest they forget.

On one such commemoration, Jesus invites his friends to share in his final meal. But before they sit down to eat, he kneels and washes their feet. A humble act of service left for servants or slaves to perform. He would soon be handed over to those who would kill him, and yet this is no time for strategies of escape, no place for heroics. For Jesus, only humble service would suffice. His actions are to be the actions of those who would follow in his footsteps.

What do my taxes pay for?

As you are frantically trying to get your taxes done today, you might want to check out these nifty sites to see where your money goes:

Third Way has a nifty calculator that breaks down exactly what you pay for each item in the U.S. budget. Just enter in your tax liability and you get an itemized accounting for your tax dollars. allows you to enter what you made [the current site is for 2009] and you get a pretty neat account of what you paid for. The site includes nifty pie charts and statistics for the reporting year.

Finally, as President Obama promised in his budget address this Wednesday, the government has put up a website that is a bit more complicated [you’ve got to enter your Social Security, Medicare, and Income taxes paid] and you get pretty much what the other sites offer, though in a much less creative format.

Palm Sunday :: "Who is this?"

Remember the old Lone Ranger shows on TV? Some nefarious cowboy would wreak havoc on an unsuspecting town and The Lone Ranger would ride in to save the day, “Hi-Ho-Silver-ing” all the way. He’d wrassle the varmit, rescue the damsel, and save the town for yet another day. Invariably after these heroics, some townsperson would ask, “Who was that masked man?” And, just as invariably, shoulders would shrug, the people not really knowing who he was. Zip-Zap, he came and went, doing his daring deeds of good. He didn’t even stick around long enough for people to thank him.

At times it seems these are the kind of heroics we expect of Jesus. He’ll come swooping into our lives at the utmost point of need, right whatever wrong he finds and then swoop right back out. We’d cheer him, of course. Maybe we’d even line the streets, shout a few “Hosannas,” and wave our flags. Jesus, the avenging Son of God!

Tax Time!

Well. I’ve already filed and paid my taxes for 2010 (if you haven’t done yours yet, better hurry up!). As I’ve written elsewhere you know a bit about how I feel toward megacorp tax dodgers. I’m certainly no economic expert and don’t know a flip about the U.S. tax code except to say that something is horribly wrong.

The infrastructure that my—and your—tax dollars pay for benefits the common good of our nation. Where would we be without roads, bridges, schools, parks, environmental protection, utility lines, social safety nets, and a thousand other goods that we pay for through our hard earned income?

On the whole, I only use a minute portion of these things, but I do not mind my tax dollars going to support them. That’s what taxes are for. Megacorps use these things far more than you or I do. Without safe roads, bridges, harbors, etc. megacorps would not be able to ship their goods across the country or overseas. Perhaps we should let these tax dodgers build their own infrastructure. Wouldn’t that be grand? Well, probably not, but you get my point.

Lent 5 :: "Lord if you had been here..."

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

In twenty some-odd years of parish ministry, I have been privileged to be with many people as they passed from this life to life eternal. “Privileged” is a good word here, for death can be a holy undertaking, and those present when a loved one or friend passes are cloaked in holy time. As the Spirit which brings life leaves the body, a new life emerges: a life of eternal glory in the presence of the One who overcame death and the grave. Now, certainly not all death is holy. Violent, horrible, painful death is anything but holy and, as such, is difficult to witness. But if we believe that the Holy Spirit of God encompasses all things, as “wind blow(ing) where it may,” even violent death occurs in the midst of that which is holy.

What are you paying for the war in Afghanistan?

Check out this handy calculator to see what you paid in 2010 for the war in Afghanistan.

And weep.

Budget Priorities

This week, congress will take action on a new budget. Much talk about reducing the budget has centered around cutting much needed services to those who in our country can least afford it. Cuts are planned for social services, aid to the homeless and poor, environmental regulation, health, and education services. Some are even talking about doing away with Medicare and Social Security. But no one seems to be talking about reducing our nation's military budget, which makes up 58% of our overall discretionary spending.

This is insane!

Call your member of congress and let them know that we cannot afford to make the kinds of cuts which affect our most needy citizens.

Ponderings for April 2011

What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? [Jeremiah 2.5]

As part of my Lenten discipline, I’ve been rereading Jeremiah and I am struck by the tone of the first portion of this prophet’s writings. God is angry. Actually, “angry” is too light a word: God is majorly ticked off!

Jeremiah was a prophet of Judah in the period 627-587 BCE, or just before the time of Judah’s exile to Babylon. One of his primary concerns — God’s concern, actually — was the apostasy and idolatry of the people of Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. After years of settlement and growth, the people had forsaken the worship of God and instead had turned to worship the idols of other religions. And God would have none of it. After all, these were the people God had hand-picked to be a “light unto the nations.” They were to be holy as God was holy, to follow the ways that led to righteousness, justice, and mercy, as God was righteous, just, and merciful. But they had had enough of God and decided to do their own thing. Their kings made allegiances with other kings, or had fought with other kings so as to increase their boundaries. They relied on the strength of their armies and their prophets had not been true to what God was saying. They neglected the needs of the poor, the widowed, and the orphan. They were inhospitable to foreigners in their land. In short, they were some messed up nation!

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