Category Archives: Religion

Easter and Passover remarks from a politician that an atheist can appreciate

As a non-believer, I appreciate it whenever President Obama includes me and my brethren in his religion-related remarks like he did yesterday in his weekly radio address:

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder Dinner for family, staff and friends, in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, April 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)Christ’s triumph over death holds special meaning for Christians.  But all of us, no matter how or whether we believe, can identify with elements of His story.  The triumph of hope over despair.  Of faith over doubt. The notion that there is something out there that is bigger than ourselves.

These beliefs help unite Americans of all faiths and backgrounds.  They shape our values and guide our work.  They put our lives in perspective.

So to all Christians celebrating the Resurrection with us, Michelle and I want to wish you a blessed and Happy Easter.  And to all Americans, I hope you have a weekend filled with joy and reflection, focused on the things that matter most.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

So to to all LoGro readers, I hope your day is filled with joy and reflection, focused on the things that matter most.

‘Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life’ reading group starts tonight

Teresa TillsonTeresa Tillson stopped by my corner office at GBM last week to promote the start of reading group at the Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center.

The first gathering is tonight, Thursday, March 29, 7:30 pm.

Here’s the press release, with my images and links added.

March 17, 2012

twelve-steps-to-a-compassionate-life-by-karen-armstrongCompassion sounds like a good idea, but it’s such a lot of work!  How can a person cultivate and expand the capacity for compassion?  Do some practices of compassion cross all religious, ideological, and national traditions from Jainists to Atheists and from Tibet to Timbuktu?

The Northfield Buddhists are hosting a conversation sparked by a provocative thinker on the role of religion in the modern world, the former Catholic nun, author, and “free-lance monotheist”, Karen Armstrong.

Armstrong’s book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life will anchor a conversation about the practices of compassion common to all religious and cultural traditions.  The series begins on Thursday, March 29, 7:30, at the Northfield Buddhist Mediation Center, and continues on the last Thursday of each month at least through August.

Books are available for purchase at Monkey See Monkey Read in Northfield.

Karen ArmstrongIn Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, Armstrong provides an impassioned and practical guide to putting the ideals of compassion into practice. She suggests tools to improve the way we treat each other, the way we treat ourselves, and offers concrete examples and exercises for cultivating daily compassion.

Starting with “learning about compassion” and continuing through “love your enemies”, Armstrong leads readers through a discussion of self-love, mindfulness, suffering, sympathetic joy, the limits of our knowledge of others, and concern for everybody. 

As the winner of the 2008 TED prize, Karen Armstrong wished for help in creating, launching and propagating the Charter for Compassion.  The TED Prize is designed to leverage the TED Community’s exceptional array of talent and resources. It is awarded annually to one exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and, much more important, the granting of “One Wish to Change the World.”  The Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and the Charter for Compassion are the result of Armstrong’s wish.

“The Northfield Buddhists are thrilled to be part of this international movement to change the conversation so that compassion becomes a key word in public and private discourse.  Any ideology that breeds hatred or contempt has failed the test of our time.  Together we are summoned to creative, practical and sustained action to meet the political, moral, religious, social and cultural problems of our time,” says Sam Demas, one of the book study organizers.

The Northfield Buddhist Meditation Center is located at 313 ½ Division St., (second floor, above Jenkins Jewelers) Northfield, MN.  In the spirit of compassion, all who seek to practice compassion are sincerely invited to join the conversation.

For more information, please contact:

Sam Demas, (507) 645-7584,, or Fred Howe (

What’s up with the Gateway Ministry Center?

Gateway Ministry Center, Northfield Gateway Ministry Center, Northfield
I noticed yesterday that the Gateway Ministry Center has opened next to Cost Cutters in Heritage Square along S. Hwy 3.  Back in 2007, I blogged that they had opened Northfield Healing Rooms in Heritage Square, also selling books, art, health products, coffee, and art. Steve Roberts and Rebecca Roberts were the pastors, according to a listing in the Northfield News. Their focus at that time:

Our mission is to help unite, equip and empower the body of Christ to promote healing as a vital part of ministry. Our focus is on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to work through us to heal the sick and infirmed.

Now they seem to have a different focus, though it’s not clear to me what it is. Steve Roberts is still listed as the pastor but there’s no mention of Rebecca Roberts.  Their site also has a Gateway Youth Ignited page though this may be a discontinued program as their website doesn’t have a navigation option to it.

They also use the domain name and have an affiliation with Gloryhouse International Church in Burnsville.

Buddhist nonsense given front-page treatment in the Strib

The StarTribune used this teaser headline on the homepage of their website yesterday:

4-year-old believed to be first Minnesota-born lama-reincarnate

The actual headline and by-line for the front-page story: The little lama from Columbia Heights – "Tibetan Buddhists see the extraordinary in this Columbia Heights boy — a reincarnated guru."

003buddha12181111Jalue Dorjee, you see, is believed to be no ordinary boy. According to the highest authorities of the Tibetan Buddhist order, he is the reincarnation of the speech, mind and body of a lama, or spiritual guru, who died in Switzerland six years ago. Jalue is said to be the eighth appearance of the original lama, born in 1655.

There’s a lot to like about Buddhism, just like other religions, but a human-interest story based on goofy literal beliefs about reincarnation should not be given front-page treatment but relegated to the Variety or a local section, just like the newspaper did with its story a year ago, A little chapel in Wisconsin draws pilgrims seeking Mary. Likewise, this article published in July: Communion wafer turns red in S. St. Paul — is it miraculous?

In five more years, I hope to see a follow-up article about Jalue Dorjee with a headline like:

Columbia Heights family to ship their 10-year old to study in a monastery in India – is this good parenting?

I was wrong. Prayer walk at the Northfield High School was organized by a student

[Sept 13, 2018: this blog post has been edited to remove the name of the student at her request.]

In the discussion attached to my Sept. 1 blog post, Dan Clites organizes a prayer walk at the Northfield High School; it’s a Trojan Horse, two Northfielders pointed out that the prayer walk was organized by a Northfield High School student.

Brent Bielenberg wrote:

I hesitated to write into this blog, but I did feel that there are some wrong facts in your reporting of the prayer meeting that need to be brought to light.

First, it was not Dan Clites, Rejoice!, or TN that organized this prayer walk at the school. It was a 16 year old junior girl who attends Emmaus that organized it. In fact, the same thing was done last year around the same time of year, also organized by her. She called me (I am the youth pastor at Rejoice!) a week before the date to ask if we would promote it via our email and our website. I believe she called other churches including her own and did the same. She told me it was opened to youth, parents and anyone else who would like to pray for the school. Afterwards, they were invited to her house for a bonfire. I was not there because I forgot (great youth pastor) but it also was not one of my youth leading the group and technically not a Rejoice! youth function.

The only connection she has to TN and Rejoice is that I went to school with her dad. Their family attends Emmaus and they have never attended a TN meeting. This is a pretty typical youth group activity in many cities throughout the US and world…

David Henson wrote:

Griff, I appreciate your blog but you are in left field here. The girl who organized the prayer walk this is a friend of my wife’s and very sweet. Her father has a campus mission to St Olaf…

In retrospect, I should have inquired further once I saw the video of the prayer walk posted on Northfield Patch. The accompanying text to the video got it right:

[Name], a soon-to-be Northfield High School junior, organized a prayer walk Friday night that took place outside of the school.

Several members from various church congregations joined her in praying for the students, teachers and school in the coming year.

My apologies to the student.

[Sept 13, 2018: this blog post has been edited to remove the name of the student at her request.]

Dan Clites organizes a prayer walk at the Northfield High School; it’s a Trojan Horse

Update Sept. 16: See the blog post I was wrong. Prayer walk at the Northfield High School was organized by a student.

Last week, Rejoice! pastor Dan Clites posted this on the church’s website (since removed):

THIS FRIDAY! DO YOU CARE ABOUT OUR SCHOOLS? Of course you do! So, let’s pray walk the grounds of Northfield High School and start seeing the spiritual climate change for our students, faculty and administration! THIS FRIDAY, AUGUST 26th…meet at 7:00 pm sharp in front of the NHS Auditorium entrance. We will pray walk for 45-minutes. If you feel uncomfortable praying out loud— then just walk along in agreement! It will make a difference because the Bible says God hears our prayers!

I went as an observer and to take photos. Why?

Aug. 26, 2011 prayer walk at the Northfield High School Video on Northfield Patch - Prayer Walk for Northfield High School

In my Feb. 12 blog post, What is Transformation Northfield’s public agenda?, I pointed out the connection between Dan Clites and Ed Silvoso who believes that gay people are possessed by demons.

For TN [Transformation Northfield] to be connected to Ed Silvoso and his organization is ominous.

Any message, direct or indirect, that homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals are somehow under the influence of demonic forces, is not only hurtful and destructive but dangerous.  It can have a corrosive effect on the morale of LGBT employees who work for the city and school district.

And for any LGBT youth in our schools who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual identity, it can exacerbate their pain, lead to depression, or worse.

It concerns me that some teachers and coaches who are members of TN might convey this belief to the youth they work with. And it concerns me that some of the youth involved with TN, who are urged to live their calling in the marketplace of school, could fall into demonizing other youth.

For Clites and Rejoice! to take promote a prayer campaign to at the steps of Northfield High School is more disturbing than the prayer group in City Administrator Al Roder’s office at Northfield City Hall back in 2007.

I assume the prayers were generic/innocuous, judging from the video they posted on Northfield Patch. But for Clites to say that “We’re here to simply pray blessing and let God’s Holy Spirit move,” is more than a little disingenuous. Judging from his writings and those of his mentors , his unstated belief is likely that demonic forces inhabit the building and some of the faculty, staff and students who are LGBT.

Clites’ philosophy appears to be consistent with dominionism, which was the focus of a Fresh Air show last week titled The Evangelicals Engaged In Spiritual Warfare (audio/summary here; full transcript here) .  Researcher Rachel Tabachnick was Terry Gross’ guest. Here’s an exchange about dominionism and ‘demonic principalities:’

racheltabachnickMs. RACHEL TABACHNICK: I would say the basic beliefs began with the idea of dominionism, and dominionism is simply that Christians of this belief system must take control over all the various institutions of society and government. They have some unusual concepts of what they call spiritual warfare that have not been seen before in other groups.

Spiritual warfare is a common term in evangelicalism and in Christianity, but they have some unique approaches and unique spins on this that distinguish them from other groups.

GROSS: And that literally have to do with casting demons out of people and religions and…

Ms. TABACHNICK: They use this in terms of evangelizing. So whereas we might be accustomed with the idea of saving souls, of missionaries or evangelical work to save individual souls; they believe that they can, through this demon warfare, take control over entire communities, or perhaps nations or people groups, an ethnic group, a religious group and so forth, because they believe that they are doing spiritual warfare at this higher level against these demonic principalities, what they call demonic principalities.

See also last Sunday’s NY Times Magazine for a column by Bill Keller, executive editor, titled Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith.

And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

So this season I’m paying closer attention to what the candidates say about their faith and what they have said in the past that they may have decided to play down in the quest for mainstream respectability.

Clites and some of his followers have their own Trojan horse saddled up and galloping around Northfield, an unstated plan is to get more people (they already have two, Jeff Quinnell on the Northfield School Board and Rhonda Pownell on the Northfield City Council) elected to public office. The Northfield School Board is where they hope to affect public policy related to LGBT issues and probably others (intelligent design?).

Of course, I’ve got no problem with any group trying to affect public policy by getting elected. But tactics and transparency matter and I object to how Clites demonizes people (‘principalities of opposition’) and how he and some members of TN and Rejoice! aren’t transparent about some aspects of their agenda.

But then, what do I know?  According to Clites (twice in my conversation with him last Friday), I can’t be expected to understand these things because I’m an atheist.

Update 8:39 PM: I’ve amended the 3rd to the last paragraph above to read:

…an unstated plan is to get more people (they already have two, Jeff Quinnell on the Northfield School Board and Rhonda Pownell on the Northfield City Council) elected to public office.

The original version left out Rhonda Pownell, an oversight on my part.

Update Sept. 16: See the blog post I was wrong. Prayer walk at the Northfield High School was organized by a student.

Construction underway at Rejoice!; citizen group trying to get sanctuary restored

Construction at Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas

I took the above panoramic photo of the construction (parking lot and addition) underway at Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas yesterday. (To see the large version of the photo, right-click on it and open it in a new browser tab. Other photos below.) Groundbreaking was last Sunday, according to this story in the Nfld News.

The idea for this construction has been around for a while ever since the sanctuary was torn down, but nobody had any clue on how to start, mainly because there wasn’t anybody in charge so somebody had to take action to get things going. Organization is the main factor for any type of construction, especially for an important project like this, it has to be done perfectly without any errors. Luckily someone had the idea to call the florida construction management agency, and thanks to them things were able to get started without any complications and they have been going by very quickly without a single problem all this time.

The Ad Hoc Advisory Task Force on Holy Cross Church, consisting of local citizens Julie Schrader Bicket, Stephanie Henriksen and Jane Moline, is pursuing an appeal to require an EAW. I got this press release from Stephanie yesterday:

Citizen Group offers to drop appeal if Rejoice agrees to restore sanctuary

The Ad Hoc Advisory Task Force on Holy Cross Church, a group of local citizens, has filed an appeal in the Minnesota Court of Appeals against the City of Dundas asking the Court to order the City to complete an environmental assessment worksheet on the project of Rejoice! Church on the historic Holy Cross Church site in Dundas.

Holy Cross Church is a historic treasure in Minnesota and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Upon taking possession of the property, Rejoice! stripped the historic interior sanctuary of Holy Cross, including pews, altar rails, lecturns, chairs, plaques, and other items of historic significance.  Destruction of outer walls of the Parish Hall and grading activities on the site for construction of a new building began this past week.

Minnesota law required the EAW because of the partial destruction of Holy Cross Church, a listed National Register property. There is hope the case will lead to restoration of the sanctuary, currently being used as a meeting room. If the Court requires an EAW, a process will take place that will address this, among other things. The Citizens group has offered to drop the case in the Court of Appeals if Rejoice! agrees to restore the historic sanctuary.

Anyone who purchased interior furnishings from Rejoice who is willing to return them (and be reimbursed for prices paid)  may call this number:

Ad Hoc Advisory Task Force on Holy Cross

Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas Rejoice! Lutheran Church in Dundas

St. Dominic installs bike repair stand

St. Dominic bike repair standSeeing St. Olaf’s installation of bike repair stations last week, St. Dominic Catholic Church in Northfield installed a bike repair station of its own over the weekend. Pastor David Demster, an avid bicyclist himself, was the impetus.

"While some of our parishioners are mechanically savvy enough to repair their bikes without assistance, many are not," said Father Demster. "To have the Blessed Virgin on hand for intercessory prayers while bikes are being worked on can really help.  We’re also hoping it can diminish the frequency if not the volume of taking the Lord’s name in vain that we typically hear during bicycle repairs."

While the bike repair stand is intended for parishioner use, any community member can use it.