Category Archives: Religion

Jesus is evidently coming to Northfield at 6 pm on Saturday. What are your plans?

may-21 Harold_Camping_2011

Harold Camping is in the news constantly this week because, according to his Wikipedia entry:

His current end times prediction is that the Rapture will be on May 21, 2011 and that God will completely destroy the Earth and the universe five months later on October 21.

More specifically, things will get interesting here in Northfield at 6 PM CDT on Saturday, according his explanation in this recent interview in NY Magazine:

In other words, when we get to May 21 on the calendar in any city or country in the world, and the clock says about — this is based on other verses in the Bible — when the clock says about 6 p.m., there’s going to be this tremendous earthquake that’s going to make the last earthquake in Japan seem like nothing in comparison. And the whole world will be alerted that Judgment Day has begun. And then it will follow the sun around for 24 hours. As each area of the world gets to that point of 6 p.m. on May 21, then it will happen there, and until it happens, the rest of the world will be standing far off and witnessing the horrible thing that is happening.

I wasn’t aware of this, as it’s not listed as an event in the May issue of the Northfield Entertainment Guide. Epic FAIL, I’d say.

Most Christians I know aren’t too worried (eg, Josh Nelson, pastor of Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Buffalo).

Some heathens are planning some post rapture looting, which has prompted one guy on Facebook to make a t-shirt that says:

I survived the Rapture and all I got was this Lamborghini, this 52-room mansion, this truckload of gold bars, this footlocker full of weed, and this 76" flatscreen TV.

Doonesbury - End of the WorldI’m not planning to participate in any looting to speak of but if anyone is looking to unload a Mercedes ahead of time, I’m with Zonker. I’ve not driven in lava before but it can’t be that much worse than the heavy wet snow from the Halloween Blizzard of 1991. I made it to work in downtown Mpls. that morning.

I’m hoping there will be some Northfield area Rapture Parties like the one in Tacoma, WA: Countdown to Backpedaling: The End is Nah!


Where do you plan to be on Saturday at 6 PM?

My Easter prayer: that religious leaders not remain silent when others give prayer a bad name

Oh Lord, please help leaders of all faiths to find the courage to publicly criticize Texas Governor Rick Perry for his proclamation for days of prayer for rain that he issued last Thursday:

Photo illustration by Texas TribuneWHEREAS, throughout our history, both as a state and as individuals, Texans have been strengthened, assured and lifted up through prayer; it seems right and fitting that the people of Texas should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this devastating drought and these dangerous wildfires;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICK PERRY, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life.

President Obama sometimes crosses over the line when it comes to prayer, for example in February at the National Prayer Breakfast when he said:

Obama Prayer BreakfastWe pray that the violence in Egypt will end and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized.

Believing that our prayers could somehow convince God to intercede in Egypt is as ridiculous as believing that our prayers could somehow convince God to bring rain to Texas.

It is best to read the weather forecast before praying for rain. – Mark Twain

Negotiations with Transformation Northfield degenerate into finger pointing of biblical proportions

John George and Griff WigleyLong-time Transformation Northfield member John George and I met yesterday morning in my corner office at the GBM in an attempt to reconcile our differences since the big discussion about TN.

We were making considerable progress towards détente but in the end, we could not come to agreement as to who should pay for coffee. A summit is scheduled for April 14 at the next TN breakfast where John is a presenter.

Update 3/21: David Koenig was kind enough to take the photo. He then told us to keep it down as we were disturbing him and other patrons.

What is Transformation Northfield’s public agenda?

Agenda, Feb 10, 2011 Northfield Marketplace MinistryTransformation Northfield: Praise and Worship breakfastI attended Transformation Northfield‘s monthly Praise and Worship breakfast (called Northfield Marketplace Ministry) Thursday morning in the lower level of the Archer House. (I requested and was given permission to attend as an observer.)

I’m  interested in the group because part of their mission involves local public institutions (cities, public schools). But it’s not clear to me what that mission exactly entails and how they go about trying to achieve it.

See my concerns at the bottom of this post.

Local public officials who have acknowledged (there may be others) their involvement with Transformation Northfield (TN)  include:

Jack Hoschouer Rhonda Pownell Jeff Quinnell

Dan Clites Brett Reese
Leadership of TN is coming from Rejoice! Lutheran Church pastor Dan Clites and Northfield businessman Brett Reese (Archer House, Rebound Enterprises, Northfield Automation Systems, Northfield Real Estate Fund).

In January, Rejoice! Lutheran Church pastor Dan Clites wrote a column for the Alliance of Renewal Churches titled God’s Heart for City-Nation Transformation. Citing the city of Elk River, MN, Clites wrote:

Marketplace miracles, like those in Elk River, are occurring every day all around the world. Focused on Jesus’ calling to “make disciples of all nations…” the heart of Harvest Evangelism is birthed from Jesus’ instructions in Luke 10. He is instructing his followers how to effectively evangelize a city and a nation with the biblical purposes and principles of God…

From this core group who share a heart for Northfield, we have invited various other marketplace folks from around town to join us in a Bible study created by Greg Pagh, the lead pastor of Christ Church in Otsego, MN. The study is called “Faith Beyond Belief.” I have used it as a small group teaching tool for both my congregation and for local business people, government servants and school officials outside my congregation!

The goal of TN, according to its page on the Rejoice! website, is:

To see the cities of Northfield-Dundas serving the kingdom of God! That’s the goal of Transformation Northfield! Inspired by the movement of the Holy Spirit in Elk River, Minnesota, and other cities around the globe, a group of Northfield Christians are coming together on a weekly basis for a movement of the Great Commission. The biblical goal is to constantly pray over the city in order to bring the transforming faith of Jesus Christ into all corners of the marketplace (our schools, government, businesses, homes and neighborhoods)…

Is it working? Indeed, we are already seeing the fruit of marketplace ministers serving in their various spheres of daily influence. People are getting excited about living their faith like never before. They are establishing and taking responsibility to lead all sorts of new kingdom ministries; everything from prayer walking the neighborhood streets, to building playground equipment on the school grounds, to running for various local government and school leadership offices, to one business owner dedicating his business as a “kingdom company” for the Lord’s work.

TN is part of a larger movement, according to Clites:

I am now networking with Ed Silvoso and Harvest Evangelism, attending both the international and North American conferences. I didn’t go by myself, though, instead I have taken dozens from Northfield with me so we can all catch and grow into the vision!

Ed SilvosoHarvest Evangelism founder and president Ed Silvoso was the featured speaker at the annual Northfield Prayer Breakfast in April, 2007.  Silvoso also heads up the International Transformation Network (ITN).

Transformation - Change the Marketplace and Change the WorldIn his book, Transformation: Change the Marketplace and You Change the World, Silvoso tells the story (p. 165-170) of  how a Filipino taxi driver named Joey, after attending a seminar on transformation, intervenes in the life of the manager of a bar who “… was a homosexual who doubled up as the pimp for 35 prostitutes. He was also a drug user and a drug dealer, the latter a practical necessity to subsidize the former.”  After many days of Joey’s ministering to and praying for the manager, “the manager invited Jesus into his heart.”

Consequently he took his new convert to the beach and immersed him three times, once for each person of the Trinity since he had also ready that it had to be done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As soon as the now ex-gay man came up from the waters, he was struck by the power of God, evicting the demonic forces that had controlled him for so long and rewiring his psyche correctly to enable him to feel like a man again.

This YouTube video shows Silvoso telling this story at a conference. In a letter to the editor of Honolulu Civil Beat, he states that the bar manager “… is married and a pillar in his community.”

My take

Since the 2007 incident when some TN members were allowed to pray in the office of then City Administrator Al Roder, I’m not aware of anything that TN members have publicly said or done that in my judgment, is inappropriate.  I’ve engaged with Jack, Rhonda, Jeff and Brett in a variety of civic and business-oriented activities over the years and they seem to be as community-minded as I am.

But my radar is up on TN for three reasons:

1. Public policy problem-solving and decision-making

Stephanie Klinzing, former mayor of Elk River, MN wrote on the Harvest Evangelism site back in 2004 (the article has since been removed but she’s quoted here and here):

We have also discovered that I have spiritual authority in the city as well as civic authority. I have stood, in the spirit, against things that I believe God does not want in my city, and I have also opened, in the spirit, the city gates to things that I believe God wants in the city. This has had powerful results.

It seems to me that for a public official to assume that he or she knows what God wants and doesn’t want for a city, it makes it less likely that they’ll be open to other points of view, be willing to negotiate, be willing to admit mistakes.

If Jack, Rhonda or Jeff have beliefs similar to Klinzing’s, they need to be confronted if and when those beliefs get in the way of constructive public policy problem-solving and decision-making.  (Klinzing was defeated in her bid for re-election last fall and is now blogging here.)

2.  Rejoice! Pastor Dan Clites

Clites had this to say about those who opposed Rejoice! Church’s plan to move the Cleland family graves as part of their expansion plans:

As mentioned in our December 5th worship service, we have recently come against principalities of opposition (Ephesians 6:12).  Why should we expect anything less?  When a church serves in the Light of the Holy Spirit, darkness will not like it.

Most of the opposition has come from a local family that doesn’t want us moving the Cleland grave site 50-feet and into the northend cemetery.  They believe it is disrespectful to the dead. Our Building Team believes the most respectful and historic thing to do is gracefully move the remains and the headstones so they are not in the way of our important expansion.

Clites puts his actions above reproach because his “church serves in the Light of the Holy Spirit,” whereas those who disagree are labeled “principalities of opposition” and “darkness,” clear references to the devil. (See my Dec. 14, 2010 blog post and subsequent discussion for more.)

This tactic, if deployed in the public sphere, can be even more polarizing and disruptive to constructive public policy problem-solving and decision-making.

3. LGBT issues

For TN 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.


Jack, Rhonda, Jeff and Brett: I applaud your civic engagement.  Please be on the alert for how elements of TN might be inadvertently detrimental to the Northfield community that I know you love.

Institutional Christianity losing its appeal while the social benefits from religious engagement are more important than ever

Russ Douthat’s column in last  week’s NY Times, A Tough Season for Believers, provides good fodder for a Xmas eve discussion. Here are some excerpts:

But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism. And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between “The Nutcracker” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

These anxieties can be overdrawn, and they’re frequently turned to cynical purposes… But they also reflect the peculiar and complicated status of Christian faith in American life. Depending on the angle you take, Christianity is either dominant or under siege, ubiquitous or marginal, the strongest religion in the country or a waning and increasingly archaic faith.

Happily, for those who need a last-minute gift for the anxious Christian in their life, the year just past featured two thick, impressive books that wrestle with exactly these complexities.

American GraceThe first is “American Grace,” co-written by Harvard’s Robert Putnam (of “Bowling Alone” fame) and Notre Dame’s David Campbell, which examines the role that religion plays in binding up the nation’s social fabric. Over all, they argue, our society reaps enormous benefits from religious engagement, while suffering from few of the potential downsides.

Widespread churchgoing seems to make Americans more altruistic and more engaged with their communities, more likely to volunteer and more inclined to give to secular and religious charities. Yet at the same time, thanks to Americans’ ever-increasing tolerance, we’ve been spared the kind of sectarian conflict that often accompanies religious zeal.

But for Christians, this sunny story has a dark side. Religious faith looks more socially beneficial to America than ever, but the institutional Christianity that’s historically generated most of those benefits seems to be gradually losing its appeal…

To Change the WorldTheir argument is complemented by the University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World,” an often withering account of recent Christian attempts to influence American politics and society…

In spite of their numerical strength and reserves of social capital, he argues, the Christian churches are mainly influential only in the “peripheral areas” of our common life. In the commanding heights of culture, Christianity punches way below its weight.

Putnam and Campbell are quantitative, liberal, and upbeat; Hunter is qualitative, conservative and conflicted. But both books come around to a similar argument: this month’s ubiquitous carols and crèches notwithstanding, believing Christians are no longer what they once were — an overwhelming majority in a self-consciously Christian nation. The question is whether they can become a creative and attractive minority in a different sort of culture, where they’re competing not only with rival faiths but with a host of pseudo-Christian spiritualities, and where the idea of a single religious truth seems increasingly passé.

Or to put it another way, Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom — and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning, 2,000 years ago this week.

Rejoice! Spiritual wickedness triumphs in Dundas

Holy Cross Episcopal, Dundas (wikipedia photo)Last Saturday’s Nfld News article, When development meets the past, tells the story of a conflict between the descendants William C. Cleland and Rejoice! Lutheran Church which now owns the former Holy Cross Episcopal church in Dundas.  Pastor Dan Clites and the Building Team wanted to move the Cleland family graves as part of the Rejoice! expansion plans. Cleland family descendants opposed the move.  The conflict has evidently been resolved:

Clites says former Holy Cross members gave him the names of Cleland relatives, who he said OK’d the plan to move the graves. Those relatives later withdrew their support, he says, under pressure from family members. That pressure, along with a desire to be good neighbors has led Rejoice! to rework its initial plan. It’s now working on a redesign that will leave the graves, which are encircled by decorative metal fencing, intact…

But had the church decided to move forward with the relocation, [State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson] isn’t sure he would have allowed it. Since the Cleland graves were never recorded with the county, approval for moving the remains rests with the archaeologist. And since the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the descendants opposed the proposed move, Anfinson said he’d likely have denied such a request.

When I first heard about the issue, I thought it was reasonable for Rejoice! to want to move the graves and I thought it was reasonable for the descendants to object.  But last week, prior to the article’s publishing and the resolution of the conflict, Pastor Clites published his weekly update in which he wrote about the issue:

Dan Clites… we have recently come against principalities of opposition (Ephesians 6:12).  Why should we expect anything less?  When a church serves in the Light of the Holy Spirit, darkness will not like it. 

Here’s the verse in Ephesians 6:12 (King James Version):

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

For Clites to associate Helen Albers and Cleland family descendants with ‘principalities’ and ‘darkness’ and ‘spiritual wickedness’ is more than a little ridiculous. Un-Christian even, if I may, as an atheist, say so. And I would assume that MN State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson would have been included among the principalities had he ruled against Rejoice!.

That the conflict was resolved in part because of Rejoice!’s "desire to be good neighbors" (Nfld News reporter Suzy Rook’s words) seems disingenuous, given Clites’ words a few days prior. That he would use the words of Jesus ("Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead") to argue that his opponents’ beliefs about the sacredness of grave sites are misplaced is outrageous.

Clites owes these people an apology.

Here’s the full text and screen capture of the Rejoice! Update Dec. 6 – Dec. 12, 2010 by Pastor Dan Clites:

Continue reading Rejoice! Spiritual wickedness triumphs in Dundas

Praying for a miracle in a crisis: Jesus would not approve

I’ve been thinking about death lately, first because of the situations of two of my racquetball buddies, Jerry Davidson and Dale Snesrud, and then because of the sad drama of Luke Bucklin and three of his sons whose bodies were found after their small plane disappeared over a week ago in Wyoming.

I loved seeing the community and family support activities for the Bucklins (Star Tribune: Holding on together), the posts and comments to the company blog, and the messages of support from around the world for the search and rescue teams.  Likewise, the outpouring of affection (and fundraising for medical bills) from Northfielders for Dale (photo album).

It’s pretty common for people to "pray for a miracle" in situations like these. Dale Snesrud told me a few months ago that his pastor and some members of his church gathered in the sanctuary, laying their hands on him while asking God to intercede on his behalf in his fight with cancer. It’s likely that at several area churches today, local ministers led their congregations in prayer for Jerry Davidson’s safe return. The Prayers for Luke site has several of these prayers posted, for example:

Pray for a miracle – that the search and rescue team is able to quickly locate the plane.

Pray for Saturday’s search. There will be three ground search teams in addition to the surveillance aircraft in the area. Pray that they would see more and that the weather system predicted to move in would hold off and allow a full day’s search.

But it’s always troubling to me when people pray for a miracle in situations like these. Why?

Serenity PrayerWhat’s the seed that often takes root in people’s heads when the miracle doesn’t happen?  God couldn’t be bothered. They/I didn’t deserve God’s intervention. Despair. Faith shattered. Talk to any level-headed member of the clergy and they’ll tell you that many of their counseling sessions deal with bad reactions to unselfish unanswered prayers.

More importantly, I think prayers for miracles bring God down to the level of Santa Claus, Wizard of Oz, and Far Side cartoons in people’s minds, contributing to  the incorrect interpretation of Jesus’ words, "Ask and ye shall receive."   People then miss out on the power of true prayer, like the Serenity Prayer and variations.  And agnostics and atheists assume that prayer has nothing to offer them because of its association with the idea that God can intervene in the physical universe and human affairs, an anathema to them.

And that’s bothersome to a spiritual atheist like me.

Obie Holmen, back from a book tour, still stirring up trouble

Obie Holmen at the GBM with A Wretched ManI saw Obie Holmen in the GBM on Thursday. Obie is:

Obie has just returned from several days in La Crosse where he’d been doing what newly published authors do. He was featured in yesterday’s Strib, somewhat erroneously, according to his blog:

I must smile at the article headline since I am not Roman Catholic nor do I think my support for the majority position of the ELCA on this blog qualifies me as “controversial”.

The Roman Catholic Church, the sexual abuse of children, the media: making sense of it all

pope-benedict I wanted to hold off launching a blog discussion about this issue till after Easter. I thought media attention on the issue might have peaked by now but it seems to be escalating. 

So let’s discuss this issue here: the allegations of sexual abuse of children by priets, the facts, the church’s and Pope Benedict’s handling of the issue, the media’s coverage of it. I’ve deliberately not linked to any media stories in this blog post, so please add links that you think others should consider following like to help the nation their porn addiction.

FYI, I grew up Catholic, and spent 7 years in a Catholic seminary where I got a very good education and loved my time there. Yes, I’m an atheist now but that has little to do with my experience as a Catholic.