Sunday, September 28, 2008

Treasury of Daily Prayer

Concordia Publishing House is about to put out a new volume of daily prayer and meditation that has the confessional Lutheran world very excited. You can take a close look at it here. I attach here a somewhat lengthy paean to the excellence of the new book from Internet Monk, via Paul McCain's website, Cyberbrethren:

I want to use every superlative possible to tell my readers that Concordia has produced the most comprehensive, well edited, plainly explained and thoroughly impressive resource for liturgical daily prayer I’ve ever encountered. If you want a resource for personal or small group liturgical prayer, with abundant options, complete explanation of the Christian year, scripture passages printed out, readings from Church fathers included and much more, your search is permanently over. The Treasury of Daily Prayer surpasses any resource I’ve seen. What impresses me the most here is not what other resources do, but what no other resource does. I am constantly looking for resources synced with the Christian year AND for the Christian year to be completely explained. Done. I’m looking for Lenten devotions with a catechetical focus. Done. I want liturgical prayer that includes readings from the church fathers and reference to doctrinal confessions. Done. I want the process of liturgical prayer explained step by step and in its component parts, so that those with no background in such prayer can begin with confidence. Done. This is a Lutheran resource, published by the LCMS publishing house. It is catholic in the sense that conservative Lutheran resources are expected to be. This isn’t a resource that does anything with contemporary generic evangelicalism in mind. The confessions referenced are Lutheran confessions, and Luther is generously represented in the readings. The lectionary is the LCMS lectionary. This in no way limits the value of this resource for any Protestant. Even with the sacramental disagreements that may be underlined in some portions of the material, the vast majority of what you’ll find in The Treasury of Daily Prayer is completely usable by any Christian. It’s a feast folks. Seriously. I’ve seen nothing this good or even close. This is the kind of large resource that can make a lifetime contribution to personal worship. It is a complete education in the Protestant liturgical prayer tradition, Lutheran version.”
—Michael Spencer

My copy is on order!

Note: The image of the book is taken from the CPH website and used without permission. Heck. The Spencer quote is used without permission also. So sue me.


Mike, upper left, with some of the Bible study brothers

I have mentioned before that I lead a Friday night Bible study at the local prison near Oregon, WI. One characteristic of these studies is how quickly I come to be attached to these guys. Another characteristic is that they can be gone before I know it. I miss a Friday night for one reason or another, and when I go back, a couple of guys have been transferred or released. I normally never hear from them again.

A month or so ago on a Friday night, I learned that Mike McNichols, who had been a faithful attendee at the Bible study for six or eight months and had been expecting to go into a quick release program in a few weeks, had been transferred back to the higher security prison because he'd been diagnosed with cancer and needed their more sophisticated medical facilities. I got his address and sent him a short note, expressing both sorrow and encouragement to him at this "setback". Life in Christ doesn't ever really have setbacks, but stil the flesh suffers on that long road to victory. So it is with Mike.

He sent me a copy of a letter he was using to communicate to his many family and friends. Without his permission, but with confidence that he would approve, I'm including parts of it here.

I remember Mike for his sense of humor and his intense, almost ambitious love of ideas. When I was going to take a photo (above) of some of the Bible study guys, I said, "Ok, line up against the wall." You know. For the photo. Mike quickly laughed and said, "You shouldn't say that to us. We're criminals!" And some time later, while we were sitting waiting for the others to join us at the beginning of a Friday night, he said to me, "I stole 1.6 million dollars. I'm not getting out of here for five years at least."

In Mike McNichols own words, then: his story.

July 2008

"All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28.

Dear Family, Friends, and Prayer Partners;

The month of June 2008 can be viewed as one of promising news or devastating news. It seems to depend on your perspective of life.
On June 5, I had just returned to Oregon Correctional Center (OCC) after spending large parts of the three previous days at University of Wisconsin Hospitals for tests to see why my red blood count was dangerously low and hopefully learn why I had been suffering from debilitating back pain during April and May.

I heard the knock on my door and found Rita, one of the nurses at OCC, standing there with a guard. "Mr. McNichols, they want you back at the hospital immediately. I can't say exactly what it is, but it is serious."
I had spent most of June 4 in the Hematology/Cancer ward at UW Hospitals. The main things happening that day were a bone marrow biopsy and two blood transfusions. Leaving the ward, reading the sign, I thought: "I just spent the day on a cancer ward. This can't be good."
When I was told I was returning to the hospital, I called my sisters, Julie and Connie, to let them know. I remember saying to Connie, "I don't want to die."

I was admitted to the secure unit at UW Hospitals and remember a doctor walking in. He said, "Mr. McNichols, you have Multiple Myeloma." He explained it was bone marrow cancer with no cure. "I have cancer," I thought. Then something happened that changed my life. All I could think of was Romans 8:28 (see top of letter). Well, I love God. I asked to be and am called "according to his purpose". God plans to use this to further His kingdom and he's chosen me to stand up and stand out for Him.
The doctor continued to tell me about MM. I listened, but just kept hearing Romans 8:28 and the words to the hymn How Great Thou Art. When he finished, he asked if I had questions. "Yes. What shall we do about this and when do we get started?" The next five days I underwent various forms of oral chemotherapy, had skeletal xrays, and 4 of 10 radiation treatments. Yes, I cried as I pondered my mortality (I had plans to live to 85), but I was continually reminded that God has chosen me, in this time and place, to work His good.

As most of you know, I was sentenced to 7 years in the Wisconsin prison system for stealing money to support my gambling and alcohol addictions. I had learned in May '08 that I was accepted into Earned Release, a 6 month program that grants release early to those completing the sessions. I wold get out of prison 3 years, 10 months ahead of schedule. I was looking forward to release, but my back hurt so severely, I didn't enjoy the prospect.

So how did I get to this point? I went to prison January 20, 2006. Three months later, in early April, I found myself on my bunk talking to God. "Okay Lord, I have no money. I owe so much I'll never be able to pay it back. I lost my business, my wife left me after 31 years of marriage, our house went to foreclosure, I have no career. My kids are struggling with my very existence. I have nothing to offer you, except me. Just me. If you want me, I'm yours."

It was a "reconversion". I've known God since my friend Ken showed Him to me in 1964, but He didn't mean that much. I did my own thing. I came to believe that the verse "your sin will find you out" didn't apply to me.
God let me go my own way for about 13 years. I faked my Christianity and did unhealthy and immoral things. Yet God never let me out of the palm of His hand. From April 8, 2005 to May 4, 2005 I lost everything. I got an OWI, my wife left, I was kicked out of my house, I was sued, lost my business and finally was arrested. For 9 months I was homeless. I slept on a sofa and got a job as a painter for minimum wage. September '05 I had to have a disc removed from my back and lived with my sister and mother for the final 4 months before sentencing.

Four months after coming to prison, my mother died. I couldn't attend the funeral. While here God allowed me to give something back. I tutored other inmates. Many got their HS equivalency in the process. Finally in September 2007, I left New Lisbon to go to the Oregon Correctional Center to await my entry into Earned Release and early exit.

Last November I found myself at 256 lbs. In January I found I had diabetes and now had a reason to lose weight. But my hemocrit/hemoglobin red blood counts kept dropping. They should have been 13-17 range; mine starts at 11.8 and by June it was under 8.0. Tests revealed that I don't make red blood cells. I make too many white ones--which became tumors. The CT scan showed a tumor "about the size of a baseball" in my sacrum (tailbone) intruding into the spinal canal. There was a second on in my spine at T12 that collapsed a vertebrae.

A common question asked with cancer is "how long?" Another: "Can we cure it?" I have been given no time frame to live. This cancer cannot be cured. In other words, I have terminal cancer...."All things work together..."

It is treatable. The ultimate treatment is stem cell transplant. I am a candidate; possibly by the end of the year. I see the oncology docs once a month. I've had 4 blood transfusions, 2 IV chemo treatments, and I take 16 pills a day to fight this thing. I walk long distances here, 2 blocks or more, with the aid of a wheelchair and continue to believe "All things work together for the good..." My cousin sends my "healthy thoughts", my sisters take good care of me; a church in Louisville prays for me.
After diagnosis, the Earned Release opportunity was taken from me because I cannot have "health needs" while in the program. It was though, given back, as one place offering it does have medical facilities on site. I am on a waiting list.

My sister Julie asked me if I was "scared" of dying. No I am not. People have inquired about how I feel--really feel. I know God worked this through. I was diagnosed with diabetes in January and as a result had follow up blood tests. My dropping red count was found because of the follow up blood tests. The nurses at OCC where I was at the time, Patty, Rita and Kathryn stayed on it and that led to my diagnosis. They probably saved my lie. To them I am eternally grateful..."
Mike McNichols


Friday, September 26, 2008


The despotic leader of the No Inklings Book Club--me--has declared our next meeting Movie Night. If the little lambs aren't going to read what I assign, then a pox on them. Let them eat cake, and watch a flick.

Being despotic, I decided what movie we'd watch, but I watched closely to ensure it met with the lambs' satisfaction. I had Robin in my pocket, as she'd seen and approved of my choice in advance. Machiavellian, am I.

Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn, unhinged and freed to chew the scenery to their hearts' content, star in this old classic, a movie with perhaps more great one-liners than any I know of. To say this is a movie about man's sin--his abject, total, unremitting sin--is an easy point to make. To say it is also about grace is harder, and the challenge the No Inklings will have.

I'm also conducting a contest: the person who most quickly identifies a buried line of dialogue will win Some Sort of Prize. Stay tuned.

But now, some zingers from THE LION IN WINTER.

Eleanor: I adored you. I still do.
Henry II: Of all the lies you've told, that is the most terrible.
Eleanor: I know. That's why I've saved it up until now.

Eleanor: I even made poor Louis take me on Crusade. How's that for blasphemy. I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure and I damn near died of windburn... but the troops were dazzled.

Henry II: I marvel at you after all these years. Still like a democratic drawbridge: going down for everybody.
Eleanor: At my age there's not much traffic anymore.


[Gazing into a mirror]
Eleanor: My, what a lovely girl. How could her king have left her?


Eleanor: In a world where carpenters get resurrected, everything is possible.

(Robin's favorite):

Eleanor: I suppose every family has its ups and downs...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Oh Boy...

Really, it was just a matter of time before something like this turned up.

Yeah, text message your pastor during the sermon. I try to save my cutting remarks and high praise for when I shake the guy's hand at the end of the Divine Service. But, hey. People have short memories and even shorter patience these days.

The pastor of this church likes it: "It becomes much more of a dialogue."
Yes, synergism in action, the modern American church.

I'm thinking: why not take it a step further? Cut the pastor out of the equation, paste a "Sermon Topic" up on the big screen in front, and let the congregation text message their ideas and input for all to enjoy. It would give final expression to what people really want: Everybody A Pastor. That's what The Priesthood of All Believers means, doesn't it??

HT: Get Religion

Monday, September 22, 2008

East Of Eden

I read Steinbeck's EAST OF EDEN while on vacation in the jungle. My son Jeremy had been asking me to read it for a few years. It was a bit of an anacolouthon, reading John Steinbeck's amazing tale of the Salinas valley and the lives intertwined there, and then looking up to gaze at a banana tree, a coconut tree. Part of the richness of the story is its dealing in lifetimes, which is always poignant. But Steinbeck dabbles in sin and grace throughout the book, and this is its grand feature.

But here, some juicy tidbits.

"You can see how this book has reached a great boundary that was called 1900. Another hundred years were ground up and churned, and what had happened was all muddied by the way folks wanted it to be--more rich and meaningful the farther back it was. In the books of some memories it was the best time that ever sloshed over the world--the old time, the gay time, sweet and simple, as though time were young and fearless. Old men who didn't know whether they were going to stagger over the boundary of the century looked forward to it with distaste. For the world was changing, and sweetness was gone, and virtue too. Worry had crept on a corroding world, and what was lost--good manners, ease and beauty? Ladies were not ladies any more, and you couldn't trust a gentleman's word."
And that was 1900. Distracted as we were by the .com bubble, we forgot to notice, when a new century boundary was recently crossed, that, yes, the world was changing, and sweetness had gone missing, and virtue too. A man's word could no longer be trusted. The themes Steinbeck proposes at the end of the nineteenth century were in some way the themes at the end of the twenthieth: loss of virtue, unremitting change for its own sake. And the ladies, well, weren't ladies anymore. Progress--as the old men would distastefully look at it.

E of E introduces two memorable characters. When I was done reading the book, I immediately began to miss them. The first is Samuel Hamilton, Irish pater of a large, varied family that fills a large part of the book. The second is the Chinese manservant, Lee. As was the wont--for the sake of survival--of the Chinese of the day, they spoke to their American wards in pidgin English. The following quote is where Sam Hamilton flushes Lee out on the subject:

"What's your name?" Samuel asked pleasantly.
"Lee. Got more name. Lee papa family name. Call Lee."
"I've read quite a lot about China. You born in China?"
"No. Born here."
Samuel was silent for quite a long time while the buggy lurched down the wheel track toward the dusty valley. "Lee," he said at last, "I mean no disrespect, but I've never been able to figure why you people still talk pidgin when an illiterate baboon from the black bogs of Ireland, with a head full of Gaelic and a tongue like a potato, learns to talk a poor grade of English in ten years."
Lee grinned. "Me talkee Chinese talk," he said.
"Well, I guess you have your reasons, And it's not my affair. I hope you'll forgive me if I don't believe it, Lee."
Lee looked at him and the brown eyes under their rounded upper lids seemed to open and deepen until they weren't foreign any more, but man's eyes, warm and understanding. Lee chuckled. "It's more than a convenience," he said. "It's even more than self-protection. Mostly we have to use it to be understood at all."
Samuel showed no sign of having observed any change. "I can understand the first two," he said thoughtfully, "but the third escapes me."
Lee said, "I know it's hard to believe, but it has happened so often to me and to my friends that we take it for granted. If I should go up to a lady or a gentleman, for instance, and speak as I am doing now, I wouldn't be understood."
"Why not?"
"Pidgin they expect, and pidgin they'll listen to. But English from me they don't listen to, and so they don't understand it."
"Can that be possible? How do I understand you?"
"That's why I'm talking to you. You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect."...
" ...Don't you ever make a mistake? I mean, break into English?"
"No, I don't. I think it's a matter of what is expected. You look at a man's eyes, you see that he expects pidgin and a shuffle, so you speak pidgin and shuffle."

And now for Christian vocation:(bold print mine)

Samuel bit into a sandwich. "I was shuffling over half a hundred questions. What you said brings the brightest one up. You don't mind?"...
...I think I can guess what your next question is."
"Why am I content to be a servant?"
"How in the world did you know?"
"It seemed to follow."
"Do you resent the question?"
"Not from you. There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension. I don't know where being a servant came into disrepute. It is the refuge of the philosopher, the food of the lazy, and, properly carried out, it is a position of power, even of love. I can't understand why more intelligent people don't take it up as a career--learn to do it well and reap its benefits. A good servant has absolute security, not because of his master's kindness, but because of habit and indolence. It's a hard thing for a man to change spices or lay out his own socks. He'll keep a bad servant rather than change. But a good servant, and I am an excellent one, can completely control his master, tell him what to think, how to act, whom to marry, when to divorce, reduce him to terror as a discipline, or distribute happiness to him, and finally be mentioned in his will. If I had wished I could have robbed, stripped,and beaten anyone I've worked for and come away with thanks. Finally, in my circumstances I am unprotected. My master will defend me, protect me. You have to work and worry. I work less and worry less. And I am a good servant. A bad one does no work and does no worrying, and he still is fed, clothed, and protected. I don't know any profession where the field is so cluttered with incompentents and where excellence is so rare."
The relationship between Hamilton and Lee deepens to the end of Hamilton's life, and is the basis for understanding much about Lee that happens much later. While all of the other characters--as interesting as they are--are preoccupied with more shallow things, these two are the wisdom characters of the book.

Read and enjoy. This is a book worth reading several times. Even in the jungle.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Dogs of Ek Balam

Oops. And a couple of piglets.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Back from ten days in the jungles of Mexico. We stayed in the house shown above, and yes, swam for hours in that delicious pool. The Mayan ruin of Ek Balam was about half a mile away. This retreat is in a small puebla of about 400 souls, amazingly poor folk who have generally managed to find a level of living that sustains but would be very foreign to Americans.

Lots of dogs.

Lots of hungry dogs.

And one hungry bird...

And, of course, the lovely ocean...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Heard Today on a Madison Radio Station

Talking Head #1: "Palin talks about community organizers. Let me tell you something. Jesus was a community organizer! And Pontius Pilate was the Governor."

Talking Head #2: "Whoa. You've really got the knives out this morning!"

Talking Head #1: "And Lieberman is Judas."

No, there's no Messiah Complex out there.