Sunday, December 30, 2007
- The cardinal will hit the window.
- It'll be Clinton/Richardson vs. Romney/McCain.
- The boys will add a minimum of six new stamps to their passports.
- The book club will finally read some serious poetry, while sipping Chartreuse.
- Robin will see Ireland.
- The Brewers will finally play in the postseason!
- There will be at least one Al Queda attack on our homeland; a sort of "going away" present for the president.
- The puppy Anke will wonder what happened to all of that lovely, cold, white wet fun fluffy stuff. She'll learn to run alongside a bicycle, and discover the proper place for a dog to take a dump. Goodness.
- Or maybe it'll be Guiliani vs. Obama.
- The earth will continue to warm up, while at the same time it will cool off. Weird, huh?
- We may all have to learn how to cook a wolf.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
A male Cardinal--a fat pesky intrepid bird--has taken a shine to our bathroom window. For over a month now, each morning we're awakened by the sound of it pecking the window. There is a large bush outside, so it has a perch from which to launch its attacks.
We don't know why he does this. We think he sees his reflection in the window in the mornings and attacks. Poor misguided creature.
A few days ago I went into the bathroom and found that Robin had pasted a print of a large lion, mouth agape, facing outward on the window where our Cardinal friend resides in the mornings. It didn't help.
Sufjan Steven's CASIMIR PULASKY DAY:
In the morning when you finally goSo, another Christmas Day: Sunrise, the cardinal hits the window, I wake up, and Robin ("Up at 10, awake at noon") is already up, rifling through her stocking. There is some really good stuff in there: gift cards which set a girl's mind dreaming of craft stores and whole food markets. The puppy, and I use the term loosely, gets walked, into a stiff northeast wind and back. A beautiful morning. I meet a stranger on our country road, "Good morning!" I say. "Merry Christmas!" back at me.
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window
Church at nine: I'd asked last week if we could Please! have communion on Christmas Day, which was granted! During church I found myself thinking of this:
Then a carol, then a sermon, then we commune. These mid-week Christmas morning services: just a few of us there, huddled around the Word.
Ahem. I mean, we get just a biblical glance at the Christ child, a conflation of time and event. Just another baby born in an overcrowded little town in Judah, his daddy having to register with the Roman overlords. Read Fred Buechner's THE MAGNIFICENT DEFEAT; he does this so well.
Just a glance, and then he's twelve, and then he's thirty three. It would be easy enough to leave it at that, no freaked out shepherds; no angelic choirs, magi bearing gifts, otherworldly treasures hidden away in a mother's heart--these things amplify a story that is just so commonplace. Ok, some bad luck, a lady ready to deliver and the local inns booked solid.
So I would sort of understand the skeptics who say: "Why add the glitz? Why the glory? Is it really necessary? What's the point?"
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
THis is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav'ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
from On The Morning of Christ's Nativity by John Milton
John Milton's wonderful Christmas poem about Christ's birth, written in 1629, goes beyond the good news of our redemption to include the redemption of the universe and all that the Lord had created. And Nature so personified, recognizes this is "not the season" to "wanton with the sun her lusty paramour." Instead, she lays aside her "gawdy trim" in reflection of her Lord laying aside his dignity, to be born of a young maiden in a cave in a nowhere town in Judah.
Onely with speeches fair
She woo's the gentle Air
To hide her guilty front with innocent Snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinfull blame,
The Saintly Vail of Maiden white to throw,
Confounded, that her Makers eyes
Should look so neer upon her foul deformities.
She hides her breasts; her naked shame "pollute with sinfull blame": Nature knows of her fallenness, having received and now sharing it with the first mother and father. It is Winter, let it snow!--and by so doing attempt to cover her sinfulness, just as Adam and Eve did in the garden, and as all Old Men do.
But he her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyd Peace,
She crown'd with Olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphear,
His ready Harbinger,
With Turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing,
And waving wide her mirtle wand,
She strikes a universall Peace through Sea and Land.
Milton, of course, was bobbing in a sea of classical readings and allusions. Most of us read Milton like we read the Psalms: missing much of what the writer is trying to convey because we don't have the language (All of the punning that seems to be going on in Hebrew) or the familiarity with the classical stories (Ovid's Metamorphoses, Homer's The Iliad, or Virgil's The Annead, etc) to pick out the little winks and nods of his verse.
Still, there is much to enjoy and wonder at in his poetry. On The Morning is a very fine place to start.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Studying Hebrews chapter four in adult Bible class this morning, we came across these words:
"TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME."And later, "He again fixes a certain day, 'Today...'"
What is meant by "Today"? The millenium, as Lutherans understand it? I think so. It is the time alotted to "enter God's rest". "Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it." (Heb.4:1)
I think what also is meant is what is expressed in the Collect for Matins:
"Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.We live our lives in the end times. "Today" is such a reminder that we live in the promises and rest of the Lord, with fulfillment and a greater rest to come.
Abide with us and with Your whole Church.
Abide with us in the end of the day,
In the end of our life,
And in the end of the world..."
The Collect prayer concludes:
"Abide with us with Your grace and goodness,We sometimes lightly refer to ourselves as "Dark Lutherans". I think this prayer expresses what that means, and also what it means to live Today, each day. We don't pretend that death is something wonderful. We don't pretend that we aren't weak and fearful at the approach of death. Still, we keep death in our sights, and in its proper perspective. What follows death is the Greater Rest of heaven, and we pray that we will die well.
with Your holy Word and Sacrament,
with Your strength and blessing.
Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us,
the night of fear and despair when death shall come.
Abide with us and with all the faithful through time and eternity."
It is well to daily remember that we live in the "Today".
Monday, December 10, 2007
Here's a sample of having to check and correct "facts", when your opponent is using emotionalism to gloss the story.
(Ok, sure. It is written by the other side. But this just points out the need for another side in these "Is It Science?" debates).
Al Gore admits that he "over-represented" the facts in his Oscar winning movie An Inconvenient Truth. Which makes me wonder: Is it truth? Is it inconvenient?
A few snippets from the article in NRO entitled Convenient Untruths by Deroy Murdock.
“Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem,” Gore told Grist in the May 9, 2006 Grist Magazine. “Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.”Murdock rightly asks: um, is "over-representation" the same as mis-representation? I'm sure the term is too nuanced for most of us to grasp.
NASA has placed some of its temperature sensors in inappropriate locations (near parking lots, above barbecue grills!) and since 1970 has painted its previously white-washed temperature sites semi-gloss latex. Both of these things will artificially raise temperature readings. One wonders if there is a felt need at NASA to over-represent the facts in order to (you choose):
"The alarmists who trumpeted recent years as ‘warmest ever!!!’ in the United States (by a mere tenth of a degree) now dismiss this reversal — 2000 and subsequent years being cooler than 1900 — as just being a tenth of a degree or so,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Chris Horner. “Well, either that’s a big deal whichever direction it falls, or it isn’t. Which time are you lying?”
1. Get people off their duffs to fix this inevitable man-made global warming disaster.
2. Bolster its reputation as a cutting-edge and necessary publicly-funded organization.
3. Build careers for some of its people.
I don't know. But one wonders. Norman Teigen (see previous post: comments) is probably right. We ought to be grabbing for our wallets.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Grrr, my heart's abhorrence...
My pet peeve phrase is: "We now know that...", followed by whatever is being pimped by the sour science of the day. We now know that all of history is a sham created by white, male, homophobic, right-wing power brokers. Or some variation on the theme. This is a game of Cry Wolf that is causing all sorts of problems in society. And the reason for that is, society in general is not as well equipped to think logically and clearly about new ideas and problems. Instead, the Emotion card is regularly played.
One aspect of the Emotion Card is the de rigeur phrase, "The research shows that..." or, "We now know that...". Both are red flag phrases, and ought to be. Too often the "research" is agenda driven and hasn't been rigourously challenged. And too often, when it is rigorously challenged, we find that the "research" did not prove what we are told it proves. Read here for an example of questionable research in the service of an agenda, in the emotion-laden field of child rearing.
Back in the day, the phrase meant something, although even Then, one hoped to have someone checking the data. But it has now become worse than a meaningless phrase--indeed, invoking the research now suggests an agenda. We now have in place hundreds of organizations who "check" the research and grade it.
This emotionalism which is rampant in our midst is causing real problems in any number of fields. My wife just finished a week of jury duty. The case she was called to hear had to do with a disorderly conduct charge against a man that should never--even the judge admitted it afterward--have come to court. But the man was being unjustly accused of DC and insisted on a jury trial, even though the fine would have been $100. Setting aside the gross investment of human time for 13 jurors to sit and hear this case--and acknowledging the man's right to attempt to clear his name when he was convinced he was innocent--what is newsworthy here is the response of the majority of the jurors upon hearing the five hours of testimony. They were convinced that the "he said, she said" testimony amounted to "facts", when in fact it was a balance of conflicting opinion. My wife Deb was one of two people who took a lot of extreme heat from the rest of the jurors by refusing to bow to the emotional appeal of the prosecution. She simply insisted that there was not enough clear, unbiased information to make a decision. "But we have these FACTS!" she was told (in emotional tones of voice, I might add). "Those aren't facts! We have two sets of conflicting opinions based upon these people's feelings! Are you sure you want to set a precedent here?" So said my obstinate wife.
One of the interesting aspects of the case is, the accused had a gun in his trunk, and just mentioned, in the course of what he felt were threats to his person, that he "didn't want to be forced to use it." The gun, turns out, was a BB gun, still in its package, that he was planning to return to the store. But the invocation of the word "gun", for several of the jurors, immediately meant he was assaulting the other party. "What if it turned out he had no gun?" asked my wife. That didn't matter, using the word was assault.
In the end, they were a hung jury, and were excused by the judge. But for two stubborn jurors, the man would have been convicted.
Ok. Rant over.
Monday, December 3, 2007
(and Anke, grazing in the grass in September).
Army is Anke's daddy.
I'll let Anke's daddy's breeder, Jane Kerner, describe more about Army's bona fides:
There is a Grand Victor and a Grand Victrix title awarded each year by a very respected judge voted by the membership to judge the German Shepherd Dog Club's National Specialty Show Best of Breed Class.There are many judges in all the venues, but just one judges the Best of Breed competition.This year the annual show was held in Loveland, Colorado, October 14-20.This year the entry was large. There were 493 dogs entered with a total of 528 Entries including the 72 Futurity/Maturity Entries and the 72 Rally entries. One dog can compete in several venues.)The already Champion titled dogs and bitches are eligible to compete in the Best of Breed Class by virtue of their Champion title bestowed by the American Kennel Club. There were 113 Champions present.Hundreds of Breeders come from all over the United States and Canada to present their very best and as spectators.The event was held at the Ford Park Events Center.The title of Grand Victor is the highest honor which can be bestowed by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America in conformation competition on a male.In the final competition for Best of Breed, the Grand Victor competes with the Grand Victrix, the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch, for the Best of Breed title.Army is US Grand Victor and Best of Breed.
What a wonderful animal.
On a snowy weekend in early December we settled down with hot tea and snacks to watch this fascinating movie about Carthusian monks in the French Alps. It is a gorgeous movie. The stark beauty of the setting; the stark simplicity of the lives of the men; the stony silence of their lifestyle: these things create a setting in which little events become extraordinary: a weekly walk and chat session, a sledding party, a monk chirping away at a collection of ruddy barn cats.
Yet one wonders. Behind the scenes, is it all this silent, this perfect? As a Lutheran having inherited a certain distrust of the type, I want to peer beyond the camera's scope to find the human sin. Having read Ellis Peter's The Father Cadfael Mysteries, and the wonderful children's novels by Penelope Wilcock, not to mention Robert Browning (see below) and Martin Luther himself (De votis monasticis, 1521), I bring a certain burden of suspicion to the topic. By their obedience and faithful study and prayer, the monks expect to storm heaven, and to know God in some mystical fashion. There is definitely an implication that they are First Class Christians. Do they have a deeper sense of their sin as time goes by? And what is to be found in this Silence they ardently seek over a lifetime? I note that they are the maker's and distributors of Chartreuse, a fiery and sweet liquor of ancient recipe. 130 herbs and flowers! It's gotta be good for you. At one time it was considered an healthful elixir, before it became known as just a really good booze. Do the holy monks sample their own wares? Are they like British sailors of yore (In many other ways they are: the routine, the solitude, the deprivation; the communing with the natural world) who received their daily cup of rum?
One other thing: this movie won a host of awards, including one at the Sundance Film Festival. Was this for the beauty of the cinematography? The otherworldly worthiness of the monks' lives? Were they praiseworthy because of their minimal carbon footprint? Certainly it wasn't that they worshipped Christ?
My Buddhist chiropractor pipes Gregorian chant into her adjustment rooms. I've often wondered if the language were English and not Latin, if she'd still do so. The content would certainly offend her and her clientele.
Anway, a snippet of the promised Robert Browning poem: Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister. Here is the "other view" of monastic life.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
One friend, who was a whiz-bang computer programmer at a Milwaukee manufacturing plant perhaps fifteen years ago, told me about his experience. He was in the enviable position at the time of being indispensable to his company, but nonetheless was directed to attend the de rigeur psychobabble session. He was also, just as an aside, married to a Japanese woman and had a son who had multiple scerlosis who navigated through life in a wheel chair, and another adopted son who was black.
My friend attended the first session, sat in back, and rather obviously posted a large magazine in front of his face. The presenter/curator/provocateur lived with this up until the first break, when he confronted my friend and warned that, if this behavior continued, not only would he not be given credit for the course, but would miss out on learning many things about tolerance that he ought to know.
My friend replied, "What's there to know? I'm married to a Jap; one of my kids is a cripple; the other's a nigger. I love them all. You got anything you can teach me?"
He spent the rest of the sessions in the back, reading Sports Illustrated, and unmolested.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I can remember a time when my oldest son Colin, aged perhaps eleven or twelve, discovered November as a time in itself. We don't normally admit this to strangers, but Wisconsinites spend September and October mentally preparing for the hell which is Winter. Surely this'll be the Bad One! We enter November having done our duty of preparing. The garden hoses drained of water and coiled in a corner of the garage. Gas additive added to motorcycle and lawn mowers. We clean the eaves; we do whatever we have to do to the windows. We prepare for the annual influx of field mice. We are so busy nestmaking for the Winter that we sometimes forget to take a long look at the wonderful, strange changes that happen when the planet begins its northward tilt.
The first thing is the change in the light. This startling new angle of the sun's rays plays a piquant game in my mind. There is a sharpening in the air, a crystalline intensity that always amazes and warns. We're losing daylight. It is the end of all things. Squirrels begin to hide hickory nuts everywhere, nervous of finding them again.
Walking through the woods in November with Colin, at eleven a squirrel in his own right. Everything is open; we can see things now that we haven't seen since the last snow. The dense, cloying foliage of Summer has passed. Through a long expanse of bare tree limbs, an open meadow invites wild turkey to range. "Wow, Dad! I think I love November best of all!" I know what he means. Early November is this free, empty space of time after the business of the Fall and before the business of Winter. And even now, as I walk a dog through the fields, there is an idleness, a peaceful ache as I drink in the simplicity of it all: Creation going to sleep.
Friday, November 23, 2007
I just returned from my Friday night Bible study at a local prison. This institution is one of the last stops for these guys before returning to their families, or at least to the street. About 30% are working outside of the prison during the day. As I've mentioned before though, it is still prison. Having all of them come from much harsher conditions, none want to go back.
At the end of last week's session, Allen asked if I could take a photo of them with my camera phone. I said sure, "So up against the wall, ok?" There was this sort of gasp. One of the guys joked, "You don't say that kind of thing around us. We're CRIMinals!" Big laugh. I mumbled something like, "I have a hard time thinking of you as criminals." Another said, "Oh, you just don't know us out on the street.."
Well. Unfortunately, the topic comes up now and then. Someone who had been in the Bible study and gotten out was back in (Always in a higher security situation of course. They don't come back here). My guys shake their heads, knowing how tough it has been for them to go straight.
With the best of intentions these men slowly prepare themselves for a return to their "lives". The prayer requests that I ask them to write down for me follow this pattern: "...That I can be patient as I await for my move to DACC for Earned Release. I feel anxious about not having answers provided....Also pray that my son and his fiance will be allowed to visit on Sunday..." "Pray that I receive a job. Pray that God's will be done in my life." "That me and Joanna to continue to serve God and to be Marry upon my release."
Tonight we had a larger group--six men. Allen, after eight years in various prisons in Wisconsin and Mississippi (where he was saved), is getting out mid-December! He wants to be a street preacher, but feels he needs to get some, uh, "seminary trainin'" as he put it. A new guy, Danny, had a lot of "off topic" questions for me. This often happens: someone comes for the first time with some hot issues he wants addressed. Tonight he wasn't the only one, for we saw the return of Chris, who is the spitting image of Chris Rock--personality and all.
Normally after I open with prayer we just read scripture, going around in a circle with a variety of translations, reading a verse at a time. From time to time we'll pause with a comment or question. Danny and Chris had a lot of them. We're reading through Acts just now. Danny's question: "Why in Psalm 82:6 does it say, 'I said, "You are gods, and all of you are sons of the most High"'?" Well, ok. No problem. I guess that has something to do with our topic, Paul's address to the Areopagus. We talked about it. Then Danny asked, "Why does it say in Genesis 1:26, 'Let us make man in our own image'?" We talked about that. Chris then got excited and started off on his own special heresy about how the spirit within him came awake when he got saved. I stopped there to talk about being dead in our sins--Ephesians 2:1; the Spirit we receive is not the same as the spirit of man, etc. Our salvation comes from without. It isn't easy to reason with a Chris Rock personality, and I don't think he's convinced. My concern was that the others did not come away confused about this. By their looks, they seemed to think Chris was just blowin' smoke.
It isn't usually like this. I don't normally have to fend off rampant speculation. But it illustrates the problem of trying to do a Bible study with a constantly changing group of men, all of whom show up with well-thumbed Bibles, and many of whom have often done some unsavory theological reading. None of whom are Lutheran. I try to keep the focus Christological and as simple as possible. I often speak of the humility with which we must approach the reading of scripture. Use the whole counsel of God; do not stray beyond what God has revealed. Tonight I told the old Augustine joke about the answer to the question, "What was God doing before he created the earth?" (He was creating another place in which to put people who asked questions like that).
They liked the joke. And now I'm wondering. I think it was Augustine...
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Sure, my soul's anchor may remain--
The wounds of Jesus, for my sin
Before the world's foundation slain;
Whose mercy shall unshaken stay, when heaven and earth are fled away.
O Love, Thou bottomless abyss,
My sins are swallowed up in thee!
Covered is my unrighteousness,
Nor spot of guilt remains on me,
While Jesus' blood, through earth and skies mercy, free, boundless mercy! cries.
With faith I plunge me in this sea,
Here is my hope, my joy, my rest;
Hither, when hell assails, I flee,
I look into my Savior's breast.
Away, sad doubt and anxious fear! Mercy is all that's written there.
Monday, November 19, 2007
"A megachurch in Redmond, Washington, has come on hard times. Overlake Christian Church was booming a decade ago and put up a $37 million building. Now attendance is down by half, it has a mortgage of $9.2 million, and income is way below budget. But it was this that caught my eye: 'The church plans to cut back the number of Sunday services. Currently it has four services: two with a contemporary worship style, called Celebration, and two with an edgier, hipper style to appeal to younger churchgoers, called Illuminate.'So, a couple of things. First, why is the attendance down by half? Has one half of the congregation opted for something liturgical, God forbid? Or have they moved on to greener pastures, where a more charismatic, more entertaining, more lively and hip worship experience awaits? And what would you call that?
The choice is between the contemporary and the edgy. And you thought you were bearing your cross by putting up with the guitar at the five o'clock Mass."
And second,....what would you call that?
Submissions are hereby being accepted for a NAME for the latest, hippest, edgiest worship THANG, something edgier than edgy; something that will appeal to the hippest youngster. And yes, Gottesdienst is already taken.
And to think, if they'd only built a megachurch that cost $27.8 million, they'd have it paid off by now.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I will give you praise, for I am strangely and delicately formed; your works are great wonders, and of this my soul is fully conscious.Psalm 139:14
So read this Wired story, and see whether you feel the same.
Wonderful are Your works, Lord, and my soul knows it very well.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Our two sons, Colin, 25 and Jeremy 18, are living in a high rise in Seoul, South Korea. Colin is serving a one year sentence/contract teaching second and fifth graders in a Catholic school there. He loves the teaching, and Jeremy has been able to report he's awesome as a teacher. I wish he had been my second and fifth grade teacher.
Jeremy is hanging out, working on a film crew, doing some tutoring to keep the wolf from the door. He's eighteen; he doesn't need an excuse. Yet. Tickticktick...
Here's the plan: Jeremy will be coming home late January; no wait: I mean at Christmas. Well, unless he gets this job on another film crew; then maybe mid-January. No later than early February.
Colin will be coming home at Christmas; no, wait! That's if he negotiates a better contract with the very ornery, very unpredictable, very...unAmerican Korean school administrators. Heck, that ain't gonna happen. So look for him in early March, maybe late February. Unless he flies to Virginia first, then maybe mid-March. Sometime.
They both have tickets to Sao Paulo Brazil that expire in early April, so look for that to happen next. Drop by, eat mom's cooking, watch some March Madness with Dad, fill the house with their Boyways. Talk about how strange is the Midwest. Ask us why we're still living here. Then, off to Brazil: for Jeremy a first trip, for Colin a homecoming (he spent a year there between college and grad school). Assuming they are still on speaking terms.
How long in Brazil? Jeremy has to be in Washington State in late June for a wedding, not his. Colin will linger on in Brazil until the money runs out. Fall? Christmas 08? Not sure. Not sure of anything. They'll call from the airport.
Jeremy is going to school in the Fall, in Denver. No wait! Maybe DePaul. Could be OSU, could be Minnesota. Or maybe back to Taiwan or Korea or wherever Colin ends up.
I hope this has cleared a few things up.
Actual scripture reading was accomplished largely by our family deciding to sit down every evening and just read aloud through the Bible. Once that became habit, over a period of five or so years we actually did read through all of scripture five or six times. Seems simple enough, but having the grace as a family to do so is quite a delight, and I consider that little window of life to have been very fortunate for me. The effect of doing this can't be overstated. As young Lutherans, we kept finding passages from scripture that were in the liturgy, until we eventually came to see that all of the liturgy was borrowed from scripture. Discovering this first-hand is really reassuring. It taught me much about what was going on in the Divine Service. As the redoubtable Norman Nagel wrote in the introduction to LW, Missouri's just-discarded hymnal:
"Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise...Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us." (Bold face mine)
Once scripture became a bit more firmly embedded in the heart, my next yearning was to learn the history of the church. I stumbled upon a used copy of Walker's A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, reprint circa 1950's somewhere (It keeps getting revised and updated). This was for me just a lot of fun to read, and I really absorbed it. It has been a very nice resource to go back to, but mainly what it accomplished was to put the major church players and antiplayers and their relationships firmly in my mind. One begins to see in the unfolding of the church in its first few centuries how important a role heresy played, as the church strove to define the canon; the Trinity; the person of Christ; the role of man in salvation, etc. Try keeping track of how many times Athanasius, and then Arius, and then Athanasius again were kicked out of the church, and then reinstated, and then kicked out again! Waltz through the exotic heresies of the church: Gnosticism, the Marcion situation, Montanism, Dynamic Monarchianism (and its cousin, Modalistic Monarchianism!), Arianism, the later Christological controversies, Pelagius. For a certain kind of diverse personality, this stuff rocks.
I would definitely add readings concerned with the overall history of the church to my top-ten reading list. But then, I like to grab the global view before descending into the morass of historical and theological detail.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
In the discussion surrounding my previous post, one commenter suggested that the study of Pietism via Loescher's volume The Complete Timotheus Verinus, was way down the list of books that one should study should one be a newcomer to Lutheran theology.
I understand where he is coming from, but beg to disagree. Of course one should begin with the holy scriptures--well and often read--and follow with Luther's Small and Large Catechisms, and then the other symbolical books. Follow that with a thorough study of and familiarity with one's hymnal--Lutheranism's "third dogmatics book" (Stephenson)--and finally with some degree of familiarity with one of the major Lutheran dogmatics studies: one of the Piepers, or Koren, or Mueller (but not Jensen and Braaten). One should begin there. There are another thirty (to just "summon up" a number, heehee) volumes that could easily follow. Why would one start with something as obscure as the history of Pietism and its "evils"?
Here's one really good reason: Because it systematically lays out not only most of the heresies faced in today's churches, but also the correction to those heresies. And in so doing emphasizes and gives an overview of the minutiae of Lutheran teaching that will follow when one assumes the study of the infamous "thirty volumes". New Lutherans, having had a taste of rich Lutheran hymnody and liturgy, and having completed a compulsory catechism, would do well to introduce themselves to those things which threaten the precious gospel and the structure of teaching and practice which ensure its survival in our churches. A study of Pietism would accomplish this. Just consider this, a comment by blogger Mike Baker (quoted in part):
"Here were the reforms he [Spener] initially introduced (Since Pietism is rampant in the modern church, I have added our current equivelants in parenthesis to point out similar modern thinking):
1. the earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings. (Small Groups and Conventicles)
2. the Christian priesthood being universal, the laity should share in the spiritual government of the Church (semi-congregationalism with weakened pastoral authority)
3. a knowledge of Christianity must be attended by the practice of it as its indispensable sign and supplement (deeds over creeds, proof of faith, and revivalism)
4. instead of merely didactic, and often bitter, attacks on the heterodox and unbelievers, a sympathetic and kindly treatment of them (less Law & Gospel sermons, more tolerance of theological differences, and unionism)
5. a reorganization of the theological training of the universities, giving more prominence to the devotional life (charismatic enthusiasm)
6. a different style of preaching, namely, in the place of pleasing rhetoric, the implanting of Christianity in the inner or new man, the soul of which is faith, and its effects the fruits of life. (Christian lifestyle preaching. Be more relevant. Stop being so Roman Catholic.)"
His full comment, along with more discussion of Pietism, can be found here.
Most new adult Lutherans are going to need much of this decoded for them. Yet most of the ills of modern American Christianity are broached here. In a more expanded study of Pietism, the scale of challenges to the gospel are clearly laid out. (Loescher actually classifes things like this: 1. The coarse teachings of the pietists; 2. The subtle teachings of the pietists; 3. The coarse practices of the pietists; 4. The subtle practices of the pietists.)
Along with some of the postings about Pietism I've already posted here and here, I think a newcomer to Lutheranism would have her curiosity well enough stimulated to look deeper into the things of Lutheranism. And, start work on the Thirty Volumes!
But then, I like a global view of things before diving in.
Anyway. Get reading.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
of the Pietistic Evil
In part two of Loescher's book, he takes on one by one the main tendencies or evils of Pietism. I'll list them for you here, with my summaries of what they mean. Do any of them look particularly familiar?
This means that doctrines, faith; those supports which serve to preserve the church (constitutions, symbolical books, ordinances, etc) are considered indifferent or unimportant.
The Contempt for the Means of Grace
These outer things are mere dead letters and empty acts without true piety.
The Invalidation of the Ministry
"In religious matters, the fence is here the lowest, and therefore they attempt to climb over it more often and more obviously than in other points." The Office is destroyed, and Pietists look only at piety and the person.
The Mixing of Righteousness by Faith with Works
"Double justification": for the second essential and more powerful justification, piety is required. Faith is active in justification. Good works are present in the work of justification. The basis of salvation is taking up the cross of Christ in true holiness.
The expectation that "the kingdom of the cross (in which believers are tested) and the church militant in this life and on earth will cease."
The "prevenient and offering grace of God is completely removed from soneone before his death". This is about the window of salvation completely closing prior to death.
"...The absolute rejection and condemnation of all natural desire and love for even civil adiaphora." The resultant binding of consciences and the grasping of power by proponents. Love for creatures is a sin. One must love only God. Forget games, dancing, comedies (!!), jokes. I kid you not.
Heathen philosophy; "...The erroneous imagination of high and internal spiritual things going beyond the Scripture." The Spark of the Divine Image. Rebirth originates from this Spark. Confusion of nature and grace.
The Abolition of the Supports of Religion
Related to Indifferentism, with more detail.
The soul of Pietism. "They have all too firmly imagined that they do GOD a service when they, under the good name of the possibility of active Christianity, push the matter too far and teach an absolutely necessary and possible perfection." Loescher takes pains to not put out the Spirit's fire here. The concern is teaching the seeking of perfection as necessary and possible.
The distinction between building and improving on the one hand, and reforming. "The former is always necessary...The latter occurs only when the chief work is ruined, and the whole matter is to be placed on another foot." If not all members of a church are pious; condescension; a "completely new light must still arise, and a new doctrine come forth." A great reformation is proclaimed when old church usages are replaced willy nilly with new, "better" practices.
Chewy stuff, eh? It is quite evident that these things are alive and well and in fact are beginning to define American Christianity, or at least American civil religion. This in turn constantly makes inroads into congregations as Neo-Pietists come galloping through, armed and ready to remake the church in their own image. An unprepared congregation can be bowled over, and before they know it a drum set, guitars, a sound system and very emotional singers are fronting the sanctuary, singing something that sounds vaguely Christian but they can't tell because the Word is subsumed in the music. Where'd THEY come from???
But don't get me started on that.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Valentin Ernst Loescher was one of the last of the orthodox theologians. He was born just two years before Spener's tract was published, and thus grew up in a sea of pietistic sentiment and teaching in the German church. By the time he had found his theological voice, Pietism was in full flower. As a result, his very moderate criticism of the movement got him censured by the Powers That Be, in this case the theologicans at the University of Halle. His response to this was to publish a series of newsletters and columns whose aim was to expose the errors of Pietism and restore the proper balance to the church. These have been collected in a volume entitled The Complete Timotheus Verinus, (Northwestern Publishing House) which means the true Timothy.
Loescher's approach to the issues is instructive. Rather than publish a caustic polemic against the Pietists, his approach was above all objective and quietly firm. He first began by describing the classic heresies of Arianism and Crypto-Calvinism, going into great historical detail as a means of sensitizing the reader to the fine little details wherein the devil ever-so-slightly twists the truth. In so doing, one is prepared to investigate the little details--which Loescher quickly emphasizes are much less in error than Arianism--which comprise the Pietist approach to Christianity.
What is interesting about historic Pietism is how familiar it all seems. One begins to realize just how relevant a study of it is to our current situation. I will quote here part of Loescher's evaluation of the little religious evils that creep into our thinking and practice in our churches. Tell me which of them you most identify with:
Next, Loescher writes about the seed of this religious evil. Here is where he gets personal. Now tell me which of THESE you identify with:
"Religious evils may be special and affect one or more doc trinal points or religious practices, and thus can be discovered sooner and more easily; such were Arianism, Nestorianism, and Calvinism. Or, they may be general evils, whcih cannot be discovered as quickly and easily, but, if they are not restrained, they result, sooner or later, in the ruin of the church. Of this second general kinds are:
- The excessive respect for men and human authority in religious matters, fromwhich part of papism arose.
- The unfair and general dominion of reason in matters of faith over and against God's work, which bears the name of naturalism or rationalism.
- The unfounded and general dominion of strange spirits and impulses in religious things over and against God's work, which is called fanaticism or enthusiams.
- The excessive urging of the striving for peace, even if accomplished with illegal means, which is called synergism.
- The disorderly urging of the striving for piety, often perpetrated with pernicious means, which,if intelligent men had had to give it a name even many centuries ago, would have been named pietism."
"...This seed exists in the following heart malignities, which are a part of original sin, and have their full force and activity in unbelief.
Loescher Pp. 11, 12.
- In the contempt and disregard of the arrangement prescribed, or at least advised by God. For example, Naaman despised the sevenfold washing in the Jordan which the man of God had ordered for him (2Ki 5:11, 12). The human heart, according to its sinful birth, is permeated with this desire to know and to want everything better, holier, stronger than God has orderd it, or than it can be...The Holy Spirit calls those infected in that way, those who are free from order [See Thes. 5:14].
- In the so-called perfectionism. In this state of mind the man wants to know, have or do perfectly (from the residue of the damnable longing of our first parents,when they wanted to be like God), with fixed standard, restriction, and precaution, what he can only know, have, or do by himself as bungled work. This finally ends in a fanatical independence in everything.
- In lavishing the mental powers on one matter, while forgetting and neglecting other matters, on which one oght to lavish as much, if not more, mental powers. E.g., the fruits of the sanctified life are urged so much that we think less of and at last even forget the means and support of our salvation.
- In unlimited love for secret, peculiar, and lofty things. This usually degenerates into mysticism and the like evils, or even into the expectation and longing for great things and world transformations. From this, millenialism arises.
- In mixing the powers of soul and spirit, i.e., our own moderate inclinations and the divine impulse in us. From this, the so-called rigidism usually arises in earnest minds.
- In the excessive freedom which one allows to the power of the imagination, from which finally comes the rule of fantasy, which is the mother of enthusiasm.
- In the confusion of the things which ought to be grasped and treated distinctly. This confusion adheres strongly and commonly among men. Such rudeness, if we know and examine ourselves correctly, is in all our hearts,and is the real seed from which the so-called pietism grows, the disorderly and dangerous attitude in the impulse to godliness.
Whew. That's a lot to take in, and a lot to discuss.
The Mother of Enthusiasm, indeed! The impulse to godliness. Who will deliver us from this body of sin? Like Freud's categories, I find a bit of myself in each of them.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Bill Hybbels and Willow Creek Baptist Church thought they were on to something, and managed to encourage people by the thousands to dabble in their new way of doing "church". Using business models, insights--some of which were even modelled in scripture--and research, the Hybbels people reimagined church for thousands of American churches, emphasizing "seeker sensitive" worship which massaged and never offended. Packed with programs to therapeutically help people "live into" deeper spiritual lives, Willow Creek became an iconic force in American Christianity.
But now comes word--from their very own research--that they've been wrong all along. The Package didn't really help people become more spiritual, whatever that means. Read the story here.
Thanks to Jane Kerner for the referral!
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
"America's most revolutionary innovations, it has long been said, sprang from the ramshackle dens of amateurs. Thomas Edison was a home-schooled dropout who got his start tinkering with battery parts; Chester Carlson invented the photocopier in his cramped Long Island kitchen. NASA, desperate for breakthroughs to help it return to the moon, has set up million-dollar prizes to encourage private citizens to come forward with any idea, no matter how crazy. As the theory goes, only those outside big industries can truly reinvent them."from FastCompany.com
Johnathan Goodwin loves big nasty cars. And he loves great gas mileage. He also happens to be a professional car hacker, taking what Detroit serves up--the bigger the better--and jacking both the horsepower and mileage rate up above anything the gummint may require.
He's got Neil Young's 1960 Cadillac in to retool. Ahnold Schwartzenegger's Jeep Wagoneer is in to be converted to biofuels. He's working on jumping up the horsepower in an H3 from 300 to 600:
He laughs. "Think about it: a 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and does zero to 60 in five seconds!"Read the article.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Today, one has to go through a special decontamination chamber to view the painting. The chamber sucks much of the pollution from clothing. There has been for many years a concern that the painting will not be able to survive much longer. What bombs could not destroy, modern day pollution may well accomplish.
The world's largest digital photograph has recently been completed, featuring daVinci's painting. You can "interact" with it at this site. Be sure to navigate to the "Understand" page, where there is much to amaze.
DaVinci painted the Supper, which depicts the point during the Passover meal when Jesus outs Judas, for the monks to meditate on during their lunch. Seriously, there would be in my mind a concern for indigestion! Whilst supping on black bread and lentils, one can meditate on the blackest most dastardly deed in history. Or on one's own sins, for which Christ died.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Bethany College, Mankato, Minnesota
Paul Gerhardt Lectures
There were two lectures given on the life and vocations of Paul Gerhardt. Both were very academic lectures, heavily focused on the history of his life and the times he lived in. Both were very useful particularly for those of us who did not know a lot about his life prior to this. The second lecture was held in the chapel, and featured a capella singing of several of his hymns.
However. If you would like to read a really excellent essay on the actual hymns of Paul Gerhardt with clear analysis of what he was writing about, read this by a Father Theophilus, given in May at St. Catherine's Theological Seminary in Canada. This is found at a Lutheran Blog entitled Northwoods Lutheran.
In the circle of the living
Each man works at his own craft,
Which, he knows, is duly fruitful;
Yet the one that gains most praise
Brings high honour to his God
With the songs that praise his name.
In his circle every singer
Who has made a skilful song
As a present to his Maker
Will receive his due reward;
But the best is he who sings
With devotion in his song.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
EVALUATING SONG TEXTS
What is the predominant image of God?
- high, exalted, majestic 35
- lowly, humble, suffering 04
- both equal 05
- not applicable 06
Which of these is most important in the text?
On which person of the Trinity is the focus?
- God's nature 16
- God's actions 14
- our actions 21
- not sure 2
How does the text present God speakingto us? (check all that apply)
- the Father 11
- the Son 17
- the Holy Spirit 0
- all three 2
- not clear 21
How closely is the text tied to a specific Scripture passage?
- through the external world 15
- through his saving acts 10
- through his Word 02
- through the sacraments 0
- not applicable 26
How is sin presented?
- based on a psalm or OT passage 11
- based on a NT passage 04
- not based on a specific passage 20
- not sure 13
How is God's saving work presented?
- sin and its consequences (e.g. death, hell) are presented 03
- sin is presented, but not its consequences 03
- sin is not presented 44
How is growth in the Christian life presented?
- Christ's sacrifice saves us from sin and death 04
- Christ's sacrifice is mentioned, but its benefits are not clearly presented 06
- God's power and/or love saves us 11
- God's saving work is not presented 28
- as a result of or response to Christ's saving work 03
- as something to be desired 13
- growth in the Christian life is not presented 32.
Ok, a couple of caveats:
This shouldn't be seen as a scientific evaluation of Christian praise music in America. For one thing, we didn't spend a lot of time on it. For another, we were all reasonably well catechized Lutherans looking at these through a specifically Lutheran lens. Another group might come up with very different numbers.
Nevertheless, I think professor Herl's evaluation is a great one for Lutherans to consider using in evaluating music coming into the Divine Service off the street, as it were. Forget backbeat: what is the THEOLOGY of the song?
A few things zing out at me:
- the prevalance of songs extolling the "high, exalted nature" of God as opposed to the "lowly,humble, suffering" image.
- Where's the Holy Spirit? Herl pointed out that in the early days of praise music, the "glory seventies", the HS was THE focus. See my post here on Jesus hippies. Note also: in an email to me, Professor Herl mentions this as clarification: "The Holy Spirit was mentioned more often in praise songs from the seventies, but wasn't really the focus. Many of the songs were trinitarian." I stand corrected (This is what happens when I don't take notes!).
- While it is common to criticize modern-day praise music for being focused on "me", I thought the songs scored pretty well in the second section, where God's nature and God's actions stack up pretty well compared to "our actions".
- Sin. There is no "Woe is me" in much of this material. In a whopping 44 of the 50 songs, sin has no reference.
- As you would guess, the sacraments are missing. And that is because....well, they are also missing as foci in the theology of the groups using these songs. Lex orandi, lex credendi. And vice versa.
- I would have thought that "growth in the Christian life" would be a prime topic in praise music, but according to these stats, not so.
- This was REALLY FUN to do, and I think I'd recommend it, after some thought and introduction, as a Higher Things-type activity or for an adult Bible study.
Bethany College, Mankato
Wednesday night, Prof. Joseph Herl of Concordia University, Nebraska spoke to a group of about one hundred. His background is church music and liturgy but his topic this night was "Thinking Theologically About Church Music". He produced a list of the Top 50 Worship Songs According to CCLI.
These include such bunnies as "Here I am to Worship"; "Blessed Be Your Name" ("Every blessing You pour out I'll turn back to praise");
"Shine, Jesus, Shine"; "Our God Is An Awesome God"; etc. Suffice it to say there are no Paul Gerhardt hymns in the top 100.
His major point was that in critically evaluating these things, Lutherans have been making the mistake of focusing on the music: its sweet, sugary, happy-clappy mood-making effects. What we ought to first evaluate is the theology in the words: what is it saying, what effect does it have? In my next post I'll go into this in quite a bit of detail, but for now: my Top Two Most Schlocky Praise Songs as taken from the list. They are:
I LOVE YOU LORD
I love you Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship You
O my soul rejoice
Take joy my King
In what You hear
May it be a sweet sweet sound
In Your ear.
and our winner is:
I AM FREE
I am free to run
I am free to run
I am free to dance
I am free to dance
I am free to live for You
I am free to live for You
I am free
I am free
There is more to these two tunes, but there just really really is no excuse for this sort of thing.
For a gentler, more kind-hearted and generous but critical evaluation of the practice of mixing these sorts of songs into the liturgy, please see The Rebellious Pastor's Wife recent blog posting.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Well, no. Actually, I'm off this week to hear the Reformation Day Lectures at Bethany College in Mankato, Minnesota. These lectures started many years ago with, I'm told, a presentation by none other than Hermann Sasse himself.
That's quite a legacy.
This year the lectures focus on Paul Gerhardt: His hymn writing and his theology. I think there was a sort of Bernie Taupin/Elton John thing going on way back when in Germany. No, not that. I mean that Gerhardt would write Christian poetry and his church organist would set it to music.
My favorite Gerhardt musical lines?
From When I Suffer Pains and Losses
"Under burdens of cross-bearing,
Though the weight may be great,
Yet I'm not despairing.
You designed the cross you gave me;
Thus you know all my woe
And how best to save me."
I'll take notes. And haunt the very excellent Bethany College Bookstore!
I'm off to see the Norwegians, the wonderful Norwegians of Mankato...!
Monday, October 22, 2007
where a few minutes before was subtlety and ebbing light.
I just happened to have my camera phone in my pocket.
What an astonishing change. It was like a curtain had parted to display an extravagant stage of color and light. Nice work, Lord.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Behold a host, arrayed in white,
Like thousand snowclad mountains bright;
With palms they stand,
Who is this band
Before the throne of light?
Lo, these are they, of glorious fame,
Who from the great affliction came.
And in the flood of Jesus blood
Are cleansed from guilt and blame.
Now gathered in the holy place,
Their voices they in worship raise;
Their anthems swell where God doth dwell
Mid angels' songs of praise.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
1. I met my wife at Phase One of Teacher Training in northern California. We were in training to become Transcendental Meditation teachers; spent the summer doing a lot of meditation, eating veggies, and listening to lectures by Captain Video aka Maharishi Mahesh Yogi till we were stupified with transcendence.
2. We're in our 19th year of homeschooling. As principal, I principally loom in the doorway on occasion.
3. I continue to hold the record at Ski Hi Apple Farm for the Most Apples Picked In One Day. Something in the 170 bushel vicinity. Most of the people who witnessed the event are dead, but the record lives on. Immortality!!
4. As far as being a savvy businessman goes,, I'm a really good lawn mower.
5. Baptized by my grandfather. I was there, I guess.
6. I became a Lutheran, I kid you not, because it was the closest church to my house.
7. I was once a member of the World Champion Four-Man Watermelon Seed Spitting Team. Pardeeville, WI, September 1984.
They say that confession is good for the soul but bad for the reputation. But I feel GOOD, you know! Now, I pass the baton to: Mental Llama, Once A Fool Always A Fool, and Ed Veith's Cranach Blog, if I can get them to respond.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
"Little children, guard yourselves from idols". This, the last words of St. John's first epistle, is loaded language.
It came to mind when I was hired to make a shelf for a client. It was to hang from the wall, but not have any visible means of hanging: no brackets or attachment hardware. As fun as it was to design and make, it did bring me up short when I found its purpose was to hold a statue of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion.
My wife said, "Ooh, nice shelf! Put some flowers on it!"
I thought pretty much the same, and have deeply mixed feelings about having made this. On one hand, it is just a shelf, and once it changes hands it is of no consequence to me what it is used for.
On the other, it has such a look of altar. I am loathe to promote the worship of a false god, and yet here it is.
A Christian in vocation is called to serve neighbor, defined as anyone God puts in one's way. But I wonder: would it have been more truly service to refuse the work, once its purpose was clear?
What do you think?
Monday, October 8, 2007
HT: Get ReligionHow great are Your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep.
A senseless man has no knowledge,
Nor does a stupid man understand this:
That when the wicked sprouted up like grass
and all who did iniquity flourished,
It was only that they might be destroyed forevermore.Ps. 94: 5-7
A senseless man has no knowledge about the Lord.
One characteristic of a senseless man may be the magnified opinion he has about himself. God is minimized, doubted, derided, scoffed at; the accoutrements of heaven and hell are likewise denied. But having scaled heaven, and finding a throne for his fanny, the stupid man sits down to judge for himself.
A couple of writers have published a book about interviews they did with that scofflaw McVeigh, the bomber. Here is a snippet of interview:
Question from chat room: Does McVeigh have any spiritual-religious beliefs?
Lou Michel: McVeigh is agnostic. He doesn't believe in God, but he won't rule out the possibility. I asked him, "What if there is a heaven and hell?"
He said that once he crosses over the line from life to death, if there is something on the other side, he will -- and this is using his military jargon -- "adapt, improvise, and overcome." Death to him is all part of the adventure.
There isn't much doubt what he thinks about the adventure now. Try "adapting, improvising, and overcoming" when in the hands of the living God.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
The quote is from the response to the New Orleans House of Bishops' Statement (by American Episcopalian Bishops) which in turn is in response to demands from the southern Primates that the Americans make a definitive statement regarding blessing same-sex unions and other shenanigans. Whew. Here is a bit longer quote, for context:
"...the demands of being an American denomination triumphed over the disciplines of belonging to the Church Catholic."
The demands of being an American congregation. What does this mean?
In the case of TEC, it means they have generously opened their gates to ideas and practices that do not correspond or agree with their own orthodoxy. It has gotten to the point where you can read quotes such as this coming from leaders in TEC:
(This from Elizabeth Kaeton, an official of the Episcopal diocese of Neward, NJ.)
"If Christ Jesus wasn’t crucified because he was being true to his authentic self, so that we, like him, might be able to live our lives with integrity, then I have completely misunderstood the message of Jesus and I have no right to call myself a Christian, much less an Episcopalian in the Anglican tradition. "
The demands of being an American congregation mean something in Lutheranism as well. While conservative Lutheran synods are not as far down the road as ELCA, for example, the challenges to our orthodoxy remain, mostly from neo-evangelical, praise-based worship practices (rather than from peace and justice issues). Is there a relationship between the kind of off-the-wall, unorthodox theology and practice apparently found in many Episcopalian churches and what confessional Lutheran conregations face? In other words, is the same spirit at work in both? Unchecked, is it likely that the confessional Lutheran churches of today already hold the seeds of like apostasy? Are we on the same continuum?
I don't know. But I know a pastor who for some time has been predicting that in his lifetime confessing Lutherans would be forced out of their church buildings and into their homes to worship. Secretly.