Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Insensitivity Training

Michelle Malkin has an article on her blog about a Seattle sensitivity training seminar gone bad. Or perhaps, gone according to the blueprint of these sorts of things, not sure. Being self-employed with only family members as workers, I haven't had the surpassing pleasure of attending one of these. I've had to hear about them from my corporate friends.

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?"

Rim shot.

He spent the rest of the sessions in the back, reading Sports Illustrated, and unmolested.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


"Bare twigs in winter have an actuality of their own..."
Jesse Stuart

Saturday morning I drove to Prairie du Chien, nestled on the Mississippi just north of where the Wisconsin River enters it. I had the time, so drove up to Wyalusing State Park, which overlooks the confluence. If you look closely, you'll see the priest Marquette and his guide, Joliet, poling their raft into the Mississippi from the Wisconsin, and so making rather a long discovery.

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

Studying The Bible In Prison

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

Thanksgiving To God

Now I have found the ground wherein
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.

J. A. Rothe

Monday, November 19, 2007


In his While We're At It section of the current First Things issue, the always interesting Richard John Neuhaus has this to say:
"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.'
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."
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?

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.

Friday, November 16, 2007

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

Sometimes, when science begins to develop something simply amazing, all it does is remind me of just how fearfully and wonderfully made that I am.

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

Boyz and the Plan

The Boyz N Us Long Before the Plan

I suppose an update on the Korean sojourners is due. Here goes:

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.

The History of the Church

In our discussion of prioritizing reading as a newcomer to Christianity or Lutheranism or both, I started remembering some of the reading I did at that point in my life.

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

Priorities and the Study of Pietism

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

TIMOTHEUS VERINUS in more detail

The Special Characteristics
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?

Pious-appearing Indifferentism
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.
Precisionism (Adiophora)
"...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


which stems from a tendency to deemphasize doctrine and to emphasize the personal spiritual life of believers, grew out of a reaction to what was seen as dead, academic orthodoxy in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in Lutheran Germany. It became a problem for the church after the publication in 1675 of a tract entitled Pia Desideria, by the renowned Philipp Jacob Spener.

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:

"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:
  1. The excessive respect for men and human authority in religious matters, fromwhich part of papism arose.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The excessive urging of the striving for peace, even if accomplished with illegal means, which is called synergism.
  5. 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."
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:

"...This seed exists in the following heart malignities, which are a part of original sin, and have their full force and activity in unbelief.
  1. 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].
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Loescher Pp. 11, 12.

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


Forget all you ever knew about how to "do" church. Start with a blank sheet of paper and question every assumption. Oh, and remember your Bible, it may come in handy.
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!