Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Dog, A Tub, Six Towels, and Me

Something wasn't right here. Somehow we'd missed the window of opportunity that Fall presented to figure out a nice neutral place for a puppy to do her Opposite End thang, so to speak. We tried, but our timing was horrible.

As a result, Anke has been messin' her kennel. Oh, for awhile we pretended not to notice, not wanting to embarass her. We dutifully cleaned it out each day. But when the Buddy Splash I lavished on her when she came inside to hang out was no longer cutting the mustard--and I mean mustard--something had to be done.

Such a pretty dog, such a vile odor. It got so it polluted the very 15-below-zero air I was taking her for walks in. It was the sort of intense, melodic odor that stiffened the spine, reset the receptor olfactory neurons to "fight or flight", and caused fully grown men to seek shelter.

It was time for a bath. In the depths of Mid-Winter, this can't be undertaken outside. On her way out of the door for her pm shift, Deb gave me her final instructions, a wry smile on her face. Could I rig a camera to catch the action? This she really hated to miss.

She also really hated the idea of turning the two of us loose in her bathroom. Hence the instructions; a hastily said prayer; a whispered "Kyrie eleison"; crossing herself as she hurried to her van to go to work. She has only lately gotten used to turning ME loose in her bathroom. Thirty years of marriage and men are still not in any real sense trainable. At least that goes for the guy my wife married.

So me and Anke. Anke and me. We got the bathroom ready. I got a large sponge and some buckets. I spread the floor with Spouse Approved towels ("Use the dirty ones! They've got to be washed anyway"). I had already cleaned and bleached the kennel, which resides in the garage. Anke seemed to know something was afoot. Oh, the excitement of being led through the house, past the kitchen into the Forbidden Territories! What's this? Towels on the floor of the bathroom? I think I'll just plop down and not move, I'm too big for him to move me if I plop down right here. WHOA!!!WHOOOOAAAAAAAH! Alpha Dog is lifting me into this slippery white place, ooooooooohhhhooohh. Wet, it's wet. Ooooh. Rain. Alpha is rubbing my fur, it is slippery. What's that funny odor? Yuck yuck yuck yuck. I smell like LILACS!

I got wet too. The whole process went pretty smoothly until I suggested Anke roll over onto her side. Then the pearly whites came out and her face became very fierce. I know that look. Ok. That is just not necessary, but if you feel that way, I'll just reach around you and do it that way.

What a big dog this is. But now she is lying on my office carpet, dog-damp and sleepy, and she smells....neutral! How long this will last is anyone's guess, but for the moment: I can bury my face in her longcoat fur.

Syncretism On The Left Coast

Garden Variety Episcopal Priestess
"This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in worship service," said Bob Bland, a member of St. Patrick's Episcopal Church of Thousand Oaks, who was among the 260 attendees. "There was something so holy -- so much symbolism and so many opportunities for meditation"

The "worship service" was a joint Hindu-Episcopalian service in Los Angeles. Here is the story by the LA Times.

The presiding Episcopal bishop, a Right Reverend Bruno, issued an apology to the Hindus present for past sins, the primary one being trying to encourage them to convert to Christianity.
"I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve," wrote Bruno in a statement read during the service.
I think some Episcopalians somehow misunderstand outreach. "Proselytizing" is now off-limits. Because there is no longer any belief in Christ's atoning work--that silly old superstition--it is considered bad form to speak to people of other faiths about the hope that is to be had in the Trinity. We're way past the Trinity here. We've moved on to Divine Presence, which any good Hindu can resonate with. Strangely, this was a communion service, and the Hindus were invited forward and some partook--In One Form, as Hindus do not take wine. Others were given a flower instead. What a beautiful thing.

For the Hindus, it was all good. Swami Sarvadevananda, the presiding...Hindu leader, had this to say:
"By declaring that there will be no more proselytizing, the bishop has opened a new door of understanding," Sarvadevananda said. "The modern religious man must expand his understanding and love of religions and their practices."
The bishop has indeed opened a new door.

Garden Variety Hindu Diety

Friday, January 25, 2008

There Will Be Blood

My son Jeremy called this one of the best movies he's ever seen.

I saw it with him and enjoyed it mightily. The cinematography is simply a delight. Daniel Day Lewis is fascinating as the curmudgeon oilman.

I'm starting to notice that the independent film makers who are now making these huge production movies have stopped telling stories per se. They seem content--nay, they are INTENT upon leaving lots of loose ends hanging for the individual movie goer to piece together as he will. What seems to be their emphasis is not the plot of a tale, but the telling itself: make it beautiful, make it arcane. May people wake up the next morning thinking about it.

There is in the movie a conflict between the unbelieving oilman and an enthusiastic pentecostal preacher boy. I won't print a spoiler, but suffice it to say that in the end, I sided with the oilman. Well, except that grisly business at the end.

I'm FINished!

The Book Club and Martin Luther

The No Inklings Book Club met last evening, determined to finish off LUTHER ON VOCATION, and failing that, to finish off the great chocolate cake Mike brought.

We managed one or the other. The cake would definitely have been finished off but that in the fullness of time I started the whiskey bottle around the table. However, that in turn aided in our finishing our discussion of the Luther book. Balance, you see.

The Luther Quote of the Night:

"A cross will very soon be lying on the shoulders of such an undertaking"
Luther here is discussing the ideal prince, true to his vocation, whose characteristics include "prayer and faith, love and service, judgment and common sense, earnestness and strictness." Wingren footnote, P. 209
Such a prince will "...have to encounter much envy and suffering on that account."
When I read that quote aloud, I was immediately struck by its usefulness and applicability. Thinking of starting a prison ministry? How about maybe getting that quartet together to sing in church? A cross will very soon be lying on the shoulders of such undertakings, I assure you.

Do you think that if you approach your life and vocation with prayer, faith, love, good judgment and common sense, that all will go well? Ha. A cross will very soon be lying on the shoulders of your undertakings, no doubt.

Well, that wasn't all we discussed. Luther has this great concept of Stundelein: God's "little hour" when, using us as his masks, he takes action. There is a time to every purpose under heaven, and nothing in man's power or will can change, speed up, or delay The Time. A sample quote:

"When a man makes up his mind to do as simple a thing as seeking amusement, he finds that joy is not won this way. Joy has its hour, which is not at man's command....From that we might learn that we cannot control matters by our own decisions. Man is not to rack his brain about the future, but live in the hour that has come. That is the same as living in faith, receptive to God, who is present now and has something he will do now." LOV, P. 214.

Well, we've finished our discussion of Luther On Vocation. It was a tough little book to read together. As a book club we're going to swing back in another direction: a few more Flannery O'Connor short stories, and the poetry of George Herbert is next on our plate. After that we're considering an anthology recently published by CPH entitled WOMEN PASTORS? We may also take a look at some of the recent atheists' writings that are making little splashes in the secular world. A blind watchmaker, anyone?

As always, we will eat well. And a cross, no doubt, will soon be lying on the shoulders of that undertaking as well...

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Deconstruction of 20th Century Lutheranism

One of Thursday's lectures at the Sem was entitled
Which is a very fancy title, really. It was given by an ELCA invitee, Dr. Michael J. Root, who has been active on the Lutheran side of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, that LWF/Roman Catholic dialogue. Dr. Root appeared to have the respect of several of the faculty at the seminary.

Dr. Root set up his talk by describing a class in the Confessions he gives for first year seminarians at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in North Carolina, where he teaches. He asks them this question AT THE BEGINNING of the course:
"List what you consider to be the central doctrines of Lutheranism."
He mentioned that while the usual suspects--justification, liturgy, etc--are always listed, there are also three unique items that stand out that he argues somewhat skew Lutheranism but that most of the seminarians consider essential, core doctrine. These are:

  • Simul iustus et peccator "At the same time saint and sinner"
  • The theology of the cross
  • Ambiguity or paradox
Now, I have to admit: when I heard this the floor started moving just a bit. I felt myself diving into the fetal position, metaphorically speaking. I LOVE these doctrines, and have spent many an hour trying to get a grasp of their meanings and their places in Lutheran theology. Now you're telling me they aren't really a part of core Lutheran doctrine???

Root claims that the doctrine of Simul , for example, was lost to Lutheranism from the time of Luther until the 1920's, when Luther's commentary on Romans was discovered in, of all placed, the Vatican library. Prior to 1920, not only was the phrase missing but also the concept. Obviously, it's presence or absence will have a big impact on the doctrines of justification, vocation; the doctrine of man, of sin, of grace.

Root argues that there is not a lot of the theology of the cross in Luther, Gerhard Forde notwithstanding. In fact, I think he blames Forde for bad theology in general and for promoting this theology in particular. He finds it only in early Luther--specifically the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518, which for Lutherans is really early Luther indeed.

As for ambiguity, Root claims Luther always used it negatively. As for paradox, when Luther explains apparent paradoxes, they aren't really paradoxes. They are what Root calls "Rhetorical Paradoxes".

So how did standard Lutheran theology of the late 20th century come to be dominated by these three? Root pointed out a couple of things. The first is the ideas were often expressed as sort of catchy phrases ("Simul..."), which then became legend, which then became myth (I borrow from Tolkien). They became slogans but their core meanings became obscure, or even changed. The second reason is that Root sees the major theological arguments of Lutheranism of this period were being made against Rome, whose "theology of glory" needed tempering. Roman Catholicism's plague of concern for certainty was also in play. You could of course say the same for the tendencies of the Reformed or of neo-evangelicalism, but these Root didn't mention.

The problem with all of this? Holiness and sanctification became hard to articulate in an environment where peccator, ambiguity, and tentatio were the defining characteristics of the Christian life. There developed a deep suspicion of sanctification because the Christian opponents of Lutheranism had a skewed view of sanctification. Root sees Lutherans over-reacting to teaching about holy living by many willingly embracing sloth.

Ouch. Ow. Ow.

I was never able to get a good clean response from anyone who listened to the lecture. I think the pastors were mulling his words. Lunch preceded his talk, and after, off we went onto another lecture. Late in the day, however, there was a panel discussion, and I noticed most of the questions were directed at Dr. Root.

Root wasn't the only one who made mention this past week that maybe we ought to allow ourselves to discuss and appreciate our sanctification. I remember a pastor many years ago telling me that "Sanctification is our Achille's Heel". I've heard lectures in law and gospel where it was stated emphatically that we can't know who is a Christian by any outward action or fruit. We won't know till we reach heaven. I don't think there is any doubt that this kind of teaching tends to proscribe discussions about signs and wonders in our lives that actually might encourage us along the path.

I know. I know. This holiness sort of thing sounds good in the morning, but by evening we find ourselves with a prescribed set of rules of behavior. The fruits of the gospel become in our meaty hands law. I know the risks. Start down this path and before you know it you're slipping down that slope toward W'ks R'teousness. And it is really hard to scramble back up again.

By the end of Dr. Root's lecture, what I really wanted him to tell me was: If at the beginning of the course on the Confessions these young seminarians' list consisted of three items that skewed true Lutheran theology: then by the end of the course, WHAT DID LUTHERAN THEOLOGY ACTUALLY LOOK LIKE????

But he never told us.

Jesus Christ, Emperor Constantine IX and Empress Zoe


Getty Images

Time was, an Icebowl game in Green Bay, WI meant a Packers win. But this football season, the two games the Packers played in zero and sub-zero temps ended badly. It is possible to conclude that really, really cold weather is not good for old men who play football. Favre clearly strugled all game long, and I sense that the cold affected his judgment. It certainly didn't help on the second play of overtime.
Nevertheless, I thought this Giants/Packers game was one of the best I've ever seen. The Giants--it has to be said--played a great game. When they got breaks, such as the roughing-the-passer penalty in the fourth quarter, they generally took advantage of them. The Giants offense kept the Packer defense on the field well beyond a reasonable point of efficiency. And Eli Manning played like a young man who had come of age.
I actually did not have a lot of emotional energy invested in a Packers win. I have been so delighted at the quality of play throughout the season that I have to admit I was satisfied with what they accomplished. Or maybe it is just that caring that much is no country for old men.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


As alluded to in earlier posts, I did attend Concordia Theological Seminary's annual Symposia series, this latest focused on the atoning work of Jesus Christ for the life of the world.

I caught most of the lectures.
Inigo Montoya: Let me 'splain.
Inigo Montoya: No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
I can hardly put a percentage to it, but my impression is that a good number of attendees are there for social reasons. While I was there expressly, ahem, as a Lutheran monk and therefore did not much partake, my impression was that the Lutheran liturgical partying each evening was the highlight of the week for many. My practice at lunch was to actually engage the table of strangers--who were just trying to innocently partake of their midday collations--in conversations about what had actually been said at the morning's lectures. Many rose to the bait. But I was often disappointed at the level of insight in the responses. Perhaps the best conversation I had was with pastor Tim May, where we compared the implications of a David Scaer lecture with those of the British academic Simon Gathercole. And oh, is that a toncture that Peter Scaer is wearing?

There were many allusions by the speakers to the varied groups who deny the atonement. Perhaps the best quote I heard characterizing these theologies is from Richard Neibuhr, to wit:
"A God without wrath brought men and women without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without the Cross."
This sort of describes the continuum of critics of the atonement. There are those who want to keep the doctrine in some form (One must assume because the doctrine keeps being bumped into in scripture, eh?) but want to get rid of, well, the atoning part. So Gese, who suggests a doctrine of atonement through representation: the priest identifying with the scapegoat in its death. There is no substitution per se, just connection, whatever that may mean. At the other end of the spectrum of denial seem to be those who just don't care what scripture says, they don't like all of this blood and death nonsense, let's just all get along, can't we? Much of the problem here is that guilt is not a theme of this theology. The theme could better be described as "enlightenment". Be all that you can be. And Jesus is a reasonably good example, should you need one.

The best of the lecturers--Gathercole, Gieschen, Nordling--had me digging around in my Bible as they spoke, following their many Biblical references. Two of the lecturers--Nordling and Gathercole--also brought in themes from classical literature. Nordling spoke at length on the themes of slave redemption and "sacral manumission", Gathercole on parallels between Paul's atonement language in the NT and classical language on themes of vicarious death. I spoke with Dr. Gathercole after his lecture, apologetically noting to him that as a layman I wanted to be sure I understood his main point. Was he saying that Paul knew his audience and therefore intentionally drew from pagan tradition and word-associations in writing about Christ's atonement? Yes, that was indeed his point. Gathercole has also published a book on the Gospel of Judas and is currently at work on a conservative commentary on the Gospel of Thomas. Both of his works are meant to dull the edges of the academic DaVinci Code-style arguments that these extra-canonical, coptic-source texts be given any weight at all up against the canon.

Hey, there was a lot said in four days!

Who I Met On My Winter Vacation

Carol Rutz, is who. She spied my nametag as we lined up for lunch at the sem on Tuesday, and accosted me--that's her style, what can I say?--with "HEY! You're that guy who does Pagans and Lutherans!" while overhearing, proper seminarians looked at their shoes.

Carol has a blog here.

I ran into her again at the presentation ceremony for the Gottesdienst, Saber of Boldness award, Thursday night. She makes me think of myself, in a crowd, three or four beers into a party. Only sober.

That's a compliment! Check out her quirky, outre, fascinating blog.

What I Saw On My Winter Vacation

"FAITH, the way it used to be",
but posted on a billboard advertisement.

I don't know about you, but this visual experience deep in the heartland of Indiana was a major disconnect for me. I was confused by what was meant by the slogan, but moreso when I considered that when faith WAS "the way it used to be", it never would have been advertised on a large billboard.
So, for me, this time at least, the medium was the message. I think I'm finally starting to get Marshall McCluhan!

As for the slogan itself, I would be shocked out of my mind if they didn't mean something along the lines of "We will beat you up with the Law until you cry 'MERCY'!" And, well, then call that the gospel.

But I could be wrong. There is always felicitous inconsistency to fall back upon.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Made It

Ah, driving through Indiana in January! I stopped to snap some photos of some of the more interesting church billboards, etc. One definitely needs music whilst driving solo through this flatland. I've got a future post in mind, stand by. I can't upload pics from here.

The drive consisted of two listen-throughs of Dylan's MODERN TIMES, a listen-through of Sufjan's ILLINOISE, and one of Shane Jackman's cd. I missed the first lecture in favor of sleeping in and reading the rest of Frankie Schaefer's book about his son becoming a Marine (great read, whatever it is). Thanks, Jane Kerner, for the book.

More anon.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I'm Off To See The Wizard

Well, beautiful downtown Fort Wayne, to be more specific.

I'm sure there is a wizard of some kind at the sem.

It is Symposium time! I haven't been in some years, but I've been let out of my cage for the week to attend.

This year's general theme is The Atonement, a lovely and enticing theme if ever there was one. For those of you who don't know about this seminal event in the life of Lutheranism, the 2008 Symposia Series at Concordia Theological Seminary is the latest in a decades-long series of the best theology being done. ATONEMENT FOR SIN IN THE SCRIPTURES is its current manifestation, and ought to cause slavering and drool, metaphorically speaking, in anyone who cares about Lutheran theology.

This is, strictly speaking, an open conference, or at least I'm telling myself it is. That means persons belonging to congregations belonging to synods which are not in fellowship with the LCMS may attend without their consciences being bound by the constrictions of prayer and table fellowship. No prayers to start these things. There IS prayer, and worship, but it is set apart in the chapel, and so is something that can be avoided for those so oriented. If I have this wrong in some way, let me know.

I'm going alone, without my friend Don Morrow who usually attends with me. The bum has moved to Raleigh, NC, and is too busy with a new career to get away. And I haven't been able to pry my other friend (I have but two) Neil Bartlett away from his hobby of supporting his family as a writer. So I will go as a Lutheran monk, in solitude and prayer, and try to have enough fun for two of us.

Whilst there: I'll try to sweet-talk my way onto a computer network and post. There are some really cool looking lectures coming up, for those of us with no social lives. To wit:


THE MEANING OF CHRIST'S DEATH IN EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY with Dr. Lawrence Rast, an old acquaintance who teaches a really mean one-week course in 19th century American Christianity. Well, the beer helps.

What else? I mean, seventeen lectures. Lots of coffee. Lots of Lutheran Bubs. Higher Things is having a get-together Tuesday night that I plan to crash.

Ooh. Here's one that's hot! ATONEMENT AND THE TWO KINDS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Hot topic in Lutheranism. Stay tuned. I'll take notes.

Dr. Weinrich is doing something called "GOD DID NOT MAKE DEATH": The Sacrifice of Christ as the Life of Man: ATHANASIUS ON THE ATONEMENT. Juicy. Can't wait. Jesse Jacobsen, eat your heart out, cowboy. This dog will be at the trough.!

Ok. That last comment was unnecessary. But to prove I'm insincere, I won't edit it out.

So anyway. Wrap your mind around this sad thought: I'm going to FORT WAYNE INDIANA in January, and calling it a VACATION. I'll take pictures. It won't be pretty.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Public Dole meets Reality

Reality, of course, is the marketplace.

This story is about a conversation I had recently with a woman who had worked in the medical field for twenty years at a state hospital. When the department she worked for was closed down, the slack in services (in the field of sleep therapy, although that has nothing to do with the gist of this tale) was picked up by a privately funded consortium.

The state graciously told her about the demise of her department one year in advance of its closing. They arranged for her to obtain an equivalent job at the new private clinic.


But she was told the one thing that wouldn't transfer is that gold mine of all state workers, that dirty little secret that is cherished among the elite: her accrued sick leave pay. This, she told me despondently, amounted to $60,000.

When state workers retire, see, this gets paid out as a bonus. I have a friend--a longtime state worker--who told me ten years ago he had almost three years' wages accrued. He proudly stated that he was NEVER sick.

Back to the sleep therapist. Upon hearing this her confession, I couldn't help but blurt out, "Whew! As a taxpayer, I'm elated!" Courtesy chuckle, but clearly I didn't really understand.

Clearly she didn't understand either. When the state claims it needs to attract serious, competitive workers to its many agencies, it argues that in order to do so it must pay the workers a competitive wage. Competitive with the marketplace, that is. What a hoot that is, eh? What backward, archaic thinking would conclude that state workers should only make what the schmucks in the marketplace make?!

Well, there you have it. By leaving the state job, this worker had her income adjusted to fit more closely what the market would bear. Actually, in the medical field even that is a joke, given that modern day health insurance is but socialized medicine in field dress. But you get my drift.

Cut to a conversation I had today with my wife, who now has assumed her rightful place on the public dole as a state registered nurse. When she got the job, her first week--her first PAID week--was mostly taken up with being introduced to the cascade of benefits and the many manifestations of which she must understand and select from. It was embarassing. After twenty years of one-income homeschooling, doing for ourselves in dozens of different ways, we hit the mother lode. Paid vacations! HEALTH insurance! Disability and life insurance bennies! SICK DAYS! Personal days!

So, the conversation. I related the story of the sleep therapist. Deb then told of one of her co-workers, one who had been Doling for many a year (See footnote), who developed strep throat and had to claim some sick days for what they actually were for. One of her supervisors came up to her when she returned and gently remonstrated with her for the lost time. Implicit in the criticism was that the lost time was lost from her retirement! An investment opportunity, now forever gone.

This mindset is very understandable. So is the penchant for playing the system. But now and then people need to be told that, however well they've feathered their nests, it is eventually a house of cards that will collapse if not on them then on their progeny. Sooner or later, the market will come back to bite even the state worker.

Maybe the department they work for will close. But the other benefit that I am vaguely aware of is one which is a function of time, and time alone. The longer you work for the state, the less able the state is to put you off their payroll. You get bumped. At least, that's the word leaking down from on high. I'll have to delve into the encyclopedia of benefits Deb brought home to understand it in its finer points.

FN: Now don't go getting in a huff because I'm dissing state workers. I am not saying that there is a lack of competent, talented, hard-working, devoted workers in the state agencies. Both Deb and my other friend are all of those things. My point is simply that government's rewards system has outpaced the public sector's reward system in spades.

My Packers Prediction

Should the Packers beat Seattle and stay healthy,
the Pack goes to the Superbowl.

After that, all bets are off. But they'd probably beat Jacksonville, right?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Harvard's New Curriculum Standards

The finest educational institution in the land has finally released its Final Report of the Task Force on General Education, purported to be a clear statement about what the faculty at Harvard thinks students ought to learn, and how.

R.R. Reno of First Things has a review of it. If you know anything at all about which trough non-science academics have been feeding from for the past few generations, you'll not expect anything new. It isn't easy to come up with new standards when you haven't been taught any yourself. Or to put it more fairly perhaps: When one's academic life is centered around the negation rather than the appreciation of time-tested values, it is asking a lot to be expected to come up with time-tested standards of education. If what one has been taught hasn't worked, alas!--one must reinvent the wheel. Or, perhaps invent new language to describe the same old paradigms.

A few choice quotes from Reno's report:
“The aim of a liberal education is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar, to reveal what is going on beneath and behind appearances, to disorient young people.”*
I can buy into academics disorienting young people up to a point. But shouldn't you be starting to try to actually orient them by, say, the second semester of the first year? Indeed, don't young people already come in disoriented, naturally? I thought that was what high school was for.

SS Reno:
"Let’s take a look at the core category that might involve the study of literature: “Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding.” One might think that a class on Shakespeare, for example, would have as its goal an encounter with the content of his plays. But it appears not to be so. “Students,” we learn, “should know how to ‘read’ cultural and aesthetic expressions.” The scare quotes are telling. A Harvard student will not so much be taught to read Shakespeare as learn how to “read” him, which means understanding the “dynamics of culture” encoded into his poetry and plays. This should not surprise. The goal is “to help students understand themselves and others as products of and participants in traditions of culture and belief,” so that they can “understand how meanings are produced and received.” Cultural studies, in other words, supplants the humanities. It’s not what Shakespeare says that matters; it’s his role as factory that produces meaning."

And finally this:
"Why has the study of culture shifted so dramatically? Here the report provides a valuable clarity. It gives us an important insight into Harvard’s ideal of the well-educated world leader. “Familiarity with the dynamics of culture,” we are told, “is essential to the students’ successful navigation of today’s world.” Nicely put. The basic existential thrust of postmodern cultural study is to relax the power of any particular culture over the minds of students. The goal is obvious. A Harvard man or woman is not to be a member of a culture. He or she navigates cultures. With a critical grasp of the factory of meaning, he or she sets about to oversee production."
The goal of education is to discourage membership in a culture. Is that right? Reno quotes John Henry Newman (Remember this is a Catholic periodical.) to the effect that the conceit of moderns is to approach truth without homage. That is a great thought, and alas, is so totally absurd in the context of modern higher education. To invoke truth at all, and to then suggest that Truth ought to be something we honor, seek, even worship!--stops all conversation in the ivied halls. This is something with which academia appears no longer equipped to tangle. Read Reno's article for the whole spiel.

*In reading through the actual Harvard document, I found that the full quote reads at the end: " disorient young people and to help them to find ways to re-orient themselves." Strike one against Mr. Reno. His point stands, as "re-orient" could be considered code language for treating with deep suspicion and even hostility the prevailing culture.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


This post is for all of you who share high mileage vehicles in common with me. That would be most of my friends, and just about every confessional Lutheran pastor I know. The only pastors I know driving new and shiny vehicles have fast growing churches!

We have been getting between 205,000 and 250,000 miles out of our fleet of castoffs this past few decades. We attribute it to living at least six miles from anywhere. I think I've only replaced one exhaust system in any of our vehicles in the past decade.

So, mileage:
The '95 Saturn is hanging in there at about 175,000. My '99 Honda Odyssey work van has about 125,000, and the '01 Ford Windstar is sittin' pretty at 110,000. So we expect some years of service yet from these rather "new" vehicles. Of course, no self-respecting car owner of any repute would allow the average mileage of their collective vehicles to exceed one hundred thousand miles. It makes me a second class American, really. But I left that rat race behind in kindergarten.

Except that the bells and whistles are a bit creaky these days, I love my Honda. I had Dodge Caravans for workvans for a very long time, but the comfort and maneuverability of the Honda is amazing. It is just well made and well designed. I don't think I'll be able to go back to anything from Detroit. When I drive the Windstar, it is a shock--drives like a noisy truck.

We Americans spend a lot of time in our automobiles. I actually enjoy going out shopping for a new used vehicle. There is so much choice, and one never knows what sort of treasure one will find. The day I bought the Honda I'd set aside for van shopping. I drove a new Caravan that had the entire inside stripped out--just the front was finished. I drove a newer Windstar. A few more Caravans. Finally, on a whim, I pulled into the upscale Honda/Saab dealership used car lot, where a line of Hondas were sitting. I had no idea, really! It was fun to discover these vans, and to check them out.

I was shopping in late January. In late January, one is treated as a conquering hero in used car lots. The major activity in these places in late January is brushing snow off vehicles. It is impossible to make them look sexy under six inches of snow. Nothing looks good in January. The salesmen have by then mostly assumed the fetal position, to be more or less maintained until after Tax Day, April 15. One salesman in particular borrowed my driver's license to copy when I came in to test drive a van, but forgot to give it back. I didn't remember until the next day. I'd shown some interest in the heap he was trying to sell, and the poor guy was wracked with remorse, knowing he'd broken Rule #2 of the Used Car Salesman: "Never forget to give 'em back their driver's licenses." I had to drive across town to pick it up, and felt bad for the guy when I saw the sucked-lemon looks on the faces of his associates. Sort of half smirk, half grimace.

I wasn't going to buy that van anyway.

Friday, January 4, 2008

ta epiphania

January 6, Epiphany.

To read of the evolution of Epiphany as a part of the church year is to witness crazy things. Epiphany--"manifestation"--is associated symbolically with the historia trium regum (My Latin duly corrected by son #1) the advent of the three kings or magi from the East. Because the first manifestation of Christ's ministry was the miracle at Cana--water morphed into the finest wine--this event also has come to be associated with Epiphany. An early Christian writer-- ironically, named Epiphanius--claimed that on January 6, water is miraculously turned to wine all over the world.

So check your water bottles sometime today.

Because after the birth of Christ so much happened--his circumcision, his eventual baptism by John, the appearance of angels and the arrival of shepherds, the appearance of the magi--it was considered that his nativity was not of such importance because: absconditus est, et non apparuit --"He was hidden, and did not appear" (St Jerome, who had a wonderful imagination in his own right). But the idea of manifestation naturally became associated with those times when He showed himself as the Christ.

The whole idea of epiphany came from the East, where it seems most of the best theological ideas came from in the first millenium of the church.

Epiphany in a more general sense is a wonderful word; wonderful concept. Somewhere last year I found myself writing that epiphany is what makes life worth living. It is breakthrough, insight, the thing long-sought now finally at hand.
It is resolution. It is Springtime after a long, dull, overcast Winter. May Sarton* writes about it in a poem: "Even a year's not long, yet moments are/This moment, yours and mine, and always given..." Epiphanies are God's little gifts to us, given in moments we don't expect and can't anticipate--and therefore are truly gifts.

One hears, "I had an epiphany", and understands that something clarifying has happened. "Life can breathe again", writes May Sarton.

Sometime on Tuesday, my friend Allen, a black man who has spent the last nine years behind bars, will be released out into the world. This is epiphany writ large! Allen hopes to be a street preacher, and I can testify that he has tasted the sting of the Law, and has ears to hear the Gospel. I pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit he continue to live his life in freedom.

On Being Given Time by M Sarton


It's my birthday too, yeah..

Well, tomorrow anyway.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

WillowFlet and Chicken Ark

The Flet is completely invisible in the Summer.


The WillowFlet in Winter, Gee Backyard

Now comes January, and we start it all again! Of course, the start of the church year is over a month gone, but we do tend to get caught up in this secular age and its mannerisms. Whilst living in Wisconsin, the first order of business is: "Where am I going and why am I in this handbasket??"

No, seriously, the first question is how to survive--nay, thrive!!--in Winter.

Well, ok. Survive. Here's my list; feel free to add your own.

  1. Full spectrum lighting
  2. Vit. D3, megadose.
  3. Git out in it, whatever it is. Gotta make friends with the dormant world!
  4. Break it down into two week segments.
  5. College basketball!
  6. A full routine. Be too busy to be depressed.
  7. The Gulf of Mexico, if you have the smooch.
  8. Cats.
  9. Tossing cats out in the snow: Nossa panics; Pippen lolls.
  10. Little spectacles and moments to enjoy: Louie the cardinal hitting the window; five pounds lost; an old forgotten proverb repolished; maybe a personal blog to chew at. Tossing cats out in the snow. A winter's walk at Devil's Lake State Park, across the ice (an embellishment of point #3).
  11. Gather your family in the living room, ninish at night, for a movie, a cup of tea, a story, or some reading aloud.
I know people who have their entire year planned, mostly around the goal of amusing themselves. Bowling leagues, lots of regular social events. It is easy to overdo this stuff. I'm referring to the three softball teams in the Summer, the football tickets in the Fall, the three-nights-a-week-plus-Sunday morning bowling. Well, yes, you survive, but does it edify?

We can't remember this, but we can imagine a time before the electric light, when candles were dear or nonexistent. The whole concept of Night was completely different, and the whole concept of Winter. The routine was much more centered around actual survival, not this pseudo-survival, mood-swing stuff that concerns us today. One of the weird things about Winter back then (for agrarian folks) was that they actually ate better in Winter than in Spring. It was in Spring--when all things come back awake, the light returns, and hope and ambition give spur to the spirit--that the food began to run out and folk were having to make do with the scrapings at the bottoms of barrels, and whatever unspeakable green stuff was early sprouting next to streams. Skunk cabbage, ummm!
For us, the greatest challenge of Spring is Tax Day. But I digress, don't I?