Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Thanks to Carol Rutz's Annexe for this article.
"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."

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

THE LAST SUPPER, digitized

I saw Leonardo da Vinci's painting Il Cenacolo in 1972. Fresh out of high school and wandering Europe, I was in Milano, Italy primarily to see Michaelangelo's Rondanini Pieta. A friend had told me to be sure to travel outside of the city to Santa Maria delle Grazie to view the Supper. It was interesting to see, but what was of more interest to me was that twice during wartime over the life of the painting, three of the four walls of the monastic lunchroom had been bombed away, leaving only the wall on which is painted the Supper. Is the painting divinely protected? I wondered.

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

Reformation Day Lectures, Part II

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.

P. Gerhardt

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bethany Lutheran Chapel Triptych

Reformation Day Lectures, Part One-A

In addition to the Praise Songs handout (see previous post; the link is to CCLI's top 100), Professor Herl handed out a worksheet intended to be used by the group to theologically evaluate the actual fifty- praise-songs list. This appeared to be a daunting task until he divided us into ten groups, and assigned five songs to each group. We were to rate each song according to eight separate categories, each containing subcategories. Herl then compiled every group's separate numbers. I list this here with his permission, including our "scores". Here goes:


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?
  • God's nature 16
  • God's actions 14
  • our actions 21
  • not sure 2
On which person of the Trinity is the focus?
  • the Father 11
  • the Son 17
  • the Holy Spirit 0
  • all three 2
  • not clear 21
How does the text present God speakingto us? (check all that apply)
  • through the external world 15
  • through his saving acts 10
  • through his Word 02
  • through the sacraments 0
  • not applicable 26
How closely is the text tied to a specific Scripture passage?
  • 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 sin 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 God's saving work 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
How is growth in the Christian life presented?
  • 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:

  1. the prevalance of songs extolling the "high, exalted nature" of God as opposed to the "lowly,humble, suffering" image.
  2. 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!).
  3. 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".
  4. Sin. There is no "Woe is me" in much of this material. In a whopping 44 of the 50 songs, sin has no reference.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Reformation Day Lectures, Part One


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
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 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

I strolled out into our backyard this evening to walk the puppy. There was a light tinge of pink and blue--very pastel--on the horizon and I thought, "That's pretty, in a subtle way. It would take an accomplished artist to find those colors." Pup and I walked past the chicken ark, through the apple trees, and up a slight rise where I stooped to stroke that gorgeous soft German Shepherd puppy fur. When I stood up, I turned to see
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.

...Himself is host and guest...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anke Is Still A Puppy



The small picture is Anke and Robin about five weeks ago.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


You see, I'm new to this blog game. I've been tagged, I'm told, by Lutheran Lucciola, the brat. She has in turn been tagged by The Elephant Child--a more interesting blog name I haven't run across. I gather one is to confess to the world--the small world that comes across one's blog (small indeed!)--seven things about oneself which one claims to be...."true". But, what is truth? Let's see what I can conjure up...

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

Idols and Vocation

"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

Timothy McVeigh and The Afterlife

How 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
HT: Get Religion

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 Demands of Being an American Congregation"

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:

"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. "
(This from Elizabeth Kaeton, an official of the Episcopal diocese of Neward, NJ.)

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.

Whaddaya think?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Anti-Natalism & Reality

"Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence--rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should--they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions. David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one's life make one's life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence."
From Oxford University Press description.

Are you overestimating the quality of your life? Probably. Which is why David Benatar thinks you ought to reexamine whether you should have been born in the first place. He thinks most humans probably should never have been born. This is the only way to, er, "...solve many conundrums of moral theory about population..." If you know anything at all, Peter Singer, you know that resolving contradictions in moral theories is more important than life itself.

Who said ideas have no consequences? What I like about these people--utilitarians all--is how they are honest in their extrapolations. Instead of that famous military aphorism, "Kill 'em all; let God sort 'em out!", we have a pithy philosophy summed up by: "The end justifies the means". God plays no part, as He is just a manifestation of someone's desire to be happy. Or to be justified; same difference. House, M.D. is only the latest, greatest expression of utilitarianism, and his appeal is simply in his blunt honesty--social mores be damned. This is all well and good until someone's honesty results in you being chosen for elimination. These people must love Survivor.

The photo is of Jeremy Bentham, famous Utilitarian who had his body embalmed and is on display at University College London. He is one of a long line of idealists--among them episcopalians, feminists, democrats, Millists, free-thinkers, utopians, Princetonians, Deweyites--who believe that with just enough education, people would be more likely to decide and vote progressively on the basis of rational
self-promotion. Alas, it never works out that way. Backward, Bible-informed moral values just keep intruding into people's lives, and progress is ever something yearned for, but never achieved. Well, except in the Soviet Union, for awhile.

HT to Mercatornet.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Well, more than this, really. Yet here is a quote that is pure O'Connor, and describes her fiction writing very well:

"[The Christian fiction writer] is entirely free to observe. He feels no call to take on the duties of God or to create a new universe. He feels perfectly free to look at the one we already have and to show exactly what he sees. He feels no need to apologize for the ways of God to man or to avoid looking at the ways of man to God. For him, to ‘tidy up reality’ is certainly to succumb to the sin of pride."

This is taken from an "interview" Marvin Olasky of World Magazine does with one of O'Connor's books. Flannery O'Connor would be in her eighties if she were alive today, and probably scolding and shocking us as much now as she did then. If the above quote doesn't describe any Christian writer you've ever read, you ought to check out O'Connor. A Good Man Is Hard to Find would be a good start. Just don't go looking for any apologies, heheheh!