Monthly Archives: April 2013

Analog and Chronic

Digital:Analog::Acute:Chronic (Digital is to analog as acute is to Chronic). If you get that analogy, you probably can already guess where I am going. If you don’t, I’m not sure what will follow will help. But, I like the sound of my own voice, and I’m trying to understand it myself, so here goes. Digital is 1’s and 0’s; there is nothing in between. The only thing that digital can do to fill in the spaces in between is increase the frequency. Analog is a continuous stream capturing all the fuzzy stuff in between. The easy things like 1/2 and the transcendental like .14159…(PI-3). Acute is a medical term meaning short lasting and either curable or quickly leading to death (or zero). Chronic is the other medical term meaning long-term ongoing. You don’t cure Chronic; you manage it. We live in a world that wishes to treat everything as digital or acute. Reality is analog and chronic.

Ezra Klein in a wonderful reported piece looks at a medicare experiment that worked. It both reduced cost and added quality of life. It is also being killed because it takes the world as it is.

…Health Quality Partners is all about going there. The program enrolls Medicare patients with at least one chronic illness and one hospitalization in the past year. It then sends a trained nurse to see them every week, or every month, whether they’re healthy or sick. It sounds simple and, in a way, it is. But simple things can be revolutionary.

Most care-management systems rely on nurses sitting in call centers, checking up on patients over the phone. That model has mostly been a failure. And while many health systems send a nurse regularly in the weeks or months after a serious hospitalization, few send one regularly to even seemingly healthy patients. This a radical redefinition of the health-care system’s role in the lives of the elderly. It redefines being old and chronically ill as a condition requiring professional medical management…

Graefe has been a nurse for 28 years. She has worked in cardiac wards and with patients in rehab. She has been in hospitals, in call centers, and now on home visits. “This is the best nursing I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. “And that’s because it’s really all about nursing.”…I asked a half-dozen seniors what difference Health Quality Partners made in their lives. Every one of them began the same way: They could ask their nurse questions, they said with evident relief. They could get help understanding and navigating their doctor’s orders. They didn’t feel like they were being a burden if they needed to ask one more thing, or have their medications explained to them again…

Coburn’s basic insight is a discomfiting one. He doesn’t really believe in “better,” at least not for elderly, chronically ill patients. He wants someone going over frequently to see if they’re depressed, if their color is good, if they understand their medications, if there’s anything they need. This isn’t medicine so much as it’s supervision.

At another time, these functions would have been filled by the family, who would be right in the other room, and who would know if their mother looked different than she had a few weeks ago. But few of today’s elderly live with their children. Many don’t even live in the same state, or they don’t have any contact with their children, or they don’t have children…

I quoted larger sections there because Mr. Klein has some great points, but ultimately his point is polishing the government system of healthcare. He is staring at the analog chronic and trying to produce acute answers (i.e. single payer is the only workable system that can push these things, which reduces the world to 1 = gov’t med care, 0 = leave). Please notice that what this experiment highlighted has done is reproduce some of the elements of a church: a “cleric” that visits, gentle encouragement of better action, explanation of basic doctrine in a safe place, and a place of contact that recognizes subtle analog changes like mood and color. The analog chronic problem is best captured in those last two paragraphs. “He doesn’t really believe in better”, and “these would have been filled by family”. Things that have or want to have a digital acute relationship with you (like the healthcare system) can improve, but still miss the point. What is missing is recognition that we are analog and chronic. We are built for long standing relationships, and we are tragically flawed creatures. Our society tells us lies on both accounts.

First polite society tells us that relationships, people, place are fungible and secondary. Got a better job offer a world away? Take it, you can always join something there. (Without telling you that “Oh, you won’t or won’t have time to do so” and “those long time bands just can’t be recreated”.) And second it tells you that you aren’t so bad and are always getting better. The reality is that we rarely change and then only when we die to ourselves and rise to something new. Those long-term relationships know all about your sharp points and love you anyway. Leaving the analog and chronic behind and joining the digital and acute world leaves us searching for those spaces in between. We long for that simple intimacy of an extended family and that transcendental place of love with wife or husband. But all the digital world can do is increase the frequency. One more bad relationship or hook-up. One more church hoping. One more job. One more gadget. High frequency, but still 1’s and 0’s, still chronic longing.

I keep being attracted to a specific group of writers because I think they capture this modern problem better than anyone else. And in a way it makes sense. At the epicenter of our modern replacements for the analog and chronic – sex and money/work – is the homosexual community. According to this next author my previous paragraph might stumble into a problem of “blaming society”, but that is not really what I’m after. Yes, society tells us certain things take priority. I disagree with those messages and think they are deeply wrong. But, the point is not to find a scapegoat and retreat. The point is to call Christians to make better choices. To understand when we choose: home, job, mate, church we are deciding things that will govern us, not the other way around. Christians should make better choices. But, back to the core point. This is Melinda Selmys on longing and chastity.

This frustration is caused by a lack of companionship and solidarity. All forms of chastity demand communion and community because chastity is the virtue that is ordered towards the communio personarum. The most common cause of sexual sin is isolation and loneliness. The sexual appetite is an urge to overcome isolation, to give and receive another person. A person who is fulfilled in their daily life through other forms of “knowing and being known” will find that chastity frees them to be generous and loving and to receive love and generosity without the clinging neediness of sex. The problem is that most people in the contemporary world are literally starving for human communion, and sex fills that need at least temporarily.

This is Wesley Hill on the order of primacy in those deep choices.

If I am a Christian, then I belong (like it or not) to the Body of Christ. By virtue of baptism, I am no longer “my own person”; in belonging to Christ, I also belong to the other members of his body, the church. And so, these days, I find myself less and less interested in asking where each gay Christian, myself included, “stands” on the question of the morality of gay sex. Instead, I want—even, or precisely, as an Anglican—to explore the question Eve Tushnet, a Roman Catholic, raised recently: is there a way to see my own convictions as somehow less important than the matter of my membership in the church of which I’m a part?

And this is Eve Tushnet reflecting on what I’ll call the paradoxical reality that we only grow beyond ourselves, we only truly connect, when we limit ourselves.

I have this hilariously conflicted relationship with authority, in which I simultaneously long for like real, awesome authority and yet rebel against and get cranky about the smaller everyday authorities which come into my life, like my teachers and the Man, man. Society! I’m right though. Chesterton said so! “Break the conventions, keep the Commandments.” The merely-human authorities are often pretty awful, abuse of power comes as no surprise etc etc, and yet without submission to authority our lives are only as big as our own minds can make them.

We all have a chronic problem, sin. We will have it as long as we are in this body. There is no acute care for sin. The only care for sin is analog. It’s this thing called the body of Christ that has a multitude of parts, or is drawn from every people, tribe, language and nation. That is the call of the church, to be the analog and chronic care for sinners.

When you can bear it…(The work and means of the Spirit)

42813wordle

Biblical Text: John 16:12-22, Acts 11:1-18
Full Sermon Draft

We had a little malfunction with our audio equipment this week, so the recording portion of the sermon is a recreated reading. The hymn and lessons of the day are from Sunday. It is interesting, just one of those coincidences, that the sound system chose this week to “pop”. I say that because with most of my sermons, later in the day or on Monday when I write this posting, I have the general feeling of: this phrase would have worked better, I missed that fertile preaching ground completely, nobody got that allusion, and the list goes on. This sermon, after struggling with the text most of the week, in between trying to put the right words together for a funeral I dearly wanted to honor, didn’t have many of those criticisms. If you were asking me to pick out pieces for the portfolio, this one would go in there. And the system just fails. One of those thin spaces where you might actually believe we are not fighting flesh and blood, but something darker.

The wordle picture above is all scrambled this way and that. I thought that is highly representative of how the Holy Spirit is taught. We are big on the Spirit blowing when and where he wills. There is definitely a mystery in how the Spirit acts, but there is an underlying solidity as part of the promise of Christ. And that is what I think this sermon presents solidly. The Spirit has a role and typical means. In Luther’s words the Spirit, “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies”. The Spirit prepares us to bear the Word. The Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ. And until we are ready, when we can’t bear it, Christ does. It is not that the Spirit says something new, but that the Spirit enables us to hear the old old story where we are. And the Spirit acts through the same old old ways – Word, Sacrament (baptism), Repentance and Holy Living. Those are the means of the work of the Spirit. Not sexy, just true. When the Spirit comes, He will lead you into all truth.

Did You Hear – They are playing baseball

I was a basketball guy. Still love the game, but hung up the high-tops roughly a decade ago when all of a sudden my dead-eye jumper couldn’t even find the rim, all of a sudden I was Bill “floor” Laimbeer minus the 3 ball. (Tangent warning, the NBA has become interesting again. Sir Charles is always talking about match-ups. The NBA game is all about if you have someone who can minimize the other team’s skill-freak-of-nature, or exploit your own. For a long time all the NBA teams seemed to be about trying the same thing (2 guard & big man). But now you’ve got radically different team visions competing. Maybe it is that only one team can have LeBron, so it became obvious you had to try other strategies. The Bulls have trouble scoring (especially since they lost their second unit from last year), but that is one of the best rebounding/defense teams I’ve seen. The Spurs, the Clippers, the Nets, the Rockets (my vote for most interesting team to watch), and none of those are the OKC Thunder, yet all are serious teams with different strategies.)

Anyway, enough basketball, this was about baseball. What I like about baseball is the stories. Baseball is a complex game filled with characters. Unlike basketball which is really “just about buckets”, and only has two stories (plucky team from nowhere and street smart flashy greatness, which once upon a time were racial tropes, but today Durant in OKC and Paul at the second LA team are plucky nowheres); unlike basketball baseball can have multiple stories on the field at the same time. Part of that is the timing, part is the history, part is the game design, and part is who covers it. The history which starts in mythology, the slower pace, the wide open spaces of the field and specialized skills at every position all beckon great writers. (Anyone who argues for taking the hall of fame ballot away from the writers is an idiot. Ok, the veterans committee can be a House of Lords making some tweaks.) If you don’t have the time to pay attention everyday but still enjoy the game and the stories it produces, a good journalist has made it easy. Michael Brendan Dougherty is editing something called The Slurve, a daily edited email newsletter of the stories around the league, along with game summaries.

The story that he highlighted yesterday and continued with a link today is pitcher Barry Zito. The Slurve’s essay was insightful – how Zito’s production in terms of wins and losses is defying his raw stats in terms of k’s and ERA and WHIP. The Slurve talked in terms of balance, crossing into the theological almost “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” territory. The Angry God being the raw stats and the thin thread being balanced upon. But that isn’t where I’d go. The link to the GQ interview talks a different insight in Zito’s own words.

To what degree are you a different person than the person you were in Oakland?

I think I’m a little bit less of a seeker these days. I’ve found something that I just really love, which is the Christian faith, and it’s new to me. I grew up being a seeker and being completely out of the box and testing and reading and trying all different religious things and kind of philosophical approaches and such, and it’s kind of a backwards route. Most people are raised very rigidly in an organized religion and then they try to fight their way out of that. I needed structure [laughs]. A lot of these kind of spiritual things are all based on the self and that was just too—I couldn’t handle that anymore. I don’t know. I think it led to a form of—it can lead to narcissism, I think.

What led the two of you to this particular faith?

It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but I think a lot of pain, you know, a lot of tough times and basically a need for strength outside of myself.

The strength outside of myself. Christ or the Word comes extra nos – outside of us. Faith comes by hearing. We are proclaimed righteous by grace through the work of Christ. Having trouble living up to the expectations of a $100M contract? Having trouble finding peace by and in yourself? Tired of the search? Maybe its a larger magnitude and a bigger stage, but those are things that we all feel one time or another. From where comes our strength? I look to the hills, my strength comes from the Lord. (Psalm 121:1ff) From outside myself. And that peace passes understanding. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121:8) That doesn’t mean an 84 MPH fastball will get it done forever, but resurrections are great to see while they are around.

Hearing Voices

42113wordle

Text: John 10:22-30
Full Sermon Draft

The world is full of voices. In the past week we’ve heard from some of the more gruesome. What Jesus says in the text today is “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He also says bluntly that those who don’t believe (because they haven’t accepted/heard the testimony) are not his sheep.

What the Gospel according to John sets up is the duality of voices. The voice of Christ is the call to life, and the call to life is the call to repentance and a life transformed by the Spirit. All the other voices, whatever their form, are voices of the world leading to death, voices breathing threats and murder. And there is no blending of these voices, just a division. Either we follow the voice of the shepherd, or we follow other voices. Either we believe, and nothing will snatch us out of the Father’s hand, or we join the voices contra Christ. There is no middle ground. And if this week has done anything it has shown the foolishness of dialog with those voices of the world. Voices not based in the life of Christ yield bad fruit.

I was called, gathered, enlightened (and sanctified) by…?

Are our testimonies honoring to the whole landscape of the Christian journey? Not if they only speak of the “how-shocking-was-my-sin-before-I-met-the-Lord” story. (As though the sin I commit today is less shocking!). Not if they only share the safe feelings, rehearsed responses, and good “decisions” for which we give ourselves unearned credit.

This word—conversion—is simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreck that I experienced in coming face-to-face with the Living God. I know of only one word to describe this time-released encounter: impact. Impact is, I believe, the space between the multiple car crash and the body count.

Those are two close quotes from this book by Rosaria Butterfield. I recommended the book to Sunday morning bible study this last week primarily on the strength of its depiction of coming to faith and the unflinching picture of the work of the Holy Spirit. (That is the answer to the post title’s question. Read Luther’s answer to what the 3rd article of the creed means.) As a picture of being called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified and what that might actually mean in real flesh and blood, the book is harrowing. And it is a spiritual classic.

Our Christian culture likes to tell prodigal son stories or sing Amazing Grace (I once was lost but now I am found.) We love the dramatic Damascus Road conversion. But what we miss is the years Paul spent in Arabia (Gal 1:17, Acts 9:23-25). We hear the story of the slaver John Newton, author of the Hymn, but we don’t notice the timeline. Conversion in 1748, but he didn’t quit slaving until 1754 and that only after he suffered a severe stroke. In 1757 he applied for ordination, but he was not ordained until 1764.

The conversions in the words of Mrs. Butterfield are “a train wreck”. We don’t get off so easy as “I once was blind and now I see”. At least not in how we understand that today.

I bring that up because the gospel text for this coming Sunday is probably one of the most offensive possible for our modern understanding. The 4th Sunday of Easter is usually “good shepherd Sunday”. All the pastoral metaphors come out – still waters, green valleys, protection, leading. But the gospel text in John where Jesus says he is the good shepherd (John 10:14) ends with the Jews saying Jesus has a demon or is possessed (John 10:19). The specific text for this Sunday has Jesus saying, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…no one will snatch them out of my hand.” We don’t get a choice. Like Mrs. Butterfield there are no pat on the back decisions, only an impact, a train wreck, a meeting of the living God.

The Holy Spirit calls us. Usually through common means like preaching and the word, but sometimes uncommon like bright lights. The only choice we really have is to turn it down, to not believe what we hear (or see). And we are called to a purpose or what feels like a process. We are gathered (baptism, church family). We are enlightened (bible study, prayer). All so that we become sanctified. All Christians are being lead by the shepherd’s voice in those paths. And those paths go right through the valley of the shadow of death. Because something does die along those paths – our old self. Leaving that body (of sin) behind can be traumatic. We like to sin. We are good at it. It creates deep roots.

It is also not our decision. The sheep follow the shepherd.

A Simple Sentence

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:32

When the pro-choice group, RH Reality Check hosted a conference call today… I asked the call participants, “What is the distinction between what [Gosnell] did, and what a late-term abortionist like, say, LeRoy Carhart does?”

Tracy Weitz, associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), explained: “When a procedure that usually involves the collapsing of the skull is done, it’s usually done when the fetus is still in the uterus, not when the fetus has been delivered.”

From TP Carney.

If you can say that sentence and not understand the immensity of the degradation and wrongness…Lord have mercy.

(One other link to understand that Gosnell is not some one off technicality but a sign…)

Sermon Grist File

RossettiInstead of ghoulishly watching the pictures from Boston, I’m cleaning out my “Sermon Grist” file.

Jonathan Haidt who recently moved to NYU Stern school of business on the ethics of MBA students vs. Psychology students. Sometimes I wonder to what degree the people we spend most of our time with shapes our beliefs. By that I mean if you spend you time surrounded by “feeling” people who are generally well adjusted, to what extent does that encourage you to generalize that is humanity? How has my history (vs. what I would say is biblically gleaned) shaped my rather bleak anthropology.

Two great articles by Eve Tushnet. This is a look at a Pre-Raphaelite exhibit. If nothing else the Rossetti Annunciation is worth viewing. This is a reflection on a beauty of another sort – the fact that we all trust or are obedient to something. And the danger in picking (or refusing to pick).

Knot Yet looks at how modernity by modifying and refusing the strictures of marriage have often ended up places much more sordid.

Whether or not they realize it, today’s twentysomethings are entering wayside stations that, as the “Knot Yet” report makes clear, lessen their chances of ever entering the promised land of stable marriage. The marriage passport fee seems too expensive, and they can’t give up other choices. So instead they opt for locations that, according to Wharton and implied by Austen, are “smaller and dingier and more promiscuous.” It seems by not choosing to give up some things, it’s possible to give up everything.

This is Hunter Baker making an insightful comment about sanctification, based on a Tim Keller Comment to this guy’s question.

When asked about obstacles to revival, Keller pointed to fornication. In other words, it is difficult to spiritually awaken people who have hard-wired a particular sin into their lives and have essentially committed to it. If repentance means a large structural change, such as ending a co-habiting, sexual relationship, then it becomes that much less likely.

What I would say running throughout all those things is the idea of submission. From the very general, what ethics do MBA’s submit to (basically is it legal?), to the specific, a submission to the will of God that offers a witness to the world.

So How do we do this church thing?

41413wordle

Biblical Text: John 21:1-14
Full Draft of Sermon

The Epistle readings of the day during Easter this year are from Revelation and we are spending some time in bible class looking at those non-gospel lessons. In class this morning one of the questions that came up was something like “how do people come up with all these weird prophecy readings, you know like Russia and China are attacking on the 14th?” The answer I gave was that so many Christians just have real trouble discerning genre. Genre is something like history, poetry, detective stories, romance, or in the case of Revelation Apocalypse. Each genre has rules or expectations. Good interpretation will respect these rules. Most bad interpretation today first makes a hash of the genre.

Genre is important to the text for the Sermon today. When you understand John 21:1ff as an epilogue, things start to fall into place. This sermon is an entry point for reading the end of John’s gospel. As an epilogue it gives a poetic picture of how the preceding story has changed those remaining (i.e. the disciples). John 21 is John’s answer to how we do this church thing.

And the two big things covered are how the church depends lives and meets her savior in Word and Sacrament.

Love is…

Our sanctuary, while absolutely gorgeous, sits packed about 120 people. I count my blessings there in many ways. One of them rolls around every wedding season. 120 packed is just not enough for the true bridezillas. As a result the weddings I do tend to be of a less assuming sort. Last week was a very short essentially private ceremony for a couple roughly the parson’s age. This week is one for a younger couple. Both chose St. Paul on love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13) as a reading.

So I’ve been reflecting on that reading, and being a grammar geek, my attention turned to the person. Our culture trains us, and our sinful self doesn’t fight back, to think of love in the third person. He loves me. We are the recipient of love. If we slip into the 1st person is it either passive (I am loved) or trivial (I love chocolate). And we never venture to define love as a noun. The last attempt was probably Love Story (“Love means never having to say you are sorry.”) And that just reflects the culture. Love is something that allows me to treat the other as crap.

St. Paul is the converse. He talks in the 1st person. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1Cor 13:2 ESV)” After saying love is something he must do (1st person active). He defines it. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant… (1Cor 13:4ff ESV)”

To St. Paul love allows the other to treat you like crap. That is a strong statement and potentially psychologically damaging. How in a broken and sin filled world do we do that? The first answer that I think St. Paul would acknowledge is not well or often. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully… (1Cor 13:12 ESV)” The second answer might be great saints show love more often. And we know this because most of the great saint are also great sufferers. Love in a sin filled world means suffering. St. Paul would talk of being poured out (Philippians 2:17, 2 Tim 4:6). Third, and this is the point of marriage, is that in marriage we are to see a picture of Christ and the church. Entering into marriage is two people agreeing to love each other. Marriage is to be a safe space to learn how to love. Christ loved the church when she (we) were most unlovely and accepted the cross. A groom crucified by the bride. That is the truth of which marriage is a picture. We have been shown love and forgiven so that we might learn how to love each other. In marriage we are to be the mirror – the face to face – that displays the love of God to our spouse.

(Even Jesus runs up against the impossibility here. There are marriages and situations that are just to tenable. “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so (Matt 19:8 ESV)” He greatly restricts the reasons. But I think he was also speaking to Israel. If both husband and wife profess belief in Christ, repentance, reconciliation and stopping the sin is what is called for. The Spirit works to change our hard hearts and we should see that in our lives. Paul gets to this difference in 1 Cor 7:10-16. First the Lord says to those who would call Him that (i.e. Christians) don’t divorce. Command given both to husband and wife. But then Paul talks about the mixed marriage of believer and unbeliever, and he basically says as long the belief is allowed, stay married. But if the unbeliever leaves or wants out, be at peace. The issue is the hardness of our hearts. Hard hearts are incapable of love; incapable of marriage. Is the spouse unrepentant and unwilling to change?)

Quick Follow-Up – Polarized Words

In the “morning paper” I ran across two perfect examples of what I was talking about in changing the meaning of a word.

This is mega-church pastor Craig Groeschel piling on the word religious. Notice how he is distancing himself from what I called the voodoo ooga-booga.

Religion focuses on outward behavior. Relationship is an inward transformation. Religion focuses on what I do, while relationship centers on what Jesus did. Religion is about me. Relationship is about Jesus…One time when this happened, the person I was talking with politely shared that he didn’t like religious people. I chimed in that I didn’t like religious people either. His mouth nearly dropped to the floor. I explained that religion is about rules, but being a Christian is about relationship.

This is about Guns, liberty, and rights. First, I don’t own a gun, never have owned a gun, don’t really plan on getting one. Probably not something to say on a public forum, but I’ve always figured if someone needed to steal from me, they needed it more than I did. But take a good hard look at how the words are being used. A constitutional civil right is being called just an esoteric policy. It is being de-personalized. And the move to strip that right is being personalized when the writer says this these faces of the kids at Newtown demand “unrelenting response”. The attempt is to redefine gun control away from fascist jackboots and toward sympathetic pain prevention. It is to move a constitutional right away from a solid protection saying what the government can’t do, toward something that the government must do. Those are dangerous redefinitions.

We can have esoteric policy debates about gun ownership. I am an avid hunter, from wild boar in West Virginia to deer in Maryland, and I believe there’s a legitimate role for long guns and handguns, in sport and self-defense.

But as a country, we now have to reckon with what has happened on our watch. Our young men and women are dying on the streets of Chicago, because anyone with half a brain can figure out how to get around background checks, into gun shows, or otherwise acquire a firearm. Our kids are getting off school buses without certainty that they will come home. And three months ago, the president of our great country found himself greeting 26 families whose 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls were mowed down execution style, by a maniac who had access to a rifle almost as a big as he was. What happened in Newtown on that awful December day was not abstract. I was there with them in that bitter reality. I saw their faces. The pain of that day was unrelenting. Our response must be as well.

Exactly the same argument could be used in regards to late term abortion. The cries of those half-aborted children in Kermit Gosnell’s torture room demand an unrelenting response. Why does the Daily Beast give us a scene a day on guns, but is yet to mention the cold-blooded spine snip-er who killed far more children?

The language is being manipulated and abused by the very people who should respect it the most.