Category Archives: Culture

September Newsletter – Pastor’s Corner

Book Reading I sadly came across the comic to the left after we went to press on this. It was the perfect piece to take down the pretension of the actual article.

It is August 28th when I write this which is the Saint Day of St. Augustine. One of the famous stories that Augustine tells in his confessions is of his conversion where a little childlike voice chants “tolle lege” or “Take and read”. He took it as the divine command or invitation to take up the Bible and read it. A book which the educated man had shunned for years. He opened to Romans and the rest is history.

September is a month where we put aside the diversions of sun and fun and summer and tolle lege, pick up and read again. Some of us (child #2 David) reluctantly and other with fondness. In that vein I thought that I might put together a short list. A challenge reading list (since I can’t really assign them) for you this year. These are books or works that have greatly impacted me. They are also books which I believe are worth returning to if just to dip in and remind ourselves. What you saw in them at 12 or 22 or 32 or (sigh) 42, and probably beyond, is different. The scars and lenses change. So here are five + one.

The Small Catechism, The Large Catechism & One Confessional Work
Everyone should read the catechism at least yearly if not devotionally in prayer. Luther’s small portion, like youth, is wasted on the young. There are six parts. Take one a day for a week and ponder the answers. Peruse the synod’s questions and see just how full the biblical basis is for this foundation. Then Challenge yourself over the rest of a month to read the Larger Catechism and either the Augsburg Confession, the Formula of Concord or the Smalcald Articles. I’d challenge you to notice that even as the questions change and get stickier or more opaque, the fundamental question remains. How do we life faithfully where God has placed us? As Augustine might say how does the City of God reside within the City of Man?

The Freedom of a Christian
This is the crossing of the Rubicon work. Yes it includes an opening dedication to Leo X, but the offer reminds me of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace offer of peace to the English. Uncorking 120 proof grace and Paul’s letter to the Galatians – the inebriating joy of freedom comes through on every page. Written in German (vs. Latin) it was published and sold for pennies to the folk. And its final plea or prayer is for theodidacti – hearts taught by God as he promised. “Tolle, Lege.”

Surprised by Joy
This is C.S. Lewis’ semi-autobiography. I say semi because the main character might be Lewis, but the real main character is God. Lewis captures the constant presence of Joy in his life, even when he didn’t believe. He captures how this Joy exists mid toil and pain and still abounds and expands. And eventually he captures how this joy finds its fulfillment in the heart of God. “We are restless, until we find our rest in thee.”

Children of Men
Please don’t just watch the very bad movie. Read the P. D. James novel. We are swamped with dystopian novels and heroes from Batman to Katniss. James conjures up such a world that is all too possible, but also manages to hint at how this world actually works. We carry the treasure in jars of clay. The jars are always breaking, but life returns. And it is in the very weakness and loss that God is most fully seen. “Seek not to understand that you might believe, but believe that you might understand.”

The Aeneid
Augustine’s Confessions to scholars have always carried a striking relationship to this Latin Epic. Pious Aeneas carries Troy and the household gods to Italy stopping in Carthage with Dido, descending to the underworld, taking up his fate written on a shield, and founding the Eternal Empire. Instead of reading glory from a shield, Augustine takes and reads the scriptures. In the collapse of that eternal empire, Augustine would point to the City of God. Augustine would transform Roman piety to Christian, but it is worth understanding the original. There are two great modern English translations (Feagles and Rudin). “It was pride that changed angels into devils, it is humility that makes men as angels.” Or maybe, “the good man, though a slave, is free; the wicked, though he reigns, is a slave, and not the slave of a single man, but — what is worse — the slave of as many masters as he has vices.”

Plus One
And now for the plus one. All theology ends in doxology; all meditation turns toward prayer and praise. Pick up a poetry book. The hymnal was traditionally the layman’s book. A book full of verse. If you want a modern, try Dana Gioia. He has a good selection on his website. Your great-grandkids will be reading him. Try Litany and Planting a Sequoia for a start. Shakespeare’s sonnets are always free. Then come back to the Psalms.

“Tolle, Lege.” And do let me know if you take any of these up.

HT:Elizabeth Bruenig

Apologetics vs. Proclamation – Attempting to Write Again

I haven’t written much here recently. I think that has been for three reasons. First, I’ve been recording the daily lectionary. One of the phrases of the early reformation was ad fontes – to the sources. Emphasizing the habit of daily bible reading and reflection seems to be a prime pastoral example. Second, the stuff that I’ve felt it necessary to write has either been longer in nature or just doesn’t fit in a blog type post. I could write 500 words that might get read, but all they would do is form two camps – those who have the background to understand what I would write and those who would reject it simply because it assumed too much. I’m sure that sounds terribly pompous, but I’m starting to understand Jesus’ phrase “to those who have more will be given, those who have not even what they have will be taken away (Matthew 13:12).” Having just preached through the parables in Matthew 13, the staggering heartbreak contained in that phrase resonates. I could write 1500 words, or a booklet as I did over the winter that starts at the footings of the foundation, but seeing that length would be immediately ignored – TLDR. The division happens anyway – either by hard soil or thorns. Third, writing is expenditure. I felt that I needed to put something back in the account. I needed to do some reading and some thinking.

Part of that thinking was simply about a fundamental choice in pastoral practice. When teaching the faith or in evangelism efforts, what amount of time is put on argument or persuasion verses simple proclamation – call it apologetics versus proclamation. When you don’t think you are far apart, when you think the same Spirit might be at work, love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Apologetics is perfect. When you think it might be a different spirit (2 Cor 11:4, Gal 1:6-8) the apostolic example is not bearing with but rebuking and simple proclamation – here I stand. More and more I have felt that the simple proclamation is the necessary medicine, that apologetics are falling on deaf ears and hard hearts.

Why I’m writing today is that I read a piece of recent research that captures this feeling directly. This is Dr. Mark Regnerus highlighting some of the results from His Relationships in America study. I’m going to post in one of his telling results tables.

Regnerus Data

Among the survey questions, asked of Americans between 18 and 60 years of age, were positions on the seven activities listed on the left. Orthodox Christian teaching on all seven of these activities is clear. Pornography is a sin. Premarital sex (I take Premarital cohabitation as a euphemism) is a sin, likewise sex outside of marriage (i.e. no strings attached) is a sin. Marriage is to be for life. It would be acceptable for a Christian to separate, but separation does not imply re-marriage unless the first marriage was to a pagan. All of these are actually basic applications of the sixth commandment and Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:1-12 or Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.

The total sample representing that population, again Americans 18-60 years of age, was 15,738 represented by the “Population Average” column. Regnerus splits out four subsets out of that group. He finds 233 non-christian gay and lesbians. He finds 191 gay and lesbians who report as Christian. He finds 990 people who attend church regularly (churchgoing for this survey means at least 3 times per month) who support SSM. Dr. Regnerus writes, “In order to ensure this is not just an exercise in documenting the attitudes of Christians “in name only,” I’ve restricted the analysis to churchgoing Christians—here defined as those who report they attend religious services at least three times a month and who self-identified with some sort of Christian affiliation. And I’ve restricted the analysis to those who report a position either for or against same-sex marriage. (I’ve excluded the one-in-four who reported they are undecided.)” He also reports the responses of the 2659 church-goers who don’t support SSM.
Now let me attach this to what I was thinking before about apologetics and proclamation. I don’t know how this is possible but there are 5.1 percent of folks who attend church at least three times per month and oppose SSM but never-the-less think that no-strings-sex is OK. Now I’ve got to believe this might be a butterfly ballot and hanging chad problem akin to those Palm Springs Jews who voted for Pat Buchanan, but if not this is a group that you would use apologetics with. They might go to their grave with a wrong belief, but we all do that in some ways. Love covers a multitude of error. When you look at the response of the gay/lesbian cohorts this is clearly in the proclamation territory. This is the teaching of the church, when you are willing to give it a listen come back, but the first step is repentance. The troubling case is what do you do with the 33% of church-going Christians who support SSM and also agree that key parties are just groovy? The church has said apologetics for decades.  This is not what that word actually means, but it has been issuing apologies for clear teaching for a long time.  I think what this research shows is that apologetics is the wrong answer. The right answer is a clear call to get your thinking in line with that of Jesus.  (It might take longer to get practice in line, and we struggle with the sinful nature entire lives.  But it starts with orthodoxy, having the open heart to admit the truth comes first.  If I say I have no sin, then the truth is not in me – 1 John 1:8-9.)
Now we turn to the effects of such a turn. The good news, my guess is, is that a large majority of folks in the first column would feel heartened if the church stopped being a squish. But let’s explore the bad news. First, only 17% of the total population is with you. There is another 6% of the total population that are church go-ers. Some portion of that group would repent, but some portion would stick around and “fight” ala the Catholic Spirit of Vatican 2ists and the agitators that have lead the ELCA and the PCUSA off the cliff, and some portion would just melt into the non-churched. You would have dissension for a time within the church itself until it sorted out and the majority learned to ignore the agitators on simple questions of the moral law. (I think some of that is what has already happened, so that may not be as big a concern.) The second implication is that the reduced Christian church would be dramatically at odds with the society around it. Now maybe God is merciful and grants repentance, but it is just as likely that the simple proclamation leads to clear polarization. Good news is that the population at large is not completely with the non-christian gay/lesbian worldview depicted. But what those numbers also indicate is that at current course and speed there is a lot of ruin still possible. Imagine a world where roughly 80% had no qualms about porn vs. 31%. Instead of being late-night Cinemax it would be on NBC prime-time. PBS would be staging Masterpiece Theatre that had the refined take on what I shall not write.

What part of my thinking has been about is just how does a church that is 17% (or less in some places) work? And maybe just as importantly, how do you talk about that emerging reality when, for those say 60+ to match what the survey left out, this is not their experience nor the answers they attempted?  There are some very hard choices to be made.

Paragraph to Ponder

Economist Tyler Cowen interviews Ralph Nader. Prof. Cowen always asks interesting questions typically from two buckets: 1) the hard truth questions and 2) the questions no one else is asking. This falls into the second camp mostly but it is an insightful question and Mr. Nader gives a very interesting answer with a good deal of theological sophistication.

TC: If someone cited to you religion and American churches as the sector of our society
that has best resisted corporatization, would you agree or disagree? And if you disagree,
what would you cite instead?

RN: They’re resisting less. They’ve given up on gambling, and the main bulwark against
widespread gambling—outside of Las Vegas—and against government-run lotteries, was
the churches. But then Bingo started in church basements, and the gambling interests
went to work on the churches. They claimed that their businesses in Atlantic City would
help the elderly throughout New Jersey. The churches lost their credibility.

A society riven with gambling is one that bets on the future rather than builds the future.
So what countervailing force is there? Labor unions are weaker. We have a tremendous
disruption of the community civic values that used to hold commercial values in check. I
only see this emerging left/right alliance against the corporate state that I wrote about in
my book, Unstoppable. It’s the only political realignment that is possible over the next
ten to twelve years. It has the support of public opinion and sentiment. You see bipartisan
reform of the juvenile justice system; a dozen state legislatures are beginning to challenge
the extension of these global, corporate-managed trade agreements in Congress; and
there’s growing opposition to more wars of choice overseas. You’re beginning to see 70–
80 percent support for an inflation-adjusted minimum wage. You can’t get that kind of
poll result without a lot of conservative workers. And the poll results come in at about 90
percent in favor of breaking up the banks that are too big to fail because we fear that their
speculative octopi will get us into another recession.

Stanley Hauerwas – Paragraph Worth Pondering

From an interview here

Mohler: I get the impression that when you look at American Christianity in general, and American Evangelicalism in particular, you appear to see a church that is looking less and less like the church.

Hauerwas: I have great admiration for evangelicals for no other reason than they just bring such great energy to the faith and I admire that. But one of the great problems of Evangelical life in America is evangelicals think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed but church is a secondary phenomenon to their personal relationship and I think that’s to get it exactly backwards: that the Christian faith is meditated faith. It only comes through the witness of others as embodied in the church. So I should never trust my presumption that I know what my relationship with God is separate from how that is expressed through words and sacrament in the church. So evangelicals, I’m afraid, often times, with what appears to be very conservative religious convictions, make the church a secondary phenomenon to their assumed faith and I think that’s making it very hard to maintain disciplined congregations.

Feast Day of St. Athanasius

It is also my anniversary. Do you think Mrs. Parson would be upset if I told her I just figured out a way to always remember my anniversary date? Every time I see this guy, “hey, that’s the day I got married”. You should google image Athanasius Icon, I wonder why that semi-scowl is a required part of the iconography. I suppose if it is you against the world, we can grant you a scowl. As for the anniversary…
AthanasiusIcon

Some thoughts on church meditating on Bonhoeffer…

MysticalChurch

“How would you expect to find community while you intentionally withdraw from it at some point? The disobedient cannot believe; only the obedient believe.” …The Cost of Discipleship

This is the hard starting place for this generation. We hear lots of talk and angst and desire for community but rarely find it. We rarely find it because we are rarely obedient. There is a parallel within marriages or should I say our couplings. We withdraw. They can have our bodies, but not our hearts. They can have our presence, but not our attention. They can have our acts, but not our being. We have committed adultery before even opening our eyes. Likewise we are weak in faith and unbelieving because we will not be obedient to the Word. We do not keep the Sabbath, yet expect the Word to be present on demand. We keep a Sabbath mentally, but harden our hearts to our neighbors. Or keep it with our hearts, but stay our hands. We will not have a true husband or wife withdrawing a part of ourselves, likewise we will not have an ecclesia, a church, withdrawing ourselves. Thanksgiving precedes the miracle, obedience precedes the blessing. To those who have more will be given, but to those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.

“The community of the saints is not an “ideal” community consisting of perfect and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God’s forgiveness…Sanctification means driving out the world from the Church as well as separating the Church from the world. But the purpose of such discipline is not to establish a community of the perfect, but a community consisting of men who really live under the forgiving mercy of God.” ..The Cost of Discipleship

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!” …Life Together

If the devil cannot convince you to withdraw from the church before ever really being part of her, he will try the opposite course, to push you through to the other side. The quickest way to accomplish this is to convince you that this group of people you have turned yourself over too isn’t worthy of that offering. This works as one of those brilliant almost truths because the church and that specific church in and of itself is not worthy. They are not worthy because those gathered are sinners. The church will break your heart. It might even rip you limb from limb. It might even put you on a cross. That is what it did to the one you follow. The chief priests and the leaders of the people handed him over to be crucified. The lie that resides in the midst of the devil’s truth is that he has stolen the mirror. When you see a bunch of sinners, we should see our own reflection. Our churches have become devoid of the mirror. Which leads many of us to react like Bonhoeffer’s horrified righteous. We remain alone either because we leave that gathering of sinners, or because we become expert at helping our enemy hide the mirror.

The authentic community is a gathering of lepers who have come for the cure. “You sins are forgiven, go and sin no more”. Yes we will sin again. And we return again and hear the same words – 70 x 7. The authentic church gathers to hear both the healing and the charge. In the healing she finds her strength. In the charge she finds her hope. It will not always be this way, because hope will give way to fulfillment. The perishable will put on the imperishable. The corrupt will receive the incorruptible.

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.” …Life Together

Bonhoeffer here captures some of the shallow and rocky points to which the devil can drive us where faith can be shipwrecked. We can see four of these shallow points prominent in the American church of today. We are afraid of being alone or of solitude so regardless of confession or creed gather together under “non-denominational” banners. These gatherings often happen to be the largest because we are afraid of solitude. Not that the smaller church is truly solitude, but because we have no firm words to stand up we need the mass of feeling. The feeling provided by amplified music, lightshows, choreography and well-honed rhetoric often devoid of actual substance. That is the typical mood affiliation of the modern right(eous). Likewise there is a mood affiliation of the modern left that also rejects words for the warm fellow feeling of those who truly “love”. Because of being afraid of being alone the definition of “love” is so broad as to encompass those outside of the church as if they were members of the body. There also exist those who afraid of solitude conjure up the communion of saints through words. Not that the words are wrong or that the communion of saints is false, but we are not after the real content of the words, just the fellowship with an entity we invoke with words we do not understand. Those are the three shallows of the modern church, but a fourth exists on its periphery – in the narthex and the site of baptism but not in communion. The forth shallow are those who refuse the fellowship opting for the vanity of personal spirituality. The sole purpose of such an unconnected faith is to substitute the true body of Christ with a body that looks more and more like ourselves every passing day. Such a love affair can go on for a long time, but meets a rude end when on the death bed this body proves unable to save.

These are the shallows we are called to recognize and avoid. The life of the church is one of feast and fast, of fellowship and of solitude. We believe with the heart and confess with the tongue. We do not neglect to gather, yet we also ensure that we have our own oil and examine ourselves.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” …Life Together

The last peril is actually believing that such a place deserving of our love exists this side of the Kingdom. Even Ephesus was recalled to their first love. Philadelphia kept the word but had little strength. This is one part of what it means to be Christlike. Seeing the manifold faults of the church that separate her from our dream community, we love her as Christ loved her. As long as we are with-holding ourselves for our dream community we will continue to persecute the church as she actually is. It is only love, which covers a multitude of sins, that knows fully. Christ has fully loved the church and knows her fully. Can we say to the member that Christ has washed “I have no need of you”? There is a still more excellent way that everyday creates and abides forever.

Cultural Markers – The Stained Glass Ceiling

Here is the WSJ reporting on a piece of business news.

A couple of things should be pointed out:
1) Holding to the orthodox faith will now exclude you from achieving high positions in the United States. And don’t take the lack of future “news” to say people have regained sanity, what it will mean is that companies will have “vetted” any candidates for embarrassing thought-crimes prior to appointment. The way this works in practice is that there is now agreement at high levels which will enforce a screen such that orthodox would not even pass earlier hurdles. Call it the stained-glass ceiling.
2) In one sense this is not terribly distressing because the orthodox faith is one of being pilgrims or exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11-12). Being barred from the top levels of this world’s corporations should not be a surprise. It is also possible to still live a quiet and godly life (1 Timothy 2:1-4) which is pleasing to God.
3) It is distressing as an American because the American story, as much as I don’t like the word, has been one of progress. As we have expanded the franchise and the sphere of liberty and the pursuit of happiness to a greater number of people, we have never felt the need to close the door on others. This has been universally a working out of America’s Christian conscience. This generation is and will be the first to close the door on the great American experiment in liberty. After the Christians invited everyone in, they will be the ones shown the door. As an American, living to see the experiment end brings on a profound sadness.
4) In instructing my kids, if one of them appears to have such ambition, the advice must be to start your own company. One could council the closet, but just being a member of the church will cause suspicion. It is not a viable strategy. The good news is that barring a complete pulling up of the ladders through even more onerous regulation the US continues to be a good place for this. Now I would recommend going to Texas similar states, sorry New York, but the assumptions in those states are for new business.

What I don’t think most people will get, which I’d like to highlight here, is that my distress is not as a Christian. My informed faith is actually very robust here. Such things are actually expected. I can understand distress of more nominal Christians to whom deeper reflection or solid teaching of the faith may have been denied, but the faith has always included calls to deny the world. The American truce has just lasted longer than typical. My distress is as an American. One can only feel like Augustine or Benedict witnessing the end of Rome. The thought or idea, call her Columbia, that gave order to our temporal lives, is breaking apart. All that will be left will be dim reflections of her torch and the longing for a more permanent city.

Update: Nice to know that a Harvard Prof (Robert P. George) sees things the same way. If anything he goes further. My take was this is just about leadership positions or positions of influence, he says don’t bother applying.

In the Right Ballpark

The old rabbis made a hand-waving connection between the big commandments and the smaller ones. If you haven’t heard hand-waving before, what I mean is an observation that appears true but there is no immediate way to prove it. Mathematicians use the phrase when something is asserted that gets you in the correct ballpark and being in the correct ballpark is the only thing that matters. Mathematics and theology are closer disciplines than probably either group would like to admit. Since I’m a practical putzer in each, I can make statements like that. Any-hoo, the Rabbis probably got the initial idea from God himself who consistently compares Israel’s idolatry to adultery (Jeremiah 3:8ff, Ezekiel 16:1ff, Hosea 4:1ff, really the entire book of Hosea). If you have a problem with the first commandment (No other gods) then you will have problems with the sixth (no adultery). Of course what this is really useful for is going the other way. If your society is full of sexual sin, you have a deep problem with idolatry. If your society has a problem with stealing (7th commandment) then the spiritual problem causing it is with the 2nd commandment (don’t steal the honor from the name of God). This matching up of one through five with six through ten (sorry Reformed folks, we are using the numbering the Rabbis, the Catholics and everyone else did until Calvin) continues in hand-waving fashion. It gets you into the right ballpark for spiritual issues.

The one that I want to comment on is actually three-eight. The eighth commandment is don’t bear false testimony against your neighbor. Now all the law has a positive and a negative force. The negative force is don’t lie about your neighbor. The positive force in the words of Luther is “put the best construction on everything.” Our 24/7/365 existence combined with the ever present desire to appear “in the know” (FOMO anyone?) has created a monster for the positive force of the law. We immediately jump to putting the worst possible construction on any answer by people we think are against us. It is not just that they disagree with us but that they are evil. In more formal times we would be talking about words like slander, libel and smear. Rachel Held Evans, a societal bellwether in many things, is instinctive in putting the worst construction on everything. The most recent example is taking to the CNN belief blog to pontificate righteously condemning as evil baby starving people those who decided that they were no longer going to support World Vision after their initial statements per SSM. The best construction would have been something along the lines that following the revelation that World Vision was not what they thought, these people decided to move their support to another charity now with greater trust. For example maybe to Samaritan’s Purse, or to drop the charade at all and just give the money to a completely secular charity. Helping people is helping people. Nobody is confused about UNICEF also being a representative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or in other words, pure doctrine actually matters, even though our low content non-denominational culture has been trying to deny that for decades.

There are any number of things where the real problem in society is that we can’t tell the truth about our neighbor and instead substitute the worst thing we can possibly think up for their motivations. No matter how many pinches of salt are given to being a “uniter and not a divider” or “representing not blue or red America but The United States of America”, until the real spiritual problem is addressed we will continue tearing each other apart.

And getting into the right ballpark spiritually means looking at the third commandment which is about keeping the Sabbath day holy. Luther’s explanation of this priceless. “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” If you are tearing your society apart through slander and smear, the real problem that is being made manifest is the ignorance and disdain for the Word of God and the gathering of believers.

Now there is an interesting issue here regarding two kingdoms and the church. America is not the church. Confusing the two, as I am in danger of doing above, is not the right path. Addressing the spiritual problem flows in two ways. The easy way is directed as the great multitude of the post-protestant penumbra of America, the washed (i.e. baptized) hordes that have left the church or have taken up dissent from within for fun and profit. The call of Joel 2:11-17 fits. “”Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him.” Respect for the Word of God does not mean twisting it to fit your preconceived notions and self-justifications. Keeping the Sabbath means placing yourself under the Word. And the 6th commandment and Jesus on divorce and marriage (Mark 10:1ff) are clear. As I said that is the easy one. The tough one is that the same Word makes clear what the church is to do regarding itself to those who will not accept its teaching – 1 Corinthians 5:1ff. The fact that we have entire church bodies that have been lost to the church because of our inability honor the Word is a travesty worthy of mourning.

“Yet even now…” That is the call to Christian Hope. Yet even now, when according to human standards the thing is dead and lifeless, God is faithful. He is the God of the living. He is the God of resurrection. Our Hope springs not from our ability to actually call the assembly or keep the fast, because we cannot. Our Hope is the steadfast love of the Lord. He relents over disaster. He calls forth his unfaithful bride and puts her in white for the wedding feast. That is why we return. That is why the church will live. It is not our love, it is His.

A Prophetic Confluence

I’ve been really haunted by a few things since I read the morning papers. Today is Annunciation Day. For those who might not know, what that means is this is the Christian Holiday when Gabriel announced God’s favor in the incarnation to Mary. (Luke 1:26-38) Was it literally the day? Probably not, but it is set 9 months prior Christmas. (See, the ancient could count). Then there are two stories in the news. First the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case against the contraception mandate took place today. Second, and there is no kind way to say this, but the revelation that Hospitals in Great Britain have been incinerating abortion products as part of the recycling plan to generate electricity.

That last one, if you have any biblical history, should cause a deep shudder as offering children as burnt offerings is what Molech demanded. I’m going to quote the King James because it uses the most literal words here. It doesn’t hide the raw fact behind euphemisms of sacrifice and offering.

And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD. (Lev 18:21 KJV)

Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not: Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people. (Lev 20:2-5 KJV)

And he (Josiah during his reformation) defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. (2Ki 23:10 KJV)

And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee, And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle. Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind: Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter. (Jer 19:2-6 KJV)

And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (Jer 32:35 KJV)

I can’t help but feel like God is getting less subtle. This is the type of idolatry and gross immorality that should call for sack-cloth and ashes and full on prophetic rants. On the day that the church remembers the conception of Christ, we are reading about ways to prevent and eliminate the products of a conception. I know that this makes me sound nuts, but the confluence gives me pause. And what really gives me pause is that nothing will change. Lord have mercy.

Noah – Why I’m Looking Forward to a Movie

Noah Movie PosterCan I admit something? Well, I don’t care if I can or can’t – I’m going to. I’m looking forward to seeing Noah. I might even bring my kids – which depends more upon family budget than it does upon what is on the screen.
Now I’ve got some purely secular reasons for wanting to go:

  1. I’ve never seen a Russell Crowe film that wasn’t worth the time. Never. Not even the Rom Coms. He is the highest performing actor of his generation. (Maybe Denzel Washington comes close.) The fact that he took this script says something.
  2. I like Hermione. Sorry, Emma Watson. Along with the rest of the cast. If I was casting a movie blind, these are the actors I’d want to see.
  3. The director is roughly my age and knows how to tell what are spiritual stories. Go look at the movies he’s done. Each is interesting and a couple are near classics. Add to that the spectacle budget and what is clearly a passion subject for the director, this is the equivalent of Nascar. Even if it wrecks it should still be exciting.
  4. This one starts to cross into the theological, but it is still more secular. I would like to see A-list talent treating biblical themes. We can kid about actors “phoning it in”, but that is probably what #1 is about. The best just don’t phone it in. Even if the material is crap (see Crowe’s Rom-Coms) he himself can still sparkle. And you don’t get A-list talent in a paint-by-numbers biblical story. If you did, something went very wrong because the source material is so rich.

So, that gets me to the theological reasons.

  1. The Noah story has been so overly sentimentalized – we put it on baby’s walls! – that any serious treatment of it should be meaningful. One of the most haunting lines in the bible is Luke 17:26-27 where Jesus says, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” This is a story about the death of everything and our natural blindness to it. If the director needs to use global warming to do so, ok, he’s speaking from his experience. We might be blind enough that we need a physical prompt to consider the spiritual.
  2. The Genesis stories are sparse in their telling. They are made to appeal to universal themes. For a people that is no longer the Children of Abraham, these Genesis stories are where Spiritual wrestling can start. American’s are no longer wrestling with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob revealed in Jesus Christ, but they might wrestle with the unknown and enigmatic God of Noah. And eventually when you wrestle with the unknown God, you need shelter, because the unknown God sends floods.
  3. One of the great strengths of the scriptures is their refusal to simplify. When you read most “sacred literature” what stands out is how simplistic most of it is. When you read the bible, the heroes are often like Noah who does this amazing task of building the ark on simply the word of God and almost the first thing he does when he stumbles out of it is get drunk and curse his sons. Even Jesus, who is dogmatically perfect, embodies the contradictions. All the glory of God is best revealed on the cross. Deal with it. Especially if you are following a prosperity preacher or happy sunshine rainbows Christianity. I trust Noah in this team’s hand to not be simplistic.
  4. And the big one. I said this is a story about the death of everything and our blindness to it. That is only half true. It is also a story about grace. God chose one man or one family from the midst of the wreckage and sealed them in an arc. God’s justice and God’s mercy on full display.  We Lutherans call that the law and the gospel.   The worst of us (sin) and the best of us (tenacious faith) portrayed. However you decide to fill in the blanks, those bones are truth.