An Interesting Story

There are certain roles that are just intriguing both for the history behind them and for the challenges they face. The Archbishop of Canterbury is one of those. And there is a new one. This article has a little of his story and background. And I have to say that I feel a little kinship – from the boarding school background to the living off of savings right through the “you have no future” comments. Although, Bishop Welby sounds like a much better man than I am. He will have to be, reference the challenges the ABC faces. Here is a small prayer from someone across the pond that he might live up to the some of the great predecessors in that office.

From Thomas Cranmer, the translation of the collect for purity before the reception of the sacrament. Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen

Seems a worthy prayer on entrance to such an office.

Name Dropping

Ever run across one of those names that make you think, “I should know this person, but I don’t?” I ran across a quote/tweet reference here regarding the whole Gen. Petraeus affair.

Which led Joyce Carol Oates to tweet:

Don’t understand why “adultery” is quasi-illegal in a nation in which church & state are separate….

…..the ugly word “bastard” has been phased out of usage & next should come “adultery” with its Biblical rectitude & cruelty.

My reactions is order were: 1) those are amazingly ignorant comments on so many levels, 2) bastard might have been phased out because the person it hurt was the only one who could be claimed innocent in an affair combined with the fact that we abort them today, and 3) who is Joyce Carol Oates?

Now I vaguely knew that she was a writer of some sorts. What I couldn’t square was how a writer, especially a “serious” writer, could be so well dumb. If there is one requirement of an author it is usually a discerning social eye. So I decided to look Ms. Oates up at that first quick internet stop wikipedia. Usually there are titles that will jog the memory, “oh, that’s the book that I should have read if I want to claim to be truly literate”. And since I was actually looking for something to feel guilty about, this was not a large hurdle. As I scanned the significant bibliography nothing said here is your guilt. So following a quote I clicked through to one of the books. The first paragraph just might explain everything about this moment in America.

Blonde is a bestselling 2000 historical novel by Joyce Carol Oates that chronicles the inner life of Marilyn Monroe, though Oates insists that the novel is a work of fiction that should not be regarded as a biography. It was a finalist of the Pulitzer Prize (2001) and the National Book Award (2000). Rocky Mountain News and Entertainment Weekly have listed Blonde as one of Joyce Carol Oates’s best books, and Oates herself has said that Blonde is one of the two books (along with 1969’s them) for which she thinks she will be remembered.

Away with such Biblical rectitude and cruelty. Bring on the inner life of Marilyn festooned with awards.

Veterans Day (Observed) – A Meditation Direction

The picture and the quote are different wars that is WW1 at Verdun. The quote is Lincoln’s 2nd inaugural. Notice Lincoln’s use of providence, vocation for the nation and the recalling of the widow and orphan, both in great supply. After 11 years of war what are our reflections on the purposes of the Almighty or the just judgements? I pray that come 2014 when the last troops are out of Afghanistan that Mr. Obama can be so poetic, and that he would take the opportunity that will be given.

The Almighty has his own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

A Widow & a Scribe – Vocation and Providence

Biblical Text: Mark 12:38-44
Full Draft of Sermon

We collected the pledge cards this week. Believe it or not, that was planned before actually looking at the text. If I had looked at the texts first, I’m pretty sure I would have said, “can’t do it that week”.

There is a really crisp and clear direct application that feels just a little too easy. You could say, like Jesus did, look at the widow and go and do likewise. But to me the widow is not where most of us Americans are at. We are not that poor. We are not forced by circumstances to completely trust on the providence of God. Most Americans are more than likely in the scribal position.

So here I concentrated on scribe a little bit more trying to illuminate the vocational problems and the problems with providence. The law in both cases is clear and comes from the larger context. At the start of the larger section the text comes from Jesus answers what the most important commandments are – love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. The first is reliance upon providence and the second is carried out in our various vocations. What the scribe was doing, what we do so well, is instead of using our vocations for our neighbor, we use them to avoid or deny providence. The good news is that none of us have the vocation of messiah. That is Jesus alone. So we are still called to reliance upon providence and vocations of service to our neighbor, but when we fail Jesus is our salvation and our righteousness, because he did not fail.

On a grading note, that above paragraph is a better summary than is probably in the sermon itself. The spirit of the staircase rules this week. As I left the pulpit certain things became clearer. But the Amen had already been said.

One Last Comment

One last comment of a politico-religious nature. I’m sorry if some of this might be off putting, but it does strike close to the core of some “First Things”. As a Lutheran pastor all authority has its roots from the 4th commandment – “honor your father and mother”. Luther’s small catechism adds the phrase “and other authorities” in his explanation to what does this mean. The fountain of all authority and our understanding of authority is rooted in the family.

Extending out from that Jesus called his disciples his “mother and brothers”. (Matt 12:49) He also commits his mother to his disciple. (John 19:26-27) The church is supposed to become the extended family. And the church has often in the past extended that out further in the form of civil society- think every St. Luke’s hospital, Denomination Charitable foundation and school ever established. At the founding, one was connected first to family, second to church and if those were tenuous then often to branches or missions of the church. These church missions would often find other private citizen corollaries – like libraries. Look up Ben Franklin and Andrew Carnegie and how libraries got their start. The mediating institutions were often the church at one remove.

The last, and least important ring of authority was the government. The US constitution was set up with checks and balances and a bill of rights because those founders feared the government’s intrusion into civil society. The government was assigned limited specific duties in order to give space for that society described above to flourish.

It is not just me after this recent election. Here is Jonah Goldberg although I could point at many others. If you have “conservative” friends who are feeling down this is probably pretty close to why even if they don’t have the words to explain it. That order of authority: family, religious affiliation, civil institutions, government seems to have been overthrown. We now “all belong to the government” as was said at the opening of the 2012 DNC convention.

One of the stark lessons of Obama’s victory is the degree to which the Republican party has become a party for the married and the religious. If only married people voted, Romney would have won in a landslide. If only married religious people voted, you’d need a word that means something much bigger than landslide. Obviously, Obama got some votes from the married and the religious (such people can marry their interests to the state, too), but as a generalization, the Obama coalition heavily depends on people who do not see family or religion as rival or superior sources of material aid or moral authority.

For those of us who, like the founders, are suspicious of governmental authority as a-moral and coercive, this election exposed just how poor our civil society has become that it would choose leviathan knowingly. The death of a moral order may not bring the chaos we fear, but it is still a death that will be felt and mourned.

The New Moral Majority

That is a loaded caption, but give me a couple of paragraphs. The 10 commandments are a shorthand for the law and have long served as the basic bedrock of morality. At the American founding and at most times until the middle of the 20th century, both tables of the 10 commandments were accepted by a majority of Americans. By both tables I mean table 1 which includes the “God” commandments like “You shall have no other gods before me” and table 2 which includes the behavioral commandments like “don’t steal”. The moral majority accepted both tables hence Thomas Paine who was the only out and out atheist of the founders eventually went to France and never held elective office. We can argue about Deists and Jefferson, but the fact stands that for most of American history, rejecting the first table of the 10 commandments brought questions of one’s fitness for public life.

Starting in the 20th century but reaching acceptance in the post war years was a new moral majority grounded in ecumenicism. The phrase Judeo-Christian (per the OED first seen in 1899, but the first reference to a Judeo-Christian deity was in 1957) highlights that ecumenicism that the new moral majority was founded upon. The first table of the 10 commandments which ultimately says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and in a small hubristic addition “know who that Lord is” was pushed out in favor of a majority rooted in the 2nd table and an agreement to all be nice. My hypothesis would be that the people of the age, who grew up under and were used to the old moral majority, couldn’t abide tolerance and pluralism but they also couldn’t continue to ignore the plural reality of America, so they constructed a new ecumenical whole that doesn’t really exist. And in a phrase of the age, “deeds not creeds” were where the majority was at anyway.

That 2nd table moral majority, which was an uneasy truce, has cracked. There is a new morality that questions significant planks of the 2nd table. The 4th commandment to honor your father and mother which has long been a from-the-roots justification for the family as a special legal unit, and the ultimate ground of the state, is being abolished in favor of the individual under the state and contract law. We would not have the divorce rates that we do if we took the family as something more than a contract between individuals. The Christian understanding of marriage is a one flesh union made real in children. The new majority understanding is two individuals who have contracted with each other for mutual benefit and pleasure. The 6th commandment on adultery which moralized sexual behavior is viewed as pure prudery by the new morality. The 7th commandment on stealing used to be read as limiting certain business forms and transactions by social opprobrium. The new morality says as long as its legal it is fine. Hence we have “too big to fail”, payday lenders and unbankruptable student loans given out like water.

There is a new moral majority coming into existence and it will not look like anything anyone used to either of the older majorities would recognize. This is Rod Dreher looking at roughly the same thing focusing on the new morality or a-morality around sexual behavior.

The bottom line is that we are fast reaching a place in which before the law, churches that adhere to traditional religious teaching on homosexuality in practice will have the same status under federal civil rights laws as racist churches. Religious conservatives may argue that discrimination against homosexuals is not the same thing as racial discrimination, because there is, in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teaching, a moral aspect to sexual behavior that is not present in race — they can argue this, and they would be correct, but nobody cares, because the culture in general is coming to accept that there is no particular moral status inherent in homosexual behavior. Nor, for that matter, in most heterosexual behavior.

This is what it means to live in a post-Christian culture. We may wail and moan and gnash our teeth, but we had better get used to it.

As Mr. Dreher would council, the real question in this new moral majority is if there will be a healthy tolerance or if it will be totalitarian. Can the new morality and the Christian moralist find a way to abide each other in deep disagreement, or is this a to the death struggle?

Thoughts on an Election Day

Sir Thomas More liked to compare the English King (Henry VIII) to a lion. One of his expressions was simply, “if the Lion ever came to know his own strength” [fill in the blank with the evil that could be done]. The other was commenting on dealing with that king. Paraphrasing, to him you can play with him and scruff his golden mane, but to you all you see are “those claws, those claws, those claws”. Thomas was eventually beheaded by those claws when the lion did know his own strength.

Why do I start there? Well, primarily because the Christian, like the Catholic in Henry VIII’s England, is now playing on hostile turf. This is something that hasn’t been true in most Christianity since 325 AD at a Milvian Bridge. And if my darker thoughts are true, the lion is starting to know his own strength. In the United States we have always has a separation of church and state, but that was primarily understood and read as “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In other words, a two-kingdoms understanding was built into the American understanding. Two-Kingdoms is theological shorthand for the a temporal and spiritual realm each with their own legitimate ways of doing things. They interact with each other, both claim allegiance, but both are valid. What the US constitution said was Caesar won’t mess with the workings of the church. What we as American’s don’t realize is how fortunate we have been to have had that theology undergirding our political order. Why when the rest of the world in the 20th century saw vicious totalitarian states did we not? Because it was never our understanding that everything was subject to the state. The state was limited in regard to the church. Also in the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments the state was limited in regard to the individual/family as a sovereign sphere. (The state could not without due process enter your house or business.) All of that has been brought into question at this time.

Religion, as the theory recently advanced by the current administration at the Supreme Court and in the Health Care Law, is purely a private affair. The first amendment freedom of religion acknowledging a separate and valid authority (another kingdom) is being redefined as under the state. (Likewise with the patriot act (thank you GWB) the freedom of the family is also being usurped.) You now have the freedom to worship, so long as that does not restrict the state. You cannot take your teachings out of the worship hall and actually live them so long as they challenge the state. Now I am being a bit extreme in the fact that the Supreme Court in Hosanna v Tabor told the state 9-0 to butt-out. The ACA has also likewise just started to be challenged on 1st amendment religious grounds. But the fact that the state is aggressively pursuing rights and putting forth these challenges points toward the lion finding its strength.

The US has never seen a truly totalitarian impulse move ahead. We have always lived in the tension of multiple sovereigns: Federal, State, local, church, family and civil society organizations. We found our civil liberties best protected by that balance. But the Federal leviathan has grown large. Its mane has become luxuriant. Its claws look sharp. This election will not settle that, but that is the larger political question. Do we as a people still acknowledge two kingdoms? Do any of those other sovereigns have the strength to rebuild, or is the US seeing its first, even if it comes in the form of a nanny, totalitarian state. “What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” (W.B. Yeats)

Zombies and Saints

Biblical Test: Matt 5:3
Full Draft of Sermon

Zombies are real, I see them every day. In fact I am often one myself. Until I can put down those appetites and rest. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who recognize their inability to fulfill their appetites…theirs is the the Kingdom of Heaven. Want to get the full story, read or listen to the sermon.

All Saints Processional

That is our “parade” group for All Saints Celebration today. The beautiful girl on the left is parson’s daughter. I’m not sure how long it had been since there was a processional into the church. The name in one of the red cassocks worn was that of a daughter of Rev. Will Hansel, three pastors hence. Seems like a decent tradition to revive or start for Feast Days. Being Lutheran and having vestments and sacraments automatically puts us past the mid-point of low to high church, but that is one of the things that I love about St. Mark. We can have the pomp with a processional and choir and the next week might be protestant plain style and somehow we are still one congregation.