Thoughts at a 5th Grade Concert

Last night was the middle child’s 5th Grade Winter Concert. Of course it was wonderful. One does not think about these things on an aesthetic scale. But if one were to think about a bunch of elementary students singing and playing instruments aesthetically, surprisingly it isn’t the technical aspects of wrong notes that would jump to the foreground of the critique. Instead it would be the material.

Let me preface this with ‘I get it’. I know what leads to this type of material, but that is getting ahead of things. Let me share what I think is the representative piece: A Festive Holiday by J. Estes. The accompaniment and melody were catchy and upbeat, an interesting blend of African tribal percussion (Kwanzaa?) and vaguely Jewish Hanukah. The lyrics are the black hole. Here they are.

Come and Sing a song of joy and celebration and have a festive holiday. Goodwill, bringing Goodwill to all. Repeat in a round.

A practicing Christian or Muslim might see the form of a Call to Prayer or Call to worship. The problem is that there is no there there. Again ‘I get it’, but let me expand on this. Verbs are important. In this case we are receiving a command. It is called the imperative mood. Come and Sing! This is a command I am likely to follow. Your heart is stone if you don’t like to sing together. So, what is this command gathering us to sing? A song of joy and celebration. Okay, that is great. But why? Why am I singing with joy and celebration? Have a festive holiday! That isn’t an answer. It is just a repeat of the command. It just compounds the question. What holiday? Why is it festive instead of meditative or even sorrowful like memorial day? Goodwill, bring goodwill to all. Yes, a worthy call, but again, a command. Just do it. Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy. Why? What are you some kind of Grinch? I didn’t think so, but when given a command I usually like to know some of the reasons. Reasons, shmeasons, Come and Sing a song of joy! Okay, but if we are celebrating Festivus, the festive holiday for the rest of us, don’t we start with the airing of grievances? Joy, Celebration, Festive, got it. Yes, I think I do.

Let me compare that to a relatively standard Call to Worship from this time of year, a versification of the Magnificat by Timothy Dudley-Smith. Tell out my soul! There is the command. Tell it. Shout, sing. Tell out my soul, the greatness of the Lord. Why am I doing this? The greatness of the Lord. Okay, what does that consist of? Glad you asked. Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of His Word. In God my savior shall my heart rejoice. What is the greatness of the Lord that is causing me to cry out? Blessings given, His Word, my Savior. Of course the Magnificat, Mary’s Song, continues from there, but it does not shy away from answering the natural questions. It is up to you to respond, but you are given the claims.

Likewise let’s look for a second at the Islamic call to prayer. The real call to prayer leads with the greatest reason, but what is the command? Come to prayer, come to success! Okay, why would I come to prayer? I (the one singing) bear witness that none but Allah is worthy of worship. How do you know that and why? Mohammed is his prophet. Allah is most great. Okay, maybe a little circular, but it does answer my question. If I find Mohammed’s witness to Allah credible, the command makes absolute sense.

Which brings me back to my ‘I get it’. We live in a pluralistic society. There are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans and many others in one school. Would I prefer my child sing aesthetically marginal songs of zero content that invoke a feeling of the season but refuse to say anything else, or would I prefer that my hopefully Christian son sing a Kwanzaa song, or a prayer for the oil of the Temple to last for the Maccabees alongside Lo, How a Rose ‘ere Blooming? It is not an easy answer.

The traditional Lutheran answer would be stop the syncretism. If you must sing, sing the nothing songs. The better solution would be to enroll your Christian son in a Christian school where this would not be a question. That is still a valid answer. But I also wonder how much that is an answer that comes out of Christendom. If the Roman Empire had had universal education, would 3rd century Christians have opted out of it because of the Saturnalia Season?

I guess my real point is do I find a greater danger to my children’s faith in: a) the suppression of all faiths or b) a real pluralism that would extend respect to the other and accept the burden of maintaining a vibrant personal faith? To me what pt. A teaches is more dangerous. I worry that it teaches my son that words are just a power game and not a means to truth. Just sing a song of joy, you don’t need any answers. I worry that it teaches under the guise of “being nice” an anti-religion superior to all these people we are humoring with Festivus. And I worry most of all that he will be as flat and superficial and the New York Times editorial staff impervious to the beauty of what most people in most places thought was the fabric of reality itself.

Two Good Sentences

If you’re a parent, and you’re sending away to college kids who’ve never been asked to do a task that was too hard, or been given a responsibility they didn’t believe they could bear, or have never been asked to suffer a single moment for the sake of another—you haven’t succeeded. You’ve failed. – Michael Graham on Courage

Imitation can be as good as the real thing, when the real thing is itself bankrupt – Rita Koganzon on Honesty

Both of those from a good read – The Seven Deadly Virtues

Kids and Ears

Sometimes you stumble across that perfect piece of cultural flotsam. This is one of those pieces. When the history of 1960-20×5 is written this piece will be part of the social history. And it would be easy, and meaningless, to point out the narcissistic and self-indulgent presuppositions about life and marriage that support such a piece and how they got there. Meaningless because they couldn’t bear it, because lack of ears to hear. Instead I’m going to write not criticism but personal experience.

The one piece of criticism I’ll embed at the start, having kids, contra the article’s father, is not a selfish endeavor. Having kids is in the natural order of things if we don’t get in the way with our own egos, and having kids is the penultimate expression of sacrifice not selfishness. The Psalmist prays to be taught to number our days (Psalm 90:12), and to rightly know that our span is but 70 years, 80 if we have the strength (Psalm 90:10). Kids are part of that teaching. And they are rightly given to the young when you still think you will live forever. Having kids becomes an acknowledgement that I came from dust and to dust I will return.

We have three beautiful annoying full of energy kids. David caused many sleepless nights rocking. Ethan still 2 nights out of 5 runs in the middle of the night to climb into bed with mom & dad. And then he progresses to play “the little one” as he spreads out horizontally and digs the feet into Dad’s kidney saying “roll over, I’m squished”. Anna, the first, is perfect. (Oldest kids always are.)

With three money is always tight. With probably 90% of people out there, day care just wouldn’t make sense. You’d spend the second income after tax paying someone else to raise your kids. So we get by on one income. The family vacation is usually a stay-cation, or if we can swing it a trip to family that we can impose the 5 of us on. And the truth of that is staying at home is a relief. Everything is already there. No one whines three miles down the road, “where is my blankie” and if you don’t feel like picking up the toys at dusk, you can leave them overnight. The only frowns are the neighbors who by now are used to it. I try not to think about the college funds, because that just isn’t going to happen in any serious way. (So Anna, Valedictorian or bust). Also while praying for the $10,000 BA revolution to speed up. The 10 year old car I inherited from my brother better last another 5 years. But you do it gladly as part of the sacrifice. And they will do it eventually also. You have a vocation, a calling.

Being on the not too far side of 40 we figured we were done. As the columnist mentions, getting pregnant in the usual way after 40 is akin to “blowing up the death star”. But somehow we had been so blessed. We saw the sonogram at 7 weeks and it was real. A couple of weeks went by. That hope that usually starts building as the baby growth came around. Negotiations for bedroom space were entered into. Do we get a bunk bed set? Yes. Who gets it? The boys. Who gets the top? David, maybe he’ll be too heavy and crash through and take care of a couple of college payments for us went he joke. Followed quickly by a cross and a hug. And then that little child was lost. That child that the three previous ones had taught us well what sacrifices would have to be made. That child that would have been born on the far side of the half-way point of the 80 if we have the strength.

And unlike article father’s final question (what about our health?), I’d have given mine to welcome that child. No child is the “free one”. They all take parts of you. Which is as it should be. The one who loves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for the gospel’s sake will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul (Mark 8:35-36)? We learn to give it over gladly.

Lord have mercy on this self-indulgent narcissistic lot, including your poor servant.

The Epitome of the Sexual Revolution

You really need to read this story to see how it all fits together. (HT Crisis)

Single mom looking for cash (divorce?). Rents out womb. Baby has genetic problems. Genetic problems amplified to make situation graver. Renters want abortion. Eventually offer $15K to abort. Surrogate doesn’t want to abort after agreeing to the buyout. Lawyers get involved. Renters sue. Surrogate moves to state with different law. Turns out that renters aren’t actually biological parents as they paid egg donor. Because of that renter-mom has no basis to sue. Still pressured during 3rd trimester to abort. At birth, babies birth certificate lists surrogate as mom and no Father (it’s a miracle!). Surrogate decides she can’t raise child, but doesn’t want out completely. Finds another couple willing to adopt. Biological father comes back wanting a cut. Eventually gives us rights in exchange for information. (He’s held her! How cuddly warm of a Father.)

Yet it is orthodox Christians who are mean and nasty and unloving for saying things like marriage is between one man and one woman for life oriented toward the procreation and rearing of children. You are standing in the way of love goes the cry. Love per the scriptures is covenant faithfulness, living up to your promises, even to the cross. Which is what God does, but we fail at is miserably. That doesn’t mean we don’t call it what it is and run to Christ for absolution. Other than the final adoptive family, all I see from this train-wreck of the sexual revolution, of everybody just following their emotional needs of the moment, is a constant string of broken promises and heart-ache.

Broken Toys – Newsletter Pastor’s Corner Jan 2013

broken toy carsWell, the twelve days of the Christmas are not yet over and the big games have already been completed, and the first toys have been broken. Ethan was playing with one of those toys, a little more vigorously than he should have, and it crashed into the floor. The little man inside would no longer move. Rattle the object and it rattles back.

“Mommy, it’s not working” said with missing first consonants “ommy, it ot orkin”.

“Save it for when Daddy gets home.” “ok.” The clock rolls forward to those early dark winter nights.

“Daddy, it not working” (addy, it ot orkin).

“Well Ethan, it’s broke, it’s not going to work again”…3…2…1…meltdown.

There is an easy, probably too easy, analogy in that story to the world as it is. Sin breaks things. We don’t like broken things and we really don’t like people telling us they are broken. You might say that the United States is collectively having a meltdown after being told a lot of stuff is broken. But that is not actually the Christian story, or it is only half of it.

Yes, lots of things are broken. That is actually the purpose of the law, to tell us what things aren’t working as they were originally designed. At a very base level you have “The gods of the copybook headings”. We may really want to think we are able to manipulate and change and decree some things to be ok, we may be rich enough to support a distortion field for a while, but natural law always reasserts itself. The sins of the fathers are paid by the children to third and fourth generation. And that leads to finer level, the revealed law. The “you shall not’s” of the 10 commandments, or Jesus’ positive summation of them: Love the Lord your God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. They are a mirror to recognize just how broken we are.

But the Christian story is not just about Daddy telling son, it’s broken, live with it. The best that I as a human father was able to do was hug Ethan for a bit, and say “let’s see what it still does”. The little man didn’t move anymore, the rattle was still heard, but the toy was still fundamentally good. That’s not always the case. Sometimes all you can do is hug. But God’s creation is a little more robust, and his power is a little greater. If you human father’s know how to give good gifts, how much more your father in heaven?

God’s creation is deeply and fundamentally good. So good in fact that God took on flesh and dwelled among us. There is nothing that we could do to it to make it irredeemable. That is what that baby in the manger should say to us, Emmanuel, God is with us. He has not, will not and cannot abandon his creation. God loves it (chesed), a love of covenant faithfulness. God keeps his promises, his covenants. The slowly dawning epiphany on our meltdown minds is that the Father is right now about the work of restoration.

First, on the cross, Jesus took away the penalty of sin which is death. We are rightly afraid to look in that mirror of the law, but it no longer accuses with any power because Jesus took it all. Second, in His word and sacraments, which form the body of Christ and bestow grace on his people. And lastly through that body, the church, the Father proclaims his ongoing restoration. In Christ, you are a new creation, a holy people, a chosen nation, a people walking in his marvelous light.

In His own good time God will bring about the completion of that work. We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. At that time the sad limitations all of us earthly fathers and mothers face will become but a memory. In the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trumpet, all will be changed. Amen, come, Lord Jesus.

Kindergarten Wisdom

I’m not exactly sure how we got on the subject. I think we were trying to get the idea of working across to the Kindergarten son in the vain hope of picking up his room.

6 yr old – “Where does the money come from?”
Mom – “Right now Daddy works”
6 yr old – “How do you get money?”
Mom – “Well, I take care of you, and I beg Daddy for some money.” (Said with a grin.)
6 yr old – “We don’t beg, we just take it from him.”

1 step forward, 5 steps back, sigh…

Reformation Day Sermons

Full Text

Two choices with any Special Day sermons, preach the day or preach the text. Preaching the day is by far the more popular. People expect it. It is actually easier (maybe why it is more popular) – no translations to do, find some simple stories preferably cute about the people involved. But I think that puts the cart before the horse with most things Christian. The text or the Word drives the Christian story…drives the Christian. Preaching the day drains it of its vitality. The day becomes just another museum piece. One more birthday, anniversary or commemoration to remember. Preach the text and the living Word might show up.

Russell Saltzman here has heard or given one to many sermons on the Day. He gives some great examples of the species. It is also a great example of loss of hope. When the day has lost its vitality, it can’t inspire hope. The Word that inspires is absent.

Red flag of the parsons own views here – we made/make too much of the politics and the piety that came out of the reformation, and not enough of the original insight. For centuries the camps of Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed have gloried in their people and places and documents. And those things are important, but they don’t capture the complexity of the people – their tragic incompleteness. The original reformation insight allows for that incompleteness, and lets God complete things. And that insight came from the Word.

For no one is justified by works of the law…but now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the the Law – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:19-22).

If you read Saltzman’s last paragraph – he put his hope in the wrong place. Even the church, which will be protected until the end, is an imperfect and incomplete vessel – waiting to be made complete…waiting for the saints to be revealed…waiting for the righteousness of God through faith.