A Monday Morning Culture Review

Douthat on Tebow – This is a great article and if a Lutheran who is probably more religious than spiritual can have a mysticism this is it. The Bible is a collection of stories about people told by God in which God reveals the meaning of their existence. Our lives also have an author and a meaning. And it is not usually finding the plot line that is tough, although our age along with our authors outside of the Young Adult ghetto seems to have trouble with plot. No, getting the plot is not hard, but living it is what we so often refuse. Tim Tebow seems to know the plot and live it with gusto.

Nothing discredits religion quite like the gap that often yawns between what believers profess and how they live. With Tebow, that gap seems so narrow as to be invisible. (“There’s not an ounce of artifice or phoniness or Hollywood in this kid Tebow,” ESPN’s Rick Reilly wrote last year of the quarterback’s charitable works, “and I’ve looked everywhere for it.”) He fascinates, in part, because he behaves — at least in public, and at least for now — the way one would expect more Christians to behave if their faith were really true.

But the fascination doesn’t end there. Tebow’s religion doesn’t just promise a path to personal transformation. It claims that every human life is actually a story with an Author, and that a genuinely Christian life should make that divine Authorship manifest.

The WSJ New York Culture Desk (Might be gated) on a sacred music director, organist and musics place in a congregation called to the city. A quote that ties into that same mysticism above.

“I believe that everyone is talented,” the 51-year-old Iowa native told me over lunch. “The great shame is that many, many people don’t find out what their talent is. If you do find out, it’s the greatest opportunity in the world. It comes from a spiritual point—it’s God-given. So if you connect to that, it’s your obligation to develop it

And Pop Culture Wouldn’t be complete this week without the Hunger Games. I haven’t seen much really good commentary. Douthat above works it into Tebow. Here is a clear eyed look from a religious standpoint that shouldn’t be lost. A couple of comments. 1) The first book of the trilogy is such a tight and compelling read that when I read it last summer I stayed up all night just to finish it. The 2nd/3rd are not quite as good, but I plowed through them just to see where the author was taking it all. The first book was that compelling a story to impel the reading of two more. Although by book three I was on fumes. 2) It is not that hard to read Peeta as a Christ figure, although I’d prefer to read him as Peter (i.e. church), in that the witness is never as clear and not without faults. 3) But even that is a stretch as the article is correct that God just isn’t in the Hunger Games, at least not explicitly. I talked about the book with a congregant shortly after I read it. Trying to fill in that god gap what overwhelmed me was the blood and soil conservatism of the book. The lesson seemed to be everything beyond your People and your Soil will fail. The Blood and the Soil will also fail, but they are yours. An anti-transcendent transcendence, a subsuming of self into The People, into the Land. Which eventually everything returns to the land. It is a message ultimately of the law and the failure of the law. Even the undefeated Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire, can’t fight her way out of this. Even Katniss just ends up used. Only Peeta whose goal was love doesn’t care. In that sense the Hunger Games is perfect for this day and age that has rejected or refused to hear to gospel. When you don’t hear the gospel all you’ve got is the law, which can’t save, but still it demands its tribute. The books are a clear eyed presentation of the limits of the law and at best are a sign pointing to what is missing without ever spelling it out. As a preacher, they are a proclamation of the law without its fulfillment.

Thoughts on last night’s game

My family is in mourning today. The Steelers lost. In a Steelers household that just means you remove the gold. (Which was already gone from buying all the black and gold crap…)

Now for a little confession. You can’t help but love the way Tebow plays the game. Man, you’d love to have his physical skills, but really, he just loves being on the field competing. I told my wife that I was rooting for the Steelers, but I wanted Denver to have a good game. Midway through the 2nd quarter I was saying, “OK, that’s good enough.”

For some reason down the back half of the season we got a bunch of Denver games and David (the 6 year old) would join and watch. He’d hear his dad getting excited. David calls them the Denver Tebows. I’ve tried a bunch of times to say – “No, its the Broncos, Tim Tebow is just the QB.” First question when the game comes on – “is that the Tebows Pittsburgh is playing?”

The Steelers have nothing to be embarrassed about. Quoting Grantland here which breaks down that game – “The Broncos quarterback had a playoff performance for the ages, by any definition”. That was a great game. Neither team gave in. Pittsburgh challenged Denver to beat them with the deep ball, and Denver did. No shame in that in OT on the road. The other team executed.

One last thing a coincidence notice. It was news when Tebow left the SEC that the NFL and the NCAA were making the eyeblack messages out of bounds. No more John 3:16 under Tim Tebow’s eyes. They didn’t call it the Tebow rule, but they should have. Take a look at his stats for last night. How many yards passing? 316…That’s enough to make the kabbalists or the numerologists go bonkers. I guess I’ll go back to trying to decipher the date of the end of the world. (Just kidding, Matt 25:13)

Who are you?

Text: John 1:6-8,19-28
Full Text of Sermon

Who are you? That is an identity question. And it is interesting to me that a world that is constantly giving you something to “build your brand” around or upon there is little talk or understanding of identity.

Colin Cowherd – ESPN Radio announcer – is one of the most bracing and upfront announcers I’ve heard. Especially in sports where most coverage is “rah, rah” type. He’d hate this, or not have the vocabulary to understanding it, but he’s one of the best moralists on the air. But back to the point. Tebow keeps winning – and keeps making Colin’s almost daily rant look dumb. For the first four weeks of the Tebow run, Colin was all about how this can’t work and all the reasons it can’t. For an announcer who is usually so left brained logical it hurts, you could here the emotion. His accumulated logic and wisdom wasn’t working and he didn’t like it. If he could be wrong about this, what else could he be wrong about. But then he stumbled across a new line – “Tebow knows who he is; you can do a lot, even if you are limited, by knowing who you are.” He’s talking about identity.

The world pummels us with appeals to base our identity in titles and positions. Or it entices us and bullies us to forming an identity around cool, or traditions or the right way. What Colin stumbled across, what Tebow and his coach should be recognized for, is that they didn’t listen to the siren calls – “you’ve got to have this type of quarterback/team”. The two groups that came to the Baptist are asking those identity questions. And John confesses. He holds on two the only thing he has – the Word of God – I am the voice calling in the wilderness. He revealed the hidden Word, the hidden savior. He witnessed to the light.

We as Christians know our identities. We are children of God. We are the redeemed of Israel. And like the Baptist we have been sent into the world to reveal the hidden Lord. And all we’ve got is the Word – a simple confession.

[FYI, I wish I had a picture of this, but the hymn captured is our Children’s Choir. If you hear a voice getting a little louder at certain time, one of the Choristers was right behind the Advent wreath. He decided it would be interesting to see if he could blow the candle out while singing. One of those please stop, because if you succeed I will bust a gut laughing and I know I’m supposed to discipline at that moment.]

Monday quarterbacking…

First, Teeeee-bowwwww! Don’t you just love it when a guy gets beat up for 4 hours and gets told he’s basically just above a slime mold and then that slime mold has the audacity to win ugly?

Ok, now that football is out of the way. One of my favorite sarcastic sayings that has some deep insight is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Churches, both congregations and even more so larger organizations, do this all the time. And they do it amp’ed up on crack. Churches tend to give a theological polish to the way they do things. Over time that theological polish builds up and becomes God told us to do it this way. Cross reference Eve’s answer to the snake (Gen 3:3), “God said we shouldn’t eat that fruit, and not to even touch it.” God said the first, but not the second. Theological polish build up.

Here is one place where the Lutheran Confessions are incredibly useful. Augsburg Confession article 7 defines where you see the church. The church is where you hear the gospel preached and the sacraments administered. Staying at the local congregation – the kingdom of the gospel is found in the preached word and the sacraments. When the called pastor steps out of those rolls, he or she is in the kingdom of the law. That is one of the reasons that I’m a big stickler for preceding any congregational meeting presentation I give with something along the lines – “you are completely free to disagree with what I’m saying here.” And I make sure the signs of the office (stole, alb, etc.) are put away. I don’t want to add Theological Polish. But we have probably all been part of situations or congregations where there has been theological polish build up, where decisions properly in the realm of debate and governance are given sacramental importance.

Now move that to a larger grouping level. We call these synods which is a great old name and captures the true nature. It means walking together. Groups of congregations that share a confession agree by human right to organize themselves. (The confessional document Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope is all about this. The reformers were happy to have a Pope as long as it was admitted that his office was what we would call secular.) But when you get to such bodies you tend to get Theological Polish build-up of staggering proportions. Whether that is actual or de facto infallible doctrines, fancy titles and the whole mess. Or just what we all know as the arrogance of office and the hostility and closed ears to dissent. All backed up and supported with the general sense that this is how God ordained it.

So, if you dare to suggest that something isn’t working, maybe we should take a closer look at it and change something, you usually get a dumb-struck reaction. What this really is, is a deep seated personal response by the authority. What do you mean it isn’t working, this is the system that produced and promoted me?!? Here is the CEO of google Eric Schmidt showing some self knowledge and an ability to see this problem.

“Regulation prohibits real innovation, because the regulation essentially defines a path to follow,” Mr. Schmidt said. This “by definition has a bias to the current outcome, because it’s a path for the current outcome.”

Now I’m going to give you a hypothetical title, a C.V. background and ask a question. It is not a big secret that there are a number of congregations is rough shape. In response to that a larger body decides to establish a office of Congregational Turnaround to help the struggling congregations. Now the C.V.
B.A. in Liberal Arts from Synodical College (~35 years ago)
M.Div. from Synodical Seminary (~30 years ago),
S.T.M. (advanced Theological degree) from Synodical Seminary (~20 years ago)
D.Miss. (specialized professional degree) from Synodical Seminary (~15 years ago)
Parish pastor in out of region (i.e. mid-western) parishes (30 – 20 years ago, and 10 years ago)
Foreign Missionary/Seminary Professor (between parish stints)
Mission Executive in a small (in-region) district (recently)

Now the question. Would such a hypothetical CV and hire for such a hypothetical office represent doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes?

There is a reason we have Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party Candidates, candidates for president who have never held office before and a bunch of other things. Andrew Sullivan nails it in Newsweek.

The theme that connects them all is disenfranchisement, the sense that the world is shifting deeply and inexorably beyond our ability to control it through our democratic institutions. You can call this many things, but a “democratic deficit” gets to the nub of it. Democracy means rule by the people—however rough-edged, however blunted by representative government, however imperfect. But everywhere, the people feel as if someone else is now ruling them—and see no way to regain control.

Now a hierarch would point out all kinds of theological problems with that. Many correct. But that response would just be adding to the feeling at large. The deeper question is can we remove enough of the polish build-up to respond as a group, or is this a new wine in old wineskins case?