Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On the Demise of Used Bookstores

When I was a child, there weren't many bookstores where I lived. People then -- 1960s, 1970s -- bewailed the demise of literacy, and thence the demise of bookstores.

But now in 2007, there are lots of wonderful bookstores: think Borders, Barnes and Nobles, among many others. Not to mention such on-line sellers as Amazon.

Paradoxically, used bookstores are dying. Some are selling, and will, I suspect be different after they are sold. I'm specifically think of The Bookstore in Chapel Hill, NC, where I have spent many a pleasant hour, and many a dollar. The store is being sold, owing to the retirement of the owners. I wish them well. They have done a fine job. But I am not a very good customer any more. I don't go very often, and I suspect I'm like many folks: I do virtually (sic) all of my shopping on-line. It's become easy to find the old books I'm looking for in Amazon or other such, and I just don't care to spend much time browsing the shelves. Not to mention that Google and others are scanning in huge numbers of out-of-print, out-of-copyright books.

Will there be brick-and-mortar used bookstores a hundred years from now? 10 years from now? I hope so. But I wonder about their future. But I am thankful that it's easy to get the theology books I want, far easier, and far less expensively than even 20 years ago.

Niche Marketing for Churches

Most businesses specialize. Victoria's Secret doesn't sell bib overalls, McDonalds doesn't sell caviar, and your local landscaper doesn't do interior design.

So how does this relate to churches?

Most church members would like to see more members. At our best, we know that these folks need the gospel, and that their faith would be strengthened by being in church. At our worst, it's depressing to see empty pews, and we would just like to have more folks there on Sunday.

And we wonder how to get folks in. Let me suggest a unique idea: the way to get more members is by using a historic liturgy, law and gospel preaching, faithful administration of the Sacraments, and historic hymns.

This is the opposite of what most people suggest. I'm not saying that this is the only thing you should do. A friendly reception by members, a caring pastor -- all of these things are important. But folks can find that elsewhere.

By concentrating on the liturgy, Sacraments, preaching, and hymnody, a church has carved out a niche in America's relgious market. OK, I am not fond of this terminology either, but bear with me a minute.

The usual suggestions are that the historic liturgy is a barrier to members. Or that people want (what they need is the bigger question, but it's usually phrased in terms of "want") preaching that "helps them out." (Preaching in which the law dominates, in others words). Or that people in America's protestant climate are turned off by frequent communion, or teaching that emphasizes the church's sacramental roots. And especially, we hear that "people don't like hymns any more." That they want "praise choruses," or whatever.

The problem with all of the above is that if we put these ideas into effect, we become like most other churches around. My area of the country (mid-state North Carolina) is Baptist territory, and while some Baptists have not given way to things like the above, many have. And if we implement them, we become just another Baptist church. In itself, that's not a bad thing. But there's a concept called truth-in-advertising. And a Lutheran church that calls itself Lutheran and teaches, worships, and communes like Baptists is Baptist. Let's call it what it is.

If we become Baptist, why should someone go to us? Why not go to the (much bigger, better funded, and with a bigger youth group) Baptist church down the road?

When I see a Lutheran church doing the nonsense of "contemporary worship," I get mad. But there's also a tinge of pity for them. Why? Because they do it so badly. And because they tend to sound like idiots, with bad guitarists, no rhythm, and bad preaching. And I pity them, too, because they have been told that this is the way to get new members, and they can't figure out why in the end they always wind up losing so many members.

We shouldn't do this travesty called contemporary worship because it's wrong theologically. But if that argument won't work, remind them they'll lose members. They won't believe it when you tell them, but it's worth saying.

If Victoria's Secret started selling bib overalls, customers would quickly realize that they could get the product cheaper over at Wal-Mart. And if Lutheran churches start providing Baptist worship and theology, folks will quickly realize that they can get it better at a Baptist church.

The hucksters are always there to push some scheme or the other. Luther suggested that such people should be pelted with dung, and run out of town. Maybe you can't do either of those suggestions, but you can do the next best thing: ignore them, don't buy their shallow books, and sing -- loudly and strongly -- "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Another Housekeeping Note

In hopes of making this more readable, I've changed my template. I welcome any comments, suggestions, ideas, or thoughts about the template, or anything else.

What You Should NOT Do for The Church

You may notice in my "what you can do for the church" postings that there is not a word about political stuff. No advice on voting, no suggestions on being a delegate, and none on nominations for synodical offices.

That was no accident.

Not that these are not important, in their place. But ask yourself: with all the political maneuvers that have gone on in the last 30 years in the LCMS, what do people have to show for them?

It's a sobering thought.

If you are called upon to do something, and you have skills and abilities in that area, and are inclined to do it, then do it.

But the important things are the ones I mentioned. The LCMS in not going to "saved" (or however we want to describe it) by packing the votes at synodical conventions. Frankly, I think the LCMS is beyond the point of salvaging, but if you want to do good for the synod, then do what is do-able: and 99% of that is in your congregation.

Faithfully teaching 5 year olds in Sunday school gets you no fame. But those "little" tasks are the ones where you -- yes, you -- can make a difference. Don't worry about the church politicians. Do what you can do, and make a real difference in your life, in the lives of the folks you worship with every week, and in the lives of those around you who need the gospel.

Life is a Hospital

"After baptism there still remains much of the old Adam. For, as we
have often said, it is tame that sin is forgiven in baptism, but we
are not yet altogether clean, as is shown in the parable of the
Samaritan, who carried the man wounded by robbers to an inn [Luke
10:30–37]. He did not take care of him in such a way that he healed
him at once, but rather bound up his wounds and poured on oil. The man
who fell among robbers suffered two injuries. First, everything that
he had was taken from him, he was robbed; and second, he was wounded,
so that he was half-dead and would have died, if the Samaritan had not
come to him. Adam fell among the robbers and implanted sin in us all.
If Christ, the Samaritan, had not come, we should all have had to die.
He it is who binds our wounds, carries us into the church and is now
healing us. So we are now under the Physician's care. The sin, it is
true, is wholly forgiven, but it has not been wholly purged. If the
Holy Spirit is not ruling men, they become corrupt again; but the Holy
Spirit must cleanse the wounds daily. Therefore this life is a
hospital; the sin has really been forgiven, but it has not yet been

Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 51

Hymns and Sermons

A wise pastor once said, "Hymns are small sermons."

We should ask ourselves: if we wouldn't allow a particular teaching to be set forth in a sermon, why would permit it in a hymn?

The issue isn't usually (though there are exceptions) with hymns that have gone through a doctrinal review process, and are found in hymnals. It's with the ones folks want to use that they've heard, and think would be cool to use in church.

If a song didn't make it into the hymnal, there's often a good reason why it didn't. Of course, new hymns are being written all the time. Some of those will -- at some point in the future -- be included in a hymnal. But before using an untested song to be used in the Divine Service, ask: would I say this in a sermon? Or would I find this acceptable teaching if I heard a pastor say this in a sermon? And if not, why would we sing it in a song?

Just because a song has words like "Jesus" or "pray" or whatever doesn't mean it's good. Listen carefully. And when in doubt, leave it out.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

What You Can Do for the Church, Part 2

5. Encourage those who are doing good. This is not limited to pastors, although it is certainly true for them. Nothing is rarer than hearty thanks, and you probably will never know how much your thanks, praise, and encouragement means to those who get it. Whenever you can, of course, you should seek to educate and correct those who are erring. But never forget to praise those who are on the right track. All of us get discouraged in doing good; that's why St. Paul writes (Gal. 6.9) to let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."

6. Participate wholeheartedly in church. The main thing here is the Mass: listen attentively, sing wholeheartedly, and pray without ceasing. Pray for those around you, and pray for the pastor doing the service. But participate in other things as you are able: teach Sunday school, work with the youth, visit the sick, "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." (Eccles. 9.10) We all have limits on time, and most of us have family responsibilities and work that has to be done. So pick judiciously, do what you are good at it, but help in the task of God's church.

7. Don't gossip. It's easy to do, but there are few things as corrosive as gossip, few as damaging to God's church. When someone starts to tell you something bad, ask if they have talked to the individual. And even if they have, ask them what purpose is served in telling you. Keep short accounts. It's easy for us to damage our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we need each other.

8. Forgive, and be forgiven. We stand in constant, daily need of God's forgiveness. So forgive quickly, and be quick to receive God's forgiveness. One of the most insidious violations of the first commandment is to make ourselves our own God by thinking that we have no need of forgiveness from God, that we must somehow make ourselves better before we come to God. Christ died for sinners -- don't seek, no matter how important you think you are, to be too good to be forgiven. Virtually no one makes use of private confession and absolution, but this is as good a time to start as any. Go to your pastor, and ask to make confession. Very likely, your pastor will be new to this, too, but both of you can learn. Use the order for private confession, and confess your sins. This is not for the "big" sins (although it's for them, too): it's for all sins that are troubling you. Confess them, and be assured of God's forgiveness.

9. Make use of the means of grace. You are baptized, so remember your baptism daily, and make the sign of the holy cross. Receive Christ's Body and Blood frequently for your forgiveness. The faith you have been given is not some kind of intellectual exercise: your Savior gives you His Body and Blood. Rejoice in that gift, thank God for that gift, and be blessed in the mercies of God your Savior.

What You Can Do for the Church

It's easy to get discouraged about the church. We live in terrible times, terrible insofar as being a time of doctrinal sinkholes. But there are things individual Christians can do to strengthen that (Rev. 3.2) remain.

These things don't require you to be a pastor, hold a theology degree, or even be particularly intelligent. What they do require is faithfulness. Here are some ideas of things you (yes, you) can do.

1. Pray. When I was younger (that was a long time ago) I heard a speaker suggest that when we get to heaven, we will be shocked at how little we prayed. I think he was right. So try to remedy that situation. Seek to pray every day for the church. Getting up 15 minutes earlier can do wonders. When you have time (and 15 minutes can easily make this work) pray one of the Responsive prayer services in your service book. Or use the morning prayer service. And when time is short, use this very short, but wonderful order of prayer: Trinitarian invocation with the sign of the cross ("In the name of the Father," etc.), then recite the Creed, pray the Our Father, and close with Luther's morning prayer ("I thank you, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son," etc.) If you don't know these by heart, set about learning them now.

2. Learn. Know your Bible. If you can read one chapter a day (not a stretch) over the course of years, your reservoir of Bible knowledge will astonish you. Of course, knowing the Bible is not simply for the sake of knowing your Bible: knowing the Bible helps you know the Author of the Bible.

3. Learn doctrine. Start by reading the Confessions, perhaps going back over the Small Catechism, and then go through the wonders of the Large Catechism. Read doctrinally sound teachers. Challenge yourself. Read something that's not easy, something that requires you to be engaged in the argument. When something doesn't make sense, ask someone to help you understand it.

4. Learn the church's hymnody. One of the ways we worship with the church of all ages is to sing what they have written and sung. A good way to do this is to take a hymn that you liked from the previous Sunday, and sing it every day. If you can, sing it with someone else. Maybe your children, your spouse, or a friend. If you can't, sing it to yourself. Maybe you could sing it when you do your prayers. And a head's up here: I've never known a congregation that would object to your taking a hymnal home with you. That's what they are there for.

5. Teach. Maybe you don't have official teaching responsibilites. Maybe you do. But whatever your official responsibilities, teach whenever you have opportunity. When someone clearly wrong, gently correct them. If you have children, teach them. If you are married, teach your husband or your wife. This can and should be done in a kind and helpful manner. Just believe that God has placed you in whatever position you are in, and seek to help those around you.

More tomorrow ...

Friday, January 26, 2007

How to Deal With the Easily Offended

Virtually everyone has been on the receiving end of this statement: "I was offended because you--"

You can fill in the blank. "You made the sign of the cross." Or: "You have communion every Sunday." Or: "You chanted the introit."

Whatever it is, the question is how to deal with those offended by things that are either just part of catholic Christianity (such as chanting the introit) or are a part of being a confessing Lutheran (such as the sign of the cross, or the Mass).

The "offence" doesn't go the other way. Or at least it's usually not said out loud. No one says, "I'm offended that the congregation doesn't sign themselves with the cross." No one grumbles, "I'm offended that you only celebrate Holy Communion twice a month." No one mutters, "I'm offended that you don't use incense with your prayers."

I wish I could be more sympathetic with the offended. I used to be. I used to listen more patiently, hearing silently the endless tales of their offense.

I'm not very sympathetic now. When folks complain, I usually think, not unkindly, "Then go somewhere else." If you are offended because our Mass [another "cause of offense" to some, but that's another issue] seeks to be what the Mass has been throughout the Church, then I don't know what to tell you, except that it's not going to change, and that maybe you are offended because you are weak. (See Romans 14). And if you are weak, it is my job to be kind to you, to pray for you, and to instruct you. But it is not the job of the church to change because of how weak and erring brethren feel.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The 2007 LCMS convention

I don't like to ponder church politics very often. Most people who obsess about politics -- of any variety -- are fairly marginal individuals, and in the end we usually discover that very little of what good is done in life is done through politics. (Jotham's parable of the trees in Judges 9 is something we should probably read before every election day).

But church politics crops up sometimes, and now that the LCMS' every-3-years convention is coming up this summer in Houston, once again we hear confessional Lutherans in the LCMS trying to rally the troops, and turn around the LCMS. We heard similar cries in 2004, in 2001, in 1998, etc., etc. Doubtless we will hear them again in 2010.

But the reality is that nothing of the sort will happen this summer, or at any convention, except that a huge amount of time, energy, and motion will be expended on political intrigues. I was a delegate at the 2004 convention. I saw what happened on both sides of the fence. And the LCMS' overwhelming protestant majority became more entrenched. That's going to happen again this summer.

For those who have not given up on the LCMS, I think it's important to do some clear thinking about will be done. At what point will confessional Lutherans leave the LCMS? What is the point at which they will say, "This far, and no further"? Because if we have no clear line, then there's virtually no limit to what will be done, if the LCMS' current leadership thinks that confessionals will not leave.

Romans 16 is clear: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." "Staying and fighting" is not an option given by St. Paul. At what point will we realize that there are clear "divisions and offences" in the LCMS, and avoid those causing them?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Conflict Resolution in the LCMS

In any relationship, there are going to be conflicts. Any. When someone tells you that they've been married for (fill-in-the-blank) years, and they've never had an argument, you can know one of 2 things. Either someone is lying to you (very likely) or someone has been run over more times than they can count. Maybe both.

The question to a healthy ongoing relationship is how conflicts are handled, how they are dealt with, and how the issues in conflicts are resolved to work into the future.

The Missouri Synod, like a dysfunctional family, has poor conflict resolution skills. This is related to my earlier post about anger in the synod: the LCMS seems to have this cauldron of seething rage that just never gets resolved, that just sits there waiting for the next issue to come up and scald the individual or group who has the misfortune to jar the pot lid.

I've commented before on the lack of doctrinal trials in the LCMS. This lack is quite literally insane: no one can expect a church body over 150 years old with thousands of congregational and clergy members to not have some bad eggs in the mix. But there is something in the LCMS culture that wants to pretend that there are no bad eggs, no heretics, no issues needing resolution.

I know of only one (and I would appreciate correction here where I am wrong) case where there was even close to a trial. Paul Bretscher, the LCMS' well-known unitarian was finally -- after writing published books in which he denied the Trinity, denied the deity of Christ, and mocked what he termed errors in the scriptures -- ordered to face a doctrinal trial. He resigned from the LCMS before the trial began. A disciple of his -- who shared in Bretscher's errors, and wrote a foreword to a unitarian book Bretscher wrote -- likewise resigned in the wake of this.

In my earlier post on anger, I mentioned Kenneth Korby's suggestion that the late 1960s, early 1970s issues in the synod were behind much of the mistrust which seems to be everywhere in the synod. I wonder if that's what happened, or if the issues of some 40 years ago were not merely symptoms of the earlier problems.

The LCMS, like every American institution, has been affected by a laissez-faire attitude, an attitude which suggests that there are no doctrinal boundaries, no firm truths, no black and white issues. There's also an underlying fear in the synod, that leaving the LCMS is somehow leaving the place of God's salvation, that splitting or dividing the synod is tantamount to heresy itself. For a group which claims Martin Luther as a Father, this is an odd attitude.

What's the healthy response to conflict? Perhaps admitting to conflict is the first step. Going a step further, perhaps admitting that the resolution to many of our issues might involve an announced, amicable division of the synod (and the synod's assets) would be good. (The LCMS is not a marriage. Even her most steadfast apologists admit that the synod is an organization of human design, not The Church. Splitting such an organization is, to put it bluntly, like dividing a garden club).

It's not a sin to divide a synod. Such a division is going to involve sin, because it would be accomplished by sinful men. But a division itself is not wrong. And such a division would publicly admit the truth: there are already divisions in the synod. Pretending they are not there is just dumb.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Request for Prayers

I've never liked it when people asked me, "Please pray about so and so." Because I so often forget to do so, and then feel guilty. (And I remind myself that when I feel guilty, it's often because I am guilty. No smiley face on that one. I am serious).

But having said that, here's a prayer request. I'll phrase it this way: when you think about this, please shoot up a quick prayer about this.

It's to pray that church bodies will be faithful on the matter of the ordination of women. Several church bodies usually thought to be OK on this are struggling with it now. Resisting the siren calls of pseudo-feminism for the ordination of women is difficult in our time. May God grant all of us the courage and strength to faithfully confess what He has commanded. Even when it is not easy to do so. Especially when it is not easy to do so.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Housekeeping Note

OK, so it's Saturday night, and here I am in front of the computer. But my excuse is that my wife and youngest daughter are away in Tennessee visiting friends (our oldest, Matt, lives in Raleigh, NC now, and our two middle daughters, Katie and Alex, are in college in Chapel Hill, NC), and I'm here all by myself, so I had some time to work.

I've spent the last hour or so cleaning up links on my blog. I'm hoping that my writing will be easier to read now.

And please: if at any time something doesn't make sense, or doesn't read well, let me know. I would genuinely appreciate your pointing things like that out to me.

Have a good Sunday!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Children of Men

When I read P. D. James' novel The Children of Men a few years ago, I was taken by the powerful story she told of a post-apocolyptic world in 2027 where women are unable to bear children, and the literally dying world is sinking into a miasma of chaos and violence.

I thought this power-filled story was one of those that was too vast, too all-encompassing to be told in a film. I was wrong.

Tonight, I saw the Alfonso Cuaron film based on the book, entitled Children of Men. The movie is at once more disturbing and more hope-filled than the book, replete with Christ symbols. I was in tears. If you can, see this on a theater screen to catch the full vision of the action and the scenes: especially the powerful Nativity scene.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Advancement and the Problem of Seminaries

The problem of seminary education in the LCMS is the flip side to the benefit. The problem is that men are taken out for 4 years for training. They are given a good education, and are well-equipped on a number of levels for the Holy Ministry.

But I wonder if the seminaries are sometimes a cork in the life of the church. Taking 4 years out of one's life is a sizeable chunk. The older and more settled (think career, family, children, etc.) that one is, the more difficult it is for gifted men to take those 4 years.

I'm told that there was once a mistrust of second career men, those who had been in another career, and then gone back to seminary, and become pastors, so much so that the seminary now in Ft. Wayne -- then in Springfield, IL -- had a reputation of being academically inferior to the one in St. Louis.

The question I'm asking is how can the LCMS deal with the issue of men who have gifts and talents that could be used in the Holy Ministry, but cannot take off the 4 years for seminary?

Somebody's going to argue that anyone could take the time off if it was a real priority. OK, I won't argue with you on that. But the reality is that there are men who -- for example -- have several children, or children in college, or who are in debt, or whatever, for whom the 4 years is a real and seemingly insurmountable stretch.

2 years ago, I argued here that there should be alternate routes to training men for the Ministry. Ironically, it's often those who take theology seriously who are most opposed to any alternate routes. But things have really changed in even the last 25 years as far as educational technology and innovations, and I wonder why the LCMS still trains men solely as if it was 1943.

I'm currently in the midst of the following book.

This book is well-written, tightly argued, and tells a good story about the Primitive Baptists in the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. ("Primitive" in that context means "original," or "first").

I'm intrigued by the PBs, though I disagree with them on a lot: they are fiercely (and unbiblically, I think) Calvinistic in their view of predestination, and they are legalistic on matters about worship.

They also argue that since there are no seminaries in the Bible, it's wrong to have them now. They believe that men should be called to the ministry out of the midst of a congregation, and their ministerial training is a mentorship.

My experience with ministers who are not seminary trained has been that they are often under-educated. I assumed the same with the PBs. I was wrong. The authors of this book -- anthropologists who are not PBs -- found that the PB ministers (or "elders") they encountered were usually theologically knowledgable and biblically grounded, and their preaching was often skillfully crafted.

So back to my original question: why couldn't the LCMS do something like this? With inexpensive books (far cheaper, on a constant dollar basis, than even 20 years ago), fast-access internet, inexpensive phone communication, and the ability to duplicate materials such as CDs easily, why could there not be alternatives to the 4 year seminary process? No one's arguing that it's somehow wrong or sinful to have seminaries; they are good, useful, and a blessing to the churches. But there are other ways this could be done. Why haven't we -- except on a very limited basis -- done it?

Anger in the Missouri Synod

Almost 3 years ago, I was a delegate to the 2004 LCMS convention in St. Louis.

I left with an overwhelming impression of anger among Missouri Synod Lutherans. I'm posting this not to criticize, but to try to get a feel for this, and to understand what's behind it. (I'd also like to corrected, if others don't have this impression).

The impression is a mental picture. Every morning, outside of my hotel at the convention, there were young people (mid teens, I'm guessing) passing out flyers for one of several groups in the synod. I was overwhelmed with how nastily these teens were treated. One doesn't have to agree with a particular side to be courteous to other Christians. One doesn't even have to take the handout. A polite, "No, thank you," works quite well. But the reactions to the handouts was sometimes venomous.

Where is this venom coming from?

I remember hearing the late Kenneth Korby say that the events of the 1960s and 1970s in the LCMS had made everyone mistrust each other, that lay members were suspicious of pastors, pastors of each other, and of synodical officials, and that the events had corrupted the walking together that had once characterized the synod.

I have no way of knowing about those times. I was a long way away from even becoming LCMS at that point. But I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of others about this. Surely the atmosphere around the synod has not always been this poisoned. I'd like to hear where it came from, and when.

If You're an American, You're a Protestant

Some (thankfully, not all) Lutherans who have become Roman Catholic or Orthodox sneer at others as "Protestants," saying these folks should submit to the church (self-defined, of course).

The reality is that if Protestantism is partly defined by the act of choosing one's faith, one's church body, then virtually all Americans are Protestant. Even (maybe especially) those who become Orthodox or RC are protestant, in that they have decided (a very crucial word in American religious thought) that one church body is owed their adherence, and another one not.

I'm not criticizing folks who do this. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, was not satisfied with it, and -- after some investigation -- joined an LCMS congregation at age 24. Now in middle age, I'm again dissatisfied (this time with the direction, practice, and theological innovations of the LCMS) and I'm transitioning out. But it's always a matter of choosing. I'm not sure how it can be otherwise.

Ironically, those least protestant -- for this part of the discussion -- are probably those who grow up in a church body, and remain there through their lives, and are buried in that tradition. Those of us who are converts often keep that conversion part of our faith on the back burner, and use it when needed.

Is there any way to get out of this circle? I appreciate the thoughts of those who finally come down to saying that we must stop "choosing," and enter into fellowship with the Church, but it still comes saying which "aspect" (no, I don't like the word, but I hope my meaning is clear) of the church we are to enter into.

Becoming Roman Catholic means choosing that communion, choosing to submit to papal authority, etc.

Become Orthodox means choosing that fellowship, choosing one's jurisdiction, even choosing whether one will be Eastern or Western rite.

Just because someone is uncomfortable with saying they've chosen doesn't mean they haven't chosen.

Again, is there a way out of this circular way of dealing with the faith?

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Pharisee and the Publican

I've been doing some thinking about the pericope for the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, Luke 18.10-14.

I'm wondering if this passage projects beyond simply an event in the Temple, to an eschatological one. In other words, the event described is historical: I assume it actually happened as Jesus describes the incident. It is also given to teach us about proper reverence and humility to God when praying.

And ... I think it is also a picture of the final judgement. By God's grace, we will come to that judgement, not bragging about any good we thought we had done, and without any condemnation of those we might think lesser than ourselves.

Instead we will come in that final day, realizing there most especially that we're sinners, that we have miserably failed God, and that we have no where to turn but God's mercy.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Mary and Joseph and real estate

OK, so it has been a while. I will endeavor to be more prompt in my postings in 2007.

First place, happy new year. May 2007 be a good, blessed, and prosperous (in every sense) year for you and those you love.

A few thoughts prompted by the season.

According to Luke 2.24 ("And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons") Mary and Joseph offer the poor man's sacrifice for the firstborn child. (Leviticus 12.8: "And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons"). So we may safely assume that Mary and Joseph were not wealthy.

However, approximately 2 years later, when the magi appear, the holy family is seen living in a house (Matt. 2.11: "when they were come into the house").

My question is: what changed in Mary and Joseph's economic standing in the 2 years between Jesus' birth and the visitation?

Joseph is traditionally remembered as an old, if not elderly, man, so we might assume that he was in his years of economic decline, not on the upswing.

And while we can guess that the gifts of the magi were an economic boom to the family, or at least a bit of security for them, the living in a house is prior to that.

What I'm wondering is if someone can guide me to further information about housing conditions in first century Palestine. Does living in a house in Bethlehem imply that they owned the house? Or were there rental houses for folks then?

Even renting seems to imply some economic stability, if not comfort. So I ask again: what changed? The one thing I've considered is that Joseph might have been relatively comfortable financially, but that perhaps the registration, census, and taxing (in Luke 2.1-3) might have strained his resources, so that the family was temporarily poor, and that in the next 2 years, they had financially stabilized, hence living in a house.