Monday, March 31, 2008

Deep theology in the LCMS

After reading (a few years back) Peter Dale Scott's Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, I was struck by his concept of "deep politics": a political structure that runs like an underground river under the above-ground political structures of voting, campaigns, and outward governance. I'm currently reading Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct and he mentions in passing where the "deep" concept comes from: Noam Chomsky).

I've been struck by the other areas of life where deep structures operate, and I've been pondering for the last year or so the deep structures in the LCMS, and how those influence and inform the church life of the LCMS.

Much of the problems of deep structures is that they are unknown to most people, and not usually talked about by those who do know. And there's a whole arena of things in the LCMS which are hidden, operating, but not discussed except under the rarest of circumstances. (Without getting into them -- each of them could probably merit a book -- examples are a doctrine of the "invisibility" of the church -- a concept found neither in the Bible nor the Lutheran confessions, but tenaciously held to in the LCMS, the ragged adherence to an emergency concept of church governance, the unspoken fear that leaving the synod equates with leaving the church, and the theory of the wrath of God, that God is hates sinners outside of Christ, when John 3 specifically teaches otherwise).

In any community where there are hidden, "deep" structures operating, the problem is that we are often operating under things we don't even know about. The inability to speak openly about the hidden structures in the LCMS has contributed to an inability to deal with the enormous problems the synod has faced for the last 60 years, and continues to face today.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dith Pran on 20th century genocide

Communism's atrocities are only possible with a strong, centralized government. Which is why I stress the importance of decentralization, of undermining government power, and of stressing the rights enumerated in the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. A popular -- and serious -- error is imagining that somehow the Bill of Rights was a gift of the central government. Those rights are not: they were essentially forced on the US federal government as a cost of ratifying the Constitution by the necessary number of states, and they are there to undercut government power, and to tie the hands of the government. Without centralized government, there can be no genocide, because the potential victims will leave when they can. This doesn't mean there won't be individual deaths, but the horrific numbers in the 20th century cannot occur without centralized power.

Whenever we want to strengthen government power because we imagine that we agree with whoever is currently in power, we should remember 2 things. The first is that Rom. 3.23 is still true, and all are sinners, and given the ability, all of us can do horrific things. The second is that the wheel of history turns, and those we disagree with may one day be in power. With a weak government, the marginal people who always go into government employment (cf. Judges 9.7-15) will imagine vain things, but they will essentially be unable to carry them out.

In this video, Dith Pran speaks about the murdering Khmer Rouge in Cambodia:

Dith Pran, RIP

A man died today whose life symbolized one of those terrible episodes of 20th century life: the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. That man was Dith Pran, who was the subject of the 1984 film The Killing Fields.

I continually talk about people such as Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge because they are examples of the atrocities inflicted on the world by Communism. Ideas have consequences, and sometimes those consequences are horrific. One site estimate that 130,000,000 people died due to communism. This is in addition to all the other suffering inflicted at the hands of Marx and Lenin's ideological offspring.

I am sometimes atypical of anti-communists. I despise big government, I oppose almost all wars, and I think that the changes of the 1960s were good for American life.

But communism was a horrible, dreadful mistake. Whenever you hear someone making apologies for communism, when you hear someone suggesting that communism was good in theory, that it just didn't work out in practice, whatever, mention this man's name: Dith Pran. He managed to escape from Cambodia, after suffering almost unbelievable horrors. But 2,000,000 Cambodians did not escape, and were killed at the hands of ideological thugs who make Genghis Khan sound almost benign.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

If the service tells us about a church body ...

what does this say about the LCMS?

If the way we find out about a church body is through their worship, what does the worship at a random LCMS congregation say about what we believe, think, and confess?

Not a cherry-picked congregation. Not one where the congregation and pastor are specifically identified as confessional. Maybe a congregation chosen at random from the LCMS directory.

If you were introducing someone to the LCMS, would you be comfortable doing it this way? I wouldn't. But what does this say about the fellowship in which we live? Does our (collective) worship express what we believe? Is there a discord there?

How to find out about a church body, part 2: if they're really, really far away

I was listening to a report on NPR a couple weeks ago about an Islamic group in Turkey, a decided minority, one having difficulty with the Turkish government. They're Alevi Muslims. And they mentioned that their worship -- unlike most Muslim services, which are positively Protestant-feeling -- felt almost, well, evangelical.

I was curious. I wanted to see one of their services.

Well, suffice it to say that there aren't many Alevis in America. Maybe there are no Alevis in America. But I still wanted to see their service. I mean, this is not a big priority. I am not Muslim, and I will never be a Muslim. So I was not exactly willing to hop a plane to Ankara.

So I did second best. I saw their service on Youtube. But the groups you're interested in aren't that far away. So go visit. You'll find out what you need. Far faster than reading their website.

How to find out about a church body

Most people who read blogs (as opposed to those who use them to watch Youtube or find funny pictures or cartoons or whatever) like words. We (yep, I'm among those nerds) like to read, we like to talk, we enjoy hearing people argue about ideas, and we like to discuss fine points of theology.

So we hear about a church body that we think sounds good and we want to know more. And what do we do to get more information? We read. Go to websites. Buy books from Amazon. We imagine we're getting a well-rounded picture of a group. But the way you find out about a church group is by visiting a service.

I learned this the hard way. In the 1990s, I was interested in a Lutheran church group. Very interested. They sounded great. I had read tons of their materials, subscribed to their magazine, and got their theology journal. I couldn't have been expected to have visited one of their churches: the nearest one was 600 miles away.

Then they had a convention at that church. And given that it was the closest one, I decided I'd take a peek, go visit, get to know them in the flesh.

And it was a disaster. Oh, they were wonderful people, kind, pleasant, and welcoming. But I had projected what I believed on to them. I thought they were evangelical catholics. And what they were was mega-low church Protestants. And I realized that the guys I'd been corresponding with knew it, too, that this wasn't a match, and one of them kindly and softly suggested I might be more at home elsewhere.

The bottom line? The way to learn about a church body is by visiting their worship. We're not a discussion group, an academy, a study circle. We are the church. What we believe is expressed in our worship. How we worship expresses what we believe. And if what we're teaching isn't there in the service, it isn't there. And what's there in the service is what we believe, even if there are those claiming it isn't "really" what we believe.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What's the best way to contact?

So you're concerned about something. Lots of folks are talking about the KFUO incident. These are some words of advice for this (and other) situations where you have concerns. Use them.

The easiest (and thus most "ignorable" by those receiving it) is an email. I use email all the time with friends, but when I need to make a point (such as with this) I don't. It usually doesn't work. Your recipient, too, has a delete button. And they use it.

Next best is a physical letter. My younger friends may have heard of these: one prints out a missive on a dead tree carcass, inserts it in device called an envelope, and attaches a postal coupon to the outside. These tend to get noticed a bit better, if only because some poor secretary has to shred them.

Moving on up on the difficult-to-ignore scale are telephone calls. Don't be a wuss and call at 3 a.m., and leave a message on a voicemail. Call during the day, and tell whoever answers the phone what you are calling about, and kindly (don't be nasty: most of the time you're initially speaking with someone who had nothing whatsoever to do with what you're complaining about) ask to speak to someone about this matter. If you know a name, give the name. Go as high up as you dare. It's a good rule of thumb that the "higher" (I use this in a relative sense) the individual, the more likely they will dispatch someone beneath them to take care of what you're complaining about. (Thus, for example, if your local DMV will not deal with an issue -- and you've really tried to resolve it there! -- call the governor's office. They will have someone do it).

Next is a visit. Rules: Don't go in with a carbine. Dress nicely. Don't go in with a scowl. If you want to, just show up. Say, for example, that you would like to speak to President Kieschnick, even if that's sort of a lie. Odds are that you won't get to speak to President Kieschnick. But someone -- some pitiful underling -- will be dispatched to hear your complaint. Speak kindly to them, voice your concerns, make certain they take your name, address, and phone number, and -- again, kindly! -- say you'd like to get a written response.

The bottom line: the more "exposed" you seem, the more weight your communication carries. Everyone knows it doesn't take a lot of guts to send and email. But telephoning requires one to actually speak to someone. And visiting? Well, you actually have to bathe the night before.

I wouldn't wait for your pastor to call. He's busy, too. If you're concerned, go ahead and call. These people -- as much as you might dislike some of them -- are human like you, and they will at least make a show of listening. Make them listen. That's what they're paid the big bucks for.

St. Gregory of Nyssa's 'Life of Moses': an Amazon review

"This is a fine book on so many levels, as other reviewers have pointed out. So I will focus on one relatively narrow aspect of the book, and that's the nature of hermeneutics used by St. Gregory.

In our time, almost all biblical interpreters use a sometimes painfully literal approach to the texts. This was often not the approach used by the New Testament writers in their Old Testament citations, and that alone leads to a lot of confusion in our readings of the New Testament.

So it shouldn't be surprising that early church Fathers such as St. Gregory will sometimes use a less than literal approach to the text, as here in his treatment of Moses' life. And that's one of the treasures of this book, reading and hearing the story of Moses' life in a way that I had never heard before, in a manner that illuminated stories that had sometimes not made sense, and shed light on some obscurities of Moses' life.

You don't have to agree with everything the dear saint says to treasure this book, and appreciate his humble insights. This book also (like a number in the "Classics of Western Spirituality" series) provides a helpful segue into the early Fathers for those like myself who grew up Protestant, and had little by way of introduction to the Fathers. This is a good way of learning about them, fun and easy to read, and even a bit of a page-turner. How could you go wrong with something like that?"

Too cold for late March

When I got up this morning, the temperatures -- in Piedmont North Carolina -- were hovering around freezing. Way too cold for my taste. The question I'm asking in this post: where's that global warming we've been promised for so long?

Oh, I forgot. In many areas, we've had the coldest winter in years. That's Montreal. China had the same problem this year.

Me, I'm up for some warming. Bring it on!

In the day when you couldn't find information

Gather around, children. I have a story to tell about a time when it was difficult to get information.

In 1976, then Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz told an untoward racist joke. Not that this makes him unusual. But he was unfortunate enough to tell the joke in the presence of the priggish 1950s white heart-throb Pat Boone and the equally priggish John Dean.

The story leaked out, Time magazine reported it, not revealing the actual joker, but citing him (they were almost always "him" in those days) and obscuring the vulgarity of the humor. A hard-working reporter at New Times magazine did some searching -- not easy in 1976 -- and found the cabinet secretaries itineraries, and revealed Butz as the teller.

What intrigued me then was what exactly was the joke. And no one would say it. No one would print the actual text of the joke that led to a cabinet secretary's resignation.

The joke was stupid, vulgar, and racist. And honestly not even that funny. But I think that the American people had a right to know what was the nature of it. I still do. And I'm glad that the gatekeepers who protected our delicate ears in 1976 are gone. The internet has destroyed that possibility.

How to become a world class politician -- get married to one

When I was a student (many moons ago) at Moody Bible Institute a popular rejoinder to someone claiming to be a Christian because he went to church was, "Well, living in a garage doesn't make you a car."

OK, so it's a bit dated, but you get the point. And we can modify it a bit now: being married to a politician doesn't make you a politician.

Sen. Clinton has made frequent claims about the experience she gained while being married to then-president Clinton. No man would make such a claim; he would be too ashamed, but shame seems to be a quality not easily found in the Clinton psyche. Comedian Chris Rock makes the point personally: being married to a comedian doesn't give you the ability to tell jokes. Is this such a complicated concept?

The pace of news

News travels quickly. It always has. And with internet sources, it's even faster.

However, an aspect of news coverage infrequently mentioned is the generational divide in news sourcing. My mother is aware of the internet, but has never used it. But at least she's aware of her deficit. I still encounter people who imagine that the internet is a fad, and that in a few years, it -- like pet rocks -- will be remembered no more. A vivid example to me was that of Charles Robert Jenkins, who defected to North Korea during the Korean war. When he finally returned to the US in 2004, he imagined that his story might be covered in the now old Life magazine. 24 hour TV news coverage was something he could scarcely imagine, much less the internet.

The story about the cancellation of the KFUO radio program is an example. I suspect that those responsible for this imagined that most of us would learn of the action in the LCMS' news magazine, The Reporter. Of course, the story was broken within hours by my friend and former pastor William Weedon and in a week, the news has remained active, on his site and others, and is being picked up by even dead tree journalists.

In a way, one feels sorry for politicians. We are told by the Psalmist (116.11) "All men are liars," but politicians have perfected this trait to an art form. At one point, they could lie with impunity, and the poodle press would generally cut them some slack. No more. An example is the story I posted yesterday. Sen. Clinton, seeking to embellish her street creds as an experienced and formidable international negotiator, told a story of landing in Bosnia in 1995 during our invasion of that sad country, and having to dodge bullets at the airport, and generally not being welcomed well.

Youtube, however, put the lie to that little memory, showing a CBS story which showed she and her daughter being welcomed, greeted, and generally feted during the trip. Her spinmeisters are all over the story, of course, providing helpful and disingenuous explanations, but anyone with high speed internet connections can see what happened and judge which version of the story is correctamente.

Monday, March 24, 2008

False memories of Bosnia

The only thing worthy of honor and desire

"Since the goal of the virtuous way of life was the very thing we have been seeking, and this goal has been found in what we have said, it is time for you, noble friend, to look at that example and, by transferring to your own life what is contemplated through spiritual interpretation of the things spoken literally, to be known by God and to become his friend. This is true perfection, not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business-like and contractual arrangement. On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God's friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God's friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire. This, as I have said, is the perfection of life."

St. Gregory of Nyssa,

The Life of Moses, Book 2, # 320

Why the Super Bowl never gets canceled

The easy answer is this: the Super Bowl is popular.

This is a no-brainer. Any network executive who tried to cancel the telecast of the Super Bowl would be out of a job faster than Eliot Spitzer.

Which leaves us wondering: why did the LCMS radio station KFUO cancel the popular (arguably the best-known and most popular program on the station, and confessionally Lutheran, to boot) program Issues, Etc.?

I don't know why this was done. There are lots of theories floating around, and there's lots of people angry about it.

It's always possible that there are completely benign reasons for this cancellation. But it's an awfully odd combination of circumstances.

Which leads me to a few questions. Questions which need to be answered before actions are taken.

The first is to ask ourselves what the LCMS is. If the LCMS is the church, then we must stick with it no matter what. If the LCMS is not the church (and almost everyone in the LCMS would argue that it's not the church) then the LCMS is nothing more than a tool.

Tools are neither good nor bad. They are just something that we use to accomplish something. A hammer is a tool. A computer is a tool. A car is a tool. And a human association -- such as the LCMS -- is a tool.

If Issues, Etc. was canceled because it was a confessionally Lutheran program, then it's certainly worth fighting for the program. But if this is true, it might also be worth pondering why an individual or pastor should remain in the LCMS.

The LCMS is a tool. It might be a tool we love. It might be a tool we have fond memories of. It might be a tool that worked well in the past. But if the LCMS has come to hinder rather than further the gospel, why would we stay within that fellowship?

A group that cancels a program because the program is confessionally Lutheran is not a confessionally Lutheran church body. I'm not saying this is why the program was canceled; I don't know. But if we find that to be true, confessionals need to realize that they are a minority within a heterodox church group.

Some argue that they will stay until they are kicked out. More power to them. But know for sure that no pastor or congregation will be kicked out. Ever. Confessionals in the LCMS are a minority. An occasionally noisy minority, but a minority nonetheless. And as such, the various factions that make up the majority of the LCMS don't care if confessionals whine sometimes. Just as long as confessionals keep putting money in the pot, the others don't give a rip what we believe.

Leaving the LCMS is not a big deal. It's not leaving the church. In the big scheme of things, it's no different than quitting the Rotary Club. Making an idol out of the LCMS is not only wrong, it's stupid, pointless, and hinders the gospel.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ascension Day hymns

A few years ago, I was listening to a lecture by the late Pastor Kenneth Korby. In the course of talking about confession and absolution, he mentioned something that has intrigued ever since: the downgrading of Ascension day in our lives.

He used the example of the ever-decreasing number of Ascension day hymns in LCMS hymnals.

There are 12 Ascension day hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal.

In the 1982 Lutheran Worship, there are 6.

In Lutheran Service Book, there are 5.

I'm not sure what this means. I suspect it's related to the post-Vatican II changes that occurred in the Roman churches (quickly picked up by most Lutheran church bodies) which changed the season of Easter. Easter used to extend the 40 days from Easter Sunday to Ascension. Now the Easter season is officially 50 days in most Western churches, from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.

This changes Ascension from being the end of a season to being a place in the season, a sort of speed bump on the way to Pentecost.

But I wonder if this whole change tells us something more profound about the way we think about Christ. Ascension to the early Christians was a realization that we live by faith, not by sight, that Christ is no longer among us as a visible-to-the-eyes presence, but that we trust in Him by faith, and that we hear Him, rather than seeing Him.

Has that changed? Have we subtly (in the West) moved to a more triumphal type of faith, a Pentecost faith, rather than an Ascension faith? I'm not sure. I'd appreciate any insights from those more learned than myself.

But the changes in the hymnal are not accidental. They signal something to us. What they signal, I'm not totally certain. But there is a change. The change may be benign. But it's important to recognize the change, and understand it, and not follow blindly to what is perhaps a newer theology than we realize.

Holy Saturday

On this day, we quietly remember Christ in the tomb.

We, too, will lie in the tomb. It is a sobering thought to remember that in the midst of all our doings, in the midst of all our work, in the midst of all our trials, that it will end in a grave.

But the grave is not the end. And that is the message of Easter, of course, which we anticipate tomorrow in the midst of remembering our Savior lying in the tomb.

We wait in faith for the Resurrection. The disciples who mourned the death of Jesus almost 2,000 years ago waited in faith, as well. He had promised them that He would rise on the third day.

We know that He rose. What we are sometimes tempted to doubt is whether we will rise. Whether the grave is our end. It is not. Christ rose, the first fruits of all of creation. We will lie in the grave. But it is not the end.

Friday, March 21, 2008

How John McCain threatens the pro-life cause

Given that Sen. John McCain is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, conservatives, constitutionalists and pro-lifers are given a dismal choice in November. The probable nominee for the Democratic party is Sen. Barack Obama, who is unashamedly pro-abortion. What is not being talked about in conservative circles is that so is John McCain. I would not presume to suggest how people should vote under these circumstances, but given that the McCain campaign will be trying to persuade people that John McCain is pro-life, the following article bears re-reading.

This is not new: it was originally published in 2000, in response to John McCain's campaign that year. But nothing of substance has changed. John McCain is pro-abortion. Pro-life voters who delude themselves into thinking that McCain is their man will find themselves shocked at what would come out of the White House in the unlikely event of a McCain victory.

By Douglas Johnson, Legislative Director, National Right to Life Committee

"(February 20, 2000) — The presidential candidacy of Senator John McCain (R-Az.) has posed a significant threat to future advances by the pro-life movement.

Earlier this month, the Board of Directors of the National Right to Life Committee — made up of an elected delegate from each state NRLC affiliate — overwhelmingly voted to endorse George W. Bush. That vote recognized Bush's strong pro-life credentials. It also reflected the recognition among many knowledgeable observers that if elected president, McCain would be unlikely to use the office's powers to advance the pro-life cause.

In earlier stages of his presidential campaign, McCain made little effort to conceal his disrespect for the pro-life movement. For example, during an appearance on the Don Imus radio show on November 23, McCain referred disparagingly to "otherwise intelligent people who say that that's the only issue that will determine their vote."

But after his victory in the New Hampshire primary on February 1, McCain began working hard to appeal to pro-life voters in South Carolina and other states.

In response to criticism from NRLC and its affiliates, McCain has relied on two main defenses. First, he declares that his "17-year voting record" in Congress proves that he is "pro-life." Second, he charges that NRLC's criticisms are motivated entirely by opposition to his so-called "campaign finance reform" proposals" — a bill that, as McCain characterizes it, would hurt NRLC's "business." This second defense is basically a diversionary tactic, intended to evade close scrutiny of the inadequacies of McCain's pro-life positions.

Roe v. Wade

McCain joined the House in 1983, and became a senator in 1987. During his 17 years in Congress, McCain has usually voted anti-abortion — but for a presidential candidate, that is not the only important data. After all, Al Gore had an 84% pro-life voting record as a member of the House of Representatives (1977-84), but he embraced the entire pro-abortion agenda once he reached the Senate and began to run for president. John McCain is not Al Gore — but the clearest warnings about what a McCain presidency might entail are found in things that McCain has said and done over the past year, since he started running for President in earnest.

One example is what McCain said when he met with the editorial board of the very liberal San Francisco Chronicle on August 19, 1999:

"I'd love to see a point where it (Roe v. Wade) is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations."

This was no more mere inartful wording. Rather, McCain actually offered a rationale for opposing repeal of Roe — that it would "force" many women to have dangerous illegal abortions. This, of course, is a very familiar argument, voiced often by politicians who support the continuation of legal abortion. In short, McCain embraced the "necessary evil" thinking of the pro-abortion movement.

When ABC's Sam Donaldson recently asked McCain about his statement to the Chronicle, McCain said that he "misspoke." But McCain has yet to explain why he argued as he did to the newspaper's editors. Did he believe what he said? And if he did, has he changed his mind, and if so, why?

On the January 18 Jane Chastain's radio show, Cyndi Mosteller, who serves as "National Policy Advisor for Family & Cultural Issues" for the McCain campaign, was asked about McCain's statement to the Chronicle. Mosteller replied that McCain had "made a mistake" under hard questioning by the newspaper editors. "They ate his lunch," she said, adding, "They were getting on him. And he said [to Mosteller], 'I was not strong when I needed to be strong.'"

In reality, however, McCain repeated similar arguments in at least three other interviews. At a campaign event, he said, "I would not seek to overturn Roe v. Wade tomorrow, because doing so would endanger the lives of women," World magazine reported on August 21. In a written release dated August 22, McCain said, "If Roe v. Wade were repealed tomorrow, it would force thousands of young women to undergo dangerous and illegal operations." And on Cable News Network on August 22, McCain said, "We all know, and it's obvious, that if we repeal Roe versus Wade tomorrow, thousands of young American women would be performing illegal and dangerous operations."

McCain also wrote, "I will continue to work with both pro-life and pro- choice Americans so that we can eliminate the need for abortions to be performed in this country." [emphasis added]

These statements tracked the rhetoric of the pro-abortion movement. The pro-life movement does not believe that there is a "need" to kill unborn children, or that restoring legal protection to unborn children will "force" anyone to violate the law.

In more recent utterances, including appearances in South Carolina, McCain has said that he favors the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and that he believes that states ought to make abortion illegal (except to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest). But pro-lifers would be foolish to ignore the evidence of McCain's real inner thinking provided by his earlier statements. It is noteworthy that during McCain's 17 years in Congress, he never had an opportunity to vote on Roe v. Wade until October 21, 1999, when the Senate voted on a resolution-style amendment by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to endorse Roe v. Wade. McCain skipped the vote to make an extra campaign appearance in New Hampshire, as documented in a local newspaper. The amendment passed narrowly.

Others Agree

NRLC is hardly alone in recognizing that Bush and McCain would handle the abortion issue very differently as president. Bush has been endorsed by the most prominent pro-life leaders in Congress, including Congressman Henry Hyde, Congressman Chris Smith, and Congressman Charles Canady. "I'm convinced of Gov. Bush's commitment to the pro-life cause," said Hyde, who has criticized McCain for advocating weakening of the Republican Party's pro-life platform plank.

Pro-abortion leaders also see a big difference. Following McCain's win in the New Hampshire primary, the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition said that based on exit polls, "pro-choice Republicans overwhelmingly preferred McCain above all the other candidates."

Moreover, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) funded TV ads in New Hampshire attacking Bush for nearly a year before the New Hampshire primary, but never a single ad criticizing McCain.

McCain Winks on Abortion

A revealing observation was made on February 8 by Steven Brill, editor of the magazine Brill's Content, which covers the news media.

Speaking on the Fox News Channel program "The Edge", Brill said two reporters covering the McCain campaign told him, 'You know, he really doesn't feel that strongly about abortion and about — he isn't really as pro-gun as he lets on in the campaign. He has to do that because it's a Republican primary, but he's kind of let us know that he's not that hard-edged on those subjects.'"

Brill went on, "The point I'm making is that he was given permission, at least by these two guys [journalists], to pander. One of them actually said, 'At least when McCain panders he sort of lets us know he's doing it, and he kind of winks and kind of enjoys it, so he's a good guy.' Well, he's not letting the rest of the country know he's pandering."

In the same vein, liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote on December 15, "McCain's people whisper, Don't worry. He's not really so anti-abortion."

Voting Record

McCain served in the House of Representatives from 1983-86 and in the Senate from 1987 to date. Throughout that period, McCain did not initiate pro-life amendments or otherwise take an activist role, but he did vote pro-life with a few exceptions. The most important exception was on the issue of federal funding of experimentation using body parts of aborted babies.

This question — usually referred to in the press as the "fetal tissue" issue — became a matter of major controversy during the Bush Administration. The Bush Administration blocked the use of federal funds for certain experimentation utilizing tissue taken from aborted babies.

In a January 7, 1992 letter to Arizona Right to Life, McCain promised to support President Bush's ban on federal funding of such abortion- dependent research. "I have no intention of supporting the use of fetal tissue resulting from artificially-induced abortions for research purposes," McCain wrote.

A few months later, however, McCain began voting to overturn Bush's pro-life policy — a drive that succeeded after President Clinton took office.

The issue surfaced again in 1997, during consideration of a bill to expand federally sponsored research into Parkinson's disease, sponsored by McCain and Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Mn.). Pro-life Senator Dan Coats (R- In.) offered an amendment to prevent the use of the newly authorized funds for abortion-dependent fetal tissue research, but McCain prevailed in defeating the amendment, 60-35. (Sept. 4, 1997, Senate rollcall Vote No. 215.) Recently, McCain has falsely implied that only four senators disagreed with his position on the issue.

[A detailed memorandum documenting McCain's statements and votes on the fetal-tissue issue is available at]

Warren Rudman

On January 15, McCain said that if elected president, he might appoint former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH) — his close advisor and the co- chairman of the national McCain campaign — as U.S. attorney general. As a senator, Rudman voted to preserve Roe v. Wade, and was an active opponent of other pro-life efforts legislative efforts.

The attorney general is the cabinet officer who most often serves as a president's key advisor on Supreme Court appointments, and who oversees the positions taken by an administration on issues before the Supreme Court.

Rudman voted to confirm anti-Roe v. Wade Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, but later wrote in his 1996 memoirs, "If my vote had been the deciding one, I would have voted against Thomas, no matter what the consequences."

Rudman has been harshly critical of the pro-life movement and of Christian conservatives. He wrote, "If someone had told me in the 1960s that one day I would serve in a Republican Party that opposed abortion rights — which the Supreme Court had endorsed — advocated prayer in the schools, and talked about government-inspired 'family values,' I would have thought he was crazy."

Also, "Politically speaking, the Republican Party is making a terrible mistake if it appears to ally itself with the Christian right" — a group that he identified as rife with "antiabortion zealots" and "bigots," among other undesirables.

In a February 15 debate in South Carolina, Bush confronted McCain regarding Rudman, noting that Rudman had described the Christian Coalition as "bigots." Bush asked McCain, "I know you don't believe that, do you?" But McCain refused the invitation to repudiate Rudman's words, responding instead, "George, he's entitled to his opinion on that issue."

Moderator Larry King also invited McCain to "disclaim what Rudman said," but McCain did not respond.

Subsequently, Rudman told Manchester Union-Leader reporter John DiStaso that "he most certainly did call the Christian Coalition bigots," and "he included leaders of other conservative groups in the description, to boot." (Union-Leader, Sept. 17)

When, in the February 15 debate, Bush said that "every child, born and unborn, should be protected in law," McCain immediately attacked Bush for his opposition to adding exceptions for rape and incest to the pro-life plank in the Republican platform.

Free Speech About Political Figures

NRLC has certainly made no secret of its strong opposition to certain key components of McCain's "campaign finance reform" proposals, which would cripple the ability of NRLC and other pro-life groups to communicate with the public about the positions and actions of those who hold or seek federal office.

In some recent communications, McCain has emphasized that the latest version of his bill, introduced last October, did not contain the provisions restricting commentary on politicians by issue-oriented groups such as NRLC. However, at the time McCain made it clear that he was proposing a "stripped-down " bill only for tactical reasons, to try to overcome a filibuster for bill opponents — not because he'd changed his mind. Indeed, when Senate Democrats forced a vote on the House-passed Shays-Meehan bill which contains sweeping restrictions on political free speech by independent groups McCain voted for it. (Oct. 19, 1999)

As recently as December 22, McCain told the Associated Press, 'If I could think of a way constitutionally, I would ban negative ads.'"

Judging candidates by their church

First, a caveat: even though I'm dealing with an issue around Sen. Barack Obama, this is not about electoral politics.

What I am seeking to explore is the nature of public forgiveness, acceptance, and renunciation.

Sen. Obama is a member of Trinity United Church of Christ, in Chicago. Trinity is a congregation of the UCC, and proclaims that it is "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian." The congregation's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has come under attack in recent days for various public statements he has made. He has equated Zionism as racism. He charged that the 9/11 events were caused by America's violent policies, and later charged that the events were retribution for America's racism. He has also charged that the AIDS syndrome is a man-made affliction, specifically that it is caused by a virus which was invented by the US government.

Sen. Obama has made what I think is a good speech on the question of race in America. In that speech, he spoke about Pastor Wright's assertions and said that Wright represented an older generation's views on race in America. Obama went on to say that he while he disavowed Wright's statements, he could no more sever his relationship with Wright than he could sever his relationship with black America.

I'm going to suspect that Sen. Obama views Wright as a spiritual father. It was Wright who led Obama to his Christian faith, and Wright who married Barack and Michelle Obama. He baptized Sen. Obama's 2 children.

Given this history, we are wrong to demand that Sen. Obama denounce Pastor Wright. We may disagree with Wright's assertions -- Sen. Obama says he often does -- but I think that most white Americans operate on a different plane as far as churchly relationships. Black Americans -- probably because of a shared history of dealing with the consequences of slavery in America -- tend to operate on a more laissez-faire level of acceptance of differences and even eccentricity. I think that sometimes this brings a more ready forgiveness.

But I also suspect that Sen. Obama sees no need to forgive Wright. I suspect he views him as a sometimes flawed individual who is nevertheless his spiritual father. And given Sen. Obama's complicated physical father, we might cut the senator a bit of slack.

The US Constitution provides that no "religious test" may be required of a candidate. Which doesn't mean that we as individual voters can't prefer one or another variety of religious expression in those we vote for. But politics is complicated. Religious faith is complicated, too. And sometimes individuals belong to a church group which doesn't fully express their own faith. I don't know if this is the case with Sen. Obama. But the issue of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's relationship with Barack Obama may be more complicated than the network sound bites would lead us to believe.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Amazon review: Origen: An Exortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, and Selected Works

"Origen is not an easy thinker. Condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council for his differing views on the resurrection, the pre-existence of souls, and universalism, he was heavily influenced by Platonic and gnostic thought. However, his views were influential in the early church (anyone who has been condemned by an ecumenical council has certainly had influence) and he and his views likewise offer insights into a transitional period in the early church.

Since Origen is not easy to grasp, the preface and introduction in this volume are helpful for understanding what follows. The introduction is concise, well-written, and easy to follow.

Some volumes of early Fathers are daunting because the translation is less than helpful. This is not true for this volume. The English is well-turned out, easy to read, and clear.

Finally, the selection of works (An Exhortation to Martyrdom, On Prayer, On First Principles, Book IV, Prologue to the Commentary on the Song of Songs, and Homily XXVII on Numbers) gives a good overview for the beginner. I am certainly a beginner, having never read any of Origen's works, but I felt that this volume gave me a beginning in understanding Origen's thought, influence, and life."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The nature of faith

"Faith which is based on something clearly evident is not faith; but faith believes

the possible in the impossible,

strength in weakness,

greatness in poverty."

St. Athanasius, Contra Apollinarem

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Understanding passages that seem obscure

"Now we have made all these points first by way of a preface so as to stir up your minds, since the passage we have in hand is one that is hard to understand and seems unnecessary to read. But we cannot say of the Holy Spirit's writings that there is anything useless or unnecessary in them, however much they appear obscure to some. What we ought rather to do is to turn they eyes of our mind toward Him who ordered this to be written and to ask of Him their meaning. We must do this so that if there is weakness in our soul, He who heals all its infirmities (Ps. 103:3) may heal us, or so that if we are children in understanding, the Lord may be with us guarding His children and may nourish us and add to the measure of our age (cf. Eph. 4:13). For it is in our power to be able to attain both health from weakness and manhood from childhood. It is, then, our part to ask this of God. And it is God's to give to those who ask and to open to those who knock (cf. Mt. 7:7). Let this be enough by way of introduction."

Origen, Homily 27 on Numbers

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ignoring the hard Psalms

The question comes up as to why the entire psalter is not found in the LSB. (The entirety isn't found in the LW or the TLH, either).

The quick answer is that some of the Psalms are not used in the propers for any days, and so they aren't "needed," in that sense of the word.

What I would very much like to see is a fuller exploration of the Psalms in the praying life of the church. When they aren't in a worship book, it's a guarantee that those Psalms not printed won't be used. Most of us are lazy. If the Psalm isn't printed, we won't go to the bother of working it into a prayer life.

I'm troubled that those not appointed (and not printed) tend to be the more troublesome of the Psalms, especially the imprecatories. Psalm 83 is a good example.

1 Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.

2 For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.

3 They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.

4 They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.

5 For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:

6 The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes;

7 Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;

8 Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.

9 Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison:

10 Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.

11 Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:

12 Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.

13 O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.

14 As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;

15 So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.

16 Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD.

17 Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:

18 That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.

Most of us have trouble reading that -- much less praying it -- without gulping. But this is one of those hard passages of scripture that we need to deal with, wrestle with, "understand" (in the old sense of standing under it, of learning from it) it. If we are content to ignore portions of God's word, our understanding of God's revelation will be truncated. What's more, our ignoring the hard passages often indicates an insufficient appreciation of the reality of evil, and a mental inability of dealing with evil, especially with regard to our prayers.

God is love, and that God Who is love is likewise completely realistic about sin and the horror it has brought upon us. The hard Psalms tell us about that. We are the worse off for ignoring what they tell our Father.

No time to think: leisure, thinking, and the information age

From Google Tech Talks, an important discussion about the role of true leisure with thinking and learning and growing.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The fulfilling of the Law

"Suppose, for example, a woman burns with love for a certain man and desires to be taken as his wife. Will she not do everything and rule all her emotions in such a way that she may learn how to please the one she affectionately loves, lest perhaps if she acts in anything against his will, that excellent man might refuse her as his wife and scorn her? Could that woman, who burns with her love of that man with all her heart, all her soul, and all her strength, commit either adultery when she knew he loved chastity, or murder when she knew he was gentle, or theft when she knew that generosity pleased him or desire anything else when she had all her desires bound up with her love of that man? This, then, is how in the perfection of loving affection every commandment is said to be summed up and the meaning of the Law and the prophets to depend upon it."


Commentary on the Song of Songs

A psalm for a sudden and unexpected death

2 of my daughters are students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On March 5, the student body president, Eve Carson, was suddenly and violently killed. My daughters were obviously grieving, and thousands of others on that campus shared that grief.

When death comes, we grieve, we are numbed, and we often feel that we have no words for prayer. This is the beauty of the prayers given to us, both in the Bible, and by the Church.

Psalm 130 is one such appropriate prayer for such a time. Usually entitled De Profundis (Latin for the opening words of the Psalm, "out of the depths") this is a psalm for those times when words fail, and when we rely on the intercession of the Holy Spirit for things that cannot be spoken:

1 Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD.

2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.

3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?

4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.

6 My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.

7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.

8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What to do when ya have the flu

(Yeah, it rhymes : )

First, do not go pester your doctor. Or your chiropractor. Or anyone else. This is a virus. There's not a lot we can do. You'll only succeed in making your doctor about as miserable as you are.

Secondly, you won't feel like eating. And what you eat will taste lousy. I'm going to write a book called Lose 10 Pounds with Influenza! but until I do, consider it nature's way of shedding pounds for the summer. Only eat if you feel like it.

Third, you need fluids. Lots of them. Ignore what I said above about eating, and force yourself to drink lots of fluids. Lots of them. Water, of course. Probably better at room temperature, rather than cold. Broth, at the expense of our feathered friends. Maybe hot or room temperature tea. But lots of it. Probably at least a gallon a day of fluid.

Finally, sleep. We imagine (at least I do) that I'll get sick, and I'll have time to read. Wrong. I get sick, and anything more taxing than The Onion is beyond me. So sleep. A lot. And when you don't feel like sleeping, mindless TV is a great remedy. Enjoy stories about Paris Hilton. Or old movies. Or music videos. Just relax. You will feel better. I promise.

For those who have missed my writings for the last couple of days

I woke up on Monday, and knew things were not good.

You know what I mean? That achy, painful feeling that something's just not right.

But I've been at this game long enough to know what it was: flu.

(That's the distinguishing mark of the flu: aching muscles. Colds and other upper respiratory cruds will runny noses, headaches and similar irritations. But the aching muscles make you know what you've got).

Thus I have not been writing. But I'm back.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Gen. 3.15 and the death of Sheba

After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the curse that was pronounced on them was followed by the blessed promise of the coming Savior in Gen. 3.15, the protoevangelion ("first gospel"):

"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."

So painters portraying the death of the Savior have often portrayed a serpent beneath the cross, crushed in the head. The beauty of Gen. 3.15 is that its theme keep recurring through the Old Testament, reminding us that through the sad days and times of our sin the Savior was coming, and that the Savior's work would be to destroy the serpent who holds us in the thrall of sin.

The first instance is when St. Jael assassinated the general Sisera. I've already pointed out (in this post) how Jael is like the Virgin Mary and how her actions foreshadow the work of the Savior. And here's another, similar, foreshadowing.

In 2 Samuel 20, Sheba, a man specifically said to be "a man of Belial" (a follower of the false Baal religion) leads a rebellion against God's anointed, King St. David. Sheba holes up in the city Abel, of Bethmaachah, and Joab besieges the city in an effort to squelch the rebellion. However the city is saved by the intervention of a "wise woman" (vs. 16) who pleads with Joab on behalf of the city, and exacts a promise from Joab to save the city if Sheba is delivered. The wise woman (who is likewise a picture of the church, as is the Virgin Mary) intervenes likewise with the men in the city, and Sheba's head is thrown over the wall.

Sheba here pictures Satan -- the adversary whose head is crushed by the Savior.