Friday, May 30, 2008

"Seeing is believing," and other fallacies

One of the philosophical legacies Americans carry around in our mental baggage is a Lockean "common sense" construct.

A favored offshoot of that is the phrase "seeing is believing." Which generally means that we view ourselves as hard-bitten realists, and that we believe nothing until we've seen clear, convincing evidence for it.

And taken to logical conclusions, such a view is death to the Christian faith. Fortunately, most of us are inconsistent. Even though we pretend that seeing is believing, we act otherwise.

St. John of Damascus was blessed to have lived and thought before common sense philosophy came into being. His hymn The Day of Resurrection spoke a different way (verse 2, LSB):

"Let hearts be purged of evil, That we may see aright,
The Lord in rays eternal, of resurrection light
And, list'ning to His accents, May hear so calm and plain,
His own 'All hail!' and, hearing, May raise the victor strain."

Note the sequence: our hearts are purged from evil, which enables us to see. "Seeing is believing" works -- but only in the most technical, material senses. "Seeing is believing" (like Occam's razor) is death to any religious faith, Christian or otherwise. The reality is that in the most important things in life, we believe and then -- because we have been given the gift of believing, of trusting -- we see the reality of God and the creation.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The latest 9/11 film

Films such as Flight 93 and World Trade Centre tell the government-sponsored 9/11 story. Severe Visibility tells the story from another angle, posing some of the questions that have dogged the history of the 9/11 events from day one:

3 Cheers for Wal-Mart

When people think about helping the poor with rising food costs, they tend to think of either governmental programs (such as food stamps) or charities: things like soup kitchens or Meals on Wheels.

The reality is that the entity that probably does more for helping feed the poor is one which does it for what some view as the basest of motives: profit. It's your friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart. In the midst of skyrocketing food costs (much of it caused by misguided programs such as ethanol production) Wal-Mart is seeking to keep prices low. Which helps the poor, and all of us:

Wal-Mart puts the squeeze on food costs

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fear not

When I say -- as I did below -- that people need to begin planning a strategy for leaving the LCMS, please don't imagine that this is something recent. It's not.

I've been thinking this way for several years. All of which is to say that those who begin thinking this way should expect opposition. Often from those who agree with them.

Some people do not like change. For them, change in itself is a scary thing, and for them, this might be a very monumental change.

Others are afraid. Fear is a huge part of human life, and that's why there are so many admonitions in the scriptures such as "Fear not!," or "Be not afraid!"

When we are scared, we sometimes lash out. We sometimes strike at those we love, those we care for, those we agree with.

If you are pondering leaving, be prepared for those who are afraid. And be prepared for the reactions which may have nothing to do with you or what you are doing. In such a circumstance, you are merely a living example of something these folks fear.

Be kind to them. Explain what you are doing, and why. Return good for evil. Love them. And most of all, pray for them. Your job is not to rant about leaving the LCMS. Your job is love them as members of the body of Christ, and to treat them as you would treat our Savior. It's the hardest job. And the most important one you'll ever do.

Why stay?

Ever went to bed on Sunday night thinking you needed a vacation?

I know pastors sometimes do. One or more services, probably teaching an adult class, maybe confirmation, and maybe a shut-in visit. Just a lot to do.

And it's not just pastors. Lay members (especially in smaller congregations) do a lot, too: Sunday school, hospitality stuff. All of the ordinary, day-to-day, wonderful faithfulness that -- humanly speaking -- makes the church work.

Which is to say that there's a lot to keep us busy.

But we are often more tired by the psychological jobs. A stressful encounter with someone who gets on our nerves. A nagger. Arguments with your spouse.

I think the psychological aspects of remaining in the LCMS are sometimes underestimated. Dealing with the crud on a day-to-day basis is tough. Which is one of the reasons I encourage a measured, thought-out plan to leave affiliation with such an organization: because staying is more stressful than most imagine.

Leaving is just that, leaving. It's not a divorce, it's not (in itself) sinful, it's not wrong. It's just leaving. We shouldn't make it any more complex than it is.

I wish there could be a meeting of all sides (there are many: old-time libs, confessionals, conservatives, church growthers, "old Missouri," and charismatics)and we could just smile at one another, and say, "You know, this isn't working. Let's agree to separate everything out, and 2 years from Tuesday, we'll divide with a friendly handshake."

But that's not going to happen. Leaving is not consigning those who remain to outer darkness. One doesn't even have to judge or condemn those who don't. It's just leaving. It's that simple.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Is the LCMS an orthodox church body?

A friendly comment was added to my post earlier this morning, which asked:

"Which group of Christians has public confession more faithful to the Word of God than the LCMS?"

OK, I'm going to challenge that.

The LCMS has a public (that is, formal) confession. The question is not whether the LCMS has a proper formal confession, but whether that confession is a reality in the LCMS.

I cite the LCMS' own confession, in the Brief Statement of 1932:

"The orthodox character of a church is established not by its mere name nor by its outward acceptance of, and subscription to, an orthodox creed, but by the doctrine which is actually taught in its pulpits, in its theological seminaries, and in its publications."

This is how the LCMS itself says we are to determine the orthodox nature of a church body: by both outward acceptance of an orthodox creed, and also by the doctrine which is actually taught. By this -- a standard which the LCMS has set forth -- is the LCMS faithful to the word of God?

When all varieties of services -- including "clown ministry,", "contemporary worship," and self-written liturgies -- are extant within the LCMS, is the LCMS an orthodox church body?

When virtually anything (including -- in my personal experience -- unitarianism) can be taught with impunity in LCMS pulpits, is the LCMS an orthodox church body?

When self-composed creeds are used in LCMS congregation services, is the LCMS an orthodox church body?

The question isn't whether the LCMS is the "most orthodox." Orthodoxy isn't a relative thing; one is, or one isn't.

Again, from the Brief Statement:

"Since God ordained that His Word only,
without the admixture of human doctrine, be taught and believed in
the Christian Church, 1 Pet. 4:11; John 8:31, 32; 1 Tim. 6: 3, 4, all
Christians are required by God to discriminate between orthodox
and heterodox church-bodies, Matt. 7:15, to have church-fellowship
only with orthodox church-bodies, and, in case they have strayed
into heterodox church-bodies, to leave them, Rom. 16:17."

The reality is that the LCMS -- like many others -- is a heterodox church body. The further problem is that the LCMS is not teachable, not changeable, and that the more heterodox faction has been -- 3 times -- confirmed as the dominant faction in the LCMS.

Those who want to remain and fight within the LCMS are welcome to do so. But they should do asking themselves these questions:

1. Has any church body ever been "turned around"?

2. And if they can't think of one, why is the LCMS different? What makes us think the LCMS is going to turn around?

3. Do the votes in LCMS conventions in 2001, 2004, and 2007 indicate that the orthodox Lutherans are somehow the "real" LCMS?

4. Finally, by "staying and fighting" are we going against the explicit command of Romans 16.17?

The 3 options available for those in the LCMS

If you recognize that the LCMS is dysfunctional, you have 3 options.

The first is to stay and be angry.

Such people know things are bad, and they are continually hit with new things, usually worse than before. So they become angry. And there's this bitter, nasty edge that coats their ecclesiastical dealings with anger.

The second option is, bluntly, to become a poodle. A poodle knows things are wretched, but remains, begging for treats from those now running the LCMS. And they are occasionally rewarded. What's sad is that such people usually become apologists for the errors, nastiness, and corrupt individuals who are in LCMS offices.

Either of these options stains our souls.

The final option is to leave. I'm not sure why this is considered so complicated. The LCMS is not the church. As I've said before, it's the ecclesiastical equivalent of resigning from the Rotary Club. Leaving doesn't mean you have to be gone in 2 days. But it does mean saying, "I'm on my way out, and I'm actively working toward that."

When I was in college, I had friends who were Methodists, who were concerned about the direction of the United Methodists. They were active in the "Good News" movement, which sought to reclaim what they saw as a more historic Methodist heritage.

But all of this was with the realization that they would work within the UMC and now -- some 30 years later -- nothing has changed in the UMC. Rather, things are far worse.

And these people have stayed.

And they have been taught error.

So have their children.

And grandchildren. Not to mention others who have remained in the UMC because of these folks' example.

The same scenario is happening in the LCMS.

There is no limit to what will be done if people realize you won't, under any circumstances, leave.

Which of the 3 options will we take?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Alex in London: the first letter

Note a couple of things: first, she flew business class. I didn't pay for that, although given the price of air travel this summer, what I paid for her to fly economy might have bought a business class ticket before America made some bad life choices in 2000. (It's a Simpson's joke). Alex -- like her brother Matt -- have figured out how to get into business class without paying, and I understand -- though I don't want all the details -- that it involves flirting with a flight attendant of the opposite gender. Also, for those of English extraction (you have been warned) you might want to skip this, as Alex (though of Irish, Scots, German, Italian, and Greek ancestry) has inherited the Italian antipathy for the English. Since the English share a similar antipathy for the Italians, I guess it's only fair.

"Dear Mom and Dad,
My layover in London is more than halfway complete. It’s 2:23 am in
Burlington (you’re tucked in tight) and it is 7:23 am in London. I’m
managing for the time being, considering that I absolutely conked out
on not 1, but 2, flights. It’s fairly easy to do from the bulkhead of
business class. When I woke up to land, I was dreaming that there was a
wolf in front of me on the plane and I refused to wake up and run from
it. I guess that’s how I felt. Anyway, British Airways seems to have
stepped up from mildly from our last experience flying with them. The
appearance of the British, however, has not. I flew in front of one of
possibly one of the most unattractive flat-faced woman I have ever
seen. So far, my travel has really been flawless. I’ve managed to find
my way and was only frisked once. I’m curious to find out what airport
security thinks I can hide underneath a white cotton skirt and tube
top. Also, while taking a tram to another terminal in Boston I had the
aching fear that perhaps I was supposed to pick-up my checked luggage
and re-check it. The concierge reassured me, but I just kept imagining
myself being responsible for my own lost luggage.
I hope y’all had a safe trip to Burlington from the airport. I was
relieved that there were no tears at the airport. A month goes by
quickly, probably at lightning speed for me. While I’m awake during travel, I’ve been
re-reading my high school graduation gift from Katie, Through Painted
Deserts, by Donald Miller. “It’s interesting how sometimes you have to
leave home before you can ask the difficult questions, how the
questions never come up in the room you grew up in, in the town which
you were born. It’s funny how you can’t ask difficult questions in a
familiar place, how you have to stand back a few feet and see things in
a new way before you realize nothing that is happening to you is
normal.” All my love to each of you and the family,

"My mouth is too full to talk"

I mentioned last week that my daughter Alex is doing study abroad in Florence. (Italy, not South Carolina).

And the wonders of email: her latest missive.

"Dear mom and dad,

I am finally getting to access the internet at our student point (aka
union). I am still figuring out these keyboards though, so stay with
me. I hope all is well at home and tell everyone I send my love. I went
to the Buboli gardens yesterday and experienced some really amazing
views of Florence.

I had my first class this morning and it was really good. Pretty much
everyone has never painted before and the teacher is really excited.
Also, we had to purchase about 150 euros of art supplies. I put it on
the credit card, but just so you know, it was a ton of stuff. I will
bring it all home and I am sure it will continue to contribute to my
artistic success. I also signed up for an optional cooking class. It
was 240 euros that I put on the card, but I also am only going on 3
excursions, because I found out I actually only had 3 weekends instead
of 4 (the first weekend here does not really count). The final word on
money is that Florence is not as credit card friendly as I had hoped,
especially for food. I tried to use credit to buy my lunch today and
the woman looked at me like I was trying to barter with rusty treasure.
I am going to the grocery store later today and will probably start
packing my lunch. It is a lot easier. You do not need to worry about my
cash though, the cash you put in my account for the extra excursion
should cover the food. I will let you know when I want you to transfer
more money from my savings to checking.

But speaking of food, it is truly amazing. What are the rules for
flying and bringing back food? The prosciutto is heavenly, the cheese
is amazing, the gelatto is, dare I say it, better than corona, and the
wine is the best I have ever had.

I have intro to italian at 1 and I am excited to finally learn to not
be an American moron in this city. I must be off to that, but I will be
back in touch later. Feel free to call me at any time.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Where does the one hour service come from?

One hour Sunday services are almost universal in American Christianity.

Almost. Go to a Russian Orthodox or a black church service -- to give 2 examples -- and you might find a place that goes on for hours.

But the more mainstream an American church (or rather, how much they are in contact with the liturgical trends that culminated in Vatican II), the more likely they are to adhere to a one-hour-and-no-more routine. And woe to the pastor who goes over that hour! The wrath can be pretty acute.

What I'm wondering is where this rule comes from. We have -- in most services -- clipped even the least amount of silence from the service, since that's usually seen as a useless artifact that might needlessly prolong the service past an hour.

We are far more conscious of exact time than our ancestors would have been. Such things as jet travel, chemical studies, and a whole lot else require exact times, and close chronologies.

But I'm baffled by why we need such exactitude in church. Reducing the Mass to an hour limits the number and length of hymns we can see, feeds the Western desire to avoid redundancy in the service, shortens the length of Psalms used, and requires a shortened sermon.

None of which is bad in itself. But I wonder if the overall result of our one-hour-Mass is a lessening of our receiving of the gifts. I'm especially intrigued by the loss of redundancy in the Mass. In this book Catherine Pickstock works on the assumptions that underlie the West's loss of redundancy in the Mass over the last 100 years, a movement that sped quickly and permeated most of the Western communions after Vatican II.

Good things sometimes take time. Our fathers in the faith may have understood this better than we, and our obsession with foreshortening the liturgy given to us by them to bring us God's gifts may prove to have been a mistake.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

SAY not the struggle naught availeth,

SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
The labor and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here, no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.

Arthur Hugh Clough

Paglia: Hillary Clinton's candidacy has done feminism no favours

"When the dust settles over the 2008 election, will Hillary Clinton have helped or hindered women's advance toward the US presidency?

Right now, Hillary is in Godzilla mode, refusing to accept Barack Obama's looming nomination and threatening to tie the Democratic party in legal knots until the August convention and beyond."

Keith Olbermann on Clinton's nasty remarks

Olbermann will be remembered 50 years from now for his courage in speaking out for the last terrible 8 years. His comments last night about Clinton are right on the button. It's in 2 parts:

Crazy Clinton and the assassination comments

I'm finally glad to see the American left getting disgusted at the Clintons.

The right has found them repulsive for years: the lying, the conniving, the sheer audacity of 2 people who would do anything needed to advance their own personal agenda.

Now the left has seen the reality, too: that this whole crusade has nothing whatsoever to do with social justice, or any of the other things that the left thought were the reason they were in Washington. No, it's just about getting them in -- or back in -- to power. Clinton's husband, who gloried in the audacious idea that he was the "first Black president" is now seen with his wife for what they are. Lots of commentators on the left have said it well in the last 24 hours: here's just one who said it especially well.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Reading and thought

We glean knowledge by reading, but we separate the grain
from the chaff by thought.

Myrtilla Morrell

How to master the English Bible

In my friend William Weedon's blog, there's been a discussion in the last day or so about Bible knowledge among Lutherans. He laments the state of that knowledge and suggests that our Baptist or Presbyterian brethren might be better. The reality is that the state of Bible knowledge in almost every confession is abysmal. I think the ignorance is a result of many factors, and it's one that will not be cured easily. But in the meantime, we can begin the cure: for ourselves as individuals and for those we teach: children, grandchildren, Sunday school students, whatever. The reality is that the Bible -- while a fairly large library -- is not that complicated, and not that hard to grasp. Trust me: people far more ignorant than us have learned it, and so can we.

Here's a book I'd recommend. I can't recommend everything in it -- Gray was a dispensationalist, and I strongly disagree with their mode of interpreting certain scriptural passages. But there's a lot of good here: How to Master the English Bible

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why preachers need to preach -- and not give lectures

I was listening to an interview today with a woman whose father was a preacher. And she spoke about the powerful sermons he gave every Sunday. Sermons about social justice, about the needs of the poor, and about the downtrodden.

And all of these things are very, very important. It's just that they are not what we should remember about preaching.

I've mentioned that I think that writing down sermons is sometimes problematic. Because there's a great temptation to provide an eloquent address, to give a thoughtful theological lecture, to speak to Current Events.

There's a tradition in the Primitive Baptist churches that sermons should not be written down. At all. The one preaching meditates on the passage he's chosen, thinks about it, ponders it, prays about it, and stands to preach, and hopes that the Holy Spirit will speak through him as he preaches.

And maybe there's wisdom in that. Preaching the gospel in catholic Christianity involves using the pericopes given to us. And it means using those texts, preaching those texts, explicating those texts (and primarily the gospel pericope) to the hearers.

Such a sermon will not be a religious lecture. It may speak about the poor, it may treat of social justice issues, it may address or be about the downtrodden. It may even address current events. But we should trust the Holy Spirit to have an applicable text for when the text is needed.

Giving religious lectures can be easy. The preacher can deal with issues he's concerned about. But he can also become a nag, a scold, a ranter about an issue of concern to him.

St. Paul (Acts 20.27) said that he had "not shunned to declare all the counsel of God." Giving religious lectures -- even needed religious lectures -- is not the way to do that. Instead, preach the gospel. St. Paul counseled St. Timothy thus: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." (I Timothy 4.2) Luther's example here is a very good one. He often just went through, verse by verse, explaining, teaching, correcting by the text. We could do far worse than that, and those who listen would have the whole counsel of God. What's to be preached is not the preacher's counsel, but God's. Remembering that is a good thing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Off to Italy

I started using the net in 1994. Which makes me -- for my age -- a fairly advanced user. But some things still astonish me.

My daughter Alex is going to Florence, Italy today for a month for study abroad. Which involves leaving Raleigh, flying to Boston, hanging out in Logan for 2 hours, flying to London, hanging out there for 4 hours, flying to Rome, taking a shuttle train to downtown Rome to Stazione Termini, and taking a train to Florence. All this with jet lag. Whew.

The school suggested leaving the Florence train station on the southeast side, and taking a bus. But I was curious: how far was the school (where she has to pick up the keys to the apartment where she'll be staying) from the train station? I've been in Florence -- I know how narrow are the streets, and how slow can be the buses. I thought there might be a map.

What I hadn't expected was that Google maps would have Italy on them. So I googled the train station address, and got directions.

Turns out the distance from the station to the school is .3 kilometers. Or slightly less than 2/10 of a mile. Walkable, that is.

The net isn't perfect, and there's a lot of pretty nasty stuff out there. But as I have pointed out before, what the net does is free us up. Alex could have gone to the effort of finding the right bus, made sure she had the 1.2 euros in exact change, and made certain she got off at the right stop. It would have taken a while. This way she will (probably wearily) drag her bags the 984 feet, and save some time. And probably some aggravation, to boot.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why the West surpassed Russia in early modern history

As quoted (p. 112) in Fearful Majesty: The Life and Reign of Ivan the Terrible:

"If we consider the amount of time and resources spent upon this grim and exhausting struggle [against the Tartars], we shall have no need to ask ourselves what the Russian people were doing when the West was progressing rapidly in industry, in social life, in the arts and sciences, and in trade ... Fate set the Russian nation at the Eastern gate of Europe and for centuries it spent its forces in withstanding the pressure of Asiatic hordes while Western Europe turned to the New World beyond the seas ... Outpost service, however, is everywhere thankless, and soon forgotten, especially when it has been efficiently carried out. The more alert the guard, the sounder the slumbers of the guarded, and the less disposed the sleepers to value the sacrifices which have been made for their repose."

Russian historian V. O. Klyuchevsky, 1841-1911

Friday, May 16, 2008

The creation of the world, and the beginning of school

From Fearful Majesty, by Benson Bobrick:

"A Note on Names and Dates

All dates are according to the Julian or Old Style calendar in use in Western Europe until 1582. Sixteenth-century Russians celebrated their New Year on September 1 and based their calendar on the date of the creation of the world, which they placed in 5508 B.C."

I've just begun this book, but this little note at the beginning intrigues me.

I have puzzled for several years over why there seems to be an almost universal "school-beginning" around the first of September. In every culture I've seen that has an organized school system, this holds.

The explanation usually given is that agricultural economies needed a summer off so children could help with crops.

Which doesn't hold on 2 levels. First, if that were true, it would make far more sense to place a school vacation into the Fall, when most crops are harvesting. And secondly, this also holds in cultures that are not agriculturally based.

The Mongolian culture is one I'm familiar with. The Mongols -- like virtually everyone else -- begin school in the Fall, and end in late Spring. But the Mongols have never been an agricultural economy. They were traditionally nomadic, and even today, there's a significant portion of the Mongol population that still lives in gers and moves around according to the needs of their animals.

So whence the near-ubiquity of a late summer-early Fall school beginning? Maybe our 16th century Russians give us a clue. I wonder if there's a cultural memory of a creation date, a memory that perhaps led our forefathers to begin important stuff -- such as learning -- around the time they remembered for the beginning of the world.

(Which would help to explain another, somewhat unrelated, question: why there's such opposition to year-round schools, even in very non-agricultural settings. This is not saying that such operations are wrong, but it's interesting to note with what little enthusiasm such school calendars are embraced. North Carolina even dealt with it by legislation. School officials had kept moving the begin date for school further back -- close to the first of August -- and were moving the school year's close date further out, usually until the 3rd or 4th week of June. Now -- by law -- public schools in NC cannot begin before August 25, and must close by June 10).

The big picture in 2008: more from Peggy Noonan

"Big picture, May 2008:

The Democrats aren't the ones falling apart, the Republicans are. The Democrats can see daylight ahead. For all their fractious fighting, they're finally resolving their central drama. Hillary Clinton will leave, and Barack Obama will deliver a stirring acceptance speech. Then hand-to-hand in the general, where they see their guy triumphing. You see it when you talk to them: They're busy being born.

The Republicans? Busy dying."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

From the last words of David

"But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee. For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding."

I Chronicles 29.14-15

Monday, May 12, 2008

How a water fountain can lie

Ever been really, really thirsty, and spotted a water fountain? You go to the fountain, press the button, and ... well, nothing happens. The fountain is broken, disconnected, whatever. The fountain lied to you. It promised something it didn't give.

I mentioned yesterday the archaic English word "leasing," used in Psalms 4 and 5 in the AV, translating the Hebrew kazabh. The general meaning is loose, lying, or deceitful.

Isaiah 58.11 is an interesting use of kazabh. The thrust of the verse is the same as our water fountain above, and it's a picture of a spring in the desert, and a traveler who comes upon the spring, and the spring has no water. It lies, deceives, tells us something's there that's not.

On ceremonies

With graduation festivities over, we can return to normal life. And give thanks for graduations: for what a graduation entails, and what it says to us about the one graduating.

I know someone who argues that graduation ceremonies aren't important. He says you still have the degree, you still get the diploma, so why bother?

It's because ceremonies are important. We mark the Big Changes in life by ceremonies: births, Baptisms, graduations, weddings, even death.

It's like that in church. We don't "have to" have ceremonies to receive God's love. We don't "have to" sing to praise God. But we do.

Why? Because a ceremony tells us something important is going on. And of all the big things in life, receiving God's gifts is the most important. The ceremonies are times of joy for receiving those gifts, and publicly recognizing that we're receiving them.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Destroying those who speak leasing

The AV translation of Psalms 4 and 5 use an archaic English word to translate the Hebrew word kazabh.

Psalm 4.2: "How long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?"

Psalm 5.6: "Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing."

The general meaning of "leasing" in this context is " loose, false, or deceitful," and it's related to the suffix "-less" (as in "meaningless") and "loose."

Another interesting related meaning is that from Scots (not Scotch: "Scotch" is a beverage) law: " the uttering of lies or libels upon the personal character of the sovereign, his court, or his family."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Graduation weekend

My posting may be a bit less than normal this weekend: we've got a graduation!

Our daughter Katie's graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with majors in history and political science. She'll be starting grad school (MAT) at UNC in a couple of weeks. Her almost-fiance Dustin Miller is graduating next week from UNC-Greensboro with a business degree. So, tonight, we're having a party here at the house, and we're expecting some 35 people. (Ora pro nobis ... )

Tomorrow's Katie's graduation ceremony. It's a tradition that it's held outdoors every year on Mothers day, and UNC is a school with hidebound traditions. After the ceremony, we're going for Mothers day brunch at the Carolina Inn, there in Chapel Hill.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Judy Bachrach: Everything I Hate About Myself I See in Hillary

"When I was 25 (okay, 32), I got dumped by my first untrue love. He’d fallen, six years into our relationship, for his next-door neighbor, a really pretty actress with the IQ of an asparagus and the ability to fill many a conversational lull with tributes to liposuction. But I digress."

The embarrassment of the Clinton candidacy

If you haven't read (and aren't reading) Peggy Noonan, you're missing out.

Noonan was a Reagan White House speech writer and is not a syndicated columnist with the Wall Street Journal, and her writing is a delight, fun to read, interesting, and insightful.

In today's WSJ, she recounts the continuing train wreck of the Clinton candidacy. Here's a quote: "In a jaw-dropping interview in USA Today on Thursday, she said, 'I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.' As evidence she cited an Associated Press report that, she said, 'found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.'

White Americans? Hard-working white Americans? 'Even Richard Nixon didn't say white,' an Obama supporter said, 'even with the Southern strategy.'"

More here.

Maybe Sen. Clinton could start having Klan rallies in support of her candidacy. She's come about that low.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

"The Murder of Helen Jewett": a review on Amazon

"We shouldn't like murder mysteries, but we usually do.

While there's a real tragedy going on -- someone killed, families in disarray, a killer on trial -- we hang on for the gory details.

Folks were no different in New York City in 1836, which is the setting for the real life, true story of the murder of Helen Jewett, a lady of negotiable virtue, who plied her trade at an upscale brothel. It's the story of Jewett's life, and how she came to be who she was, and how she came to do what she did for a living.

And about Richard Robinson, her accused killer, and how a mild-mannered store clerk from rural New England came to New York, and was arrested for Jewett's murder.

And about the trial, and about the crowds there (mostly young -- the defendant was 18 -- clerks like the accused), and about how long the trial lasted, and about the speculation that the judge might have been bribed.

But this is more than a murder mystery. Because the author tells us vivid details about life in New York City during that time, and how prostitutes lived in that era (I didn't know that prostitution was legal in New York at that time), and how young Americans grew up during that time, and what was expected of them as far as behavior and decorum.

This is a scholarly book. It's labeled "history/women's studies," and I wouldn't take that away Patricia Cline Cohen, the historian who wrote the book. But if you just want a better-than-average read that will entertain you as well as teach you, you can do no better than this. I might even suggest -- since I'm writing this review on May 8 -- it wouldn't be a bad beach book. The cover and title are just trashy enough that the people on the next towel won't think you're a nerd on the beach. It'll have to be a secret between you and me and the author that while you're busy turning pages, you're also having your mind expanded."

In the Clinton campaign, the race-baiting continues: "white people support me"

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


"The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!"

Henry Ward Beecher
1813-1887, Author

Monday, May 05, 2008

Proposal for a New Seminary

This is a good, important, and well-written piece. It's a bit dated (it was originally written in 1972!) but I think what he's got to say is still relevant, maybe more so.

Proposal for a New Seminary.

Why churches gotta do previews

This morning, I'm reading Reason magazine (I'm in a semi-political snit because the North Carolina primary is tomorrow, and my wife was good enough to do some research on the more obscure races -- judges, etc. -- and help me out) and I read a review of Matt Mason's book The Pirate's Dilemma. It looks like a good book, but Amazon has no preview. None! And since I'm wary of buying a book I haven't seen (the problem is not the $15 or whatever it would cost; it's the time I would spend finding out that a book is not worth reading) I was teetering on not putting the book on my wish list, so I go over to Google, and check their book previews, and there it is! A preview -- limited, but still a preview -- of The Pirate's Dilemma. And it looks good, and I put it on my wish list.

But that's not my point. The point is: is your church providing "previews" for people who might want to visit? It used to be that denominational labels were the only preview most people looked for: Baptist, Catholic, LCMS, whatever. No more.

In the first place, the labels have become less than helpful. Identifying a congregation as LCMS can mean a whole panoply of things, so people want to know more.

A visit can be a preview. However, churches need to know that some people simply won't visit without knowing more. And beware: if you are a small church -- meaning less than 100 people in church, which covers most American churches -- lots of people simply won't show up unannounced. They feel too conspicuous.

Which means that small congregations can -- and must -- provide previews that will allow new folks to feel comfortable with them.

The most obvious way is a website. A church that doesn't have one is likely dying, serving an increasingly aging group of people, and, honestly, probably doesn't really welcome new people. A website is the first thing, the must have for church life in our time.

Another way: put your services on youtube. Watching services on youtube (or television, or listening on the radio, or whatever) is not a substitute for gathering with the people of God. But putting out video of services shows newbies what the service is like, and gives them a feel for it.

Another way: put teaching videos on youtube. If you have distinctives (and if you don't, why not?) talk about the distinctives. Or do Bible studies on video. Or whatever. The point is not to have a large presence on youtube (although I think it's important for there to be more orthodox teaching on the site) but to demonstrate to new folks what your congregation is about, and why.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Why the dogs licked Lazarus' sores: more thoughts on Luke 16

Luke 16.19-21 is one of those passages that is best not discussed over dinner. (Believe me, I tried tonight. My wife wasn't happy when I shared my thoughts as she ate a salad).

But here's the text: "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."

Traditionally, we read this, and see the contrast: the rich man so rich he's wear royal (purple) clothing, with Lazarus so poor that he's a beggar outside the rich man's gates, so poor that dogs lick his sores.

All of which is true. However, there's another theme that may be going on here. As I've mentioned in other spots, dogs are not exactly well-spoken of in the Bible. Specifically, they are used as a metaphor for unbelievers and gentiles. (Note Matt. 7.6, Matt. 15.26-27, Mark 7.27-28, among many other texts).

So while this pericope is saying that Lazarus is so low that he's surrounded by unbelievers, there's another theme here.

Dogs -- and many other animals -- have antiseptic qualities in their saliva. (Human saliva does not).

So while the dogs would probably enjoy the activity, the one being licked might benefit in such a situation, too.

Which means that part of the meaning of the text is that while Lazarus is ill-treated by the rich man, the dogs (= "gentiles") show a kindness to him.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The first woman journalist in America

While reading this book, I came across the story of Anne Royall.

Royall is acclaimed as the first woman journalist in America. Which is a kind way of putting it. She would travel from town to town, basically mooching off the hospitality of the inhabitants there, and would write up her experiences in her several books. If you were gracious and hospitable to her -- or at least feigned it well -- you got a good write-up. If not, you didn't.

Which might mean that Anne Royall wouldn't be the one you'd pick for a house guest. (I think she did the choosing). But she's one of those interesting characters who never seem to come up in conventional history books. And that's our loss.

Why idolatry hurts

Psalm 115: "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake.

Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God?

But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.

They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:

They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:

They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.

They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.

O Israel, trust thou in the LORD: he is their help and their shield."

It's easy to imagine that idolatry isn't all that bad. That while we're commanded to worship the true God and no other, we wonder what harm idolatry does in itself.

(A superficial understanding of St. Paul's statement in I Corinthians 8.4-6 -- "As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him" -- can also confuse the situation).

But Psalm 115 tells us most succinctly why idolatry is bad: we become like who (or what) we worship. Those who worship false gods who can't see, smell or speak ultimately become unseeing, unable to smell (think the incense of prayer) or speak truly about God or anything else.

Conversely, when we are blessed by the Father to know the true God and worship him, we become like that God.

That's why the creed is so important. Because the creed tells us who God is. And when we tinker with that creed, we're in danger of lapsing into idolatry. And because the first commandment is the source, the fountain, if you will, of all the commandments, worshiping a false god leads us to just about every possible wrong. A correct understanding of God also leads us in holiness, becoming more fully shaped into the image of Christ. Not that we become without sin (the constant returning to God for forgiveness is part of that being shaped in Christ's image) but avoiding gross or subtle idolatry is perhaps the one key to holiness.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The future of the Republican party

This is a round-table discussion from Princeton University, about the future of the Republican party.

Which is not my point. I'm not political, and don't fret a lot about the future of various parties. However, I think that a discussion of this nature about the future of the LCMS would be a prudent and good thing to have. Contra Gerald Kieschnick, there are huge divisions in the LCMS, and in a real sense, these are denominational groups under the umbrella of the synodical structure. How the future of the LCMS should be approached is worth talking about. Kieschnick is being silly when he pretends there are no divisions; refusing to talk about the very obvious, public divisions only means that any future schisms will be worse.

So, what's pollution?

We think -- mostly -- in terms of words. So defining the words properly is important.

Take pollution. We talk about it a lot, but seldom think about exactly what it is.

It's easy enough: pollution is an unwanted by-product of a process.

"Unwanted" is the key word. I like curries. My wife doesn't. When I make a curry, the odor is pleasant to me, and not to her. To her the smell is pollution.

As with "weeds." A weed is an unwanted plant. It's a definition strictly in the eyes of the observer.

A rose -- under the wrong circumstance -- could be a weed. And a dandelion could be not a weed. Under the right circumstances.

Same with "noise." Noise is unwanted sound. And actually, it's an unusual word, one that strictly speaking doesn't have an opposite. A classic joke is made of a parent telling a teen, "That's not music, that's noise." So the opposite of noise could be music. Or a baby crying. Or a dog barking.

(The term "noise pollution" is really a redundancy: all noise is pollution).

The point I'm making is that there are a lot of things that are objective. But there are lots of things that aren't. Knowing the difference between things that are inherently objective and things that are inherently subjective is important. Because otherwise our discussions can be speaking past one another.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ascension Day

"And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren."

Acts 1.9-14