Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Understanding and Opinion

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.
-Proverbs 18:2
I was reading Proverbs yesterday and I came across this verse. I remember seeing someone on a "Christian" discusssion board use this verse to insult someone else for having an uninformed opinion. Christian discussion boards have long been horrid pits of hate and arrogance, and I wonder to what extent the same thing is or will become true of blogs.

The challenge with a verse like this is the same as the challenge with the Bible as a whole. All too often we forget that it is addressed to "me" and not to "the other guy". If that last sentence seemed worded a little awkwardly, it's because what I'm saying is impossible to really say to someone else. I want to challenge you (whoever you are) to consider it as applied to yourself, and yet the very principle itself forces me to apply it only to myself. And I need that too.

Among the things this verse asks me is this: "Why do you blog?"

It's certainly true that I blog with the hope of influencing the thinking of other people. A pious part of me wants to consider this "ministry" in some way, but honesty compels me to admit that it is, at least in equal measure, a fool taking pleasure in expressing his personal opinion.

One of the joys of blogging that I discovered only after I started doing it is the community it develops. Who would have thought that community can develop from a bunch of people standing up on soap boxes and spouting off about whatever is on their minds? And yet as people drop by and tell me what they think of what I think, and as I visit their blogs and see what they think, community does happen.

But within this context something else happens that I would like to be the reason I blog. I grow in understanding. A lot of times I'll write something, and I'll say it "in words as hard as cannonballs" as if I know what I'm talking about. But the real reason I chose the topic is that I'm exploring it, trying to gain understanding. Some of this comes from just getting my thoughts out of my head and onto the screen. Then reading what I thought often teaches me something. But, of course, feedback from other people can help more than anything. (So stop lurking and say hello!)

I'd like that to be the reason I blog. It's what I aspire to. I was visiting the Here We Stand blog the other day and in the discussion on one post Josh said to someone, "Try thinking instead of reacting. It can be fun." A bit harsh, but he captured the problem with so much online "Christian" "discussion".

Note to self: listen to other people.

Monday, August 29, 2005

God's Card

A couple of week's ago I made a couple of comments on Lawrence Kushner's book God Was in This Place and I, i Did Not Know with the suggestion that over the following days I would follow up with some other things I liked about it. I did follow up with one brief bit a couple of days later, and then nothing. So by now, you're probably saying to yourself, "Lordy b-gordy, when is the boy going to talk about Rabbi Kushner's book again?!?" (Or maybe you haven't given it any thought at all.) Well, here's a small gem I found there.

In talking about the Ten Commandments, Kushner talks about the preamble, "I am the Lord you God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery," as God's self-introduction. He playfully imagines it being like God handing the Israelites his divine calling card. In the center, it has the ineffable name of God. Just below that, in italics, it says "frees slaves" and in the lower right hand corner, in small print "Call any time."

I loved this image. I loved it so much I made an image of my own, which I hope will not offend.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Friday Beer Blogging

I think this is the right label. I got this beer on tap at a restraunt, so I'm not certain.

Overall, I wasn't terribly impressed. It's an amber ale on the verge of slipping into a pilsner. It didn't have a bad flavor, but it lacked complexity.

I had it with a nice, juicy steak that could have sustained a much heartier beer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

My Deliverer

I was praying with Psalm 18 this morning. Normally, I keep my prayers to myself, but today's prayer felt somehow shareable. I was reading verse two, "The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold," when the words "my deliverer" jumped off the page and resounded in my mind like the ringing of church bells.

I picture myself as an inhabitant of a city under siege. The situation is bleak, but then suddenly we see a hero approaching, a lone hero, but one mighty enough to free us, a deliverer. (Yes, I watch too many movies.)

The other images in this psalm -- rock, fortress, refuge, stronghold -- are all images I have for God. God is a place I can run and hide in times of trouble. But the sweetness of these words, "my deliverer," came to me today as if brand new. He comes to me, a champion to extract me from trouble.

And this is Christ. He came to us to save us from our desperate condition. He continues to come to me when I cannot come to him. He is my deliverer.

There's nothing new here, of course. All this I knew quite well. But that's the way it is with prayer, isn't it? God tells you something you already know, but it touches you in a new way.

Christus der Allm├Ąchtige by Viktor Michailow Wasnezow

Monday, August 22, 2005

Faith and Sin

(Note: In what follows I do not mean to claim that C.F.W. Walther would have agreed with my conclusions. I am merely citing his teaching as a starting point for discussion.)

Thesis X.
In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.
-C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel
This is a solid teaching from one of the giants of American Lutheranism. In his lectures, Dr. Walther described this as an error which Rome attributes to Lutheranism and which contributes to their continued low opinion of Luther. Such can certainly be seen in some of the canons of the Council of Trent, such as Canon XIV, "If any one says that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because he assuredly believes himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema."

It is equally certain that such an accusation had no grounds in orthodox Lutheranism. But whatever the situation may have been in the 16th century or in Walther's day, it is good that the Council of Trent laid down such an anathema, because such teaching has clearly grown out of the Reformation slogan of sola fide and is rampant in American protestantism today. Not enough is spoken against it.

Yet another attitude is also present today which is spoken against, and I don't dispute that some people teach this, namely that persons are not only justified by "mere inert acceptance of truths" but even more that everyone is freely justified by the bare fact of the existence of certain truths, whether they be believed or not.

This is one of the charges brought against liberal protestantism. It is claimed that the Gospel has been reduced to a sentimental idea that we ought to love all people just as they are and affirm whatever behaviors they choose to express themselves. This is certainly going on and ought to be denounced.

But the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, and he will pounce on any opening we give him. Even so our defense against the gospel of free love is exploited as a weakness.

Looking back at Walther's thesis, he speaks of a person "living in mortal sins" and in his lecture on the thesis he explains that a person who truly has faith cannot persist in willful sin. And just like that we make the transition from preachers of the Law to judges of the Law. We see a brother or sister living in a condition that we think of as mortal sin, and we conclude that such a person cannot truly have faith.

This is my chief complaint about the Calvinist doctrine of eternal security, it leads to the absurd position of claiming that backslidden Christians "never really had faith." That is, we make conclusions about another person's relationship with God that are contrary to observation because our dogma demands it (notice the idol that has entered this scene). The same thing happens in the case of judging a person "living in mortal sins." Whatever the appearances may be, such a person cannot possibly have faith in Christ, because our doctrine teaches otherwise.

We should be ashamed to hold such views.

In an earlier thesis, Walther teaches:
Thesis VIII.
In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.
Now this is clearly anachronistic language. I'm not sure anyone since Luther himself has truly been in terror on account of their sins. As Auden writes,
"The Just shall live by Faith," he cried in dread.
And men and women of the world were glad
Who never trembled in their useful lives.
But we recognize something in Walther's thesis which is that which we call repentance, with the Lutheran understanding that repentance is the daily turning away from our inward bent and turning toward God. So, if I may be so bold as to tinker with Dr. Walther's language, I believe that what he is saying is that the Law should not be preached to those who recognize their deep dependence upon Christ, nor the Gospel to those who do not.

Again, we are turned to an outward discernment of an inward state, which ultimately is known only to God. Naturally, we can reasonably discern such things in people we know and talk with (not "talk to"), but I think we should be quite careful in making blanket judgment against entire classes of people.

So I ask, are we prepared to offer the grace of the Gospel to those who have turned to Christ without judging them ourselves, or will we continue to beat them with the Law until they conform to our expectations?

For further reading, see this article by Martin Marty (from which I borrowed the Auden quote).

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Lutheran Carnival II

Lutheran Carnival II is underway. I know one or two of my vistors may wonder why I continue to care given how large a gap separates me from the average confessional Lutheran blogger on certain hot topics, but what's more Lutheran than fighting with other Lutherans? And there's some good writing being showcased in these Carnivals (along with some harsh polemics -- also very Lutheran).

I keep meaning to check out some of the "other" Lutheran blogs to see what's worth reading, but unlike the ELCA blogs, there are just so many of them.... And that's where the Carnival is great. I can go to one spot and get one paragraph summaries of what each blogger thinks was his week's best. If it's interesting, I can read more; if not, little lost.

In particular, don't miss Stan Lemon's meditation on The Dormition of the Mother of God

God's Politics

After about four months of having God's Politics in my book bag, it's finally coming out today. I just finished a ten-week discussion group on the book at my church. (Yes, I know ten weeks isn't four months -- I was dragging it around before this started.)

In the comments on another post LutheranChik said something about her congregation being basically apolitical. I was going to say that my congregation is also basically apolitical, but the success of this discussion group would seem to indicate otherwise. When I started it, I was hoping to get about 12 people. Instead, 47 showed up the first day.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Flipping the Bozo Bit

There's a principle in software engineering that applies well to life in general: Don't flip the bozo bit.

In software engineering, flipping the bozo bit means concluding that the person whose work you are maintaining was an idiot and therefore that it is pointless to try to understand why he or she did what they did. So, instead you systematically disregard the person's efforts and do things in whatever way seems right to you.

The thing that brought this to mind for me is that this week Bob Waters flipped the bozo bit on me. I knew I was inviting in a whole lot of people who think differently than I do when I submitted an entry for last week's Lutheran Carnival, but I thought it might make for some interesting conversations.

And it was starting to. Waters disagreed with my take on what the real relationship between Lutherans and the Lutheran Confessions is, and he was starting to engage me in conversation, but then he noticed my stance on welcoming gay and lesbian people into Christian congregations, and he flipped the bozo bit. He wrapped up his post by saying that he didn't see how I could be a Lutheran and feel this way. And he made a post on his blog about this titled "My heart's just not in it."

Now it's no great offense to me if Bob Waters doesn't care to hear what I think. But I think this is symptomatic of the trouble that leads to the continued poor treatment of gays and lesbians in Christian congregations. No one thinks, they only debate. We hear one another's arguments (maybe), but we listen only for the sake of seeing how we should formulate our counter-argument.

This is truly tragic (and frankly it's not only a problem for one side). One group wants to be faithful to the traditional faith. The other group wants GLBT people to be consistently treated like people. These aren't contradictory goals, but most of the people debating about this assume they are. And because of that assumption, nobody listens.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Friday Beer Blogging

Sometimes you just don't want to try a new beer.

But life is good when Widmer Hefeweizen is routine. I had it from the bottle, not on tap, but with a slice of lemon it's still a tasty treat.


There's been some interesting discussion in the comments on my What is Lutheranism? post as Bob Waters of watersblogged has challenged my rejection of the quia/quatenus distinction.

Truth Telling

*Christopher has an excellent post today at Bending the Rule on being honest about the true level of acceptance in our churches. As a would-be reformer in a non-reconciled congregation, I found it very helpful and insightful.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Warning: Sexuality Rant

Monday night I went out to dinner with my wife at a nice restraunt. We were talking about what had happened at the recent ELCA churchwide conference, and I was saying that I could accept the decision of our relatively conservative congregation not to support same-sex marriage as long as they would take a positive stance to welcoming gay and lesbian Christians into our congregation (as seen in Recommendation #2 in Orlando). My wife wondered whether they even have any intention of welcoming gays and lesbians (they claim they do, though this stated goal is patently not accomplished).

As we talked, my wife handed me a scrap of paper that said, "Consider what God says: 1 Cor. 6:9-10" Now my wife and I have very similar views on this, so I thought it was a very odd thing for her to do. It turned out that a woman sitting at the table next to us had handed the note to my wife on her way out, and she did so so subtly that I didn't even notice. So I ran through the verse in my mind, and I thought, "Maybe she thought we were slandering the WordAlone people" (see 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Then last night I went to a meeting of the local chapter of WordAlone. On the way in, I was handed a brochure about how a congregation might become a member of "an association of confessing churches". I found out after the meeting, that my congregation has already done this! Apparently, if I have the order of events correct: (1) the Common Confession was posted on our web site as what we believe, (2) about a week later, our congregational board voted to approve this confession and join the "association", (3) about a month later, at a meeting of the local chapter of WordAlone, the invitation to join such an association was made "public." Very nice. One of my friends compared it to how the U.S. got involved in Iraq.

So meanwhile, back at the WordAlone meeting that I crashed, we got the pastor's update on what went down in Orlando and his statement that he wants to affirm (1) no more gay bashing, (2) everyone is welcome in our church, and (3) we should be clear that our church believes marriage is between a man and a woman. OK, number three is abundantly accomplished, and number one, giving them the benefit of charity, is a bit subjective. So in the Q&A period, when they accidently gave me the mike, I pointed out that the statement on marriage sent the implicit message that gays and lesbians are not welcome, and I asked if we had considered balancing that with an explicit statement on the web site affirming that they are welcome (I don't see any logical reason a congregation can't be WordAlone and Reconciling in Christ).

Naturally, you don't get to be head pastor at a large church by giving a straight answer to a question like that. But what happened next completely floored me. A woman in the back got the microphone and, looking directly at me, asked why we need to label people -- why we can't just say everyone is welcome (of course because we're all sinners in need of redemption) and leave it at that. In case anyone reading this doesn't know the answer, here it is from the Lutherans Concerned web site: "It is assumed by most GLBT people that they are not welcome in any church unless told otherwise. Even a general statement of welcome is heard as really meaning 'everybody but me,' so it takes a special effort to communicate the same welcome."

So this is where I am today. The conservatives in my church have a majority. They've used that majority to pack the congregational board with their own kind, directly thwarting efforts by our leadership development committee to construct a board that evenly represents the congregation. They've put in place a provision for people to be sure none of their giving to the church goes to the synod or the ELCA. And now they've put us in "an association of confessing churches."

I know the perfect church doesn't exist, but this is ridiculous.

All I'm asking is that they take recommendation #2 from the churchwide assembly seriously. They can affirm, along with the bishops, that they can't bless same sex unions. But will they now accept the challenge to "welcome gay and lesbian persons" into the life of our church? Will they seek to "discern ways to provide faithful pastoral care" to gay and lesbian Christians?

What should I do?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Eucharistic Sharing

As last week's events unfolded in Orlando, a challenge was frequently raised, and not so frequently answered, for someone to discuss the other decisions being made by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. One of these other decisions that was approved will little fanfare or controversy was the Interim Eucharistic Sharing agreement with the United Methodist Church. I'd like explore that a little here.

First a couple of pieces of trivia about me:

  1. I was born on Reformation Day 1969 and baptized in the Lutheran Church in America the following February. My mother was reading Robert Fischer's biography of Luther in a Sunday school class in the weeks leading up to my birth.

  2. My middle name is Wesley. I am at least the fourth male child in my family line to bear this middle name, dating back at least to my great-great-great grandfather Josiah Wesley and interrupted only by a pair of Wilson's, the first of whom was born in the early '20s. My grandfather tells me we left the Methodist church because his mother was beaten out for control of the local congregation.

So this is a happy union for me.

I know a lot of people frown on the ELCA's ecumenical activities. It's easy to be cynical. We engage in years of dialogue with another church body, discussing our differences, and then eventually announce that we are more or less in agreement on the relevant issues. To the extent that this is a fair charge, it is a lamentable exercise.

But that's not generally the way I look at it. I tend to take a broad view of the satis est clause in the Augsburg Confession and the corresponding definition that "the Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered."

There is of course a lot to be discussed in asking whether the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered, and Luther himself didn't exactly set a generous table in this regard. But I for one don't think a theology exam needs to be involved. Is Jesus Christ proclaimed? Are Baptism and the Lord's Supper offered? That's good enough for me. I am a big fan of the slogan that Christ said "Take and eat" not "Take and understand."

All these words, and I still haven't said anything about the recent agreement....

The background material for the recommendation that was appoved in Orlando mentions that last year's UMC convention introduced "an amendment to clarify reference to a common misunderstanding among United Methodists that Lutherans believe in consubstantiation." This is an interesting tidbit. I find that a lot of Lutheran's don't quite understand this either. It's not at all unusual to hear a Lutheran talking enthusiastically about consubstantiation. Oops.

The actual text of the approved recommendation included a call "to now recognize the United Methodist Church as a church in which the Gospel is preached and taught." OK, so we've got half of the requirements for the Church there (assuming we wink at their semi-Pelagianism). I was surprised it didn't go ahead and add "and the Sacraments are administered."

If nothing else came of the dialogue between Lutherans and Methodists, it may have been worth it just to have the UMC produce the document, This Holy Mystery. I haven't had time to consider it in detail, but on the whole it looks like a pretty interesting document.

The introduction begins by explaining what Methodists will get from a deeper consideration of the Lord's Supper. It says:
According to the results of a survey conducted by the General Board of Discipleship prior to the 2000 General Conference, there is a strong sense of the importance of Holy Communion in the life of individual Christians and of the church. Unfortunately, there is at least an equally strong sense of the absence of any meaningful understanding of Eucharistic theology and practice.
That they want to do something about this is something I rejoice to hear. What wonderful things can come of a longing for a deeper encounter with the Eucharist!

My own limited experiences with the United Methodist Church have left me with the impression that their worship is dry. Maybe it's just the congregations I've visited. Maybe it's just my own dependence on smells and bells. Either way, it's not a setting I would want to call home.

One of the things all too often lacking in ecumenical dialogue is any kind of substantial change in either dialogue partner. It would be nothing short of miraculous if Lutheranism could impart a deeper appreciation for the Lord's Supper as a spiritual gift to Methodists. (A serious call to discipleship and spiritual formation would most likely be what they would offer us in return, but I've seen few indications that the ELCA is experimenting with that.)

Later, the UMC document says, "Prevenient grace is that which 'comes before' anything we can do to help ourselves." And suddenly I am sharply awakened from the slumber I was slipping into reading the document. Who let the scholastics in here? Why are we talking to these heretics? I'm out of here!

But they quickly add, "In truth, all grace is prevenient—we cannot move toward God unless God has first moved toward us." The first part of the sentence is encouraging; the second part sounds like semi-Pelagian hedging. Overall, I'll lean toward charity and take it as just a foreign way of talking.

Further along, the document declares, "Holy Communion is eschatological." This is fantastic! I read an essay a while ago by Joachim Jermias where he made the claim that the petition for daily bread in the Lord's Prayer is essentially eschatological and connected with the Lord's Supper. This kind of reflection can really enrich our appreciation of the Sacrament.

But the real queston every Lutheran is asking is, "Do they believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament?" (Not that that has kept us out of communion with other denominations.) On this question, This Holy Mystery proclaims, "Jesus Christ, who 'is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being' (Hebrews 1:3), is truly present in Holy Communion." Not quite an affirmation of Christ's words "This is my body" but on the whole a good start.

Later the document states, "The consecrated elements are to be treated with reverent respect and appreciation as gifts of God’s creation that have, in the words of the Great Thanksgiving, become 'for us the body and blood of Christ.'" That's much better, but I'm suppose anyone who wanted to could wiggle out of it.

The real talking point for me is what we are really going to require. Are we going to insist on a strict agreement that "the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present, and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine."? Are we going to split hairs over what we mean by that?

I'm not suggesting that we relax our own Lutheran teaching on this (although it may be questioned how much it is relaxed or even dropped in local congregations). But to me, the essence of the Lutheran teaching on the Lord's Supper is that Jesus Christ truly comes to me in the Sacrament. Beyond this, I believe in respecting the mystery. I need not know how Christ comes to me, only that he does. I understand the historic controversies in this regard as centering around what seemed to be denials of this basic fact (for instance, if Christ does not come to me in body and blood, he has not truly come). If we get legalistic about our manner of Christ's presence, we are in danger of slipping into a Lutheran scholasticism.

But now I feel like I've gone down a rabbit trail. My consideration of the agreement between the United Methodist Church and the ELCA has gotten all tangled up in Lutheranism. To extricate myself summarily, let me just say, I'm pleased with the Interim Eucharistic Sharing agreement with the UMC. If only we took our theology as seriously in daily practice as we do when in dialogue over ecumenical agreements!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Friday, August 12, 2005

Friday Beer Blogging

The label in the picture (from the brewer's website) calls this St. Peter's Organic Ale, but the label on my bottle (likely because it was imported to America) calls it St. Peter's English Ale (but notes that the hops and barley were organically grown).

All puns aside, this beer is truly heavenly. It comes in a yellow oval bottle which has some distinct appeal to it. The beer itself has a nice amber color and is slightly cloudy (usually a good sign). It's slightly bitter with zesty hops, and left respectable Brussels Lace on the glass. It was refrigerated when I bought it, but I left it out a while before drinking it and then drank slowly, and sure enough it got better and better as it approached room temperature (warning: don't try this with mass-produced American beers).

I had it with a piece of Vienna bread, which turned out to be a very good choice.

I see on their web site it's available in 9 gallon casks. I wonder what the shipping would be for a few of those....

Night Strike

I complained a while ago about The Oregonian burying a story on local law enforcement officers driving homeless people out of state forests on page C12. Today, I got to see a very nice counter-example. The Portland Tribune, a local bi-weekly paper, had as their top story (including a full-color, above-the-fold, half-page picture) a piece about a local ministry that helps the homeless.

Now Portland has a number of homeless shelters and Gospel Missions, but this ministry looks special. The group is BridgeTown Ministries and the program is called Night Strike. Basically, they get together every Friday night under the Burnside Bridge and hang out with whoever shows up. They offer some food, of course, but their signature service seems to be foot washing. They wash and massage the feet of the people who come to them and offer them new socks. They also offer hair cuts and shaves. Above all, they offer dignity.

The Tribune article included interviews with a couple of the homeless men who come to Night Strike. One man describing the foot massage added this: "And the whole time they’re talking to you. They wonder how you’re doing, what your story is. They listen to you, and they ask if they can pray for you. The prayer is very soothing. It gives you a sense of encouragement and motivation." They listen to you. Imagine that.

In the suburb where I live now I hardly ever come into contact with homeless people, and my life is the less for it. Where I used to live, I took the light rail every day through downtown, and from time to time I'd meet homeless people. They'd approach me and talk to me. They're just about the only people who ever talk to strangers on the train. It sometimes made me uncomfortable, but it was good -- good for me. You get a kind of closeness listening to a person who has few people to talk to that you rarely get talking to people you know. They open themselves up. Reading the story about Night Strike reminded me of that, and reminded me how insulated I've let myself become from those in need.

The other interesting thing about Night Strike, and Bridgetown Ministries in general, is that it is a stealth ministry. It's not really a ministry to homeless people. It's really a ministry to young people. They minister to young people by inviting them to come and help out with this other ministry. They enrich their lives through service. I don't mean to downplay the ministry they offer to the homeless, and I certainly don't mean to accuse them of deception. But they are a youth movement. Their web site looks suspiciously like an emergent church site. It's got out of focus pictures, staff members with goatees, square brackets around titles, no one over the age of 35 (and only the directors over 25), and, sure enough, director Marshall Snider's blog reveals that he is currently reading A Generous Orthodoxy.

One of the complaints I've heard (and made) about the emergent movement is that there's no there there yet. Well, here's one proof to the contrary.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Burning Bush

I've read two of Lawrence Kushner's books and both of them include a story about Moses and the Burning Bush. The common interpretation is that having the bush burn without being consumed was a miracle that God performed to capture Moses' attention. But Rabbi Kushner observes that for a God who could perform such wonders as parting the Red Sea this is really a cheap trick. Why didn't God do something more dramatic?

Here's where it gets good. Imagine you see a bush on fire. How long would you have to watch it burn before you could tell whether or not it was being consumed? Answer: Three to five minutes. Moses was watching this bush intently for three to five minutes before he could even suspect that something was unusual about it.

So why didn't God do something more dramatic? It wasn't a miracle to get Moses' attention. It was a test to see if Moses was the sort of person who could pay attention for three to five minutes.

The point of this story is that God is everywhere, all around us, but to see God we have to be paying attention. Naturally, we come across similar ideas in Christianity. Daniel Erlander's Baptized We Live talks about the Lutheran way of seeing God in the world, hidden under everything around us. Everything is potentially a sacrament of God's presence. This idea is also prominent in Eastern Orthodoxy. Alexander Schmemann, in his excellent book For the Life of the World, talks about the false dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural that too often shows up in Western Christianity.

The idea is also central to Quaker spirituality. In Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, Richard Foster tells the story of one meeting where he was encouraging the congregants to wait silently for the Lord, but the silence was interrupted by a cat scratching at a screen door. Later everyone complained about how the cat distracted them except one former missionary. This wise man said he simply wondered what God was trying to say to them through the cat.

I had an experience like that yesterday morning. I was engaged in lectio divina listening to Psalm 13. As I was meditating on the experience of God's absence, I was jarred by a mild roar coming from my back yard. Not being the sort to handle distraction, I broke off my prayer and went out to investigate. What I found was that the sprinklers had come on, but one of the sprinkler heads was being blocked by the barbeque cover causing the noise. As I looked at the patch of yellow grass in from of me (I'm not usually up early enough to hear the sprinklers), I realized that God was speaking.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What Is Lutheranism?

When I first came across the announcement of the Lutheran Carnival, I was excited by the idea, because I truly love Lutheranism and I liked the idea of reveling in it with other Lutherans (perhaps not exactly the point of the carnival, but that's what I think of it). I knew that I swim in different waters than a lot of my fellow Lutheran bloggers, but I thought perhaps a little diversity might be appreciated.

Then as I read the requirements for entries, I saw that the organizers were asking that submitters make a "quia subscription to the Book of Concord." I thought that I was probably the sort of person this meant to disinvite, and I chafed at the idea. I chafed so much that I blogged a complaint.

Then Eric Evers of xphiles fame, a fellow ELCA blogger, challenged my complaint. He said, "it's not exactly unreasonable to expect members of a confessional movement to subscribe to the movement's confessions." I certainly can't argue with that (though I did). His response provoked me to thought, the results of which you are now reading.

Evers described for me a "quia subscription" as believing in the Lutheran Confessions because they accurately teach what the Bible teaches, and he contrasted it with a "quatenus subscription" as believing in the Lutheran Confessions in so far as they accurately teach what the Bible teaches. The thing is, neither one of those positions really describes what the Lutheran Confessions mean to me.

At times, I might use either mode of thought. I do think that the Lutheran Confessions express the truth of the Bible wonderfully. But, in so far as I am a theologian (and that isn't very far), I am not a 16th century theologian (my pen name not withstanding). Thus I occaisionally have issues with the way the Book of Concord (and particularly the Formula of Concord, in its precision) formulates things.

But what do I really think of the Book of Concord? This is what I've been wrestling with since reading Evers' response to my rant. And as I've struggled to articulate it, a good Lutheran theologian came to my aid: George Lindbeck.

In his book The Nature of Doctrine, Lindbeck considers two models of doctrine, which he calls "cognitive" (doctrines are propositional truths which are either true or false) and "experiential-expressive" (doctrines are merely symbols of inner feelings). He rejects both as being inadequate and proposes a third approach, a "regulative" model that views doctrines as rules which provide a framework for thinking and talking about God.

The dichotomy between a "quia" subscription and a "quatenus" subscription is clearly based on a cognitive model of doctrine. It maintains that if we stray from our Lutheran castle then we must be saying, directly or indirectly, that the Lutheran Confession are in some way false. But in fact, I am saying no such thing. Rather it is my intention to sing the same song, but perhaps in a different key.

I have a fairly low opinion of the experiential-expressive approach to doctrine and so I won't even bother to address it.

But I would like to attempt to describe what it means to be a Lutheran within a regulative model of doctrine. As Lindbeck describes the regulative model of doctrine, it sees doctrine as being analogous to the syntax rules that govern how you speak a language. If you violate the rules, what you say isn't just wrong, it's meaningless.

His primary example is the Christological dogmas of the Church. If we are to speak about Jesus, we must speak about him in accordance with the dogmas of the Church as spelled out at Chalcedon, et. al. If you do not speak about Jesus in this way, you are no longer speaking of the Jesus in whom Christians confess their faith.

The first criticism that will come up is that this is a way of behaving as if our doctrines were true without really committing to that truth. But that's not what I intend by it. I would, however, claim that believing in the doctrines and behaving as though they were true can't be separated.

The Book of Concord, as I see it, defines who we are as Lutherans. Along with the Bible, it is foundational to our Lutheran identity. It expounds the Lutheran way of reading the Bible, and if we do not read the Bible in harmony with the Book of Concord, we are no longer Lutherans in any meaningful way.

When I speak about justification, my speech is shaped by, defined by, given meaning by the expositions of justification by faith in the Book of Concord. Though I may seek other ways of expressing what justification seems to me to mean, justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone will always be the backbone, nay the full skeletal structure of my thought. And I am fully aware that if I stray from it, what I produce will be a grotesque disfigurment.

So, do I make a "quia subscription" to the Book of Concord? Yes, no, kind of, not really.... Can I claim I don't understand the question? But I can say without reservation that the Book of Concord is the shape of my Christian thought.

A curious feature of Lindbeck's proposal is that he isn't saying this is the way doctrine should work. He is saying this is the way doctrine does work, whether we acknowledge it or not. He's not saying, for instance, that the cognitive-propositional model is bad, just that it doesn't account for the way doctrine functions in our churches.

So with what I've said above about the Book of Concord defining who we are as Lutherans, I believe that strongly confessional Lutherans recognize this, and it is certainly true of them. What I'm suggesting is that whether or not we allow our faith and practice to be grounded in the Book of Concord is more foundational than any truth claims we make about it's contents.

This would, of course, still leave the ELCA open to much criticism. A lot of what goes on in the ELCA isn't grounded in the Book of Concord. But it would open an avenue of dialogue, a place of common ground, between those of us in the ELCA who are serious about Lutheranism and those outside the ELCA who don't understand us.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


I happened to find the forthcoming Lutheran Carnival indirectly by way of a link on xphiles but since Eric doesn't want anyone to "harsh on other blogs" there (a reasonable request, really), I'm going to harsh on them here. Now I realize this is a fairly uncharitable thing for me to do, but this kind of thing irritates me enough that I feel like saying something.

Seeing as the Lutheran Carnival is being hosted by the folks at "Here I Stand" I understood that it was going to be from the conservative Lutheran perspective. Even so, I think I'm pretty Lutheran, so I was briefly entertaining the idea of submitting something for the carnival. Then I read their requirements for entries.
Basically, you have to make a quia subscription to the Book of Concord. What does that mean? You have to believe that the Book of Concord is a right and proper exposition of the Word of God. In essence, you can't believe the Book of Concord was a neat historical leap, but we're beyond that now.
Oh darn! I'm not Lutheran enough after all!

I remembering once hearing that you can always spot a cult because they have a Bible in one hand and another bible in the other hand. I had never really thought this applied to Lutheranism, but....

Now I'm a big fan of the Book of Concord. I tend to think it's a very reliable guide to Lutheranism. But if it can be shown, for instance, that Martin Luther misinterpreted Paul (and I think it can be), then I think we pretty much have to go with Paul. I think true Lutheranism requires it.

But if the history of the Book of Concord shows us anything, it's that nothing is quite so authentically 16th century Lutheran as disputes over who's really a Lutheran and who's not.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Friday Beer Blogging

Inspired by Lutheran Chik's "Friday Bloom Blogging" and Lee recent post on American beers at verbum ipsum, and following in the great Lutheran tradition, I thought I'd give a go at Friday Beer Blogging.

My choice for this week is Twilight Ale by Deschutes Brewery.

This is a seasonal that I hadn't had before, but generally I find that you can't go wrong with Deschutes. I usually prefer dark beers, but I was having pizza tonight, so this was a good complement.

At first taste I thought it was very nearly Coors, but as I took a little more time with it the complexity came around -- a decent amount of hops, but not over powering, and just a little bit fruity (kind of like Grolsch). Overall, not at all bad.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


I got hooked up with an online music service last week, and I've been rediscovering a lot of old favorites that didn't quite manage to make the transition from cassette to CD with me. Steve Jobs has said that it doesn't make sense to rent music, but he obviously underestimates the number of albums I'd like to listen to now and then but wouldn't be willing to pay $10+ to own.

Among the old friends I've gotten reacquainted with is U2's War. I was a fan of U2 in the early 80's, but around the time The Joshua Tree came out I decided they were too commercial. But what I've discovered this week is that I didn't really appreciate then how spiritual some of their music was. (Imagine, a teenager overlooking spirituality!)

In particular, I'm currently enamoured with "40". It's a simple little song based on Psalm 40, but the real genius of the song is that it juxtaposes the praise of Psalm 40 with the "How long?" motif from Psalm 6. Here are the lyrics (I leave it as an exercise for the readers to look up the psalms):
I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit,
out of the miry clay

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long? How long? How long?
How long to sing this song?

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and fear

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long? How long? How long?
How long to sing this song?
What I love about this song is the way it rehearses Psalm 40's confession of God's deliverance, but then throws in the longing, asking "When will I be able to make this confession my own? When will the Lord do this?"

I've said before that I think one of the great things lacking in Christianity, generally, today is this longing for God's action. We spend so much time trying to live an abundant life that we've forgotten how to wait for the Lord.

There's a Generous Orthodoxy conference in Seattle this November that's going to include a workshop on "U2 Theology". The description says:
Why do so many people follow U2 and Bono? Why do many young followers of Jesus think of them as the world’s best worship band? What are they saying with and through their music and why should we be paying attention to their theological tunes?
I've heard their general approach described as "deferred redemption". There's certainly something in that that resonates with me.

On one level, this is probably just a characteristic of my generation (i.e. Gen X self-loathing and longing for God are two sides of the same coin). On the other hand, I think this also ties in with things like Jurgen Moltmann's eschatalogical theology.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Emmanuel Goldstein

I've been thinking recently about Emmanuel Goldstein. In George Orwell's novel 1984 Emmanuel Goldstein is the arch-enemy of Big Brother and leader of an underground resistance movement. But it becomes clear as the novel goes on that Goldstein, to the extent that he exists at all, is actually a tool that Big Brother uses to control and eliminate resistence. Or is he?

This is where interpretation struggles to break free from the author. In Orwell's world, Big Brother is invincible and hope is ultimately crushed. But it seems to me, and it's possible that Orwell intended this, that Emmanuel Goldstein does exert a counter-cultural influence on his society even if he is purely a device the government uses to control the masses. Even if this is true, he touches something in the human spirit and creates hope. Of course, unfulfilled hope is itself a tool that can be exploited to keep the masses in line, but hope is a dangerous thing that always threatens to break free and create something new and uncontrolled.

The recent event that got me thinking about Emmanuel Goldstein was an account I heard of Bob Geldof's remarks before the Live 8 concert. Geldof reported a conversation with Bono in which he marveled at Live 8 being "a final push" rather than an outreach for broader public awareness as previously conceived. This remark struck me as very odd because other than "W" giving public support to Tony Blair's debt cancellation plan (which isn't as sweeping as is needed) it didn't seem to me as if anything had changed. Geldof's remark seemed to be formulated to make people feel good about something that hadn't actually been done. Mission accomplished?

Then more recently I received an e-mail from the ONE campaign with the subject line "You Did It!" What I did was to convince the US Senate to vote 100 million dollars for AIDS relief in Africa. I don't really know the facts on this one, but on the scale of the needs for aid in Africa and the scale of government spending, this didn't really seem all that earthshaking. Especially when compared to:

Finally, last week I read Marshall Frady's little biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Frady gave a fair amount of attention to SNCC's frustration with King's moderate approach. This brought to mind Howard Zinn's characterization of King in his A People's History of the United States where he all but says King was an unwitting puppet in the hands of the Kennedy administration. Frady's perspective gave a little more balance to the situation, but between the two of them I was able to imagine myself as an earlier sixties civil rights supporter with an uncertain view of what King was really accomplishing.

Of course, Howard Zinn not withstanding, I think history shows clearly what King was actually accomplishing. From my viewpoint in history, he was certainly Moses. But I can imagine that during his lifetime he may have looked a bit like Emmanuel Goldstein.

And this is true of Jesus and all the prophets as well.

I'm not sure where this leaves me. Perhaps the most I can say is that it gives me a new appreciation for the fact that I cannot see today the full effect of what is being done today. The work of God unfolds in history through the work of men and women and we only rarely catch glimpses of it.

The system will always try to co-opt hope for its own purposes, but hope has a power all its own. It may even be that Operation Iraqi Freedom will end up liberating the people of Iraq in spite of the best efforts of the Ministry of Love.

Monday, August 01, 2005

New Orleans

New Orleans is a very fascinating city. While in many ways San Francisco (which I visited earlier in the year) is a city in love with other cultures, New Orleans is indisputably a city in love with its own cultures. If America is the great melting pot, New Orleans is a part that hasn't been stirred in a while. The co-existence of cultures is something to see.

Lousiana has parishes, not counties, reflecting its Catholic heritage, and St. Louis Cathedral is the one immaculate building in the French Quarter which otherwise seems to take pride in being somewhat run down. And yet the short section of Chartres with a street sign naming it Place John Paul II is the daily home of psychics and tarot card readers.

Staying for only a week and frequenting tourist targets it was hard to get a feel for what's genuine and what's show, but on the whole I'd say New Orleans has some great things to contribute to the spirituality of the country.