Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Doing Penance

I broke my son’s favorite toy during my lunch hour. It was a loud, shrieking gizmo with flashing lights and electronic music that had begun to make even more noise, a horrid grinding, scraping noise. Since Jack was big enough to play with it, I’ve been meaning to spray some WD-40 in it, to loosen the screaming parts, to grease the wheels a little.

So this afternooon with Jack safely in his exersaucer, I sprayed the slime into the spinning, grinding part. I turned it on. Now the spinning part that made the terrible noise didn’t spin, but it still made the sound. Flipping the contraption over, I noticed 10 nice screws holding it all together. I fetched the screwdriver.

Once all the screws were extracted, I popped the plastic clamshell open, or at least as open as I could get it. One little brown wire was soldered to a contact on one half, the rest of the guts in the other. So I swiveled the top to the side and began to spray more WD-40 on the little cogwheels that apparently were binding.

Nothing. But then it didn’t have any power, either, so it was all okay. I started to put it back together but then I noticed more screws holding the cogs in place and a plastic piece that shielded the offending part that used to turn and shriek but now just shrieks. I removed it all and discovered what I thought was the problem: a little plastic belt that was attached to the motor which drove the cogs around was slack. Glory! It would be a simple matter to fix that.

I sent Eliana and Olivia to find a nice hair pretty or rubber band I could replace it with, but with no luck. By this time Marjorie came downstairs and stood over me. A pause. “You know this is his favorite toy, don’t you?”

I decided to put everything back the way I found it. I attached the plastic covers and holders over the cogwheel assembly and then realized the clamshell was completely apart: the little brown wire was no longer soldered to the contact. I traced the brown wire back through the junctions to the minature circuit board. Maybe the brown wire was a ground? Maybe it wasn’t that important? I didn’t think so. I screwed everything back together, re-assembled the gizmo, and turned it on.

The little brown wire apparently was important. I left the entire assembly on the dining room table and told Marjorie I had to go back to work to finish getting ready for the liturgy tonight.

But tonight I will pull out my soldering iron and get busy. That is, after I repent.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

“Dissolute, Weak, Irresolute, Undisciplined…”

I read Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain last year. It’s got some really good bits. There some nonsense about God rewarding the potential of the soul, but he’s also got some razor sharp diagnoses of our human frailties.

What stuck me most was his self-charactarization before his voyage to America to study at Columbia:

“It did not take very much reflection on the year I had spent at Cambridge to show me that all my dreams of fantastic pleasures and delights were crazy and absurd, and that everything I had reached out for had turned to ashes in my hands, and that I myself, into the bargain, had turned out to be an extremely unpleasant sort of a person–vain, self-centered, dissoulte, weak, irresolute, undisciplined, sensual, obscene and proud. I was a mess” (Merton, pg. 132).
How does this not characterize most students today? Most people today? What Merton could detect in himself while still an outright pagan is lost on men today. It is on lost on many who would claim to be Christian and still cannot see themselves. Of course, Merton wrote this as a Christian and could very well have been analysing his past while contemplating in his Trappist monastery. On the other hand, he writes this diagnosis as a large factor in his motivation to be a collegiate Communist.

His sins? Partying, drinking, gossiping, criticising, staying up late, and skipping lectures. Yet beneath these outward sins, Merton had been given the eyes to recognize the source of these symptoms, the festering gangrene that began in his toes and worked its way out in his jaws, that filled his whole vile flesh from one end to the other.

That God would give us the eyes to see ourselves in such clear light! Grant it, Good Lord!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Proverbs on Love

There’s a reason that Jesus says that we must become like little children. These kids understand love. If you’re prone to skip over cute sayings by children, don’t! These are truly wise.
“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy - age 4

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy - age 6

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” Terri - age 4

“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Danny - age 7

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Bobby - age 7

“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” Elaine-age 5

“If you want to learn to love better, start with someone you hate.” Nikka-age 6

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Why I Love Chanting

It is not just “talking about God” and it’s not just “talking to God.” It’s not talking at all. It is chant, and it is only done in worship. It’s an entire method of oral communication that is strictly reserved for the Divine. That is cool.
It teaches. It teaches what Pastor is doing–what I am doing too–is different from everday life, different than anything else under the Sun. It must be worship because it doesn’t happen anywhere else. It’s not just more talking when it’s not being said…even better, it cannot be just talking when it’s chanted.

It is a little disconcerting. It demands attention. It cannot be drowned out with thoughts about laundry, at least not very easily. If you try not to pay attention to the words, then it becomes for you other-worldly music, music you can let wash over you, but music you can’t easily just ignore.

But I find it’s easy to pay attention when the words are given a tone, a chant, a melody, a lift. It doesn’t sound like everything else anymore, and that grabs our fickle hearts and minds.

Of course whether you like chanting is a matter of preference. You may just as easily find it a little too Catholic for you. But why should Catholics have all the good music? Ultimately, though, it’s not a matter whether I like chanting or you like chanting or none of us like chanting the liturgy. It’s a matter of what the practice of the Church is, and a matter of what helps us. Talking may be praying, talking may be worship, but in our culture chanting always is.

Rant, Part II

When exactly did “worship” cease to be a verb and become a gerund? Even worse, when did it become an intransitive verb? Why is that people gather together for worship, and then begin “our worship,” and say they worship without any sense of actual homage given to any specific god? Or worse, in worship people speak and sing about how they have been, are, or are “fixin’ to” worship God, but don’t actually get around to doing it. Why do we sing about “kneeling down” before God but never actually kneel? Or if they are worshipping, they believe that means “Singing songs about God and me that I like and make feel good inside and hearing a lecture that is inspiring.” Since when is that worship?

Since the Reformation, I suppose. Lutherans are guilty of over-emphasing the priority of the sermon. But other Reformed bodies go even further. When they teach that God is not physically present in the Sacrament and the Word of God and knowledge of it is pre-eminent, what happens on Sunday becomes a lecture and some inspiration. There is no God there to worship, and what happens in church buildings is cerebral and intangible.

I hear the objections: God is everywhere! And God is spirit. Even Jesus said we are to worship in “Spirit and truth.” “The Word of God endures forever.” But listening to a lecture is not worship. Praying is worship. Standing and bowing before the God who has come in the Sacrament is worship. Offering God our sacrifice of praise is worship. If hymns are not understood to be prayers to the Almighty, I really think they could just be songs.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Rant, Part I

I despise with great despising the “Call to Worship” found in the “service folder” of many congregations with the name “Lutheran” somewhere in their constitutions. What in all blazes is a “Call to Worship?” How in tarnation did this innovation find a place in our worship and practice? What is it? Where does it come from? What is the purpose? Isn’t that what the bells ringing are supposed to do? Why do people who should know better include them in their “liturgies” they write for “special services”? And why “special services” anyway? So that people will be kept in the dark and not know how to worship God and have their head in handouts every Sunday or Wednesday night? So the pastor will look busy, inventing all kinds of new ways to exclude the eldery, the illiterate and children from participating? Since when are Matins and Vespers not good enough? Even Evening Prayer or Morning Prayer?

Monday, February 5, 2007

Preparing for the Fast

Simon Peter, the professional fisherman knew the lake and the fish. Yet Jesus told him where and when to let down the nets. “Master…at your word…” Peter replied, and did, and was blessed with an abundance, which he left on the shore in order to follow Jesus. In today’s parlance it may be akin to someone finding a winning lottery ticket, only to give it away and join a monastery. But maybe that’s stretching it.Our Lord commands things that sometimes seem strange and foreign to us. He commands that we obey and respect our rulers, no matter how corrupt and immoral they may be. He reveals that it is more virtuous to speak little, rather than be talkative:

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17:27-28 ESV)

And our Lord commands us to fast. He says, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:17-18 ESV). Fasting has always been a basic practice in the life of God’s people. While simplistic statistical analysis of word usage has always bugged me, it may be worth noting that a basic Hebrew term for fasting (sum) is used forty-seven times in the Old Testament, and nhsteuw is used twenty-one times in the New Testament. What may be most interesting is the lack of thorough discussion of it in the mosaic law, yet the practice of fasting appears throughout the Old Testament narrative–even as early as Judges 20, with the civil war led by the tribe of Benjamin.

We are to fast. It is good for us. But how? Here is a link to a convenient table, noting the fasting practice of the Western Church…in other words, this is the fast that Lutherans have followed. Do not blindly follow this practice! This may well reflect the maximum. Begin slowly, and by all means consult your pastor. Fasting is not to be a show of spiritual or physical strength and stamina, nor ought it make you proud of your accomplishment. Your pastor will give good direction in when to start and how often to practice it. If you are young, with child or nursing, ill or elderly, a strict fast may do you harm; talk to your pastor before you start.

But what if you approach your pastor and mention this to him and are rejected? That is a touchy situation. For our Lutheran Confessions say many good things about fasting:

33] Moreover, they teach that every Christian ought to train and subdue himself with bodily restraints, or bodily exercises and labors that neither satiety nor slothfulness tempt him to sin, but not that we may merit grace or make satisfaction for sins by such exercises. 34] And such external discipline ought to be urged at all times, not only on a few and set days. So Christ commands, 35] Luke 21, 34: Take heed lest your hearts 36] be overcharged with surfeiting; also Matt. 17, 21: This kind goeth not out but 37] by prayer and fasting. Paul also says, 1 Cor. 9, 27: I keep under my body and bring it into subjection. 38] Here he clearly shows that he was keeping under his body, not to merit forgiveness of sins by that discipline, but to have his body in subjection and fitted for spiritual things, and for the discharge of duty according 39] to his calling. Therefore, we do not condemn fasting in itself, but the traditions which prescribe certain days and certain meats, with peril of conscience, as though such works were a necessary service. (AC XXVI)


Although, therefore, we hold that repentance ought to bring forth good fruits for the sake of God’s glory and command, and good fruits, true fastings, true prayers, true alms, etc., have the commands of God, yet in the Holy Scriptures we nowhere find this, namely, that eternal punishments are not remitted except on account of the punishment of purgatory or canonical satisfactions, i.e., on account of certain works not due, or that the power of the keys has the command to commute their punishments or to remit a portion. These things the adversaries were to prove. [This they will not attempt.] (Ap VI)


46] And true prayers, true alms, true fastings, have God’s command; and where they have God’s command, they cannot without sin be omitted. (Ap VI)

And finally, perhaps the most well known passage in the Confessions:

Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins. (SC VI, 10)

But note well: the last passage does not say that fasting is no use, nor does it say that one can omit fasting with no consequence. It does say that fasting alone does not prepare one well for the Eucharist; faith is required. Far too many Lutherans learn this passage in Confirmation and hear it as, “Fasting is no use at all.” On this point, the Confessions speak most pointedly, “…true fastings have God’s command, and where they have God’s command, they cannot without sin be omitted” (see above).

What is the purpose of fasting? To subdue the body. To refrain from this one thing, the easiest thing to refrain from, in order to begin to learn how to refrain from the more difficult things. For the man consumed by anger cannot easily say, “I will be less angry from now on,” nor can the man consumed by lust say, “I will check my eyes and mind and will begin to lust less and less.” These, and many others sins are stubborn and difficult. While gluttony has its own peculiar power, it is more easily tamed than the others. When your stomach growls and you feel a craving for meat, your spirit may flee to God and remember, “I hunger because I fast; I fast because I sin; Lord have mercy on me!”