Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Gastric God

Physical gluttony goes unrecognized these days. Sometimes we note its effects. Obesity is an epidemic, physicians say. But as strange as it may sound, even Jack Sprat could be gluttonous. For gluttony is not always overeating, but rather the sinful use of food and the other appetites.

But even overeating is seen more as a foolishness, rather than a sin. In our world the man with belt undone on Thanskgiving night is silly, not hell-bound. Delight in Food is a virtue for some, hence an entire television network devoted to the vice. Still in doubt? Listen for a few moments to The Splendid Table from America Public Media. Sometimes their talk of food is nearly pornographic.

C. S. Lewis once wrote:

The desire to eat and enjoy food is normal, but if people thought about food the whole day long, dribbled over pictures of food and went to watch shows in which a cover was slowly lifted from a plate revealing, just before the lights went off, a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, one could not but conclude that there was something very wrong with their appetite for food. This is precisely what our present sexual instinct is like. It is warped, to a far greater extent than our appetite for food. “…perversions of the food appetite are rare. But perversions of the sex instinct are numerous, hard to cure, and frightful.” (Mere Christianity)

Lewis was ignorant of what was to come. “Perversions of the food appetite” are not rare, but so ingrained upon us now that we do not recognize them. How often do we think of eating? When do we ask “What’s for Supper?” Already at three o’clock? Is moderation in eating a virtue? Granted, we do not go to cuisine burlesque shows, but we don’t need to–we can open nearly any major magazine and see full-color spreads of steaks and glistening vegetables. Then there’s the Food Network (again): it shows us food in action. Society completely bypassed the culinary burlesque show and went straight for hard-core food shots, hiding nothing to inflame our passion for food. We can have a fully satisfying dinner, perhaps even a snack at eight o’clock, and right before the late news begins, the temptress Outback Steakhouse reveals a steak running with juice and a gloriously golden Booming Onion and our stomachs growl and groan and Pavlov couldn’t be happier with the saliva that floods our mouth.

St. Paul wrote, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19 NKJV).

Fasting is a help for this, a specific rejection of the gastric god and the decision to not follow every whim of my body. Fasting teaches us that eating what and when we want is not the best way. And if our bellies learn that, perhaps our other appetites as well.

Monday, March 5, 2007

"Imitate Me"

So says St. Paul in Philippians 3:17. Likewise, he exhorts us the same in 2 Thes. 3:7-9:

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. (ESV)

And most pertinently,

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7 ESV)

Thus the Church kept the stories of the holy lives of the Saints and Martyrs.

As we discussed this Sunday morning in Sunday School, I met with a feeling of a little resistance. It was a feeling and could have been only that, but I sensed thoughts like, “Oh, Pastor’s going all Catholic on us again.” I tried to point out that knowing, honoring and imitating the stories of the “heroes of faith” is the practice of the Church since the beginning; we even have the Protestant Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: A History of the Lifes, Sufferings, and Triumphant Deaths of the Early Christian and the Protestant Martyrs (Hendrickson Christian Classics)

We have a Lutheran version as well, found in the Feasts & Commemorations Calendar in the new Lutheran Service Book. Brief biographies can be found here and you can sign up for them to be emailed to you here.

It is not difficult to see the reason for such things: the Apostles call us to imitate them and “our leaders,” imitating their faith and life. How can we do this if we do not know who they are or what they did? Now our families and parishes all have stories of the saints who walked among them: Grandma Swanson who prayed for an hour every morning; Pastor Schmidt who worked tirelessly; the Founders of the Synod and so forth. But keeping our Justice League’s membership to such few localized examples impoverishes us to the “cloud of witnesses that surround us” (Heb 12:1). And what a cloud it is!

That many parishioners today know more about the life and works of Brittany Spears or Peyton Manning is argument enough that Satan has been at work. That protestants should not blink twice at knowing the biographies of their favorite athletes and entertainers but believe the stories and biographies of those who gave their life for Christ is somehow “Catholic” and “un-Biblical” is a tragedy worthy of our tears and repentance.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Proselytizing and Sheep-Stealing

Last week I debated with myself about posting something “controversial” here again. Looking at my site meter, many of you graciously visited often back in October & November when we discussed the departure of Fr. John Fenton from the LCMS–and we had many other visitors as well. So I thought, in a purely worldly and sinful fashion, that if I were to post something that aroused the reader’s ire, perhaps I could gain more visitors. What can I say, I am a Church Growth-er at heart, it seems–or just prideful and seeking recognition. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!

While posting something like that purely for sake of publicity would be wrong (and make me akin to James Cameron–see below), an interesting discussion has developed at Weedon’s Blog that is worth noting. It seems a new Yahoo! Group called Lutherans Looking East has been formed, whose purpose is to provide…

an open forum for current or former Lutherans who may be either looking or going East - or simply open-minded and curious about the second largest group of Christians in the world. Lutheran converts to Orthodoxy are available to provide Orthodox answers to honest questions about the Orthodox Church.

Charges of sheep-stealing and proselytizing were immediately charged–and those are serious charges.

Sheep-stealing is more straightforward of the two. One minister in this area sent fliers to all the local churches advertising a special “Cowboy Service” to be held at a stockyard on Thursday Nights. It was unclear from the advertisements whether this would be an on-going attraction or a one-night only affair. The draw was to come and see how the Cowboys on the cattle drives would worship around the chuck wagons, I suppose (Government Springs near downtown Enid was a stop on the Chisholm Trail, after all, and we love our cattlemen here). Many churches dutifully placed the posters on their bulletin boards and went on with life. Only after a month or so did I realize that the Cowboy Church was the real deal, hosting services every week and encouraging membership. It raised my eyebrows, as it seems awfully close to say, placing a sign in a Wendy’s restaurant for a special activity that just happens to take place at the McDonald’s across town. It is generally seen as unethical to lure members of one church into another for the ultimate purpose of gaining members. When we host our Vacation Bible School, for instance, I intentionally only invite those “without a church home” to join us on the following Sunday.

Proselytizing is a bit trickier. In definition it doesn’t differ much from “religious conversion.” Some make distinctions this way: proselytism is enticing someone to your religious beliefs, actively seeking converts through advertising and “evangelism;” true conversion would entail a potential convert seeking truth elsewhere at his initiative instead of the church’s. Thus, knocking on doors and Ablaze programs might be proselytism, but taking telephone calls or emails from people who have heard about Lutheranism is not. Roman Catholics define proselytism as “forcing” conversion or by offering material inducements to those who convert which current members do not receive–a broader definition.

Our history as Lutherans would lead us to affirm the propriety, even need, of converting from one religion/church to another. If religious conversion were always bad, then there would be few, if any Lutherans. We do our own fair share of encouraging evangelism, advertising and “making our presence” known. If we have the truth, and others don’t, the Word of God compels us to proclaim it to any and all who might hear. Someone said something like this once back in 1521. And I know of no Lutherans who have ever been offered material gain for conversion (in fact, it is rare in my experience for Lutherans to give material need to our own who are needy–shame on us!).

So, is establishing a web-based dialogue for Lutherans who have heard about the Orthodox church and are interested or curious an act of proselytizing? Sheep stealing?

What do you think? Is it suspect because it is targeted to one specific religion (Lutherans), but something less targeted wouldn’t be suspect? Would it be appropriate for Lutherans to form a site targeted to the Orthodox? Catholic? Baptists?