Thursday, August 30, 2007

America's Cheapest Family

A link from the Yahoo! page leads here, an ABC News min-report about a family of seven who lives on $35000 per year debt free. It's amazing to me. They obviously never had student loans and excellent health insurance.

The report was too brief, but the little that was reported was fairly intuitive:

1. Don't buy it if you don't have the money.
2. Buy cheap: think used and think thrift stores.
3. Use coupons.

Here during the lunch hour I realized that there is little spiritual comment on this. Perhaps its obvious. But just in case: living simply, doing more with less--or less with less--is not only an active and intentional way to fight avarice, but also serves as a witness to our consumer culture. Avoiding greed not only saves your soul, but it also may save those who see you rejecting this world and its glory--and yes, that includes flatscreen tvs and ipods.

Of course, it would also garner its fair share of disapproval and rejection from those whose very identities are based on materialism and consumption. It's only weirdos who intentionally do less and have less less than those around us. And it should go without speaking that if you feel that living more simply, giving up some modern conveniences, even, God forbid, getting rid of your tv is unjustified and strange, then where do you find your identity and ground for life and culture?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New Location!

I was going to "take this public" in a few days but now it is necessary. The old blog is broken, and I'm not sure I can get it back.

I have been considering moving the URL of this blog for some time, to give it a little space, so to speak, from my Church's website. Doing so was not easy, as you can probably tell. All comments from the past are gone (sigh...). I'm having to manually import the old posts...not fun, but it does give me a little room to edit. Think of this as "This Side..." revised edition.

I even toyed with changing the name of the blog, but thought better of it. Too many changes at once...not a good thing.

So, keep checking back and update your browsers, bookmarks, favorites, readers and so forth.

Contemporary Worship Honesty

Sally Morgenthaler is the author of Worship Evangelism a sort of Bible for the Contemporary worship crowd. But she has come to a sad realization the last few years and spells it out in the May/June edition of Rev! magazine. Here’s a quote:

But from pastors conferences to worship seminars
to seminaries, I began challenging leaders to give
up their mythologies about how they were reaching the
unchurched on Sunday morning. Yes, worship openly and
unapologetically. Yes, worship well and deeply. (Which
means singing songs that may include anger, sadness,
and despair. Have we forgotten that David did this? Have
we discarded the psalms?) But let our deepened, honest
worship be the overflow of what God does through us
beyond our walls.

Conference organizers were confused. They wondered
what had happened to me. Where was the worship
evangelism warrior? Where was the formula? Where was
the pep talk for all those people who were convinced
that trading in their traditional service for a contemporary
upgrade would be the answer? I don’t have to tell
you this. The 100-year-old congregation that’s down to
43 members and having a hard time paying the light bill
doesn’t want to be told that the “answer” is living life
with the people in their neighborhoods. Relationships
take time, and they need an attendance infusion now.
I understood their dilemma, and secretly, I wished
I had a magic bullet. But I didn’t. And I wasn’t going to
give them false hope. Some newfangled worship service
wasn’t going to save their church, and it wasn’t going
to build God’s kingdom. It wasn’t going to attract the
strange neighbors who had moved into their communities
or the generations they had managed to ignore for the
last 39 years. Sally Morgenthaler (Rev! May/June 2007)

Hat tip: McCain

Diaper Free Movement?

This story describes the “movement.” Sorry for the pun.


Dominic is a product of a growing “diaper-free” movement founded on the belief that babies are born with an instinctive ability to signal when they have to answer nature’s call. Parents who practice the so-called “elimination communication” learn to read their children’s body language to help them recognize the need, and they mimic the sounds that a child associates with the bathroom.

Erinn Klatt began toilet training her son at birth and said he has not wet his bed at night since he was six months old.

Somehow I equate this with the baby sign language movement, i.e, teaching your baby simple signs to communicate things such as “hungry,” “more,” “all done,” “drink,” and so forth. I tend to agree with the experts that teaching sign language is easily overdone and interferes with vocal communication development.

But what is fascinating is how both of these methods of supra-early developmental methods reveals the capabilities of infants. It is tempting to think of babies as essential blobs of people who are incredibly cute, but nonetheless inferior and incapable of thought and genuine human interaction. The smiles of a three-month-old melt the heart, but it’s easy to wonder just how much thought is happening.

Stories like this disabuse us of such superior notions, and remind us of the great truth that babies are not so different than any other person created in God’s image. Their techniques are crude and undeveloped, but babies know and learn and think. They can even deceive, as every parent knows instinctually.

It makes you wonder just how much Baby Jack is taking in. Poor guy. Lord have mercy on me!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Swiss Family Robinson and the Christian Life

Last week my wife started reading The Swiss Family Robinson (in adapted form) to the kiddos. I love it when she does this. A year or so ago she read a children’s redaction of The Pilgrim’s Progress and even the littlest ones loved it (and the illustrations).

The story has been on my mind a lot lately, and the stupidest question I had was, “What kind of Swiss name is ‘Robinson?’” It’s not, obviously, and the title should be emphasized as The Swiss Family Robinson, not The Swiss Family Robinson. In other words, the Swiss author (a pastor) is telling the story of a Swiss Family like Robinson (Caruso). The first few chapters tell of the shipwreck and the initial scavenging of supplies from the ship. Unlike modern versions of the castaway genre, however, there seems to be little hope, indeed, no expectation of rescue. The Family wrecked, apparently alone on the island, and they just go about making the best of it.

All of this raises an important question about our identity and purpose as Christians. If you strip away any consideration of worldly comfort, i.e., hardwood floors and granite countertops; vacations and leather seats in your automobile; if you strip away considerations of worldly recognition, i.e., making an impact on this world, a contribution to society; if you even take away the children and grandchildren and enjoying future generations, what do you have left? What is the purpose of living?

This is the situation of the Swiss Family. On a desert island with the means for survival but nothing else: no hope of rescue, no possibility of marriage and children for their sons, only growing old and dying on this island with the animals to bury the last survivor. How then would you live? What is the purpose of such existence?

Some cultures (and subcultures) would find nothing and commit suicide. What’s the point, after all? Why struggle to survive day to day when death will still come at the end? The modern castaway stories are not so bleak: Gilligan and Co. always had a scheme of rescue. Even the Tom Hanks movie ended with his rolling of the die and leaving the island, his leap of faith upon the waters on a makeshift raft. I’m not sure we can existentially handle the possibility of a life without the world. Suicide or the hope of rescue would be the only options. More can be said about this.
However, the biblical witness does not see a difference in castaways with no hope of rescue and citizens living in this world with family and community all around. The Psalmist writes,

You turn man to destruction, And say, ‘Return, O children of men.’ For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night. You carry them away like a flood; They are like a sleep. In the morning they are like grass which grows up: In the morning it flourishes and grows up; In the evening it is cut down and withers” (Psalm 90:3-6 NKJV).


“As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children” (Psalm 103:13-17 NKJV).

And Solomon,

“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit” (Eccl. 1:2-6 NKJV).

The biblical witness tells us that despite the number of toys, the power and influence we may achieve–even the good that we may do–all is temporary and, well, meaningless. Despite the company and comforts we have all around us, we ought to think of ourselves as citizens on the Island. As the Septuagint of Psalm 103 reads, “Remember, man, that we are dust” (LXX Psa. 102.:14).

So again, what is the purpose of the few years we have in this life? If you were to find yourself separated from all humans with no hope of ever returning, like the Swiss Family who will die within their generation, what would you do?

How would you keep on living?

What would be the point of it all?

The way you answer that question is the most important thing in your life.

The Second Silliest Thing Today

Beware of Nigerian puppy scam

LCMS World Mission is asking all LCMS members to beware of an e-mail and Web-based scam concerning puppies that are available for shipping from Africa to the United States.

The scam mentions LCMS Missionaries David Erber and Nathaniel Watt, who serve in Nigeria, and former missionaries to Nigeria Jerry Loewe and Brent Friedrich. Several people who viewed photos of puppies allegedly for sale on the Web site were contacted by e-mail from addresses such as and with an offer to ship the puppies for fees ranging from $150 to $3,000. The e-mails included Bible verses and descriptions of mission work being carried out in Africa.

This is a fraud, according to LCMS World Mission. No LCMS missionaries are attempting to charge people for shipping pets or other items from Africa to the United States.

However, secure donations may be made to support all LCMS missionaries through the LCMS online giving catalog. Those interested in supporting a specific missionary or project can give directly to that account.

(August 22, 2007 ……………….. LCMSNews — No. 58)

“Puppy Scam?” And is the pitch for donations at the end of this “news release” really necessary??

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A "One Storey Universe"

Fr. Stephen Freeman has an excellent series of posts that he bundled together that is essential reading, in my opinion, entitled Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. It will make you think, but I think he is right about our relationship with God and His with us in these latter days.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Beautiful Collect

“Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and art wont to give more than we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen”

Collect for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thoughts on Born and Converted

The discussion continues on the post “Those Who Leave…” below. The discussion has ranged to being “born” in a Church/confession, and the value of that and the propriety of leaving a confession. Instead of adding to the combox, I’m posting my thoughts here.

The past year or so I have given great attention to our Lord’s word to Martha, “One thing is needful.” That, and statements like, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven.” In many respects these statements are the hermenuetical principle of Christianity, i.e, they are primary commands of our Lord. I don’t mean this in an exclusive way; certainly “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself,” is of no lesser weight or primacy, and, well, one can fairly say all our Lord’s Words hold weight. Likewise, one can say that it is prideful cherry-picking to place yourself as judge over a text and say, “Aha, this is the key and all else is of secondary nature!”

When I say these statements of our Lord are primary, I don’t mean to suggest some new understanding. What I do mean is that these words properly order and give meaning to our life and the incarnation of the Word. There is one thing that is necessary, one priority to place ahead of all others, even family, wife, and children, Christ says, and that is the Kingdom of God. Nothing else is lasting. The Kingdom is eternal. Nothing else is life. Nothing is provides; nothing else gives true comfort. While we have many vocations and responsibilities within the Kingdom, that of honor given to parents, elders and authorities, raising children, working, acts of charity, and so forth, they are not ends in themselves. Attaining the Kingdom is the end.

One commenter wrote that what we are seeing in America is almost unprecedented historically–never before in any culture has it been the case that children do not stick with the tradition of their family. It could be true. Obviously there have been times of conversion. Think of the Greeks, the Russians, the Goths…think of the Arabs, Turks, and they Indonesians. The difference, however, is that once the cult(ure) was converted, most people stayed within the tradition, with more or less piety.

To those who convert from one tradition to another, the necessary question is, “By what right do I do this?” Maxim, a commenter, noted that for those who are secular-minded the question is never raised. Many in America (all?) are raised to be consumers, to pick and choose and consume all around them. It appears natural to them to consume religion–not much different than consuming pop music, reggae, country or some of each.

But within a Christian mind that recognizes the Providence of God, an existential crisis should occur, asking, “God placed me within this family of x, so by what right may I renounce this and become a y?” Some that have been enrolled in the catechumenate here have asked that question. Not as many as I would like.

The answer is not difficult: “By what right do I have to become a y? I have become convinced of the truth.” There can be no other answer. But this raises a few more issues. First, I fear that many people do not convert for truth. They convert for convenience or for choice and preference. I’ve asked some who have converted from one confession to another about how their families are taking it, and many of answered that their mom is just glad they’re going to a church. Likewise when folks have left my current confession to another, their parents say the same. I hear little concern for truth and falsehood.

Second, is “being convinced of the truth” just another way of saying, “I prefer this to that?” Luther famously admitted that if he could be shown from Scripture where he was wrong, he would recant. He believed that he had found the truth and could no longer teach and preach what the Catholic Church required. Fair enough. But was he correct? Both Luther and Cajetan could not be correct. One of them was clearly in possession of the Truth, or neither was. Both, however, believed that they were correct and the other wasn’t. In other words, there is an epistemological problem here. It won’t be solved in this post. I believe in objective truth. I believe that we can know it, or know some, in part (1 Cor 13). But the subjective element is the gremlin, the ghost in the machine, the great bugaboo, the monkey wrench that tears it all up.

Reason can only take us so far. Learned reason without learning submission and humility is the problem.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

St. Mary the Mother of God

The Lutheran Service Book calls today “St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord,” but that, frankly, is slightly nestorianizing. She is the rightly called the Mother of God, not somehow the mother of the eternal Trinity, God forbid, but she is the mother of the Incarnate Logos, carrying the Son of God within her womb, which, we all know, makes her a Mother.

It is on this day that she fell asleep, and tradition has it, was laid to rest in Ephesus. Her tomb is there to this day. The Roman Catholic Church says she then was assumed bodily into heaven, which is an old tradition. The Eastern Orthodox Churches remain agnostic on this, calling today the Dormition (falling asleep) of the Theotokos (Mother of God).

In the interest of honoring the Theotokos and not debating her titles, person or reputation consider this:

Kings’ daughters are among Your honorable women; At Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir.

Listen, O daughter, Consider and incline your ear; Forget your own people also, and your father’s house;

So the King will greatly desire your beauty; Because He is your Lord, worship Him.

And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift; The rich among the people will seek your favor.

The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; Her clothing is woven with gold.

She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors; The virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You.

With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; They shall enter the King’s palace.

Instead of Your fathers shall be Your sons, Whom You shall make princes in all the earth.

I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations; Therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever. (Psalm 45:9-17 NKJV)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sad News from the ELCA

I’ve hesitated to post this, but it is important enough.
Here is the resolution that passed the ELCA Convention:

Resolved, that in an effort to continue as a church in moral deliberation without further strife and pain to its members the Churchwide Assembly prays, urges, and encourages synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining those congregations and persons who call into the rostered ministry otherwise-qualified candidates who are in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship, and be it further

Resolved, that the Churchwide Assembly prays, urges, and encourages synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining those rostered leaders in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship who have been called and rostered in this church.

The ELCA continues to work out an official policy, apparently to replace the official policy they already have. And while they have not approved of same-sex relationships, the intentional, official, lack of discipline means tacit approval. Lord have mercy on us!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Christianity is Not a Ponzi Scheme

Nor minsters making ministers; missionaries making missionaries; evangelists making evangelists. Nor is it mobilizing or sending. Christianity is not about signing up, sending out, and making more. It’s about receiving the Kingdom of God. We don’t “make Christians” to go out and “make other Christians.” We baptize sinners and make them disciples, that they may take up their crosses and be raised with Christ our Lord.

What about Matthew 28:19-20? What about 1 Peter 3:15?

I don’t feel like debating the exegesis of these passages. Let us grant 1 Peter 3. Even if we should grant Matt. 28, one questions remains: what about the rest of Scripture?

Let us give up and Evangelical reading of all Scripture which sees these two passages as the hermenuetical lens through which everything else is understood. Let us remember that salvation is not a one-time event, but that daily we are to die and rise, as Luther said, so that at the end we may speak as St. Sisoes did at the time of his death, “Indeed, I know not if I have clutched at the very beginning of repentance.”

Saturday, August 11, 2007

For Discussion

The following was written on a public message board by an influential leader of the LCMS:

In fact, if we could get the entire Southern Baptist Convention to give up decision theology and accept our understanding of the Sacraments, wouldn’t THAT make for a gargantuan Youth Gathering - what, 500,000 kids all newly LCMS? Then we take on the Pope and his Youth Congress events and get them swung over and ……….well, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.*

1. Is “decision theology” and “our understanding of the Sacraments” the only differences we have with the SBC?

2. If that were to happen, would that be enough for Communion Fellowship?

3. From the other angle, would you define the LCMS as “The Southern Baptist Convention only without decision theology and a distinct understanding of the Sacraments, namely infant baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood ‘in, with, and under’ the bread and wine”?

4. Does this sound at all familiar to readers of this blog?????

*I’m withholding the name because clearly his comment was written off-the-cuff and was not intended to say something definite about his understanding of Lutheran Theology.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Went to the library and picked up some fiction. I don’t read enough of it anymore. Anyway, I got a book of short stories by Philip K Dick, one of the most influential science fiction writers of all time. The book began with an essay given as an address at some University (name and date not given), entitled, ” “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.”

You must find this and read it. He wrote this at the time many consider he was mentally ill, and, frankly, it was kind of crazy in places. But he had an interesting theory about typology, the eternal return (the Hebrew version, not of the Baal legend).

Look for more on this later.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Brick and Mortar

I used to haunt bookstores. When my sisters would go to the mall, I’d ride with them. As we walked in, we’d agree to meet in an hour and they would go off to do who knows what, and I’d make the rounds to Walden and B Dalton. I spent hours browsing: fantasy, new fiction, entertainment, religion, history, new age, everything except romance and kids. In my college years I’d browse the textbooks at the bookstore, and spend entire afternoons in Barnes and Noble.

At seminary something changed. Instead of stores, I spent hours wandering the library. In those days you could stumble on a 17th century latin edition of Chemnitz with a pigskin cover and rope bindings…and check it out and keep it on the floor of your dorm room! A few years later I went looking for some of these titles and most had been moved to the archives, where they belonged, but they still had tens of thousands of titles, and I was interested in most of them.

During vicarage in Streator, the only library was public, and despite the Carnegie name on the front, the interior was not impressive. Nor did the town boast a bookstore. But Amazon was coming into vogue, and I had a dial-up connection (not too shabby in those days). However, the hours of browsing didn’t translate to web browsers. Amazon has a fantastic selection, and their recommendation system is excellent. But you can’t pick up books and smell them. You can’t read the introductions, look at the index. Despite this, I fell out of the habit of visiting the brick and mortar stores.

Yesterday I took the kids to Hastings–a small market version of Barnes & Noble, and realized what I had been missing. There’s something about all those titles sitting right next to each other, open, accessible, just begging to be picked up and flipped through. The smell of the place, that booksmell, is intoxicating. Yesterday I spent my time corralling children around, but my imagination was in the stacks and displays. Between saying “No, we are not buying that,” and “That one is too expensive”, I scanned the shelves to just get a glimpse of what was next to cookbooks. In a store, everything has equal value, there are no missing images, no bad reviews, no pages featuring out of stock or out of print titles. If you want rankings, bookstores have a few shelves of the bestselling titles, but the rest of the store is blissfully equal. Sure, popular titles are turned out, endcaps boast featured items, but Graham Greene is still right next to Jane Green, and you’d never know that by shopping online.

Those Who Leave, Part III: Where They Go

This post is more an appendix to the other posts, for the reason that the destinations of those who leave is far more varied and in flux. Furthermore, I do not want to give the impression that I am necessarily “advertising” for any of these groups, communions, or Churches. What follows is a brief highlight of the some of the places where LCMS pastors have landed.

Another Lutheran Synod/Denomination

  • The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) is a choice for some, though they face similar issues as the LCMS.
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Synod is slightly more popular, though smaller destination for LCMS pastors and parishioners. Their practice is much more unified, and their confessional focus more intentional, though they, too, share in many of the features of American Lutheranism that many find troubling.
  • ELDoNA (the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America) is doing a publicity push right now. Their numbers are very low, being a rather new organization.
  • Various other Lutheran “micro Synods”

Independent Lutheran Congregations

  • A few pastors who leave have taken their congregation with them and so far are independent or loosely gathered in a “Ministerium.” I suspect that many of these congregations and pastors will land somewhere else eventually.

Roman Catholic Church

  • Perhaps surprisingly(?) some LCMS pastors have entered the Catholic church as laymen. This option seems more popular with the ELCA for whatever reason. Their argument is that the Lutheran Reformers never intended to form a new Church Body, and with the reforms of the Catholic church over the last several decades, they can “be good Lutherans” by “being good Catholics.” This destination usually involves giving up the sacramental ministry entirely, though rumors have it that some Bishops grant an exception to celibacy for Anglican and Lutheran pastors already married.

Eastern Orthodox Church

  • I’ve saved the most notorious for last–notorious because there have been several high-profile LCMS pastors who have very publicly converted to Orthodoxy in the last several years, and prior to that a small, but steady, stream of pastors have “gone East.” These pastors point to the many of the similarities between Orthodoxy and Lutheranism as a starting point. However, as with the “Catholic Option,” Lutheranism is not “Orthodoxy Lite” or “Orthodoxy German-style” but involves an intentional renunciation of certain Lutheran presuppositions and beliefs, mostly on an ontological or meta-theological level.

I’m sure there are many more destinations for those pastors who leave. I’ve not even begun to discuss those pastors who form “Independent Churches” having realized that they are more Methobapticostal than anything. Nor have I mentioned those pastors who are unable, unwilling, or too abused to meet the challenges of the office, or otherwise disenchanted and now sit in the pews at whatever church their wife likes, Missouri, Lutheran or whatnot.

Homework Assignment :)
If you have ever changed communions/confessions/tradtions/church affiliation, please add a comment describing how and why.