Thursday, July 31, 2008

Incense Alleviates Depression

Another interesting post from "-C" who pulled it off the wire.

Incense is psychoactive: Scientists identify the biology behind the ceremony
New study in the FASEB Journal shows how and why molecules released from burning incense in religious ceremonies alleviate anxiety and depression

Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. In a new study appearing online in The FASEB Journal (, an international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.

“In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity,” said Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study’s co-authors. “We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning.”

To determine incense’s psychoactive effects, the researchers administered incensole acetate to mice. They found that the compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs. Specifically, incensole acetate activated a protein called TRPV3, which is present in mammalian brains and also known to play a role in the perception of warmth of the skin. When mice bred without this protein were exposed to incensole acetate, the compound had no effect on their brains.

“Perhaps Marx wasn’t too wrong when he called religion the opium of the people: morphine comes from poppies, cannabinoids from marijuana, and LSD from mushrooms; each of these has been used in one or another religious ceremony.” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Studies of how those psychoactive drugs work have helped us understand modern neurobiology. The discovery of how incensole acetate, purified from frankincense, works on specific targets in the brain should also help us understand diseases of the nervous system. This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture, language, and religion—burning incense really does make you feel warm and tingly all over!”

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Briefly: Incense and Worship

I remember when I first realized that Roman Catholics burned incense in church. I had been in Catholic parishes before, but never during worship. I was impressed by how holy they looked and how good they smelled...but never knew why their churches smelled so much better than Lutheran churches.

When I finally figured out why--in high school--I was shocked. All I could think of was passages such as "Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places (1 Kings 3:3);" or, "A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick (Isaiah 65:3 KJV). Burning incense was what the wicked do in Scripture...or what pot-heads and hippies did--or so I thought.

But as with many things, the difference between the way of the Holy Trinity and the way of idolaters is more defined by what is in your heart than mere outward action. What matters is whom you burn incense to, and for what purpose. In fact, God commanded incense in the Law of Moses:

And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on [the Altar of Incense]. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, 8 and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations. (Exo. 30:7-8).
More instructions follow. And the Old Tesament is full of references to the Altar of Incense and its use. In the New Testament, the references are few, but Revelation says, "And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8)

Incense has been a part of Christian worship as far back as anyone can guess. It makes sense, considering that Christian worship was always practiced with an eye to Temple and Synagogue worship--sometimes rejecting elements, sometimes re-fashioning it Chrsitian-style, sometimes copying elements.

The use of incense is not somehow un-Lutheran either. Frankly I'm not sure when or why it ceased to be of regular use in Lutheran parishes. At the seminary incense was used, albeit infrequently. Honestly I've never seen it in use in an actual parish, though. I'd imagine that the congregations which use it must be quite exceptional, as most Lutherans would oppose it on some instinctual level.

Tomorrow: a clip from a secular report about the effects of incense on the body.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Luther and the Apocraphya

Here's a brief introduction to these books of the Bible by Rev. Paul McCain:

In the past several decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in the so-called "missing books" of the Bible. The work of persons such as Elaine Pagels has made a career of trying to popularize the Gnostic Gospels and other Gnostic literature. The most dramatic discovery of Gnostic texts occurred in the upper Egyptian city of Nag Hammadi. The Gospel of Thomas was found as a complete text. These Gnostic texts are often referred to in populist works and the major media as the "missing books of the Bible." Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. They were never regarded as being part of Christian Scripture. Gnosticism, in its variety of forms, was a mixture of pagan philosophy and Christian stories.

A whole cottage industry has developed around these "missing books," pumping out volumes of misleading books and information, leading people to believe that somehow there has been a grand conspiracy to cover up and hide the "real facts" about Christ and Christianity. All one has to do to quickly demonstrate the difference between canonical Scripture and these false Gnostic Gospels is read them. Frankly, the Gnostic Gospels sound like something produced by a person writing under the influence of LSD or other such hallucinogens. So, set the Gnostic literature aside and let's talk about some books that have always been in our Bibles, until the Lutheran Church moved into the English language.

There are, in fact, "missing books" of Scripture: the Apocrypha. For too many years Lutherans, like Protestant denominations everywhere, have thought that these books are only part of the "Roman Catholic Bible." Let's sort out the facts here, and conclude these brief remarks with an excellent introduction to the Apocryphal books by Pastor Richard Sawyer, which I'll provide below.

But let's first talk about how, when and why the Apocryphal books became relatively unknown to English speaking Lutherans. When the first complete edition of the Bible by the Wittenberg Reformers was published, in 1534, Luther and his colleagues included the Apocryphal books, though distinguished from the more universally accepted books, by setting them apart in their own appendix to the Old Testament. Luther's Bible was the first major edition to have a separate section called Apocrypha. Books and portions of books not found in the Hebrew Old Testament were moved out of the body of the Old Testament to this section. The books of 1 and 2 Esdras were omitted entirely. Luther placed these books between the. For this reason, these works are sometimes known as inter-testamental books. The point is that Apocryphal books were never rejected by orthodox Lutherans, but always included in every edition of the Luther Bible and in many German editions of the Bible as well, for instance all German Bibles published by Concordia Publishing House as long as German bibles were publishedl. The Roman Catholic, at the Council of Trent, did something never before done in the history of the church: it put the Apocryphal books on the same level of authority as the rest of the books of the Bible. Why? Because it is in the Apocryphal books that Rome claims to find justification for several of its false doctrines: chiefly, the doctrine of purgatory. But this fact never dissuaded Lutheran Christians from using these books or including them in their Bibles.

In the early years of the 20th century, as Lutherans in the USA began replacing German with English in their churches, and in their Bible translations, the Apocryphal books simply went missing, indeed "missing in action" is pretty much what happened to them. In recent years, interest is increasing in these books, as Lutherans look to reclaim more of their heritage. There is no reason to allow Rome to claim these books as their own, for indeed, they are not the sole possession of Rome, or Eastern Orthodoxy. It will take a lot of careful pastoral instruction to help the members of English speaking Lutheran congregations distinguish the Apocryphal books from the Gnostic non-Biblical books, and to help explain what the Apocryphal books are, and what their traditional place in the Bible has always been in the Lutheran Church. For that matter, the Apocryphal books are featured throughout Western European culture. Perhaps the best way to help Lutherans who are unfamiliar with these books understand their place in the Lutheran Church's own culture and hymnody is to point them to a well-known hymn from the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy: Now Thank We All Our God, written by Martin Rinkart circa 1636 when the devastating Thirty Years War was nearing its end. It depends very much on Luther’s translation of the Apocryphal book of Sirach, Chapter 50.

(from Cyberbrethren)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Scheduling Posts

I leave for vacation tomorrow, but I'm currently working on posts scheduled for publishing throughout the week (I love that new function!). Don't be strangers!

Who To Be at Your Funeral

Here's a great post by semi-regular commenter "-C" at her blog Transposzing.

"He Spent His Whole Life Preparing for this Day"

That's what she said.

Was she a wife talking about her husband on the day he won the Tour de France?

Was she a mother, talking about her son as he was about to begin his debut performance at Carnegie Hall?

Actually, she was a daughter talking about her father at his funeral.

Now I am not generally much of an appreciator of the comments or shared memories of family and friends of the deceased which are made during a funeral service. There are alot of reasons I don't care much for it, some of which are theological, some practical, and yet other reasons are nothing but a matter of personal preference.

But that being said, I attended the funeral of a man from our church a couple of weeks ago, a brother in Christ who was a faithful member of our parish community. His wife died only a few short months ago. Near the end of the service, his children were invited forward to speak and I sat back and sighed and prepared to start counting the little mosaic tiles on the iconostasis. But his daughter's first statement brought me back to attention.

"He spent his whole life preparing for this day," she said.

How profound those few words are. How much they say about what our earthly life is to be ... a preparation for our death. And how different this is from what the world says our life is to be (something measurable at the end by our accomplishsments, by how much wealth and stuff we have accumulated, by how well our name is known, by the "legacy" we have left).

I have thought about this statement of hers a hundred times since that day. It's the most significant comment from a loved one I have ever heard at a funeral.

I hope I never forget it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wonderful Prayer

O Lord Christ, Word of the Father, who came into this world to save sinners, I beseech Thee, by the innermost depths of Thy mercy, cleanse my soul, perfect my actions, put in order my manner of life, take from me what is harmful to me, and what displeases Thee. Grant me what Thou knowest is pleasing to Thee, and profitable to me. Who but Thou alone canst make clean what was conceived of unclean seed? Thou art the Omnipotent God, Infinite in mercy, Who makest sinners just, and givest life to the dead; Who changest sinners, and they are sinners no more.

Take from me therefore whatever is displeasing to Thee; for Thy eyes can see my manifold imperfections. Stretch forth, I beseech Thee, the hand of Thy mercy, and take from me whatever in me offends the eyes of Thy goodness. In Thy hands, O Lord, are my health and my infirmity. Preserve me in the one; heal me in the other. Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed, save me, and I shall be saved: Thou Who dost heal the sick, and preserve those who are healed, Thou Who by Thy nod alone dost renew what is ruined and fallen. For if Thou wilt sow good seed in Thy field, there is need also to pluck from it the thorns of my sins by the hands of Thy mercy....

(St. Augustine, Prayer for the Gift of Tears, PL 40, Book of Meditations I, Ch. 36, col, 930)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Present "Joys" versus Eternal Joy

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea."

C. S. Lewis
HT: Here

Monday, July 21, 2008

Error, Christ and Salvation

At the Cross, all tit for tat economies of grace are obliterated. There is no “well, that’s what you get when you forget God” because God’s giving of Himself is relentless and any expression of kenotic form in a human life is ripe for the reception of grace, whatever the other ephemeral conditions. And, of course, the Giver of Grace goes where He wills and as He pleases, completely unsubject (sic) to our terms and strategies. (The Ochlophobist)
God does not grade on the curve. In fact, God does not grade our answers at all. This is not to say our answers our unimportant. The way we answer questions certainly affects our spiritual lives today and for eternity. A humble man who does not believe a seven day, 24-hour creation may be closer to the Kingdom of God than a conservative seminary professor who is proud and conceited.

God does not look for our having the answers right. There is no divine test at the end of life, no final, no essays, no scan-trons to fill out. God is not looking for us to have complete knowledge of Him (impossible anyway), nor a firm understanding of the facts as He reveals them. He doesn't check to see if we have mastered the material. He is looking at our hearts, at who we are in there and Who is in there, if there is the Life of Christ in our hearts and minds and souls. You could even say that God looks and finds Life if we allow Him to.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Time How Long

Hippolytus died in 236 AD, two centuries after the Apostles first began preaching the faith of Christ. It seems like a very long time before, yet he claimed to know what he traditional Apostolic doctrine and practice were, enough to know how things were changing in the 3rd Century.

On the surface, a ridiculous claim, like you or me knowing the stories told in the barracks of George Washington's Revolutionary Army. But let's make a few assumptions and so some math:

Assume that some people in the 1-3 Centuries lived to be 80 (probably high, but not un-heard of).
Marriage and children took place by age 15 (perhaps generous, but not unusual).
Children don’t remember much until they are 15 (probably excessively conservative).

Say St. John catechized a 15 year old boy in 100 AD and died soon afterward.
This boy died in 165 AD (80 y.o.)
He could have told his children about St. John in 115 AD.
He could have told his grandchildren about St. John in 130 (when they were 15).
He could have told his great-grandchildren in 145 AD (when they were 15).
He could have told his great-great grandchildren about St. John in 160 (when they were 15). These children could have lived as long as 225 AD!

Those great-great-grandchildren could tell their great-grandchildren second hand stories of St. John and third hand stories of Jesus in 225 AD! They could say, “My great-great grandpa, who taught me about Christianity when I was 15, was converted by St. John the apostle. Or another way, in 285 AD, there might have been a man who said, “I once met an old man who told me first-hand stories about Polycarp, who sat at the feet of St. John the Apostle.”

Next we must remember that literacy rates were incredibly small and the culture was primarily oral. Oral cultures are conservative, i.e., they retain language and stories much more accurately than literary cultures do. 1

Thirdly, consider this. Hippolytus was a disciple of St. Irenaeus who died around 202 AD. St. Irenaeus testifies that St. Polycarp (ca. 69-155) catechized him in the Christian faith, and Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. In an oral Christian culture that held to keeping the faith once-handed over from the Apostles, this makes a very close connection.

1 See this article regarding Somali oral culture; also, "Because oral societies have no effective access to writing and print technologies, they must invest considerable energy in basic information management. Storage of information, being primarily dependent on individual or collective recall, must be handled with particular thrift. It is possible to approximately measure oral residue “from the amount of memorization the culture’s educational procedures require.”[20]

This creates incentives to avoid exploring new ideas and particularly to avoid the burden of having to store them. It does not prevent oral societies from demonstrating dynamism and change, but there is a premium on ensuring that changes cleave to traditional formulas, and “are presented as fitting the traditions of the ancestors.” [21] (from Wikipedia). More scholarly citations can be found elsewhere. Go look :).

Saturday, July 19, 2008

God, Others, Me and Tickling

Here's another brilliant post by Matthew Archbold at Creative Minority Report--an excellent blog.

Why Can't We Tickle Ourselves?

My six year old approached me this morning with what seemed by her facial expression to be an important and serious question. Why couldn't she tickle herself, she asked. Her fingers danced without effect around her neck as her little eyebrows remained perplexed and crooked.

I don't know, I answered. I honestly didn't. But I told her I had an idea but I could only whisper it to her as this was the most secretest secret ever. As she slowly approached (smelling a rat and smirking suspiciously) I seized her onto my lap and tickled her neck mercilessly until she screamed with laughter. When she was completely out of breath, repeating after me that I was the greatest Dad in the whole world, and begging for mercy I finally relented and sat her up.

"I think you can't tickle yourself because God wants me to tickle you," I said. "And maybe just maybe God knew that if we could tickle ourselves we'd never do anything else. And you'd miss out on all the fun of tickling your brother and sisters."

Her eyes lit up and she launched herself from my lap and ran off into the play room from where shortly after emanated insane and breathless laughter from her little brother.

It seems to me that so much of this world calls us out of ourselves and points us away from ourselves and in the direction of others. The world calls us quite simply to love. And to tickle.

Friday, July 18, 2008

To My Bride on Her 29th Birthday (let the reader understand)

Happy Birthday! I always feel badly that you have to wait until everyone else in the house gets their cake and ice cream and presents over the last eight weeks and yours is there at the end of the birthday season. It is hard to treat it as the final birthday blow-out with all the stops pulled out when even the kids loathe eating more birthday cake.

But even as the kids end up fighting, and the cake turns out dry, and Jack whines and the kids yell at each other while emptying the dishwasher and leave their toys on the floor--remember that we love you and are trying to make your day special. Remember that its hard to do, because you are the mom and wife who makes everyday special for us. They are big shoes to fill.

We love you,

May 11, June 5, June 9, June 20, July 8

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bad Writing--This Time not by Yours Truly

Deliciously bad metaphors, supposedly written by high school students, though they sound suspiciously like entries in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E.Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5 She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16 John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are known to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Traditionalists: A Thought Experiment

Suppose I began a crusade to bring back the "Traditional" celebration of Thanksgiving in America. I believed that America had lost its rich and storied tradition and we have gone much too far afield of how Thanksgiving Day really ought to be celebrated. So I decide to start a web page dedicated to the Traditional Celebration of Thanksgiving. Suppose that this page grows in popularity. In time, Southern Living, Good Housekeeping, and Redbook begin attacking my views in an effort to discredit me. But in spite of the powers-that-be in the homemaking and family life publications, people still listen to me as an authoritative voice for the traditional way of celebrating Thanksgiving.

Now suppose what I advocated quite passionately was this: "Get rid of the Turkeys! Get rid of the pumpkin! Our traditional Thanksgiving dinner should be roasted Grizzly bear and vine-ripened tomatoes, summer squash and spring peas!"

Do you really think that people would listen to me and respect me? Quite clearly I would be wrong. Grizzlies never lived in coastal New England, and, if Thanksgiving really was a harvest festival, peas and tomatoes would already have been consumed. If tomatoes even grew in New England at that time. No, in order for a Traditionalist to have any kind of respect, he had better be advocating something clearly traditional and not his own idiosyncratic ideas.

In a post below, Past Elder and I have been discussing just how accurate Hippolytus' description of the Apostolic Tradition truly is. My view is that if enough people supported him to elect him Bishop of Rome in opposition to the legitimate bishop, then there had to be truth to what he was saying was tradition and what wasn't. Otherwise, he would have been recognized as a fool and an idiot.

The reason that he was seen as a heretic in his day was not because his teaching was wrong, but because he refused to acknowledge the legitimate bishop and had himself elected as an alternate. It was not an issue of doctrine so much as rebellion. To be accurate, his strict views on tradition were indeed too strict, but it's not as if he was accused of inventing new doctrines. An analogy: a pastor claims that a neighboring congregation is lax and wrong to not kneel at communion, and some members of that parish issue a "call" to be their pastor--in opposition to their legitimate pastor. He would be wrong to insist on kneeling, wrong to agree to usurping the office of another congregation, but actually correct in saying that kneeling at communion is the older, more traditional practice.

The second issue is, could Hippolytus really know the Apostolic Tradition in 236 AD...200 years after Jesus ascended into Heaven? We'll explore this in the following post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Not About Singing and Music

Please visit RAsburry's Res and my comment there for his gentle correction of something I may have overstated in the third paragraph. Thanks, Pr. Asburry!

People say, "I don't like the old hymns you sing. I like newer hymns and contemporary songs that I used to sing, or that other church sing. That's why I don't want to go to your church."

What's the assumption such people make? We go to church to sing songs we like. When I sing, or hear, songs I like, I feel good and worshipful or something. When I go to church and there are hymns that I don't like or don't know, I feel bad, unmoved--as if I didn't participate fully.

There are many reasons to go to church, but going in order to sing songs is not one of them. Hearing the Word of God and receiving the Sacraments--those are reasons to go to church. To worship and pray--those are reasons for going to church. To sing along with a crowd, to be moved emotionally because my favorite church-style or pop-style songs were sung doesn't make the cut.

If you want moving, worshipful music, stay home and listen to some CDs. You can pick and chose and be the ultimate DJ and never suffer through any song you don't care for.

If you want to sing with a bunch of people, join a community choir. They will sound better than nearly any congregation out there. The only problem with this is you still don't get to pick the music.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Liturgical and Historical Questions

St. Hippolytus the Anti-Pope (what a great name!) wrote Apostolic Traditions out of concern that certain ancient customs were being lost. The Traditions date to the early 3rd century. He includes some early liturgy, and here is the anaphora/Eucharistic Prayer:

We give thanks to you God, through your beloved son Jesus Christ, whom you sent to us in former times as Savior, Redeemer, and Messenger of your Will, who is your inseparable Word, through whom you made all, and in whom you were well-pleased, whom you sent from heaven into the womb of a virgin, who, being conceived within her, was made flesh, and appeared as your Son, born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin. It is he who, fulfilling your will and acquiring for you a holy people, extended his hands in suffering, in order to liberate from sufferings those who believe in you. Who, when he was delivered to voluntary suffering, in order to dissolve death, and break the chains of the devil, and tread down hell, and bring the just to the light, and set the limit, and manifest the resurrection, taking the bread, and giving thanks to you, said, "Take, eat, for this is my body which is broken for you." Likewise the chalice, saying, This is my blood which is shed for you. Whenever you do this, do this (in) memory of me. Therefore, remembering his death and resurrection, we offer to you the bread and the chalice, giving thanks to you, who has made us worthy to stand before you and to serve as your priests. And we pray that you would send your Holy Spirit to the oblation of your Holy Church. In their gathering together, give to all those who partake of your holy mysteries the fullness of the Holy Spirit, toward the strengthening of the faith in truth, that we may praise you and glorify you, through your son Jesus Christ, through whom to you be glory and honor, Father and Son, with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Church, now and throughout the ages of the ages. Amen.
Note the "words of institution" (verba) included in the prayer directed to God, and the "offering" language. Note as well that Hippolytus' prayer does not indicate the celebrant offers to God the body and blood of Christ for appeasement, but that the elements are offered and the Holy Spirit is called upon the gifts (epiklesis).

For my Lutheran readers, these are big bugaboos, to say the least. Some of you know that while I am very interested in the Early Church and worship, I am by no means a scholar. And so I need your help.

In my Sunday Bible study on Church History I introduced this text and gave some exploratory thoughts on how this differs from the later Canon and Sacrificial language used in Medieval Roman Catholicism and that this is what the Lutherans were arguing against, a propitiatory sacrifice to God.

Please correct me if I'm wrong...and for my Orthodox readers, how does this jive with the Orthodox view?


PS...the labels on this post are like the Triple Crown of the LCMS Brute Squad :)

Friday, July 11, 2008


Not too long ago I spouted off about "Spring Break Mission Trips" in my Bible Study class. A few were a little taken aback: how could I disparage going to Mexico and doing good things? especially teenagers doing good things? I backed off somewhat. I'm sure there are many who do these trips who grow personally and spiritually from their sacrifice.

Now check out this from the Washington Post:

Not long ago, the families of Fairfax Presbyterian Church spent thousands of dollars to fly their teens to Mexico for eight days of doing good. They helped build homes and refurbish churches as part of an army of more than 1 million mostly Christians who annually go on short-term international mission trips to work and evangelize in poverty-stricken lands.

Yet even as those trips have increased in popularity, they have come under increased scrutiny. A growing body of research questions the value of the trips abroad, which are supposed to bring hope and Christianity to the needy of the world, while offering American participants an opportunity to work in disadvantaged communities, develop relationships and charge up their faith.

Critics scornfully call such trips “religious tourism” undertaken by “vacationaries.” Some blunders include a wall built on the children’s soccer field at an orphanage in Brazil that had to be torn down after the visitors left. In Mexico, a church was painted six times during one summer by six different groups. In Ecuador, a church was built but never used because the community said it was not needed. (read the rest here

HT: Mark Sticherz at GetReligion (who notes that the article fails to mention the other purpose of Mission Trips--evangelization.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


We Americans, this displaced, mutt-ish people love to tell others about our ancestral percentages--I'm 33% this and 25% that and so forth. It helps explain strange last names, different skin tones (where applicable) and give excuses for our temperament, so we think.

What's funny about it is that depending on our mood and current likes, we can appeal to whatever race or nationality we feel like at the time. Someone says, "Yesterday I was feeling dramatic and passionate, so it must be my Latin blood, but today I'm stoic and closed-minded--that's my German coming out." However, the true reason we feel passionate and grumpy, hard-headed and then fun-loving is that we are dis-integrated sinners, whose entire personality is slowly becoming undone as we slavishly follow the whims of sin and temptation. You may call it "being yourself," but yourself is often a selfish, wicked pig whose identity is being corrupted by sin. Me too. To be sure, our German-ness, Irish-ness or whatever-ness is not to blame.

Of course we can also celebrate our ancestry in a Christian manner, remembering how God brought our disparate forebears together, confirming them in their faith (or not), doing good (or not), and so on. Our past, our family, is important, and as Americans we have the nearly unique privilege of having many families, many pasts, forebears of many nationalities.

Who am I? My mother's side is 100% German...well, Jewish German on her mother's side. This was a family secret for some time. Apparently my Granmother's cousins freely admitted it, but she denied it to the grave. My mother only found out about fifteen years ago. So sometimes I like to play the "Jew Card." At the seminary I would occasionly say, "During the Exodus of my people..." or "You Gentiles are now part of Israel like me." Many found it irritating. Some of those (anglicized) family names are Lovercamp, Inselmann, Heaper, Neuhaus. Mother's father's family immigrated here before the 1860's; some of these fought on opposite sides of the American Civil War. Others fled Germany relatively later, coming only to America in the last 120 years.

My Father's side is more mixed--Anglo-Saxon and Celt: we have Hall, Thompson, and Patrick. We've got some colorful stories on this side. One Great-great uncle lived next to the James Farm in Kearney, MO. He told my grandpa stories of that trashy, good-for-nothing James family--"Frank and the Old Woman" he called them. Jesse was dead by then. Once the FBI blew up the farmhouse, the "Old Woman" moved to town. A decade or so after her death, the house changed hands and my grandmother was born in it.

Those in the St. Louis area may be interested that another Great-great Uncle was John Ravenscroft Patrick, an amatuer archeologist and alleged antiquities (grave) robber. Concerning the Cahokia Indian Mounds, Wikipedia accurately reports, "the survey made for local dentist Dr. John R. Patrick in the 1880s marked the beginning of modern understanding of the Cahokia site as a whole, and its relationship to other sites in the area."

I like to think of him as a teeth-pulling Indian Jones.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This comes from one of my favorite blogs--Creative Minority Report. It's a beautiful essay on apathy (the sin, you know), fatherhood and faith.

I'm A Wii Catholic

You know how you buy Christmas gifts for people and then you just never get around to seeing them. I've had two candy-cane gift wrapped boxes in the corner of the television room for months. I've actually dusted them. So on Thursday my wife begged me to go see this friend of ours who I speak to on the phone and exchange emails with often but never see.

So I went over to drop off gifts for him and his wife. We all laughed about the gifts and had a good time. While I was there my friend showed me his children's video game system. A Wii. Now, mind you his twins are four years old so something tells me the Wii is more for him than for the children but...we played an inning of baseball (OK, a few innings.) I didn't do so well as "my friend" wasn't very forthcoming with the "how to play" instructions. He reveled in the fact that my poor Mets were destroyed.

The whole thing felt a little awkward to me though. You're standing in the middle of a room throwing invisible balls and swinging invisible bats. Weird. You're doing all the motions but not really accomplishing anything.

On the way home, I had my rosary beads out as is my habit and I prayed while listening to the radio. When I returned home I took care of the children essentially by reading near where they played. That night, my wife and I sat silently on the couch watching a movie. There was a stack of bills and a pile of laundry nearby mocking me, depressing both my wife and me but neither of us had the energy to charge those hills.

Something just hit me on Friday though. I wondered if sometimes I was a Wii Catholic, a Wii parent, A Wii husband? I've been going through the motions but not really accomplishing anything. Faking it. I think at times I live a Wii life. I realized that reading near the children is not raising them. Watching t.v. next to my wife is not spending time with her. Praying while listening to talk radio is actually just listening to talk radio. I've been where I was supposed to be but not really accomplishing anything.

I need to remind myself to live more intentionally. Sometimes folding laundry, doing dishes or paying bills is the most loving act you can do for your spouse. Sometimes reading a story to a child is what they want most- even when Hannah Montana's on. Sometimes the rosary is the best thing you can do for everyone.

I know I sometimes enjoy my interior life too much. I am comfortable in the well worn grooves of my mind. I think sometimes I just have to disconnect a bit from my own thoughts to reconnect with others. And the funny thing is that I always discover that life outside of my head is a lot more...unpremeditated. Effusive. Enjoyable.

At Ikea Saturday, my three year old son whispered to his sisters that he wanted to ride the six foot tall paper mache pony statue. My six year old warned him security would kick him out. My five year old daughter looked around and said, "You know, I haven't seen security around in a while." I think most days I would've missed that.

Last night, my wife gave me the choice of DVD to put in. Now normally that means it's "Lord of the Rings" time at the Archbold house. Instead, I turned off the television and we talked. About work. Neighbors. Funny stories about the kids. Worries about the kids.

On Sunday, my children and I drove over to Valley Forge as the sun went down. My kids love the open fields, the excitement of woods, the unexpected interruption of deer, and walking through the old log cabins.

We rolled ourselves down a long grassy hill to see who could roll fastest. I tried to come in last but at some point once you get me rolling I pick up speed...that is until I collide with a six year old who can't roll straight. We all laid there at the bottom until we were able to stand again. We watched the clouds brightening as they passed briefly before the Sun and then fade into darkness, their edges purpling as they drifted over the forest.

It was a great day. A non-Wii day. I don't think rolling down hills accomplishes anything necessarily but at least I felt like I was back in the game. The real one.

Funny Quote

It's impossible, I think, for the devils to forget to drag me down to hell with their hooks when I die. Then I wonder- hooks? Where would they get them? What of? Iron hooks? Where do they forge them? Have they a foundry there of some sort? The monks in the monastery probably believe that there's a ceiling in hell, for instance. Now I'm ready to believe in hell, but without a ceiling. It makes it more refined, more enlightened, more Lutheran that is. (The Brothers Karamazov; Bk. 1, Ch. 4)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Another Aphorism

For the true Christian Church, one needs to forget every modern incarnation of groups calling themselves "Lutheran" or "Synod" or "Church" and weigh the claims of the Confessors against the Confessions themselves, against the Christian West and Christian East, and against history.

Aphorisms on Lutheranism

I really do think that the adiaphora issue, when paired together with solas is the Achilles' heel of Lutheranism.

Lutherans have no legislative power and it is our undoing.

In this interpretation of the Confessions, Lutheranism is almost Quakerism in allowing freedom of conscience.

We should always distinguish three things: 1) What the Confessors wrote; 2) What the situation actually was among the Lutherans at the time; 3) What our interpretation is now, as colored by our sitz-im-leben (place in life/history).

For true Lutheranism, one needs to forget every modern incarnation of groups calling themselves "Lutheran" or "Synod" or "Church" and weigh the claims of the Confessors against themselves, against the Christian West and Christian East, and against history.

Each Lutheran Confession is "a" confession of what some "believed, taught, and practiced." Insofar as people calling themselves Lutheran today, we do not practice as much, teach as clearly or, believe as strongly.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Rubrics and our Caveat Compulsion

Weedon has a nice post on rubrics here. (Rubrics are the "instructions" found in the liturgy informing the clergy and laity what to do and when). It's an excellent admonition to look over the rubrics closely and do what they say.

I have to laugh, though. Pr. Weedon apparently felt compelled to conclude that,

For Lutherans rubrics aren't in the category of Divine Law; they are in the category of good order. They provide guidelines for our liturgical actions to be uniform across wide swaths of the Church so that when we come to Church the behavior doesn't distract ("what's he DOING up there?") but is utterly taken for granted so that we can focus together on the one thing needful.
I laugh because Lutherans always have a bugaboo about "law," about what is required and what is necessary and what is sufficient. It's a phobia about "thou shalts." Anytime you have a Lutheran pastor talking theology it is inevitable that he will start hedging anytime the word "ought" comes up, or even the word "good."

It gives the impression that we are a bunch of sissies and Dr. Spock-reading pseudo-parents. They can't say "Law" or "must" or "shall" or "don't" unless everyone agrees that it's not binding in any spiritual, legal, or real sense. It's all guidelines and advisements and this fact must be admitted at least once in every conversation, lest someone feel their conscience is bound, or get their feelings hurt. We have this incredible compulsion to give undermining caveats to everything we say.

But it seems I am picking on a good friend. I'm not intending to. I'm only using that post as a butt of good-natured criticism about all of us.

You know, I'm not even saying he's wrong or I'm right. We can't have consciences bound by not binding consciences.

Oh, and the other reason why Lutheran pastors always give the adiaphora caveat: we don't want the self-appointed Brute Squad skwering us because we didn't say something that fits their 1-2-3 idea of Lutheranism.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Movie Review

I finally saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull last night. I'm a huge Indy fan, going back to 1981 and Raiders. Dad and Mother saw the movie and immediately decided that "Chris would really like this." They know me pretty well. Danny Ewing and I played Indiana Jones the rest of that summer at the pool, jumping off the diving board, pretending to swing on ropes and so on. I was itching to see the newest movie on opening day, but having four kids changes priorities.

My expectations of this most recent (and last?) Indy movie were actually pretty low. I'd read a few mediocre reviews, mostly lamenting that more wasn't done with the "age" factor. Yes, there were lines all over the place noting how old Indy was, but, apart from the last scene, there wasn't much of him coming to terms with his age. The Unforgiven did this well--with Clint Eastwood portraying the retired assassin/adventurer/cowboy who is reluctantly swept up into a final foray.

So I wasn't expecting a whole lot, but still left disappointed. My biggest complaint was the unevenness of the movie. Some scenes rushed past, others felt as if they never quite started and didn't finish. The whole first act was somewhat jerky and seemed cobbled together. It seems to me as if Spielberg and Co. made this more for the chance to hang out with the old gang than in making a tight, coherent movie.

Marjorie, on the other hand, had this to say about it: "It seemed a little far-fetched. I mean, aliens? A space ship? Pretty unrealistic, even for Indiana Jones."

The more I thought about this, the more I realized how faithful my wife is. Finding the Ark of the Covenant? The power of God displayed through it's misuse (however Hollywood-ized)? Plausible for her. The Holy Grail? Believable. Aliens? No, just stupid.

I think for many involved in the writing of these films, all of Jone's adventures and quests were equally fantastic, equally supernatural in a way barely connected with the real world. But for my faithful wife (and me), Indy 1 and 3 stand out. These are the quests that could happen. The Object in these two existed, and however bowdlerized their effects and purpose are (they are Hollywood treatments, after all), however much relying on subsequent myths and legends, there's something true about the quest to find them. The Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull are only myths and legends.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Personal Holiday

Eight years ago today I married my bride in Mt. Prospect, IL. In some ways I cannot believe how fast those years have gone--but at times I find myself looking at her and can't even remember life without her. She's a piece of me now--or I am a piece of her (God help her!).

Happy Anniversary, Marjorie!