Friday, October 31, 2008

Saying of the Day

Abba Ammonas was asked, "What is the 'narrow and hard way?'" (Matt. 7:14)

He replied, "The 'narrow and hard way' is this, to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, 'Lo, we have left everything and followed you.'" (Matt. 19:27)

Sayings. Ammonas. 11

It Starts Tomorrow

The NaNoWriMo, that is. 50,000 words in thirty days. I'm beginning to feel that this was a horrible mistake. Beginning tomorrow, you'll see a widget on the right that will track my word count. I'm doing this to keep the pressure on me, you see.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Devotional Life

Little devotional books are popular in the LCMS. These kinds of books tell a 200-word story with a basic message, one for every day. There are periodicals our publishing house publishes, devotional books, and even some web-based devotional stories.

I always appreciate it when I learn that members read these on a daily basis. I'm glad that they take a few minutes for this devotional time. When I was in college I used one of these...but I also cheated. You see, they usually proscribe a reading of a pericope or chapter, along with the single verse printed at the top of the page. I usually "overlooked" the longer passage, read the single verse, the flash-devotion, said the one-sentence prayer at the end and called it quits. Devotions done! Now on to life.

This obviously is not the intent of those who produce devotional books like this. At minimum, the entire passage is supposed to be read, and the prayers are usually intended as a start for prayer. I know this; I've written some of these before (but not for a Lutheran publisher...shh!). But I fear that many people consider that "doing devotions" means reading a little story, saying a prayer and getting on with life. One website puts it this way: "What most people talk about when they talk about devotionals is a book that helps you grow in your relationship with God." (source)

That's not exactly how it is supposed to work. Devotion(s) are defined as "An act of religious observance or prayer, especially when private. Often used in the plural." (American Heritage Dictionary ) Prayer. That's the action of daily devotions. What Christians do privately, outside of the liturgy is, well, some of what they do inside the liturgy: pray and mediate on Scripture.

For this reason, we Lutherans have hymnals that are designed not just for church use, but also for home use, with short orders of worship, daily reading tables and much of the psalter (book of Psalms). There are other options, like the Brotherhood Prayer Book (an independent Lutheran diurnal I have no experience with) or The Monastic Diurnal (not just for monks...but hard to use, Catholic--or Orthodox if you will, and a treasure for the patient or stubborn!). Apparently Concordia Publishing House refused to be left out of the fray and have designed their own diurnal, the Treasury of Daily Prayer (I don't know that much about it this one, but ought to check it out). But whatever source you use, the object is not reading stories to warm our hearts, but praying to God, praying with the psalms, and praying with the Church, i.e., praying along with the Church Calendar in the season, the commemorations, and so forth.

To be clear, there's nothing wrong with reading inspiring little stories that you may find in all kinds of sources. On the contrary, these are good! But we shouldn't limit ourselves to them. Christians need to pray the psalms, to mediate on Scripture, and be encouraged in Christian living through short (or long) homilies, exhortations, lives of saints, meditations from Church Fathers, contemporary stories and devotional reading too. All this will feed and nurture faith in ways it is impossible to reckon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

For the Months Ahead

A few weeks ago I posted a review of The Faith of Barack Obama. Thomas Nelson had made a special offer for free review copies for bloggers if they posted a review.

I am pleased to report that Thomas Nelson has expanded this program, and soon I will be regularly reviewing books they publish. Stay tuned for these as they come in. The publisher also wishes to enroll many more bloggers into the program, so if you're interested, you can find out more here.

In other news, the Sayings of the Desert Fathers project needs to change. The number of sayings that I would like to share is dwindling--some are too long and others are too hard. As the response to this feature has been enthusiastic from a few, and very muted from most, I've decided to limit the sayings to one or two a week, and re-commit to more regular writing from me.

Saying of the Day

One day when [Abba John the Dwarf] was sitting in front of the church, the brethren were consulting him about their thoughts. One of te old men who aw it became a prey for jealousy and said to him, "John, your vessel is full of poison."

Abba John said to him, "That is very true, abba; and you have said that when you only see the outside, but if you were able to see the inside, too, what would you say then?"

Sayings. John the Dwarf. 8

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Is There Life after Birth?

This is from Again and Again, the blog of a commentor here.

By Fr. Milovan Katanic

The following story is an allegorical representation of a discussion about life after death between a man who does not believe in God (person A) and a man who believes in God (person B).

Twins are having a conversation in the mother’s womb:

A: Do you believe in life after birth?

B: Of course, there must be something after birth.

A: That is nonsense. There is no life after birth. How would this life look like anyway?

B: I don’t know exactly, but I am convinced that there will be more light and that we will be able to walk and eat with our mouths…

A: That is complete nonsense. You know that it’s impossible to run and eat with your own mouth, that’s why we have the umbilical cord. I’m telling you, after birth there is no life.

B: The umbilical cord is too short. I’m convinced that there is something after birth. Something completely different from what we are living now.

A: But no one has ever returned from there. Life ends after birth. Besides, life is nothing else but existence in a tight and dark environment.

B: Well, I don’t know exactly how life after birth looks like, but we will, in any case, meet our Mommy. Then she will take care of us.

A: Mommy? You believe in Mommy? And where, according to you, would she be?

B: Everywhere around us, of course. Thanks to her, we are alive, without her, we would not exist at all.

A: I don’t believe it. I have never seen Mommy, so it is clear that she doesn’t exist.

B: Yes, it is possible, but sometimes, when we are perfectly still, we can hear her sing and caress our world. You know, I am convinced that life after birth, in fact, is only just the beginning.

Making and Paying Vows

When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth. (Dt. 23:21-23)

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matt. 5:33-37)
I've taken a couple of vows over the course of my life. I vowed to remain faithful to God and to die rather than leave the confession of the Holy Trinity when I was confirmed as a Lutheran. Thank God I did not vow to die rather than leave the Lutheran faith, as our hymnal now requires of confirmands (see here for more reasons)! I took a vow to remain faithful to my wife, to love and cherish her and so forth on July 1, 2000. I took a vow to preach and teach God's Word according to our Lutheran Confessions on August 13, 2000.

But the revelation to Moses and the revelation of Jesus both affirm: Don't make vows. Why is that? Because we get in some serious trouble when we break them. We're setting ourselves up to sin. If we don't make a vow, we are not bound, and we don't have to worry about it. If you have a drinking problem, you sin when you get drunk. But if you made a vow before God not to drink, and you get drunk, you're sinning because you're drunk, and you're breaking the vow-another sin. And God will hold you accountable to the promises you make Him.

I love this about God. He's really on our side in this, hemming us in, protecting us from ourselves and others. He really wants to bless us, to make us succeed in overcoming sin (true Success, not the consumerist idea you see in Christian bookstores). It's as if our Lord is saying, "I know you want to make me these big promises...but I know how easy it is for you to fail. Don't be tempted to promise what you can't do. Don't set yourself up for failure. Just say "yes" or "no," just live and don't bind yourself more than you have to." He is a good Father.

So what about these vows I made? Were they wrong? By no means! But they are serious as cancer. So are yours.

UPDATE: Missing link placed in paragraph above.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Saying of the Day

[Abba Nilus] also said, "If you want to pray properly, do not let yourself be upset or you will run in vain."

Sayings. Nilus, 6

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saying of the Day

[Abba Nilus] also said, "Prayer is a remedy against grief and depression."

Sayings. Nilus, 3

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Saying of the Day

[Abba Nilus] also said, "Prayer is the seed of gentleness and the absence of anger."

Sayings. Nilus, 2

Friday, October 24, 2008

Saying of the Day

[Abba Nilus] also said, "Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer."

Sayings. Nilus, 7

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Saying of the Day

Abba Nisterus said that a monk ought to ask himself every night and every morning, "What have we done that is as God wills and what have we left undone of that which he does not will?" He must do this throughout his whole life. This is how Abba Arsenius used to live. Every day strive to come before God without sin. Pray to God in his presence, for he really is present. Do not impose rules on yourself; do not judge anyone. Swearing, making false oaths, lying, getting angry, insulting people laughing, all that is alien to monks, and he who is esteemed or exalted above that which he deserves suffers great harm.

Sayings. Nisterus, 5

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Good Advice for You Priests

As this week finds me doing all kinds of things Fr. Jonathan counsels against, here is his advice:

* Avoid handling money and politics

* Wear black socks, shine your shoes, be well-groomed

* Speak and write English simply and well

* There may be no difference between a mood and a passion

* Avoid anger

* The most dangerous part of a speech is the joke

* Grow a simple routine, savor productive boredom

* Only a fool would legislate ascesis and arcane rubrics before he first lived them himself

* Parochial gossip isn't always bad, but it is frequently toxic ... if you don't want the toxin, don't be a gossip yourself

* Carry yourself with dignity

* Do not complain about how busy you are ... or about how poor you are ... or about how sick you are ... if you do, you will gain the pity of old women, and lose the respect of young women and old men, and you will join the party of ne'er-do-well middle-aged male malcontents, who will be happy to welcome you as their chaplain

* Avoid aristocratic detachment, but avoid familiarity ... do not drink with the boys

* Write little notes of encouragement

* In counseling, or in visitation, or in sermons, beware of talking about yourself

* Turn off the TV and read Scripture, read the Fathers (certainly the Fathers before the Elders), read good literature ... avoid mainline protestant theology and most modern novels (both are at war with the English language)

* Force yourself to understand old poetry

* Do not be opinionated ... opinions take little to no intelligence

* Do not make excuses ... say simply, "I was wrong," or "Forgive me, I sinned against you"

* Be well-known for your forgiveness ... never get famous for your tantrums

* Do not demand attention, and never count on appreciation -- these things will never come when you think you most deserve them

* If you think you are popular in your parish ... or, on the other hand, if you think your stock is low ... wait for the weather to change -- the opinions of the crowd are as fickle as the wind

* Be surprised, often, by Jesus. Never be ashamed of the noble gestures of a young man

* Go on many walks: the Good Shepherd of the green pastures will take care of you

* Always remember that anger makes us energetic, but stupid ... I cannot think of one good thing I ever did or said in anger: but I can think of many regrets

* Beware of thinking that you simply must get an advanced degree -- theological degrees are rarely worth the money, and nothing is stopping you from getting the education you really need, right now

* There will be many times that you will be afraid of communion. The fear of the Chalice is a good thing, but the fear of communing with persons is not. This fear arises, more often than not, from sin (and we all know this but don't like to talk about it). Repent, confess and pray. Start small again, and let prayer grow again: it may be smaller (after all, you renounced, for a while, your predestination), but it may be this time, and because of infinite grace, even more beautiful

* Use simple tools. Write with a pencil instead of complexity. Let no man stand between you and the land: mow your own lawn, pick your own cotton, sweat yourself under the sun

* Walk into the cold morning, sunrise, wind and rain. Pray and breathe wind again.

* Garden and cook, hike, raise a rabbit or a pig. Give up on hobbies that require microchips or gas engines. Build a fire at night and watch it down to the coals

* Smile at people, weep for them in the evening. Doubt your anger, never assume motive: you can discern spirits, but you must not be telepathic

* Be loyal to Bishop and Priest and to your elders. As you sow, so shall you reap: at midnight, complainers are afraid to grow old

* Keep your mind in hell and despair not: this means that you should always keep that possibility in mind as you walk between the earth and sky ... even a tangled culvert, in a factory town, will show green life and flower when the alternative to creation is considered -- when you think about the death from renunciation of Creator and creation, then in relief your neighbor will show himself as a son of Adam, and you his brother, and the two of you as inheritors of the Vineyard ... any gleam is an impossibility made possible, in this light

* Bake your own prosphora

* Pray ...

* Teach others to pray, for that is your quality and your vocation

From Second Terrace

Saying of the Day

Abba Nicetas said of two brothers that they met with the intention of living together. The first thought within himself, "If my brother wants something, I will do it," and the second thought the same, "I will do the will of my brother."

So they lived many years in great charity. Seeing this, the enemy set out to separate them. He stood at the entrance to the cell, appearing to the one like a dove and to the other like a raven. The first said, "Do you see that little dove?"

The other said, "It is a raven." They began to argue and to contradict one another, then they stood up and fought till they drew blood, to the great joy of the enemy; and they separated. After three days they returned and came to their senses and each asked the other's forgiveness. They had recognized that each of them had believed the bird to be what he had seen and recognized that their conflict came from the enemy. So they lived to the end without being separated.

Sayings. Nicetas, 1.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saying of the Day

Abba Olympius of the Cells was tempted to fornication. His thoughts said to him, "Go, and take a wife."

He got up, found some mud, made a woman and said to himself, "Here is your wife, now you must work hard in order to feed her." So he worked, giving himself a great deal of trouble. The next day, making some again, he formed it into a girl and said to his thoughts, "Your wife has had a child, you must work harder so as to be able to feed her and clothe your child." So, he wore himself out doing this, and said to his thoughts, "I cannot bear this weariness any longer." They answered, "If you cannot bear such weariness, stop wanting a wife."

God, seeing his efforts, took away the conflict from him and he was at peace.

Sayings. Olympius, 2.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Saying of the Day

[Abba Orsisius] has also said, "I think that if a man does not guard his heart well, he will forget and neglect everything he has heard, and thus the enemy, finding room in him, will overthrow him. It is like a lamp filled with oil and lit; if you forget to replenish the oil, gradually it goes out and eventually darkness will prevail. It is still worse if a rat happens to get near the lamp and tries to eat the wick; it cannot do so before the oil is exhausted, but when it sees the lamp not only without light, but also without heat, it tries to pull out the wick and it brings the lamp down. If it is earthenware it breaks, but if it is brass, the master of the house will fill it with oil again. In the same way, through the soul's negligence, the Holy Spirit gradually withdraws until his warmth is completely extinguished. Finally the enemy devours the ardour of the soul and wickedness spoils the body, too. But if a man is sound in his attachment to God, and has only been led away through negligence, God, in his mercy, sends his fear to him and the remembrance of punishment and so prepares him to be vigilant and to guard himself with more prudence in the future, until his visitation.

Sayings. Orsisius, 2

Status Update

God willing, the series on the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, taken from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian studies 59), resumes later today. I've got some edifying sayings picked out and ready to be typed up.

While I'm in a creative lull here, I hold out hope that I'll have more to blog soon. Thank you, dear readers, for your patience thus far.

Also, please note the badge over in the sidebar. Yes, I'm becoming a NaNoWriMo participant. I've toyed with writing since I was a toddler, dictating stories to my patient mother, but now I'm taking the plunge and hope to write 50 000 words during the thirty days of November. The point of the exercise is simply completion-moving from the One Day novelist ("One day I'll write a novel") to actually doing it. The goal is not necessarily quality, but simply slogging through the thing during the month. Normally, I would keep this side of my life close to my chest, but the FAQ tells us to broadcast our commitment far and wide. Public embarassment, they say, is always a reliable muse.

I need to find a few hours every day to work on this, and that is the biggest impediment right now. It looks like I'll be getting up very early or staying up very late for the next month...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Officially Back

After a week of vacation, a short trip, and the Church Workers Conference I'm back at work.

Dad and I spent the better part of the week installing new doors on the house, courtesy Uncle Sam's tax rebate. Eventually it worked out, though none of the installations went quite as planned. We also spent a day or so replacing a few sheets of bad siding. All of it needed to be replaced, but Uncle Sam was not that generous this time around. I'm afraid I'll have to wait for my ship to come in to do that.

Kansas City was nice, if brief. It was good to see my extended family again. The last time I saw many of them was in 2001 when Grandma Mom died. While there, I caught a head cold and fever, but I've had worse, thanks be to God.

I worked some Monday morning and then left for Roman Nose State Park where the conference was. The main presentations were quite good; Reed Lessing from Concordia Seminary presented on Jeremiah, giving an overview of the main theme of the book and applying it to preaching and pastoral care. The weather, however, was lousy. Cold rain and driving winds eliminated hiking and taking in the scenery, which is pretty spectacular.

I met a blog buddy there--Rev. Mason Beecroft. While I previously knew many of the Lutheran bloggers on my list, Pr. Beecroft is the first blogger I met online first. It was fun getting to know him and hearing of his ministry at Grace Lutheran, Tulsa.

Thanks to all of you who have been faithfully checking in here or watching via your feed reader. I hope to be more active again in regular posting soon.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Is this thing working...? I'm broadcasting right now? You mean that every word....? Ok.

Greetings to you from another time and space.

All is well here in my exile from Windows.

The view is lovely, the apps are working without a hitch and I even my Treo syncs. It's an amazing place, outside the Microworld. I push a button marked "Power" and I am working within one minute. I click an image on the screen and instantly something happens. I type in cybercode words and immediately the screen fills with text and images.

All right, I'll loose the drama.

I am writing to you on my experiment with a new operating system. I've (temporarily at least) ditched Windows XP and am using Linux--the Ubuntu distro, to be accurate.

Here's the deal: Windows is the old boss. Mac is the new boss. Our friend Roger Daltry can fill in the rest of the details (see the last two lines in particular). Linux is the only alternative for those who want something different.

I'm still testing things out. I made a partition on my storage drive (and didn't loose a byte of data) and have been playing around here. I have no idea how the file system works or what a lot of things mean at this point, but I can browse, email, listen to mp3s, sync my Palm and edit documents just like before.

Only faster.

Much, much faster.

Even with cool 3d effects that one could only get with Leviathan Vista.

In the next week or so I'll offer some more thoughts. Switching is not for the jellyspined point and clicker.

I'll also give a report on my vacation, which was productive and tiring.

I promised a substantial theological post and I haven't forgotten it, for the three of you who are still reading after I've been off the 'net for a week and who haven't defenstrated yourselves due to loosing your portfolios.

That will have to wait. Tomorrow we are headed to KC for my aunt & uncle's 50th anniversary party, and if we have time, to show the family my old house and stomping grounds in Liberty, MO.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pr. Beecroft on Technology

I had started a post this week on technology, agrarianism and what it means to be a person, a human. It sounded a little to paranoid and luddite, especially for me, considering I spent a few hours last evening trying out a live CD installation of Ubuntu.

So I checked Bloglines tonight and see that Pr. Beecroft has said some of what I wanted to say (thank you!). Read his post below, and consider it foundation for a post perhaps next week. I'm not sure I would agree with his conclusion, however. I'm not sure we can be liberated to enjoy the deathworks of technolatry. I think in many respects our liberation is expressed in denying it, it giving it no quarter. What do you think?

We live in a culture dominated by technology. Now I am no Luddite, but I am suspicious about how our highly technological environment has influenced our understanding of reality. We are surrounded by machines that do our bidding and provide us with a seemingly infinite amount of information. We have so much information that it must be stored in Gigabytes and Terrabytes. We have email, Blackberry phones, I-phones and I-pods, wireless hotspots, Facebook, laptops, Google, IM, LCD HDTV, etc. Communication is instant and has no boundaries. Our travel potential is limited only by our finances. Today, people can even vacation in space. Doctor visits are dominated by medical technology. Our children are entertained for hours by television, movies, X-Boxes, Wiis, and Playstations. We live in a world of unforeseen technology. Our world would have been considered impossible by our grandparents or great grandparents.

Yet what have all of these technological advances done for the human person? We may live a few years longer, on statistical average, but statistical average means nothing when you are terminally ill in your twenties. Are our lives more fulfilling and meaningful? Our entertainment devices may be able to distract us or draw us into strange alternative realities for a time, but we still struggle with contentment, relationships, depression and living life on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. We may have creature comforts, but we are not altogether comfortable. Do we have a better understanding of reality with the glut of information available through technology? I doubt it. We cannot even begin to process the information in a coherent manner. We are still befuddled by the vast universe and the immense complexity of the human being. Technology has certainly not ended war and violence. It has only made killing more efficient and sterile. Technology has not ended death. No matter how much genetic manipulation we attempt, death will eventually have its way. Technology may prolong life and offer healing, but not forever.

Neal Postman, in his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology argues that the culture now lives in submission to technology and its promises, making human existence confused and incoherent. He says that technopoly “consists in the deification of technology, which means that the culture seeks its authorization in technology, finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology.” We consume new gadgets made known through a technology-driven media. We are filled with hope at technological breakthroughs. We receive authority to act or believe from polls, technology-driven theories, and so-called scientific studies. Technology forms and informs the culture in which we live.

Bob Dylan, in his 1983 song License to Kill, critiques the effects of technology on man’s relationship to the world. He sings, “Now, he’s hell-bent for destruction, he’s afraid and confused, and his brain has been mismanaged with great skill. All he believes are his eyes, and his eyes, they just tell him lies.” Dylan is concerned that the human story had been so redefined by the promises of technology that existence had become meaningless and destructive. The modern person had become defined by the material, scientific, and technological. The mind of the modern person had been strictly educated in the classroom of human-centered theory, consumption and technology. Still, the modern person was afraid and confused, displaced and detached from reality. He only believed what he could see, yet he could not see what was true. His vision was distorted. In the late seventies, Dylan had become a Christian, which I suspect informed his view of the world and life, at least for the time.

As Christians who exist in this strange technological world, this technopoly, we are constantly challenged to understand our lives according to the larger drama of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Reality is not defined by technology in its various forms, but the one Triune God who creates and sustains all things. Reality is known in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, revealed in the Holy Scripture and the Ecumenical Creeds. The language of reality is not the language of technology, but the language of the Holy Christian Church: Father, creation, fall, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, repentance, faith, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion, liturgy, Church, etc. Our minds are to be formed by God’s Word, His language, so that we understand reality in all of its impenetrable mystery. Minds managed in this way will see things as they truly exist. Eyes of faith will begin to apprehend, but never exhaust, the heavenly mysteries of the sacramental presence of Christ in our midst through His gifts along with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. In Jesus Christ, our lives have true meaning and significance, liberated to enjoy the 46-inch flat screen, games, or I-pods and no longer enslaved to technology and its empty, insufficient promises and theories.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is It Paranoia if They Are out to Get You?

"What if, in a society characterized by a Goldilocks economy, we can't find anything to worry about? What if we somehow go looking for things to fear, things that will destroy this economy, things that will reach every corner of government, every
enterprise, every man, woman, and child?" --Special Agent Fox Mulder