Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Our Peanut Scare

Our Eliana, age five, has a severe (as in fatal) allergy to peanuts. We've known about this since she was one and only have had once problem with it. Once Mikayla ate a peanut-butter sandwich somewhere, brushed her teeth, washed her face and kissed Elli on the cheek, which immediately blossomed and swelled.

But yesterday she was playing at a neighbor's house and the neighbor girl's bird-seed covered pine cone rolled into the street. Elli went out to get it and carried it back into the yard. It was then that the neighbor girl told her that it was covered with peanut butter. Elli dropped it and ran home. Marjorie and I were inside, and we heard Elli run into the bathroom, turn on the water and start crying. We scrubbed her hands, brushed under her fingernails and gave her benadryl. We had her Epipen handy, but thankfully didn't need to use it. Apart from some red blotches on her wrists and arms, she was okay.

I tucked her in at bedtime, and Marjorie went in a few minutes later to check on her. She was still awake and wanted to pray one more prayer. She prayed, "Dear God, please help me be okay, and not die. I don't want to die. I don't want my fingers to be dead either. Not any of me. And...if I die before I wake..." There was a long pause, while Marjorie thought she would finish the "Now I lay me" prayer. Instead she continued, "If I die before I wake....I guess I'll just be in the grave or something. Amen."

Marjorie had a long talk with her about the Kingdom of God and the promise of the resurrection, and she felt much better after that. But it was pretty funny in an Eliana sort-of-way.

She is fine this morning, thank God.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Feasts, Sundays and Commemorations: What I Do

There is a long-standing problem within Lutheranism in how to celebrate festivals. Lutheran Service Book added a number of feast days, divided between "Feasts and Festivals" and "Commemorations." And while this is a good thing, it made a difficult decision worse: there is the note that only certain "Feasts" are observed when they fall on a Sunday--these are Eve of the Circumcision of Jesus; Circumcision of Jesus; Purification of Mary and Presentation of Our Lord; the Annunciation of Jesus; the Visitation; Nativity of St. John the Baptist; St. Michael and All Angels; and All Saint's Day. These are all privileged, then, over every other Sunday. In all other circumstances, the Proper Sunday is privileged. Right?

What this leaves the liturgically-minded pastor with is a number of feasts and commemorations that will never be celebrated or commemorated on a Sunday, which means never, since it's next to impossible to get anyone to show up for a week-day service unless it's Advent or Lent.

So Sunday was the First Sunday of Christmas (privileged) and also the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. What to do? We must celebrate the feast of Christmas.

Here's what I have taken to doing: Sunday was Christmas 1, with the propers for Christmas 1 throughout. However, at the end of the prayers, I said, "Let us now commemorate the Holy Innocents, Martyrs" then read the Gradual, Verse and Collect for that day.

This is somewhat akin to how feasts are commemorated during Lauds, with the commemoration of lesser class festivals coming at the end of the propers for the day. Of course, the Divine Service is not Lauds, and I commemorated them during the Prayers, not after the final Benedictions, but I think that the post-communion prayers and benedictions should be the final ones of the service, anyhow.

Regardless, I think this is superior to ignoring it, transferring it, or elevating it over Christmas, or in the case of St. Thomas (Dec. 21), Advent (which are also privileged).

Kids and Cabin Fever

This morning the family went to the YMCA. Mik ran while I did a short work-out, then both of us joined the rest of the family at the indoor pool. We let them play on the indoor playset for a while after swimming, and then we all came home. It was a good morning.

I've learned something about my kids these past few days. They need to get out of the house. Too long spent in these walls drives them bananas--they fight, they rough-house, they whine. Of course, too much time here and I whine and fight and growl too, so it shouldn't surprise me.
But my wife tells me this every summer, which is why she has them go to tennis and swimming lessons in the mornings and takes them swimming again in the afternoons. I get it now, after spending a few days here on vacation.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Strange Scent

So my wife gave me a bottle of Axe Body Spray--a nice gift. The flavor is called "Phoenix." I spray it on this morning and am hit with the smell of roasted birds. Kidding. But it was strange: incense. Frankincense, actually.

I know nothing about perfuming. I have no idea how perfumers make something smell good, but I am confident there is incense in this stuff.

It actually smells pretty good, though smelling it makes me feel like I haven't been going to Lutheran churches. :)

A Good Decision--No Offense

So I hadn't sat down with Bloglines since...Monday? and my total unread posts topped 300. I marked them all as read. Yep. I knew I was deleting some good things. I knew I was choosing to stay uninformed of some of your posts. I apologize. But it was too much, and I didn't feel like spending a whole night catching up on posts. I promise not to be offended if you've done the same for mine.

Merry Christmas, and Happy St. Stephen's Day!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mechanical Turk?

In the 18th Century, Wolfgang von Kempelen invented a chess-playing robot or automaton. It was a man-sized machine made to look Turkish--and appropriately called "The Turk." It was very, very good at playing chess, and von Kempelen won much fame for his invention. It supposedly bested Napolean and Benjamin Franklin. After some time it was revealed that The Turk was not an automaton at all. A chess master hid inside the contraption and controlled the device. Everyone was very dissapointed, except for Big Blue which breathed a sigh of relief, and William Gates who loved the smoke and mirrors of the idea.

Apparently in 2005, developed a program called Mechanical Turk. It is a clearinghouse for web searches and information. Users can post questions, research ideas, and data gathering requests on a board, and after some time, answers come pouring back in (all for a small fee). What's happening, though is that users sign up and take the jobs, do the research and get paid. Humans looking like computers. Hence the name. It reminds me of that "box display" at the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics this Summer, the one where the boxes were moving up and down, making incredible displays and designs and, at the end, it was revealed that the whole thing was done by people inside them.

I'm posting about this for several reasons. First, if you're interested in making some coin, consider signing up. You'd have to take gobs of jobs to make even a little money, but if you're surfing the web anyway, it beats doing it for free.

Second, I'm amazed that I just now discovered this. I shop at Amazon a lot. Mechanical Turk is a compelling, quirky idea. It's been around for three years. It testifies to how huge the web is (as if you doubted it before).

Third, it's just a cool idea. Very old-school, yet web 2.0-kind-of-thing.

Have fun.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Good Satire and Great Puns

HT: RAsBurry's Res

Almost Ready...

Whew! Finished with the sermons through January 4. Or at least the draft of them I'll practice, to put a better point on it. I have to see a few shut-ins and I can begin my Christmas "vacation." As it were. Still doing Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the Sundays and New Year's Eve, and whatever emergencies come up, but the rest of the time will be at home.

I want to do some reading. I need to do some more writing, having taken the month of December off, except for a non-fiction submission that was accepted--whoo-hoo! I want to spend some time with the home computer, fixing some organizing issues, organizing photos, tweaking Ubuntu a little, playing my new game. I look forward to board games and card games with the girls, playing "Dragons or Kitties" with Jack, and hanging out with Margie. If the weather is nice, maybe some time in the garage making sawdust (I have a tool storage cabinet I'm working on), though right now it's only 18°--that doesn't look promising.

Maybe even a few theological blog posts. It's why most of you are reading this, after all. Sorry about that for now :)

Peace out.

Busy Weekend

Fought through sermons last week, some hospital visits, shut-in visits, nursing home devotions and then capped it off with a stomach bug the morning of our Open House. I fought through the nausea and the other bad stuff and cleaned, ran errands and cleaned some more.

By that evening I was feeling better and we had a nice group. Small, but nice. Saturday was great. I took the kids shopping for mommy, got ready for Sunday, spent a nice evening at home. Sunday was crazy again. After church I ran by the hospital to see someone, ran back and picked up Jack while M and the girls toured the nursing homes caroling with choirs and handbells. Then we had our Choir Christmas Party and played Dirty Santa. I got a lovely Starbucks gift pack and M got a hand-crank LED lantern.

We got home past the young'un's bed times, but Jack wouldn't go to sleep. And M got the stomach thing. And Mikki woke in the middle of the night having puked in her bed. And then J and O and E all woke at the crack of dawn.

Good air in, bad air out.

Stir up your power and come, O Lord...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Three to Go: An Excursus on Writing Sermons

I finished up three sermons yesterday. Granted--I used some heavy borrowing from myself. Hate having to do that, but as Christopher Orr suggested below (in the comments) it's all borrowing and copying one way or another.

When I was at the Seminary, the homiletics professors squirmed a lot on this point. Being academics--and ethical types, anyway--they were loathe to admit that sermons should borrow anything--at least unattributed. It's the ethical way to be. On the other hand, they admitted that the Gospel is not copyrighted and if the pastor is inventing new ways of looking at it, understanding it or interpreting it, he is wrong. The pastor's--the theologian's--job is not to invent new things, but to be faithful to the Gospel as it has been handed down to us.

How do I handle this? When I borrow, I quote or attribute. Last Sunday I mentioned Eugene Petersen's idea that no congregation wants a pastor who is a "yes-man." They may still kick him out, but on a fundamental level they want someone who will speak the truth to them, even if they don't like it. This is Petersen's idea. Not mine. I gave him credit. I've never read this idea anywhere else, at least phrased like that. To my knowledge this is one of his unique insights.

On the other hand, I've made reference to things Fr. Stephen Freeman wrote concerning the human heart without giving him an attribution, at least not directly. Why? Because he was passing on what the Fathers and Elders have said through the centuries. Additionally, those observations have become mine through prayer and meditation about them--albeit in a puny, half-confused way.

Look, plagiarism is what we're talking about, and it's not an easy thing to put your finger on. You can't copyright the Gospel, nor the Apostolic teaching. You can't copyright facts, either, making the biographer in a worse position than a preacher. And sermons are not presented or intended to be creative, original texts. Not mine. It's part of why I don't publish them here. I don't write for publication, I write to proclaim--once.

Preaching is kind of like writing music: you have a chord progression-- a chordal pattern, a key, a time signature, a rhythm. And it cannot be copyrighted. It's not copyright-able. Fact. But the melody you sing is a creative, original element. Likewise the words. The chords for "Twinkle Twinkle" are the same chords used for 33.3% of all pop songs written in 1956-1966. Three chords and the truth. Ok, the statistics I made up, but they sounded good. And most blues songs feature the same I-IV-V progression with a half-dozen variations and turn-arounds, but no one is stealing from anyone else unless they take the words and melody. Or their band name begins with "Led" and ends with "Zeppelin." (see here, Zep-heads)

Likewise in preparing a sermon you have the structure, the key signature, the rhythm given to you. Sometimes you even have the melody provided--or maybe just a refrain. The preacher's task is to make the words fit the melody and the feel of the song. It is possible to sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune and chords of "House of the Rising Sun," but it may not be a good idea to do it. It could be a bad sermon.

Of course, this is all a big digression from my main point--I copied from myself. All my members who read this will now be bracing themselves to see if they recognize what I say. I doubt it. I wrote new introductions, and some new concluding paragraphs, copied in a few body paragraphs, but will probably even phrase them differently when I beging practicing them out loud. By the time it is proclaimed it may not even be familiar to me.

It's more like Jazz improv, maybe.

Ok, on to the next three!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

That Time of Year

I'm stuck. Seriously stuck on some sermons. I have Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the First Sunday after Christmas, New Year's Eve, and the Second Sunday after Christmas sermons to write, and I need them done quickly. Tomorrow morning is a possibility, but Friday we have our Open House, Saturday is useless for sermon writing, Sunday afternoon is likewise useless. Next Monday and Tuesday I plan to visit shut-ins. Christmas Eve I have Matins at 9:30, family time, then worship, and my vacation begins Christmas after worship, and I don't want to be writing sermons then.

So why am I blogging instead of writing? Because I'm stuck. Too many directions to go, not enough time to think about it.

This time of year is always harder than Lent and Easter.

It may be time to look through the file again...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thoughts on an "Open Letter"?

Someone posted this as an "Open Letter" to "Blogging Pastors"

I read a lot of Lutheran blog sites. I particularly enjoy reading the blogs of Lutheran pastors, like yours. You teach me a lot and I learn a lot, from all of you. I always welcome your fraternal admonishment and correction where you believe I am in error or where I can improve what I'm saying.

It is in this spirit of mutual consolation and conversation of the brethren that I feel a need to offer this open letter and fraternal appeal.

It is of great concern to me that there are some of you who are using your blog sites to engage in what I would term "pious speculating."

Let me cite but one recent example: there is a conversation going on among a group of Lutheran pastors that are interested in preserving the historical liturgy, to the effect that because John the Baptist's birth is observed on the Christian calendar, this might allow a person to believe that John the Baptist was freed from original sin on this side of glory. Obviously, this is theological error, but the speculation is being indulged in on a Lutheran pastors' blog site and actually being encouraged. That's but one example.

Here then, dear colleagues, is the problem with all this "pious speculation", and I do wish and pray you would take this to heart. We are not in our seminary dorm rooms, or frat houses, but rather making comments on public blog sites. Therefore, it would be my fraternal and respectful advice that the "pious speculations" -- which, of course, in this case, are simply errors in doctrine, plainly and simply, be avoided.

Since the blogosphere is a public square and people actually form opinions about Lutherans from what they read, we who are pledged to Scripture and Confessions are not to be indulging in whims, fancies, and "pious speculations," enjoyable as it all may be when together with friends sharing a beer or two.

We are not liturgical or theological hobbyists, or theorists analyzing some body of assorted data. We should not be engaging in conversation that is more along the lines of interesting pastime, and unfounded musing for musing's sake. Rather, our blogging must conform itself to the pattern of sound words as it is provided for us in Scripture and as we confess it together in the Lutheran Confessions.

St. Paul admonishes us, in 2 Tim. 1:13: "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus."

And our Lutheran Confessions, reflecting this Apostolic instruction, wisely note: "It is safe to hold fast both to “the pattern of the sound words” and to the pure doctrine itself. In this way, much unnecessary wrangling may be cut off and the Church preserved from many scandals." (FC SD IV.36).

Dear brothers, indulging in theorizing and speculating over matters about which Scripture and the Confessions are silent, or unclear, is unhelpful and potentially very harmful to the Church. What we might share in a private gathering of pastors, where we can be admonished, corrected, or counseled, privately among our peers, should not be put on public display on our blog sites. And we surely, none of us, would want to put ourselves in the position of speaking falsely and stirring up unnecessary wrangling and causing scandals.

Thank you for your efforts in the Lutheran blogosphere. And thank you for hearing me out as I express this word of concern and make this fraternal appeal to you. Verbum sapienti satis est.

Your fellow bond-servant of Christ,

I wanted to comment where it was posted (name and location withheld) but he turned off comments on this post, apparently. I won't address the troubling tone of his letter. But I will address what his understanding of Lutheranism--and the Christian faith--is.

He seems to think that the Book of Concord is the sole datum of Christian doctrine, as if it is the beginning and end of Lutheranism. He seems to think that speaking of other topics, speaking about the faith, wondering about the faith is useful only for passing the time in furtive, secret gatherings of pastors, which is troubling on too many levels. It drips with condescension and elitism. It implies that our doctrine is some kind of professionalism. It is alarming that he would be advocating a kind of mental compartmentalization among the clergy.

I'm curious what people think about this "open letter." Any takers?

I Hate Brown Grass and Frigid Temperatures

When I got out of bed this morning, it was 12°; it is still 12°. The Weather people were predicting some snow or maybe even ice, but there is none. This is a rip-off. Why have frigid weather without the prettiness of snow? Even ice is okay. If the weather is going to be miserable, why not have it all? It's like it being always winter with no Christmas, I tell you.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Book Review: The Unseen

T.L. Hines' latest, The Unseen begins with the main character sneaking into an office complex and spying on a woman, hidden by the drop ceiling. He's an infiltrator, or an urban explorer, going behind the "Authorized Personnel Only" signs, exploring steam tunnels and abandoned buildings, and in his case, living in them. He's a loner in the extreme, but nevertheless quickly finds himself caught up with a group of "Creepers" who infiltrate homes and video tape the lives of their oblivious victims. Soon government agents and a Russian Mafioso show up and the the crossing and double-crossing begins.

Hines writes an engaging story along the lines of Dean Koontz, which is a good compliment in my book. The characters are realistic and sympathetic, which is saying a lot given the unseemliness and deviancy of the main character. The plot hustles at a good speed and the prose is light and readable. A few elements could have been developed sooner in the narrative, which accounted for a few uneven moments in the middle of the second act, but there is a good pay-off in the end.

What is most striking is the utter lack of overt Christian witness or spirituality from this title published by Thomas Nelson. There is an underlying spirituality, an understated acknowledgment of sin and the need for redemption, but the title could easily have been published by any house...again, sort of like most Dean Koontz novels (who is a devout Catholic, by the way).

On the whole it is a fine suspense thriller and good read. I look forward to reading some more of the author.

From Captivity to His Temple

(Now I am belaboring the point, but since this is my pulpit, I guess I have the right) :)

I was thinking that if the header was a Turkish prison, then it was appropriate in terms of sin and repentance. It is where, in my sin, I deserve to be. You know,

"I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness." (Isa. 42:6-7)
But if it is a church, then how appropriate that would be, too, as He brings us out of prison into His temple, into the sanctuary of His holiness.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

...On Second Look

I think the photographer who said the image above was a "Turkish jail" is wrong. I mean, can't you clearly see an icon in the background to the right of the image? Two faces there, looking down at something? And even if that is a trick of light and shadow, what about the decorative design at the top of the arch? Why would that be in a prison?

Perhaps Christopher Orr was more correct than I first believed?

Nina Simone - "Sinnerman"

Heard this the other night on Scubs and thought I'd share.

...And the Winner is...

No one. I'd invited readers to guess what the image in my new header depicted and only four (four!) wagered a guess.

Christopher Orr was closest, however, with his guess "one of the churches in Cappodocia."

The photographer says that it is "an old Turkish prison."

I thought it was strangely appropriate.

The Widow's Mite Reveals My True Poverty

Here is another wonderful post from Creative Minority Report, this one by Patrick Archbold.

The post concerns his reaction to a "reality" show called Secret Millionaires. On the show, wealthy people go slumming for a week or so and then are supposed to give a large donation to someone they met. The gem of the show is not the hubris and condescension of the wealthy, but the generosity and mercy of the poor.

Here's an excerpt:

This week we met woman who got hooked on drugs when her child died and spent fifteen years in and out of prison. She finally got her life back on track and henceforth devoted it to sheltering and helping other women, newly released from prison,adjust to life on the outside. She found women dropped at the bust stop straight from prison with nothing but $200. She takes them in and helps them back on their feet. She had nothing, but now gives everything she has, her widow's mite.

Unmistakable in the lives of these secret saints, albeit not emphasized on the show, is the role of faith. Their faith manifests in their lives as love and charity at levels I thought existed only in books about the lives of saints from bygone eras. People like this don't exist anymore, right? I, like the millionaires I find slightly icky, just write checks and congratulate myself even while knowing the checks could and should be bigger.

While I am far from a millionaire, I realize more now that there is more to charity than writing a check. I have a lot more to give than just money. I could and should be giving more of myself. If I did, perhaps then I would be more than just a poorer version of those very public millionaires, and I could be more like these secret saints and more like Christ.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Winter Weather Already!

Oklahoma's t.v. weather men love to exaggerate the potential for winter weather. Maybe that's true everywhere, but it seems worse here. It always seems to be the case that their predictions are much worse than reality.

Except this time. What was predicted to be a slight chance of freezing rain Monday night and less than an inch of snow Tuesday morning turned out to be ice and 1.5-3 inches of snow all day yesterday. It never got heavy, but it was cold enough to freeze and make a mess of the roads last night and today so far.

Sunday and Monday it was in the low 60's. Right now it's 25. Burr!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Shack, "Dude Jesus" and Other Signs of the End

I stumbled upon a review of The Shack and thought these words were most important:

But more alarmingly, the Trinity as pictured in The Shack is utterly devoid of any awe-inspiring numinus Moses may have been full of fear and trembling at the manifestation of the God of Sinai (Heb. 12:21), Isaiah may have declared himself undone at the sight of the Lord of Hosts in the Temple (Is. 6:5), Ezekiel may have fallen on the face before the Lord at the River Chebar (Ezek. 1:28) and even St. John fell at the feet of the glorified Christ as if he were dead (Rev. 1:17). But the sight of the Trinity in this volume excites no such reaction at all. All is warm and casual, comforting and cozy—a God who giggles, and calls you ‘honey’, a God who drops and breaks crockery, a God who never condemns or is disappointed in any of us. In short, the God who is your buddy, so characteristic of modern Evangelicalism and celebrated in their feel-good choruses. It is not the God invoked in our baptismal service, “whose glance dries up the deep, whose interdict makes the mountains melt away”, the God who “touches the mountains and they smoke, who clothes Himself with light as with a garment”. All of the other errors and mis-steps of the volume pale in comparison with this basic mis-presentation of the divine. The awesome God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has become the comfortable demi-god of the emergent church. The face of the King has been distorted to resemble the face of a fox.
In a sermon recently I wrote that "Christians seem to have gone from wanting to be Christ-like to wanting Christ to be us-like." I remember when O God!, the George Burns movie, was controversial in the casual way God was depicted. Christians thought it was scandalous...and somewhat amusing, but many never said that out loud.

One of the favorite movies at my house is Evan Almighty. The kids think Steve Carell is hilarious. I think he's this generation's Peter Sellers. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Evan is finally telling his wife about why he's building an ark. She thinks he's gone crazy and all he can do is agree...but affirm that what he is doing is from God. It's pretty powerful, really.

But when this movie was released, and Bruce Almighty before it, despite a very racist, quiet murmur that "God is a black man!" there was no real controversy in the bigger picture, that God was present like us--us-like, only pretty suave, in an E-Z Reader kind of way.

And this, I believe, is a larger problem than the bad theology that is present in Evan, Bruce, and The Shack. This is simply not the way God is. It is the very opposite of the way God is.

If you have no numinous God, no holy God, then the Incarnation is essentially meaningless. If there is no holy God, then our sinfulness is reduced to buffoonery, and there is no need of forgiveness. If one can look at God and not die, then death is....meaningless? I don't even know.

A popular response could be that in Christ God has become like us, that He is now approachable, and should be. Perhaps. But that assumes were are talking about the Son of God in His incarnation. It also forgets that He is still the Eternal and Almighty One. It's really a bit of Nestorianism again, separating the Son from the "dude Jesus." It's "The Buddy Christ" of Kevin Smith's Dogma.

Christ like-us makes US the gods that He must conform to. And put like that we see the Father of Lies' fingerprints all over it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Trying Out a New Header

It doesn't have the "pulpit" connection, but it is pretty.

I'll take guesses on what it is. The winner will receive much acclaim and fame. Somehow.

Seriously, take a guess.

Funeral for Patriarch ALEXY II Streaming Live Tonight

For those of you who may be interested, the Funeral and Internment rites for Patriarch ALEXY II of Moscow and All Russia will be broadcast live on the 'net. See here for more details. The broadcast will begin at 10pm CST.

Auto Bailout Bad? The People's Escort will be Great!

And it looks like we will also enjoy the People's Gremlin, the People's Geo.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pr. Beecroft of Grace, Tulsa in the Paper Again: Still Not in the "Crime" Section

A friend of mine--and fellow Okie--Pr. Mason Beecroft is featured in a sidebar in this article from the Tulsa World (the "sidebar" is at the end of the article). I find it encouraging that the World thought to feature a Lutheran spin on a very Catholic article.

Also of note is the results of the "liturgical reforms" that Pr. Beecroft has introduced in the congregation:

But he sees a hunger for a return to traditional liturgical worship.

Attendance at Grace Lutheran has more than doubled since he arrived four years ago, bringing with him a more traditional worship.

“To be engaged by something beyond ourselves fills a deep void,” he said.

Young people, in particular, want the transcendent, he said.

“The biggest advocates for contemporary worship are the baby boomers,” he said. “My kids don’t want to see me up on the stage playing a guitar.”

St. Nicholas of Myra

St. Nicholas of Myra died December 6, 345 (or 352). He attended the Council of Nicaea, where he reportedly struck the arch-heretic Arius because he defamed our Lord. He was immediately banished from the Council and defrocked, but after other bishops all shared a common dream of the Blessed Virgin Mary imploring mercy on him, they re-instated him.

He was well known for his generosity and his love of children and the poor, though he always gave anonymously, sometimes throwing gifts in through windows in the night.
This site has some more details of his life and some of the miracles attributed to him.

The icon above is from St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai (13th Century).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Patriarch Alexiy II --Memory Eternal

I just read a report that Patriarch Alexiy II of the Russian Orthodox Church has reposed. The entire story can be read here.

While he was a controversial figure for many, he was controversial for many good reasons, and the story does a good job summarizing his life and his importance in Russia.

"He served the church when there were only 40 places of worship in Moscow and now by his grace there are more than 500. So one can only imagine what this tragedy will mean for the church," [a spokesman] told Reuters.
Memory eternal!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Book Review: Field of Blood

I don't read much CBA. Just a few titles here and there, for much of the same reason I don't listen to much CCM: I find a lot of it to be derivative, saccharine, preachy and boring.

Field of Bood is not that--by a long shot. Half a dozen times I shook my head, thinking, "A Christian house published this book?" Not that it's graphic, but there is more sensuality and violence than in all the CBA books I've read combined. That Wilson could pull this off, and that the publisher was brave enough to support him is amazing.

The First through Tenth Commandments for writers has long been "Show, don't tell." Next to this, the advice of Elmore Leonard stands out: "I try to leave out the parts that people skip." Wilson has mastered these two principles. No boring exposition, no masses of overblown description. But the novel falls on these points as well. It's almost as if he was writing in shorthand. There is little sense of place. There is little connection to the characters. A prime example: the horror that the main character's mother subjected her to is so fleetingly drawn that the reader has to constantly fill in the gaps.

I don't do well with this style. It's also why the films of Michael Mann don't normally appeal to me: lots of stylish showing but too little information on what is actually going on.

The premise was strong, his use of Jewish mysticism and Christian tradition was creative, and the pacing was pretty good. In the end, though, the novel didn't work for me for the critical reason that I didn't care about the characters. The protagonist was mean and snarky to everyone around her and showed little redeeming qualities until the very end, and by then it was too late for me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tragic Death

Rev. Paul McCain shared some comforting words about suicide on his blog this afternoon. Please go over and take a look.

The post was occasioned by the suicide of one of his seminary classmates. He was in active parish ministry. I immediately thought about one of my predecessors here who committed suicide on a Saturday night, twenty-some years ago.

Suicide is tragic enough without the victim being an ordained pastor. It can be worse, or more scandalous when it is someone "who should know better." In other words, we think the Gospel alone should be antidote enough to depression and hopelessness. We think that men who know and breathe the Gospel should be immune from such tragedy.

That is not the case. Depression is the result of chemical imbalances. It's not an issue of being sad, or weak or whatever. Stress can contribute, but this is a medical condition. Many, many people suffer this problem, and there shouldn't be a stigma attached to it.

I appreciated how Rev. McCain concluded his post:

Finally, if you know a pastor who is struggling, be sure to reach out to encourage him and support him. Don't sit around thinking, "Oh, somebody else is going to say something." No, you say something. Do something. Reach out in Christian love. If a congregation is aware that the pastor is suffering, don't wait, help.

Meaningless Promises

DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. will tell Congress that it plans to return to a pretax profit or break even in 2011 when its CEO appears before two legislative committees this week.

Also, CEO Alan Mulally said he'll work for $1 per year if the automaker has to take any government loan money. (Source)

Why doesn't the guy work for $1 now? Obviously he doesn't need the paycheck.

What is the Big Deal?

My wife couldn't quite pin down what the deal was. She calls the Blessed Virgin "Mary, the mother of our Lord." She said, obviously, that my Lord is God. Quite right.

And this is what St. Elizabeth meant when she created the Virgin Mother: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:42-43). St. Elizabeth's Lord is, well, the Lord--God.

Lord=God. Kryios=Theos. And in the LXX, kyrios=YHWH.

I have a smart wife. She didn't use the Greek and Hebrew last night, but she knows the score.

So what's the deal, then?

What is wrong in saying that Mary is the Mother of Christ? Absolutely nothing. It's true. What's wrong with saying that Mary is the Mother of our Lord? Nothing. It's great to agree with St. Elizabeth.

But can you, will you, say "Mary is the Mother of God"?

If not, then you don't really believe she is the Mother of our Lord. You mean something different than that. If you can't, won't, don't want to, think it's too confusing, to call her the Mother of God, then when you say that she is the mother of Christ, you mean a different kind of Christ who is somehow not God.

Who do you say He is? Is He God? Was He God in her womb? Or just "the Lord", whatever you mean by that? Was it God on the Cross or just Christ? As if you could separate Him.

Words matter.

Saying of the Day

One day blessed Theophilus the archbishop came to the mountain of Nitria and the abba of the mountain came to meet him. The archbishop said to him, "Father, in this way of life which you follow, what do you find to be best?" The old man said to him, "The act of accusing myself, and of constantly reproaching myself to myself." Abba Theophilus said to him, "There is no other way but this."

Sayings. Theophilus the Archbishop. 1

Monday, December 1, 2008

Random Question of the Day

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VIII.24:

On account of this personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed Virgin, bore not a mere man, but, as the angel [Gabriel] testifies, such a man as is truly the Son of the most high God, who showed His divine majesty even in His mother's womb, inasmuch as He was born of a virgin, with her virginity inviolate. Therefore she is truly the mother of God, and nevertheless remained a virgin.
Why is August 15 in the Lutheran Service Book called "Mary the Mother of our Lord" and not "Mary the Mother of God"?

Did the Commission on Worship harbor crypto-Nestorians?

Keeping Advent

The blogs I read have been strangely quiet on the tragedy at Walmart this weekend. I suppose there may not be much to say but "Lord have mercy."

In Advent we repent. It is a penitential season, despite the caroling and yuletide cheer. Every time is a season of repentance, though, if you think about it. When do we not have something of which to repent? When are we not something needing repentance?

I know people who don't think about this much, or at all. I write about it, but haven't even started repenting properly. But if you're in need of finding something, think about those who trampled at Walmart.

I know you didn't do it. I know you weren't there. I know that you think you would have rushed to help the person.

But you could have been there. You've felt that mad rush, that compulsion to step on others to get what you want. You've thought that others were no more than obstacles in your path, to be pushed aside.

If you need to repent of something, think about Jdimytai Damour, 34, of Queens.

Lord have mercy.