Sunday, November 30, 2008

Young Turkeys - young

David Hume's Natural History of Religion

"The primary religion of mankind arises chiefly from an anxious fear of future events; and what ideas will naturally be entertained of invisible, unknown powers, while men lie under dismal apprehension of any kind, may easily be conceived. Every image of vengeance, severity, cruelty, and malice must occur, and must augment the ghastiliness and horror, which oppresses the amazed religionist. A panic having once seized the mind, the active fancy still farther multiplies the objects of terror; while that profound darkness, or, what is worse, that glimmering light, with which we are environed, represents the spectres of divinity under the most dreadful appearances imaginable. And no idea of perverse wickedness can be framed, which those terrified devotees do not readily, without scruple, apply to their deity........The heart secretly detests such measure of cruel and implacable vengeance; but the judgment dares not but pronounce them perfect and adorable. And the additional misery of this inward struggle aggravates all the other terrors, by which these unhappy victims to superstition are for ever haunted."

From David Hume, The Natural History of Religion (Stanford:Stanford University Press, 1957), p. 65-66.

David Hume (1711-1776) is dearly loved among the universities for developing an anthropological approach to natural religion. For Hume, all religions come from primitive people who responded to a chaotic world around them, particularly the fear of death. Ignorance and stuperstition are the products of slavish religions which stifle natural reason and the senses of discernment.

Hume understands that the greatest crimes in world history are commited due to superstitious piety and devotion which is sparked by fear. He writes, "Those who undertake the most criminal and most dangeous enterprizes are commonly the most superstitious" (p. 73). This is seconded by the university system today and nearly every social justice crusader - who generally accepts the broader assertions of the enlightenment. The rise of the papacy and defending the western world from the Turks is held up as the final discussion point about the undeniable nature Christian tyranny.

Headed into this new millenium we stand amongst smoldering ruins of the bloodiest century in world history. The 20th century is marked by the most criminal and dangerous enterprizes ever committed. Yet they were enterprizes not waged by the Holy Father or religious nuts but rather by those who systematically divorced religion from rule. It took some 150 years for Hume's assumptions about man and the shackles of religion to form in the European Continent and the Soviet Union.

The greatest terrors are only possible when clergy, preaching, and worship are silenced and "natural reason" and "the will" take over. Every instance of malice, vengeance, cruely, and severity are not expressions of the Christian, as Hume suggests, but rather the natural man set free from fear and any conception of accountability to God. The great lesson is that atheism and the supression of religion is the root and cause of the greatest terrors.

With the atonement in mind, Hume suggests: "The heart secretly detests such measures of cruel and implacable vengeance." The atonement is always a scandal because it makes foolish the wisdom of the world and counfounds the hard-hearted and proud. Cruelty, and implacable vengeance are not attributes expressed in God, of which Hume ironically suggests - thus implicating himself in his own accusation. Vengeance and cruelty are rather mans attributes that are expressions of his own will not God's. The atonement reveals only God's infinite mercy for a rebellious creation. Only God can rectify cruel hearts and does so by taking justice and wrath up into himself. That he pours himself out for all does not reveal vengeance but humility and love which defies the greatest imagination.

Vengeance, violence, and wrath are attributes which Hume suggests religionists throw upon God. But in believing this he has essentially done it himself. Vengeance, violence, and wrath are only unique properties to the fallen man. Grevious offenses are developments not of God but a rather man's contribution to a creation that God pronounced 'good.' In the creation account fear, violence, and murder are the enterprizes of 'creature' whose heart strays from 'creator.' The creature in turn creates that which has thrust the world into crime, death, and despair. Ultimatly only the Creator, eternal and begotten can create anew and take back those who had become violent, miserable, and cruel - and in Christ's its done.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Crave Coffee House

A stop with some fellow students to the Crave Coffee House in St. Louis, Missouri

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Lament to God

'The Scream' by Edvard Munch

Concerning the speech form of a lament, Oswald Bayer writes:

"It is proper ‘against God to press toward God and to call out:’ to the God revealed in the gospel. Only through Christ does the Holy Spirit let one see into the heart of God the Father. Only inthis way will he be experienced as love. But to turn this understanding into a theological principle would make it a form of enthusiasm, which impatiently does away with the difference between faith and seeing – supposing that the terrifying hiddenness of God and the way it contradicts his love have been left in the past already."

Although it is true that all has been rectified in Christ, the Christian who lives simultaneously as sinner and saint on this side of the grave must meet both the “revealed God” and the “unrevealed God.” He meets the God who suffers, dies, and announces peace and mercy to all as well as the God who is behind hurricanes, earthquakes, school shootings, and unimaginable sufferings. We meet the God revealed in the womb of Mary who takes away the sins of the world as well as the hidden God who governs a world that appears at times as a screaming, murderous, and chaotic nightmare.

Bayer notes that how we understand God is not a matter of “thinking” and working these contradictions out but rather “confessing.” In confession we run to God who meets his people with outstretched arms on a cross – who prays for us – intercedes – blesses – and forgives.

Yet all encounter a God who likewise afflicts, chastises, and stands behind the most unspeakable horrors of the world. God is not absent – not far off – but always present at work. Because we meet this God, the “lament” and the “cry” must follow as an inevitable consequence of this seeming contradiction which all people must confront. The terrifying works of God remain hidden works, un-preached works, indecipherable works before the final consummation of all things.

Therefore both the believer in Christ and unbeliever will lament and cry. The Christian lament however is functioning as an expression of meeting both the revealed God in Jesus Christ and oppositely the God who seems to whip the world into all kinds of despair and disorder. The cry of the unbeliever who seeks God outside of Christ deals only with the hidden God who is utterly terrifying and unknowable. Therefore this cry is a cry in the dark with no particular hope to rest in except vain idols and false messiahs. This is the cry in Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' where the terrified figure looks into the black void of the unrevealed and hidden God outside of Christ and is twisted and contorted into a vortex of hopelessness and deathly fear.

The Christian lament however deals with the unspeakable horrors of this world but does not seek to decifer in them the innerworkings of God. He seeks not the unsearchable God outside of the Christ. Through violence and despair the Christian lament holds God accountable to his promise finding hope in faith. As Bayer notes, only in God's act on the cross, has the Father's heart been revealed - and it is a heart who pours forth life not for some but for all who will drink in faith.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Charles Baudelaire: The Artist and Critic

A guitly pleasure is reading the art critism of Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). He was on the forefrontof defining the modern novel, modern artist and poet. In this collection of writings he is not happy with the predominant art scene in Second Empire France. He refers to artists as “spoilt children” with a handful of exceptions. This majority he also sees “very skilled brutes, mere manual laborers, village pub-talkers with the minds of country bumpkins” (397). His hostility to the conservative Academy with its stranglehold on the public’s understanding of the aesthetic is evident through his razor sharp sarcasm and humor. His ideal artist serves the imagination as a lover of life, observing the crowd, finding joy in that which is transient. The common human experience is beautiful and deserves a perceptive eye to best express “human being and their luminous explosions in space (409). Baudelaire’s understanding of the role of the art critic is one of communion with the artist’s vision, sharing in experience and ephemeral curiosities. The activity of defining beauty is also central to the critic’s role. This is clear through Baudelaire, himself a critic, by his own propensity to cleave to the various meanings of beauty.

Baudelaire deplores the French taste for realism and the attempt to replicate nature in landscapes, historical or genre paintings. As to the doctrine of meticulously coping nature as the highest of arts, Baudelaire notes that the imaginative man would reply – “I regard it as useless and tedious to copy what is there in front of me, because nothing of that satisfies me. Nature is ugly, and I like the figments of my own fantasy better than the triviality of material reality” (298). The realist and artist of imagination, according to Baudelaire, are diametrically opposed. The realist imitatively and mechanically reproduces that which has been done. Art, for him, must be the projection of dreams, presenting visions of beauty incapable of being extracted from meticulous landscapes or history paintings, those most common as the Salon in Paris. Baudelaire sees the French art world as retrogressive due to the artists’ habitual mania with antiquity. This obsession ignores the transitory, which is ever so important for dealing with the human experience.

Beauty, according to Baudelaire, has a duality: it includes both that which is eternal and that which is variable or transient. This reflects the duality of man, therefore also reflecting further upon the art world and its objective and subjective expressions. Baudelaire links the ‘eternal’ with the soul of art, and the variable as its ‘body’ (393). The ‘body’ is what has been neglected in the French art world. Baudelaire is a dazzling humanist above all else. He longs for the brilliance of human ideas with their unique or obsessive passions. He seeks the expression of the ‘body’ and ‘flesh’ of common day labors and joys.

Baudelaire writes of a German peasant who desires a painter to capture him and his family; his wife by his side, with daughters preparing supper, and sons returning from the field. The peasant insists on the painter capturing the armchair in which he sits, inherited from his father, and the smoke of his pipe through the setting sun. This common peasant scene is highly worthy of admiration for Baudelaire, “Loud Cheers for that peasant! Without knowing it, he has understood painting” (291). The affection and magnificence of the common life stands in contrast to the French publics’ fascination with historical scenes of grandeur, of Caesars, and Napoleonic conquests.

Nature, as a basis for all things beautiful, as idea championed by the highly conservative Academy, Baudelaire rejects with fervor. “Nature,” teaching nothing – with the exception of compelling man to “sleep, drink, eat and to protect himself as best he can against the inclemencies of the weather” (425). The “natural human,” from the womb essentially has a corrupted nature bound to physiological demands and uninspired behavior. The cure to this misplaced aesthetic of nature, for Baudelaire, is the perfect art – the human imagination – which freed from external realities, indulges in the most fantastic of dreams.

The painter who searches for the transient and fleeting body of majesty aims for ‘modernity.’ This quest to extract beauty from the contemporary fashions of the day contrasts the inclination for many French painters to stagnate in the fashions of Renaissance, Greek, or times of Roman glory. He accuses these painters who resort to the past of neglecting the present: “You have no right to despise the transitory fleeting element, the metamorphoses of which are so frequent, no to dispense with it” (403). Painters of the Renaissance and those of antiquity remained loyal to modern fashions, not rejecting them. He deplores this deprived imagination and the failure to bring out the significance wrapped up in the exceptional beauty of contemporary dress. He insists on the artist’s responsibility to represent each age with its fashions and fleeting trends with honesty and charm – thus highlighting beauty held within a unique circumstance.

Baudelaire writes of color, contour, sound, and scent as providing the imaginative man with moral significance. These things hold critical value in his aesthetic tastes – complementing or challenging line and form as the leading means of representation. Baudelaire describes encountering a dear friend who as a child paid close attention to his father dressing: “…he had always been filled with astonishment, mixed with delight, as he looked as the arm muscle, the colour tones of the skin tinged with rose and yellow, and the bluish network of veins” (398). Baudelaire’s fascination with the recounting of this childhood experience sheds light on the importance of examining common memories with an eye for feeling and color, which in turn intensifies the impact of sensory, historical, and emotional value. The inclusion of his friend every day encounter with a specific memory also reveals an understanding of man and woman, each with his or her individual passions and curiosities, as the center of creative expression and output, as opposed to a certain corporate school with a carefully defined aesthetic.

An anonymous artist is described who fulfils and surpasses the criteria for an imaginative artist. Baudelaire sees him as a “man of the world (flattering term)” – and one who understands the world and its customs: “he wants to know, understand, assess everything that happens on the surface of this spheroid” (397). The origin of this knowledge lies in curiosity. This curiosity is the kind most clearly seen in that of a child.

This “childish” genius can be linked with the importance of the “unconscious” – a word Baudelaire uses to describe this summit of artistic expression. On this concept he writes, “moral reflections and musings that arise form the drawing of an artist are in many cases the best interpretation that the critic can make of them; the notions they suggest are part of any underlying idea, and by revealing them in turn, we may uncover the root idea itself” (422).

As a value of an aesthetic, the word “unconscious,” not yet popularized by Freud, may have rallied many fellow critics to an entirely new concept, thus adding to a much needed vocabulary for the Impressionists waiting in the wing. For Baudelaire, the young receive beauty in the form of impressions ripe with “the joy the child feels in drinking in shape and color” (398). Like the child, the true artist, shares in this drink – casting his joyous impressions in inks and watercolors from the shadows of the crowd.

Baudelaire suggests the artist should express the intricacies of beauty in seemingly mundane human experience without yielding to the rigidity of the official art system. The critics job lies in living the transient, appreciating the imaginative lover of life as the center of artistic expression.
Quatations from Art in Paris, 1845-62: Salons and Other Exhibitions Reviewed by Charles Baudelaire

Christian Freedom

"Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by St. Ambrose to Enter Milan Cathedral"
Anthony Van Dyck
National Gallery London

Martin Luther’s confession of “Christian Freedon” with his belief in need for rigid social order is reconciled by his writing on what he consider the “two kingdoms.” Luther’s understanding of these separate realms comes from a treatise, “The Freedom of a Christian (1520), in which he sets forth two propositions: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Although these statements appear to contradict one another, Luther notes that he is simply quoting the Apostle Paul who writes, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all” (1 Cor. 9:19). These seemingly contradictory ideas of freedom and obedience lay the foundation for how Luther goes on to distinguish heaven from earth, state and church, and law from Gospel.

Luther’s treatise, “The Freedom of a Christian” strikes at the very heart of Reformation theology which confesses salvation as free gift through faith alone. Luther scours both old and new testaments finding one confession and one testament in Christ and Christ alone. Herein can he see Scripture in two parts consisting of God’s encounter with his creature which expresses both command and promise – crushing encounter with law – and gracious address through promise in Christ. The commands take place most concretely through the Ten Commandments received by Moses on Mount Sinai. These commandments for Luther do not hold any value as pertaining to salvation but provide a different purpose, “They (commandments) are intended to teach man to know himself, in through them he may recognize his inability to do good and may despair of his own ability,” (57). This desperation and helplessness are not detrimental to acquiring righteousness, but rather absolutely necessary for the reception of the Gospel. The Holy Gospel supersedes and eradicates the condemnation of the law for God himself bears it and executes judgment and justice in and of himself.

Receiving this promise, Luther notes from the Gospel of John is a matter of faith alone, which of itself is not of human design but passively received gift, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom He has sent.” This immersion into the Gospel by God’s work is how Luther begins his explanation of the nature of “Christian liberty.” His understanding of freedom spring from an exchange of faith coupled with the promise of the crucifixion of the old man whose nature had thus clung to the law rather than promise, “Faith, which is a small and perfect fulfillment of the law, will fill believers with so great a righteousness that they will need nothing more to become righteous.” This magnificent exchange for Luther means that the righteousness and glory of Jesus Christ is imputed to the faithful as attributes which can rightfully be called ones very own. In the same way, the failed commandments and curse of sin extending to the whole of humanity throughout time is placed upon Jesus and drowned in his death on the cross. Luther writes of this freedom is much lovelier terms, using holy marriage to describe this exchange:

Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he take the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers. (p. 60).

The grand way in which Luther speaks of this union reveals the depth of passion he holds for such an exchange and his certainty of such as event. This certainty is grasped by faith and the exchange Luther paints is not metaphorical but God’s act in Christ in which he weds himself to the church through the Son. The freedom he speaks of is secure in the gift of faith, which overrides the damnation of the law, while acquiring the bridegroom of Jesus Christ and his gifts of salvation and eternal life.

As the freedom of a Christian deals with receiving faith, life, and salvation from God, Luther views vocation as a position where the Christian freely serves his or her neighbor in fervent love and kindness. Although this love is created and fed by faith, vocation does not exact a governing role over faith. In the way that salvation is claimed by God in Christ in the spiritual realm, love takes root by and through faith in daily vocation. The works that take place in vocation do not merit any divine or redemptive favor. In Luther’s Large Catechism he further distinguishes the two kingdoms: “In God’s sight it is actually faith that makes a person holy, it alone serves God, while our works serve people,” (LC 406). In other words we might say, “God does not need your help but desires faith” – a faith which is ultimately claimed in Christ’s reordering of the cosmos in the crucifixion and resurrection. Visually, vocation and the temporal realm can be seen as existing on a horizontal plane in which a Christian does not escape from the world but is rather organically reincorporated into it for the purpose God’s love toward his creation. The spiritual realm is accessed vertically by Christ’s descent into the flesh of the virgin – who encounters man and remakes him at the event of the cross. Although distinguished realms (temporal and spiritual) they are not wholly separated for the Christian but rather reconciled and brought into a divine ordered harmony.

It is Luther’s understanding that coerced social order by temporal governance is not necessary for the baptized Christian who is faithfully nurtured in the spiritual milk of Christ’s cross but remains divine in its origin serving the common good, suppressing evil and preserving peace. The ‘realist’ might be critical of this assessment, yet Luther is ever focused on the wholly new creation who finds true freedom in the new slavery of God’s justifying act in and through Christ, “This I that Christian liberty, our faith, which does not induce us to live in idleness of wickedness but makes the law and works unnecessary for any man’s righteousness and salvation.” Therefore, this freedom is otherworldly – marked by God’s reestablished communion with his creation – in which God is creator, man is creature – and the alienation from the law is consumed and buried – forever forgotten. This relationship in Christ has a “vertical” quality, which contrasts the earthly realm of family, neighbors, rules, and various social roles. This is to say that the established relationship between Creator and creature is unassailable by all that which exists throughout the bitter despairs, challenges and temptations of daily life. Luther notes however, that God is ruler of both kingdom, “First we must provide a sound basis for the civil law and sword so no one will doubt that it is in the world by God’s will and ordinance,” (Temporal 85). However, later on in Luther’s treatise on temporal government he also writes that redeemed Christians suffer and persist in daily life apart from coercive civil law:

"…among themselves (Christians) and by and for themselves, need no law or sword, since it is neither necessary nor useful for them. Since a true Christian lives and labors on earth not for himself alone but for his neighbor, he does by the very nature of his spirit even what he himself has no need of, but is needful and useful to his neighbor. Because the sword is most beneficial and necessary for the whole world inorder to preserve peace, punish sin, and restrain the wicked, the Christian submits most willingly to the rule of the sword, pays his taxes, honors those in authority, serves, helps, and does all he can to assist the governing authority, that it may continue to function and be held in honor and fear." (temporal 94).

For an ex-communicated heretic his reverence for authority may be surprising. Luther is careful to continue with precise distinction between his understanding of the spiritual and earthly kingdoms. His theology never borders on Christians utopias as remotely possible. Although he retains a belief that the new creature in Christ fulfils and exceeds temporal law obediently and joyfully, such theocratic or Christian governance is impossible, “…for the world and masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name” (Temporal 91). From Luther’s own personal experience with “anfechtungens,” his awareness of the enormity of sin and the human condition without external restraints he describes as, “…loosing the ropes and chains of the savage wild beasts and letting them bite and mangle everyone…” This worldly government he sees as necessary to subdue disorder and evil passions while administering earthly justice. In Luther’s lecture on Genesis he historically pieces together how the fallen man made the care-free social order of paradise into a coercive order through which civil law must function:

“Moreover, there was no government of the state before sin, for there was no need of it. Civil government is remedy required by our corrupted nature. It is necessary that lust be held in check by the bonds of the laws and by penalties. For this reason you may correctly call civil government the rule of sin, just as Paul calls Moses also the minister of death and sin.”

This post-sin justice from the law is universal and cross-cultural and maintains social order in a way to protect people in body and property. The earthly life of a free Christian is bound to secular authorities and its social, financial, and physical demands. The spiritual life of a free Christian is not jeopardized by the various offices of vocation expressed in the horizontal plane with all the possible elements of diversity assumed by a given post.

It is common for many to confuse the kingdoms of heaven and earth, to merge them, contort them, or alternatively to complete separate them as did the Gnostic heresies. For example, some protest the act of war and killing as intrinsically evil and contradictory to the faith of Christian. Although Luther is well aware of the misery of war and injustice, he also clearly sees the other side of war, “But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honors and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish,” (Whether Soldiers Too Can be Saved p. 96).

Retributive killing in response to murder, Luther sees as divine in its origin, rooted in Cain’s fear of the sword after killing Abel, as well as God’s extremely definitive laws after the flood, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Luther sees capital punishment as a basic precept of earthly justice which remains constant regardless of the winds of political or moral persuasion, “The credit or blame belong to men if this law instituted by God is not carried out; just as other commandments of God, too, are broken” (Temporal Authority 88).

It is important to understand vocations defined by war and punishment, to highlight the visualization of the volatility of various earthly offices, to grasp Luther’s conviction that the free and faithful Christian is undisturbed in matter of faith. We have seen the necessity of the offices of the civil judge, the soldier, and the executioner. These offices, in which violence and killing can be commonplace, can be maintained by the free Christian fulfilling his or her civil duties commanded by God. Luther insists that while the soul is bound up in the body of Christ, the body remaining in this earthly life remains bound to worldly rulers. Therefore the duties that go along with these offices pertain to earthly justice and matters of civic duty, which can neither jeopardize or nullify standing with God. Earthly justice therefore must be carefully distinguished from spiritual justice which is only defined through means of grace and Christ’s encounter with his dearly beloved.

In Luther’s treatise, “Whether Soldiers Too, Can Be Saved,” he writes, “For the very fact that the sword has been instituted by God to punish evil, protect the good, and preserve peace is powerful and sufficient proof that war and killing along with all the things that accompany wartime and martial law and have been instituted by God” (p. 95). The violence and “all things accompany” wartime having no impact on salvation for the free Christian seems very much a liberating concept for the consciences of those holding offices dealing in such works of violence and turmoil. Luther makes certain to even reach out to the executioner, the most feared villain in medieval society – to extend mercy and calm his conscience, “There must be those who arrest, prosecute, execute, and destroy the wicked…” (p. 103). One can imagine a masked executioner holding a blood sword after severing the head of a criminal, yet if Christian, remains faithful and righteous before God in both spiritual and civic realms.

Luther’s reverence for social order as directed by civil government is absolute, yet for the free Christian does have its’ limits. Where temporal government has dominion over the citizenry and property, its’ authority comes to a screeching halt where it encroaches on spiritual matter, “Therefore where the temporal authority presumes to prescribe laws for the soul, it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads souls and destroys them” (p. 105). This type of infringement would be for a government to coerce a soul to believe that which is contradictory to Scripture, or to inhibit the hearing of the gospel and the reception of the sacraments of the church. The teaching and treasures of the church are handed over to Bishops and Pastors to be servants of Christ and freely give to all. As for heresy, government is also incapable of serving the church – for the sword is of no use, “Here God’s Word must do the fighting (p. 114).

In response to a government which coerces unbelief in matter of faith or hinders Christ gifts, Luther instructs the free Christian to rebuke the corrupt authority by saying, “It is not fitting that Lucifer should sit at the side of God. Gracious Sir, I owe you obedience in body and property; command me within the limits of your authority on earth, and I will obey” (p. 112). Therefore, government has no divinely ordained right to sit with God and intrude upon matter of the soul. This passage also highlights the confusion of the two kingdoms that such a government would seek.

Luther never entices a Christian reader to raise up against such an authority but to only deny its’ power in the territory of the spiritual realm, which carries faith. The matter of faith for the free Christian is not to react with hostility or anger to temporal rule. Luther’s every thought and argument is focused squarely on new life in Christ, which leaves no room for violent or hostile resistance to authority, “Christians do every good thing of their own accord and without constraint, and find God’s word alone sufficient for them” (p. 118).

Christian freedom is a new state of affairs where liberty is marked by release from the law and condemnation where a submissive and peaceful heart operate joyfully in the social order under temporal authorities. Luther asserts that God has dominion over both spiritual and earthly kingdoms, where only the Christian can find harmony between the two - mediated by God’s act on the cross. The Christian who receives citizenship in heaven is not spiritually deterred or jeopardized by faithful execution of one’s God-given vocation. God divinely rules through civil government and works all things for his creation through his established social order. As for the intricacies of social justice as relates to temporal matters, Luther is not excessively entrenched, for his meditations are focused wholly on the condition of the soul for the free Christian, where temporal rule cannot tread.

For a Christological Interpretation of Temporal Authority I have written here.

Financial Bailout

Everybody I have talked to seems to be screaming "no" to the automotive bailout. This comes on top of the massive financial bailout of the mortgage crisis. There is an astounding discrepancy between the view of ordinary Americans and Washington leadership. These bailouts are alleviating any responsibility from the irresponsible banking processes - highly leveraged mortgages. At the root of the crisis is the desire for Americans to live beyond their means - cars, houses, property are not rights - not entitlements - but fruits of long hard work.

The democrats and president elect seem to be most in favor of the massive bailout of the big three auto companies - being bound to the unions - The taxpayer will pay a frighteningly high burden to very temporarily sustain the auto companies. The billions of dollars poured into auto companies from tax payers does nothing to address competitiveness and the root causes of the trouble facing the economy. The ingenuity and inventiveness of engineers and American labor ought to have free reign. Cars made in the East are produced from essentially slave labor. Eastern cars makers are pumping out high quality cars for cheap. There is little chance for American auto companies to stay competitive with the slave-labor produced cars from the Asia. To compete I would put those in the the American prison system into automotive factories to exploit our own free labor. American auto workers would maintain their positions, taking more specialized jobs to bodly compete with a higher product.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bayer's 'Justification as Creation'

Detail of Creation of the Sun and Moon
at Sistine Chapel 1508-1512

Oswald Bayer Writes:

"...justification is simply not an isolated topic, next to which other topics can exist; it has essential importance and its connected with every topic. Justification does not affect just my individual life, not even just the history of the world, but impacts the history of nature as well; it affects all things. It is thus not sufficient to speak of the article on justification solely as the arciculus statis et cadentis ecclesiae - as the article on which the church stands and falls. Instead, the meaning of justification must be taken seriously in its breadth, with ramifications that have application for a theology of creation and for ontology." (p. 98)

Justification is an act of creation by God - his will which is independent of man's will to create and make himself. The way we often think of justification is that it is one of many doctrines of the church. Bayer is suggesting that it is an ontological performative act of God - justification is creatio ex nihilo. Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the forgiveness of sins are given as gift in the same way that the heavens, earth, and seas are whisked into creation.

The Lutheran Confessions grasp this - that salvation is given as gift by and through faith - given by Christ freely - through God's binding act at the incarnation and cross.

Both the marxist and capitalist abhor that God becomes man and creates 'out of nothing.' In this way, right and left are no different - for they see the human unit as a unit of production who must essentially justify himself. That humanity is spoken into creation - spoken into actualization - and spoken into Christ's redemptive act is the great scandal to all.

God clothes us with an imputed righteousness - alien to ourselves but now wholly ours - given by the wedding ring of faith. God's act on the cross is the creation restored in him. The same God who hovered above the waters is the God who is baptizing, giving His name - who continues to create, sustain, and enliven. The God who creates justifies because it is his nature to love justice and who's justice is to love and rectify to the point of death on a cross. And his justice is grace upon grace, riches upon riches. The God of creation is the God who gives himself completely and justifies the ungodly.


I've been spending some time with Michel Foucault - particularly his writings on discipline and punishment and his analysis of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison system...Will write more later...
Gramma, mom, and myself

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bach Collegium

Not enough can be said for the sacred music sung by the Bach Collegium on Sunday afternoon. Bach's Sing to the Lord a New Song, some Schuetz and a Brahms funeral piece. The Brahms funeral work was gorgeous and so moving it would not have seemed unnatural at the more climatic moments in the piece that Christ might rupture the building wide and bring all to completion. Thanks to the Bach Collegium singers of Fort Wayne - a great treasure of sacred music of the church has been preserved, shared, and celebrated.

I'm looking forward to the coming Messiah Sing Along on December 2nd at Queen of the Angels Catholic Church. I hope to see everybody there.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Galations 4:1-7

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Taking of Christ (1602)
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Galatians 4:1-7

This text is a compelling confession encapsulating the entire cosmological account, creation, sin, slavery, and God’s incarnational offensive. The letter as a whole is personally intimate as Paul reveals the content of his heart and the marks of Jesus on his body, which testify to the scandalous nature of the cross. He rebukes the Judaizers with vicious rhetorical theological stabs for jeopardizing the reception of redemption in Christ by their teaching on the law. The power of the law is a cosmic and elementary power which can snatch those baptized back in the yoke of slavery. Therefore this letter has a place in reformation history for recovering a proper understanding of faith alone, as gift of Christ whereby the rectification of a sinful world is purified in the cross. The forensic character of justification of the individual sinner triumphs in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Galatian letter, however emphasizes the unity of the human community which has universally been subject to the enslaving power of the law in sin. God’s incarnation in the world and under the law to redeem all whom are enslaved drains us of our Calvinist blood, and places us in a wholly new creation, which is in God Himself.

This text is one of several climatic addresses within the letter. It follows after a brief historical unfolding of the promise made to Abraham and to his offspring, in which Paul points out is indeed the Christ (3:16). A short commentary on the delivery of the law and its use is set forth, concluding that the scriptures imprisoned (sygkleio) everything under sin. The termination of slavery is marked not by a teaching, an idea, or state of mind but an aggressive act – a decisive and absolute physical incursion. The imprisonment and captivity of the law is binding until the (note definite article) faith came (v. 23). This invasion of faith is the incarnation of Christ. The word faith (pistiv) and Christ are used interchangeably. The faith which has been apocalyptically made public through Christ is received through Holy Baptism, in which Jew, Greek, slave, free, male or female is truly incorporated into man who is fully God - Jesus. In light of this advent of faith in Christ, the proper understanding of the promise given to Abraham is revealed, which is Christ and Christ only. Now that Paul has clarified Abraham’s role in salvation history, apart from law, circumcision, and race can he paint the broader portrait of the covenant promised. Only now can he speak of the radical nature of the promise and what it truly means to be sons and heirs.

1. I say that the heir so long as he is a child. The radical nature of the promise and sonship is to indeed receive it as a child (Mk 10:15). The use of heir (klnponomos) and child (vnpios) do not function as mere metaphors to describe the relation in Christ. The drama being described uses these words in the fullest and most real sense, anticipating and realizing the new creation as a fashioning and performing of these titles. Though he is no different from a slave, though he is Lord over all. The heir of the promise of faith is a slave. Paul uses doulos not simply referring to the piety of service based upon the reconciliation of God, though this does occur as a matter of course. The heir of God however, is killed and born into slavery in childlike innocence and unconditional trust, a true restoration of heaven. Being made a slave is the source of Christian freedom in which the baptized lacks nothing.

2. but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Paul believes the Christian is the Lord over all not in a purely eschatological way only in the future, but truly in the "here and now." The liberation by means of God’s act on the cross does not elevate the baptized into an omniscient body that is not subject to authority and guardians. The liberated son finds life in the absolute trust received only by faith given in Christ’s movement into the human heart. This divine slavery finds life not only in trust in the heavenly father but as a consequence also in all authority, pastors, parents, and neighbors. That the baptized awaits the time appointed by the Father’s mirrors Jesus’ passion in which he also awaited His father’s appointed time. Paul knowing the scriptures and the evangelist’s gospel sees the church’s life only in Christ’s passion. That Jesus preached that no one knew the appointed time except the Father has been an unresolved problem in theology (Mt. 24:36). Jesus’ apparent absence of divine omniscience is commonly understood as an act of humility. Though in God’s redemptive act, His own Son reestablishes, fulfills, models, and presents the majestic glory of the purest love and communion in, with, and of God. It seems Paul, in light of the epistles movement, sees the appointed time as crucifixion of the old cosmos in Christ’s cross. This appointed time (prothesmia tou patros) is itself the crucifixion, particular to a precise moment in history under Roman powers, yet also reverberating across the expanse of the heavens and earth. The community of the church, as Jesus himself embodies, is Lord over all not because he and she is manipulating and controlling future events but because God is love and so dearly desires our own love. And he claims it in Christ.

3. In the same way also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary spirits of the cosmos. Martyn finds the drama set forth in vv 3-5 to be "nothing less than the theological center of the entire letter (Martyn 388)." The enslavement is set in an imperfect tense, expounding on the horrid sustained oppression of the cosmos held in chaos by elementary spirits. This oppression as children, subject to the enslaving power of the cosmos is the nightmarish bondage into which one is born. This state of affairs as an enslaved child to the elementary spirits is contrasted to the brand new state of affairs where the child’s inheritance is of all things, given in the act of crucifixion.

4. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born from a woman, born under the law. The theological precision of this verse is remarkable for it provides a summation of the cosmological character of the Redemption that God sends. This is the answer to the enslavement. It is solely God’s act, not dependent upon the manners or movement of the helpless child of the prior stage of existence. Regarding God’s act of redemption Martyn perceptively notes its aggressive nature, "Paul does not think of a gradual maturation, but rather a punctiliar liberation enacted by God in his own sovereign time" (389). This rapid fire confession of this great redemptive act contains all the elements of a refined and polished creedal statement. It has the genus idiomaticum, the incarnatus, and Dei passio in that he is born of Mary and under the law. Paul’s understanding of the law in the Galatians letter is not limited to a neat litany of prohibitions in the Torah but expresses a more supernatural power, the very binding of the human race (5:1-2). The power of the law is a demonic force which can compromise the gospel and hurl one back into the bondage of slavery. Yet, Paul confesses that the Son of God is born under this law and the elementary principles of the prior captive age. This bold incursion of God into a cosmos governed by evil and enslaving elements presents a incalculable conflict that suggests an illustration of God’s action that only Christus Victor can address.

5. In order that he might redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. The hina clause illumines why God initiates his battle, born of the Virgin, subjecting himself to the enslaving cosmos. Paul’s theology confesses the very reception of God’s redemption as the very act of victory to reign in the new creation. With the hina and reception (apolambano) we can hear Jesus’ great uper umwv as a blessed and holy invitation to partake of adoption as God’s very own.

6. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!" Paul can rightly declare his addressees as sons because of their baptisms into the church. He is speaking the liturgy and returns them to God’s act in them. In this way the liberation from the enslaving cosmos is a returning to baptism which is the beginning and ending of God’s act on the cross. Only through Holy Baptism which truly liberates, crucifies, recreates, and strengthens can the son truly be a son and cry out the Lord’s Prayer before the community of the faithful. The filioque is set forth as Jesus shares in the full deity the Father, sending His spirit into human hearts claiming them as his own. The full communicative union is now complete as the Father sees all humanity incorporated into his Son, whom he loves and finds pleasing. By the crucifixion in baptism, the new creation can come out from her hiding place, awaking from a long nightmare whose peaceful end had been promised since the beginning.

7. So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, than an heir through God. This is Paul’s magnum opus in which he tears apart the erroneous and limited promise likely espoused by the Judaizers for claming Abraham and following in the law. The false teachers have made a mockery of God’s work, stripped Christ of his glory, and pointed back to the enslaving principles of the supernatural and demonic power of the law. Paul is preaching the communion the Galatians already have in God through Jesus Christ. Though God has always been present among his people he has now performed the act which is the only act that matters. The crucifixion and resurrection given to the church is itself the incarnation in which God heals every wound and calms every terror. ‘God with us’ takes on a meaning that only Luther can rightly express that God is "with us in mud and in work, so that his skin smokes." This singular cosmic act rectifies everything that has gone awry and violently wages war against every enslaving power – law, flesh, and idolatry. Finding sonship in God and His inheritance for Paul is composed in the person of Jesus whose greatest invitation is love toward creation. Being an heir to God is receiving Him in such a way that orients humanity toward and organically into one another, as Jesus immerses himself into his church.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Distinctive Nature of Lutheran Hymnody

Hans Holbein the Younger
detail of "The French Ambassadors"
On desk is a copy of Johann Walther's "Geystliches Gesangb├╝chlein" (Hymnal) (Wittenberg 1524), containing Luther's hymns, along with a Lute, which Luther was very skilled at.

The Lutheran Church is the “singing church.” She sings at the home, at church, at work, and at the market place. She must sing because she is filled with the Gospel and preserved steadfast in the church. Luther writes “Following the example of the prophets and fathers of the church, I intend to make German Psalms for the people, i.e., spiritual songs so that the Word of God even by means of song may live among the people.”[1] The Reformation was a movement that was constantly singing – after all the Gospel was recovered and given back to the people after years of papist abuse. The alleluias and glorias poured forth with new and revived vigor. The purity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was given back to the blacksmith, the farmer, the peasant, and the children. There was a flourishing of hymns produced particularly in the years 1523 and 1524 in which the catechism and many psalms were set to hymns. The Reformation reclaimed the universal priesthood of all believers, in which all Christians could approach the altar, receive grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy, and joy upon joy.

What distinguishes Lutheran hymns is a theology which gives God’s name in baptism, proclaims the justification of the sinner for Christ’s sake, and nurtures the saint unto the final resting place. Justification apart from work or merit, freely given and freely received is always the proclamation. It is the proclamation and the beauty in which it is lyrically declared that ultimately defines the hymn. Proclamation deals not with speculation and mere subjective feelings but with certain events which resonate in the halls of heaven and in the divine liturgy of the church. The event of God’s incarnation and Christ’s Passion frames the body of Lutheran hymnody in which the church ultimately find their only identity – that of Jesus.

A hymn’s proclamation is set forth in the performative word which is not dependent upon the interdisciplinary will of the church but her passivity and receptivity to Christ’s mercy poured out for all. Lutheran hymnody does not probe the inner depth of the Christian in the pew, searching the human heart for some divine spark or emotional appeal. The appeal, emotion, and depth are only in Christ’s heart and pierced side for his creation. Therefore the gaze of the Lutheran hymn is not an inwardly focused meditation but an outwardly (extra nos) focus on Christ’s cross. It does not seek anywhere else. It seeks and proclaims the God who reveals himself in Christ. It does not provide guesswork, or suppositions of a God not revealed, a God not preached. In the transfiguration it is God who says to Peter, James, and John “Listen to him!” In worship and in the sacred music of the church it is the oratio, meditatio, tentatio which remains transfixed simply on the words and promise of Jesus. Christ’s words actually give life out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). A true hymn does not point to a sign or symbol, but sung and heard truly perform God’s work and create faith.

The comfort of the Lutheran hymn is in a historical event, that he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered for our offenses, rising on the third day for the remission of sins. In the historical event of the cross, Jesus and His church recline outside of time before the heavenly father. It is in this objectivity, this certain eternal event – surely given and received through the gift of faith, in which the church finds comfort.

Luther encouraged the congregation to sing and pointed to a wide variety of traditions. From the melody of the Sanctus of the Missa in deominicis adventus et quadragesimae he wrote “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old (LSB 960).” He wrote “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest (LSB 498)” based upon the hymn in the Latin Daily Office of Prayer. The richness of the Psalter also provides prayerful hymn meditations such as “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee” (ps. 130), as well as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (ps. 46). Luther understood music as a gift from God. He also believed it had the power to chase away the devil and awaken faith. Luther writes, “For the evil spirit is ill at ease wherever God’s Word is sung or preached in true faith. He is a spirit of gloom and cannot abide where he finds a spiritually happy heart, that is, where the heart rejoices in God and in His Word.”[2] For this reason, during the reformation, congregational singing was set on the same level as the Pastor’s preaching and the prayers of the church. It was and still is a method of preaching and spreading doctrine. Due to the free expression of the doctrine of the church, that of Christ and him crucified, Lutheran hymns provide comfort. Robin Leaver, in his analysis of Luther’s liturgical music comes to this conclusion, “For Luther, therefore, music is a God-given benefit to humankind: it may be developed and refined in new ways, but the raw material of music – physical vibrations in the air, the proportions and relationships of different pitches, and so forth – is absolutely and fundamentally the gift of God in creation.”[3]

During the Reformation Luther called poets, lyricists, and musicians to write hymns for the church. Children learned catechetical hymns and melodies which they in turn taught to their parents and anyone interested. Theology was given back to the people as hymns such as Dear Christians One and All Rejoice and Salvation Unto Us Has Come were sung across Germany.
Theology and the proclamation of God’s Word guides the body of Lutheran hymnody. Theology is dead if it does not sing. As David declares, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him,” (ps. 98:1). Saint Paul admonishes Christians to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (eph. 5:19). It is not that God needs our song but rather that he gives it to us as a gift so that we might rejoice, teach, and build one another up in the true faith. If theology expresses it self in hymns it must also be true that the sacred music expressed is thoroughly Christological.
We must be honest that a great deal of hymns circulating in the greater church are not thoroughly Christological in content but rather appeal to the base emotions and fleeting sentiments. Carl Shalk writes about Lutheran hymnody:

Music in the church functions as viva vox evangelii, as the “living voice of the Gospel,” proclaiming His Word to the world. Its does this, as music is associated with texts that speak clearly and directly of Law and Gospel, of sin and salvation. From such a perspective, music in the church can never be simply teacher, pedagogue, entertainer, or another way of filling the Christian community with useful information. It is the living Gospel itself, laying bare a person’s utter alienation from God, always accusing yet always bringing the final word of reconciliation, hope, and promise. Texts, therefore, are of crucial importance. But so is music itself with which those texts are associated.[4]

The catholicity of Lutheran hymnody is proven by its mass appeal across the globe. No one proves this better than the Lutheran J.S. Bach who took the church’s music and gave it flight into the heavens and back. Bach is more popular than Luther around the globe for introducing Lutheran theology and sacred music. His music has awed the world and preached to millions. Bach took the Holy Gospel and Luther’s catechetical drive and proclaimed it through heavenly cantatas, passions, and sacred music. Jaroslav Pelikan quotes Friedrich Smend, who writes, “Bach’s cantatas are not intended to be works of music or art on their own, but to carry on, by their own means, the work of Luther, the preaching of the word and of nothing but the word.”[5] Because the sacred music preached by God is nothing but the Word and the Word alone it transcends all cultures and all times. It is not culturally bound or bound to any point in time. This is the mark of the corpus of Lutheran hymnody – that its proclamation and movement into the human heart be fixed on Christ’s cross alone.

The cross of Christ is eternally before the Father and therefore Lutheran hymns continue to be composed and sung. The catholicity of the sacred music of the church ensures that hymns continue to be composed and written. As God lacks a free will to come and save his people, so the church lacks a free will to compose new hymns. All theologies of glory must be crucified so that a hymn can take flight from the renewed heart of the baptized Christian. In the Divine Liturgy of the church a much greater chorus of voices is present in the everyday chorales and canticles sung among the faithful.

[1] LW 15:274

[3] Leaver, Robin A (2007). Luther's Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications. Grand Rapid, MI: Eerdmans (p. 70).
[4] Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1988, p. 51.
[5] Bach Among the Theologians. Eugene:Wipf and Stock Publishing House, 1986, p. 26.

Sexual Counter Culture

It has long been noted that there is a direct relationship between religiosity and fertility. With Islam being the fastest growing religion on earth, this faith is out birthing the western world exponentially thanks to the psychology of secular humanism and its hatred of life. Somalia’s birthrate is 6.91, Niger 6.83, Afghanistan 6.78, and Yemen 6.75. What these countries share in common is Islam. The best standing argument for permitting unchecked illegal immigration (Mexican) is the import of a higher cultural value for bringing forth life (3.6 children). This is due largely to their strict adherence to their Catholic faith, conservative principles, fear of God, and their renunciation of the infanticide which plagues our own people. If our nation fails to reacquire our reverence for bringing forth life and its divine value we will face further population poverty which will render our nation specifically, irrelevant as a benevolent superpower in the near future. God bless the married couples who bring forth many children and God bless those who choose to adopt. No achievement on earth is higher. And no office on earth is nobler than that of the mother and father.

The declining birth rate of the west is also largely due to the pervading culture of homosexuality. This “culture” (too high a term – culture derived from the Latin word cultura – meaning “to till soil”) has set forth an agenda which seeks to “emancipate” sexuality from monogamy and marriage. The homosexual engagement in fact has no roots in any providential soil and bears no fruit whatsoever. The entire relationship is based upon sexuality, pleasure, and self indulgence. There are no children to raise, no pains of child birth, no sacrifice to bring forth human life. When the Roman Empire was crumbling homosexuality was especially rampant. It is not by random or oppressive measures that the three major religions in the world condemn homosexuality. Religions developed over thousands of years conclude again and again that homosexuality is bad in both civic and spiritual realms. The only religion which supports and encourages homosexuality is Marxism (worst idea in human history killing over 100 million in the past century). Georg Lukacs, Marxist theorist and deputy of culture under Bela Kun’s regime instituted a radical sex education program in communist Hungarian schools. Children were instructed in free love, homosexuality, the irrelevance of religion and middle class values, and the pointlessness of marriage and monogamy (sounds like a familiar program relative to the United States school system in 2008)[1]. The goal of such an agenda is to destroy the traditional order through making obsolete the nuclear family, which in its essence, is the enemy of Marxism. Marxism, whether known by its human political vessels or not, is working most actively through the gay agenda to bring about its ends. Organized promiscuity, polygamy, and the pleasure principle are the common weapons of the movement.

Sexuality therefore is not for enjoyment within the arrangement of marriage but more for enjoyment as a purely recreational activity (little different from going bowling on a Friday night). Homosexuals on average have multiple times the partners of heterosexuals and have far greater chances for contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Most people intuitively know with certainty that homosexuality is bad for his family, culture, village, and nation.

This “avant garde” approach to sexuality transmitted to the heterosexual scene as well hence the low birth rates. Gay and straight alike, once “man and wife” or “lovers” are now “partners." “Man and wife” is hetero-centric you see and therefore terminology fit only for the intolerant. “Partners” is “gender neural” and more casual in terms for sexual liaisons, thus far superior for the progressively minded. Although the homosexual lobby is most fervently pushing this “enlightened” revelation of sex through the media (which by and large is controlled by the purple hand) they are not solely to blame. We look to Freud and his sex obsession masked in psychology, Alfred Kinsey (sexual pervert poster boy for 60’s sex liberation), who studied and viewed child molestations for research and his cult following. We look to feminism, 60’s counterculture and the resulting sexual revolution (if it feels good do it mantra). These are all historical catalysts which have systematically divorced sex from marriage leading to our embarrassing fecundity to give birth to new life. It is true that MTV, the AIDS obsession, a sex-obsessed media, Internet pornography, and Sex and the City have further caused this separation.

It is also now true that “hooking up” is more common the “dating.” A 2001 survey conducted by Bowling Green State University in Ohio found that of the 55% of local 11th graders who engaged in intercourse, over 60% said they had sex with a “partner” who was no more than a friend. Therefore seeking a sexual outlet in the companionship of peers or “partners” is more common than within the romantic attachment or marriage. From my own experience true dating or the nearly extinct “court ships” are all but extinct or scoffed at where present.

It is considered that sex is for those who reach a certain "mature" age, to be enjoyed by those who are "responsible," "consenting," and "ready." Yet, sex apart from the marriage bed is only an abortive act, an alien act. It is never responsible or safe apart from a holy union. It is a defilement to the body and spiritually corrosive and degrading. In the abortive act, a baptized and consecrated body is carelessly manipulated apart from the performative statement of God himself that two shall become one and never be cut asunder. Pre-marital sex is adulterous in that one's future spouse is slavishly exploited by another.

There has never been a more confusing time for young people to deal with sex, life issues - birth and death, and marriage. Baby boomer parents and 'generation x' have missed the mark when it comes to defining and articulating a 'theology of the body' - how one ought to regard one's body. For the same generation to legalize abortion en mass has likewise ripped sex out of the marriage bed and placed it as a spectacle in the public sphere - little else that pleasurable colisions of flesh. When the human body is defined as a lump of cells from the womb it would seem that what is done with those cells is essentially of no importance - with no physiological, pychic, or spiritual consequences.

Because sex is considered a 'personal matter' few people have the courage to speak to one another honestly in a spirit of truth and love. Yet, marriage, family, sex, and its possible abuses are not at all 'private,' but in a true way 'public' - and corporately directed. The ecclesia witnesses the acts of the congegation. Sex, as a matter of course traditionally has brought forth life when two are brought together. There are visible signs of sex - physical and natural expressions of it. Love and children are products of that which takes place in marriage. The unmarried sexual encounter is abortive in promise and sacramentum, abortive of family and children, abortive of one's very body. It aborts the traditional order and responsibility to one another.

It is not an inconsequential matter that sex, marriage, and family were provided historically prior to the fall into sin. Therefore sex is a loveliest expression of that which is joined together in marriage, in which God himself made all provisions - joining, creating, and sustaining Adam and Eve. Marriage, sex, and family are God's concrete creational acts. They are not self-willed anthropocentric acts. They are God-breathed gifts, not given as thorns and thistles, but life multiplying blessings.

Sex, as an abortive, non-married act is not only defiling to those involved but provides a confession which rips God's creation wide. Sex is robbed of its sanctity and divorced from God's creation life-giving order. Gift is torn away from God's creational arrangement and made into a burden and cause of sorrow, heartache, disease.

[1] Michael Loewy, Georg Lukacs from Romanticism to Bolshevism (Patrick Caniller, Translator (London:NLB, 1979), p. 112.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Starting to think about Christmas hymns

Peter Paul Rubens
Adoration of the Magi (1624)

"To you this night is born a child of Mary chosen virgin mild. This little child of lowly birth shall be the joy of all the earth!" (LSB 358 stanza 2)

Thus sings Martin Luther in his delightful Christmas hymn, "From Heaven Above to Earth I come."  It is thought that Luther wrote this hymn for his children to sing in eager anticipation for Christmas.  As advent is among us it is time to consider the treasures of the church's sacred music and hymnody. For from heaven above to earth He came to bring great news to every home! This great news is the coming of the promised one, the Son of God, to win redemption for all people. During advent our Lord has cultivated in us a great anticipation and assuredness of all His promises through His Holy Word, divine liturgy, hymns, and psalms. Our Lord makes children of us all with burning and thankful hearts. Though in the midst of this expectation, repentance, and yearning He comes to us continually without ceasing through His beautiful Word, setting at ease our will.

The church ought also be aware of the anxiety and melancholy that often visits our neighbors and friends during this time.  A common experience of Christmas, is that the joys, smells, and emotions do not measure up to past memories.  There is often a feeling of something lost.  The late Father Richard Neuhaus in First Things writes, "There is no point in trying to recapitulate Christmas as you knew it when you were, say, seven years old. That way lies sentimentalities unbounded." This may be an issue with many Christians, who have joyous memories of Christmas as a child. Trying to recapture the warm feelings of the season is seldom met with success. That is why depression and sorrow are most common during this time.  Family often are forced to confront estrangement and the elderly often deal with meeting Christmas for the first time with the loss of a spouse or friends.  "The alternative," Neuhaus says, "is the way of contemplation, of demanding of oneself the disciplined quiet to explore, and be explored by, the astonishment of God become one of us that we may become one with God." The benefits of Christmas - the birth of Christ - is not bound by our feelings and experience or lack of experience. Christ, by coming into the flesh reconciles us to the heavenly Father, proclaiming peace on earth and mercy to all. These benefits are not dependent upon our temporary sorrow and stress of the Christmas season.  The Christ event shines in the darkness.

Welcome to to earth, O noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery
That You might share Your joy with me.
(From Heaven Above to Earth I come stanza 8) 

The Christ comes.  Christ is born in Bethlehem because God desired to dwell among His people, and to dwell among you. This is why the angels call him "Emmanuel" meaning "God with us." By the mystery of the Incarnation the fullness of God dwelt in the virgin’s womb. He came meek and lowly being nursed by His mother Mary. He came to teach, feed, heal, and forgive sins through defeating Satan’s power on the cross. This is surely a time of great delight for the church! The Savior born of the seed of David, promised by the prophets, to save us from our enemies.

With the new Lutheran Service Book, we hold a great treasure with both historic and wonderful new Christmas hymns. I would suggest that families consider purchasing a new LSB hymnal for home use to celebrate the birth of our Lord. Luther considered music the highest of arts, along with theology. Christmas hymns are not only a great joy to sing, but also teach us, and strengthen our faith.

Take time this season to discuss your favorite Christmas hymns with family and friends. For a single melody or verse has the power to make the old and young into one heart and one mind in Christ Jesus. Singing canticles hymns and spiritual songs is a great way to be a witness to the Gospel. Surprising your neighbors with Christmas carols can light faces, ease spirits, and teach about our Lord.

Meditation on Psalm 50

Joos van Cleve (Dutch artist, 1485-1540)
detail "The Last Supper"
Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
Offer unto God thanksgiving;
and pay thy vows unto the most High:
And call upon me in the day of trouble:
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

In David, we have an exhortation against false worship and empty sacrifice. Our God is not pleased by our offerings which are so often presented with conceit and veiled in vanity – "For every beast of the forest is Mine" (Ps. 50:10) By our nature we are inclined to imagine that we can somehow appease the wrath of God on our own terms. Yet our Lord rebukes us saying, "Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats?" Where God lacks nothing we are in need of everything. We, the elect, are the beneficiaries of the continual blessings bestowed upon us by the one and only sacrifice which grants us to stand blameless before God – by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is we that eat His flesh and drink His Blood. This Psalm reminds us of our hopelessness apart from the Christ, and implores us to remain vigilant in the discipline of our first two Commandments – that we might fear, love, and trust in God above all things and continually call upon His name in every trouble – forever giving praise.

Book Review: James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man

This novel traces the intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening of young Stephen Dedalus as he begins to question and rebel against the Catholic and Irish conventions he has been brought up in. He finally leaves for Paris to pursue his calling as an artist. It is anyone’s guess regarding the future of Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Although he is quite intellectually endowed, his progression of individuation is a common struggle for many - and many readers will be sympathetic. I think what best reflects his future rests upon his father’s characterization of him as a "lazy bitch" (126). In other words, he will be wherever the next intellectual and sensual stimulus presents itself.

Stephen’s obsession with the erotic and sensual remains central from beginning to end of the novel. Even during what might be seen as a religious conversion; his motivations remain bound to sensuality and the novelty of various emotive flights. He speaks of his attraction to Mary and prostitutes with the same language, "(he) read the meaning of her movements," and finds himself "surrendering himself to her." He never really lives in the Catholic doctrines but is thoroughly taken by the excitement of its images and feelings; primarily its aesthetic usages and no more. In his meditations we find his "brains simmering and bubbling within the crackin tenement of the skull…flesh shrank together as if it felt the approach of the ravenous tongues of flames (97). From the first chapter we know that Stephen is moved most my image and symbols. Religious ones offer new-fangled excitements.

Stephen character nearing the novel’s end is essentially this: "I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself home, my fatherland or my church…" (181). Most important to Stephen is the development of a personal conception of divine aesthetic (so long as it is separate from church, nation, and family). He is most interested in flying. In meditative states he is transfixed by birds flying, his soul flying, an image of "winged form…a hawklike man flying sunward above the sea, a prophecy of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being" (121). Stephen finds that he might restore his own soul, as an artist, and lover of beauty. This restoration is further sealed by the girl as the sea, "a wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!" (123). This Wagnerian overture to the divinity of Venus is the intellectual and sensual climax for Stephen. It is at this altar of sensual beauty that he is baptized in the waters, communes, and is redeemed. He declares his own brand of prophecy and spiritualism by inner retreat.

It may be easier to feel sympathy for Stephen’s future discord, given his experience with Jesuit tyranny and its possible far reaching effects. The brand of self denial and religious extremism pushed by the Jesuits to so young a child, might only promote inner retreat and self-deification. Where else might one find escape? Stephen’s disillusionment towards the church seems to occur when he realizes he could never live as a priest. When he realizes this, he seems to reject his faith altogether, as he thereafter "turned his eyes coldly for an instant towards the faded blue shrine of the Blessed Virgin" (116). Vocation or being "called" is only for the clergy (according to Jesuits). Therefore an alternative office in life (the "non called" life) seems less dignified, less holy, and less sensual hence Stephen’s abandonment of Catholicism. Had his Jesuit militiaman emphasized the holy life of an artist, writer, laborer, and layman Stephen might not have become so frustrated with the contradictions of the church.

Given Stephen’s final journal entries in the novel, it seems his mental state though active, may not be sufficiently healthy. His future might be prone to alcoholism and drug use as concocting mental images and sensual gratifications becomes harder to achieve. As Catholicism, paganism, and other sensual costumes lose their luster he will likely turn to narcotics. Drugs offer fantastic emotive experiences and bodily gratifications. They are the logical conclusions for his life and likely for his death.

Meditation on Psalm 31

Last Judgment Altar Piece
Rogier Van Der c. 1450
In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed:
deliver me in thy righteousness.
Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily:
be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me.
For thou art my rock and my fortress;
therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.

Here David laments the penalty of sin and the guile and slander of those enemies around him. David fervidly makes pleas for deliverance to the Lord, having full confidence of his mercy and love, "Deliver me in Your righteousness" (v. 1). To fulfill this righteousness Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, was baptized, and was led into the wilderness, where He endured temptation by Satan for 40 days. Let us remain steadfast as David in our fortress of defense. This fortress is the very Body of Christ, which we have been baptized into, receiving his very name (v. 2). Though we now live as broken vessels, where earthly strength fails us, our bones wasting away (v. 10), let us remain of good courage. Yet God has made children of us so that we might have the bold courage of sons who delight in a Father whose gifts have been graciously granted – that of eternal life and salvation. All this he does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.

Ordination Sermon (mock)

Christ and the Adulteress
Lucas Cranach the Elder

1 So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. 2 Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you."3 And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, "This Man blasphemes!" 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"—then He said to the paralytic, "Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." 7 And he arose and departed to his house. 8 Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Most holy and blessed saints of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven by Christ today who serves and gives his life as a ransom for many. The Son of God has power on earth to forgive sins and he surely does it. May the Lord, who has begun this good work in us, bring it completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we have seen it. We may not be marveling as the multitudes did when they saw Jesus forgive and heal a paralytic man – but the authority given to Ronald Morgan in the midst of us is just as glorious or more glorious. For Jesus’ miracle for the paralytic man pointed to God’s mighty and final redemptive act which was yet to take place on the cross at Jerusalem. Today, in this divine service God has surely done it and declared you blameless and precious in his sight. Furthermore he willed that Ronald S. Morgan become His own shepherd to speak His Words and give His sacraments. Many Christians may never see an ordination service for it only happens once for a man who becomes a pastor – in this way it is like baptism.

I have known Pastor Morgan for some time. He is a talented exegete and theologian. He is compassionate and graceful with shut in visits to the elderly and sick. He was a remarkably kind, patient, and loving teacher among children at both at his field work and vicarage assignments. He was well loved at Fort Wayne seminary where he tutored students in Greek and Hebrew. As one who comes from a dairy farm in Iowa he is naturally likeable and enjoyable to chat and spend time with. But for all your diligence, excellence, loving kindnesses, and personal strengths it will not be enough for your new brothers, sisters, and mothers at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. When it comes to God’s Holy church you on your own cannot usher your flock heaven-ward. I’m sorry Ron.

Merciful God, heavely Father, thou has said to us through the mouth of thy dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ: "The Harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers in this harvest." The Lord of the harvest gives you your laborer. He gives you one to speak his words and declare his wondrous acts. He has not equipped him with the tools of dairy farming that Pastor Morgan was accustomed to back in East Iowa but he gives tools from heaven. He gives him this very pulpit to comfort guilt stricken hearts, to proclaim the gospel and forgive sins. He says ‘arise and walk!’ as you sing in your liturgy "Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to thy word." Jesus gives you your font which your Pastor will baptize your children. He will hold them in his farmer’s arms and give them the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He will declare innocence and blessedness to tormented souls and comfort the sick and infirm. But as a man, he is utterly incapable of doing these things. He is not preaching his wisdom, and he is not doing the baptizing. Jesus has desired to be near us, for ‘behold the kingdom of heaven draws near.’ We hear the words of Jesus in the pulpit. They are the words which create faith, sustain it, and finally usher saints into heaven. As God says, Let there be light! – so Pastor Morgan says, "I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."

Christ comes to you through Pastor Morgan. He gives us His Holy Supper which your Pastor will consecrate and administer to you, his dearly beloved in the pews today. Before the ordination service this morning Ronald Morgan was not enough. Not for you and not for me. Not at all sufficient, even with his strength, wisdom, and knowledge of the Christian faith. He is utterly incapable of his own deliverance and incapable for yours. But God does not rely on the will of men to save his creation but rather does it himself, bearing all your sins, sicknesses, and burdens. God has done it himself. It is a matter within Himself, not a matter between you and Pastor Thompson. He purchases back that which was already His. By grace he descends to wash dusty feet, to preach and teach, sing psalms and spiritual song with us, and ultimately die on a cross. Descending to the depths of hell he buries all that has gone wrong in creation and all that has gone awry in your very body- your sins, your burdens – the very curse of death itself – your desire to be more than a faithful creature of the heavenly father – who knitted and fashioned you in your mother’s womb.

We are the paralytic in the Gospel reading for today. We too have been brought by faithful people to Jesus, whether by parents, friends, missionaries, or whomever. Today we have been brought by the Holy Ghost to Christ’s Holy Church in which Pastor Morgan assumes the responsibilities of a called and ordained servant of Jesus Christ. By faith we comes to be forgiven, released from bondage, and restored to purity and righteousness before our heavenly Father. Saint Paul speaks to Pastors at Ephesus: Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Saint Paul further warns about wolves entering among the flock, frightening them. He speaks of men who speak false things to the flock to pervert the Gospel and lead those astray. The power of God himself has been knitted and vested to Pastor Morgan. In the walls of this church we find the mighty and impregnable fortress of our God – not in dilapidated bricks and mortar but in the body and blood of Christ.

All the devils in the world cannot strip the vestments of authority of Christ now given to your pastor. He has the authority to announce your death to sin and rebirth in Christ, the authority to feed you meal and drink from heaven, to feast on the Lamb of God so that we may all sing Glory to God on high and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Dear Pastor Morgan, it is your day and this is a great day. But surely being Christ for your people does not feel like a life that is blameless, without sin, or blemish. For Saint Paul also with Christ’s authority gives us a sobering look at the life of a Pastor. He says:

For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak…being defamed, we entreat. We have been made the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.

In this agony, Pastor Morgan, you will find your joy and God will likewise forgive you your sins as surely as he forgives others. Sunday and after Sunday you shall preach the Gospel text and proclaim the same message as today, Arise and walk! Your sins are forgiven! Be of good cheer! God has surely done it! In faith, your flock, and you yourself, will never tire of this message until you breathe your last earthly breath and sleep in Christ’s eternal peace. Children will be baptized and the elderly and mortally ill will pass through this life but dying sinners will continue coming to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to hear the same message. They will prayerfully say to themselves, say it again Pastor! Tell us how it is, how does God consider me. Am I truly blessed? Even with the drudgery and sin of this week, the bitterness of agony and defeat, does God consider me His own? By God’s grace dying sinners will keep coming.

So tell them again and again Pastor. And your people will love you, not simply because you’re a delight of a man from East Iowa but because Christ gives himself through you. And Christ gives His people all things. His very robe of righteousness so that we may all, simple Pastors and dearest saints feast at the same heavenly table before the face of our Lord. Amen.