Thanksgiving Pause

Dad cut off the end of his finger last week. He was working on cabinets for our kitchen, wearing gloves to beat the cold, when the end of the glove brushed the router bit, pulling his hand into it. If you know what router bits are, then you’ll know that it shreds wood; they don’t cut thin grooves (kerfs) in wood like a saw blade does.

Strangely enough, it didn’t hurt him too badly, but he’s got to be careful with it to avoid infection. This means that when he gets here this afternoon I get a promotion in the remodeling project–I’ll be responsible for a lot more that he won’t be able to do. Thanksgiving week, Advent starting, my NaNoWriMo novel to finish, and the kitchen remodel. All to say, blogging has suddenly moved off the list for the next week or two and the novel may not be finished either. I’ve got a day or two of vacation I’ll be using, but that doesn’t help the meetings, classes, appointments and sermons I have to keep.

But I’m really looking forward to all this. Why not? Idle hands and whatnot, and it’s much more fun to give thanks and embrace the chaos than it is to dread and loathe and get stewed-up about it.

I have my family I adore. My bride, who means the world to me. I have parents who are still active and generous and supporting. I have a job that is fulfilling, that changes people’s lives and gives hope to others. I have members who support me. I am healthy enough to juggle 1000 things. I have a hobby I enjoy.

Everything can change in a moment. It’s likely, even. Tragedies can strike us, health can vanish, jobs can end, injustices can strike.

As we learn from Job, though, the key, the grace (for it is only gift) is to give thanks even in the midst of disaster and disease and what would cause despair. That is the way of Christ. That is the way of true joy. To repeat myself: it is a grace that has to be received. We cannot manufacture or work for a thankful heart. We can pray and seek it. We can cultivate and practice it. But the Lord is Lord of the harvest.

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all of you.

I’ll be posting again in a week or so, God willing.

Evangelical (Catholic)…Really!

Someone wrote an essay once–I wish I could remember who and credit him–which asked this question: “Pastors hear people complain that our worship at times is ‘too Catholic.’ Why do we never hear people complain that it is ‘too Protestant’ or ‘not Catholic enough’?”

We need to remember that the Lutheran Reformation is just that: a reformation, not a renovation or rebuild. The Lutherans sought to fix what was in error and keep the rest. Indeed, the Confessions argue at many times, Lutherans are not innovators and are truly of a piece with the Catholic Church–only without the medieval errors and such.

This is the foundational identity of the Lutheran Church, what our pastors are supposed to believe, teach and confess…and what our congregations are supposed to believe, teach and confess.

Yet that’s not how a majority of us see ourselves. I grew up thinking that Lutherans were Not-Catholics. Many of us did, even though back then we worshipped even more like the Catholics than we do today. There’s a long history of this in the Missouri Synod–fought by our first Synodical President in addresses and essays and sermons. It’s all there. And still there. Generations of pastors, especially from the late 1930s to the mid 60s emphasized our “Protestant Identity” when the Synod sought to be recognized and a good-ole mainline church body. And let’s face it, up until the Kennedy Administration anti-catholicism was a favorite American past time.

Our purely protestant identity becomes even more pointed in the rural congregations where many people have never been members of another congregation, where the only other Lutheran churches they’ve attended were in the next town and had folks with the same last names. There is much good in this–a community stronger than any suburban congregation. But it’s also idiosyncratic. True Lutheranism is how it’s practiced here, according to my experience.

Let’s face it. One of the greatest benefits in our “global community” is decreasing bigotry. When you see the diversity of God’s creation, it becomes much harder to hate the aliens and barbarians and their customs and broadens the mind to appreciate things that are foreign to us, things outside our tiny bedroom walls. To be sure, the same thing which broadens our minds and experience also has the demonic side of alienating us from our ourselves and killing our own tradition, but it’s not all bad. I’m a better person for living in the Midwest and Deep South and Northern Illinois and at the foot of the Taunus Mountains in Germany.

Recovery our Lutheran identity and practice is no small feat, and I’m not sure it can be done, frankly. But it’s worth the fight. It is who we are. If the Lutheran Confessions mean anything, it is worth the struggle.

St. Simeon & Worship

“The divine services are a mirror of the state of our souls; whatever we worship, whatever we most care about come to mind during the services.”

I saw this on my friend Christopher Orr’s blog and it immediately seized my attention. It happens to everyone. We all get our thoughts out wandering the strawberry patch during worship. We all react to the things at hand: boredom, pleasure, anger at the people, the pastor, the time, the temperature. If this statement is true, if worship is the barometer of our souls, we should note that all of us bottom out with a big fat zero.

But is it true? Is that what is going on? Is it what we really care about most?

I remember the time standing in St. Mark Lutheran Church while the congregation was apathetically singing the “Hymn of Praise” in the Divine Service. I was at least as apathetic as they–I was composing my to-do list. When I mentally added “Do Laundry,” I can still remember how stupid I felt getting distracted by that. Why in the name of all that is holy was I ignoring Him and thinking about washing blue jeans? So maybe that quotation is wrong. I don’t care about laundry, yet that’s what was occupying my attention at the time. 

But I did–and do–care about getting stuff done. About having my life in order. About attending obligations. About work, even housework if that’s what demands attention.

It has taken me years to figure it out, but in those days I treated worship as just one more thing on my laundry list of chores. I was there, it was done, now mentally onto the next thing so that…well, so I could do whatever was really more important to me in those days.

St. Simeon prophesied to the Virgin Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34 ESV) I usually read those words to mean my thoughts about Jesus–in like a generic sense. But the prophesy is true and comes to us week in and week out. We meet Him in the divine service, and He does His work. What’s inside bubbles out when Christ is there.

And that is pretty ugly stuff. Well, not so ugly by my standards. I mean, most of the time what bubbles up still runs along Route Getting Things Done, or other work-related things. Maybe half the people in pews are thinking about sports. Heck, even I am thinking about sports sometimes. Not so ugly, I mean, not like sex and hatred and drugs and addiction.

But it is ugly when we lay them open to the Son of God. Because they’re replacing him with stupid trash in our hearts and minds.

What do we do about it? Repent. That’s all we can do. Throw the thoughts out–whatever the thoughts are, no matter how important they seem, no matter how innocuous they appear. Repent of them and lift up your hearts.

Health Care and our Christian Witness

So I think I have a case of the blog-writer’s block. In efforts to cure it, how about Health Care?

I’ve got seriously mixed feelings. The problem is we have several fundamental tensions involved, centering around the question of the role of the government and so-called rights of Americans. Namely, do we have some sort of right to health care?

History does not help us much. We cannot go back even 100 years and see how much government provided, controlled, or denied health care to its citizens because there simply wasn’t that much that physicians actually did to cure people. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Theologically speaking, God established the governments to protect and defend its citizens, allowing us to live a “quiet and peaceable life.” How this is carried out is not a biblical matter, nor does tradition help us. The pagan Roman Empire was established by God, just as the Byzantine Empire, ruled by Christian Emperors, the Holy Roman Empire likewise ruled, Czarist Russia the same. Some make the argument that a hierarchical rule is somehow more reflective of Christian theology than a democracy, but I won’t argue for or against that here.

Then we have the issue of socialism versus capitalism. As dedicated as we are to capitalism in America, it is an economic theory and practice versus a constitutional theory. America does not have to be capitalistic in its monetary policy and government. Indeed, it probably hasn’t been since FDR.

Is capitalism or socialism more biblical? You can find elements of both, frankly. Jesus’ policy was to give to those in need and wealth was given to some in order to share with those in need. The early Christians combined their estates and property to share alike and give aid to the poor. Yet you also find exhortations to work, that God will prosper the works of our hands, and so forth.

As Christians, we also have the tension between doctrines such as the sanctity of life and the hope for the resurrection. We are to preserve life and foster it as much as we can, at the same time remembering that it is not for this life that we have hope. If we are somehow barred from medical treatment, all is not lost. Christ is our life.

Where does this leave us? Nowhere, I’m afraid. I would love to see a functioning health care system where lack of money does not prevent a sick person from being treated to the fullest moral extent possible. I would love to see a health care system that is not driven by quarterly profit statements. I would love to see this happen without the outrageous taxes, waiting lists and potentially compromised care that we sometimes see in European health care systems.

Is it possible? I’m not sure. Will the sky fall and everything come to ruin if it doesn’t? Yes…but it will eventually anyway. All things come to an end, even this present evil age.

That is where our hope should be–not in getting treated to prolong this life, not in avoiding giving Caesar his own, but in pointing to Christ and the day that there will be no sorrow, no sickness, no tears. Ultimately, this is the Christian vocation.

Good Sunday

The day began too early, as usual, but turned out pretty nice. Had a nice visit with our head elder in the vestry before worship, which was Divine Service I. The children’s choir played their hand chimes for the first time in worship, and did wonderfully! Early service had decent attendance.

Bible Study went ok. We’ve begun Romans and I am approaching the study differently than usual. Translating the text in its entirety, reading Chrysostom’s commentary, and the simply reading through the English with the class, commenting as I am able. It didn’t go quite as smoothly as I would have liked. I may have to take some better notes for myself, and maybe provide the class with notes to help them follow along too. We’ll see.

Late service was really cool. I baptized two children, one 6 weeks old, the other 3 years, the children of a family who are transferring in. They had not been in the Lutheran church for a few years. So we had a crowd of visitors with them, and some others to boot and a nice cadre of our own.

I was hoping to get a few things done on our kitchen yesterday afternoon, but that was hijacked by a nap. This antibiotic I’m taking is really doing a number on me. It just makes me feel weird. Thankfully I only have one more day of it.

Status Update

I suppose it’s that time of year…

Everyone at my house has had at least one round of the nasties this year. The kids: H1N1, strep throat, ear infections–one or more each. Mix-and-match to your liking. Marjorie is recovering from the pneumonia and whatever caused it, I’m slowly improving from the sinus infection, and whatever caused it (pneumonia and sinus infections being secondary to whatever else). Liv went down again–imitating me with her own sinus infection. She’s back at school now.

I’ve been to the urgent care place last week. Friday I’m off to my primary doc, who’ll check my cholesterol and get a bigger picture of whatever may be still going on.

In other news, the computer project at home went swimmingly. At first. The hardware came, I got it assembled in the evenings last week when I had the energy to get off the couch,  and was very happy that everything worked right. I’d done a lot of hardware work in the past, but never a complete machine. It was a little more nerve-wracking than I thought it would be.

I hooked up our old hard drives…and things started going a little hinky. Ubuntu worked fine. Windows XP was strange. I backed up the files and reinstalled. Cool. Worked fine. Then I booted Ubuntu and it immediately told me that the Windows drive had 94 bad sectors, was old and probably needed to be replaced. Why, oh why, didn’t Windows tell me that?

Nevermind. It booted. Perhaps Ubuntu was being a little over-sensitive. Right?

No, as it turns out. Windows crashed within days, and not just the blue death screen. It shut down the computer, it died so hard. Hmmm. After a couple of more tries here and there, I’ve decided Ubuntu knows best.