Fight the Power

cross

cross A problem with Adult Converts and Adult Instruction Classes is many people have an underlying assumption that they pretty much know enough already. They tend to think one protestant is pretty much as good as another. And perhaps for many churches, that’s true.

Likewise, the classes often seem to be taken with a view of learning the facts of this church body versus that church body. So what you may get is adults who are taking the class with fingers crossed, with an understanding that they are just learning some factoids that may or may not be different than what they already hold, just to make everyone happy. Putting the best construction on it, lots of folks think they are already Christian, but they are changing the details of their beliefs and scholastic systems.

Reality: most of us are barely Christian in practice and mindset and life. We are still growing and maturing at best, and infants at worst. Adult Instruction should be an opportunity to renew the mind and to re-form it in a Christian way. All of us, whether we are life-long Lutherans or Catholics or Baptists, newly converted or cradle-raised, fight against the great/satanic isms of this world: consumerism, individualism, gnosticism, fascism et al., the isms which wage war on nations and on our hearts. Our Christianity, our personal Christendoms are just that: little empires infused with the philosophies and wishdreams of the age.

Catechesis which destroys these strongholds in the heart and minds of men and women is what I want. This is what I dream to teach. Not information, but catechisis; not instruction, but revolution against the powers of the air in this present darkness, the revolution that begins in repentance.

What the Fathers Preached:Luke 14:1-11

And it is not easy to keep one’s soul humble in the midst of difficulties, just as it is not easy not to be proud and prosperity and honor. And the proud, the more they are flattered, the more disdainful they become. The manner of one who is humble of heart is modest and somewhat downcast. Such as these also dress simply and for use, not cultivating hair, or particular about clothing; so that the appearance mourners put on is natural to them. And as to dress, but the outer garment (tunic) be held in place by a girdle, not fastened above the waist, like a woman’s, nor yet loosely, so that the garment is slack, which looks foolish. And as to your manner of walking, let it not be sluggish, which shows a dull relaxed soul. Neither should it be too quick, or strutting, lest your movements show a mind that his rash, or lacking in good sense. The purpose of clothing is to provide suitable covering for the body both winter and summer. Avoid what is striking color. And as to quality, it should not be too fine, or effeminate. For man who indulges in bright colors is no different from a woman who paints her face and eyes or hair. Let your close be sufficiently thick, so that you have no need of another to keep you warm. Shoes should cost little; if they should be such as we need. The practice of modesty consists in this; and being content with things that are cheap and simple, and in being watchful against the affectations of vainglory.

A man is vainglorious who will do or say anything for the sake of this world’s miserable applause. As, for instance, a man who gives almost to be honored by others. He receives his reward (Matthew 6:2); though he is neither generous nor compassionate. Or a man who is temperate, so as to be praised for his moderation. He is not temperate; since he is not striving for this virtue, but for the credit that will come to him through this virtue.

Neither let you be an un-just judge in your own case. Do not try it with favor toward yourself; taking note of whatever good you have done, forgetting the evil. Do not take pride in today’s good actions, whilst giving yourself full pardon for past or recent wicked ones. Rather, should you be pleased and satisfied with some present action, bring up before your mind another kind of action from the past, and then at your foolish pride will cease. The most difficult of all things seems to be to no one’s self. For not alone does our eyes look outwardly, and not use its power to look at itself, but our mind also; so sharp to note the sins of others, it is slow to see its own sins. Neither should you be too severe, or to prompt, and rebuking others. Do not judge in anger; for this is a ruthless thing. Do not condemn for trifles; as though you were yourself faultless in the sight of the law. And those who have been overtaken by some fault, treat them with the spirit of mildness, as the apostle warns us: “considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). For should we offend in something, we are the better for a little rebuke. But where we have done no wrong, why should we be made to suffer?

(St. Basil the Great, fromThe Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers (4 Volume Set)

Kids in Confirmation

Last year my congregation moved confirmation instruction back to 5th and 6th grade. So far that is going well, but this year we have two 4th graders who wanted to attend, and are, for various reasons. It’s a strange dynamic, running the gamut from first timers in 4th grade all the way to 8th graders in their last year.

Now, I would have imagined that teaching the 8th graders on their level, already after a year of confirmation would stun and confuse the 4th grade children. Or I would alienate the older kids by teaching to the younger. In reality the opposite is happening. My 4th grade students are answering questions, making connections, understanding– more than some of the kids who have already been in confirmation or are starting in a later grade. Now, the two youngest ones are pretty smart cookies, but I don’t think the difference is a matter of brainpower they are bringing to the table.

It’s the fact that the ones who are doing well, who answer the questions, who make connections, who understand are the ones who go to church every Sunday and attend Sunday School. It doesn’t take a biochemist or B F Skinner to see connection. The children who do well in confirmation are the ones whose parents are most actively supporting their spiritual lives and formation. That’s it.

What the Fathers Preached: Luke 14:1-11

Basil the Great, Russion IconIt is not possible for man to control his anger when abused, or to overcome trials with patients when the afflicted, if he is not willing to take the last and the lowest place among other man. But a man who has attained a true humility will not be troubled by offensive or ignominious, since he is already aware of his own great unworthiness even before he is insulted. And should he be called a beggar, he already knows he is poor, and in want of everything, and that he has need each day of God’s help. If he is spoken of as insignificant and of no importance he is already aware of this in his own heart: but he was made from clay. In a word, let me say that he is great in heaven who humbly submits to his neighbor, and, without any cause for shame, there is patiently accusations made against him, even though they are false, if by this you may be at peace with his brother.

(St. Basil the Great. From The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers (4 Volume Set) )

Practice and Training

You’ll probably laugh…or scoff. If you’ve been following along you will know that I’ve been teaching myself Photoshop and HTML and CSS coding. That has been going well, for the most part. You may also remember that I’ve been writing too. Several articles published a year so far, and a lot of fiction–two completed novels and a third in progress, all of that unpublished…so far.

We can blame it on Photoshop, perhaps, but I’ve also started drawing more again. A couple of years ago Marjorie bought me some pencils and a sketchbook, and since then I’ve gotten some prismacolors and oil pastels.

I started a portrait of Marjorie the other night and was…displeased. No big deal. So last night I found a nice photo of Olivia and made it black and white to help with the penciling, printed it and sat down to draw. It did not go well. In desperation I grabbed a 8B pencil and started over, laying down a lot of dark. It actually was better looking…though still did not look like Olivia very much.

Then I remembered one of the pieces I drew in High School–a white on black portrait of Jimi Hendrix. It was good, as I recall.¬† But these latest ones were not. I couldn’t understand it at all. I showed Marjorie the failed attempts at Olivia and remarked that “I don’t think I can draw anymore.”

In the clear light of morning I know that’s baloney. Of course I can still draw. I just haven’t done it in such a long time I am really out

training wheels

of practice. Like riding a bike. I learned how to once, but if you don’t do it in a long time, you’re going to be rusty and tired and sore and not do as well. Athletes train the bodies to work at maximum efficiency. Writers write, painters paint, plumbers plumb, carpenters build, doctors study and practice and train for years. It’s the way things are.

And our spiritual lives are not immune. Doing good works in the Kingdom of God takes training and practice, practice and training. It takes learning to know what to do, to do it cheerfully, to do it often so that the good works flow naturally from you. As Luther reminds us, fasting is good bodily training. It is only true fasting when it leads us to further self-denial, a fast from sin. Refraining from food teaches and trains us how to resist the other demands of our flesh, for recognition and power and lust and coveting. Training.

This Wasteland

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only

(T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”)

wastelandThe great lie of the deceiver is the status quo, the illusion of normalcy. The Stones may have been unintentional prophets like Caiaphas before them, but they are servants of the Most High when they remind us of the impossibility of satisfaction. We were created for the Creator, to long for Him and search Him out. Our deeply satisfied lives in front of the glowing screen laughing at sex jokes and guile, thrilled with balls being thrown and caught by gladiator-sized steroid junkies realize the depth of our scorched souls.

That we appear contented and happy among the idols that give nothing and demand everything is our prison, and as prison, we cannot get out. The walls are too high, the entertainments too severe, the madness suffocating in its pressure to remain in society with the fellow-condemned. That even we hear of the light in Galilee and wonder how it must have been–even skip gaily over the words without the least penetration or fear reveals the abyss of our modern-post-modern-post-post-modern-everything-must-be-labeled-taxonomied-lives.

We need the miracle of the uncreated light, the iron that bursts the prison gates, the light of a million suns to break through the lead  covering our eyes to let us see the shackles around our ankles and hearts.

It takes the artist and the prophet and the preachers and sometimes the insane to remind us of the veil under which we live, the despair that our sinful world has deluged us with, of the hope that yet remains in the God-Man Jesus, however impossible it seems.

Thank God for men like Eliot who some, perchance, heard–at least for a moment–and for his enduring witness to this wasteland upon which we all crawl.

For Pr. Gaunt

What I expected our former vicar to quote, but which was only alluded to in my mind. I’m saving it up for next year. Great sermon, anyway.

money pictureGod money i’ll do anything for you.
God money just tell me what you want me to.
God money nail me up against the wall.
God money don’t want everything he wants it all.

(“Head Like a Hole”, Trent Reznor)
And, if you’re interested in the music (brace yourself), just google it.

The Way of the World

It was a Sunday afternoon and my wife had to go to the mall. I questioned the necessity of the trip, but went along anyway. She had to make a stop at Bath and Bodyworks, and I wanted to look in Radio Shack for electronic doo-dads. The two shops are close together, and as luck would have it, directly across from Jack’s favorite place: Katy’s Pantry, a small deli and bakery that prominently displayed gourmet cookies right at the eye level of every four-year-old who happened to pass by.

Picture of Jack

Jack happy...before he discovered that cookies disappear from this harsh world.

Unbeknownst to Jack, the owners of Katy’s Pantry relocated their business to a shopping center near our neighborhood since he had last been to the Mall. We rounded the corner and Jack knew right where we were and where his favorite display case was.

It was at that moment he literally stopped in his tracks. The sign was gone, the cash register missing, and the display case empty and dark. It was like the life leaked out of Jack as he slowly trudged toward the now-vacant case, the light dimming in his eyes. He reached out and touched it, looking up at me with the saddest face I’ve seen on him in a long time and said, “There used to be cookies here.”

Yes. There used to be cookies here. I agree