Beards and Fund Raisers

Two weeks ago I decided to do something silly to help motivate giving for our building program here at church. I said I would shave my head and goatee once the money was raised….but until then I would not shave or get a haircut. There was an audible gasp from the congregation when I said this during the announcements. Heh heh heh.

Of course it’s a gimmick. A silly thing. It doesn’t mean much but gives the congregation something to laugh and joke about, and a visual reminder of the need to give (we are 2/3 funded for our building renovation and hope to finish it without incurring debt). It’s not a Nazirite vow–though I am not partaking of any fruit of the vine either.

What I will look like if this takes too long

Now, I’m not afraid of being hairy. Ask me sometime about my rock-n-roll hair in the past. But the funny thing happening is I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and want to shave and immediately am reminded of why I am not doing it. Growing this hair on my checks and neck is not for me. I’m doing it for others. I won’t sound all pious and holy and say this is a theological statement (or a “God-thing” as my irreverent Christian friends say it). I won’t get uppity and say this is something special. It’s still a gimmick. But it is a pointed gimmick for me, at least. As my cheeks look more gnarly and my neck itches it has certainly taken on a bit of a sacrifice. It’s become a little uncomfortable and it’s forcing me to honor a commitment. That’s a good thing.

Thoughts on the Storm Shelter

So I grew up in the Kansas City area and remember watching the horizon darken, the air grow green and then, in a flash, like a thrown light switch the rain appear, pelting the front yard. We would watch from the front porch, breathing the ozone-rich air, smelling the rain, feeling the temperature drop by the second. It was lovely. And I’ve lived in Oklahoma now for years and years–sixteen years almost total– and can’t see the storms brewing, but they come with their vengeance here too.

With all of this I’ve always thought storm shelters were dumb. Dumb. What are the chances? What are the chances a tornado will hit your house bad enough to kill? Really? It’s like buying lottery insurance, I always thought. Or lightening strike insurance. What are the chances?

But then my friend Jill’s house got destroyed in Tuscaloosa. She and her husband were spared, miraculously. Then Joplin got blown to smithereens. Then last night a tornado hit Piedmont, OK, and the people we bought our puppy from lost everything, including Momma German Shepherd and two other pups. Having a hidey hole doesn’t seem too bad anymore.

Of course, it’s more like wearing a seatbelt than anything. If God wants to take you out, a seatbelt won’t stop a semi from doing the job. But it’s awful comforting to have, isn’t it? So M and I will be saving for shelter to be installed, more for peace of mind than anything else.

Maybe I’ve just grown more timid in my advancing years. I don’t know. But in the future, I may just watch the storms roll in on tv. Underground.

What to Do if the World Ends on Saturday

First, Don’t Panic.

Second, remember that you have been wrong before, and before it’s all over you’ll probably be wrong again.

Still not panicking? Good.

Take a deep breath and keep reading. You see, the Harold Camping and Family Radio crew were predicting that all true Christians would be raptured, or magically disappeared from this earth on Saturday, May 21 at 6:00pm ET (or is it EDT? Don’t know now, but you know by the time you’re reading this). Anywho, a bunch of people disappeared and the world is in chaos.

Did you miss the boat? Are you shocked because you thought you were a Christian and now it appears that you weren’t? Ok, here’s what you need to do:

Keep repenting, and don’t panic! Guess what? I think you really are a true Christian and something else is going on. Something….nefarious.You see, when you read Scripture and don’t treat it as a magic number book like Camping did, you’ll find that Jesus prepared you for this day when there were signs and wonders and magical things happening and people saying Jesus was returning, but no one saw Him. Yes, Jesus actually predicted this and told us to watch out for it.

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. (Mat 24:23-26 ESV)”

“And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mat 24:10-13 ESV)”

And even if these sayings do not convince you, remember: you somehow didn’t miss the return of Jesus! He says, “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Mat 24:27 ESV)”

Now, if this chaos and turmoil have started, you need to remember that He will probably come very, very, soon. You’ll need to be brave and faithful, for there will be more turmoil and persecution and false things happening. But you don’t need to fear for your salvation. You’ve got plenty of good company. I’m here, the Church is here, the Body and Blood of Christ are here. We don’t know where the other folks went, but His Gospel is here and being proclaimed until the moment He really does come.

So, keep (or start) repenting, have faith, and don’t panic. See you tomorrow at church!

Singing ‘This is My Body’

One of my members recently stated that his favorite part of the Divine Service was the chanted Words of Institution. It was a surprising comment, since it is my gut feeling that chanting these words is probably the most divisive thing we can do as Lutherans. Or Christians.

I know, I know. It sounds strange, but some people do not like liturgical chant. It sounds “too Catholic” for some. Or too “magical” or “mystical” or too fancy. What is most funny is that the congregation does it all the time when they sing any portions of the liturgy. So it seems some people don’t object to chanting–just the pastor or liturgist chanting.

What does chant do? Why chant? Chant is done for one practical reason: words carry better when sung than when spoken. But chant is also something theological and meaningful: when you sing something, it makes it more important and noteworthy.

Take Broadway Musicals, for instance. The songs make the show. The songs are the show, really, with the spoken scenes or beats carrying the plot to the next song. The songs reveal the characters, their personalities and their wants. The songs tell the story in ways that words do not. Take away the songs and there is not much of a show left, or not much of a character. The important stuff is put into music, in other words.

Back to liturgy: when the words of prayer or worship are chanted, they take on more significance to the hearer. A prayer chanted is not just normal words anymore; they take on extra significance, sacramental significance. It elevates the words from average, everyday speech and language. Song is intensely personal and spiritual: singing is either done at moments of joy (“I’m so happy I could sing!”) or moments of great sadness (what is a moan–it is singing. Just feel how your throat moves).

When it comes to the verba chanting takes on a something new. It raises the stakes. Chant adds seriousness and importance to the words being chanted. These are not historical words when they are chanted. They are not pro forma words when sung. They are religious. they are sacred (I almost want to say magical). When they are sung over the elements, it is abundantly clear that they are not ordinary words spoken over ordinary bread and wine.This makes it controversial. You can’t pretend this isn’t important. You can’t ignore what is happening. Someone is singing. And he is not singing to an audience, to a beautiful woman. He is singing to bread and wine and making a sign over them and lifting them up.

There’s no wiggle room in this. There is no happy ignorance or denial here. There is no symbol or representation. There is no place for felicitous inconsistency. You agree and bow and kneel before this, or you bristle and turn your back on it. On Him.

Christ in the Crosshairs of Culture

it’s a pretentious title for a simple observation: Why does a Jesus-Zombie-Cyborg-Alien get laughs from folks*, yet a Mohammed-zombie-cyborg not? Why is it that folks can incessantly mock Jesus, yet would never dare to laugh at a cartoonish-Buddah or Vishnu parody?

From the outside, I think three things are going on:

1. Many Christians are so hyper-sensitive, hypocritical fuss-budgets that making fun of them is fun.
2. Christians are in the majority. It’s easier and “funnier” to mock the majority view than a minority view. I mean, everyone gets Jesus jokes, but how many people could name the three major gods of Hindus?
3. Christians don’t retaliate with violence or lawsuits. We stink at following Jesus much of the time, but we won’t kill people or take to the streets or courts like some other fervent religious people might. Much of the time we just turn the other cheek. This is a good thing, by the way.

Now, theologically speaking, we shouldn’t be surprised, should we? Christ was treated this way when He walked this earth, why should He be treated differently now? He said this would happen.

*some trailer of an independent movie on vimeo…it’s too vile and offensive and NSFW to post here.

The Magicians: A short review

Lev Grossman’s, The Magicians has often been compared to a in adult Harry Potter. On the surface, the comparison cannot be denied. The Magicians details the life of Quentin Coldwater who is chosen to attend a prestigious and secret school of magic hidden from outsiders in upstate New York. Hogwarts in America.

But it’s not really about Harry Potter. The Magicians is an anti-Narnia book. It’s an anti-Narnia book written by a man who obviously loved the series, but can’t understand it. Does not understand the God Aslan, or the God of this universe.

Quentin Coldwater has always been fascinated-sickly fascinated-with the world of Fillory, written by Christopher Plover, the Lewis-stand-in in the novel. While Quentin is learning to be a real wizard, he is continually drawn to the make-believe world that is nearly a one-for-one substitution for Narnia: two goats instead of one lion; a Watcherwoman for the White Witch who stops time at 5:00 on a rainy September, instead of the always-winter-never-Christmas of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Major spoiler:

Quentin and his group of friends finish college and loaf about like trust-fund brats until one day they discover that Fillory is real and they decide to go there. What happens in the end is amazingly anti-climatic. Grossman paints the Aslan-substitute as pitiful, unintelligible and too weak to stand against the will of the human antagonist. But he is ultimately defeated, not with an act of love, but with an act of will, and there is a happy-ish ending. It’s all rather Nietschean.

The Magicians turns out to be a fascinating look, not at the characters, but at the author. He is a man who loves the Narnia books, but does not understand them, does not understand who Aslan is and why he says what he does. In other words, Grossman perfectly illustrates the atheist’s take on God through the characters and plot of the novel. What was also fascinating to me was how most reviewers missed this entirely. Grossman was not writing about Harry Potter for grown-ups. He was writing about what happened to him when he lost his faith in God and God in Narnia.