Perspective and N. Gaiman

I read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere again last week. It was quite good the first time, not quite the second, having lost the charm of the first, fresh reading. I read it as a writing exercise to learn how Gaiman handled perspective, especially in terms of the protagonist who is hurled into a bizarre fantasy world. And what I read was pretty astounding. He didn’t dive into the brains and emotions of the characters much. And his description of their reactions were almost like stage directions:

Richard slumped. She said with a sigh.

Things like that. Nevertheless, Gaiman captured the characters and their reactions extraordinarily well.

But something lingered at the back of my mind, so I looked up the title on the net and remembered that it was an adaptation from a British miniseries Gaiman wrote first. That explains his narrative approach and choice of perspective. Now to re-read American Gods to see how he handles perspective and characterization when beginning with the novel.


We sing with angels and archangels, with apostles and evangelists, with saints and “all the company of heaven.” We do not sing for ourselves and our own enjoyment, but we don’t sing for others either. We sing for God, with the saints and angels, with the faithful living with the Lord, with all of God’s Kingdom, awaiting the coming age.

The materialists of this age cannot conceive of this. They know only stuff. They are the most strict of the empiricists.  They deny everything invisible. But Evangelicals and fundamentalists are the same, knowing only what used to be, what is “proved” in “God’s rule book,” not looking beyond the word and letter to what Christ points. They point to crackers and juice; Christ points to body and blood. For them it is all “evident.” For us it is revealed. For them it is proven, for us it is a miracle. For them it is a decision to follow the “rational truth.” For us it is the gift of a God, the greatest miracle for conversion, the passing from death to life, from corruption to eternity, from mortal to immortality.

I’ll take the mysteria.

Οὕτως ἡμᾶς λογιζέσθω ἄνθρωπος, ὡς ὑπηρέτας χριστοῦ καὶ οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ.(1Co 4:1 BYZ)

When is it Time to Quit?

My wife had yet another set back in her goal to get her degree finished. I won’t get into the hairy details, but she has had so many blows and denials and refusals and Resistance, it’s not even funny anymore. She really is beating her head against the wall.

She wonders why God is not opening doors…or windows…or anything. She is wondering why every turn seems blocked. It really feels like a sign to her. I can certainly see that.But on the other hand, teaching music is her gift. I see it, others all around her see it and tell her this. And furthermore, we believe that God works through suffering, that tentatio forms us and makes the theologian, as Luther would say. “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” (Matthew 11:12 Douay). God gives us our vocations, but they do not come without struggle. And the struggle is often the important thing.

Of course there is struggle and work…and then there is what she is going through, and this is ridiculous.

So, is there a time to throw in the towel? Is there a time there is so much resistance and so many obstacles that it becomes time to re-evaluate? What do you think?

Small Business Congregations

This seems to be making some rounds. I stole it from incarnatus est:

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers and the shop they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money…The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in town and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity,1987, p. 2)

All the Liturgy’s a Stage

Pastor Eric Brown thinks we’re all just acting up there in the chancel…and we have understudies.

Ok, not really. But he does point out that when you worship with the liturgy (the real liturgy, not your made-up ones), worship doesn’t depend on the man at all, but the office and the body present. And others can, when necessary, “stand in” for the office. His post is here.



Poor Miserable Sinner

Skeleton in a grave

Skeleton in a graveSomeone once told me that it was “a downer” beginning the worship service with those words, with an actual confession of sin, admitting we are miserable people. She thought we should begin worship on more of an “up” note. Happier, you know. More feel-good.

Why do we begin with this confession of sin? Because we are sinful. Because God is holy and a consuming fire, and you are a petty, selfish, lustful, nasty person. It’s true. Look in the mirror and tell me if you see an angel. You do? Then look harder. Look at the Ten Commandments and tell me you don’t break them all in thought, word, and deed every single day of your life.

And suppose you are a super Christian, who has, by and large, put aside all misdeeds of the body and are living the angelic life right here, right now. You are still a poor miserable sinner, though, aren’t you? Because you weren’t always perfect. Repentance is life-long, and continual. We do not repent once for one sin and once for another, but repent always for all time.

Just as with faith in the full forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ death and resurrection: it’s not just believing once and getting on with life. It is believing and believing more. It is believing, and dare I say, doing.

A Call to Worship?

I grew up in the LCMS. From day one, I’ve worshiped at Lutheran Churches, spending just a few years in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Lots of us have. But how many of you ever saw a “Call to Worship” in the hymnal. Nor did any of those worship services begin with a “Call to Worship.” But many of the “Creative Worship” services that float around the LCMS these days have one of these at the beginning of worship services.

I don’t know where these came from. They are not part of the Historic liturgy we received from the Fathers. They were not part of any Roman Catholic worship service. Nor do they feature in any of the Easter liturgies which the LCMS has borrowed from before. Someone once told me they were Methodist, and it wouldn’t surprise me, but I don’t know.

A Call to Worship is no part of Lutheran Worship, but we do have something historic that we do use at the beginning of our worship service. It’s called the Introit. It was added long ago to the papal liturgy to provide worship during the procession from the nave to the sanctuary, or so I’ve been told. Regardless, the Introit are selections from Scripture, mostly the Psalms, which relate to our repentance and faith, to our worship and to our readings for the Sunday. Often, as you meditate on the words you’ll find even deeper connections between the petitions and praise of the introit and the themes of the Readings. A diligent pastor will also weave the Introit (and other propers) into his sermon, if you have ears to hear.

Now a Consumerist Worship “Planner” might say, “You’ve just described the call to worship. We just call it by that name instead of a fancy Latin name.” Ok then. Perhaps. Maybe. And if these “Calls to Worship” were actually the introits assigned, tried and tested by the church for generations, then I there would be no objection. If the Consumerist Worship Planner were making these up, that’s a different issue.

It’s always an issue when we begin changing things. It’s a serious issue because we place ourselves in the authorial position, and the temptation to make things palatable and attractive to itching ears is always present. That is a greater danger to faith and salvation than we imagine.

As for me, I’m sticking with the hymnal.

Freedom, Apple and the Brilliance of Steve Jobs

Over the last five years it has been easy for me to disdain Steve Jobs and Apple, Inc. The Fanboys are the worst, nearly worshiping the man, the products and stuff. Jobs minimalist aesthetics bordered on the inhuman, however sleek they were. The Apple Stores with the “Genius Bars” were condescending temples of consumerism. This is a nice satire:

I like that I can open my own computer, swap out parts if necessary, upgrade it myself and tinker. I like that freedom, even if sometimes parts don’t work and my “user experience” falters.

But you can’t deny how influential Jobs was. He was a true inventor and innovator who changed the world. Others invented the personal computer. Jobs invented the mouse and the ability to move it and click on things on the screen. Palm was probably the first true touchscreen computing device/smartphone, but the iPhone set the standard for everything thereafter. Likewise the mp3 player. He knew how people want to use computers, and made it happen. That’s brilliant.

And the strangest thing? As much as I despise the cult-status and idolatry of Apple users and fanboys, I almost want to go out and buy a Mac today. Too bad they’re so darn expensive.

Does the Supreme Court Really Have to Tell the LCMS to Act Like Christians?

Today the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. The Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece here.

Essentially, a teacher at the school became “rostered” and was then called as a Commissioned Minister, a Called Teacher, no longer under contract. Good for her. But then she fell ill, went on partial disability for a while and after several months informed the school that her doctor believed she would be able to go back to full time in several more months.

Then the Church and School royally screwed up. They changed their health care plans, cutting her benefits, hired another teacher and asked her to resign her call. She threatened to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and she was fired. So she sued. Now the Supreme Court will be weighing in as to what civil rights ministers may have.

What strikes me though is how all this could have been avoided if the church and school would have responded and acted as Christians instead of self-interested jerks. Where was the care and concern for this teacher on disability? Especially after she was recovering? Where was the District in this? Why didn’t they counsel the congregation to do the right thing? Of course, the teacher should have allowed the dispute resolution process some time to work as well.

This is right where the current LCMS Inc fails. We have full-time District Presidents (“Ecclesiastical Supervisors”) who neither act ecclesial nor supervisory. They do nothing to protect rostered men and women, nor congregations. They allow congregations to do whatever they please, and pastors and teachers too, as long as the money and numbers are up. They do nothing to “rock the boat” or discipline on the congregational level.

District Presidents–do your job. Discipline in the Gospel. Counsel your charges to do the right thing. When they don’t, discipline them. Remove erring pastors AND congregations when necessary. Remember you are servants of the Gospel. Act accordingly.

Congregations–remember you are Christians, and not a club or a business. Do things according to the Law of Love. Forget the bottom line. You’re non-profit, after all. Care for your ministers. Hold them accountable to the Word of God and their vows, and help them keep them.

Pastors and Teachers–do your job. Turn the other cheek, love your congregations, and do not be afraid to speak the truth in love. Forgive them seven times seventy times. Don’t go it alone. Involve your Circuit Counselor, your District President. Keep them informed and pray for all.

Supreme Court–I hate to say this, but if the Church won’t act like the Church, then you had better. Protect the civil rights of workers and, if necessary, force churches to act churchly by not firing disabled workers.

Rant over.