Archive for February, 2012

Luther Speaks

February 27, 2012

Or more accurately, insults.  

Just in case you needed a lighter note to begin your week.
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Worship PostScript

February 25, 2012

I blogged a week ago about a blog posting on worship that has been generating some attention.  

There is this follow-up blog posting on the issue, which seeks to clarify some of the confusion that the original letter generated by reminding everyone that worship is theology.  Worship expresses and articulates theology.  Assuming that everyone understands this in the same way is rather naive to be sure, and apparently there was no lack of conflict over the original letter.  
I think I’ll be getting this book and reading it.  It will be interesting to hear what he has to say and how he says it.  And I hope that others will be getting it as well.  Because as congregations continue to struggle with how they worship, they need to ground these discussions in the issue of why they worship, and what worship is.  Failure to do so dooms us to a cycle of assuming that everything is just a matter of personal taste (which is what our culture tells us in all other realms of our life, oddly enough), rather than something we can be trained to appreciate and be shaped from.  We may never grow to like the old hymns, or the new praise tunes – from a purely aesthetic sense – but we can hopefully learn to appreciate what they are attempting to do, and decide whether or not they fit with our theology of worship.  
Hard, dry work.  But oddly invaluable.  Why should we assume that in the area of our lives that we proclaim to be most important and deeply vital, we assume there should be no effort, no thought, no work required of us?  We are constantly called upon to learn on the job, to update our skills and understandings.  Why should the Christian life and worship in particular be any different?  It’s not just a pastor’s job – it’s everyone’s job!  So get busy!

A Flash of Ash

February 23, 2012

An interesting side note on Ash Wednesday.  Thanks to the Facebook friend I lifted the link from

If you don’t have faith yourself, it must be fascinating to see it in – and on – others.  Perhaps the motivating factor behind this unusual photo project noted on NPR.  
At least someone is looking – though as I shared with my congregation tonight, wearing the ash for others to see is somewhat defeating the purpose.  An interesting shift in culture and relevancy.  Once upon a time, it would have been unusual to see someone without the telltale smudge of ash on their forehead on Ash Wednesday.  Once upon a time wearing the ash was in keeping with the humble nature of Lent. 
Now, it seems to scream out above the deafening silence of ears filled with iPod earbuds and eyes glued to iPad screens.  Now, it is ostentatious, an unusually noticeable hallmark of certain traditional and historical strains of the Christian faith, in a faith community that otherwise has very few distinguishing marks, physically.  

Mark, My Words

February 22, 2012

Preliminary reports are that seven new fragments of New Testament texts have been identified, and one of them may well date from the first century – within the lifetime of Jesus’ first followers.  

This would be the first text fragment from the first century, an exciting find that will further bolster the textual transmission record of the New Testament, further demonstrating the accuracy with which the text has been copied.  Just another piece of evidence in an already impressive collection of texts and text fragments which, taken together, demonstrate an amazingly accurate transmission of the text.  It will be interesting to learn more about what portion of Mark this fragment is from.

thyTunes

February 21, 2012

This little letter has been making the rounds – I’ve seen it reposted on Facebook by at least one person I know who has a lot of difficulties with the oft-stuffy worship in her denomination’s more traditional congregations.  

I and other folks have been talking about these issues for years.  It’s nice that people are finally starting to listen.  To someone else.  
I like how the author is careful to be supportive of praise teams in general, while still pointing out some of the problematic areas of importing a rock-star/concert liturgy into a Christian worship format.  Hopefully this will get – and keep – people talking about how we can worship better.  All of us!

Spanx for the Memories

February 20, 2012

I would love to say that this is a hoax, but I really don’t think it is.  And before you follow the link, know that this is the same pastor (and wife) who recently conducted press conferences from a bed on top of their church building to promote their book on sex and marriage.  Knowing that might prepare you better for this link.

Pastorfashion.com.
You read it right.  You heard it right.  “You are what you wear.  And who you wear.”   
Lord have mercy. 

T.M.I.

February 15, 2012

That stands for Too Much Information – a textspeak shorthand response for when someone feels compelled to tell you a lot more than you’d really like to know.  And while this isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s certainly something that happens a lot more often due to social media like Facebook and Twitter.  And this essay cutely summarizes the painfulness of living perpetually with TMI.  

It’s certainly a problem.  We don’t have the closure we used to with certain people and life stages.  Our past foibles and shortcomings can be forever part of our current psyche because we’ve allowed people from those awkward periods of our lives to continue being parts of our lives today.
This is what the essay doesn’t really address.  We do have a choice in all of this.  We determine who we will friend or not friend.  And we have the ability even to – gasp! – decide not to engage in social media at all, or to scale back our involvement.  Yes, we have the ability to lurk and creep on others in an active sense, but we can limit our exposure passively through a variety of privacy settings and controls that some social media sites provide.  
People can decide whether they’re going to use their social networking pages as business networking tools or not.  While there are some circles where failing to do so might actually hurt your business prospects, I suspect those circles are somewhat limited in scope and number.  
Knowing yourself is important.  Knowing what impacts your self-esteem and brings you down, or what you can read and view without being adversely affected ought to drive in large part your participation on social network sites.  You don’t have to accept every friend request from every person who has ever been a part of your life.
Unless it’s me.  In which case, please accept my friend request.  Otherwise I’ll be crushed.

Book Review: Simply Christian

February 14, 2012

Simply Christian by N.T. Wright.

There are no shortage of books that
attempt to make sense of Christianity to those who are either
unfamiliar with it or perhaps estranged from it. Simply Christian is
a credible entry into this ever-expanding catalog.

Wright is an accomplished and
controversial theologian. Lutherans are wary of him for some of his
revisionist ideas about St. Paul’s intent in his writings. However
there is practically none of that here. Nor is this an intense
apologetic effort to demonstrate the rationality of the Biblical
Christian truth claims about the universe. It is more of a soft
apologetic, intended I suspect to not frighten off the casual reader
while still leading them to see that the Biblical Christian
description of reality answers many of the questions that keep us all
awake at night.

Wright goes about this by discussing
four broad themes that haunt the human experience with expectations
for something other than what we regularly encounter and experience:
“the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger
for relationships, and the delight in beauty.” Each topic is
simple and universal enough to appeal to almost everyone. Using each
of these topics as a springboard, Wright endeavors to demonstrate how
the Biblical Christian account of things addresses each of these
areas.

Wright is an engaging writer, at times
clever and humorous but never in a mean-spirited fashion. He writes
with a respect for the reader that assumes they struggle for answers,
and without the tone that anyone outside the Christian faith is a
fool. He is convinced of the validity of the Biblical Christian
position, but he writes in a way that this conviction is not
overbearing or suffocating.

As such, this is a reasonable book to
suggest to friends who may be interested in the Christian faith. The
book is divided into three major sections. The first fleshes out the
four themes quoted above, demonstrating how pantheism/panentheism on
the one hand and deism on the other both miss the mark in addressing
these issues, and how a third way – a Christian way – is a better
fit. The second section uses broad brush strokes to paint the major
aspects of this Christian way as elaborated on in the Bible. Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit each receive two chapters that describe their
roles in the Christian way. The last section of the book introduces
the reader to major aspects of the Christian life – what practices
have marked the lives of followers of Christ for the last two
thousand years. Worship, prayer, the Bible, and an interest in this
life and world and not simply in the hereafter are touched upon.

While Wright makes strong efforts to
not make assumptions about what readers are familiar with, in a book
of this size (not quite 250 pages), it’s impossible at times not to.
The areas that I found the most problematic were areas that
insinuated social justice as a primary activity of the Church –
both politically and socially. While I agree wholeheartedly that
Christians are to care for our world and the people in it, assuming
that modern evangelical notions about social justice are the best
response to this left me less than enchanted. He doesn’t hammer on
about these things, which is good.

It’s a pleasant read. He lays his
thoughts out well. I think that his approach is something accessible
to people of any age. Whether it is enough to crack through the
thick shell of relativism that surrounds so many young adults is
another matter. In my experience as an educator and apologist,
sustained discussion and debate are often the only ways to pin
someone into a corner and force them to acknowledge the contradictory
nature of their thinking about the world. That sounds unloving and I
don’t mean it that way. It’s just that we need to be very clear that
the philosophical training that is common throughout American secular
educational systems is very effective and rarely challenged. When a
person reaches college age and their 20’s, it may take a rather
traumatic experience or loving and persistent discussion bathed in
prayer to break through.

This book is likely to fare better with
people who are honestly searching and questioning rather than with
hardened skeptics or relativists. It is also not going to satisfy
the interests or needs of hard-core theology junkies. That isn’t
Wright’s intention though and it would be unfair to judge him by that
criteria.

This book might make a worthwhile
selection for a reading club, possibly even for a Bible study.
Sixteen chapters plus an introduction could take you four months or
more to work through, although the chapters are usually less than 20
pages long and so you could cut the length in half by doubling up.

If you’re looking for a place to get
familiar with Wright, working your way up to his more intimidating
theological works, this isn’t a bad start at all.   

It’s the Drugs, Stupid

February 13, 2012

Everyone is still boggling over Whitney Houston’s death.  It’s a tragedy.  It’s awful.  It’s a life cut short.  People say a lot of things about what happened to her.  But what you don’t hear a lot of is the simple fact that drugs killed her.  

Illegal drugs like marijuana and crack cocaine and who knows what else.  Legal drugs prescribed to her by physicians for a variety of issues undoubtedly real and imagined.  But the people who make their livelihood in one way or another from the entertainment industry seem loathe to say this straight out and without any sort of beating around the bush.  
I think that this article is an interesting example.   The headline is that “show business” killed Whitney.  But the actual quotes from Celine Dion stress the role of drugs.  Yes, those drugs were taken in the show business industry by an entertainer and her retinue of family and friends and associates.  
This article does almost the exact same thing with the same quotes.  Although Dion mentions drugs multiple times in her few quotes, the article focuses on the dangers of “show business”.  In fact, the first article includes Dion’s full quote and she says she’s afraid not only of show business but also drugs, yet the article doesn’t seem to want to highlight outside of Dion’s own words.
But if Whitney hadn’t been in show business, and had done the exact same drugs, the exact same thing would have happened.  She would be dead.  Show business didn’t kill her.  Drugs killed her.
Likewise, while Celine can speak sympathetically about the dangers of show business, she is an example that drugs are not synonymous with the industry.  It is possible to be in show business and not be consumed by drugs.  I would hope that it’s possible to be in show business without consuming drugs as well, but I can’t venture to guess how many folks in the industry never touch the stuff.  
Our country suffers from a split personality on the issue of drugs, with many in show business and the media arguing that drugs ought to be legal, even as those same drugs destroy the lives of those very people over and over again.  Marilyn Monroe.  Lenny Bruce.  Elvis Presley.  John Belushi.  John Bonham. John Candy.   Kurt Cobain.  John Entwistle.  Amy Winehouse.  Chris Farley.  Whitney Houston.  The list is rather extensive.  Yet still the people who apparently seem most caught up in the drug culture insist that it should be legalized for everyone.  
Whitney’s death is no surprise, unless it’s a surprise that she survived as long as she did.  None of these people’s death should be a surprise to anyone who knew them well enough to know of the drugs they consumed.  We live in a world of cause and effect – though many would prefer to ignore this basic truth.  
It’s not show business, though show business certainly provides plenty of pressure, incentive, and access.  It’s the drugs, stupid.

Slight of Hand

February 11, 2012

Yes, I intentionally spelled it that way.

The recent wrinkle in the uproar over Federally mandated birth control coverage is not much of a new wrinkle.  Though various media sources seem committed to spinning it as a genuine compromise, it is not.
The ‘compromise’ removes the onus of deliberately handing birth control and abortifacient drugs to employees from religious organizations, and attempts to shift it to the insurance companies.  The idea is that it isn’t the employer now who is offering this sort of coverage – they are essentially ‘out of the loop’.  Rather, it’s the insurance companies who must proactively seek to offer this coverage to any woman who requests it.  For free.  No out of pocket expense to the woman.
All of which, is a pretty weak attempt to confuse the issue (hence the misspelling above).  The assumption seems to be that if we just tweak the verbiage a bit, religious organizations will be satisfied.  What is more likely is a hope that the tweaked verbiage will confuse most people into thinking this is a substantially different arrangement.  But it isn’t.  Here’s a good explanation of why.
Here’s the thing:  The employer, who contracts with the insurance provider, is still bearing the cost of it all.  The insurance companies are not suddenly philanthropic organizations dedicated to the Greater Good.  If their costs go up to provide coverage, rates go up.  Who is paying the insurance rates – at least in part if not in full?  The employer.  
The ‘new’ plan basically attempts to pretend that something is happening that isn’t happening.  It is asking everyone involved in this – the employee, the insurer, and the employer, to pretend something is not true.
The insurance company has to pretend that they are offering something for nothing.  And since part of the push for this whole policy is to make birth control and related products available to more women, nobody in their right mind assumes that these things are free already.  They cost money.  Every month.  But now suddenly, the insurance company has to pretend that it doesn’t cost money every month.  Now it’s suddenly free.  
The employer has to pretend, when the insurer comes back with a new set of rates for employee coverage, that the increase is just a typical increase, and not an increase that has gone up to pay for the added “free” coverage being provided to women.  Both sides in this transaction have to pretend that something is not happening that is really happening:  the employer is subsidizing or paying in full for birth control and abortifacient coverage for it’s employees.  As well as for employees of every other company covered by the insurer, since costs are averaged out across everyone in the insured pool, to one degree or another.
Employees have to pretend that either they’re stupid and believe that this is truly a new solution, or they have to pretend that their own religious conscience, or the religious conscience of their church or employer, or the religious conscience’s of millions of other people being forced to pay for this coverage – is/are not being violated.  By law.  
That’s a lot of pretending.  And I haven’t seen many articles that state in clear numbers what is being gained in all of this.  How many additional millions of women will be covered who aren’t now?  What is being gained at the cost of forcing American citizens who vote and pay their taxes to violate their consciences on one of the most divisive issues in our country’s history?  
Whatever the gain is, I’m pretty positive that it’s not worth the cost.  I just hope that others recognize that.  Soon.