Archive for October, 2012

Paid Forward

October 31, 2012

Some folks in Florida think that tuition rates should differ depending on major.

Students pursuing studies in areas where they are likely to not only get jobs, but get jobs within the state that they are studying in, could pay lower tuition rates.  Students pursuing studies that will result in a harder time for them to find employment in that particular state could pay higher tuition rates.
What’s to keep students from going where tuition is most advantageous, then leaving to take a job in another state?  What becomes of a nation that insists undergraduate degrees are more and more a necessity for employment, while acknowledging that many fields of study don’t have a lot of jobs waiting for graduates, or that graduates may not earn enough to justify the exorbitant student loans they will need to take out just to graduate?  What becomes of a culture that effectively penalizes students for pursuing studies in the liberal arts?

Advertisements

Non-Negotiable

October 30, 2012

It’s always interesting to see the things that people stand for – or won’t stand for.

This Wall Street Journal article describes the trend among well-to-do singles (though the article indicates that the trend isn’t exclusive to the affluent).  They won’t date across political lines.
I wonder if these folks would be as adamant that they won’t date someone outside of their religion?  It’s amazing how often I hear young people assert that what someone believes about the nature of the universe and their place in it isn’t a major consideration in terms of dating, courtship, and marriage.  Yet at least for some, sub-genres of political ideology are grounds for exclusion.  Interesting.
I guess I’m somewhat encouraged in that at least it’s a starting point.  Something where people are willing to say that truth is not merely subjective and where differences of belief need to be taken very, very seriously.  

Jester Minute

October 29, 2012

In medieval court culture, the court jester had a rather unique – and dangerous – space carved out.  The jester provided entertainment and distraction for the ruler and those privileged to the company of the ruler.  While we think of jesters mainly as pratfall artists and masters of physical comedy or talents such as juggling, these caricatures are undoubtedly narrow and unfair.  There was also the understanding that, because of the jester’s role as master of the absurd, the jester could get away with actually speaking truth to power.  In the guise of foolishness, wisdom could be spoken.  While jesters could face punishment for this, it was also an unwritten part of their job description.  In an environment where one’s counselors, family, friends – everyone – would be inclined never to cross words with a ruler, the jester was expected to provide a tactful but honest assessment of people and situations – including the ruler and their decisions.

So I find it humorous that Britain’s best known comedian (or best known here?) – Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean and Black Adder fame – is leveling a very serious assessment of the risky road of censure his country is jogging down.  It’s a warning that we would do well to pay attention to here as well.
Although the United States enjoys a much more rigorous understanding and practice of freedom of speech, that understanding has and will continue to be challenged, generally under the sympathetic guise of preventing people from hurting other people’s feelings.  We need to recognize that no matter how sympathetic the individual case may be, freedom of speech is a benefit that benefits everyone, whereas censorship laws inherently benefit only certain people.  I pray that we’ll never have to lobby to regain freedom of speech because it has been compromised legislatively or judicially as it has in Great Britain.  We might find that even lobbying for such a reinstatement will be one of the first types of speech to be outlawed.

Reading Ramblings – All Saints Day (November 4, 2012)

October 28, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: November 4, 2012,
Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost – All Saints Day

Texts:
Revelation 72-8)9-17; Psalm 149; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Contextual
Notes:
All Saints Day celebrates the faithful who
have preceded us into glory.  More accurately, it celebrates the Lord who created, redeemed, sanctified, and gathered them safely to himself.  As such, our natural inclination to be sorrowful for our loved ones that we miss may be well-intentioned but is ultimately misplaced.  We do not suffer and grieve as those without hope, for truly, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19)  However
this is also a day of great joy, because we know that they are not
truly dead – their spirits dwell in heaven, awaiting the timing of
God the Father for God the Son to return in power and glory, when the
dead and living alike will receive eternal bodies. The readings for
today call us not just to idle memory of the no-longer-living, but celebration in the fact that the dead are truly alive, that together with us the Church is constituted, and that our communion with them is not the shadowy stuff of ghosts and hauntings, but the sure, strong promise of our God who has triumphed over death!


Revelation 72-8)9-17 –
As we read again from the Revelation of St. John, we meet the
144,000 that were mentioned in last Sunday’s lesson in Chapter 14.
These are they who have been sealed with the mark of of God on their
foreheads, from every tribe of God’s people. The symbolism is rich
and potent here – twelve times 1000 from each of the tribes of Israel
– numbers of completeness and fulfillment. The idea behind the
number is not a precise numbering, but an indication of fullness and
completeness. John is trying to convey the idea that every person
with faith in God is present and accounted for in this number.
Nobody has been overlooked or forgotten.  None of those who placed their faith in Christ have been lost to Satan, despite his rather impressive efforts (to be recounted in Revelation 12-13).  The God who saves is more than strong enough to hold and preserve those He has saved.

What are they doing? Are they busily engaged in catching up on the latest gossip?  Are they obsessing over whatever is going on in the earth below?  Are they starry-eyed to be reuinited with their loved ones?  Christian culture has a lot of curious ideas about what heaven consists of, but whenever the Bible talks about the people of God in the presence of God, they are always given to one activity – worship.  Giving glory and honor to the God who has preserved them through
death and into eternity.   This is the natural and proper response of a creature to its creator.  This is the natural and appropriate response of saved to Savior.  And we participate with them as wee gather on Sunday mornings to worship!  For that span of time the Kingdom of Heaven is more clearly present on this earth, no matter how weak-voiced or trembling it may sound or how frayed and threadbare it may look!  We worship not in isolation but in solidarity and unity with the entire of God’s people through all of time.  How is it that we can still wonder as to whether worship is really necessary or not!?

Whatever sufferings these saints endured in life – hunger, thirst, scorching heat – are no longer problems
for them. They have all that they need. They are fully and
perfectly provided for, so that they can dedicate themselves to the
glorification of the God who has done all of this for them. They did
not escape tribulation and trouble, they persevered through it
keeping faith in their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the
glorious band we each look forward to joining with after our death or
when our Savior returns!

Psalm 149: What is the
proper relationship of God and his people? God cares for his people
who in turn respond with praise and adoration. Evil and corruption
are not tolerated. Righteousness is upheld vigorously and without
confusion. Any who would array themselves against God are reduced to
slavery – the illusion of grandeur is forcibly removed from them so
they see themselves as they really are before their God –
powerless. Because they did not understand this, their powerlessness
is terrible and humiliating, unlike the powerlessness of God’s
beloved people, who freely acknowledged the power of their God and
therefore receive his favor and care.

1 John 3:1-3 –
A beautiful passage of truth and hope! How amazing indeed it is
that God should love us – love us despite our selfishness and
rebellion against him. That He would love us without expecting us to
deserve that love because we never can. Calling us his children by
virtue of his Son who is our brother and Lord. We truly are the
children of God, but this isn’t obvious to the world of those who do
not share our faith in Jesus Christ. As with every generation –
even the generation that crucified the Son of God – they cannot see
the truth before them, that is hidden in each of us. Each of us
trusts this is true though, and seeks to live that truth.

Matthew 5:1-12:
We
break from our normal reading cycle this year of Mark and go to
Matthew to hear Jesus’ preaching the Beatitudes. As Matthew relates
the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, it begins by flipping all of
our standards and ways of understanding things on their heads. We
glorify those who are confident and proud, while in the Kingdom of
Heaven those are most blessed who are humble in spirit. Here we
idolize those who live lives of non-stop partying and celebrating,
particularly celebrities of all stripes, while in the Kingdom of
Heaven it is those who have known sorrow and sadness who will be
blessed. Do we idolize confidence and power? The Kingdom of heaven
prizes meekness. Do we idolize self-sufficiency? The Kingdom of
Heaven glorifies those who know they are beggars for a daily bread of
righteousness. Do we idolize justice here? The Kingdom of Heaven
prizes mercy. Do we idolize those who break the rules, who are able
and willing to indulge themselves fully? The kingdom of heaven
prizes those who are pure in heart. Do we idolize scheming and
manipulation and power plays? The Kingdom of Heaven prizes those who
make peace rather than profit from division. Do we idolize those who
live lives of ease? The Kingdom of heaven honors those who suffered
for the faith in this world.

Matthew’s recounting of this teaching is important. It is the first
public teaching of Jesus that Matthew records. He has called his
disciples and as people begin to speculate as to whether or not He
might be the Messiah, Jesus makes it clear the type of kingdom that
He is bringing to this world – and it is not the type of kingdom
that people expect, or necessarily even want!

This reading is comforting to us as well as we contemplate those who
have preceded us into glory. Because of their deaths, we know sorrow
and suffering, we have been humbled and prayed for the mercy of God’s
peace. This teaching comforts us that what we have suffered has
value, and will one day be a source of glory and honor, rather than
shame and ridicule.

Jesus speaks to people dealing with real problems and struggles and
issues. He does not go the easy route of promising to fix all of
their problems here and now. He is not making campaign promises.
Rather, He is assuring his hearers that while the world may discount
them and treat them as nothing, in God’s eyes they are precious
creations that He will do anything to bring into his eternal joy.
Nor is Jesus laying out a regimen of self-denial for self-betterment.
We do not seek out these sufferings, but rather we cannot avoid
them. As we suffer through them and persevere, we learn more what it
is to depend upon and lean upon our God for all things, in the
process, truly becoming blessed.

As you remember loved ones in your lives who are now gone, it is
natural to feel sadness. But remember to conclude your remembrances
with joy and thanksgiving. We will one day meet these people again
in heaven! They await the fulfillment of God’s timing just as you
and I do, and together we form the people of God, the Church of Jesus
that spans geography and time and defies neat descriptions and
persecutions. They are victorious in Christ, and we pray that we
will also be victorious by the power of the Holy Spirit to keep our
hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus until life
everlasting!

Innuendo Everywhere

October 28, 2012

Yesterday I found myself stuck trying to think of a major conservative candidate for Presidency who had made sexual innuendo part of their appeal to voters.  I maintain that it most likely has happened, although no incidents come to mind.

One site apparently has been working to bring an example to mind, though I’m not sure they succeeded.  This article tries to accuse beloved conservative icon Ronald Reagan of employing the same tactics that Obama is being chastised for.  But as (re)reported, it doesn’t make sense, and doesn’t appear to be innuendo, or to have been viewed as such at the time.  
But it was an interesting effort to dig up what I assume exists somewhere at some level.  Unless my cynicism has been misplaced!  Wouldn’t *that* be a nice change of pace!?

Your First Time (Voting)

October 27, 2012

You are probably aware by now of the controversy surrounding a video released in support of President Obama’s re-election campaign.  

Lena Dunham, a rising writer/actress created a short video encouraging young voters to vote for Obama.  Particularly if it is their first time voting.  The language – at least in the early portion of the video – is suggestive.  The double entendre is intended to work whether one is talking about voting – or about your first time having sex.
People are aghast that sexual innuendo is being used to sell politics.  If this is the first time that you think sex is being used to sell politics, gimme a break.  Sex sells everything in our society.  The idea that it isn’t going to be used to sell politics is ridiculous.  Has everyone already forgotten Obama Girl from the 2008 election race?  I don’t mean to be partisan here – I believe that both sides are more than willing to enlist sex appeal to woo voters.  I just can’t think of an example of this from a major Republican political candidate.  I know they must exist though.  Either that or conservatives are just inherently unsexy.
Which is pretty much the kiss of death in our culture.
In a society where adolescence continues to arrive earlier and earlier, how is it we don’t expect sex to sell everything?  We allow our kids to dress in provocative manners, thinking it’s cute.  We let them watch teenage actors, actresses, singers, etc. that are pushing the envelope sexually as they prepare for their post-Disney careers, and our pressure to be sexy continues until very late in life. Is there anything in our culture that sex hasn’t been used to sell?  
I’m not arguing that this is right, only that it is ubiquitous.  If we’re going to take offense at it in the realm of politics, which have effectively been completely separated from the average citizen by an immense layer of specialized language and specialized positions to the point of literally being a separate caste, should we be surprised that in an attempt to connect with the average person, politicians will utilize what they assume we’re all consumed with?  
This isn’t a commentary on Democrats.  Or Republicans.  It’s a commentary on our culture.  The Dunham video will appeal to and sway people who pretty much had no idea what the issues at stake are, or who were already inclined to vote for Obama already (or were so truly, frighteningly undecided that they allow a YouTube clip to make up their minds for them).  Let’s quit taking offense and figure out ways to educate young or impressionable voters.
Or figure out how to make conservatism sexy.  You figure out which is more likely!

Vocational

October 26, 2012

As I talk with colleagues and interact with parishioners, the issue of vocation is constantly on the radar.  Vocation in the narrow sense of how I make a living, but in the broader sense of what is the role I play as part of creation and a child of God?  How am I loving my neighbor as an outgrowth of loving my God?  In an age where we have culturally deconstructed meaning of almost any kind and from any source, how is it that we can continue on without slipping under the dark oily waters of existential nihilism, from which so few return?  

The Biblical idea of vocation is a powerful life vest to keep one’s head afloat as we are cut loose from moorings and anchorings of any kind for the “freedom” of self-discovery.  What I do each day matters.  What I do contributes to the well-being of my neighbors.  It allows them to live each day, provides them with things that they need, services that they benefit from, and therefore is an expression of my love for them.  I needn’t work simply for a paycheck, I work to love my neighbor.
Traditionally it was thought that only those dedicated to the Church were truly living out the Christian life – monks and priests and nuns and such.  Martin Luther & Co. turned that idea around, arguing vigorously that every vocation (that doesn’t violate the natural order created by God) is just as valuable and sometimes more valuable than the role of monk or priest.  As job markets are ravaged and outsourced and more people find it difficult to find work commensurate with their training or experience, we need a way to feel good about who we are and what we do, even when what we do isn’t what we’d prefer to be doing, or what we expected to be doing.
I’ve blogged a lot about vocation over the years – feel free to use the “Advanced Search” option on the right side of this, The World’s Ugliest Blog, to see how many times vocation has come up in conversation here.  More and more folks beyond the Lutheran Pale are beginning to recognize this as well.
This is a beautiful meditation on vocation and the beauty in loving our neighbor in any and all circumstances.  This book looks like it might be an interesting read on the topic (though be careful – some people take the idea of vocation and spiritualize it, ultimately arguing that your work only matters as a means of witnessing the faith to others.  Not sure if that’s the case with this book or not – I haven’t read it).  
So whatever it is that you do today, thank you.  Maybe you’re a home-schooling mother, in which case thank you for raising the next generation of leaders and thinkers and workers who will invigorate our society and (hopefully!) deal gently with old farts like me.  Maybe you’re finding ways of providing nutrition to malnourished folks in a third world country.  In which case thanks for improving the lives of those people and witnessing to a greater and deeper love than the shallow caricatures that so often pass for love.  Maybe you’re slaving away in a cubicle at a computer screen, in which case thank you for helping to ensure that I have water, or that my tax dollars are allocated appropriately in a variety of budgetary bins.  Thanks to those of you who take away my trash every week, who ensure that fresh produce is stocked for us to purchase and eat, who prepare meals or clean the dishes when we go out to eat.  This world is better because of all the good things that people do day in and day out.  Yes, they are paid for this – and it’s only fair that they are!  But hopefully we each see that we are more than the numbers on our paycheck.  We are the way that God the Father continues to care for his rebellious creation.

Surprise & Thanks

October 25, 2012

Just as an update for those of you who have expressed appreciation for this blog – Thank you!  There are an average of 300 unique visits to this blog every day, a number that has increased markedly in the past couple of years.  Continue to share the word if you find it helpful, and continue to provide your comments and feedback to make it even more interesting!

I Want to Do This!

October 25, 2012

Or something like it.  Maybe with more familiar songs/hymns/spirituals.

But the idea of communal singing seems like such a beautiful thing in an age where more and more we are expected to direct our attentions towards a performer, where we are relegated to a de facto back seat of musical participation (culturally, not specifically in the church, though it’s certainly becoming a larger and larger issue there as well).  
I know I’ve asked this before, but is the idea of communal singing dying out?  Is that a topic of concern, or just the passing of a cultural phenomenon (albeit one that has spanned most of human history!).  

Too Much Good Stuff

October 24, 2012

Sometimes – it might be days or even a couple of weeks – I can’t find anything compelling to blog about.  It’s a frustrating situation caused often by my own lack of time and focus, as well as what appears to be a dearth of material that seems interesting and different to talk about.  I could talk about religion and politics point blank all the time, but what fun would that be?

So it’s nice when there is a plethora of material that pops up and catches my eye.  Then I have to struggle to meter it out a bit so I don’t post six times in one day and then nothing for the next week.  The struggles I go through, dear reader, for you.  I am not a perfect blogger, but I strive to improve.
Which is an awkward if dead-on segue to an article I found yesterday at Mockingbird (mbird.com).  This particular article is on the always touchy topic of sanctification.  
The Christian life is traditionally made up of two major elements.  There is justification – the means whereby we are made right with God.  Theologians broadly divide this element into two sub-elements.  Objective justification refers to the moments in space and time where the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, suffers, dies, and is resurrected from the dead.  In these moments, a span of three to four days or so, the sins of humanity are placed upon the Son of God who buries them in the tomb.  In his death, we die.  In his resurrection, we are raised to life.  And this justification is available for everyone (depending on the variation of Christian tradition you subscribe to).  It is never repeated – it is a once for all sort of thing.
Subjective justification refers to the moment in time where the Holy Spirit creates faith in an individual.  The moment when that person is brought to an acceptance of the Gospel.  It might be in the midst of a tent-revival service or sitting alone at home.  It could come quickly and unexpectedly or be the result of a long period of intentional searching and questioning.  Subjective justification is an individual issue, the moment when the blessings achieved in the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of God are received by an individual in faith.
The second major element of the Christian life is that of sanctification.  Once one is made right with God and receives the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit, the process of making that person more Christ-like commences.  This is not simply an issue of becoming a better person, along the lines of any self-improvement program.  Rather, it is the ongoing transformation of heart and mind and actions to be, little by little, more and more Christlike.  Sanctification is an ongoing, perpetual work all of the Christian’s life.  We never are brought to perfection in this life.  But every Christian is to take this process seriously.
Which is what troubled me about the Mockingbird article.  It seems to employ a confusion of sorts, equating the inability of any person to necessarily see sanctification occurring in someone else, with the idea that sanctification isn’t something we can or should take very seriously.  Part of this has to do with the fact that we can’t see other people’s sin, by and large.  We have no idea what they’re dealing with on the inside and in the hidden actions of their lives, therefore identifying the fruits of sanctification becomes an exercise in futility.  Because we all wear masks to disguise the extent of our sinfulness the best we can, we are able to fake sanctification at a certain level.  
The author seems to be working with a different understanding of sanctification than the one I have suggested above.  The author seems to think that sanctification is simply a matter of being good.  As such, we’re all on roughly the same level in terms of sanctification – even those who may not have been justified through faith in Jesus the Messiah.  This seems like a difficult position to maintain Biblically.  
My particular strain of Christianity is accused of downplaying sanctification too much.  Our fear is that sanctification talk can easily be misinterpreted (or misapplied) as justification talk.  It is easy and natural for us to want to equate our good works with pleasing God and earning at one level or another our salvation.  We all like to feel that we’re a little better than most other folks, we’re all inclined to assume God has to grade on a curve and we’re going to be ahead of that curve somewhat.  We fail to take seriously the idea that sin is not what we do it is who we are.  That’s a rather depressing thought, after all!  It’s much nicer to compare myself to Hitler or Charles Manson and begin to feel that I’m not so bad off, after all.
But sanctification matters, and my denomination would be first in line to say so – even if we are reluctant to preach on it.  It matters not because it is a way of pleasing God or making ourselves more deserving of the objective justification we have subjectively been brought into, but because God tells us it matters.  It is expected.  Those in Christ are not free to remain as they were before they came to faith.  
When Paul writes to various churches, it’s clear that they had some major issues going on with some of their members.  Paul’s attitude is never hey that’s human nature and we’re all screwed up so who am I to expect any different from you?  Paul’s attitude is always what the heck are you doing?  Don’t you realize what has happened to you?  You’ve been killed and made alive by baptism through faith in Jesus Christ!  Cut it out!  The expectation is clear and consistent – we aren’t who we used to be.  Real change is not only possible, it is to be expected.  
It is quite likely that for a person who is good by a worldly, ethical standard this process of sanctification may not look like much.  But it is still going on as that person learns more deeply and richly the true source of the ethical behaviors they had been inclined to abide by all along.  Their actions aren’t the only things being transformed, but their hearts and minds as well (Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 4:16, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:10, Titus 3:5, to name a few).  It isn’t just our actions – whether authentic or false – that are being changed.  All of us is being changed.
That sort of transformation should be visible.  The infamous fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 are real.  We should be able to see these emerging in people as they continue in the faith.  We can’t measure them on some sort of spiritual Richter scale, determining that so-and-so doesn’t have enough patience as compared with whatshisname over there.  But we can reasonably expect to see changes.  Growth.  Maturation.  And if we don’t, we can’t just throw our hands up in the air and say “who the hell knows?”.  
Are we going to be aware of the changes in ourselves through sanctification?  Sometimes yes.  Behaviors that we used to engage in we won’t engage in any longer (though this may be a gradual process and not necessarily an overnight change!).  Ways of speaking and thinking, habits, choices of association, priorities – there is no aspect of who we are and what we do that is exempt from the process of sanctification!
On the other hand, some of these changes we may
not be aware of.  We have to be careful, maintaining the tension between not taking sanctification seriously, and attempting to micromanage or micromeasure it (in ourselves as well as other people!).  This is where Christians are prone to failure – we have ideas about how other people ought to be and those ideas generally revolve around what would make that other person easier for me to deal with or be around.  We are tempted to sinfully begin wielding the Biblical admonitions towards sanctification as a Law, rather than as natural (and somewhat unpredictable) outgrowths of faith in Jesus Christ.  When this happens, we need to repent – both to God and to whomever we may have bludgeoned.  
Our reaction shouldn’t be to simply shrug it off.  We have a role to play in sanctification that requires us to take it seriously while also recognizing that we are incapable of these changes in who we are without the power of God the Holy Spirit within us.  That’s a tension that should keep us humble and in prayer as we joyfully look forward and participate in the work of the Holy Spirit that will only be completed in Paradise.  What a wonderful day that will be!