Archive for April, 2013

Boring Tuesday?

April 30, 2013

Heck, no!

Some scientists are challenging the notion that the speed of light is a universal constant.
Some scientists are attempting to create time-exempt ‘crystals’.  
What more could you want from a Tuesday?  
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Reading Update

April 30, 2013

I’m closing in on the end of a C.S. Lewis book on miracles.  It’s a short book, but following the philosophical footsteps requires some re-reading and slow going.  I have to go home and double-check the title, as I’m not sure that this is the same book as the one you can find on Amazon called Miracles.  I suspect that it is, it’s just that the copy I have is probably 50 years old.  

It’s a philosophical defense of miracles.  Are miracles a philosophical possibility, or should we assume that they are impossible based both on philosophy and on our understanding of the natural world?  Lewis is certainly arguing that miracles are a logical possibility, and tries to deal with some of the most obvious arguments against them.  Definitely a good read, and despite the philosophical approach, a fairly accessible read.  Lewis is trying to write for ordinary folks, not academics.
I want to put together a class on Christianity and Ethics, and just received my order from CPH  – Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal.  Hopefully I can get this read pretty quickly to determine if it could form a helpful basis for a discussion of what the Christian faith contributes to ethics as applied to a variety of specific issues.  
What are you reading that you would recommend to others?

We Band of Brothers?

April 29, 2013

Are any of you familiar with the Band of Brothers organization/movement?  They just hit my radar earlier today because my folks’  LCMS congregation is starting a chapter/group/whatever for this.  

I’m naturally skeptical of these sorts of things.  Not that it means that it’s necessarily bad or wrong, just that I don’t tend to get involved in them myself.  From the little I’ve scanned their web site, it seems to be similar in tone to Promise Keepers 15 or more years ago – aimed at men and building discipleship and friendship in more ‘manly’ terms.  
Have any of you run into these folks yet, or participated in any of their stuff?  I’d be curious to get your perspectives.  

What Makes IKEA Look Good?

April 28, 2013

This.

Well deserved applause for innovative thinking aside, this seems like the height (or depth?) of soul-less furnishings.  Is the goal to surround ourselves with furniture that is easy to ship?  
On the plus side, you could heat some meatballs while your furniture is coming to life.  

Great Discussion

April 26, 2013

If you haven’t tuned in, there’s a great ongoing discussion happening in the comments section of my post regarding Luther’s interpretation of the Eighth Commandment.  Thanks to Gary for his thought-provoking responses, and I hope all of you will check them out!  What does it mean to put the best construction on everything, and was Luther even on the right track with his interpretation?

Grace, Suspended

April 25, 2013

But in a good way.  

This is a cute lil’ story from NPR on a practice in European coffee shops.  But don’t let the cuteness throw you.  It’s a beautiful example of grace offered and received, sought and found.  And a reminder to each of us about the simple ways that we can love our neighbor and give thanks for the blessings of God in our lives.  
Even if you don’t drink coffee.

Tolerance?

April 23, 2013

Just a quick reminder of how tolerant we’re all getting these days.  Remember?

We’re so tolerant, that we can force students to engage in same-sex role playing and actual kissing.  Because that’s what tolerant means – suggesting that 13 and 14-year old girls should be asking for kisses.  From other 13-14 year old girls.
And, to further demonstrate the historic wave of tolerance sweeping our land, we have the junior high student suspended for wearing a shirt in support of the NRA.  Because expressing a point of view contrary to the point of view that we’re allowed to tolerate isn’t tolerant.  At all.

Book Review: Immigrants Among Us

April 22, 2013

Book Review: Immigrants Among Us

By: LC-MS Commission on Theology and
Church Relations (CTCR)

Everybody likes simple answers to
complex issues. If our highly polemicized society reinforces one
thing over and over again, it is that the answers we favor are right,
and those who disagree with us are at best misinformed or stupid, but
at worst are evil or fanatical or fundamentalist. When we are
feeling magnanimous we can pity those who disagree with what is
obviously a truly simple and straightforward solution that we can see
clearly. When we are less magnanimous (which is more and more of the
time), those who disagree with us can be tolerated only long enough
to solidify our position before we rout them thoroughly.

But, it may be argued, isn’t a complex
issue made so by the fact that there are no simple answers? That
whatever answers we may find could very well require a bit of this
and a bit of that from both sides? Is there yet room for
intellectual dissent without the character-maligning that more often
than not accompanies it these days? To ironically quote a truly
ironic figure, can’t we all just get along?

Lutheranism has a lot to contribute to
this point of view, though one might not always guess it from the
tone of our internal disagreements. So it is that the Commission on
Theology and Church Relation’s  latest release, Immigrants
Among Us
, (available for free download here:
http://www.lcms.org/ctcr) may
appeal to very few people with strong opinions on this topic, despite
being a desperately needed summons back to our theological roots. If
you want something that demonstrates the ease with which everyone
should agree with your point of view on the topic of immigration
issues, this isn’t going to give it to you. What it will give you
instead (if you allow it to) is a reminder of core aspects of
Lutheran theology such as vocation and Two Kingdoms thinking.

By now there are few areas of the
country where the topic of immigration is viewed as irrelevant. As
such, Lutheran congregations may well find that this topic is a
source of division among members (whether the pastor realizes this or
not). More specifically, there are few congregations that can safely
say that they don’t need to consider the issue of how they interact
with immigrants – whether legal or illegal, documented or
undocumented.

Here the Lutheran teaching on vocation
is helpful. Congregants have many possible vocational roles in
society and in their personal life – spouse, child, sibling,
parent, employer, employee, citizen – the list goes on. How does a
Christian reconcile themselves to immigration issues? How do they
perform their vocations faithfully – and what if two or more
vocational roles seem to be in conflict regarding the issue of
immigration? Is there a way to sort through the confusion personally
and corporately to arrive at a faithful stance?

This document strongly suggests there
should be, but pointedly avoids indicating what that might look like.
After all, congregations and their situations vary considerably.

Or consider Lutheran theology regarding
the Two Kingdoms – the left-hand kingdom of the political world and
the right-hand kingdom of the Church of Christ. How does a Christian
– who resides within these two kingdoms – reach a faithful
response towards immigrants and/or immigration issues? Again, this
pamphlet strongly indicates that this is possible, while also
recognizing that the solution reached in one place or by one person
may look strikingly different from the solution reached elsewhere or
by someone else (even within the same congregation).

This document is helpful not only in
reviewing Lutheran theology, but in calling on Lutherans to
intelligently engage themselves in this complex issue in love and
fellowship with other Lutherans who may reach different conclusions.
It is a reminder that both/and is often times a more Scriptural
response than either/or. It is a reminder that loving our neighbor
means not just caring for the needs of the marginalized among us, but
respecting and loving our brothers and sisters in the faith who
disagree with our particular solution to or stance on immigration
issues.

Particularly helpful in this document
are the case studies included at the end. Eight case studies cover a
variety of different situations in an effort to further stimulate
thinking and practical application of the concepts the document
reviews. Doing so pushes the reader to recognize the complexity of
immigration issues, and hopefully as such drives them towards more
loving attitudes towards those who disagree with them on this topic.

The document does a fairly good job of
maintaining a neutral stance between Scriptural admonitions to love
our neighbor and Romans 13 admonitions to obey our civil authorities.
I detect a preference towards more mercy-oriented responses to our
neighbors, but the document does demonstrate how someone committed to
the letter of the law needs to be taken seriously in discussion
rather than dismissed as somehow unChristian.

Reading Ramblings – April 28, 2013

April 21, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: April 28, 2013,
Fifth Sunday of Easter

Texts:
Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-7; John 13:31-35

Contextual
Notes:
Easter is not just a day, but a liturgical
season, just as Christmas is. The season of Easter lasts 50 days,
until Pentecost Sunday. The Old Testament readings for this season
are replaced with readings from Acts, representing the newness of
God’s work through the Church. The Gospel readings emphasize the
appearances of Jesus following his resurrection.

As we pray for the world around us,
including our enemies, we do so knowing that Jesus has died and risen
for them as well as us. There is no one who remains safe from the
power of the resurrected Jesus, so we have hope that even the hardest
of hearts can change, and that death itself no longer has the power
to imprison us. We are privileged and challenged to bring this
amazing news to anyone and everyone we meet in the hopes that they
may receive the same faith by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Acts 11:1-18: Is the
Good News sufficient to save by itself? Who is to be included in the
perfect sacrifice of Jesus the Son of God and his resurrection from
the dead? This is the major question the early Christians had to
deal with. Starting as a Jewish movement, it is understandable that
many assumed that to have saving faith in Jesus Christ, one also had
to be an observant Jew. This required, among other things, strict
separation from non-Jewish people. From the beginning, the New Testament records that the Holy Spirit of God worked just as powerfully among
non-Jews as Jews. If God will not require people to become Jews
before receiving the Holy Spirit, how long can the distinctive
practices of the Jewish people be seen as binding on those who place
their faith in Jesus Christ?

This division in the early Church was
very real and very strong. People on both sides of the issue argued
persuasively for their point of view. Not until Acts 15 is the issue
resolved, though the repercussions continue to play out for some
time. The work of Jesus Christ is perfect, and nothing needs, can,
or should be added to it. As such, our dedication to the Christian
life is always a response to what God has already done for us in
Jesus Christ, never an attempt to earn God’s favor or love.

Psalm 148: This psalm of
praise calls on all of creation to be united in praise to God. Just
as all people are invited to the forgiveness of God through faith in
Jesus Christ, the victory of Jesus on the cross and in the empty tomb
brings victory to all of creation. Just as all of creation suffers
by the actions of Adam, all of creation will praise God for
deliverance in Jesus Christ.

Revelation 21:1-7:
Though we tend to talk of heaven as our eternal home, Scripture
more often speaks of a new earth, a new creation as our final home.
Just as God and man dwelt in harmony together in Eden, so in this
new earth, God will dwell among his creation once more, and the
blessings of perfect harmony with God will extend to all creation.
The effects of the fall into sin will not exist in this new and
perfect earth.

John 13:31-35:
The central part of this reading draws our attention – the command
to love one another. We are to love one another not as we prefer to
love, or as others would prefer to be loved, but as Christ has loved
us. Love is not an arbitrary action or word, it is grounded
completely in the love that Jesus Christ shows to the world, a love
that is sacrificial not self-serving, a love that is anchored in
obedience to God, not self-centered demands.

While this call is interpreted first and foremost as love for
Christian brothers & sisters, the love extends outwards from
there, as the love is evidence to others of our faith in Jesus
Christ. Love is, moreover, the litmus test by which our faith is
known. Where there is no love for others, there can be no faith. We
cannot claim to love God if we will not love one another.  

As we grow in our faith and our love of our Christian brothers and
sisters, I believe that our faith will grow to include love of those
outside the faith, love even of our enemies. This is the radical
nature of the love Jesus Christ at work in us – we become able to
love those who least warrant it. And this is the way that Christ has
loved us.

Pomp in Circumstance

April 19, 2013

I found this little essay to be thought-provoking this morning.  Judge that as you will.

I totally agree that following your bliss is not really wise advice in a general sense, and that aptitude is no guarantee of propriety or prosperity.  But the argument for virtue in this article is fascinating because it presumes no value to virtue other than what it does for the person practicing it.
Doing something “valuable” is essentially defined as something that makes you feel good.  The thrust of the article might just as well be “do what makes you feel good”, with the corollary that the author believes that acting for the benefit of others is one of potentially many things that can make you feel good.
While there is a small portion of the article that insists that doing something valuable equates to doing something meaningful for the world, there isn’t any time spent on defining what that really means, or why it matters.  The majority of the article stresses that doing so will make you a happier person, and that’s really what matters ultimately.  
I think it’s also interesting that his link to how to find something that is valuable to get involved with isn’t a philosophical exploration of the meaning of value or how someone can determine what is really valuable to someone else, it’s a link to a rating of charities by the New York Times, highlighting the charities they find to be most “proven, cost-effective, underfunded and outstanding.”  
I wonder who made those decisions – and how?