Archive for May, 2014

Art Online

May 23, 2014

If you’re in need of some high-quality, digital, classic art, you might head over here to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and their online collection they have made available.  Fun to browse, or use as teaching resources or whatever!

Wet Bar Wednesday – Slushies!

May 22, 2014

Thanks to my folks for this recipe (hi Mom & Dad!) that would be perfect for a hot summer day.  It’s also a memory jogger for me.  One of my earliest drinking memories (yes, I waited until 21 to drink, with only one or two exceptions, if  memory serves me correctly) was of a slushie similar to the one below which used rum instead of vodka.  My buddy Scott’s parents made up a batch of this from time to time and I always loved it – probably in no small part because the summers were brutally hot and this was deliciously cold!

Lemon Tea Slush
  • 5 cups of water
  • 2 green tea bags
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 12-oz can of frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate (I think you could use any flavor though, so feel free to experiment!)
  • 1 cup of vodka
  • 1 liter bottle of sparkling water
  • Appropriate fruit slices to garnish
Boil the water and steep the two tea bags in it for ten minutes.  Stir in the sugar after removing the tea bags and allow the liquid to cool for 20 minutes or so.
Now mix all of the ingredients together (except the garnishes) in a 3-qt covered container.  Cover and place in the freezer.  The mixture won’t freeze into solid ice because of the alcohol.  If you want to increase the slushie factor, you can stir the mixture with a fork every few hours or so until it has frozen.  Freeze for at least 24 hours.
To serve, scoop 2/3 cup of the slushie mixture into a glass and pour sparkling water over it.  Garnish with fruit as desired.  Frankly, I’d just skip the sparkling water and enjoy the slushie straight, but then again, I’m not very refined.  Enjoy according to your particular level of refinement!

The Church as Citizen/Neighbor

May 21, 2014

I had a meeting a few minutes ago with a woman who lives a mile or so away from our church.  The meeting was cordial and she was very kind, even bringing a gift of honey from her bee hive at home.  It was clear that she had concerns, but she expressed them with consideration and straightforwardness, which I appreciated greatly.

She had some specific concerns about how our church uses our bell carillon.  Some of her concerns were warranted and we’ve already been working on solutions prior to our meeting.  Some of her concerns are new on my radar, but certainly warrant further investigation on my part.  Some of her concerns I have less sympathy for, but am still called to consider because our church is a neighbor, part of the community.
It’s a question I presume churches really haven’t had to think about all that much.  Churches were once anchors of a community, now they have become more often than not accessories, strange baubles perhaps.  The privileges bestowed to churches by dint of their representation of the shared values and beliefs of the community as a whole now are seen as somewhat odd and out of step with our popular cultural notions.  Why is it that churches should be allowed to ring their bells when other institutions in the community – such as a car dealership or a restaurant – aren’t allowed to announce their presence to an entire area through some sort of amplified advertising?  
She wasn’t pushing for the abolition of our bells, but her comments made clear that this was more a concession on her part because she personally enjoyed them to a degree, and hardly an acknowledgement of some sort of privilege we have which is either illegitimate or can/should be taken away.  
I can point to history to make a case for the use of bells.  But I also have to acknowledge that few people care about history these days.  The culture of the past holds little appeal or sway for people of a different culture, and today’s culture is very different than the culture when our most recent location was built 45 years ago.  
If someone were to propose that a mosque could offer the call to prayer each day through an amplified system, I would resist this.  I would resist this on cultural lines.  Islam is an extremely minor part of American culture compared to Christianity.  Even today when more and more people are not identifying with any particular brand of Christianity, they still consider themselves to be basically Christian.  
But beyond that historical argument, it’s difficult to determine why a church should have that privilege and not a mosque.  Or a temple.   Why a church and not a car dealership?  Again, historically and culturally speaking I can make an argument.  Aside from this, I’m harder pressed.  I look forward to some interesting discussions with my church leadership in the coming days on the topic.  I’ll keep you posted.  And I’m certainly open to any insight any of you might want to throw my way!

More Economics

May 21, 2014

Apparently McDonald’s is under attack.

Almost literally.  People are protesting outside their headquarters demanding a raise in the minimum wage.  Actually, not a raise.  A raise is a modest and relatively justifiable increase that ought to help take into account fluctuations in inflation.  That is my definition, and I’m not an economist.  Obviously.
What is being demanded by McDonald’s is that they jump the minimum wage to $15.00/hour.  In some areas, that’s more than a 50% increase.  The goal is to pay a livable wage, whatever that means.  I’ve touched on this topic previously, but this time I read a few additional articles on the topic.
This first article is ironic.  The author supports a higher minimum wage, but not for the same reasons the McDonald’s protesters do.  Rather, the author thinks a higher minimum wage will spur innovation.  Technologies and products that offer cost savings, but not when human labor is comparatively cheap will benefit from higher labor costs.  Of course this means that short-term there will be a benefit to employees in a larger paycheck.  But long term, it will mean fewer of these types of jobs, and more jobs requiring more education or advanced skills.  Which does not describe the situation of most minimum wage workers.
The next article argues against a higher minimum wage because it will result in lower per hour earnings for workers who earn tips, such as bartenders, waiters/waitresses, etc.  Higher labor costs get passed on to consumers in terms of higher costs for goods/services provided.  Consumers may balk at these higher costs, which the vendor can soften by discouraging or eliminating tipping.  The overarching idea is that this particular class of employees will find their net earnings  decreasing rather than increasing.
The final article sounds like it’s going to laud how a city came together to create a $15/hour minimum wage spontaneously.   Instead, it basically describes political blackmail to force labor and business interests to work together to craft a plan for raising the minimum wage to $15/hour or else the mayor would unilaterally decree it.  Hardly an encouraging story, from my perspective.  
By my calculations, $15/hour for a full-time (40 hours a week) employee turns out to be over $30,000 a year.  In some areas of the country that’s certainly a living wage.  In others, it isn’t.  What about those people in areas of the country where this won’t provide a living wage?  How far up do we jack the minimum wage?  Are we stating as a nation that more and more people aren’t getting better jobs, so we need to help feed the growing percentage of minimum wage earners better?  I’m still confused.  Maybe more so.  

Road Trip

May 19, 2014

I may have to see this.  Soon.

If my kids discover this, it might have to be very soon.

Reading Ramblings – May 25, 2014

May 18, 2014
Date:  Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 25, 2014

Texts: Acts 17:16-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21


Context: The readings for today emphasize the spread of the resurrection account beyond Jewish circles.  Paul’s preaching in Athens is the cornerstone, the application of the Spirit of Truth promised in the Gospel reading from John (the Spirit and Truth the world cannot accept).  The psalm points all people to praise God who has rescued his people—from literal slavery in Egypt, and now from literal slavery to sin and death.  Peter’s letter also what Paul demonstrates—we should be ready to give an account for our hope, not fearfully, but in a spirit of joy and expectation.

Acts 17:16-31— Paul speaks to the pagan crowds in Athens.  Here, in the center of Greek philosophy and thought, Paul proclaims a most unlikely message—that a resurrected man is the Son of God who will be the judge of the world.  In the face of logic and reason, Paul offers a simple, personal testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.  This is his  hope, after all.  The hope that the resurrected Jesus promises salvation to those who believe, even as He holds judgment for those who refuse this message.  We cannot only reason with people to share the Gospel—we must actually share the Gospel!  We must proclaim Christ crucified and resurrected and leave the Holy Spirit to do what He will in and through the Word. 

Psalm 66:8-20— Our praise of God is predicated not on what we hope He will do for us, but rather on what He has already done for us.  He has rescued us from the slavery of sin as surely as He rescued his people from physical slavery in Egypt.  Our hope in God is not based on whim or fancy, but on events in human history and experience.  This is the source of our hope –  the empty tomb that we are to proclaim despite how unbelievable it sounds.  This is the source of our joy and worship. 

1 Peter 3:13-22 — Peter continues to speak about the reality of suffering, and the greater reality of our new life in Christ which prompts us and equips us to speak of our hope in Jesus.  Our words are to be gracious and loving, as are our actions and attitudes to those around us. 

This passage concludes with a brief reference to Jesus’ activity prior to his revealed resurrection—that He went to the realm of the dead to proclaim his victory there.  This is the verse which we confess in the Creeds by saying “He descended into hell.” 

John 14:15-21— Love of Jesus is demonstrated in obedience to his directives, just as Jesus was obedient to the directives of God the Father.  While our culture may like to redefine love to suit any number of special interests, Scripture grounds love in obedience to God.  Anything contrary to God’s will cannot be love, regardless of how we might intend it to be such. 

We need help to maintain this truth though, and so Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to his disciples.  The Holy Spirit provides us with strength and wisdom (after bringing us faith itself!) so that we might bear witness to the Truth in our world, even as our world will resist and reject that Truth. 

We take comfort in the fact that God is very much with us—God the Father who sustains us through His creation, God the Son who intercedes for us before the Father, and God the Holy Spirit within us, guiding, encouraging, strengthening, enlightening.  We are never alone.  Our suffering is never beyond the notice or concern of our God.  Our joy is heightened knowing that our joy is grounded in forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. 

All of which finds practical expression in obedience.  We are not to give ourselves over to behavior contrary to the will of God.  How could we desert the will of the God who has saved us?  How could we ever claim his will to be bad or in error?  We may not always like obedience, but that is because we prize our momentary pleasure above the true joy found in obedience. 

We obey out of love and gratitude, because we confess that obedience is the best and right thing.  Obedience does not earn us God’s greater favor or love, He has given us his love completely through his Son.  More importantly, obedience (or disobedience) is not always the best barometer of our spiritual health.  Someone who does not seem to sin—at least in public and obvious ways—is not necessarily stronger in their faith than the one who struggles and fails over and over again.   God knows our heart, and it is in the heart where the battle of obedience is primarily waged, where the Holy Spirit battles against the remnants of our sinful flesh and habits. 


On the Razor’s Edge

May 18, 2014

I am a fan of technology and science and the many benefits they provide us.  That being said, I’m also highly skeptical of advances in these arenas and more importantly, how those advances will be put to use.  What is heralded – and perhaps rightly so – as a great scientific achievement full of promise for humanity has all too often been manipulated by those who hold the purse strings to create harm equal to or greater than the benefit originally envisioned.

So I read articles like this with a healthy dose of distrust as well as fascination.  
Without a doubt, discoveries like this might greatly benefit traumatized people, and for that I’m glad.  But I wonder what misuses this ability will be put to.  Memory may be fickle and imprecise, but it is also part of who we are as individuals.  I hate to think of the applications such findings could be put to someday.  
But as near as I can tell, there’s no way to divorce the risks from the benefits of scientific advancement.  So I’ll continue to give thanks for all we’ve learned and the many ways it benefits my life, as I continue to fully expect that our ignorance is deep and unknown.  Many alleged benefits and safe practices today I fully expect to be shown in future years to be deeply harmful.  This is the trade-off.  
And it’s another good reason why my hope is not ultimately in genomic sequencing or any of the other myriad research going on right this second.  My hope must remain in something greater, and it does.
He Is risen!  He Is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

It’s Still Easter

May 16, 2014

And it will remain the liturgical season of Easter for another three weeks.

Another three weeks to talk about the meaning of the resurrection for you and I still today.  Talking with other pastors, we will sometimes admit that this can get tiresome.  We feel like we’re preaching the exact same sermon week after week.  
We are.  Hopefully in different words and nuances, but the same sermon every Sunday.  We cannot separate our faith from the resurrection.  We cannot be content to preach morally or ethically.  Morals and ethics transcend the Christian faith, woven as they are into the fabric of creation.  We must preach the resurrection.  Over and over and over again, until just maybe, we are confronted by the sheer audacity of it all.  Where we struggle to make sense of the bizarre notion that the eternal Son of God became one of us, and allowed himself to suffer and die for us.  And that He was raised from the dead as proof to us of the truth of these things, and that this truth has stood for 2000 years.  
We must be confronted with the sheer shock of this message over and over and over again, or else it slips into the background and eventually out of mind all together.
It is still Easter, and by the grace of God it will be Easter for the rest of eternity.  

Book Review: Commplaces

May 16, 2014

Commplaces: Loci Communes 1521

Philip Melanchthon, translated by Christian Preus
Concordia Publishing House 2014
We have experts all around us on all matter of things, and the Church is no exception.  I can’t count how many times a colleague or friend approaches me with “Have you read the new book by…?”  Publishing a book these days seems easier than ever.  Yet as breathlessly as people often gush over the latest evangelism how-to book or the latest primer on how to live an outrageous, on-the-edge Christian life, those books are practically forgotten in no time.  Saying something that stands the test of time is a lot harder than just saying something.
So it is that, literally on a whim, I ordered this book after seeing a short review of it somewhere.  The appeals were several-fold.  I haven’t read any of Melancthon’s work in its entirety, despite his role as a major intellectual asset in the early years of the Reformation.  I liked the idea of reading someone who has stood the test of time instead of whoever happens to be on the Top 10 of Christian books today.
I am pleasantly surprised.
First off, the translation here is excellent.  While I can’t vouch for the technical accuracy, the effectiveness of the translation is fantastic.  You will easily forget that you are reading a book that is nearly 500 years old.  The language is fresh and very accessible.  
This is a book of systematic theology.  It is concerned with presenting the “chief topics of Christian doctrine” (p.20).  Melancthon has a large ax to grind with the prevailing intellectual assumptions of his day in Roman Catholic circles, namely Scholasticism.  For three hundred years, Christian doctrine had been regulated less by obedience to the Bible than by processing through logic and philosophy.  This resulted in doctrines that made sense from a certain point of view, but were Biblically untenable.  In blunt terms, Melancthon seeks to dismantle this tradition, returning Christians everywhere to the Bible as the source and norm of their faith, and encouraging them to read the Word of God for themselves for instruction.  
As such, he treats the topics herein in what he considers to be a brief manner.  His goal is not an exhaustive presentation but rather a summary that highlights what he perceives to be common errors in treating the various doctrinal topics from a Scholastic point of view, and an emphasis on the Biblical text itself.  Topics include Sin, the Law, the Gospel, Grace, Justification, the role of the Law in the Old and New Testaments, Signs, Love, Magistrates, and Scandal.  As such, the doctrines presented here span from issues relating to faith and salvation to issues related to sanctification and the Christian life.
As such, this is an excellent historical primer on the Christian life.  What matters?  What is to be our mindset as followers of Christ in the world?  Where do we draw comfort and reassurance in the midst of suffering and sin?  At just under 200 pages, this is an excellent introduction to systematic theology that is also a practical exposition of Biblical Christianity from the Lutheran perspective.  It could also be a useful quick reference.  
I enjoyed reading this a great deal.  I hope you do as well.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Regrets

May 15, 2014

I’m not sure to be relieved or disappointed.  I don’t appear to be drinking enough.  At least not enough (or not in time) to regularly pour an ingredient on Wednesdays.  I’ll try to work on that in a responsible manner.  

In the meantime, what are some of your favorite drinks that you’d like to share?