Archive for November, 2017

Sin and Sexuality

November 30, 2017

It’s on most everyone’s minds, whether they say it or not.  The recent spate of high-profile offenders only makes the topic both less accessible and more salacious.  We don’t talk about us, but we talk about it, and we talk about others.  I would argue this is the nature of most sexual thought and conversation that goes on in people’s heads and hearts as well as in rare exchanges with people they can be honest with.  We are forever removing ourselves directly from the conversation to project outwards.  This essay does some good work in talking about this from a male perspective.

Of course it’s a misleading essay as well, and certainly a misleading title.  As though only men are brutal or capable of brutality – sexually or otherwise!  It lacks the raw honesty of the Biblical take on the topic of human sexuality as well as sin, a take that understands that both men and women have issues in their sexuality and otherwise.  It might easily be argued that these issues are some of the deepest and most pertinent to who we are as people day in and day out.  I can’t imagine it’s for nothing that the first things we’re told about Adam and Eve after falling into sin by eating the forbidden fruit is they recognize their nakedness and cover it.  It isn’t just woman who recognizes the dangerous vulnerability in her sexuality, but man as well.  Both know they aren’t safe any longer.  It isn’t safe because of the opposite sex (or homosexual variations), and it isn’t safe because of ourselves.

A few comments on the essay.  The first paragraph is misleading and inaccurate.  Marche asserts that what a man says and believes have no bearing on their behavior.  I think this is patently untrue and a straw-man whitewashing of the issue for simplicity’s sake.  The reality is far more complicated.  What a man (or woman) believes, and therefore what he (or she) says, has a great deal of relationship and correlation to how he (or she) acts.  But it isn’t air-tight.  It isn’t bulletproof.  It isn’t perfect.  It’s marred by sin.  By a fundamental disjunction in the individual that makes the perfect  alignment of belief and practice at all times and in all circumstances impossible.  I believe that some of these men believe very strongly and practice very faithfully acceptable ideas about the relationship of men to women.  But I also know that in any particular moment, or even potentially multiple particular moments, their beliefs have not been enough to alter their actions, their words, and their needs or desires.  Sin crouches at each one of our doors, and its desire to have control over us, to eat us alive now and eternally is insatiable.  The life of faith is keeping that sin at bay as best as possible.  But such efforts are inevitably imperfect and flawed.  We all fail in one way or another, at one time or another.  Sexual sin may be the  bête noir of the moment (but hasn’t it always been?) but it is not fundamentally different from any sin in this respect.

Granted – I believe some of the accused are serial perpetrators, actual predators who may say things that people expect them to say but don’t really believe them and had no intention of living them out.  These are the folks who duly deserve to be held accountable in the fullest sense.   I believe others are guilty of actual sin that is not serial in nature.  Their failures are lapses in otherwise good belief and behavior.  They have fallen prey to sin in their hearts and minds, but this is Biblically a different situation than assenting to, endorsing, or validating their sin.  Some of these folks may have sinned in spite of themselves.  And as sin almost always does, this causes harm not just to themselves but to others, and ultimately and always is first and foremost an offense against God.  Should they be censured for these failures?  Certainly.  Should they be destroyed for them?  That’s a question that isn’t going to get much traction in the witch-hunt atmosphere currently gripping our culture.  If we’re going to talk about power imbalances, we should certainly note the huge one right now, where any allegation or accusation can instantly cause irreparable damage, even before it’s substantiated.  In the public court of Twitter, there is no legal principle of innocent before proven guilty.

But to simply say that men (and by implication only men) are incapable of ever being trusted in what they say or profess, and are always and only actively looking for ways to act contrary to their professions is dishonest and inaccurate to any sense of observable reality internally or externally.  Would the author characterize himself this way?  Then why should I bother even reading what he has to say?

The second place I disagree with Marche is in his  second paragraph, where he asserts that the men in question have nothing in common except their sexual misdeeds.  This is not true.  The men in question all share power.  They are all men in position of influence and control of one sort or another.  In other words, they are all men who in addition to the temptation to sexual sin have perhaps a greater opportunity to indulge it.  Impropriety can happen in a great variety of situations but it more naturally lends itself to power imbalance, as Marche rightly understands.  Unfortunately, Marche later in his essay makes the assertion that the nature of sex itself is power or a struggle for power, something inherently unBiblical.  Sexuality is intended not as a power struggle but as the very opposite, the most intimate act of vulnerability.  But of course such vulnerability is only appropriate in a mutually vulnerable situation, which is what Scripture describes in marriage.  Sin changes the dynamic, of course, so that Adam and Eve sense the danger right away, and we continue to live with it today.  But to make our sexuality into something inherently evil, as some feminists including the one Marche quotes do is to overstep the Biblical description.  Sexuality was created good!.  But it must be guarded now because there are sinful instincts to indulge it outside of the proper relationship.  Outside of marriage it is destructive to the individual, the other person involved, and society at nearly every level.  In the midst of sin we have to be careful with the good gifts of God.  We need to cover ourselves.

This is what we’re seeing.  For over 50 years elements in our culture advocated with increasing persuasiveness and influence that sexuality should be unburdened from the Biblical restraints placed upon it.  They have argued that sexuality should be freely enjoyed by practically anyone (including those who argue for decriminalizing sex with children and the ongoing sexualization of young adolescents in advertising), with practically anyone (including people of any gender and regardless of marital status), practically anytime (thanks to tax-payer funded contraception).  Sex is to be freed of any inhibitions and everyone should enjoy themselves without the worry of complications (the celebration of divorce as an option along with the government-enforced option of killing any unplanned on and unwanted children that might result).  Discarding Biblical notions of sexual propriety and protection (only between a man and a woman who have publicly committed themselves to each other for life in marriage), we’ve been told and shown that sex is easy and fun and simple and everyone should be doing it.

Is it any wonder that we have people who abuse that philosophy – or more accurately, take it to logical conclusions?  And instead of being celebrated as ideological idols they are crucified.  Careers are disparaged and destroyed.  Art and other creative works are immediately jettisoned and rejected.  As though everything a person was and did was bound up specifically with their sexual behavior.

Marche asks the critical question near the end of his essay – How can healthy sexuality ever occur in conditions where men and women are not equal?    The Bible has already provided an answer – put sexuality back where it belongs between two people who are equalized in the relationship of marriage.  Admit that the hyper-sexualized culture we’ve created – where everyone  and anyone is a sexual possibility – is unhealthy and dangerous to everyone, and teach people once again about respect and self-control rather than damage control and spin.  Preventing the abuses that are coming to light, whether predatory and ideological in nature or slips of otherwise good people requires an entire culture grounded in terms of the power, the danger, and the beauty of sexuality.  Such steps will not eliminate all abuse, but they will move towards minimizing it.

Towards this end it isn’t just men who need to examine their masculinity, but women who need to examine their femininity.  And more accurately, both need to examine the reality that there is always a break, a gap, sometimes a chasm between who they claim to be and truly to want to be, and who their thoughts and words and occasional actions show them to be.  There is always a difference between the ideal and the reality.

Modern society has no answer to that gap other than to deny it and excoriate anyone it catches publicly in that gap as some sort of misfit.  But the reality is that every one of us has that gap.  Denying it only exacerbates the problem, and modern philosophy and culture has no answer either for why it is there or what to do about it.  Both are convinced that it can be eradicated through proper breeding and education and controls, which explains the massive shock and indignation in discovering that decades of abortions, contraceptives, educational indoctrination, government dictates and other controls have not eradicated the gap at all.  Thus the shock to find out that people – even people we think are good – fail.  There is no mercy in this system of philosophy and culture.  No forgiveness.  So ultimately everyone dies because everyone fails – some are just better at covering it up than others, or some sin in ways that are more socially permissible than others.

Only the Bible gives an actual explanation for the gap, and offers a solution to the gap both here and now and in the long-term, eternal sense.  Only Christianity acknowledges that we cannot fix the gap on our own no matter how badly we want to.  It has to be closed for us, fixed for us  While that isn’t going to happen this side of eternity, we do have real reason and hope in fighting against our sinfulness, in little by little closing that gap a bit.  Not simply by our own force of will or through fear of societal punishments, but by the very power of God who created us and saved us, living within us and working with us and for us, leading us in the life-long process of battling against sin towards a day when we no longer have to because it will no longer be there within us.

Names will continue to be revealed and heads will continue to roll.  But until we acknowledge the abject failure of the sexual philosophy of the past 50 years, we aren’t going to make any progress towards positive change.  It’s only going to get worse.


Suspecting the Past

November 29, 2017

Five years ago I returned from a ten-day tour of some of the major holy sites in Israel.  I was blessed to accompany members of my congregation and other folks in a small group (less than 20 of us!) as we visited Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, and of course, Jerusalem.

I think I’m still in a state of overload from that trip, which seems as much dream as reality.  But I know that while I was there, there were times when my cynical and skeptical nature was in full gear.  After all, in a city like Jerusalem, that has traded hands multiple times and been knocked down and rebuilt in major sections, how confident could I be, should I be, that the places presented to us as associated with the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth actually were those places?

I find it frustrating and ironic in myself that as someone who teaches and preaches the imminent reality of the Biblical witness and the Christian faith, and who insists on grounding what we do and say in the literal and physical birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the incarnate Son of Man, who regularly insists on the uniqueness of the Biblical witness and Christian faith in this regard compared to literally any other religion  – that we are grounded in historical and geographical reality – should waver in trusting 1700+ years of tradition associated with the sites of Jesus’ life and ministry.

In part, it’s because I suspect I suffer from an affliction common in our day and perhaps always – the affliction that presumes that right now, this generation (and those that come after) is the apex of human reliability and accuracy.  Everyone and everything before us is suspect to varying degrees, whether it’s my parents or the ancient Church.  Part of this is bound up in the post-modern suspicion of anything beyond personal experience and knowledge (which, frankly, is pretty much everything).  I hold belief in suspension at times because I can’t personally prove it to myself (as though I really had the inclination and motivation and time to personally validate everything).

So just because the site of the Holy Sepulchre has been venerated for 1700+ years, how can I trust all those people?  All those generations without iPhones or televisions or Wikipedia or National Geographic?  Should I trust that nearly two millenia of people got something right and kept it right when I’m not terribly concerned with remembering what I had for lunch yesterday?

In the end, I made a peace with it.  The events of Jesus’ life happened somewhere.  Any objective historian would say we have more than enough evidence of his life to  validate this claim.  If this isn’t the particular upper room then, what matters of it because there was an upper room?  And if this isn’t actually the site of Jesus’ tomb, it was a real tomb somewhere.

But perhaps I need to take the claims of history more seriously, particularly in regard to a singularly important individual like Jesus.  The guy who came back from the dead made a really big impression on a lot of people.  Should I think that they never brought people to the actual tomb to show them?  To describe what they saw there that morning, or didn’t see?  Should I expect that people who were willing to suffer dismemberment and death rather than reject the assertion that Jesus is divine and alive from the dead would be so careless as to forget where his tomb was and make some effort to mark it for future generations?

It doesn’t surprise me, then, that archaeologists and historians are declaring what people have been saying for 1700 years – there is good evidence that what sits at the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is indeed a tomb structure that dates back at the very least to the early fourth century (when the church is rumored to have first been built, under the direction of Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena).  It doesn’t surprise me that being skeptical is no indication of actual truth, and I’m happy to have my skepticism not only proved wrong by mankind over and over again, but forgiven by the Savior who rose from that tomb to save me from my cynical skepticism.


Movie Review – Coco

November 28, 2017

With an opening weekend topping $70 million dollars, Pixar/Disney’s newest release, Coco, is already an impressive hit.  And not unrightfully so.  It’s pleasing to the eyes and the ears and has an innovative and compelling storyline.  I’ll try not to let any serious spoilers slip here, but I do want to talk a little bit about the philosophy and theology of the movie.

As with other Pixar movies, this one also has a short featurette,  a clearly Disney called Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a take-off involving the characters of Frozen.  This was a terrible, terrible short.  Pixar shorts are clever and every bit as awe-inspiring as their movies.  But the Olaf short ruined a cute character and abused us with a barrage of songs as though hoping to snag another chart topper.

More than this though, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was deeply offensive theologically.  As Olaf peruses a variety of seasonal traditions, we are treated to aspects of Christmas that are culturally familiar – fruit cakes, hot cocoa, garlands, etc.  All well and good.  However there is pointedly no mention made of actual Christmas or Christian traditions.  A (presumably) Hebrew family is shown playing with a dreidel, but the closest link to actual Christmas would be the Christmas tree, which is the one tradition that Olaf disparages.  Any and every other tradition is just fine, thank you very much.

If they had avoided any religious connotation it would have been bad enough, but it wouldn’t have been offensive.  But to pointedly exclude the entire reason for Christmas as being a holiday while acknowledging another religious holiday in the same timeframe is just plain rude.  But it shows where we’re at as a culture.  Nobody would dare mock the dreidel, but it’s OK to make fun of Christmas trees because that’s generally associated with a Christian holiday.

The overarching theme both in this short as well as in Coco is the importance of family.  But both films do the same thing – they emphasize the importance of family as a means of compensating for any other lasting hope.  Family is the paramount thing, and of course family is very important – ironic that a culture that has and continues to devastate the family likes to romanticize it.

The problem is that it romanticizes family as everything.  Which is wonderful if you have family.  But obviously, devastating if you don’t.  I can imagine how devastating this movie will be for kids (of all ages) who don’t have families, or who are struggling with bad family dynamics, divorce, separation, etc.  I can also see the immense guilt that this movie could place even on children (of all ages) with good families.   After all, you could bear responsibility for the continued existence of your family members in the afterlife!

Coco never mentions God or anything religious.  No mention of heaven or hell.  No prayers are offered.  The dead are petitioned, and depicted as having the power to grant certain things through their blessings, but they seem to be the only entities capable of doing so.  Animals seem to inhabit a separate spiritual reality, being independent of the familial memories that form the basis of human afterlife existence (at least for a while).

As I said, Coco  is very entertaining.  While I don’t think it personally matches up to earlier Pixar films, it’s a respectable member of the Pixar family (hehe).  We had a good family conversation over dinner afterwards, identifying some of the key aspects of the film (family is the most important thing, etc.), as well as fleshing out some of the theological ideas that were mish-mashed together.  I’d argue that if you have very sensitive children you might need to be prepared to comfort them if they get worried about forgetting family members.  But otherwise enjoy the film as a good opportunity to talk about what (and who) our hope is, and how family interplays with that hope.




November 27, 2017

I gotta admit, this is a clever, 1-minute film!



YFA – November 26, 2017

November 26, 2017

A colleague and classmate of mine serving a parish in Nebraska shared a devotional aid several months ago that he developed for his congregation.  It provides a daily suggestion for personal study and devotion time based on the Sunday readings, hymns, and Luther’s Small Catechism.  He calls it Your Family Altar.   I stole the format and began putting together my own content for it, and I’ve decided to start posting those here in case they’re helpful to anyone.  The intent, again, is to encourage parishioners to get into the Word throughout the week by directing their attention to the Scripture selections for the coming Sunday, similar to my Reading Ramblings.  By also referencing the Small Catechism as well as hymns (chosen from the Lutheran Service Book),  I hope to provide folks with a way to see the unity in each worship service and reflect on the readings prior to hearing me preach on them.

A few notes.

First off, there’s an excellent, free, web-based version of Luther’s Small Catechism (and other of his key writings) here.   I like encouraging people to make use of this great tool for studying the elements of the life of faith that impact us day to day.  How should I pray?  Why bother going to Church?  How should I live my life?  These are tangible questions with Scriptural answers, and Luther’s ground-breaking Catechism is a bite-sized means of digging into those answers.

Secondly, I have to admit that his title for the tool (Your Family Altar) threw me a bit.  It seems so un-Christian at first, like a Buddhist shrine in a family home.  But over time the language has grown on me.  After all, the home is to be a place of worship no less than the Church, and in some respects far more so, since much more of our life takes place in our home than on church grounds.  I like also that it encourages families to be proactive in their life of faith.  It is the family unit that is charged with passing on the faith, with the Church as support for this process.  I think the centralization and compartmentalization of the life of faith in terms of what happens in worship or at Church is problematic, to say the least, and whatever encourages families to take a proactive role in the life of faith is good.

Thirdly, I want to ask questions that help people probe and consider Scripture not just academically but personally as well.  How do the words in Scripture describe or assist me in my life today?  I want people to explore and search on their own and, if they come up blank, we can talk about it on Sunday in Bible study.  I much prefer trying to push people to sharpen their theological skills than tread water at a basic Sunday School level.

Fourthly, I like that it encourages families to be specific in their life of prayer.  It’s so easy to say we’ll pray for someone and then neglect actually doing it, or neglect doing it repeatedly.  Visualizing who we’re praying for is a great way to keep us on target with our prayers.

Fifthly, our congregation generally follows the three-year Revised Common Lectionary, LC-MS edition.  That means that we are starting the Year-B cycle on 12/3, which highlights the Gospel of Mark throughout the rest of the liturgical year.  I sometimes depart from the assigned readings during Ordinary Time (between Pentecost and Advent), but I’ll note when I’m doing that.

Finally, there is a rich treasury of theology expressed in hymns.  By taking time to actually think about what we’re singing, our faith is strengthened and nurtured.  Music is a great memory-aid and provides a ready means of recalling words and the ideas they summarize.  I’ve had multiple parishioners – just in the past few weeks – share how deeply they were calmed and strengthened in very difficult times because the words and tune of a hymn were brought to mind when they needed it most, and they clung to that hymn as an anchor in the storm.  If you don’t have access to the LSB, you can find the lyrics to most of these hymns online at several very good sources such as this or this.

Suggestions?  I know the format doesn’t translate as nicely here, so I’ll see if I can clean it up a bit.  Again, the idea isn’t my one – thanks to Michael for that! – but the content is mine (for better or worse).  I pray it might be a useful tool for you and your family each week.

Your Family Altar

A Weekly Devotional Resource

The Week Starting November 26, 2017

Sunday: Reflect Upon Today’s Sermon & Service

Monday: First Reading – Isaiah 64:1-9

  • What Biblical event is v.3 referring to?

  • What is an example of v.4 in your life?

Tuesday: Epistle – 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

  • Who is the cause and source of God’s grace to us (v.4)?

  • Who do we rely on to fulfill the promise of Christ’s return (v.9)?

Wednesday: Gospel – Mark 13:24-37

  • Is Christ’s return imminent, based on your observations (vs.28-29)?

  • How will you prepare your heart this day for Christ’s return?

Thursday: Psalm Psalm 80:1-7

  • Who are Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh (v.2)?

  • What do you look forward to about our Lord’s return?

Friday: Small Catechism – Luther’s Preface 

    • What is the misery that Luther discovered in his travels?

    • What are Luther’s four recommended ways to teach the faith?

Saturday: (LSB #332) Savior of the Nations, Come

  • How do stanzas one and four make this an Advent hymn?

  • What has Christ accomplished, and what remains to be done (ST4)?

Our Family’s Prayers This Week Include:



Reading Ramblings – December 3, 2017

November 26, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Advent ~ December 3, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Context: Happy new liturgical year! We begin our journey as we ended it – in anticipation. Christ the King Sunday leaves us waiting for the return of the one and only good and rightful king and Advent strengthens that hope and anticipation as we remember that this good and rightful king has already come once. We hope for something that has precedent. We can trust the good promises of God the Father in this respect because He has already partially fulfilled them. Advent then overlaps the final Sundays of the previous Church year, continuing an initial focus on the Second Coming of Christ that gradually gives way to a focus on remembering his first arrival. We await in a posture not only of anticipation but repentance, knowing that the Day of the Lord will be one of judgment, and trusting that our position before the holy and righteous Judge is dependent entirely on our relationship to his Son who died and rose again to forgive our sins. Advent therefore has both joyous and penitential overtones and should serve as a guard against the overly sanitized and sentimentalized Christmas that has taken over cultural (and commercial) observances of Christmas.

Isaiah 64:1-9 – We anticipate the return of our Lord for his final judgment and condemnation of evil. We might think of it primarily in terms of the joy that we will share in or the loved ones we will be reunited with, but such things are only possible after judgment, after evil has been fully exposed for what it is and dealt with in God’s righteous judgment. Of course, as we contemplate this the honest person will recognize that certainly the evil within them should not escape God’s righteous judgment. Each has sinned and gone astray and no one can rightfully claim to stand pure and perfect before the righteous judge who knows every thought and feeling as well as every word and deed. This should lead the honest person into a quandry – on what basis can they hope to stand before God’s judgment? On what basis should they receive his benevolence while He punishes others? Isaiah’s prayer for God’s coming quickly transitions into a doubtful lament and acknowledgment of the sinfulness of God’s chosen people. Advent begins here – looking into our hearts and not sentimentalizing or whitewashing, but taking honest stock and inventory that should lead us to heartfelt confession and thanksgiving that our salvation is dependent not on our own hearts but wholly and completely on the work of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Psalm 80:1-7 – The psalmist has similar themes here to Isaiah. A strong desire for the Lord’s righteous salvation, and a more expressed trust that even his sinful people may be saved (v.3). The psalmist acknowledges that the suffering of God’s people is under the power and dominion of God. He allows – or even causes – their suffering, such that the casual outside observer must surely find them masochistic fools to love and worship such a God! But the hope of God’s people has always been restoration. They have always looked forward to God’s work on their behalf, and so we do as well. Yes, we suffer now, and that suffering is a direct result of our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others. It is just such sinfulness that God comes to judge, and our hope and trust is that as his people, we will receive his mercy because of his forgiveness we receive through faith and trust in the work of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – Paul begins with a blessing to the church in Corinth – praying upon them the grace and peace of God. Grace that declares them forgiven not on the basis of their own righteousness but on the righteousness of Christ alone, and peace that should calm their uncertain hearts as they struggle to live out this forgiveness in faithfulness. Grace can be terrifying because it sets us free, therefore the peace of God is necessary to steady us that we might daily seek to love our neighbor and our God to the best of our ability. Paul is clear – God’s grace comes only and completely through Jesus Christ. It isn’t something the Corinthians have to manufacture for themselves. It isn’t an emotion or a state of mind. It is an objective reality made possible only and completely through the death and resurrection of the Son of God. Is this where the Corinthians place their faith and trust? Well and good, then! They have the grace of God! A grace not limited to an intangible forgiveness but which extends into every aspect of their lives, altering their way of thinking and speaking and bringing the Holy Spirit which provides the Corinthians with every gift they need as they await Jesus’ return. They may be suffering now, and Paul will deal with the suffering of sinful division within their ranks throughout this letter. But they should never mistake their suffering and division for a lack of grace from God. God is faithful. And God will show them through Paul how to better be faithful in response.

Mark 13:24-37 – We begin and end this liturgical year (Revised Common Lectionary Cycle B, with LC-MS tweaks along the way) with Mark’s capturing of Jesus’ teachings towards the end of his ministry regarding the end times, as taught and preached by Peter. Having taught about the destruction of Jerusalem in previous verses, Jesus turns his thoughts towards the second coming, after that tribulation (the destruction of Jerusalem) (v.24). There will be amazing signs in the heavens that will occur in conjunction with Christ’s return. Nobody will know exactly when that will happen, and therefore the emphasis is on preparation and readiness. God’s people are to live in continual preparation and anticipation for their Lord’s return. This does not mean we withdraw from the world to live in the wilderness, or that we take no thought for the needs of ourselves and others around us for today or tomorrow. Rather it means that as we fulfill our vocations in the world, we do so with one eye heavenwards. We remember that we go to work not simply to earn a paycheck and pay for home and food but as a means of loving our neighbor in a tangible way, which is a form of preparation and anticipation and obedience for our Lord’s return. We marry and raise families not simply for our own personal pleasure and edification but as a means of loving our neighbor in anticipation of Christ’s return.

The posture of anticipation and repentance should lead us to be humble as we deal with one another, always seeking to live out the peace of God tangibly in our relationships. Our lives are to serve as imperfect reflections of the love we have received in Christ, bearing witness to those around us of what our true hope is – our Lord’s return. Advent is not just a short season at the start of the liturgical church year, it is who we are – Advent people. People actively waiting for their Lord’s return. Praying for his return, praying for one another, and giving thanks to God for his blessings which we in turn pour out into the lives of people around us.

Subject Thanksgiving Object

November 23, 2017

Grammatically, this makes sense.  But it’s easily reduced to simply subject thanksgiving, or more colloquially, subject give thanks.

This is the essence of Thanksgiving.  You or I giving thanks to someone.  It’s personal, you know.  I don’t thank the traffic light for changing color.  I don’t thank the computer for powering on.  We may do this inadvertently sometimes – thanking an object rather than a person – but we tend to catch ourselves a bit sheepishly, or at least realize that what we just did makes absolutely zero sense.  We don’t thank things, we thank persons.  We are grateful for some level of will or intentionality which require a personal source.

People like to short-cut this these days.  They give thanks to the universe.  But the universe is impersonal.  The universe is a thing, not a person.  To make the universe into a person would create an entity that bears a passing resemblance to God, and God is generally the one person someone thanking the universe is pointedly trying to ignore or deny.  Either the universe is impersonal and therefore a completely inappropriate object for our gratitude, or the universe is personal and now we have a higher entity on our hands which might possibly entail divinity.

Thanks requires someone capable of recognizing what they have received and acknowledging the person who gave it to them.  We might short-cut this by thanking our parents for everything, since without them we wouldn’t be here.  But they aren’t really a final source.  They’re an intermediate source of our blessings.  They didn’t give us everything, and more importantly, they received from their parents, who in turn received fro their parents, and so on and so on.  We live in a causal universe.  Everything and everyone we see is in a cause and effect relationship with what comes after and before.  In a technical sense, thanks can never stop with any one person in the universe but at some level must involve literally millions or billions of other people around and before them, each of which is also inadequate on their own to receive our thanks.

Philosophers and rational folks of varying other vocations and hobbies tend to agree that there has to be a starting point for this causal universe we find ourselves in.  It makes no sense to assume that there is a never-ending cause and effect relationship that extends out infinitely in both directions.   The Big Bang (or God’s creation of the universe) are both explanations for the fact that our universe – as close as our observations (and God’s revelation) can tell us – has a definite beginning.  Some would argue that this is merely the latest in an endless cycle of universal explosions and contractions, but it begs the question of where it all began.  Something had to start the cycle, right?  In other words, why this, rather than nothing?

For the Christian, Thanksgiving may start with the immediate things and persons around us, but always and ultimately leads back to the source of all things and all persons, God himself.  God is personal.  God acts with will and intentionality and thus is an appropriate object of our Thanksgiving.  He receives it.  It is appropriate to offer it.

It acknowledges that the in the ultimate analysis, God is the primal subject, and we are his objects.  He bestows us with existence and provides the materials both animate and inanimate necessary to our life.  We as subjects give thanks to God as the object because we are in reality the objects designed to give thanks and praise to God the one and only eternal – and personal – subject.

I’d argue that in the fullest and most consistent sense of the word, only theists can give thanks fully and rightfully because there is a personal object to direct the thanks to who is also the subject by which we are made capable of giving thanks.  This isn’t possible – in the fullest sense of the word – for a non-theist.  At best, they can be happy or relieved that they happen to be here, but there is no personal source of that momentary reality to give thanks to in an ultimate sense.  And for those who believe in some sort of impersonal source of reality (Buddhists, Hindus, etc.) there is no point in giving thanks either.  Either you view existence as a big mistake in the first place, which hardly seems reasonable to give thanks for no matter how nice your life looks to someone else, or you, like the non-theist, can be thankful for an arbitrary set of circumstances in your existence that had no prior intention or active causation.

Thanksgiving is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition and understanding of reality and God.  We can give thanks in the fullest and most complete sense, and therefore in the most proper and reasonable way.  We give thanks to the Creator of the Universe, the author of our existence, and the one who has promised to us life in and with Him in a personal way.  We aren’t simply enjoying a passing notion of reality or existence.  We are participating in something meaningful which shapes who we are for eternity.

Heady stuff to enter into whatever traditions your Thanksgiving entails.  But give thanks, by all means.  To the God who created you and created everything and everyone in your life that you are remembering with gratitude, from the dearly departed relatives of our childhood to the dearly departed turkey we’re about to ea.




Vinyl Redux

November 20, 2017

In my garage are four large boxes of LPs (that stands for long playing, FYI).  Records.  Vinyl.  Black gold.  Cue The Beverly Hillbillies music.  I’ve been carting them around for almost 15 years now.  They’ve survived (I hope) a basement in St. Louis and several moves in California, after years sitting mostly neglected in our home.  I can’t bear to part with them.  They might be worth something!  But I haven’t owned a turntable in nearly 15 years either, and the idea of becoming linked in some way with a USB-turntable hipster dumpster diving through record piles is appalling.

But this?  This is actually tempting.  I have no doubt that audiophiles will decry it as woefully inadequate, but it’s innovative as heck!

Reading Ramblings – November 26, 2017

November 19, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Christ the King Sunday – November 26, 2017

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46

Context: The last Sunday of the Church year celebrates the reality of our Lord’s present and future reign. While this is often something that gets pushed to the peripheral of our Christian lives, it should be the centerpiece of how we interact with the world around us. We are not without hope! We are not reliant solely on our own efforts or the efforts of those around or above us. We have a Lord and a King who reigns now and will reign eternally! While this should not push us to disengage with the world, it frees us to engage in a more healthy manner. We are not to be slaves to pundits and talking heads, to statistics and demographics. We are not to live in fear, but in hope and anticipation.

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 – We receive a steady news diet from our Internet feeds, newspaper headlines and nightly news. We can choose media that either supports or is antagonistic to current leadership at all levels. While it is important to be informed, we should realign ourselves constantly to the promised king to come. This is where our hope lies. We must do the best with the institutions and leaders we have available to us. We should avail ourselves of whatever rights we may possess at the moment to sway the global and local tides in directions that honor God and are therefore a blessing to all of his creation. But we must never mistake our temporary measures for his final reckoning, and we should not expect those in power no matter how well-intentioned they are to do perfectly what only God can do. His judgment will be perfect and holy and righteous, and tempered with mercy in the perfect proportion. In that day those who have fattened themselves at the expense of others will be called to account for their selfishness, while those they deemed irrelevant and expendable will receive the Lord’s tender care and restoration.

Psalm 95:1-7a – What a beautiful song of praise to God the creator as well as God the great king of creation! In him is our salvation (as opposed to our own hands), and to him (rather than ourselves) should praise and honor be given. How is God greater than any other king or any other so-called God? God alone is creator of all things, master of the heights and depths of all creation. We might be inclined to fear before such a powerful God, but we know our God’s intentions towards his creation, his intentions to restore and offer life and salvation to all who will receive it. He makes his intentions ultimately known in his willingness to cause his eternal Son’s suffering and death on our behalf and in our place, that we might have the promise of forgiveness and grace and life. Such an action is truly a demonstration of a shepherd’s heart, a shepherd who cares for his people and seeks their good and restoration as only He can know these things perfectly.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28 – The Kingship of Christ comes at a particular cost – his life on the cross for us. This is not a theological musing. It isn’t philosophical whimsy. It isn’t a helpful construct to get us through the day. The Son of God died and was buried – according to his human nature. He rose from the dead, victorious over death and all the combined powers of hell and humanity that conspired to keep him in the grave. This was witnessed by hundreds of people. Christ’s Kingship is grounded in the historical and geographical reality of the empty tomb. His right to rule is won through his perfect obedience to God the Father’s plan to reconcile creation to himself, to save us from the evil within our hearts and that swirls around us aching to devour us eternally. It is not a matter of whether you want this King or not. He is. There is no vote because there is no one who can challenge him for this title.

And He’s coming back. In glory. With power. To cast down the pretenders to his throne that scrabble with one another like dogs under the table. He comes to claim what is his own, what came into being through him, and what Satan has sought to wrest from him since Eden. He comes to claim you. On that day no one will be forgotten or left out. No one will be too insignificant to stand before the Creator of the Universe in judgment, and to either receive the crown of life through faith in Jesus Christ, or to spit out their final blasphemies. Death and Satan and all who have opted to follow their crooked, rebellious and spiteful ways will be banished, and peace will once again be restored. The Triune God is perfectly unified in purpose and work. Heaven and earth will be reunited perfectly.

Matthew 25:31-46 – Through Matthew 24 and 25 we have considered how we spend our time waiting for our Lord’s return, actively waiting rather than paying lip service to this reality, and being about our Father’s business rather than spiting him out of fear and distrust. But on the day of his return judgment will come. God who knows our hearts and minds more perfectly than we ourselves will separate his own from those who are not. The dividing line may appear surprising, but none will be able to question God’s perfect and righteous judgment. None will be able to fault his division.

Who we are is revealed in part by what we do, how we live our lives. The part we cannot see in others is the motivation, the rationale, the reasons for why they do what they do. We may appear to do the same things, but there is a critical difference in the why. Sometimes these motivations are unknown even to ourselves. Our knowledge – self and otherwise – is limited and imperfect but God will make all things plain in his judgment. Who we are is evident even when we ourselves are not aware of it, not aware of our motivations, not aware of the Holy Spirit within us that guides and leads and equips us. A great many – perhaps all of us – will be surprised on that day at what God sees that we didn’t see in ourselves. But we should never doubt for a moment that the critical thing to be found within us is faith in his Son, Jesus.

It is this faith that separates the faithful from the unfaithful, even if their works look identical on the outside. It is this faith that motivates the faithful both consciously and subconsciously, so that even the simplest and inconsequential acts of kindness and care are infused with holy and divine favor. This parable comes at the end of three other parables that give us better inklings into what God sees in us beyond our actions or inactions. It culminates his response to his disciples’ inquiries in 24:3. And it reinforces that the timing – what the disciples were curious about – is of least concern. When the final day comes is not nearly as important as how we wait for it, and how our moment-by-moment waiting shapes us for eternity. We do not look to our actions to save us. But we cannot reasonably claim to be waiting for our Lord’s return in glory without serving him as we are led and enabled to day by day.

Nearby Paranoia

November 17, 2017

In case you found yesterday’s post about bombarding alien civilizations with unfettered communiques a bit on the paranoid side, here’s something that might be a little more disconcerting.

Robots are doing back-flips now.

While we can muse about whether artificial intelligence is equivalent to actually being human (as ludicrous as that conversation sounds), we can easily acknowledge that robots are increasingly capable of physical flexibility that puts the majority of the human population to shame.  And the little victory stance at the end did nothing to ease my anxiety.  Once again, the rush to see what we can do certainly seems to outpace our interest in discussing what we should do.

Historically speaking, this hasn’t always ended well.