Archive for May, 2018

Legal or Right?

May 31, 2018

A correspondence friend directed me to this article.  He presumed that I would draw the same conclusions as him  – that fighting to ban abortion is really a moot point because there are numerous ways for women to effect abortions without a clinic.

Actually, I draw a different conclusion, which is that it really does matter if we ban abortion because in banning abortion we can quit talking about abortion as though it’s equivalent to clipping fingernails, trimming hair, or other equally inaccurate metaphors.  We must ban abortion in recognition that what grows in a woman’s body as a result of sexual intercourse is, in fact, a human being and entitled therefore to the full protection of the law just as a baby or toddler or adult is.  When this happens, we can begin teaching this truth to people – men and women, boys and girls – so that they will think differently about their actions and the results of those actions and their moral options for dealing with those results.

I’m sure this isn’t the desired takeaway from the author’s perspective.  However her article omits some very important details that might lead one to her conclusion rather than mine.  First of all, she cites estimates in Brazil that between 500,000 and 1 million abortions are estimated to take place every year despite abortion being illegal.  How is this estimate arrived at?  I’m assuming it’s based to some degree on prescriptions for certain drugs, but how do they distinguish between the legitimate uses of those drugs or the illegitimate uses?  That’s a rather large spread for  an estimate as well!  And finally, there’s no mention of what the abortion rates were prior to abortion being made illegal.

If we want to stop the killing of unborn children, we must both ban abortion as well as re-educate people.  This is exactly the technique that the pro-abortion camp used in reverse.  It seems dangerously naive to think that abortion rates won’t be affected by making it illegal and actually teaching people that when they seek abortion they are in fact seeking to kill a human being.  While it might still be possible to achieve the desired effect through alternate means, I believe there would also be a large drop in the number of people who would consider availing themselves of these means.

This would also necessitate a reconsideration of the Sexual Revolution in whole, but I don’t think that’s such a bad idea either.  Education can’t fix everything, but it can certainly make headway in quite a few areas!

Reading Ramblings – June 3, 2018

May 27, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 3, 2018

Texts: Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

Context: We now enter the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. We were also in this season briefly between Epiphany Sunday and the first Sunday in Lent. Ordinary time doesn’t have specific emphases compared to more specific seasons such as Easter, Lent, or Advent. As such, while the Old Testament reading and the Gospel will generally work together, the Epistle lesson will follow the lectio continua tradition of just working through particular books of the New Testament. Although we were working through 1 Corinthians at the start of the year, we’re now in 2 Corinthians. We also pick up more or less where we left off in our reading of Mark, the Gospel assigned for Year B of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary (LC-MS edition).

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 – This section of Deuteronomy is a recap of the Ten Commandments first given in Exodus 20. The particular verses have to do with the Sabbath. After hundreds of years in Egypt, many of the later ones in slavery, the Israelites are gifted with one day a week that is their own. Modeled after the Lord’s own respite from creation in Genesis 1-2, the Israelites are to honor God by observing a day of rest each week. The purpose is to remember that the Lord has brought them out of slavery, out of a condition where they owned nothing, not least of which their time. But now one day every week they can rest and give thanks to God for his provision for them. Moreover, this is not just to be an observance for the Hebrews alone, but for anyone within their communities. Although eventually the Sabbath becomes more of a burden than a blessing, here it is clear that the intent is for relaxation and rest and enjoyment rather than worrying about what constitutes work or not.

Psalm 81:1-10 – This psalm pairs very well with the Old Testament lesson. God is to be praised rather than feared for giving the Sabbath, the embodiment of freedom. Yet perhaps his people have forsaken this generous and gracious God in search of other gods (v.9). They are exhorted to faithfulness, remembering the blessings of their God, undoubtedly in comparison with the non-existent blessings of their false gods or idols. We are called to worship God for specific acts of mercy and graciousness, chiefly the forgiveness of sins in the incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God. Compared to this vast gift, what can the world or other contenders for our affections and loyalty offer?

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 – Believers in Jesus Christ carry a treasure within them, an intimate knowledge of God’s glory as expressed in the person of Jesus Christ. We carry, as it were, a light that cannot be dimmed by any darkness on earth, and that promises to illumine every path in every dark hour. However this treasure is not discernible to others easily. It does not exclude us from the pain and suffering common to our broken world. Yet it does enable us to deal with such pain and suffering in a different manner, so that whatever we suffer does not claim us, does not mark and identify us in any permanent sense. We belong to another. And that other shines through us even as we suffer and are oppressed. It is our glory and privilege to allow Jesus to shine through our brokenness, so that all those around us – including those who are causing us pain and suffering – might see him. Paul can say that although he faces death, it has enabled him to show Christ to the Corinthians, so that now they possess true life.

Mark 2:23-3:6 – A repeated complaint about Jesus is that He violates the rabbinic teachings regarding the Sabbath. It’s one thing to say to abstain from work, but how does one define what is work? When is one about to cross the line from work to leisure and violate the third commandment? Clearly Jesus’ detractors feel He has crossed that line to some degree, though their tempered response to him seems to indicate that even they realize that there is room for interpretation and reinterpretation. And this is what Jesus does. Is it wrong to feed oneself on the Sabbath? Is gleaning a few heads of grain to be compared with harvesting a field? Jesus refers to 1 Samuel 21, when David requisitions holy bread from Ahimelech, which was not permitted for him or his men to eat. Yet Jesus expects that his critics will not condemn David’s behavior, as David is revered as king.

Similarly, when his critics stand ready to condemn him for an act of healing, He breaks down the Sabbath to it’s original intent – to do good to God’s people, rather than to do harm to them. If Jesus has it within his power and will to heal this man, it would be harmful for him not to do so, even if it is the Sabbath. In a very literal sense, Jesus is saying, the Sabbath is intended for just this sort of thing! His critics are missing the point of the Sabbath by turning it into a regulation that prohibits good being done, as though such good could violate the intent of the Sabbath law.

Although protesting Jesus’ violation of the Law, his critics demonstrate their own sinfulness in going out to plot his destruction, a violation of the fifth commandment (as per Matthew 5:21-26) as well as the eighth commandment against false witness against your neighbor. Clearly they are not really concerned with propriety and keeping the Law or they wouldn’t engage in these activities!

Your Family Altar – May 27, 2018

May 27, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday – Reflect on this morning’s service and sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament – Deuteronomy 5:12-15
    • How do you interpret verse 14?
    • What should God’s people remember on the Sabbath (v.15)?
  • Tuesday – Epistle – 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
    • Who is Paul a servant of (v.5)?
    • Who is to be glorified in our suffering (v.7)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – Mark 2:23-3:6
    • Why are the Pharisees unhappy with Jesus and his disciples?
    • What does verse 27 mean to you?
  • Thursday –  Psalm 81:1-10
    • What do you think verse 6 refers to?
    • What problem do vs. 8-9 reveal?
  • Friday Luther’s Small CatechismSacrament – Baptism
    • Where is the source of power in baptism?
    • What does Luther mean by “the old Adam”?
  • Saturday – Hymn – Feed Your Children, God Most Holy
    • How is God’s feeding a source of comfort to sinners?
    • What is our ultimate goal in having God feed us?


Shepherds & Sheep

May 25, 2018

Jesus picks up on the Biblical metaphor of shepherds and sheep for the leaders of God’s people and God’s people.  It’s a rich metaphor for its time, but one that struggles I think to be understood clearly in a modern, non-agrarian context.  I think the struggle is there for both pastors/shepherds and parishioners/sheep.

But at the heart of this metaphor is the idea that shepherds and sheep are not the same in some important regards.  Like any metaphor it breaks down at one level or another, because shepherds are also sheep.  But they aren’t supposed to sheep alongside their parishioners.  Somehow, without ever forgetting their own sheep-ness, shepherds are called to remain separate and distinct.

Of course this is difficult and can be done badly.  Some shepherds interpret this as license to impose their will on the sheep, and that can lead to bad situations and lost or damaged sheep.  Modern sheep, who are far less likely to identify with this metaphor, may object to the idea of a shepherd who exercises real and actual authority that is different and distinct from all other forms of authority they encounter.  This is not the voice of the policeman or the judge or the supervisor at work.  This is the voice – hopefully – of Christ, guiding and leading and watching over the sheep.  I tend to think that sheep in Jesus’ day had just as much difficulty accepting that this is the shepherd’s job as modern sheep do.  I imagine just as much offense was taken back then as is apt to be today.  But perhaps not.

The fact that shepherds and their flock spend a lot of time together can lead a shepherd to forgetting that he’s a shepherd, and thus may begin to think of himself as just another one of the sheep.  The sheep that preaches, but no more than this.  And as a sheep the shepherd wants to get along and be liked by the other sheep, and so the concerns of the sheep gradually become the concerns of the shepherd, and it is easy to just go about the days and years nibbling on the grass with the other sheep, basking happily in the good graces of a loving Father who provides so richly for us.

Shepherds, unlike most sheep, should spend some of their time in the company of other shepherds.  Trading stories and information.  Sometimes the stories are humorous at the expense of the sheep, but in my experience sheep have a few favorite humorous stories they like to tell each other about their shepherds as well.  But mostly the shepherds should be talking about what they see.  A pack of wolves that has moved into a certain area and will require diligence for.  Rockslides that have rendered certain passes now inaccessible.  Predictions of harsh weather that could harm the sheep as well as the shepherds.  Hopefully shepherds are spending time with other shepherds – some older and wiser and some younger and less experienced – so that all benefit from the shared wisdom and perspective.

Because the concerns of the sheep and the shepherd are two different things.  The sheep are concerned with eating.  Mating.  Caring for their young.  The shepherd is there to lead and guide and protect.  To be scanning the horizon rather than grazing on the grass and seeing nothing more than the few inches in front of his face.  The shepherd should know that there are predators about, eager for an easy lunch.  He has to be on watch and on guard against these threats to the sheep, as the sheep may not see or recognize them.  The shepherd is to watch for the sheep that wanders off and risks getting themselves into trouble.  This can be exasperating work as some  sheep naturally prefer to be off on their own, left to their own devices, and are not terribly thrilled about the shepherd’s visit or staff that seeks to draw them back in to the flock.  And the shepherd also needs to watch the pasture, to ensure that the sheep are not grazing it too completely and thoroughly, so that the grass won’t grow back in a few weeks or next season.  His job is to move the flock along as necessary to ensure health and safety in the long term as well as the short term.

Again, this is sometimes difficult work.  Sheep by nature tend towards inertia, staying where they are and nibbling in a small area.  Why quit nibbling the grass here that has been so delicious and nutritious for so  long?  Why push us to stretch our muscles and walk and climb?  What if the next pasture isn’t as good as this one?  Why can’t we just stay here?

The shepherd can’t explain himself to the sheep.  He simply calls.  Seeks to prod as necessary.  And because shepherds (unless he is The Good Shepherd) are by nature of limited capacity, when sheep set their minds to bolt and stray, sometimes there’s nothing that can be done about it without endangering the entire flock.  If there is time and ability the shepherd  can and should pursue, but some sheep are going to get away, and the shepherd can only hope and pray that they will find their way safely back to the flock, or perhaps to another shepherd.

At times it is necessary for the shepherd to say and do things that the sheep don’t understand or appreciate.  There are of course times when this is a genuinely bad course of action by a misguided or even malicious shepherd.  But most of the time, it should be the necessary calling and prodding and reigning in of the sheep for their own good, as well as for the good of the pasture and the area as a whole.  That’s the job of the shepherd, to the best of his ability.  When the shepherd and sheep can work together, that’s the best possible situation, as the sheep need a shepherd and the shepherd needs sheep.

Gotchu, Dude

May 24, 2018

The story of the man suing to stay in his parents’ home at 30 years of age, with apparently no job and no skills and no motivation, has gotten a lot of ink.  The sad thing to me is that this is undoubtedly the tip of a very big iceberg.  I’m willing to bet there are plenty more 30-somethings living at home without much prospect of independence.  While some of those are undoubtedly due to tragic circumstances and are hopefully only temporary, I’m betting there are far more very similar to this case, with the exception that the relationship hasn’t frayed to the point of going to court.

The latest wrinkle in the story is that he’s been offered a job by a chain that is sympathetic to millennials and also understands a marketing opportunity when they see one.  They’re offering a signing bonus $1 higher than the offer of financial assistance from his own parents to leave.  They understand that “it’s tough out there….we gotchu, dude.”  Frankly, beyond the marketing opportunity,  I can’t imagine any company in their right minds offering this guy a job.  But I don’t anticipate he’ll take it, and if he does, after the media blitz dies down I’m sure he won’t be working there long.

I could (and do) imagine how things turned out this way.  My assumption is that he hasn’t been working for a long time.  Perhaps never.  His parents maybe supported him through his undergraduate studies and then he graduated but never moved into the workforce.  Maybe he didn’t major in a marketable area.  Maybe he just didn’t know what to do once he was out of the care of school systems of one sort or another.  Decisions were undoubtedly made all along the way by both sides that neither side thought would end up this way, but just happened to.  It’s unfortunate for all concerned.  I wonder if different choices earlier in his life might have avoided this situation.  But that’s easy and cheap speculation on somebody elses’ dime, when I have my own skin in the game, so to speak.

This weekend my oldest child turns 16.  One of the things we’ve talked about is the need for him to get a job.  He’s fine with this, excited by this even.  But I find myself struggling.  I started working literally at 15 and a half.  As early as I could in Arizona in the the ancient past.  A few hours a week bagging groceries.  I enjoyed it, by and large.  I’ve had a lot of different jobs since then, but I’ve only been completely unemployed for a period of about two months in late 1999 as the dot-com bust was churning up.  Even then, I was technically working – driving cabs on a lark as fuel for potential writing projects.  But since I didn’t really make any money, I don’t consider that gig to be working.

So it isn’t that I don’t want my boy to get a job.  That’s not what I’m struggling with.  But I’m struggling perhaps with what this other guy’s parents struggled with when he was 16, and what many other parents seem to struggle with around me.  Wanting to give their children good things, good experiences, good preparation for life, but taking gainful employment out of that equation.  I begin to understand some of the economics and decision-making that might produce an unemployable 30-year old who won’t leave home.   My son doesn’t *have* to get a job.  The income isn’t necessary to contribute towards family expenses.  If he wants to drive, he must get a job.  But that’s not too big a priority for him at this point.  And there are other things he’s prepared to do this summer – a junior lifeguard program for three weeks in late July that is fantastic. A possible conference here in town in August on politics and culture.

They’re good things.  Not just resume builders but person-builders.  Providing him with experiences and opportunities to broaden his scope physically and intellectually.  What parent wouldn’t want those things for their cchild?  And I want him to be able to do those things.  But I also know he needs a job.  Not for the money, but for the person-building as well.  He has several friends who are roughly his age or a year or so older.  Jobs aren’t on the horizon for  them.  They’re busy doing other things to prepare for college and other stuff.  Some of them have big ambitions for the future, and their parents have big ambitions for them for the future.  It’s an exciting time.

But I can’t help but  feel that part of those ambitions are best aimed for through getting a crappy part-time job.  Even if it’s just for the summer.  I learned a lot through working.  I’m sure my parents would have preferred me to learn these things earlier and from them, but sometimes we hear best from those a little more distanced from us.  I learned responsibility for my actions.  I learned accountability for my choices and performance.  I learned to make sure I could get myself where I needed to be on time.  I learned how to deal with different sorts of people.  Not all of them raised the way I was, not all of them living the way I felt it was right to live.  Not all of them with the same kinds of aspirations I had.  But different people.  Some funnier and smarter and some less so.  Some harder workers than myself and others less so.  But I had to figure out how to deal with them.

I also had to learn how to stand my ground, to act on the principles I had been brought up with at home and heard in church all my life.  Was I going to stick with those or adopt the looser terms of the wider world of Burger King or Revco?  I met plenty of people who were making different choices, and seemed to be enjoying life a lot more than I was.  Part of working is shaping yourself, hardening yourself after being molded and shaped by others.  In the fires of temptation and opportunity, would that molding hold or shift?

I suppose I learned some rudimentary money management, although the much older me would rather that the much younger me had saved more.  But that’s the privilege of the much older, we always want to ride on the energy of our younger selves.  I had fun.  I was responsible.  I put myself through college.  I tithed.  Skills I still carry to this day, just as, to this day, I probably don’t save as much as an older me will wish I had.  C’est la vie.

I have to overcome the desire to see my son doing fun stuff in order to ensure that he does necessary stuff.  That he learns some of the things I learned, chief of which is that you must work to eat and that you don’t always enjoy what you do which is a good incentive to figure out a way to do something that you do enjoy.  I don’t really care what kind of job he gets, but I think it’s important for a 16-year old to have the experience of earning a paycheck and getting to figure out what to do with it, and establishing practices and principles that will hopefully last a lifetime and for the basis for how he works with his children.  I want him to be able to do these other things as well, and I hope he can.  But when push comes to shove, I hope I’m strong enough to push him towards work first.

I’m grateful my parents wanted me to work and showed me ample examples of what that looked like.  I’m grateful I needed to work.  Now I have to make sure that my son starts working even if he doesn’t really need to just yet.  Because someday he will, or he might end up in the national news.

He’s certainly not living at home for the rest of his life!  I gotchu, dude.

Original Hospitality

May 22, 2018

As I’ve noted several times over the past few months, it’s been a challenging year.  It continues to be challenging, but either I’m getting used to that or they’re becoming easier to deal with.  Much is still yet unknown, but then that’s life for you.

One of the outcomes of these five months is  a very good reconnecting with my wife about the visions we once held for ministry and life together.  Visions that have never gone away completely, but in the starting and raising of a family and vocational changes and moving hither and yon across the country are easy to put on the back burner.  Visions that we have lived out in some ways all along, but that are larger than what we’ve been able to do so far.

Those visions center around a singular aspect of the Christian life, one that I argue is easily the most overlooked and neglected, and that is the gift/discipline/tradition of hospitality.  I still remember one of  my seminary professors, while explicating 1 Timothy 3:1-7 explained the requirement of being hospitable to mean basically being open and friendly.  While friendliness is certainly helpful in being hospitable, it showed me just how little – or how little valued – this aspect of Christian faith has become in our culture.

So I’m beginning some theological reading on the topic.  My wife beat me to the punch in starting the book I’m most curious about, Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a House Key.  We were both very impressed with her earlier book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  This book demonstrated the powerful role Christian hospitality can have.

So while she reads, I’m working on Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine D. Pohl.  So far I’m not overly impressed with her treatment of Biblical or early Christian sources on the topic, but I’ll wait till the end of the book for a final review.  She comes at it from the idea of hospitality having to do with providing for the needs of the less fortunate, ie. the poor, refugees, etc.  I dislike the way this frames hospitality in terms of the haves and the have nots.  Certainly in Butterfield’s case, she would not have considered herself marginalized or needy in any way when she accepted a pastor’s hospitality.  I don’t plan on coming at hospitality from Pohl’s angle (at least as I understand or see her angle thus far), but of course it is one aspect or facet of hospitality.

The Biblical text that gets the ball rolling in terms of hospitality for many scholars is Abraham’s hospitality to three strangers in Genesis 18.  But it strikes me that really, hospitality begins literally at the beginning in Genesis 1 & 2.  In creating the universe and humankind, God instantiates the first instance of hospitality known to us.  He provides us with food and lodging in terms of creation itself, with himself as the host and Adam and Eve as the honored and beloved guests.  The entire parameter of existence in the Biblical tradition is one in which we extend hospitality to others because of this primal hospitality that we exist in, as well as the later formulations and witnesses to God’s graciousness in human history.

We can see an instance of hospitality gone awry in Genesis 3, as Eve extends to Adam what ought to be the hospitable gift of food, but which instead is the essence of disobedience.  Eve as host here, and Adam in his willing complicity to disobedience, demonstrate failed hospitality as they seek to mimic God’s hospitality to them, as well as the primal example of the bad and ungracious guest who seeks to take advantage of the host’s generosity and openness.

How do we model hospitality in a culture where it is no longer valued other than as a means for demonstrating one’s abilities or material wealth, or as a means of providing for the needy?  How do we not only model hospitality but teach it to others as a means of creating relationships wherein the Gospel can be shared and the Holy Spirit at work?  How do we engage in hospitality as a means of honoring the command to love our neighbor as ourselves?  How  do we learn to love and honor others even if they don’t think or act like us?

These are all themes that my family has been working with in various ways ever since my wife and I got married.  Some episodes were more memorable than others, but I can honestly say that this is one area we’ve been dealing with consistently all our lives together.  It’s the area we want to continue dealing with for however long God grants us together.  And it’s the area we want to continue to draw others into for experience, discussion, and the celebration of God’s great hospitality to all of us.  I look forward to seeing what that will look like!

Book Review – Jayber Crow

May 21, 2018

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

It’s been roughly 30 years since I discovered Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone Days.  I discovered there a type of prose and story I’d never run into before, and it captivated me.  Snippets of local life.  Characters as real as you and I but existing only in one man’s imagination, but mentioned and then come back to and revisited later.  Sort of like people in my life that I encounter and then don’t see or hear much from and then encounter again.  I found a way of understanding myself and the  larger world I was entering into through the people of a very small part of that larger world.

Reading Jayber Crow was like encountering Lake Wobegone for the first time, but amplified by a lifetime of experience and growth.  While Keillor could draw me into deeper waters occasionally, he spent most of his time in the shallows splashing and having fun.  Wendell Berry tossed me into deep waters and only rarely could I feel as though me toes were touching bottom.  I’ve wanted to read Berry for years.  I have no idea what else he’s written or how Jayber Crow compares with his larger corpus.  But I know without a doubt that I’m going to search out his other writings to devour now.  I can understand better why he is so highly regarded as both a thinker and a writer.

Berry has an honesty that is breathtaking, a simplicity that is difficult to imagine.  He speaks of people and places and circumstances I have no way of connecting to except through his words on a page, and yet I do feel like I’ve connected with them.  Rarely has the last line of book every hit me so hard as this one (do NOT cheat and start at the end!!).

Jayber Crow is the resident bachelor barber of Port William, a fictional town in Kentucky.  The story traces his life from a young child to an old man, with the many predictable twists and turns  such a road can expect.  Berry’s style is simple and paced.  He’s in no hurry to get you somewhere because the journey is really the important thing.  Along the way there is plenty of time to reflect on love and hate, God and heaven, life and death.  Very few of the Big Picture topics in life are left untreated in this book.  Berry has an eye that is unflinching and honest, yet also charitable whenever possible.  He does not hide his struggles or dwell excessively on moments of triumph.

If the past is how Berry describes it, I’m very sorry I missed it.  If it isn’t how he described it, then I very much hope that he is describing heaven and I’ll have a chance yet to experience it.


Reading Ramblings – May 27, 2018

May 20, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Holy Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 3:1-17

Context: Traditional Western liturgy never accorded a place for such an observance through the first thousand years of Christianity on the grounds that the Trinity was honored and glorified every single Sunday. This is impressive given some of the early heresies of the Church that struck at Trinitarian doctrine (Arianism, most specifically). By the first millenia, Trinity-focused services may have started at various places, but it wasn’t until the 14th century that Pope John XXII ordered that the Trinity be specially honored on the first Sunday following Pentecost. The theology is that it is only after Pentecost that the disciples begin actively preaching and therefore sharing Trinitarian doctrine with the world. It is traditional on this Sunday in some circles, (the LC-MS included) to focus on the Athanasian Creed, which strongly articulates what we mean when we talk about one God in three Persons.

Isaiah 6:1-8 – Isaiah’s beautiful vision of the throne room of God seems like the logical place for his formal prophetic ministry to begin, yet it appears after five other chapters. Some scholars see this as proof of a lengthy editorial and authorial process that rearranged the material at a much later date than Isaiah’s lifetime in the late 8th and early 7th centuries. However we have no copies of Isaiah with any other order than the one we know, and I prefer to side with theologians who simply recognize that the Lord speaks and acts and reveals himself according to his perfect will and timing, not according to what we find literarily or vocationally reasonable or logical. God ensures that Isaiah understands that his words are indeed sanctioned by and even sourced in God himself in all of his glory. Perhaps Isaiah struggles with uncertainty over his legitimacy. Such a vision should surely set his mind at ease however that what He says is of divine agency rather than personal whim!

Psalm 29 – As we try to be clear about who we mean when we say God, we should not be distracted to the point where challenging theological criteria obscure God from our sight. God is the creator, the all-powerful and all-mighty. A perfect understanding of the Athanasian Creed is not necessary to have saving faith in this triune God, but certainly for those engaged in theology we need to be as accurate as we can when we speak, to help others speak well also. But it is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who share the glory that creation proclaims, whose power has made possible everything we know and don’t know. We dare not lose our awe of God as we try to dissect what we can or cannot say about him. At the end of the day we must remember that it is faith that saves, not theological acumen.

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 – Frankly, this should have been read last week with the first half of Peter’s sermon! The first half of Peter’s sermon is a defense and then an explanation for the bizarre thing that has caught people’s attention – the apostles speaking in various foreign languages and understandable to the myriad people gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. Now that Peter has their attention he proclaims the good news of Jesus the Christ. He draws on their own knowledge or at least familiarity with who Jesus is and why He is well-known. He then moves on to the amazing proclamation that Jesus is alive, quoting the Old Testament under the Holy Spirit’s direction to support his announcement. He ends with the strong pronouncement that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of God. Efforts to destroy his ministry through execution have failed in his resurrection, properly designating him as Lord and Messiah.

John 3:1-17 – Jesus articulates a Trinitarian definition of God, referring to the Spirit (vs. 5-8), the Son (vs. 13-17) and by implication, God the Father (vs 16-17). Each aspect of the Godhead is indicated in a unique fashion. By the Spirit one is born again in faith. By the Father’s design the Son is sent into creation in order that the Son might be a means of saving grace for creation. Each has a particular role and identity distinct from the other persons of the Godhead. Each executes a particular purpose – the Spirit in bringing a new creation into existence through baptism, the Son in offering himself on behalf of creation, and the Father in orchestrating these things according to a plan.

As such, we can’t simply speak of one God who changes hats or identities, appearing as the angry Father in the Old Testament, the huggy Jesus in the New Testament, and the invisible Holy Spirit here today. Rather, we must speak of one God wherein all three persons co-exist and cooperate in their various roles. Jesus speaks thus of the Godhead, and based on his resurrection, we presume his knowledge to be the best and the most appropriate language for us to adopt in talking about God.

But such details are secondary to the reality of the three aspects or persons of God united in a single purpose, which is to give life where death now reigns, to bring salvation to a creation lost in condemnation. Once again the theological specifics have a time and a place to hash out but far more often than not what should be stressed as we talk with others is the loving nature of God that works so perfectly in unison for our benefit, to reach out to us with both the will and the means of providing salvation to those who will not fight against it. We need to do far less talking about God and more time describing who God is for us.

Your Family Altar – May 20, 2018

May 20, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday – Reflect on this Morning’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament Lesson – Isaiah 6:1-8
    • What specific descriptors of God are given?
    • Which person of the Trinity do you think Isaiah sees?
  • Tuesday – New Testament Reading – Acts 2:14b, 22-36
    • Does Peter assume his hearers already know something about Jesus (v.22)?
    • What is the specific reason for Peter’s conclusion in verse 36?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 3:1-17
    • Who is Nicodemus and where else is he mentioned in Scripture?
    • What is the basis of salvation (v.15, 16)?
  • Thursday Psalm 29
    • Who do you think the heavenly beings are in verse 1?
    • How does God turn his strength towards us so we don’t fear him (v.11)?
  • Friday Luther’s Small CatechismSacraments
    • Who is supposed to be teaching these lessons and to whom?
    • What is the definition of a sacrament?
  • Saturday – Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy
    • Why do you think  the saints adore God (v.2)?
    • What darkness can hide God (v.3)?


Stop Rewriting Our Past

May 17, 2018

The problem with rewriting the moral undergirding of a culture is the transition period.  More specifically, it is the transitional period of which the rewriters are part of that is most problematic.  How to explain adequately that there has been a massive change, and that people were a part of things before the change as well as after the change?  That they were more or less happy with things in the past but now are compelled to say that those things were bad and wrong.  How to reconcile how things – and we – used to be, with how things and ourselves are now perceived to be?  There is a strong temptation to defensiveness, an attempt to filter history in such a way as to show that the ideas and themes that are championed today were actually there all along if we just had eyes to see them, or people to tell us that this is what was really happening.  What results is a type of historical revision, and the awkward part is that there are people around who know that this is a load of mule muffins.

Case in point, Lando Calrissian.  For those of you who didn’t grow up with Star Wars as part of your cultural fabric, Lando is the dashing rogue turned hero who appears in The Empire Strikes Back, portrayed by Billy Dee Williams.  I never understood why he didn’t get more of a prominent place in the franchise, but I guess if you wait long enough and sell off the rights to the franchise, eventually someone will come around to exploring those overlooked characters more.  And so it is that Calrissian will have a role in the new Han Solo spin-off movie, although played by a different and younger actor.

Fair enough.

Except that the original Calrissian is, at least in the eyes of some, being rewritten into something he never was – a hero/icon/whatever for the LGBT community.  And the guy trying to do the rewriting is a venerated veteran of the Star Wars community – Lawrence Kasdan.  In a recent interview Kasdan claims that Lando is a pan-sexual, someone who is not limited to sexual preferences and practices regarding “biological sex, gender, or gender identity”.  Kasdan claims that not only the new portrayal of Lando but also Williams’ original portrayal lead us towards this conclusion.  Kasdan is not speaking authoritatively – he doesn’t get to arbitrarily dictate the canon of Star Wars, but he carries a lot of weight.

The problem is, regardless of how the new movie portrays Lando, there’s nothing in the original character’s portrayal in 1980 that would lead us to this conclusion at all.  By revisiting a character and redefining him now according to popular ideas, there is the assumption that we can cast these ideas back to the original character.

Except you can’t.

I remember Lando.  I remember thinking he was dashing and handsome and charming – all characteristics that came into full play only with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).  Lando and Han (Harrison Ford) were friends, and friends with a long and complicated past to be sure, but there was nothing flirty in their interactions.  The closest you could get to anything like this would be the fact that they hug shortly after reuniting in Bespin.

But that scene clearly is not romantic or erotic in any way.  It’s clear that both of them are somewhat wary of the other, and Han more so of Lando than visa versa.  If you want to get theological, Lando’s hug is a form of Judas kiss, attempting to put Solo at ease while perhaps identifying him to the guards watching who may eventually have to ensure that he does not escape.  There are many nuances which can only be appreciated after the film is over.  But there’s no mistaking this for any sort of sexualized behavior.

But that’s what it has to be in order to be appreciated properly by today’s standards.  So Lando will be rewritten to be sexually ambiguous, which in the process will throw Han’s sexuality into question as well.  What gets undermined is two strong, masculine, heterosexual characters.  What gets undermined is the concept of manly friendship, friendship that can be close and intimate without being sexualized (PLEASE read C.S. Lewis’ marvelous book The Four Loves for a wondrous exposition on the necessity and beauty of such masculine friendship!).  What gets undermined are the role models of previous generations, because now there is guilt associated with cheering them on in their heterosexual appreciation and tug of war over a beautiful woman, a woman also strong enough in her own right to hold her own and seek to maintain a certain element of aloofness and control in the midst of a situation she realizes at a gut level is suspicious.

All of that can be pitched because what we really want to sell today is sexuality and sexuality as unrestricted and self-defined as we feel like it.  In the long run, that sales pitch will become more and more effective as those who lived through the transition – and can thus speak out against the historical revision through first-person experience – die off (or, as has already happened, get cowed into silence by a militant and vocal vanguard for the new order).

I’m not dead yet.  And I haven’t forgotten.  And whatever Kasdan’s personal issues are, and regardless of how the new movie may attempt to redefine the character, Lando will remain for me that original charming and clearly heterosexual man he appeared to be – and which nearly everyone who saw those original movies both wanted him and assumed him to be.  There wasn’t anything wrong with that.  There still isn’t.  Quit trying to rewrite my history – our history – into something else.