Monday, December 31, 2007

My 15 Minutes - Focus Group Recap

So, it's been about two and a half weeks since I went to NYC to participate in a Fox News focus group. It was my intention to post a recap immediately, however something called Advent and then Christmas came to pass. So, today I return to the blogosphere.

I did not actually sign anything prohibiting me from writing about my experience, though, I suppose that by participating I demonstrated consent to the statement that appeared in the initial e-mail I received from the Luntz group. Regardless, I don't intend to write anything that would discourage people from trusting the research conducted by Luntz nor to discourage people from participating in focus groups.

I took the train from Southeast (about 9 miles south of Pawling) direct to Grand Central Terminal. I could have taken the train directly from the Village of Pawling, but the Southeast station provides me a more flexible schedule. The travel time to Grand Central is about 1 hr. 15 min. It's a reasonably relaxing ride providing me time to do some reading -- at that time "God Is Not Great" by renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens. From Grand Central it was about 3 blocks west and 5 blocks north to Fox News studios (just west and south of Rockefeller Center). If you know NYC, then you know that these are long, very congested blocks. It probably only took me about 20 mins, but I was winded when I got to the studios. There's really no excuse for anyone working or living in Manhattan to be overweight or out of shape!

At the studio, after showing ID, I was whisked away with three other groupies who had arrived at the same time to a hallway several floors underground. There was set up a curtain partition behind which was a long table with folding chairs with several people sitting around it. There was a small (maybe 25") standard tv at the end tuned to the History Channel. There was a lunch selection of sandwiches and cookies. None of us had any idea what to expect. Many were wondering if this was where we were going to watch the debate.

After lunch we were handed some questionnaires to fill out asking us to rank the Republican candidates in many and various ways and then to do the same concerning some of the important and controversial issues at hand. Then we were taken upstairs, outside, across a plaza of sorts into another part of the building to the studio. This not very large room was, apparently, the set for a number of programs. There was a neon sign overhead that said "The Mike & Juliet Show". The backdrop was all Hannity & Colmes, though it was obvious that this was not their primary set. Frank Luntz the pollster was our host from this point on. Frank appears on Hannity & Colmes and other Fox News programs regularly. Frank welcomed us and explained what would be happening that day. One thing that would be unique for this focus group is that each of us (28 Republican voters, both conservative and moderate) would use a meter of sorts throughout the debate to register our real time approval or disapproval of what the candidate speaking was saying or doing. The results would appear as a graph on tv. Then he ran us through a test round of questions to demonstrate what we would be doing live immediately following the debate. The questions were provocative and generated a great deal of comments. One question was "How important is religious faith in making your decision to support a candidate?" A related question was raised concerning Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith -- was that an issue of concern? During this period I contributed a couple of times as this is a topic that I have some strong opinions about. Of course, the cameras were not rolling, live or tape, at that time.

Then we went live, still prior to the debate. Martha MacCullum, entered to anchor "Live Desk", a general Fox News live news program. She interviewed Frank who explained that our focus group would be watching the debate live and would be registering our real time opinion via the meters. The camera flashed to our group. Throughout the program the group's response - chuckling, groaning, etc. - could be heard in the background as they did not tell us to be silent.

We watched the debate in the same studio on a large (maybe 42") flat panel tv. The meters were interesting. After a candidate responded to a question and our group responded via the meters, a stage hand would yell out "Back to 50", meaning that we were supposed to return our meter dials back to a neutral position before the next candidate responded. It was funny that when Allan Keyes - who came off like a raving lunatic - spoke, and the stage hand yelled "Back to 50", everybody chuckled because nobody had really even moved their dials.

If you saw the debate then you no doubt observed two things: 1) The moderator was terrible -- she was combative and asked bad questions. 2) The debate overall was dull and rarely provocative. At the end of the debate, the first question that we were asked was "Who do you think won the debate?" Almost unanimously we said Mitt Romney. Now, at the beginning of the day, when asked how many supported Romney, only a few hands went up. But, clearly, in this particular debate, Mitt came off looking and sounding the best -- that does not mean that anyone changed their opinion concerning their support for Romney, only that he won that debate. Huckabee came into the debate the frontrunner, he had the most to lose or gain. Huckabee held his own, but Mitt came out looking and sounding better, more "Presidential". I was seen several times on camera during the live Q&A following the debate, but I did not say anything during this time. Because the debate was so dull and unprovocative -- they really did not address religion, Mormonism, illegal immigrants, or the war -- the Q&A was more focused on who looked and sounded the best, leadership, and a little bit on taxation and fiscal conservatism. These are not areas in which I really have strong opinions. Father Grams got himself on tv making a comment, though I can't remember on what point.

After the live segment, we taped about another 30 mins of Q&A that would be used on Hannity & Colmes that evening and other times throughout the following several days. During this time I did make a comment concerning the "Huckaboom" and Hucabee's potential to go all the way to the White House. I said something to the effect of this: "The 'Huckaboom' was really a media boom. Today we saw the real Huckabee. He simply doesn't have what it takes to go all the way." But I have never seen this aired.

At the end of it all we each were given $100 cash and sent on our way. All in all, it was an interesting experience and I would probably do it again some time. I was disappointed that we didn't get to meet Sean Hannity, though I had thought that would be unlikely since he was on the radio during most of that time.

To sum up where I'm at on the candidates: I hope and agree with Father Grams that John McCain makes a resurgence. He has the most experience, is a veteran politician with wartime experience, he has likely been the most consistent on his positions throughout his career, he is thoroughly pro-life, and he has a proven track-record of bipartisanship - for good or for bad. I think that, though not the best imaginable choice, he may be the best available choice for the time and situation in which our nation exists today. He has the strength, wisdom, and experience to face the difficulties of our world today, and he has the conciliatory ability to bring disparate factions together. He may not accomplish much during his presidency, and he may be a one-term president, but I think he may represent our best hope at bringing a little healing while remaining strong on defense. My 2 cents, and I'm allowed to flip-flop. I like a lot of what Fred Thompson has to say, but I am concerned about his experience and his intelligence/wisdom. Besides, I don't believe that he'll make it past New Hampshire. Huckabee, probably not. Romney, I like a lot of what he says, but I don't trust him -- not simply, but mostly(!), because he's a high-ranking Mormon, but because he comes off like a slick, polished salesman -- and because he's from Massachusetts. (The focus group mostly felt this way as well!)

Well, there you go - there's my recap. That's really all I care to write about it. It was interesting. It was fun. It was no big deal at all. Try it, if you get the chance. You only live once (this side of heaven).

I got back to Pawling around 7pm, just in time to pray Vespers at 7:30pm. I got a substitute to teach confirmation and missed choir practice. And that's my 15 minutes.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Land of Opportunities

It's pretty cool living near New York City. There are so many opportunities and so many interesting and wonderful things to do and see.

I was notified this week that I have been selected to participate in a televised debate focus group on the Fox News Channel on Wednesday, December 12, 2007. I will watch the Republican Debate (from Iowa) in the FNC Studio with others in the focus group and then will comment on the debate. From what I can tell now, the debate will be broadcast live on FNC beginning at 2pm EST. I have been told that the focus group will also appear on Hannity and Colmes Wednesday evening. I really enjoy Sean Hannity's radio program and listen to it quite regularly. The Hannity and Colmes TV show is not as enjoyable, too much arguing.

Anyway, my good friend and colleague Fr. Daniel Grams has also been selected. Imagine that! Two LCMS pastors appearing in a focus group on FNC! The agreement that I will have to sign states that I cannot "post or publish any information online or in print about the contents and experience of this focus group", but I'm hoping to be able to post a link to some video footage of what is actually broadcast after the fact. Very exciting!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Freedom & Choice Revisited

A (the?) fundamental principle that divides the body of Christ, the Church, concerns the extent to which a human being is capable of exercising freedom of the will and/or freedom of choice. This principle underlies seemingly more obvious issues like the role of human works in salvation and the nature of original sin.

Lutherans, I believe, are unique in their view that, post-fall, human volition is in "bondage" to sin, e.g. St. Paul's confession that the good he would will to do he does not do, but the evil that he would will not to do he finds himself doing. Note that "that which has volition, that which wills", i.e. the "New Man, or New Spirit", is not corrupted essentially, but is in bondage to sin, the flesh -- thus St. Paul asks "Who will save me from this body of death?"

But, what about before the fall into sin? Did Adam and Eve have freedom of the will or freedom of choice before the fall? Well, yes, and no. They could exercise a certain freedom, yes, but that freedom to will or to choose could only be sin. Our first parents, before the fall, were they to exercise free will or free choice, could only choose to disobey God or to rebel against God. Otherwise, their wills and choices were in perfect alignment with God's own will, to the extent that they were doing and desiring what God willed, and not essentially the will of our first parents. We confess this truth in the Lord's Prayer: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, not our will. Man's will and man's choice, before, and after the fall, are free only to sin. The difference, before and after the fall, is that, after the fall man's will is truly in bondage to sin so that even assent to God's will is impaired, corrupted by sin (concupiscence) so that, on our own, we can do no good or righteous thing in the eyes of God, nothing truly righteous and in accord with God's will.

What this means is that, before the fall, love and obedience to God was not really a choice at all, but was the natural disposition of God's creatures toward their Creator. Upon man's first exercise of free will, man's first choice, sin and rebellion occurred and death entered the world. No longer was man's natural disposition toward God in accord with His will. Upon conversion, in contrition and repentance, the old rebellious man is drowned and a New Man is raised up whose nature, once again, is disposed to love and obey God in accord with His will. However, the New Man is in bondage to sin and the flesh, e.g. St. Paul once again. Through daily contrition and repentance this Old Man drowning, New Man rising cycle is repeated again and again. Man is constantly being realigned with God, his will with His will.

One significant way in which our understanding of the freedom, or lack thereof, of human volition and choice divides the Church is in the nature of conversion. Decision Theology teaches that one must choose to invite Jesus into the heart or make a decision for Jesus - the idea being that Jesus has prepared all things for your salvation and is standing, knocking at your door, but you must open the door and let Him in. This, of course, is synergism, Pelagianism. Our Lord Himself, however, has said most clearly, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." Countless images in the Scriptures relate man's condition before the action of the Holy Spirit through the Word to that of a dead man (Lazarus) or to dead lifeless bones (Ezekiel). As there was nothing that Lazarus, dead in the tomb four days - he stinketh! -, or those dried out bones stripped through time and predators of all flesh and tendons, could do to change their dead, lifeless conditions, neither is it possible for men, dead in the spirit and without the life that is the Lord, to do anything to change their condition, let alone choose to believe, to accept, to invite, or to live rather than remain dead.

In fact, we do not, we cannot, choose to believe anything! Yes, we talk this way, because it seems that we make free choices, even choosing to believe in something or not. But if you only would sit back and honestly think about it for a moment, it is obvious that we do not choose our beliefs - in fact, the idea of choosing what to believe or not is fundamentally contrary to what it means to believe. E.g., you do not choose to believe that the light will come on when you flip the switch in your bedroom. You believe this because your experience leads you to believe this - your experience (and the experience of many others both contemporary and antecedent) informs you that this has consistently been the case; if the light does not come on then there is a problem either with the bulb or with the current. Belief could be defined as "having a firm conviction in the truth of something which cannot be known for certain." Here I will be criticized, for most people would say that we know the light will come on when we flip the switch; this is how we commonly talk. However, we do not know that the light will come on; the two scenarios of the burned out bulb or an interruption in current should suffice to demonstrate that. Sure, there is a 5,000 year old philosophical debate concerning what constitutes knowledge called Epistemology, but that will have to be another post. My point now is this: our would be free will and free choice is in bondage to sin and the flesh so that we cannot choose to change our sinful and spiritually dead condition. Further, it is logically and linguistically impossible to choose to believe in Jesus, or in anything. Thanks be to God that He acts upon us: Jesus calls us by the Holy Spirit through the Word. The Holy Spirit, through the Word, blows upon us and through us, enlivening us, resurrecting us. The Holy Spirit gives us faith, as a free gift, and it is faith that believes, that has a firm conviction in the Truth that cannot be known for certain.

I thank God that He chose me, because I never would have chosen Him - I couldn't have chosen Him. That is why my favorite verse in the Scriptures is the confession of the Centurion, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." And regarding the freedom of the will and freedom of choice Jesus has said, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) - The Second Coming

On this Last Sunday of the Church Year (Sunday of the Fulfillment) I am reminded of a favorite and perplexing poem by Yeats, The Second Coming. This poem means many things to many people -- that's what I love most about poetry --, but it seems to describe this age very well. Today I am especially moved by the relevancy of these words: The ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Friday, November 23, 2007

I, Sectarian

Reflecting over the past six or seven years, I have made the unsettling observation that in my striving to remain faithful I find myself potentially associating with an increasingly smaller and smaller number of colleagues and laity. Indeed the Lord has said that He will divide households, and so He has. Potentially dividing doctrines abound including the relationship between doctrine and practice, the role and work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's children, the nature of the Office of the Holy Ministry, etc. Even amongst those I consider my brothers, friends, and colleagues, a distressingly small group, I see more than the seeds of division already planted and growing. Does faithfulness necessarily lead to sectarianism?

Lurking on discussion lists of supposed like-minded brethren I am often reminded of the coliseum scene in Monty Python's - The Life of Brian: (click on the wanker above to see video)
  • REG: Judean People's Front. We're the People's Front of Judea! Judean People's Front. Cawk.
  • FRANCIS:Wankers.
  • BRIAN: Can I... join your group?
  • REG:No. Piss off.
  • REG: Listen. If you really wanted to join the P.F.J., you'd have to really hate the Romans.
  • BRIAN:I do!
  • REG:Oh, yeah? How much?
  • BRIAN: A lot!
  • REG:Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f*#%#g Judean People's Front.
  • P.F.J.: Yeah...
  • JUDITH: Splitters.
  • P.F.J.: Splitters...
  • FRANCIS:And the Judean Popular People's Front.
  • P.F.J.:Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
  • LORETTA: And the People's Front of Judea.
  • P.F.J.: Yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
  • REG: What?
  • LORETTA: The People's Front of Judea. Splitters.
  • REG: We're the People's Front of Judea!
  • LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
  • REG: People's Front! C-huh.
  • FRANCIS: Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
  • REG: He's over there.
  • P.F.J.: Splitter!
  • The saddening thing about this is that I love the Church catholic! I don't want to see Her shattered, split, and splintered. I believe whole-heartedly in the one body of Christ, His Bride, consisting of all believers of all times and all places. And I certainly do not wish to contribute in any way to Her fracture. So, on the one hand, the Lord has told His Bride this would happen, and would continue to happen until the parousia, but on the other, we are to live together in the bond of peace as one body, breaking one bread and drinking one cup.

    Lately some earnest Lutherans have taken to interpreting the Ignatian model for the Church (Bishop - Eucharist - Congregation) in terms of the Orthodox and, perhaps, Roman communion's ecclessiology: where the Bishop is not the parish pastor / priest, but an ecclessial higher rank. This is foreign to Lutheran ecclessiology and the doctrine of the OHM which states that there is but one Holy Office ordained for the purpose of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. These earstwhile proponents of episcopacy share with me a love for the Bride of Christ, His Blessed Sacraments, the Divine Liturgy, an understanding of the value of tradition, and a high view of the OHM, understanding ordaination as a Sacrament (or, at the very least, sacramental). In comparisson to the rest of the c(C)hurch we would be seen as being in near complete agreement. Yet, this issue of ecclessiology is a seed of division planted deep in fertile soil.

    The problem lies in the interpretation of Ignatius' use of the title "bishop". The Lutheran church has traditionally understood bishop to mean the called and ordained pastor of the church. The Orthodox and Roman communions understand the bishop to be the pastor of pastors, or, a higher ranking ecclessial supervisor, himself serving as pastor. According to the latter interpretation, only the bishop is rightly said to serve "in the stead of" Christ. The parish pastor, then, stands in the stead of the bishop. According to the Lutheran interpretation, each called and ordained pastor - common parish or otherwise - stands in the stead of Christ to adminster His Sacraments and proclaim the Gospel to the congregation of His call. Common Lutheran pastors I know have, tongue firmly planted in cheek, called themselves bishop of (insert name of town or village), recognizing that there is but one ordained OHM.

    It is distressing that by simply, faithfully, remaining steadfast in the confession and faith I vowed to uphold, preach, teach, and confess in my ordaination vows, I am potentially being pushed further into seeming sectarianism. Perhaps those who view things differently will abandon the Lutheran confession of the faith; perhaps they will change the church body who holds to that confession. Either way, I, sectarian.

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    Wrestling with God

    The Hebrew name Israel means struggles with God. The Germans have a word for that too, anfechtung. The children of God will always struggle to remain faithful and steadfast against the temptations of the flesh, the world, the devil. The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. That which I would do I do not; that which I would not do I find myself doing. Lord, I believe; help me in my unbelief. This struggle is the Christian faith this side of heaven; in the world but not of the world; as we make our pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death to the House of the Lord, coming out of the Great Tribulation.

    Naively, one may not expect to face such struggle within the Church, though, in reality, it is often the most dangerous and destructive there. Within the Church prey many wolves in sheep's clothing and the devil conceals himself in light speaking peace where there is no peace. The Word of God, and He incarnate, always causes division. He is a two-edged sword, cutting both ways, so that no man encounters the Lord and remains unscathed. He is received in faith unto great blessing or He is rejected in unbelief unto judgment. Thus, there will be, must be, division, struggle, anfechtung, especially within the Church. I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.

    In the Lutheran church we have named this struggle, in the many and various ways it is manifested, crux theologica (theology of the cross). It is a habitus, a way of being, living one's life, and working out one's salvation, under the cross. It is nothing less than living in Christ and Christ living in His child - the very image of the Suffering Servant. What are the qualities of the Suffering Servant in relation to flesh, world, and devil?: humility, poverty of spirit, hunger and thirst for righteousness, meekness, sacrifice, charity, love, mercy, selflessness, etc.

    The child of God need not strive to bring the cross upon himself, for it will come quite naturally, assuredly, and without one's choosing. The cross will come and must not be shrugged off, but borne in faith, hope, and love in accordance with the Father's holy will. For, aligned with the Father's will is where we need to be. It is an unfathomable blessing that brings peace that the world cannot give. The temptation is to evade, deny, or appease the struggle, but such is to shrug off one's appointed cross, to fall out of alignment with the Father's will, and to lose the blessing of divine peace. I will not let you go unless You bless me.

    Wednesday, November 7, 2007

    In the Place of Christ?

    I heard a speaker on Ancient Faith Radio say that the difference between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy is their central article of faith: For Lutherans, it is justification. For the Orthodox, it is the Trinity. To this, I say "Baloney!".

    The central article of the Christian faith has to be justification; and justification necessarily includes the doctrine of the Trinity -- Justification is the work of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Justification is not simply the Son substituting Himself for sinful man, but it is the Father sending His Son for this purpose, the Son willingly submitting, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the glory of the Holy Trinity is revealed in justification; only through justification can man approach the Triune God

    Lutherans are indeed guilty of too narrowly defining justification, focusing almost exclusively on its forensic and imputative nature. Justification, more fully and richly understood, includes, indeed, depends upon, the essence and nature of the Holy Trinity: -- [warning: the record is about to skip again] -- love, selflessness, sacrifice, mercy, charity, etc.

    I don't mean to sound alarmist, nor fundamentalist, but I am growing increasingly concerned about the aggressive proselytizing that the Orthodox communion is engaged in. They seem to be systematically going after protestants, and particularly, protestant clergy (not that "I" consider Lutherans to be protestants, but the Orthodox certainly do). They seem to have their sights set particularly on Lutherans and Anglicans, those who have a deep appreciation of and theology concerning the Liturgy. These are being wooed with silver tongue and circumlocutory arguments. Lutherans, who need little ammunition supplied by others to turn their guns on their own church, are being told that the center of their faith is wrong. Lutherans must supplant Christ "and Him crucified" with the Holy Trinity. An alternate doctrine sits in the place of Christ.

    Hmmm.... someone recognized that in another communion about five hundred years ago.

    Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Beginning at the End

    I guess, in at least one way, my life parallels that of the Misery Synod (LCMS): I tend to be behind on the current trend, not up to date, contemporary. What I mean is this: The LCMS is, let's say, about fifteen years behind other "protestant" denominations in adopting nouveau adaptations in worship, programs, etc. Don't get me wrong here, it is good that the LCMS does not move quickly to embrace such ideas, but it is bad that it will, nevertheless, embrace them in time. Unfortunately, but not unanticipated, by the time the LCMS has embraced a nouveau idea (e.g. church growth, contemporary worship, etc.), the protestants have long ago realized its failings.

    The parallel to my own life is in this: I became a Yankee fan in 2000, the last time the Bombers won a World Series. Ever since they've been able to make it to the post-season, but not to the glittering prize. Lately they've not even been able to get past the first round. The glory days were in their twilight when I entered as a neophyte. Likewise, I began seminary preparation at a time when the LCMS "seemed" to be at a confessional zenith only to find that it was really the twilight of but a "shiny elbow" on a bronze monkey.

    It makes me think of Springsteen's "Glory Days" as I am tempted to repristinate and pine for some non-existent epoch of perfection - aw, the fleshpots of Egypt! But true "glory" is in the cross: faith, trust, suffering, perseverance. If I will not take up my cross and follow, may it be laid upon me.

    The Yankees say goodbye to Joe, Don, & Alex. There may be more goodbyes to come. What does the future hold? Who knows. There's no more of a guarantee of a pennant now than there was then. They're going to have to fight and win and take pride in that, not in some past "glory". So too those, like myself, in the LCMS - beginning at the end - we must stand with the cross (our own, and His) in faithful perseverance. We must not fight for the LCMS, but for the Truth, which alone will set us free.

    Monday, October 29, 2007

    The Church at the Cross

    -isms are dangerous; no less Lutheranism. Lutherans become -ismatics when they take good, sound, biblical & apostolic doctrine and so narrowly define it's parameters that it becomes rigid, lifeless law. Lutheranism has done this to justification: justification has been stripped down to the skeletal, lifeless doctrine of a declarative judgment. What about sanctification, the life that is given in that "judgment"? Why would God act and judge in such a selfless, sacrificial way? What does that mean for our newly restored lives? These things are more difficult to define; they belong in the realm of mystery. -isms, perhaps unwittingly, destroy mystery.

    Lutherans have not entirely killed the mystery in justification; some still speak in the language of a "happy exchange". Some still believe we commune with saints and angels. Some still recognize the selfless, sacrificial love of the Bridegroom for His Bride and for His Father, that He laid down His life and became obedient unto death on a cross.

    But the -ism is encroaching. Lutheranism is becoming, perhaps became long ago, protestantism. Holiness has largely died in our churches. Little is sacred: space, time, words, reverence, behavior ... . Most is profane, mundane, common, ordinary; if it's not, then that's a problem we need to fix. We need to be more like them.

    Ironically, Lutheran -ismatics might agree that we need to reclaim the mystery: the mystery of God's majesty, triumph, and glory! The Roman and Orthodox communions embrace this as well. This is the theology of glory. The true mystery, however, is the theology of the cross. It is marked by humility, love, self-sacrifice, selflessness. It is not the glory and majesty of God that is contemplated and praised, but it is the selflessness and sacrifice, the love of God - "boundless love" in the words of Paul Gerhardt.

    God is love, and it is of His very essence and nature that He justifies and restores the "object" of His love - fallen man. "Object" is in quotes because it is not a sufficient word to describe the mystery of this love and relationship. In a mysterious way, Adam & Eve are as much "bone of God's bone and flesh of God's flesh" as they are of each other. God doesn't simply want to shower blessings upon the Church, He wants to marry the Church and impregnate the Church with His love - He gives Himself to and for the Bride to make Her holy and without blemish; to make Her like Himself.

    Granted, the Orthodox have a greater grasp of this than the Romans or any of the protestants, but, as much as they talk about mystery and theosis, they still lack the complete humility and selflessness of God's love and the Bride's selfless and humble receiving and responding in love. The Orthodox, too, have a theology of glory.

    Lutheranism is in trouble; it needs to die. There is no certainty that anything of value will survive it's demise. So be it. What there need be is the true Church that gathers at the foot of the cross: "Woman, behold, your son!" "Behold, your mother!" The true Church kneels in humble submission at the altar where the precious body and the holy blood of the Bridegroom are given for Her sustenance and strength. Always at the cross; always kneeling, submitting, receiving. Then, in the world, but not of the world, owning the mystery.

    Friday, October 26, 2007

    Emily Dickinson 1830-1886

    Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
    Success in Circuit lies
    Too bright for our infirm Delight
    The Truth's superb surprise

    As Lightning to the Children eased
    With explanation kind
    The Truth must dazzle gradually
    Or every man be blind —

    Mysterious Love

    I love it when the Bible gives a simple definition for something that most take to be very mysterious!

    Take, for example, the following definition from God's Word: God is love. People spend their lives trying to figure out who or what God is; here it is! God is love!

    So, if we only could know what love is, then we would know who or what God is. Thankfully, the Bible answers that for us as well: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Now, that's sacrificial language, laying down one's life for another. So, love is sacrifice, because a greater love is not possible than to sacrifice one's self for another.

    God is love.
    Love is sacrifice.
    Therefore, God is sacrifice.

    Indeed, God so loved the world that He gave (sacrificed) His only-begotten son. And the Son commands that we sacrifice ourselves (love) for each other, as He has sacrificed Himself (loved) for us.

    Love is selflessness, sacrifice; love is God. The fruit of the Spirit is equally sacrificial: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). To "do" or "be" these things is to be selfless, humble, sacrificing one's "selfishness" for the sake and benefit of another -- to be "like" God in His creative activity, giving life to another. Forgiveness has this same quality and character: forgive us our trespasses (sacrifice) as we forgive those who trespass against us (sacrifice).

    The icon of love is marriage. The two become one flesh. But 1 + 1 do not equal 1 in a human and fleshly way. The one flesh union of husband and wife is a sacrificial union as each member gives of themselves for the sake of the other, for the sake of the one. And one possible fruit of this sacrificial union is new life, like unto God's own creative activity.

    "In the beginning God created...". The first revelation of Himself that God bestows is that He gives of Himself, He creates, for no other reason than that He loves - He is love. The pinnacle of His creation, man and woman, He joins together in love in His image and likeness, commanding them to "be fruitful and multiply" - to create in love, like Himself. Marriage, in sacrificial love, is an icon of the love of Christ for His Bride the Church, and an icon of God's own love for His Son in the Spirit.

    All we need is love, love is all we need.

    The Mystery of Truth

    I, an unlikely theologian, an uneasy priest, indeed. Some combination of Philosophy, Text-Critical Theory, and the Holy Spirit brought me to this time and place and being. It was, and is, an ontological quest: What's real? How do we know? Can we know? I Kant thank Hume enough: cogito, ergo sum. I was a global skeptic who believed in free will until I came to believe in an unaccessible absolute Truth -- Could I perceive it? Could I trust my perceptions? The Truth was given to me as an infant through Water & Word; I received it fully, freely, truly, but benefited from it, perhaps, only occasionally, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    A week ago, truth was obtainable by scientific method. Yesterday, truth was relative. Today, there is no truth; but is that true? The Truth is bigger than we are, some profess; the truth is what you make it, others profess. The Truth became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us: you can touch It, taste It, hear It, maybe even smell It.

    Lately, Lutherans look longingly, liturgically, to the East. Ah, the mystery! The East! Poor Westerners, unenlightened Masses. Trinity, Incarnation, Eucharist, Baptism, Ordination, Marriage, all mysteries, all the time! The East has no monopoly on these. Yes, LINO's (Lutherans in name only) over-rationalize these and rob or kill the mystery, but not the Remnant, WTA (whoever they are). Five out of Seven Sacraments can't be wrong! But the Truth has spoken: "you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free." And the Truth is known by remaining in the Word, and the Word is Truth. Can a Known Truth be also a Mystery? Is the Truth Himself Mysterious?

    Humility is wisdom. Lutherans, let us submit our reason to the mystery of faith and receive the Truth for Who He Is. Easterners, contemplating the Mystery is more than sitting cross-legged and staring at your navel (or, your icon). The Church is bigger, and more humble, than both of us.