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.