Thursday, July 31, 2008

Restoring the Center

The Pawling community was shocked last month by the sudden death of one of its youth, Francis “Frankie” Hughes. Shortly after his death the word began to spread that Frankie died from a heroine overdose. Since then, several arrests of teenagers from our community have been made due to leads discovered in the investigation of Frankie’s death. Today, stunned, parents, teachers, church leaders, town and village boards, and countless others are alarmed, concerned, angry, and afraid. And the questions: How could this have happened? Why are our youth engaging in such risky behavior? What are we going to do to address this? Where did this problem come from? Why didn’t we see it coming?

Some thirty representatives from the above mentioned groups, including myself, met Monday morning (July 28) to discuss this problem. The one hour meeting amounted to little more than an airing of concerns, fears, and frustrations, but it was, nevertheless, the first step towards acknowledging the proverbial elephant in the room. In other words, the problem concerning the risky behavior of our youth is not a new problem and it did not suddenly develop over the course of a few months. And so, there will be another meeting, this time for the entire community, Tuesday, August 12, 7:30pm in the cafeteria of the Pawling Middle Schoolplease plan to be there.

Again, the problem is not a new one and it did not develop in a short period of time. In my opinion, the source of the problem (other than sin!) is the breakdown of the traditional family that began somewhere near the end of the 1950’s. When parents began to be encouraged to refrain from disciplining their children so as not to damage their self-esteem, to never say no, to ask the child’s opinion on decisions traditionally made by the parents (e.g., when to go to bed, what they would like to eat), etc. a fundamental shift in the structure of the family began to occur. No longer were father and mother (husband and wife) the center of the family with the children as satellites (remember the “nuclear family”), but the “nucleus” became replace with the children. Nearly fifty years later, our culture and society has further weakened the family structure with the phenomena of free and easy divorce, single mothers, gay and lesbian civil unions, etc. Further, children now decidedly reign as the center of the family. Particularly it seems in the Northeast, nearly all of the family’s non-working time is dedicated to the felt “needs” of the children. Parents expend countless hours and dollars shuttling their kids to myriad activities and events because they have been convinced, by child family psychologists and by peer pressure that they must do so to build their child’s self-esteem – and, of course, to make sure they have as good or better stuff as all their peers, to ensure their popularity with their peers, and to get them into the right college.

Let me address this boogeyman so-called “self-esteem”. A dictionary definition of self-esteem is “to have a good opinion of oneself.” Now I don’t know about other parents, but I, for one, am pretty certain that my kids were born with a healthy, strong opinion of themselves (or, they developed such rather naturally). Heck, to use Freudian terminology, young children are pure Id, all that they are concerned about is themselves and what serves and pleases them, me, myself, and I. Today parents are supposed to encourage, promote, and strengthen this infantile self-centeredness? Interestingly, there were some older teens present at the July 28 meeting. At one point they were asked what, in their opinion, were the reasons for their peers engaging in risky behavior. Their answer: boredom and – are you ready? – low self-esteem! For nearly fifty years parents have been derided, guilted, and pressured into building their children’s self-esteem and, lo and behold, it hasn’t worked! Youth still feel unfulfilled, there’s still something lacking – what could it be? Give me a break! They’ve been raised as the center of the family since infancy, they’ve been on the receiving end of their parent’s attention, time, and money – what’s lacking? MORE! We’ve made them into Id-iots and Ego-maniacs – they crave more and more attention and everything else they feel they need, and they’re never satisfied! You know what that sounds like? An addiction! Our youth are self-centered addicts who take and take, as we give and give, and can never be satisfied. And, you know what else – it’s YOUR fault (and MY fault), not theirs.

If you’re reading this and any of this matters to you then you have, or have had, school-aged children. This means that you are likely old enough to have not been raised in the most extreme child-centered way described above. So I ask you: Who had the final say in your family as to when you went to bed, what you ate for dinner, whether or not you went to church? When mom & dad had adult company over, did you participate in the conversation or interrupt repeatedly to express your desires, or did you sit quietly listening, speaking when spoken to, or remain out of the room altogether? Did you eat meals nightly with your family, or did you fend for yourself? With some degree of variation, I’m supposing that most of your experiences growing up were like this: Mom and Dad were the central figures of authority in the family. I may not have liked what they commanded, but in the end, their will was done. If I disobeyed I could expect to be disciplined. I knew that my Father and Mother loved me and cared for me. I knew that they forgave me. I knew that I could depend on them. I had a good opinion of myself because of this.

You see, it all goes back to God. God is a Father. God is Love. And God disciplines His children. God commands all of us to Honor your Father and your Mother and He promises that in doing so it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth. Parents have a God given vocation, a calling, to love and discipline their children (love and discipline are not in opposition). Today’s parents have been deceived into believing that they are showing their children love when they are permissive and lax with their children, and that discipline is abuse and diminishes their children’s self-esteem. They have exchanged the truth about God and their God given vocation for a lie. But there are some relatively simple things that parents can do to begin to rebuild their family in the image of God. First, nurture the marriage – this means husband and wife come first. For the family to function properly, the center (the nucleus) must be restored. Second, children should always expect to pay more attention to their parents than their parents will pay to them. Third, children must do as their parents say, and “Because I said so” is a perfectly good reason, no explanation needed.

In regard to the present problem of risky behavior amongst the youth of Pawling, it is not unreasonable for a parent to demand to know the whereabouts of their children at any and all times. A parent should know: Where are you going? Who’s going to be there? What will you be doing? And a parent should state when they’ll be home. At least the evening meal should, when possible, be eaten together as a family. Begin this meal with a prayer of thanksgiving and include any needs or concerns the family might have. And attend church frequently as a family. Ultimately, a family is only as strong as the marriage of mom and dad; and that marriage can only be strong if it is centered and strengthened in Christ.

Your children will know that you love them. They will have a high opinion of themselves because they will know that you, the most important people in their lives, have a high opinion of them. They will know that you love them because you actually care where they are and what they are doing, because nobody else does. Parents, does God love you? Does He expect you to obey Him? Does He discipline you to bring you safely back to Him when you stray? Yes, now go and do likewise, for you are like God to your children. But never lose hope and never quit. Parenting is the most difficult calling God gives, but through it we can experience what it’s like love like God – caring for, disciplining, loving even when your children rebel, fight, curse, and sin. God will bless you, strengthen and keep you because in such a manner He loves you too.

In the love and peace of Christ Jesus
Pastor Ellingworth

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Day of Resurrection (for this week!)

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! The past week has been full of strong discourse, heated exchange, and some self-centered and childish behavior. The spirit of charity, at times, seems almost to have evaporated - mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. If I have hurt anyone beyond the nominal angst that exists where there is disagreement, I am truly sorry and I ask your forgiveness. I likewise hold no one culpable understanding the love for Christ and His body the Church that compels us all.

That being said, as I prepare for the unique honor and privilege of serving the flock of Christ, to whom I have been called as undershepherd to the true and only Good Shepherd, with His most precious and holy gifts, knowing that many I have had the opportunity to dialogue with this week are preparing to do the same, I pray that in the mysterious will and power of God that, despite a particular ecclesiology, the performative and creative Word of God "This is my body given for you" "This is my blood of the new covenant shed for you for the forgiveness of sins" brings into being what He says as He did in the creation, at the raising of Lazarus, and in His Word from the cross "It is finished."

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life + of the world to come.

The Lord of life, love, and forgiveness bless you and continue to make you a rich blessing to others.

Pr. Ellingworth

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Orthodox Intentions?

The following comes from a response to a post found on Father Hollywood's blog. Father H. is responding to Fr. B's concern that the Orthodox are actively, intentionally proselytizing (sheep/shepherd(!) stealing) amongst Lutheran flocks (and other liturgical, sacramental flocks as well). Father H. is "bang-on" -- they are being dishonest. Call it strategizing, marketing -- it's deceptive, and intentionally so -- angels of light.

Dear Paul (Beisel, that is):

As a convert to Lutheranism via the Augsburg Confession, I'm just not affected one way or the other by the doubts and the hand-wringing of the Saxon immigrants. I see Lutheranism as a confession that transcends America and the LCMS. Countries and synods come and go. The whole "validity" thing just isn't one of my "buttons."

My beef is that I can't get straight answers. I know we are using different terms in different ways, in different contexts, and this "talking past one another" makes communication difficult. But still, if there really was a desire for dialogue (and not simply monologue), we could get beyond this impasse.

Now, my Orthodox brethren aren't going to like what I have to say here, but 1) I'm just being honest, 2) This is my blog, 3) Those who "dish" ought to be able to "take" as well, 4) I don't mean any of this personally, and 5) I could be all wrong, and I'm willing to be proven so - but all that has been "proven" in this thread is that I've not been critical enough of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Again, prove me wrong, and I'll change my mind.

Here is the reason behind my beef about not getting straight answers: the Orthodox treat us as brother Christians. When they leave Lutheranism, they all, to a man, gush about how Lutheranism taught them the Gospel, taught them the Scriptures, showed them the liturgy, Christology, etc. They rave about this pastor and that professor, etc. In some cases, we have Orthodox priests (former Lutherans) like Fr. Hogg admitting that the Holy Spirit works in Lutheran churches (but when pressed, he doesn't say the Spirit is doing anything in Lutheran churches other than drawing people away from the Lutheran churches...), or like Fr. Fenton speaking of "Holy Eucharist" and the work of the Holy Spirit in Lutheran churches.

I have heard several Orthodox Christians (some priests, some lay, and some former Lutheran converts to Orthodoxy) speak of us Lutherans (at least in private conversations) as part of the Christian Church. Maybe they have it wrong, but some of these people are pretty learned theologians. Maybe it's a "felicitous inconsistency". But I believe these people are sincere.

But look at the *in*consistency: Many Orthodox admire C.S. Lewis and openly call him a Christian (though he, like us, followed a heretical schism of a heretical schism, was unbaptized, never had absolution nor any sacrament his whole life long). Orthodox churches even belong to the WCC and NCC, take part in all sorts of ecumenical endeavors, speak at Lutheran retreats and symposia, sponsor ecumenical schools that include non-Orthodox Christians as faculty and administration, as well as take an active part in Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

But what has been confessed here is that the Orthodox do not recognize our sacraments (including baptism), our clerical orders, our status as Church, nor even our standing as Christians (they say they actually "don't know" - even though they who claim to be exclusively the ground and pillar of truth led by the Holy Spirit have had 500 years to figure it out, I mean that's 25% of the elapsed time since our Lord's resurrection, how much time do you need?). But they will, at least to our faces, grant us that they "don't know" if we're Christians or not, rather than call us "heretics."

If we *aren't* Christians, they should either "mark and avoid" us or call us to repentance lest we be condemned to hell - they certainly shouldn't be entering all sorts of ecumenical arrangements and pretending that we are brother Christians.

If we *are* Christians, they should acknowledge us such even if we are in some kind of "impaired communion" or even in some kind of schismatic relationship to the the Church.

Now, I did get someone (Christopher Orr?) to admit that we are followers of a heretical religion, and Fr. Hogg spoke of Lutheranism as a "hairesis" - but we as individual Lutherans have a great loophole - we can't be heretics because we don't qualify to be charged with heresy under Orthodox canon law (kind of a "venue and jurisdiction" issue). If we are followers of a heretical religion, are unbaptized, and are outside of the Church, how can someone say they "don't know" if we're Christians or not?

I think the Orthodox, in order to survive in the West, has to "play nice" with the (non)-Christians in their community. They can't come out and say: "You people aren't Christians" - since that would be a turn-off for the millions of potential converts.

Orthodoxy has a "marketing problem" in that sense. They need these heretics to convert to Orthodoxy, but if you call them heretics, that will chase them away. I think there's a little strategizing going on here, and I don't think it's very honest.

Also, I don't believe Orthodoxy is nowhere near as homogeneous as our Orthodox friends want us to think it is - and I think the confusion over what to do with Lutheran baptisms and the resulting individualistic episcopal retroactive hocus-pocus that's called in to deal with it is a result of this confusion and division that the Orthodox would have us think is only in *our* communion.

I've had several Eastern Orthodox priests (none on this forum) explain to me that the Western Orthodox have an intrinsically inferior liturgy, and that WO is really just a "stepping stone" to the East. Once again, it is almost a "marketing strategy." They'll say it to a Lutheran, would they say it to Fenton?

I just don't like being sold a bill of goods. I get the impression that someone is playing a shell game and trying to pull a fast one. But when you ask to see what's under the other shells (just to see if you're being greased), you're told: "Uh, ahem, that's not the right question", given a pat on the head and told to run along and read a book, or are given a quotation that sounds more like the wisdom of Master Po in a flashback scene from Kung Fu than an answer to a simple question.

I really get the impression that many Orthodox apologists feel they have to present themselves as cocksure, but I think a lot of them aren't quite as sure as they would like us to believe they are.

I also think there is great confusion among the Orthodox about our status. But I think they need to convince us that we need to doubt our sacraments and the Holy Spirit's work in our midst, while not driving such a wedge that they can't drop in once in a while for a "sales call."

I honestly don't understand why so many people who leave the LCMS and Lutheranism continue to spend so much time hanging around us. Not all do (Fr. Fenton doesn't seem to care what I or Paul McCain or William Weedon have to say, and good for him - I don't think he should care). I like Fr. Hogg personally, but I still have no idea why he cares a whit what any of us have to say about Orthodoxy or what awful things go on in our churches (if the Orthodox are correct, then the jiggers, the wine going in the trash, and who's in communion with whom are no problem anyway - since there's no church and no sacrament in the first place). He left it behind. He has a new flock. He has a new life and a new vocation. Unless he's trying to "rescue" some of us (what we might call "sheep-stealing" but what the Orthodox would call "evangelizing the non-Christians with the True Faith"), who cares?

I used to be a Baptist, but there isn't a single Baptist blog I even visit, let alone invest a lot of time commenting on. It's not even on the radar screen for me.

Of course, Jack Cascione is the worst. Here's a guy who left the LCMS, but his entire life, it seems, is all about researching, writing, and leading a one-man crusade to "fix" the synod that neither he nor his congregation belong to. Jack needs to collect stamps or take up woodworking or something. He's become a "stalker" and it's not healthy.

I think some of our Orthodox friends are running the risk of getting into the same rut.

Talking for the sake of mutual edification as Christians is a good and noble thing - but that's not what is going on here from their perspective. I think Paul McCain is right that this is about trying to bring about conversions - and I wish our Orthodox brethren would be up-front about it.

When Did I Become A Lutheran? - A layman's confession

Thanks to Rev. Paul McCain for posting this marvelous article on his Cyberbrethren blog. All I can say is Amen! This is exactly why I remain a Lutheran even in the face of a fractured and heterodox church body (synod). Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum - The Word of the Lord endures forever!

A Lutheran layman, a convert, prepared this little essay that I found to be extremely thought-provoking. Perhaps you will as well. Here is what layman Mr. Michael Baker had to say, when asked, "When did you become a Lutheran?"

When Did I Become a Lutheran?

While some bean-counter will tell me that I became a Lutheran when I joined the Lutheran church body to which I belong, I tend to disagree. You see, I am a rarity among converts. I did not even really know anything about Lutheranism until long after I left charismatic Anabaptism. Why did I leave charismatic Anabaptism? I started to read the Bible. When I read the Bible with discernment, I found Scripture that explicitly contradicted many of their teachings. I left because they were teaching false doctrine and I could no longer stomach it.

A few years later, I worked past my disillusion and decided to find a church that did not teach false doctrine. A few years of sulking was not a transition from one church to another. It was a conscious decision born out of years of objective research that measured many Christian and several pseudo-Christian faiths against Holy Scripture and church tradition on a level playing field. I resolved to find the truth and join the faith that best agreed with truth.

At the conclusion of this journey, I selected Lutheranism. I then searched for Lutheran churches and Lutheran church bodies, to find the one that was the most faithful to what I had been reading and what I had come to believe.

My confession: When I set foot in my current congregation, I had to take several trips back to my car to bring in my stacks of theological books and research notes. I held up my copy of the Book of Concord and told the pastor, “This is what I believe. Do you teach and follow this book?”

So I ask, “When did I become Lutheran?”

If I became Lutheran when I confessed Lutheran doctrine, then Lutheranism is objective truth that can be believed and understood – not just corporately, but individually as well. If Lutheranism is true and objective, then it needs no followers to be the correct confession. That is why I selected it. I knew nothing of controversies, synods, and church politics the day that I joyously declared, “I am Lutheran!,” for the first time. I did not know how many problems there may be in actually practicing Lutheranism. But I knew truth when I saw it. At that point, I could not be anything that disagreed with the truth. I should have realized that the ideal of Lutheranism is always practiced by people who are very much sinful human beings. There is no perfection on this planet, no perfection in any Lutheran church either. I get that now.

For me, the truths that are expressed in Lutheranism are objective and imperative. As much as my heart grieves for those who attend a whacked-out congregation that is only pretending to be Lutheran, this has no bearing on the validity of my confession. I confessed Lutheranism long before I joined a corporate body. I confessed it the day that I discovered that I could no longer commune with my family. I confess each day that I learn about a new horrible problem (both real and perceived) within the church body that I am in.

I confess the Book of Concord. My copy of the Book of Concord has my signature inked just below the list of original signatories. That is a very personal and intimate thing for me. I do not confess Lutheranism because I am Lutheran. I am Lutheran because I confess Lutheran teaching. I am Lutheran because I agree with the teachings contained in this book, and that is what people who agree with this book are called.

If extremists on either side of my Lutheran denomination tear it apart, and cause it to schism, I will still confess the teachings of the Book of Concord. If a day comes when my Lutheran church requires me to go against the confessions, I will rebuke her and confess Lutheranism. If I should be stranded on a desolate island for the rest of my life, I will still confess Lutheran doctrine and practice. Real Presence is objectively true. Justification by faith alone is objectively true. As far as the validity of truth is concerned, what others do or think is irrelevant.

If a group calling itself the “Purple Zamboni Church of Lower New Brunswick” takes up the Book of Concord and begins to follow it confessionally as the founders did, then I will encourage my church body to follow their example. If my Lutheran church does not listen, I will leave and join the PZCLNB... and start to lobby for the Zamboni-ists to pick a better name.

Do I confess Lutheranism because I was born Lutheran? No.

...because I like everything I see happening in Lutheran church bodies? No. I don’t.

...because Lutheranism is the rebound faith that I fled to? No rebound here.

...because my pastor is a good guy? No. (He is, but that is beside the point.)

...because I like Lutheran music and liturgy? I hated it at first.

...because I like Germany and Scandinavia? Never been to either locale.

...because I was witnessed to by Lutherans? No, modern Lutherans are horrible at this.

...because I think that Lutherans are better Christians than other Christians? They’re not.

...because Lutherans have all the answers? No. Lutheranism thrives on paradox. Lutheranism can only tell you what it has been told by Scripture. Lutherans have the fewest answers of any Christian confession. They don’t know squat because they don’t make stuff up when things do not make sense.

I confess this confession because no one has been able to show me where it is objectively false. I confess it because I firmly believe that it is the true explanation of God’s Word and stands apart as superior against all other human opinions. I confess it because of the human speculation and opinion that it lacks. I confess it because it is the clearest path to my Crucified and now Risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

Nothing will come between me and this true expression of Christianity... including Lutherans.

This article was copied from Rev. Paul McCain’s blog