Monday, November 16, 2009

Atheists questioning their atheism

Gene Veith posted this on his blog Cranach: The Blog of Veith. It is a summation of an article by Chuck Colson in Christianity Today noting how several prominent atheists have changed their tunes

Well-known scholar Antony Flew was the first, saying he had to go "where the evidence [led]." Evolutionary theory, he concluded, has no reasonable explanation for the origin of life. When I met with Flew in Oxford, he told me that while he had not come to believe in the biblical God, he had concluded that atheism is not logically sustainable.

More recently, A. N. Wilson, once thought to be the next C. S. Lewis who then renounced his faith and spent years mocking Christianity, returned to faith. The reason, he said in an interview with New Statesman, was that atheists "are missing out on some very basic experiences of life." Listening to Bach and reading the works of religious authors, he realized that their worldview or "perception of life was deeper, wiser, and more rounded than my own."

He noticed that the people who insist we are "simply anthropoid apes" cannot account for things as basic as language, love, and music. That, along with the "even stronger argument" of how the "Christian faith transforms individual lives," convinced Wilson that "the religion of the incarnation … is simply true."

Likewise, Matthew Parris, another well-known British atheist, made the mistake of visiting Christian aid workers in Malawi, where he saw the power of the gospel transforming them and others. Concerned with what he saw, he wrote that it "confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God." While Parris is unwilling to follow where his observations lead, he is obviously wrestling with how Christianity makes better sense of the world than other worldviews.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Exhortation of the mind to the contemplation of God. – It casts aside cares, and excludes all thoughts save that of God, that it may seek Him. Man was created to see God. Man by sin lost the blessedness for which he was made, and found the misery for which he was not made. He did not keep this good when he could keep it easily. Without God it is ill with us. Our labors and attempts are in vain without God. Man cannot seek God, unless God himself teaches him; nor find him, unless he reveals himself. God created man in his image, that he might be mindful of him, think of him, and love him. The believer does not seek to understand, that he may believe, but he believes that he may understand: for unless he believed he would not understand.

St. Anselm: Basic Writings, Second Edition. Open Court, 1962.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Luther On the Faith of Infants and the Place of Reason

Let us look at the reason why they hold that children do not believe. They say since they have as yet not come to use their reason, they cannot hear God’s Word. Children have not come to the use of their reason, you say, therefore they cannot believe. What if you have already fallen from faith through this reason and the children had come to faith through their unreason? My friend, what good does reason do when faith and God’s Word are concerned. Is it not a fact that reason resists faith and the Word of God so that because of it, no one can come to faith or put up with God’s Word unless reason is blinded and put to shame? A man must die to reason and become a fool, so to speak, yes, and must become more unreasoning and irrational than any young child if he is to come to faith and accept God’s grace, as Christ says (Matt. 18:3) “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of haven.” How often Christ points out to us that we must become children and fools and how often He condemns reason!

Again, tell me, what sort of reason did the little children have when Christ caressed and blessed and assigned to heaven? Surely they, too, were as yet without reason. Why, then, does He order that they be brought to Him, and why does He bless them? Where did they get the faith that made them children of the kingdom of heaven? The fact is that just because they are unreasoning and foolish, they are better fitted to come to faith than the old and reasoning people whose way is always blocked by reason, which does not want to force its beg head through the narrow door.

What Luther Says, 142 Objection: Unreasoning Infants Cannot Believe, p51.

Luther On Infant Baptism

I still maintain, as I have maintained, that the surest Baptism is infant Baptism. For an old person may deceive, may come to Christ as a Judas and permit himself to be baptized. But a child cannot deceive. It comes to Christ in Baptism as John came to Him and as the little children were brought to Him, that His Word may come over them, touch them, and thus make them holy. For His Word and work cannot pass by without effect; and in Baptism they are directed at the child alone. If they were to fail of success here, they would have to be entire failures and useless means, which is impossible.

What Luther Says, 139 Baptism of Infants Surely Efficacious, p50. Emphasis mine.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Less comfortable than a bottle of Port

linusI found this C. S. Lewis quote as someone’s .sig file – Excellent!

"I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity." -- C.S. Lewis

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Reflection

Maybe it’s because I turned 40 last month and have been a bit more reflective of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and where I’m going, but lately I’ve found myself thinking about all the wonderfully inspiring people – people of some degree of notoriety (e.g. authors, professors, pastors, poets, etc.) – that, remarkably, happen to live in this same time of two score years, with, hopefully, at least, an equal amount of time left.

I suppose what I mean is that, given the 7,000 plus years of human history, my 40 years are insignificant, to say the least; and to think that these individuals that I admire and find so inspiring and illuminating just happen to live and write at this same time is simply remarkable (to me). I’m so very thankful for them and I consider them gifts; but then, at the same time, recognizing my own insignificance (in the grand scheme of things) I also recognize that even these men and women I admire are really insignificant – they will likely be remembered but a little longer than I.

In the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring Gandalf tells Frodo “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” It is tempting to become consumed by projects and deadlines and “what-might-be” thoughts. The weeks and months slip by ever so quickly as each day that passes is another day closer to the next bible study, confirmation class, sermon, or paycheck. The next thing you know, you’re 40, and 41 is coming quickly. Ok, so this is getting existential – What is the meaning of life? (I know someone’s dying to say “42”.) Gandalf didn’t give an answer but a question. What will I decide to do with the time that is given me?

Well, I’m probably not going to be famous or rich. I’m probably always going to live paycheck to paycheck. Hopefully I’ll remain in fairly good health. I don’t even know where I’m going to be buried when I die. I am of just above average intelligence (B-). I am, by God’s design (it has to be His) a pastor, and not a great one at that. I know that I do have influence on a number of people’s lives, though I feel quite inadequate to meet their needs.

So, what am I going to do with the time that is given me? Ok, so I’m not ambitious; maybe I’m just lazy. I will be a father, a son, a pastor, and not to the best of my abilities (I simply know that I do not always do that), but in humility and repentance. I will try to practice the Christian virtues of love, mercy, forgiveness, charity, peace, kindness, gentleness, patience, selflessness, humility, etc. I will do what I am called to do – when I don’t want to, when I don’t feel like it, when I doubt my efficacy or ability. I will continue to read and to study, to grow and to learn, to stand firm in my conviction while tolerating with gentleness those who disagree with me. I will make no ultimatums and will try not to capitulate.

I will pray the rote liturgy and rote prayers. I will read people who talk about the bible more than I read the bible (though those writers always get me digging deeper into the bible). I will be frustrated with people who clearly have greater gifts than me but seem to like people to acknowledge that.

God, I really need a father confessor. O Lord, hear my prayer.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Bread of Freedom

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity 26 July 2009

Mark 8:1-9 / Romans 6:19-23 / Genesis 2:7-17

Audio of sermon.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ever since the fall into sin, labor and bread go together. We all need our daily bread to live, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. In the 60’s the term bread became synonymous with money, the means by which bread was acquired. Money implies work, but that same generation loathed work. The fall into sin brought the curse, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” and then death, “till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The result of the curse is that we must toil and labor to put daily bread upon our tables. Each day is a struggle to survive – with the end result that we die. All our striving to feed ourselves and our families, to put a roof over our heads and clothing on our backs, all our striving to do the right thing, the moral thing, the good thing, leads to death. Life is short and then you die.

Notice how we call it a “fall” into sin? Almost makes it sound like an accident, doesn’t it? And of course, if it’s an accident, then we like to reason that “We didn’t mean to do it, it just kind of happened.” And that doesn’t sound quite so bad. However, honestly, man didn’t simply fall into sin, it was a choice. In fact it was man’s first free choice. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” That day is today. That day is tomorrow. That day is each and every day that you insist that you provide for yourself. That day is each and every day that you insist on determining for yourself what is good and what is evil. That day is each and every day that you insist on being god unto yourself.

In the beginning, God provided for man’s sustenance – all that he needed to support his body and his life. The fall into sin, the willful eating of that one forbidden food, the one free choice that man made of his own will in opposition to the will of God, to decide for himself what was good and what was evil, was a willful turning away from God. And from that day, and every day since, man has toiled and striven to provide for himself, physically and spiritually, daily bread – to the inevitable end, death. For the wages of sin is death – what you earn for your labor, what you earn for your striving, what you earn for your struggle, is death. From the very moment of conception we die a little more each and every day. It is what we have chosen freely. It is what we have earned.

Too much is made of human free will. There was no free will in the beginning, at least not in the way we commonly think of free will, for there was only God’s will. Man, made in God’s image, knew God’s will and shared God’s will. Man knew nothing other than God’s will. It was in the eating of that forbidden food, a sustenance that the LORD had not given man, a food that the LORD had commanded man not to eat of, it was in the eating of that forbidden food that man came to know something other than the will of God. And in his knowledge of good and evil, free will entered the picture – man no longer shared the will of God, but man knew something in opposition to God’s will – his own will. Dietrich Bonheoffer put it this way:

In knowing about good and evil, human beings understand themselves not within the reality of being defined by the origin [God], but from their own possibilities, namely, to be either good or evil. They now know themselves beside and outside of God, which means they now know nothing but themselves, and God not at all. For they can only know God by knowing God alone. The knowledge of good and evil is thus disunion with God. Human beings can know about good and evil only in opposition to God.

And so what seemed like freedom, turned out to be slavery. Man found himself knowing that he must do God’s will, and striving to do it, but without knowing any longer what God’s will actually was. And worse, man, exercising his own fallen will, began to call good evil and evil good. Man presented the members of his body as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness with the result that the fruit of his efforts, the fruit of his labor and toil, was still more lawlessness: man’s striving to produce bread on his own still leads only to death.

Bread is not supposed to bring death, but life – Bread is a staple for life, bread is good for you. The poorest people on the earth eat bread and drink water and survive. But man’s bread still brings only death, not life. For man does not live by bread alone but by every, but man lives by the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. And God’s Word became flesh and made His dwelling here amongst us. As in the beginning God provided man’s daily bread, so again God would provide the only Bread that truly give life – Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, our Bread King, the daily Bread of our earthly lives and the Bread that gives life that never dies.

Jesus was the Second Adam. He was sent to labor and travail and to die. By the sweat of His brow and the stripes on His back He would produce the Bread of Life. He would eat the bread of our death so that He might provide us His bread that brings life. Jesus looked at that crowd and had compassion on them because they had been with him three days and had nothing to eat. That word compassion is telling – it literally means “to suffer together with”. Jesus didn’t simply feel pity for the 4,000 plus, but he suffered with them – He suffered their toil, their struggle, and their strife, and, ultimately, He suffered their hunger and their inability to produce life-giving bread. Jesus took the meager offering of bread that they could produce – seven loaves and a few small fish – and in a way hidden from the crowd provided them food enough that they were satisfied, with leftovers to spare.

But there’s still no such thing as a free lunch and the wages of sin is still death. Shortly after the miraculous feeding of the four thousand Jesus began to teach His disciples that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” The bread He provided them in the feeding of the four thousand was but a foretaste of the bread that He would die to provide them. Jesus, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us. Even though He was innocent, sinless, holy, Jesus became our sin. He became our sin so that the wage of death would no longer be ours. He didn’t just take our sin upon Himself, He became our sin. And death was meted out to Him – PAID IN FULL. It is finished. You are free, truly free – free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of your life.

“When you were slaves to sin you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, [‘slaves of God’, see, I told you that free will was overrated] the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

On the third day He provided hungry, fainting pilgrims bread in the desolate wilderness. On the third day our Bread King was raised from the dead to give us the Bread of Life which a man eats that he may never die. And that Bread of Life is His body, given for you, and His precious blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. This bread is not food enough to keep you alive in this body forever, it’s barely enough to keep you from fainting today; but this Bread will keep the life freely given you in Holy Baptism alive forever, and it is all you will ever need.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Foolishness of God’s Love

I tried something new today – I recorded my sermon on a digital recorder. So, here is my first attempt at posting an audio file of a sermon.

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Historic) – Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21 (Click link for audio)

God’s ways are not our ways. You, and I, all of us know that to be unequivocally true. But why? Are our ways always so wrong? Do we never do the right thing, the righteous thing, the virtuous thing? Of course we do. We build hospitals to heal the sick. We give food, clothing, and money to provide for the poor. Our young men and women lay down their lives to defend our freedoms and to secure freedoms for others. Of course, we also destroy infant lives, we better ourselves at the expense of others, and we tend to think more of ourselves than of anyone else. But why must God’s ways always be so very different from our ways? Why must God’s thoughts be so completely the opposite of our thoughts?

There is an answer to that question, and I think that you will agree that it is every bit as true as the fact that God’s ways are not our ways, even if you don’t find it very satisfying. The answer to the question “Why?” is, “Because He is God, and you are not.” That’s why.

We so want God to act in the ways in which we think that He should act. We so want God to be like us. It’s only human after all. But God is not like us; God is not a human creature. God created humanity in His image, not the other way around. So, who’s ways must be conformed to whom? Who’s thoughts must submit to whom?

The greatest obstacle to faith, and the greatest contributor to suffering, is pride. Pride is your idol, your god. An idol is anything that you put your fear, love, and trust in before God; an idol is anything that gets in between you and God. It’s a First Commandment thing: You shall have no other gods before me – not even yourself. It’s an Original Sin thing – man is not content to be created in the image of God, but man wants to be God himself. We want to determine what is wisdom and what is foolishness, what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. But it is pride. It is arrogance. It is self-righteousness and self-centeredness and self-ISH-ness. And it is sin. And it brings death. And it is utterly, and truly foolishness.

Each of our lessons today speak to us of foolishness. For it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that God would speak to Elijah, not in a mighty wind, not in a jarring earthquake, and not in a blazing fire, but in a still, small voice – even a whisper.

Likewise, it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that you do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling but rather do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, even love your enemies.

And so also was it foolishness in the eyes of the world, indeed foolishness in the weary eyes of Simon, James, and John, when Jesus told them to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.”

Foolishness. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts, neither are man’s ways His ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than man’s ways and His thoughts than man’s thoughts.

Man’s pride separates him from God. The man who trusts in himself does not seek God – he is a fool. But God is merciful and just, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He calls the fool to repentance and afflicts man’s pride to break it. Elijah feared for his life because he trusted only in himself and knew that he had not the strength in himself to survive. But in his self-despair, Elijah was receptive to God’s Word. God demonstrated to Elijah that He would act, not in ways that men find impressive – winds, earthquakes, and fire – but in His way, the way of His Word.

Simon, James, and John despaired at the failure of their own efforts to catch fish. But in their broken and weary desperation they were receptive to Jesus’ Word “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” By that Word alone they put to their boats and let down their nets, not expecting anything, but catching instead a great catch of fish.

Why are God’s ways and thoughts so different from ours? Because He is God and we are not – thanks be to God. In His grace and mercy, God loves us enough to crush us; God loves you enough to crush your pride, to beak your self-reliance, to destroy your self-righteousness. It is a good thing to be broken by the Lord – for He is powerful and willing to put you back together again, not as you were before, but as a new creation, restoring you once again to His image.

God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. He does the unthinkable. He does what men would never do. He saves the best wine for last. He eats and drinks with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He touches the unclean with no concern for Himself. And He lays down His own life for men who hate Him. Foolishness.

And so, thanks be to God, His ways and thoughts are not your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your pride, your reason, and your assumed wisdom. He breaks you, so that He can re-create you in the image of His Son.

Through the foolishness of the Gospel – the preaching of Christ crucified – a great catch of fish – you – is still brought into the boat – the Church. The message of the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to the world; but to you, that cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Sin of the Father

While preparing for a Bible study and discussion of The Book of Job and the Problem of Suffering I was struck by these words from Gregory Schulz in his profound little book The Problem of Suffering – A Father’s Thoughts on the Suffering, Death, and Life of His Children:

There is nothing more terrifying than  seeing the wages of sin present in your own child. The terror lies in knowing (and I do mean “knowing” in the Hebrew sense of understanding by experience) that I as a father am the medium for the sin that brings my child’s death. […] “I certainly know how real my sin is.”

As a father, myself, who knows how real my own sin is, and that I am the medium for the sin that will bring my own children’s deaths, I am all the more amazed, saddened, and horrified that so many put off baptizing their children.

Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Salty Dogma

The following is an article that appeared in World Magazine in 2005. In it, an interviewer records Bono’s (of the rock band U2) answers to questions about Christianity.

Is Bono, the lead singer and songwriter for the rock group U2, a Christian? He says he is and writes about Christianity in his lyrics. Yet many people question whether Bono is "really" a Christian, due to his notoriously bad language, liberal politics, and rock star antics (though he has been faithfully married for 23 years). But in a new book of interviews, Bono in Conversation by Michka Assayas, Bono, though using some salty language, makes an explicit confession of faith.

The interviewer, Mr. Assayas, begins by asking Bono, Doesn't he think "appalling things" happen when people become religious? Bono counters, "It's a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma."

The interviewer asks, What's that? "At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one," explains Bono. "And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that. . . . Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff."

The interviewer asks, Like what? "That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge," says Bono. "It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity."

Then the interviewer marvels, "The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that."

"The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death," replies Bono. "It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven."

The interviewer marvels some more: "That's a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it's close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has His rank among the world's great thinkers. But Son of God, isn't that farfetched?"

Bono comes back, "Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: He was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says, No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: 'I'm the Messiah.' I'm saying: 'I am God incarnate.' . . . So what you're left with is either Christ was who He said He was—the Messiah—or a complete nutcase. . . . The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me that's farfetched."

What is most interesting in this exchange is the reaction of the interviewer, to whom Bono is, in effect, witnessing. This hip rock journalist starts by scorning what he thinks is Christianity. But it is as if he had never heard of grace, the atonement, the deity of Christ, the gospel. And he probably hadn't. But when he hears what Christianity is actually all about, he is amazed.

Gene Veith, “Salty Dogma,” World, August 6, 2005, p. 24

Friday, May 29, 2009

Simply Vintage

A fine description of good, red wine…

“red as red-currant jelly, smooth as oil, strong as beef, warming as tea, cool as dew.”

From Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

On Theories

“It's important to understand that once something is a theory it is almost impossible to disprove. That is because the evidence-collecting phase starts working backwards. All new bits of data that come its way become absorbed into the Theory. The thing has become unkillable. Contradictions are efficiently gobbled up and spit out as qualifications, till you are left with an unwieldy and many-tentacled thing.”

Excerpt from Andree Seu’s column in World Magazine, June 6, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Our Scandalous Christ

On Memorial Day I once again had the distinct honor and privilege of delivering the Benediction at the end of the commemoration ceremonies near the monuments in the village. This honor and privilege has been extended to me, I believe, six times out of the seven Memorial Days that have passed since I first arrived in Pawling. The organizers of the ceremony from the American Legion have told me repeatedly how much they appreciate the prayers I have offered, and I take their repeated annual invitation to me as confirmation of their words.

The Invocation is “calling” upon the Triune God to be present amongst us. Of course God is present already, but our invocation expresses our desire that He be present amongst us. Likewise, the Benediction is a blessing of the Triune God upon the people that have desired His presence. The Invocation and the Benediction serve as “bookends” for the ceremony. We ask God to be present amongst us, to hear our prayers and receive our praise, and we in return receive His blessing.

Regardless of whether I have been asked to deliver the Invocation or the Benediction, my prayer each year has been explicitly Christian and Trinitarian. The organizers have asked a Christian Pastor to pray, not a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim Imam, or an official of any other religion. And each year I have received nothing but thanks and appreciation for my prayers. But this year was different. Immediately following the Benediction one person came up to thank me for my prayer. Immediately behind her were two people who were not so appreciative.

The concern raised by the malcontents was that I was not inclusive in my prayer. They felt that I should have been sensitive to the fact that not everyone in attendance was Christian and that not all the servicemen and servicewomen being memorialized or presently serving were Christian. I told them simply that I was aware of that and that I prayed for all these people without exclusion. What was it, then, that really offended these two? What caused them to stumble?

"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." Romans 9:33

Christian Pastors, and laity, are called to “preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” 1 Corinthians 1:23 For “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” Matthew 10:32 And “blessed is the one who is not offended by me”. Matthew 11:6 For “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

The Greek word translated as “offense” and “stumbling block” is (skandalon) or “scandal”. Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, is literally a “scandal” to unbelievers which “offends” them and causes them to “stumble”. The malcontents who were unhappy with my prayer were not unhappy with me, or even with my prayer, but they were scandalized and offended by the name of Jesus Christ.
I am happy to report that, but for the two complaints, more individuals thanked me personally for my prayer this year than all the previous years combined. In these Last Days in which all things are tolerable except perceived intolerance, and truth is relative and subjective, I find hope and comfort that a great number of people are not satisfied with superficial and substance-less platitudes but are looking, if unwittingly at times, for the true source of comfort and hope. And that Source is not a concept or an emotion – He is a person, and an unchanging rock, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Photo by T. J. Hanlon

Baby Boom Bust!

This is an excerpt from a speech to the graduating class of Butler University on May 9 by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels:

Along with most of your faculty and parents, I belong to the most discussed, debated and analyzed generation of all time, the so-called Baby Boomers. By the accepted definition, the youngest of us is now 45, so the record is pretty much on the books, and the time for verdicts can begin.

Which leads me to congratulate you in advance. As a generation, you are off to an excellent start. You have taken the first savvy step on the road to distinction, which is to follow a weak act. I wish I could claim otherwise, but we Baby Boomers are likely to be remembered by history for our numbers, and little else, at least little else that is admirable.

We Boomers were the children that the Second World War was fought for. Parents who had endured both war and the Great Depression devoted themselves sacrificially to ensuring us a better life than they had. We were pampered in ways no children in human history would recognize. With minor exceptions, we have lived in blissfully fortunate times. The numbers of us who perished in plagues, in famine, or in combat were tiny in comparison to previous generations of Americans, to say nothing of humanity elsewhere.

. . . As a generation, we did tend to live for today. We have spent more and saved less than any previous Americans. Year after year, regardless which party we picked to lead the country, we ran up deficits that have multiplied the debt you and your children will be paying off your entire working lives. Far more burdensome to you mathematically, we voted ourselves increasing levels of Social Security pensions and Medicare health care benefits, but never summoned the political maturity to put those programs on anything resembling a sound actuarial footing.
In sum, our parents scrimped and saved to provide us a better living standard than theirs; we borrowed and splurged and will leave you a staggering pile of bills to pay. It's been a blast; good luck cleaning up after us.

. . . Today, if you are thinking about standing on the shoulders of the past generation, I'd say "Please don't.". . . live for others, not just yourselves. For fulfillment, not just pleasure and material gain. For tomorrow, and the Americans who will reside there, not just for today.

This excerpt appears in the June 6, 2009 issue of World Magazine.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Requiem Mass for Father Richard John Neuhaus - Some Observations

Father Richard John Neuhaus was received into the presence of his Holy Triune God Thursday, January 8, 2009. A requiem mass was celebrated in his memory at Immaculate Conception Parish on 14th Street in New York City at 10am on Tuesday, January 13th, 2009.
Father Neuhaus was a great man of faith, a great intellect, and a great communicator. He was a prolific writer, most notably as Editor in Chief of First Things, and an astute observer and commentator on culture, society, politics, ethics, morality, and religion.
Because Father Neuhaus was baptized in the Name of the Triune God into Jesus’ death and resurrection and because he thus believed I, perhaps unlike his own brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic faith, have no doubt or uncertainty about His eternal presence before his Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier in Zion, nor is he in need or want of any further purification for his sins beyond the all-atoning sacrifice of his Lord and Savior Jesus upon the cross.
I attended the requiem mass on Tuesday. The following are some of my observations.
Immaculate Conception Parish holds, I’m guessing, approximately 400-500 people. The church was filled to standing room only, in the back of the church and in the side aisles. Incense permeated the space and was used periodically throughout the service, something I was most thankful for since the space was so crowded and most attendees had their winter coats and scarves on throughout the hour and forty-five minute service. The music was very good – hymns, choral arrangements, strings (I believe), and a fine organ and organist – (unfortunately, I did not acquire a worship bulletin); a few of the pieces I remember include: O Sons and Daughters of the King, Ave Verum Corpus, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, The Church’s One Foundation. The music in the mass itself I take to be fairly standard Vatican II Roman Catholic arrangements. Many of the propers and the ordinaries were sung responsively as the congregation was led by a female cantor. My overall opinion of the music is that it was good, tasteful, appropriate, better than I expect from Vat II RC, but somewhat less than I had hoped for at the requiem mass of such a man as R. J. Neuhaus.
Turning to the service itself and what was said about Neuhaus I report the following: I was hopeful that given Neuhaus’ Lutheran pedigree (first LCMS, then ELCA) the Gospel would predominate throughout. I am happy to say that the Gospel was often proclaimed strongly, but that also, at times, it was considerably tarnished by the uncertainty and doubt that absolutely all of Father Neuhaus’ sins had been purged away. One of the first prayers, I believe, (please pardon my ignorance of RC Requiem Mass Liturgy and the fact that as I write this I do not have access to my Liturgy), was to the BVM and saints to forgive Father Neuhaus for his remaining sins. The homilist, D’Souza (sp.?) (possibly a contributor to First Things?), gave a fine homily, very strongly Gospel oriented at times, personal, endearing, humorous, etc., however, at least once, particularly at the very beginning, brought up the bugaboo of uncertainty. I believe the first words out of his mouth were something like, “May whatever of Richard’s sins that remain be quickly purified…”. Please do not think that I am criticizing Roman Catholics for being, well, Roman Catholic; it’s simply that, given Neuhaus’ history, and the latent Lutheranism that for no good reason I believe still resided in him, I had hoped for better. I suppose that I imagined that Neuhaus had planned his funeral, what would be sung, said, performed, etc., well in advance of his death; however, I feel that he may have expressed only minimal wishes and simply submitted himself to the liturgy, practices, and doctrines of the church that he had submitted himself to as priest and in the parish in which he had most recently served God’s people. The readings included standard funeral lections: Psalm 23 (sung/chanted responsively; Isaiah 25:6-9; Romans 6:3-11; John 11:21-27. In the homily D’Souza singled out the word “feast” in the Isaiah passage making the point that the lections were from the RSV, as Neuhaus had been most vocal in his opposition to the RC approved New American Bible translation. So, while in the RSV, the word “feast” is used in description of the goings on in the heavenly Zion, the homilist stated that in the Vulgate the word convivium is used. Convivium means something like “sharing life together”. Convivium was a word that Neuhaus liked very much and used particularly to describe the gatherings he would have at his Manhattan apartment with literati, scholars, theologians, etc., and just plain ol’ good friends. These conviviums apparently included the consumption and enjoyment of fine scotch and cigars. I really enjoyed this idea of convivium, translated as feast in most translations, and found myself contemplating this word in regard to the Eucharistic feast and the “sharing life together” that the Christian assembly enjoys as they partake together of He who is Life incarnate. This alone was worth the trip to Manhattan on a Tuesday morning.
The Eucharistic liturgy was permeated with sacrificial language and action. I will make no further comment on this – it was a Roman Catholic mass, what do you expect?
Who was there? It’s always fun to see who’s present at an event like this. Of people I know I saw Rev. David Benke (Atlantic District President – LCMS), Rev. Daniel Grams (we had planned to meet at the church), Rev. Dien Ashley Taylor, Rev. Paul Sauer. People I kind of know, or now know: Rev. Joel Elowsky. People I don’t know, but know of: Rev. John Nunes, Senator (former) Rick Santorum. Edward Cardinal Eagan was at the Vatican and could not attend. A letter from Cardinal Eagan was read near the end of the service. At least four, maybe five, bishops were present and a host of priests. I thought it was interesting that during the consecration all the priests moved their hands toward the bread and the wine and spoke together the words of institution. That’s about it, I’m not much of a gad-about or glad-hander.
Dan and I slipped out right at the end of the service to avoid being trapped in the church for a long time (we were right near the door in the back and both of us had to get back to our parishes for meetings, classes, and such). This proved to be fortuitous in that we were able to witness Father Neuhaus’ casket being borne out of the church on the shoulders of, I believe, eight strong men (I’d never seen a casket carried in that manner), and the impressive procession of bishops, priests, and altar servants (what a host!). The bells rang loudly, releasing the rooftop pigeons into the Manhattan sky (scenes from many movies were flashing through my mind).
And that was it.
All things considered, the funeral was actually quite simple – humble even, considering the man being remembered, the life celebrated. I feel that God was glorified, even if that glory was tainted by human sin and imperfection – but when isn’t it? Ok, you Lutherans who might be offended by my statements – I’m just being honest about my observations and my feelings about them. I’m a pilgrim and a neophyte, even as an undershepherd. I am working out my own salvation with fear and trembling, chewing on the meat and the mystery of our God who is love. I make no pretense of having everything worked out and I can take, and welcome, my brothers and sisters to show me where I am wrong – but speak the truth in love, please. Roman Catholics, I am not suggesting in any way that the disagreements we have in doctrine, and in practice, are insignificant, nor that the blending or tarnishing of the Gospel and the glory that is due only to God are acceptable, however, I am heartened that perhaps much more of the Gospel is proclaimed in the RCC than I may have surmised.
All being said, a very inspiring and courageous man has been taken from the valley in which we dwell, and he will be missed. And I cannot help but believe that he has joined the eternal convivium of saints and angels with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit on Mt. Zion.
Blessed are they that die in the Lord (period).