Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Great Moment At The Art Museum

I was observing the special exhibit of the Renaissance master Barocci, and I happened to be in the room with the painting commemorating the Lord's burial. It's very quiet in art galleries; if someone speaks, everyone notices. A kid who must've been all of 3 years old exclaimed, "Why is He naked?" I imagine his dad answered with, "Well, because He died." I didn't hear that part. But the next thing the boy said is a question to shake up the world:

"Why did He die?"

It's almost better to ask this and answer it before affirming that Jesus did die, and rise again on the third day. Because there's only one right answer, and it's bigger than all the no doubt significant debates we could have about the nature of the Atonement:

Because He loves us.

Frankly, if you don't start and end here, it doesn't matter what else you say. I pray the man answered well, and that whatever I do, I learn to answer most questions about faith with "Because He loves us."

God's love to all of you.

Friday, January 11, 2013

No, Justin Cooper, You Still Don't Understand

This is not some elusive quest for certitude. And your desire for historical and theological continuity is admirable, and shared by all. In fact, the Reformed are surprised to learn that Lutherans appreciate the Church fathers more than they do. [Yes. Pfft, I'm not impressed.--ed.] The question is not whether threads of continuity can be identified from one's own confessional position; they surely can. The question is, "What is the means by which continuity was established, and identified going forward?" The Church fathers themselves are not a norm in themselves; as you and countless have pointed out, they are all over the place, depending on what thing is under discussion. But they are useful, for this very purpose: they tell us how to find the Church. We can talk about what that Church believed, and who among us is the true continuation of that faith only after we identify how the Church marked herself out. This is what Stellman meant when he said (echoing Cross) that it was shooting an arrow and painting the target around it. Let me say it this way: I don't care what Lutherans of any era have said, nor decisions of Synods, commentators, etc. unless and until those people are shown to be the ones I should listen to. It's just an intellectual curiosity until then. Because the Anglicans and the Reformed are waiting in the next room to tell me why their theologies are just as "fully-orbed" and satisfying as yours. You can't assume your theological continuity, and then go about showing us where you find it.

Anglicans are fond of telling us that they have "purged" the "excesses" of Roman Catholic medieval theology, and I'm sure you say your Lutheran forbearers have done the same. But none of you have answered the fundamental question: Who sent you? And who gave you the charism, nay, the authority, to identify excesses in the first place? You can read all the Church fathers you want; if your pastor was not ordained by a bishop in apostolic succession, the Church fathers say I should flee. Right off the top. And that succession leads back to Peter's chair. Sorry to ruin the fun.

Pointing out for example that you have an orthodox Christology (more or less) is about as useless as a screen-door on a submarine, because that is not in question. This has always been an ecclesial question, and you assume precisely what is in dispute between us.

Fun Question, Never Answered: If the Reformation was licit because of corruption in the Catholic Church, why deny transubstantiation? In other words, why offer a theological solution to a moral problem? We're waiting.

A Few Incoherent Ramblings

As important as the truths of faith are, and vital as it may be to try to reclaim our culture such as it is, sometimes we are reminded that people just don't know much. Even if they darken the conscience by sin, people often need friendship and acceptance as a basis for coming to terms with their need before God.

On the other hand, some people have used this as a substitute for preaching the gospel, or they believe the two things are synonymous. They are not.

Still others value comity so highly that they fail to hold anything at all in the end. They don't know any truth more important than the warm feelings they cherish. They are indeed pleasant. Yet I don't think the yet to be redeemed would say, "Feel free to smile and hold my hand on the way to Hell."

Things to think about. But that reality in the extreme is why I appreciate the work being done at Called to Communion so much. They are not sheep-stealers or Catholic triumphalists; they are actually fighting against those things that threaten the basis of knowledge of God Himself. If you knew them personally as I do, some of you would not be so quick to pass judgment. I digress.

St. Peter tells us to give a reason for our faith precisely because he knows that faith without reasons (and reason) isn't worth much. But God valued the mind of man (all-inclusive)--no, the whole of man--that He became man to save us. The message is this: It really did happen. God has the dirt on his feet to prove it.

So if I ask you a direct question about how you know what you know, I expect an answer. This isn't for sporting fun; the very truth borne to the world concerning the Word Incarnate is at stake. I would not lose Him for anything, certainly not for pride, or career, or tribal loyalty. Bear that in mind. I'm not in the mood for the theological equivalent of the United Nations. [Where comically inept and corrupt people talk about solving problems while making them worse?--ed.] Exactly.

Our Culture Really Does Suck

5 Thoughts Partially Inspired By The Idiocy Of Our Pop Culture

5. No, it's not better to get divorced. Whoever came up with that is as dumb as they look. Looking in your fictional direction, Dr. Owen Hunt.

4. No matter how many times you tell us it's OK, homosexual practice is not OK. Sorry.

3. Ordinary people, even those far less spiritual than me, don't have sex that much.

2. If you commit adultery, you're still guilty after your wife dies. And no, dementia is not a free pass.

1. It's still a baby, and you're still a murderer. It's not a political question; it's a moral one.

(This post inspired by the TV drama, 'Grey's Anatomy,' which I still love.)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm An ENFP, And Not Ashamed

The self-proclaimed "#1 career blog" was basically telling women to stay away from ENFP men, because we're too flighty, and won't make any money. Well, frankly, when you're 40, angry, and childless because you used the feminist lies as an excuse to be a jerk...I'll say a prayer for you. The proprietor is married somehow. Well, she looked attractive. You can get away with a lot if you're attractive.

Personally, I like myself. As a public service, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on what I know about men, and how they think. (Warning: Some of this might be brutal.)

1. You are not as beautiful as you think you are. Catching his eye doesn't mean squat, in the end. You have to have something else about you that he likes. Otherwise, you're just a hot chick who thinks too much of herself, most likely. Ladies, be nice to the beautiful girls; it really is a curse.

2. Talk less, and listen more. There is no greater mistake than this. If a man senses that you don't care about what interests him, he'll find someone who does. DON'T INTERRUPT!

3. We really don't want to be your friend. Guys find friends in the course of life; we don't seek them out, unless we have to. The brutal truth is that the romantic potential of any relationship with a single woman is the first and primary thing we're thinking about. "Friends" is a category for women we appreciate in some way, but are unavailable or unsuitable.

4. Stop worrying about your body. It really is who you are that matters. Beauty does fade. What a real man wants is a woman who doesn't nag him, and who will back him up when it hits the fan. (Of course, there are males of the species doing otherwise, but who cares?)

5. Don't read women's magazines. Not only will they make you hate yourself, they're not correct. And for those of you who tend toward pride, they'll feed it.

6. Your girlfriends are completely wrong. They probably are jealous, if they tell you anything we don't already know (or you do). One of them likely is attracted to the man you like/are in a relationship with.

7. If a man tells you he's fine with being friends, he's lying. The only exception to this is if he's told you explicitly why he isn't interested. People who've gone past the Romantic Exploration Phase and agree it won't work can be friends, if conditions are right. Big if.

8. The reason a man would lie about being OK with friendship is because he thinks you will change your mind. That's the truth.

9. Flirting works. There is no "innocent" flirting; if you don't want our attention romantically, DON'T DO IT!

10. We men want someone better than we are. We've had to live with our failings all these years; we need someone with the grace to love us more than we do.

That's enough for now.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


5 Thoughts Worth Remembering

5. No, the center of Christianity is not a book, but a Person. Even that inerrant witness to Him is but a product of the community tasked with bearing witness to Jesus. The Church existed for 20 years before a single letter of the New Testament was penned.

4. "And He will raise you up/And he will raise you up/And he will raise you up/On the last day."

3. "How He watches o'er his loved ones/Died to call them all his own."

2. "I will not boast in anything/No gifts, no powers, no wisdom/But I will boast in Jesus Christ/His death and resurrection."

1. Worthy of meditation: "And in His Name, all oppression shall cease."

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

We're Lucky To Be Here

That's what our New Testament actually says to us Gentiles. Here's Ephesians 2:11-22 (verse 11 tells you how to read it): Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands -- 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Did you catch that? This whole passage tells us that we Gentiles are beneficiaries of the realization of Jewish messianic hope. It's not about us; we're just here for the party. He cancelled some of the ordinances to make it easier for us, not because he didn't mean what he said before. See verse 15? It's right there. He says it again in verse 19 in case we missed it; we're the ones who would have missed the boat without a huge help. That's probably why God called St. Paul in the first place.
The whole discussion in Romans 14 about food is a Jew-Gentile problem. The Jewish members of the church have been observing the whole Law their entire lives. These Gentiles come in, and they have it easy! That would tick me off. Moreover, they got a little arrogant about it. Why are you still keeping those old customs? Jesus has come! Yeah, but we're Jews. We've always been Jews, and we're gonna stay Jews, came the reply. St. Paul basically says to do whatever keeps the peace. He emphatically does not tell the Jewish Christians to stop keeping the laws if they want. Nor, obviously, does he impose it on the Gentiles.

That's the read of Galatians 2. Paul opposed Peter because Peter was trying to impose the Law on the Gentile Christians, not to mention treat them as second-citizens in the Kingdom. But verse 15 controls that whole final section of this chapter: "works of the Law" means the Mosaic Law. Same thing in Romans 2-3, but we'll get to that. Verse 18 proves that there is a godly striving after holiness in the Spirit which we can impose on ourselves, so long as we keep in view that we live by mercy. The Jewish leadership understood the striving, (on some level) but not the mercy and hope, which was part of the covenant from the beginning.

Here's a juicy text from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 36:

But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel caused to be profaned among the nations to which they came. 22 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations will know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses; and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. 33 "Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.

Israel's sin. Israel's shattered covenant with God. His promises. Their hope in his mercy. This is a New Covenant promise, right here. But I don't see any Gentiles, beyond the ones they had scandalized with their sins. That's because it's not about us, like I said before. Every page of both testaments is Jewish to the core. We just missed it because we're racist. Or sloppy. Or mad at the Church. And crazy Uncle Marty hit the trifecta. Yikes. I digress. [Although I find this characterization offensive, you would know about crazy uncles.--ed.] I know, right?

Given that Mercy came in the flesh, for them, first and foremost, is it any wonder He wept as he said this, as recorded by St. Matthew, in what we mark as the 23rd chapter:

Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechari'ah the son of Barachi'ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation. 37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 38 Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Look at verse 37. That kills me every time. There's a similar theme in Luke's Gospel. Dudes, once we start seeing this, that distant, dusty Old Testament isn't quite so distant. Would it help you to know that the New Testament authors quoted mostly from the 'Minor Prophets,' (the shorter ones, not less important) and that the prophets preached to the people in exile, after Jerusalem was destroyed? No wonder the apostles jumped out of their shoes! God is coming back to the temple? Our long night is over? This is the Messiah! Read John 1 like a Jew would, and good luck not freaking out. I don't blame them.

One of the answers to our struggles and sins is to realize that God has caught us up in a big, long, amazing story that we're actually lucky to be part of, and through the sacraments, he can make us into the people we need to be. It's for his own name he's doing it, so we just have to be willing to come back to Him if we break the commandments. There will be a fiercer judgment for us who break this final covenant, because Jesus is with us, and his sacred signs realize the promises he made to his people long ago. Especially we Gentiles should tremble and know our blessing, because we didn't have to wait centuries, or abstain from eating bacon, among other things. Thank you, Lord, for today, and for your faithfulness to David and your people Israel! Amen.

Monday, January 07, 2013

You're Listless, I Can See That

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Finally, 'The Game' is here. It'll be a great game, certainly. Confession: I don't like college football that much.

4. Netflix is awesome. Too awesome.

3. I plugged in the headset, turned off my external speakers, and the music still flowed. #ThanksDeb #Imgonnabefamous.

2. Tamia Washington-Hill's (Tamia) version of "Careless Whisper" is outstanding. I'll bet George Michael bought that single. On the other hand, Tamia's easily the best kept secret in pop music for darn near 20 years now.

1. Forgiveness.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

I Like Brief Things, And The Number 5

5 Thoughts For Today, Andrew Preslar Edition

5. If I were slightly older, smarter, ex-Anglican, and Southern, I'd be Andrew Preslar.

4. Hey Andrew, thanks for the free advertising!

3. We totally agree on Gus Johnson.

2. We emphatically agree on Greg Maddux. (Note: 355-354. Eat it, Clemens.)

1. I promise I'm in harmony with with the social teaching. I just like to hear people out first. I'm allergic to dismissal and ad hominem.