Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jewish Beer???

SONY DSCBeer was familiar across the Ancient Middle East, so why don’t we see the word ‘beer’ in the Bible? Michael Homan, of Biblical Archaelogy Review, suggests it might just be there after all.
I grew up thinking that the primary contribution of Germans to America was neither the Christmas tree nor schnapps but beer. The plethora of regional brews with German sounding names (Storz, Hamms, Schlitz, Pabst, etc) though not exactly like their authentic German counterparts seemed to reinforce this presumption. Oh, sure, I heard stories of beer as an ancient beer predating the Goths and other Germanic tribes -- but I did not give much credence to them. Now I find that even the Israelites might have known beer (not before seen in Scripture and surely not as predominant as wine, or maybe not). 
So why don’t we see the word ‘beer’ in the Bible, and why hasn’t this been a topic of any interest in biblical scholarship? Homan cites three reasons for the lack of knowledge and interest in Hebrew beer brewers:

1) the Hebrew word shekhar has been misunderstood,

2) there is a general scholarly “snobbery” concerning beer drinking as opposed to the consumption of wine, and

3) the difficulty in identifying the remains of tools and items in the production of beer.

Now for a little more detail on Homan’s three reasons:

1) Most English translations of the Old Testament render shekhar as “strong drink” or “liquor,” and other terminology that would lead one to believe that the word does not refer to beer. But in the Hebrew Bible the word appears twenty times in parallel with “wine” (e.g. wine and beer). In other ancient Near Eastern literature the terms for wine and beer are often used in tandem. Moreover, the Hebrew word shekhar is derived from the Akkadian word šikaru which refers to “barley beer.”

2) Ancient historians know that beer was a staple drink throughout the Ancient Near East. Why would the Israelites be an exception? We know that grain was grown widely throughout this part of the ancient world because it was easy to grow. Unlike grain, grapes cannot be grown just anywhere. Beer was used as wages (a gallon a day for Egypt’s pyramid workers!) and ancient physicians even recommended a beer enema for such ailments as constipation. Hammurabi’s Law Code legislates the price and the alcoholic content of beer.

One of the reasons scholars have not embraced beer drinking Israelites is that alcoholic beverages were often mixed. The ancient folk sometimes sweetened their beer with figs or honey. They also added spices. Interestingly enough it has been the advent of modern microbreweries with all the different kinds of flavored and spiced beers that have helped to clear up the ambiguity in reference to ancient beers.

A second reason is that the word shekhar also was the term used to refer to intoxication. This was also true of the word for “beer” in the Akkadian, Aramaic, Ugaritic, and Arabic languages.

Combine the connection of shekhar to the state of inebriation with the vision of the guy with the dirty t-shirt sitting in front of the TV drinking a bottle of cheap swill, scholars have not sufficiently considered the important place of beer in Israelite society. There has been an unspoken assumption that beer drinking is uncivilized.

3) It is been difficult to find archaeological evidence for ancient beer making in Israel because much of the same equipment was also used to make bread. This would be understandable, says Homan, since in the ancient world beer and bread were closely connected. In addition, it is more difficult to find chemical traces of ancient beer in jars and other pottery because, unlike wine, ancient beer did not keep long and was brewed for immediate consumption. Beer drinking was also a community activity. One method of consumption was for several people to drink it from a large communal pot through straws.
Homan ends the article with Ecclesiastes 11:1-2: 
    Cast your bread upon the waters,
        for you will find it after many days.
    Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
        for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.  (ESV)

Homan has come to the conclusion that these two verses refer to the cakes of bread used in the brewing of beer. The preacher of Ecclesiastes suggests making and drinking beer with friends (eat, drink and be merry...).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jesus IS the Word... enfleshed for us!

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, preached on January 27, 2013.

    What is Jesus up to?  We watch, we wait, we listen.  A baptismal epiphany, a miracle of water to wine.  What does this mean?  Nazareth looked to Jesus to do something but Jesus points them instead to the Word.  From the works to the Word, unexpected and scandalous, Jesus says who He is.  Jesus reads the prophetic words of Isaiah and insists that Isaiah spoke of Him.  Jesus is not simply saying the prophetic words are fulfilled in Him.  He is saying "I AM the WORD!"  Jesus is the Word of Scripture, its voice and message.  All Scripture speaks of Him and if we read Him not in Scripture, we read it all wrong.
    We have sadly come to think of Scripture as many books, many messages, and many purposes.  It has become the book of the wisdom of the ages for us to admire.  Most non-Christians admire Jesus and His wisdom – even Muslims.  But He has not come to impart wisdom admired by the ages.  Scripture has become the book of truths to instruct the mind, to explain, to guide, and to illuminate.  We open our Bibles as if they were encyclopedias and use our computers to google search out little tidbits of truth to our many questions.  But Jesus has not come to explain things to us.
    Sadly, the Scriptures have become little more than the place we go for immortal help for the mortal problems of mortal people.  We come with our needs and mine the Scriptures for quick fixes to all that ails our bodies, our spirits, our marriages, our families, our culture.  Our religion has become little more the search for a way to make today better and, if that fails, a consolation prize awarded to us for not getting what we really want.  We open Scripture for many things but not for Jesus.  And so we miss it all.
    Yet the Scriptures are but one message, speaking with one voice, for one purpose – to make known Jesus Christ that we might believe and that believing we might have His life in us.  It begins with the realization that the Scriptures do not speak about Jesus but Jesus is the Word – spoken of old by the prophets, spoken to the blessed Virgin to become flesh and blood in her womb, born as one of us yet without sin, walking the earth as its King and Savior, suffering for us the burden of sin, dying our death that we might live, and rising to lead us to eternal life.
    Open the Scriptures and you will find Jesus.  The Word imparts not simply the knowledge of Christ but Christ Himself.  Faith comes by hearing the Word – the living voice that bestows what it promises.  The prophecy fulfilled and the works done are not ends in and of themselves but they point us to the Word that is Christ for us and our salvation.
    That we might believe in the Lord Jesus as the Christ of God.  He is not some messenger with a Word from the Lord but the Word of the Lord who is come and through whom we are saved.  He gives meaning and purpose to the lives we live now as His children by baptism and faith.  He directs us to the completion of that begin in our baptism and lived out in holy lives seeking to become the very people God has declared us to be.  His promise kept is the flesh and blood of the Savior given for us and for our salvation into life, into death, and into everlasting life.
    That by believing we might have life in His name.  Not the old life made a little better for knowing Jesus but the new life born of a drowning death in the baptismal waters and our new creation as God's own child.
    The fruit of Christ's work is not some better version of our old selves but the radical new self created in Christ Jesus to live as Christ's own in this world for now and forever in heaven.  The fruit of Christ's redeeming work is not some explanation for the disappointments of this day or some comfort amid the sorrows we cannot escape.  The fruit of Christ‘s redeeming work is new life, unchained from the shackles of death and born for holiness of life and the good works of a willing heart.
    Jesus is no sage or teacher.  He is no whiz kid to impress us or example to inspire us to be better than we are.  He is the Son of God who comes to do what God has promised and bestow the gifts of heaven – good news given to the poor, liberty to the captive, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and to make known the year of the Lord's favor.  This is what we encounter right here on Sunday morning.  Here is Christ standing among us still, speaking in His Word, doing what He has promised, and bestowing what He has won.  Here, every Sunday, Jesus says "Today this is fulfilled in Your hearing!"
    When my kids were very small, I would come back from a trip with pockets filled with trinkets and candy.  They were so excited for these little treasures, they did not even notice that I was there.  Could we be the same on Sunday morning?  Could we be so taken with the works we want or expect or desire that we miss Jesus?  Could we be so contented with the little treasures that we miss entirely the great treasure of God in flesh for us and our salvation?
    The people came expecting so little that they walked away empty, refusing to see and hear what Jesus had revealed.  Let us not come as they came.  Let us come now in faith, confident of Christ in His Word and Sacraments, joyfully receiving what He bestows.  Here is life, here is salvation, here is forgiveness, here is comfort, here is hope...  Because Here is Christ!  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

This would solve a myriad of problems....

Piers Morgan: Let's Amend the Bible to Endorse Gays

This would be hilarious if I didn't think this kind of thinking was epidemic among Christians.

Christian Culture News reports:
CNN’s Piers Morgan, who has described himself as a Christian, apparently thinks the Bible, like the U.S. Constitution, needs to be rewritten to get rid of passages condemning homosexuality and those describing marriage as exclusively heterosexual … so that Christians will some how change their minds to embrace same-sex marriage.

Morgan’s comment reportedly came during an interview with Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren aired on CNN on Christmas Eve, according to Twitchy.
I can think of so many problems with Christianity that could be solved by simply rewriting or simply some judicial editing of the text... but wait.... hasn't that been tried already... and still... by every generation... discontent with the words God has chosen... desiring to substitute their own words for God's... and... isn't that idolatry????   Worshiping our words as God's????
Morgan clearly hasn't thought through anything about his religion which he professes to be Christianity.

Here's the thing. We've seen what liberals have done to the Constitution when they made it a "living breathing" document. It means we can all do whatever the heck we want and no institution shall stand against our every whim. To do the same thing to the Bible is the destruction of Christianity.

Christianity has commandments, not amendments.

Christianity is not supposed to mirror secularism folks. It's the antidote. Our natures are fallen. Our world is broken. Secularism wants to play with the pieces of a broken world. Christianity allows us to build.

The Word of the Lord endures forever....  you cannot add nor take away from it... only hear it, keep it by faith, and seek to live in obedience to its voice and promise...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Okay... this is all for.... now

I thank You, O Lord, that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . .

A warning to my readers. . .

Once again I attended the Symposia week at Concordia Theological Seminary.  Amid renewed friendships with old friends and refreshed by acquaintances with new friends, I find myself encouraged, uplifted, and more hopeful than ever for the good ship Missouri...  So, give me a few days to sort things out and I will begin posting some of the choicer fruits of the harvest. . .

God bless the good folks at CTS and all those who put this together... would that we all could attend and find ourselves challenged, engaged, and inspired by some of the brighter minds of the church today.  There is still room.  Budget it in for 2014 and make a plan to be in the loveliest spot anyone could hope to enjoy in January!

The Language Barrier

I grew up in a church in which the conviction was that theology was best suited to the German language and that worship in the mother tongue (auf Deutsch, of course) was more pleasing to God than any other, especially English.  Then, in one fell swoop, as World War II raged and a German congregation felt pretty conspicuous, they switched to English, planted an American flag in the chancel, and left the mother tongue behind for the stilted English of their new found home.

It seems that the transition from German to English has led us down a garden path of unintended consequences.  For one, we found out that the German was not all that different from the English language liturgies of non-Lutherans and that was a bit disappointing.  It sounded all that loftier in German than it sounds in English.  For another, the liturgy has become a soup of choices in which we borrow from all sorts of traditions and denominations and what happens on Sunday morning is not as consistent as it was prior to English.

Funny thing that our experience is not unique.  My family friends, the Irish Kirby family, was severely disappointed when they went to their first English Mass.  Suddenly the noble words of Latin gave way to the shocking awareness that they were saying and singing the same things Lutherans had been for more than 400 years.  It seems that the transition to English has not been without its losses in the pews (although the blame cannot only be assigned to the vernacular).

Now it seems the Orthodox are wondering if the non-English language of the Divine Liturgy is a burden to attracting and keeping converts.  Hmmmm.... haven't we been down this road before?  This is one Orthodox voice on the issue:

One of the major obstacles to the twenty first century becoming the Orthodox century is the language barrier.  In many American Orthodox parishes the Sunday Liturgy is either in a foreign language or a mixture of English and non-English.  Orthodox parishes with an all-English Liturgy tend to be in the minority.  This blog posting addresses why we need all-English worship services, what can be done about the present problem of people exiting through the backdoor, and how we can help make the twenty first century the Orthodox century.

You can read more here....

The back door is a problem for Rome, for Wittenberg, and for Constantinople.  The language of the liturgy may have some impact on the problem -- more for some folks and less, much less, for others.  But the problem is not about to go away with a language change -- Rome to Latin or Orthodoxy to English.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Okay... One more thing. . .

This is a powerful sermon and not for those who do not wish to be engaged fully by both the depth of the wound upon our society that is abortion and the Word of the Lord that speaks life to this culture of death....

One more thing. . .

Perhaps you are tired of my posts on abortion... well, then, you will not want to read this...  the results of 40 years of Roe v Wade:

1. Abortion decreases an individual's instinctual restraint against the occasional rage felt toward those dependent on his or her care.
2. Permissive abortion diminishes the taboo against aggressing [against] the defenseless.
3. Abortion increases the hostility between the generations.
4. Abortion has devalued children, thus diminishing the value of caring for children.
5. Abortion increases guilt and self-hatred, which the parent takes out on the child.
6. Abortion increases hostile frustration, intensifying the battle of the sexes, for which children are scapegoated.
7. Abortion cuts the developing mother-infant bond, thereby diminishing her future mothering capability.

If you can stomach it, read more here....

You knew it was coming. . .

Chaplain John Figdor has a divinity degree from Harvard. He counsels those in need and visits the sick. And he works with Stanford students under the Office of Religious Life.

So Figdor is the last guy you'd tag with the "A" word.

But, yes. The chaplain is an atheist.

"People are shocked when I tell them," Figdor said. "But atheist, agnostic and humanist students suffer the same problems as religious students - deaths or illnesses in the family, questions about the meaning of life, etc. - and would like a sympathetic nontheist to talk to."

Figdor, 28, is one of a growing number of faith-free chaplains at universities, in the military and in the community who believe that nonbelievers can benefit from just about everything religion offers except God.

FWIW Stanford is first... but many are sure to follow... Chaplains who will give their unbelievers the full counsel of nothing at all...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

For faith... Water becomes wine... wine becomes blood

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, preached on Sunday, January 20, 2013.

    Jesus ministry moves from one shocking event to another.  From His baptism and the surprise of a voice and a dove... to the Spirit whisking Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan... to a wedding invitation that finds Jesus and some of His disciples at a wedding in Cana of Galilee...  As if that were not an odd progression, in that reception Jesus moves from guest into host.  Who can make sense of it all?  But there is Mary, pondering, and that pondering must have learned something of Jesus because she knows instinctively that Jesus can do something about this problem.
    Although Jesus seems unwilling at first, He proves to be more than up to the task.  He makes a miracle out of nothing at all.  But that is exactly how Jesus operates – He makes something where there was nothing.  It is the miracle of the Word that does what it says.  And that Word is not captive to places like Cana of Galilee.  It is present with us here week after week after week.
    Mary said...  They have no wine.  Like the wedding guests, we complain when hope and joy are gone.  When the sweet wine of kindness and happiness run out.  Like wedding in Cana of Galilee, we face the shame and disappointment of lives where joy has run out and left us with bitterness and pain.  Where has it gone and who can do something about it?  Mary knows.  Bring it to Jesus.  Don't complain about it and make your whole life revolve around the things that are not what you want?  Bring the need to Jesus and let Him lead you through it.
    "Do what he tells you," Mary says to the servants.  She has no idea what Jesus will do but she is confident that what He will do will be enough.  Now there is a trusting faith.  We hardly trust anyone – not even Santa can be trusted to know what we want.  We have to tell him to make sure he gets it right.  Mary trusts Jesus implicitly.  "Do what He says."  So we come to Jesus, not with all our plans and ideas of what could, should, or must happen.  Rather, we come with simple trust.  He will do it.  That is all I need to know.  It is enough for me.
    "The best comes at the end..."  How easy it is to believe just the opposite!  How tempting to think that life is grand for the young and innocent!  Perhaps the great temptation for us is to think of the life God has prepared as a let down or disappointment to the life we would choose for ourselves.  You begin with the good wine and then, when you have rich memories of a wonderful life, you bear the sour wine and bitter taste of disappointment.   
    In other words, it all starts out great and goes down here from there.  But not for Jesus.  The best is not yesterday or today.  The best is yet to come.  As good as this moment is, it pales before our eternal tomorrow and as bad as this moment gets, it lies forgotten in a wonderful future. Everyone else brings the best out at the beginning and waits until senses are dulled so that they do not notice the disappointment.  Not Jesus!
    From Jesus we hear, "Why is this my problem?"  It is not that Jesus is rejecting us and our need.  Rather, Jesus makes it clear He does not have to come to our aid.  He comes as His choice, out of love, following the timetable of His grace and not the time clock of our impatience.
    Where is God when I need Him?  He has never left.  But He acts in the right time, in the fullness of time, and not because we pester Him or demand something from Him.  When Jesus says "My hour has not yet come," Jesus is saying our time is in His hands and He acts in the right moment, in the ripe moment.  We can whine all we want but love moves Jesus to do what is good and right and not what we expect or demand.
    "Take some to the master..."  For a first miracle, water into wine seems anticlimactic.  Besides, only a few people caught what Jesus was doing.  So was it wasted?  Of course not.  Jesus reveals Himself when and where He chooses.  He does not act for effect but for us and our salvation.  He chooses the means as well as the moment – not because He is stingy but because He is merciful, kind, and compassionate.
    This little miracle so few saw and hardly anyone understood still had its desired effect.  The disciples believed on Him.  We think miracles are about magical solutions to terrible problems.  Jesus shows us that miracles are about faith, about believing, about trust.  Still Jesus comes in the little miracle few see and no one understands – the wine become blood and the bread become body, given and shed for us and for our salvation.  In the shrug of our shoulders it shows that we still do not get it or get Him.  Faith sees Him and trusts Him.  Only faith.
    So we pray today that we may see the surprise of grace where Christ has hidden it, the little miracles that call forth faith and deliver to the faithful the gifts and fruits of the cross.  The little miracle is great because it reveals to us a great Savior.  And that is enough to ground us in the great times and for hope in the trying moments.  Amen.

Fashion for the Vicar...

The British were once known as the epitome of understatement...  Sadly, that virtue is being replaced by a sense of style that might be best reserved for another venue...

Read it all here and look at the pictures, too!  The very latest Parish fashions were modelled today by men and women of God who paraded down a clergy catwalk.

Once again, the wisdom of timeless design overshadows the flash of a design for a moment.  A few rules...

  • Clergy dress is not a fashion statement.  It is an identity statement.  I am a priest....
  • Clergy dress is not personal expression.  It is designed to mask your personal identity and emphasize the identity of Christ.
  • Clergy dress is not about what is in or out.  It is about WHOM you represent.
  • Clergy dress is not meant to draw attention to the dress itself.  It is to draw attention to the office and not the office bearer.    
BTW if this is what the ordination of women brings to the table, well, I think you know where I stand...


Adrian Cousins, area manager for Hayes and Fitch, a Liverpool-based company which has been selling clerical products since 1882, said: "We sell a wide range of clothing for every season. Our latest range, Serenity, is for women and features cutting-edge designs.

'They don't want to just dress in black, so we have new colours such as blush pink and rose, which are popular.

'Each item is fitted and made to measure. It is in response to female clergy who have said they want something out of the ordinary.'

Apparently it is not enough to break with 2,000 years of unbroken tradition and the witness of the faith.  One must dress out of the ordinary as well.

Lest anyone forget the problems in Missouri's schism were doctrinal...

We hear much about the personal, psychological, sociological, and cultural roots of Missouri's schism -- now some forty years old.  A paragraph from George Weigel reminds us that one of the issues at the heart and core of Missouri's unpleasantness was not confined only to Missouri:

From Weigel:

Joseph Ratzinger, the 265th Bishop of Rome, is a man of the Bible who knows the historical-critical method inside and out — and who has spent the better part of the last three decades trying to repair the damage that an exclusively historical-critical reading of the Old and New Testaments has done to both faith and culture. In the second volume of his trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth, published in 2011, Ratzinger put his intellectual cards on the table, face up: “One thing is clear to me: in two hundred years of exegetical work, historical-critical exegesis has already yielded its essential fruit.” If modern interpretation of the Bible was not to “exhaust itself in constantly new hypotheses,” Ratzinger continued, scholars had to learn to read the Bible again through lenses ground by faith and theology, including the theological reading of Scripture developed in the first Christian centuries and in the Middle Ages. It was necessary, in other words, to practice the ecumenism of time when reading and trying to understand the Bible.

Everyone from Brevard Childs to Joseph Ratzginer (Benedict XVI) has gotten it.  The historical critical methodology bore poisoned fruits for the Church.  I can remember it well when a friend and colleague listened to a sermon prep presentation from another colleague.  It was filled with all the banter of the HC method and nuanced by the points offered by the big name purveyors of this process.  At the end of it all, my friend turned to me and said, "There is nothing preachable there."  Indeed.  If it is not preachable, the methodology has failed us.  If it does not lead us from the Scripture back into the Scripture, the Word giving light to the Word, there there is something wrong with our process.  If we approach the Scriptures from a critical view point absent of faith, the conclusions we will be led to proclaim will be absent of faith, hope, and life.  Nothing preachable here.  Ya got that right!!

Saturday, January 26, 2013


On the heels of the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade we have one more "advance" in the decline of the status and role of women.  Read it and weep...

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta plans to announce Thursday a lifting of the ban on female service members in combat roles, a watershed policy change that was informed by women’s valor in Iraq and Afghanistan and that removes the remaining barrier to a fully inclusive military, defense officials said.
Panetta made the decision “upon the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” a senior defense official said Wednesday, an assertion that stunned female veteran activists who said they assumed that the brass was still uneasy about opening the most physically arduous positions to women. The Army and the Marines, which make up the bulk of the military’s ground combat force, will present plans to open most jobs to women by May 15.
The Army, by far the largest fighting force, currently excludes women from nearly 25 percent of active-duty roles. A senior defense official said the Pentagon expects to open “many positions” to women this year; senior commanders will have until January 2016 to ask for exceptions.
“The onus is going to be on them to justify why a woman can’t serve in a particular role,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plan before the official announcement.

The Reality that Awaits Women in Combat...  Read this gripping story by Ryan Smith and ask yourself if this is what is right?  What we need?

America has been creeping closer and closer to allowing women in combat, so Wednesday's news that the decision has now been made is not a surprise. It appears that female soldiers will be allowed on the battlefield but not in the infantry. Yet it is a distinction without much difference: Infantry units serve side-by-side in combat with artillery, engineers, drivers, medics and others who will likely now include women. The Pentagon would do well to consider realities of life in combat as it pushes to mix men and women on the battlefield.

imageMany articles have been written regarding the relative strength of women and the possible effects on morale of introducing women into all-male units. Less attention has been paid to another aspect: the absolutely dreadful conditions under which grunts live during war.

Most people seem to believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have merely involved driving out of a forward operating base, patrolling the streets, maybe getting in a quick firefight, and then returning to the forward operating base and its separate shower facilities and chow hall. The reality of modern infantry combat, at least the portion I saw, bore little resemblance to this sanitized view

I served in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a Marine infantry squad leader. We rode into war crammed in the back of amphibious assault vehicles. They are designed to hold roughly 15 Marines snugly; due to maintenance issues, by the end of the invasion we had as many as 25 men stuffed into the back. Marines were forced to sit, in full gear, on each other's laps and in contorted positions for hours on end. That was the least of our problems.
The invasion was a blitzkrieg. The goal was to move as fast to Baghdad as possible. The column would not stop for a lance corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, or even a company commander to go to the restroom. Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades.

Many Marines developed dysentery from the complete lack of sanitary conditions. When an uncontrollable urge hit a Marine, he would be forced to stand, as best he could, hold an MRE bag up to his rear, and defecate inches from his seated comrade's face.

During the invasion, we wore chemical protective suits because of the fear of chemical or biological weapon attack. These are equivalent to a ski jumpsuit and hold in the heat. We also had to wear black rubber boots over our desert boots. On the occasions the column did stop, we would quickly peel off our rubber boots, desert boots and socks to let our feet air out.

Due to the heat and sweat, layers of our skin would peel off our feet. However, we rarely had time to remove our suits or perform even the most basic hygiene. We quickly developed sores on our bodies.
When we did reach Baghdad, we were in shambles. We had not showered in well over a month and our chemical protective suits were covered in a mixture of filth and dried blood. We were told to strip and place our suits in pits to be burned immediately. My unit stood there in a walled-in compound in Baghdad, naked, sores dotted all over our bodies, feet peeling, watching our suits burn. Later, they lined us up naked and washed us off with pressure washers.

Yes, a woman is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger. But the goal of our nation's military is to fight and win wars. Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units, has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective?

Societal norms are a reality, and their maintenance is important to most members of a society. It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex.

Despite the professionalism of Marines, it would be distracting and potentially traumatizing to be forced to be naked in front of the opposite sex, particularly when your body has been ravaged by lack of hygiene. In the reverse, it would be painful to witness a member of the opposite sex in such an uncomfortable and awkward position. Combat effectiveness is based in large part on unit cohesion. The relationships among members of a unit can be irreparably harmed by forcing them to violate societal norms.
 Mr. Smith served as a Marine infantryman in Iraq. He is now an attorney.

Protestant Hymns for Catholic Use...

In the past there has been debate within the comments of this blog on the validity of using hymns in the Mass.  For Lutherans it is a no-brainer.  We feel like hymnody is the Lutheran contribution to the liturgy.  But Roman purists insist that hymns are not essential to and have little place within the Mass.  No matter how much I lament or push or prod, I have not changed their minds.  Maybe another fellow with the last name Peters might...  OR you can read it here at First Thoughts...

Should Catholics sing hymns at Mass? Given the state of Catholic liturgical music, it’s a fair question. In the last century, Catholics exchanged their musical solid food for milk—usually skim and on the edge of going sour. Hymns at Mass are a recent addition to the liturgy. Hymns were used in the daily office, rotating by day or by season, but the Tridentine Mass had chants for particular days—the propers of the Mass—not hymns. Protestant congregations who were departing from medieval practice in other ways introduced hymns into the liturgy itself, and, as many Christians of all kinds acknowledge, Catholic attempts to appropriate and improve on this Protestant modification have not turned out well.

It should not surprise us, therefore, that some Catholics who want to fix church music focus on Gregorian chant and move away from hymns altogether. Others lean more favorably toward hymns, but seek to make sure that they are Catholic hymns. But there are good reasons for Catholics to sing hymns—and Protestant hymns, at that. Even as they strive for excellence in Gregorian chant and other areas of musical renewal, Catholics would do well to remember what good hymns can do and why excellence in hymn-singing should be part of the Catholic liturgical renewal.

First, good hymns offer an excellent opportunity for catechesis, which is one of the purposes of liturgy. Like the proper chants, they can help us digest the truths of God we have just received in Scripture and offer an exegesis of particular feasts themselves. Consider the Lutheran Easter hymn, “Awake, My Heart, with Gladness”:

Now I will cling forever
To Christ, my Savior true;
My Lord will leave me never,
Whate’er He passeth through.
He rends Death’s iron chain,
He breaks through sin and pain,
He shatters hell’s dark thrall,
I follow Him through all. . . .

He brings me to the portal
That leads to bliss untold,
Whereon this rhyme immortal
Is found in script of gold:
“Who there My cross hath shared
Finds here a crown prepared;
Who there with Me hath died
Shall here be glorified.”

Notice the unexpected way Paul Gerhardt puts it: It is not that I will never leave Christ, whatever I pass through, but that he will never leave me. In a short turn of phrase, Gerhardt reminds us of the assurances that come through Christ’s resurrection: Whatever we suffer, we suffer with him at our side—and knowing the end of his story, we have hope for the end of our own. We follow Christ as he harrows Hell and routs the many places it has encamped in our own souls. We are promised the cross, yes, but also the crown. In these two verses, Gerhardt had left us a rich primer on the resurrection, a sixteen-line sermon on what the triumph of Christ means for the life of a Christian.

Because these hymns can be vehicles for handing on the Catholic faith, they remind us of the real meaning of Catholic. At its heart, to say that something is Catholic is not to say that it was written by a person in communion with the bishop of Rome but that it is in accord with the universal apostolic heritage. This means, of course, that not all hymns are suitable for Catholic liturgies. But it also means that if a hymn proclaims the Catholic faith, then—regardless of its origin—we should consider it a Catholic hymn.

This is the vision of catholicity put forward in Vatican II. The Council fathers write in Lumen Gentium that while the Church in the world subsists in the Catholic Church, “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.” In the decree on ecumenism, they note that such elements “belong by right to the one Church of Christ.” They continue: “Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian . . . can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.”

In other words, if a Protestant hymn contains Catholic truth, it is a Catholic hymn as well. Singing such hymns is, in the deepest sense of the word, truly Catholic. Furthermore, many hymns capture the particular genius of a group of believers, a way of putting things that the Holy Spirit has allowed to develop in particular times and places. In singing hymns that embody that genius, Catholics can claim them as a gift for themselves as well.

For the sake of teaching the faith and living out its catholicity, therefore, Catholics should give serious consideration to good hymnody. Yes, we should resurrect our own treasures that we have discarded. Restore Gregorian chant to its rightful place and ramp up the Latin, by all means. And yes, we must be careful about what hymns we chose. But it is good for Catholics to sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” and “Abide with Me.” For with them all Christians can praise God, hand on of the faith, and help bind up sad divisions. If the Catholic Church is who she claims to be, and if being Catholic means what she claims it means, then singing such hymns truly is a Catholic thing to do.

And let me end with David Mills' own words from the same blog (December 26, 2012):

It would be a wonderful thing if Catholic churches sang more verses of the hymns we sing, especially at a feast like Christmas when the Mass has or should have a degree of festive leisure and the great carols we sing offer complex and detailed meditations on the event we’re celebrating. It’s a bit like mining for gold and only taking the top layer, when you know that with just a little extra effort and time you can scrape off the next layer and get even more, but don’t because you want to get home to watch television reruns a few minutes earlier. There are riches to be had, and to be celebrated in song, with just a little extra effort and a few more minutes.

Before some liturgical pedant jumps in to inform us that hymns aren’t integral to the Mass: Yes, we all know that. But if you’re going to sing hymns, sing ’em right. Take advantage of the lyrical riches they offer and the pleasures to be had from singing more of the verses. Especially at Christmas, when the carols are such an integral part of the modern Western experience of celebrating the birth of the Son of God. Please, sir, I want some more.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Participate by listening. . .

Every now and then I get complaints from parents that there is nothing for their children to do in the liturgy.  Often these come from parents who have their own ideas about what should be happening in worship more so than from their children.  In fact I have found that children, especially small children, are very attentive to the liturgy, to the postures of worship, and to the practice of our piety (that is, if they are not consigned to the last pew and actually can see something).

Anyway, I digress.  The point that we have forgotten is that we participate most of all not by doing but by listening.  Listening seems to be a forgotten virtue in worship today.  We prefer being entertained (not the same as listening) or to be given something part to play and something to do.  But listening is the first and primary way that we participate in worship. 

The liturgy is hardly more than sung and spoken Scripture -- much of it word for word from the Bible.  Even when we speak and sing it, it is not for the benefit of the God who is the Word made flesh, the Word through whom all things came into being, and the Word who will on the last day pronounce full and final judgment.  He does not need to be reminded of what He has said.  We sing and speak it back to Him as the highest form of worship and in the speaking and singing what is operative within us is the hearing of that Word. 

Paul well reminds that faith comes by hearing -- hearing what? -- the Word of God.  Listening, that is hearing with faith prompted by the Spirit, is the highest form of worship and that which serves as prelude to the reception of the Word in bread and wine.  Yet, as is so often true of us, we disdain the very thing that is most important.  We participate in the liturgy most of all by listening.

It is to our great regret that we are hardly satisfied with this part of the divine drama of the Word and Sacrament.  We think, to our weakness, that unless we are doing something to impress God and to show off before others, nothing is really happening.  This is the great and fatal flaw of a sinful nature, so curved in on self as to see everything from the vantage point of me and what I want.  Yet listening is participation.  It is the first level of participation and it involves not merely the mechanism of the ear working well.  It involves the heart and mind.  We listen not to hear words but to hear the Word.  We listen not to say we have been there and done that but so that the Word made flesh might dwell within us in the manger of our hearts and minds, doing what He has promised to do.

If there is one wish I had for me and for those in my parish, it is that we might rediscover what it means to listen, of the worship that participates by listening, and of the hearing heart and mind that ponder with Mary "What does this mean?"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Catching up... why don't men come to church?

Rod Dreher has written a piece on why men don't come to church.  It is worth a read.  There is some mention of the usual suspects:  women (even lesbian) clergy, feeling oriented focus of message and music, soft identity, etc...  But it seems that one of the primary reasons is that contemporary Christianity spends too much of its time adapted to the person instead of adapted the person to God.  Another way of looking at this is that much of contemporary Christianity seems focused on getting the person in touch with himself or herself instead of getting in touch with or having union with God.  Now there is something to think about.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of Dreher's essay is making available to us links to some of the more in depth work done by others, in one case more than a dozen years ago.  I am referring to Leon Podles monumental work in 1999 which you can access here in PDF form.  It is worth the read.  The other is more recent.  Called Men and the Church, it is a particular look at the place of men in Orthodox churches.  Doug LeBlanc puts us in touch with the comments of men who describe what it is that attracts them to Orthodoxy.  Again, it is worth the read.

I am not going to go through either work or Dreher's article in detail.  You can do this.  What I do want to do is focus some comments in response.  In my own District of the LCMS there are missions begun with a view toward the inclusion of men.  They have focused their outreach in ways designed to attract men -- including mixed martial arts demonstrations in the worship space.  The great danger of this is not that they work but that they have merely repackaged what is inherently the weakness of churches that attempt to grow by adapting to the person, in this case, a male, by using gimmicks presumed to be attractive to males, particularly young and single males.

They may have scanned some of the work on why men don't go to church but they did not read it in depth.  They missed the part about being asked to adapt to the church, adapt to God, adapt to the worship life of the church, etc.  They missed the part about demanding piety that expects sacrifice and deference. 

In Lutheran terms, we have a problem with this.  We are knee jerk antinomians when it comes to piety.  God forbid that we should have rules about liturgy, lectionary, prayer, posture, piety or practice.  We cannot say "no" to anything and so we find it hard to say "yes" to something.  We are too darned quick to say that fasting cannot be legislated and so fasting is a lost art among us.  We jump on anyone who suggests that we should kneel for some parts of the liturgy or stand for others; we prefer sitting and watching as a whole.  So, we end up allowing people to do as they please.  Those who cannot kneel or stand for long have given way to those who do not want to -- wants and desires have replaced physical limitations on the postures of the Divine Service.  We insist that chanting has to go if folks don't like it or vestments or whatever else seems offensive.

One thing I like about the Orthodox is that they are offensive.  They don't shorten the service.  They have no seeker services or user friendly styles of worship.  They expect male voices to predominate in the service and the music of the Divine Liturgy seems tailor made for the basso profundo. They stand for long periods.  They use archaic and unknown languages in the liturgy.  They have art that seems out of another time (icons) and vestments that seem more like dresses than even the vesture known by the West.  They have ornate and elaborate sanctuaries -- almost to the point of kitsch.  Yet they seem to attract and keep men more than the typical Protestant barn with its screens and carefully quaffed clergy.  Their music has no beat or percussion or even guitars and yet more often than not men sing in their choirs.

Lutherans were once that kind of church.  We had a culture of worship that was, for all intents and purposes, out of step with the culture of the moment.  Read about the liturgical life of Leipzig at the time of Bach.  Read of the elaborate schedules of daily offices, catechetical services, and Divine Services of those eras.  They fasted and prayed and knelt and smelled incense.  Their clergy were not there to get them in touch with their feelings but to call them to repentance and absolve their guilty consciences with the powerful Word of life.

I would suspect that men are in higher levels of participation in those churches of our Synod which are served by Pastors in the same mold, by worship which retains its heavenly and other worldly character, and in which the preaching is still marked the by the powerful call to repentance.  I would suspect that the percentage of men participating in worship is highest among the congregations of our church body where the person is called to adapt and not the church adapting to them, where there is clear and high expectation of piety and practice.

Note that I am not suggesting that Pastors be SS officers and congregants into recruits at boot camp.  I am talking about the church simply being what the church is to be -- the body of Christ.  When Lutherans regain this sense and show it forth in their worship, then we may find that men respond more... and women, too... and children retained...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Disturbing news...

For the first time ever in Denmark, a survey has shown how many foetuses show signs of life following a late term termination, according to Kristeligt Dagblad. Previously, conventional wisdom has suggested that 10 per cent of fetuses gasped or showed other signs of life following a late term abortion between the 12th and 22nd week of pregnancy. But statistics from Denmark’s second largest maternity clinic at the Aarhus University Hospital Skejby show that out of 70 late terminations between August 2011 and November 2012, 11 – or 16 per cent - showed signs of life.  Translated into national figures from 2010, during which 877 fetuses were terminated after the 12th week, the statistical figure for life signs in aborted fetuses would be 140. 

You can read the whole English translation of the Danish article here.

Some of the statistics in the US.

  • Of the 1.6 million abortions performed in the U.S. each year, 91 percent are performed during the first trimester (12 or fewer weeks' gestation); 9 percent are performed in the second trimester (24 or fewer weeks' gestation); and only about 100 are performed in the third trimester (more than 24 weeks' gestation), approximately .01 percent of all abortions performed.  Given the Danish study that would mean something like 24,000 of the post 12 week abortions were on fetuses that showed clear signs of life.
  • Approximately 1.5 million U.S. women with unwanted pregnancies choose abortion each year. Most are under 25 years old and unmarried. Women who are separated from their husbands and poor women are more likely to choose abortion than other women. More than two-thirds of the women who seek abortions have jobs. Nearly one-third are in school. More than two-thirds plan to have a child in the future. 
  • Approximately 6 million women in the U.S. become pregnant every year. About half of those pregnancies are unintended. Either the woman or her partner did not use contraception or the contraceptive method failed. 
  • Each year more than one million U.S. teenagers become pregnant — one in nine women aged 15-19 and one in five who are sexually active. 
  • In 1988, the teenage pregnancy rate  was 113 per 1,000 women aged 15-19. The rate was 74 per 1,000 among those aged 15-17. 
  • 50 percent of teenage pregnancies conceived in 1987 resulted in a birth, 36 percent in an abortion, and an estimated 14 percent in miscarriage. 
  • The number of abortions for every 100 live births showed a gradual decline since 1980 (35.9) to 1992 (33.5). The number of legal abortions increased slightly from 1995 (at 1,210,883) to 1996 (at 1,221,585). This is an increase of 0.89 percent. Since the national population increased by about 0.92 percent from mid-1995 to mid-1996, the abortion per-capita rate has decreased slightly. 
  • CDC figures for 1995 show that 20 percent of women having abortions are in their teens; 33 percent are ages 20 to 24, and 47 percent are ages 25 or older. 
  • Eighty percent of women having abortions are single; 60 percent are white; 35 percent are black. 
  • Eighty-two percent of the women having abortions are unmarried or separated. 
  • Almost half of American women (43 percent) will have an abortion sometime in their lifetime. 
Using statistics supplied by Planned Parenthood and therefore friendly to abortion providers and availability...  Even given these, the picture is grim.

The time is now to redress the scourge of death that became legal and, in the eyes of many, moral, following the Supreme Court Decision.  While the law might never be changed, it need not be changed if we, the people, awaken to the tragic consequences of a choice that means life or death and embrace the culture of life.  Pray that this be so...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The dollar sign says it all...

So much for free and easily available birth control... or abortion which is safe but rare. . .

Planned Parenthood Received
$1,622 in Gov't Funds for
Each Abortion

The nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, reports it received $542 million from government sources in 2011-2012 while performing 995,687 abortions from 2009-2011.
When broken down on an approximate annual basis, that means Planned Parenthood receives around $1,622 in government funds per abortion. From a time perspective, it translates to one abortion every 94 seconds.

Read it all here....

Not one to take Time at its word... but

'Time' Magazine Says Pro-Life Advocates Are Winnin

This success is due partly to ‘an organized and well-executed strategy,” the Jan. 14 issue’s cover story says, but ‘public opinion is also increasingly on their side.’

NEW YORK — A new Time magazine cover story contends that pro-life advocates have been “winning the abortion war” through legislative successes, changes in public opinion and new ultrasound technology that shows the unborn baby.

“Pro-choice activists have been outflanked by their pro-life counterparts, who have successfully lobbied for state-based regulations that limit access,” writer Katie Pickert said on the Time website Jan. 3. “The pro-life cause has been winning the abortion war, in part, because it has pursued an organized and well-executed strategy. But public opinion is also increasingly on their side.”

Pickert made her case in the Jan. 14 Time cover story "What Choice?" The magazine cover says: “40 years ago, abortion-rights activists won an epic victory with Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing ever since.”
“In many parts of the country today, obtaining an abortion is more difficult than at any point since the 1970s,” Pickert said.

Fewer doctors are willing to perform abortions, and the number of abortion facilities has declined from 2,908 in 1982 to 1,793 in 2008. The venue for abortions has shifted from hospitals to specialized facilities, which are easier targets for pro-life advocates and legislators.

In Pickert’s reckoning, pro-life legislative successes include various requirements, such as mandatory counseling, ultrasounds and waiting periods for women considering abortion; parental-notification requirements for minors; and new regulations on what facilities and abortionists may perform abortions.
In 2011, a record 92 bills that regulate abortions passed in 24 state legislatures.

Pickert cited surveys that report about 75% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in some or all cases, but most Americans also support state regulations, and only 41% of Americans self-identify as “pro-choice.”

“In a dynamic democracy like America, defending the status quo is always harder than fighting to change it,” she said.

She said there is a “generational divide,” with young pro-abortion-rights feminists not joining the feminist organizations that advanced legal abortion. However, she said these activists have an advantage over their elders in being more adept at Internet activism and being more relatable because of their age.

Pickert’s article said that pro-abortion activists are expanding their work beyond the term “pro-choice,” which some of them say is limited and outdated. They are now joining legal abortion to a broader agenda that includes child care, health insurance and economic opportunity, as well as contraception access and homosexual rights.

Protected most of all from ourselves...

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings and the recollection of those mass murders that went before, we have been subjected to a torrent of experts advising us on the cause and the solution to the problem of violence.  God bless them.  We certainly do need all the help we can get.  We live in a violent society in which guns and killing has become sport to occupy our leisure in the video games and violent TV and movies all around us.  No one a couple of centuries ago could have foreseen the day when the primary use of guns was not to put food on the table or protect the household.  Though we no longer depend upon guns for these, we have invented a sport of guns that flourishes as much in the virtual world as it does in the real world.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I am not saying that the solution lies in gun control.  What I am saying is that the problem lies within the hearts and minds of people.  Violence comes not from the guns but guns become a place where the violence within is released.

We have come also to expect that the government should protect us.  But from whom?  Do we need more security?  Do we need more police and armed guards and metal detectors and scanners?  Do we need a test to prove mental and emotional sanity so we can identify those prone to act out violence?  Do we need gun control laws or better enforcement?  Do we need rules on what can be shown on TV or seen in movies or played on video game consoles?  Do we need someone to check up on parents who allow younger children access to things that should be reserved for more mature youth or those who fail to secure their weapons when not in use or those who use TV as a baby sitter without paying attention to what is watched by their young children? 

The truth is we need to be protected from ourselves.  The seeds of our own destruction come not from others but from within us, from the well of sin, destruction, violence, and death that has become our nature since the fall.  Since we need to protected from ourselves, the answer lies not in a police state stripped of freedoms but rather in the God who alone can create in us new and contrite hearts.  If it is the man or woman or child in the mirror who is the potential source of unrestrained anger, bitterness, immorality, and destruction, then we need the God who writes His Law in our hearts and a morality which is not legislated for the moment but stands for all eternity.

I find it interesting that in the aftermath of Sandy Hook we have heard little from those who object to the nearly constant mention of God by President, parent, and pundit.  We have heard hardly anything from the NRA.  We have heard hardly anything from the liberal political types whose Hollywood lives package and sell to us violence in all its destructive force (think Quentin Tarantino as but one example) or the actors who bristle at any suggestion of limits on their creative license to portray us at our immoral best.  But we have heard from pastors, priests, rabbis, and bishops.  We have heard touching words of compassion and forgiveness from a parent whose own grief and loss is somehow big enough to feel for the family of the shooter.  We have heard prayers and sermons and benedictions and blessings in which the name of God, the mercy of God, and the wisdom of God is called forth in our time of great weakness and need.

If we need to be protected from ourselves, the government is a poor parent, a fickle one, and an expensive one (both in the costs of money and freedom sacrificed in the name of eradicating evil).  But this is exactly the thing at which the Lord is good, His steadfast and enduring love accomplishes, and on which the light of the cross shines forth with the greatest power of all -- to heal our wounds, to restore our joy, to establish our security, and to redeem us from the enemies without and within. 

No one is foolish enough to think that if God had been mentioned in the classroom this evil would not have occurred... but since it die occur, the only and the rightful place we look for comfort and redemption is the name of the Lord, in the face of His Son, in the suffering that relieves suffering, and in the death the kills death once and for all.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Christians very uniformly represented geographically, by age, and economic status...

I merely pass on the summary report from the Baptist Press... it is an eye opening picture of Christians - not at all clustered in any one part of the globe, age group, etc...  In other words, Christians are more uniformly represented across the world than any other faith.  It is a testament to the Word and promise of God -- something which we do not always acknowledge.

From the Baptist Press:

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Christians are the world's largest religious group and are nearly evenly dispersed globally, according to a new Pew study on the size, geographic distribution and median ages of the world's major religious groups.

Of the world's 6.9 billion people, 2.2 billion or 32 percent are Christians, Pew reported Dec. 18. While only 12 percent of Christians live in North America, the vast majority of Christians, 99 percent, live outside the Middle East-North Africa region where Christianity began.

Apart from North America, Christians are geographically dispersed, with 26 percent in Europe, 24 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 24 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 13 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, the study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found, based on 2010 data.

Researchers did not study the degree to which people actively practice their faiths, but relied on the subjects' self-identification of their religious affiliation.

The majority of the world's other religions lives in the Asia-Pacific region, including nearly all Buddhists and Hindus, and most Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated, researchers found. While 58.8 percent of the world's population lives in the Asia-Pacific region, it is home to 99 percent of Hindus and Buddhists, 62 percent of Muslims and 76 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.

Pew reported that the world's population includes 1.6 billion Muslims, 1 billion Hindus, nearly 500 million Buddhists, 400 million adherents of various folk and traditional religions, 58 million adherents the study confined to the category of "other," comprised of many religions including Baha'i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism and Wicca.

A plurality of the world's 14 million Jewish people, 44 percent, live in North America, while 41 percent live in the Middle East and North Africa, nearly all of them in Israel, the study found.

In the U.S., 78 percent, or 243,060,000 of the country's 310,390,000 people are Christian, the study found. The U.S. also has 50,980,000 religiously unaffiliated, 5,690,000 Jewish people, 3,570,000 Buddhists, 2,770,000 Muslims, 1,790,000 Hindus, 630,000 adherents to folk religions and 1,900,000 affiliated with other religions.

The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Major Religious Groups as of 2010 encompasses more than 230 countries and territories. Based on more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers, the research is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, analyzing religious change and its impact on societies around the world.

Globally, about half of all Christians are Catholic. An estimated 37 percent of Christians are Protestant, including Anglican, independent and nondenominational churches. The Orthodox Communion, including the Greek and Russian Orthodox, make up 12 percent of Christians.

Researchers categorized Christian Scientists, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses as "viewing themselves as Christian," and computed them as comprising about 1 percent of the global Christian population.

Most of the world's population, 5.8 billion or 84 percent, affiliates with a particular religion, leaving 1.6 billion, or 16 percent, with no religious affiliation, the study found. But many with no religious affiliation hold religious or spiritual beliefs, such as a belief in God or a universal spirit, while not identifying with a particular religion.

The study found that some religions have much younger populations, determined in part by the growth rate of countries where the religions are largely found. For example, religions concentrated in China tend to be older, because the population growth is slower.

The median age of the world's overall population is 28, while the median age of Christians is 30, the study found.

The full report is available here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Religious blackmail...

Wesley Hill has written well of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's argument against the religious blackmail of those who use grace as a cure all to the sad and empty feelings within but who have not yet rooted out and exposed sin so that the individual can be moved to repentance.

Krister Stendahl (why do we always have to be reminded that he said he was Lutheran?), of course, is the famous author of the opinion that Augustine and Luther got Paul wrong (as did nearly everyone, it seems).  Stendahl disdains guilt as a component in repentance or a tool in the hand of God and instead suggests that Christian freedom allows a robust conscience in which guilt need not play any major role.  Bonhoeffer is one of many Christian thinkers who think the Stendahl's perspective is just plain wrong.

A quote from Ian MacFarland puts Bonhoeffer well:  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was highly critical of those styles of evangelistic preaching that seek first to persuade people how wretched and miserable they are and only then introduce Jesus Christ as the cure for their condition. He called it ‘religious blackmail’ and thought it both ignoble and completely inconsistent with Jesus’ own preaching. . . . Bonhoeffer objected that such preaching confused sin with personal weakness or guilt.

You can read it all for yourself here.  What intrigues me is a few lines later in Hill's piece: 

Too often we Christians are heard as saying something along the following lines: “Your life of casual sex (or cohabitation, or homosexuality) surely must be leading you to feel empty, unfulfilled, and jaded. But we have the solution for those unpleasant feelings!” To which the reply is often: “I’m sorry to disappoint, but I don’t feel excessively guilty or ashamed or unfulfilled. On the contrary, my gay partnership has given me more emotional peace than I’ve ever had.”

I well understand this.  Our materialistic culture comes into question only when we cannot afford what we want.  Our confidence in the flesh is shaken only when no pill is available to fix our affliction.  Our sexual indulgence is a problem only when we are not getting as much pleasure from it as we think we ought.  The problem we face today is not a culture awash in guilt and feeling the prick of conscience.  The problem we face today is that we feel no guilt for our self-indulgence.  We have even gone one step further -- politically we have translated this self-indulgence into the idea that somebody else should pay for our contraception costs and the financial success of others should make up for my own poor economic choices.  No, it is not true of all and I am painting with a broad brush here but the whole process leading up to the election has solidified the idea that we are not responsible for our failures, only for making sure that the success of others subsidize them.

So how do you preach grace to a people who feel no guilt, who do not call their behavior sinful, and who do not seek forgiveness?  You do it by preaching the Law.  When the Law has convicted the hearts of people and brought forth the fruit of guilt and the rightful despair over the consequences of our sin, then grace can speak forgiveness, the gift of an alien righteousness that belongs to Christ, and the promise of a future in which the past is undone.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Call no man father?

You know how people get stirred up whenever I mention chanting or incense -- now don't shoot off a comment yet -- well, I can only imagine the brouhaha that would ensure if I said that I think the proper term for congregants toward their Pastor is Father.  So I won't actually say it and you do not need to rush to the keyboard to rebut my post.

In case you cannot help yourself, I will defer to the ever concise and clear thinking and pen of my brother LCMS Pastor, Father Heath Curtis....  What he said!

HT to Gottesdienst Online...

Call no man father...the definitive post

I am honestly surprised at how often Gottesdienst is called upon to defend our editorial practice of referring to clergyman as Father. I'm also not a little surprised at the direction from which the questions come. But one thing almost all of the questions have in common is a quoting of Matthew 23:9-10   "And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ."
Fair enough: let's get a post up that covers all the Biblical ground and be done with it. You can link your questioning friends, neighbors, and Fathers here. So how did this title develop in the Church with this clear statement from Jesus? Doesn't calling a pastor Father violate it? 
Let's examine what Jesus says. It's an absolute statement: call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. The statement is either literal and means "call no human being on earth by the term father" or it is in some sense figurative, with the figure in the word "call," that is, "realize that no man on earth is really your father, even though you have many fathers on earth, for there is only One True Father." 
Well, if it's the former then how is it that we all call our fathers father? How does one justify that in light of Jesus' statement? "Call no man father" does not make room for biological exceptions. That is, if there is a figure here it certainly can't be in the negative particle because the whole force of the statement is most obviously aimed at earthly, biological fathers. There is no way the statement means "Call your dad father but nobody else." 
So the figure is obviously in the word "call:" realize that some words we use towards men are used only in shadowy ways because they belong to God. To "call" something by name in the Bible has great importance. Think of all those name changes in the Bible: God calls a thing what it is. To name something is supposed to directly speak of its essence. But when we call our earthly fathers father we just can't be using words that way. Our fathers are shadows, reflections, images (often poor ones) of the ultimate reality. We could just as well say that no wife should call her husband husband because there is only One Husband who is in heaven, Christ the Lord. Or, no one ought to call the lords in the House of Lords lords because there is only One Lord. In every case we are not thereby calling for some silly undoing of plain speech (let's make up a new word we can call our, I mean maleparent), but for a realization that God is the reality and things down here are the shadow.
And, indeed, it is clear from the rest of the New Testament that "father" was already a term used in this shadowy sense:
1 Corinthians 4:15   For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Philemon 1:10  I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.
Philippians 2:22  But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12  For you know how, like a father with his children,  12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
1 Timothy 5:1-2  Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers,  2 older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.
So there you go: St. Paul, speaking in the Spirit, uses the term father in reference to men on earth, specifically to preachers vis a vis their parishioners. QED

Friday, January 18, 2013

I AM baptized....

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, January 13, 2013.

    Around this part of the country, if you were baptized as an infant and baptized without immersion, then it means you were not baptized at all.  Nearly every corner of Clarksville's churches understand baptism so differently from Lutherans, sometimes we find ourselves at a loss to respond.  How do you defend baptism?  First, we are not the minority.  Infant baptism, sacramental baptism are the majority positions in Christendom; more than that, they are the teaching of Scripture.  Unlike our neck of the woods, those who dispute infant baptism, non-immersion, or sacramental baptism seem to be the majority.
    I cannot compact it all into one sermon but a good place to start is the difference in verbs in the two statements: I was baptized (the claim of adult baptism by immersion) and I AM baptized (our confession).  Now it might seem like an odd difference but it is an important one.
    I was baptized... claim some Christians.  This is merely a statement of an event that took place at a specific date and time.  What it means to those who say it is that they knew the Gospel in their minds and they said it or publicly confessed it out loud before witnesses.  Usually this takes less the form of a creed than the form of a prayer in which they give Jesus their hearts. 
    I was baptized means that these have presented themselves before the font but more like one might present himself to a judge in a courtroom.  They have come in obedience to a command.  Baptism is not much more than a legal requirement that must be kept and the focus of baptism is not on the obedience of the baptized but on the grace and work of Jesus.
    I was baptized is their promise on a specific occasion and in a specific place that they would believe this faith always and they would live holy lives before the Lord as an outward display of their inward repentance.  To say I was baptized is like the 12 step meeting where every one begins by admitting "I am an alcoholic."  There is little gospel in this and the whole focus is less on the Lord's promise than the believer's faith and righteous obedience to the command of God.  Sadly, too many of us Lutherans think this way and find ourselves surprised when Peter says, “Baptism now saves you.”  We have relegated it to a place and time instead of living in its blessed gift and grace each day.
    As Lutherans we do not speak of baptism in the past tense.  It can never do to say only "I was baptized" but rather "I AM baptized."  This baptism is not merely an event in time, though surely it is that.  Baptism is an identity.  I am a baptized child of God.  By baptism I was made a child of God, connected to Jesus' saving death and life-giving resurrection.  By baptism I was marked with His cross.  By baptism I was sealed in the covenant of this water and that forever changes who I am.  By baptism, who I was is gone and the person I am is made brand new.
    As Lutherans, we do not confess "I was baptized" but "I AM baptized."  By baptism we made part of the Church.  Baptism is God's call through which the Spirit seeks us out, bids us come, makes us new, and gathers us as His very own.  The Church is no gathering of volunteers but the sacred assembly of those called by God and set apart by God as His own in the waters of baptism.  To say "I am baptized" is to say who you are right now by God's grace and not merely to remember a past event.
    As Lutherans we confess "I AM baptized."  I did nothing and God did it all.  We are still the baptized.  Who we are is God's workmanship.  We come to baptism with nothing at all to offer the Lord.  We come empty. Our sins have stained us and made us unworthy of the Lord.  Our repentance is a joke because we cannot make ourselves do what is right nor can we keep ourselves from doing what is wrong.  We cannot atone for our wrongs nor can we escape the evil of our deceitful hearts.  We can not believe in the Lord Jesus because our hearts are clogged with doubts and fears.  Resistant to God's gracious works, we hide in the shadows of darkness, more content with its misery and death than God's light.  By baptism that wretch of a person is put to death in Christ so that a new person created by God and in His righteousness may arise.  I live as the new creation of God with a past forgiven and a new future bestowed.
    Baptism is more than a fact or event; it changes who you are.  It is not about me but about the Lord.  The old has died; the new person created in grace is come.  You came with nothing but condemnation and you leave with everything and eternity before you.  You came naked and you leave clothed in perfect righteousness.  You came an orphan and leave a child of God with many brothers and sisters in Christ.  You came under Satan's dominion and leave a child of God purchased and won with Christ's blood.  Baptism is not some housekeeping detail; it is an eternal identity.  “God’s own child, I gladly say it; I am baptized into Christ.” is what we just sang.
    Do NOT surrender this baptismal Gospel for doubt or reason or fear or argument or Law!  Do not misplace your confidence from the Word and promise of God that endures forever to trust in feelings that come and go and or one of a thousand broken promises to be good or do better.  Do not give up the freedom Christ has accorded you for duty or obligation that lays a burden right back upon your shoulders.  It is for this that Christ came to the waters and it is for this that we have come... and nothing less.  I AM baptized!  Amen.