Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sermon: Baptism of Christopher Carter Melling

Wednesday of Trinity 10, Baptism of Christopher Melling
30 July 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 19:41-48 (1 Cor 12:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Christians, you’ve seen a baby get wet this evening.

To most people and under most circumstances, this isn’t really worth the trouble to come to see. But here we all are, parents, sponsors, relatives, a special candle, a certificate, and a celebration.

To the non-believing world, this is the height of stupidity. To religious people who don’t worship our God, this is a quaint ceremony that symbolizes our unity as a community. To some Christians, this is a hollow ritual, since Christopher can’t choose to be a Christian. To other Christians, this is no baptism, since Salem Lutheran Church doesn’t belong to the right bureaucracy.

But when Christopher’s baptism is despised or attacked, whether by believers or non-believers, it is the work of the devil. For we have the promise of God, the command to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and the iron-clad word: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” And we have it on good authority, in fact the only infallible authority, that “these little ones” can indeed, in the words of our Lord Himself, “believe in Me.”

Belief is just another way to say “faith,” the faith through which we are saved, the faith we confess, the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us as a gracious free gift.

In our Gospel, our Lord weeps tears of sadness. For His beloved city of Jerusalem refused to believe. They “did not know the time of [their] visitation.” God had come to them in the flesh, in a way that they could see (like water held in a pastor’s hand), hear (like water splashing in a font as the Holy Trinity is invoked), and touch (like water dripping from the head of a newly-regenerated baby).

But in spite of this visitation, Jerusalem refused to believe.

Unbelief is the work of Satan. Unbelief condemns the unchristian world and tempts the followers of Christ toward the abandonment of the faith. Indeed, the beautiful passage of the power of baptism: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” is completed by its opposite, the power of unbelief: “but he who does not believe, will be condemned.”

We believe in the regenerative work of this baptism not because we’re in the right denomination, not because Christopher can “make a decision for Jesus,” not now, not twelve years from now, not a hundred years from now. We believe, because we have been visited – by the Word of God in the flesh, and by the Holy Spirit whom He has sent to us.

As St. Paul proclaims in our epistle from his letter to the Church at Corinth: “Therefore I make known to you that no-one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no-one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”

It’s too early to tell what gifts, what talents, what skills Christopher has inside of him. We have no idea what he will do to make a living, whom he will marry, how many children he will father – but we do know one thing, by virtue of the water and the Word given to Him under the sign of the holy cross this evening: Christopher has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, of eternal life, of a second birth, of access to God the Father through the ministrations of the Holy Spirit and through the Word and flesh of Jesus, our great high priest. “There are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all…. One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

Christopher, and all the baptized, have been given the gift of life through water and the Spirit. The source of that gift was confessed in the hymn we sang by the Lutheran hymn writer Richard Resch:

The gifts Christ freely gives
He gives to you and me

To be His Church, His bride
His chosen, saved and free!
Saints blest with these rich gifts

Are children who proclaim

They were won by Christ

And cling to His strong name.

And these gifts abide for as long as we shall live, gifts that even transcend the grave and extend unto eternity. Our baptisms do not only serve us while our heads remain wet and while our baptismal candle burns, but cling to us as long as we have flesh and blood. The greatest treasure any of us has in this life is baptism. It is this watery grace that sees us through times of pain, of doubt, of fear, of temptation, of all forms of suffering, of helplessness, of times when our faith itself is a dimly burning wick, times of persecution, and even the hour of death itself.

We are reminded of our baptism every time we invoke Father, Son, and Spirit; whenever we cross ourselves; whenever we drink water, bathe, get caught in a rainstorm, see a rainbow, confess our sins and receive absolution, and even when we witness the Holy Baptism of other saints.

We are especially reminded of our baptism when we approach the altar to partake in the body and blood of Him who baptized us: the One whose mighty word speaks through the feeble lips of the pastor; the One whose bloodied, crucified hands bless us and absolve us through the shaky mortal hands of the messenger; the One who gives of Himself, whose body we eat, whose blood we drink, the water from whose riven side covers us and our sins through this same glorious and gracious gift we saw visited upon Christopher this evening.

The name “Christopher” means “Christ bearer.” It is the name of a legendary saint who, as the story goes, carried the baby Christ child safely across water. In a very real sense, Christopher became a baby “Christ bearer” this evening, even as all Christians are Christophers who bear Christ – not across water, but through water. And it is Christ who carries us in our baptism, bearing us as we bear our crosses, carrying us even as we are powerless to carry ourselves, delivering us from the death that we have earned and which He endured on our behalf.

And there is simply no-one: no person, no group, no church, no power on earth nor angelic being above or below – who has the power to contradict or gainsay what God the Father has done this evening through His Son Jesus Christ and by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. We have the words of Christ, the Word of Scripture, and the simple fact that a baptism that has been done can never be undone, that this child is a child of the most high God, that he is a “Christ bearer” who carries with him the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Dear Christians, we know the time of our visitation today. We have seen a baby get wet this evening. And what’s more, we are bound to thank and praise our good and merciful Lord, even as we proclaim with the hymnist:

All glory to the One
Who lavishes such love;

The Triune God in love

Assures our life above.

His means of grace for us

Are gifts He loves to give;

All thanks and praise for His

Great love by which we live.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Cappuccino, part deux

This morning's paper has some right funny and acerbic writing from our beloved Chris Rose. I'll give you a minute to prepare the coffee. Smells good...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cappuccino and Louisiana Political Scandals

The Hollywood Family morning ritual involves two crucial elements - cappuccino and the Times-Picayune.

While I'm preparing the frothy hi-caf nectar of the friars (cappuccino takes its name from its color, which approximates the robes of the Franciscan Cappuchin monks), Mrs. Hollywood is scanning the newspaper for the latest reactions to the latest political scandals.

We are seldom "disappointed."

Most big city newspapers are dull, owned by the same dull conglomerates, clones of each other, politically predictable, and devoid of anything interesting. I lived in Philadelphia, where the Inquirer was known as the Stink-quirer or the Ink-waste. In Atlanta, we all detested (and consequently ignored) the Journal-Constitution (a.k.a. the Urinal-Constipation), a page of which is depicted in the official portrait of the late Gov. Lester Maddox hanging in the state capitol wrapped around a dead fish. The Columbia (SC) State was more along the lines of Pravda (I used to call it the Statist). But the New Orleans Times-Picayune is different.

The writers are clever, the journalists are hard-hitting, even the political cartoons and letters to the editor are edgy. And, given our outrageous political climate, they never run out of scandals to cover. They are so numerous that the newspaper actually addresses them with satire and humor.

And there is one saving grace about political corruption in Louisiana - it is bipartisan.

We have a Republican "family values" U.S. Senator (David Vitter) who, shall we say, enjoys the "New Orleans Ladies" (ahem). The kind that are available for lease, the expensive ones that the Crescent City was known for decades ago, and still seem to exist for politicians. In spite of this, the Senator still soldiers on fighting for good conservative values. In fact, I believe he recently co-sponsored a bill with Senator Craig of "wide stance" fame. Grand Old Party. Or is that Par-TAY!

We also have a Democrat "fight for the poor" U.S. Representative ("Dollar" Bill Jefferson), who decided to help himself to some of that money supposed to help the poor. Investigators found $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He assures us that there is an explanation. It's been months and months, and we're still waiting. Several members of his family have been indicted for fraud and dipping into the public trough, with one having copped a plea and turn witness against the rest of the family. Of course, the Congressman is standing for re-election. That's the beauty of the Democrats - they'll let you run for re-election from prison. Equal opportunity and all that.

In recent months, we've had a local mayor, Eddie Price, smashed out of his gourd, plow his city truck through a toll booth, ignore efforts to pull over, and when he finally did, the police didn't give him a field sobriety test or even file a report. After the media exposed this matter, he finally got a ticket. A ticket. Wow.

We recently had a New Orleans cop leading other police on a high-speed chase through the city, after which he struck another policeman. He said he was justified because he was "running late for work." Shortly thereafter, another NOPD officer, frustrated at having to wait in a carpool line, decided to wave her gun, curse, and threaten parents picking up their kids from a community center - all in front of frightened children. One of her superiors told her within hearing of the public that she should have shot the man who calmed her down and talked her into holstering her pistol. In the midst of these scandals, a 35 year veteran with a spotless record decided to wear the old uniform shirt as a tribute to his fallen comrades on his last day at work, and was investigated, and retired under a cloud that revoked his commission - until the Times-Picayune broke the story and the egg-faced police chief repented of digging in and defending the stupid move, and finally "fixed the glitch."

Never a dull moment!

This morning's installment saw State Senator Derrick Shepherd (D-Marrero) spending the night in custody in a halfway house. Shepherd, who is already being charged under Federal law for swindling thousands of dollars from the people of Louisiana (along the lines of Bill Jefferson), perhaps to appeal to a sense of inclusiveness and non-partisan corruption, was arrested after his ex-girlfriend charged him with breaking into her home, beating her up, and stealing her Blackberry and a hundred bucks. When the police came, the Senator was at home receiving a lap dance - perhaps purchased with the aforementioned c-note. However, the ex-girlfriend (who herself holds a political job, transportation coordinator for the New Orleans Recovery School District - scary!) has now changed her story, and claims that she and the Senator are still lovers (maybe the lap dancer was a gift?). They were just having a tiff, and so she decided to file a false police report - which she has now revoked.

Lucky for the Senator she changed her mind. He almost had his bond revoked in the Federal case - which would have placed him in the pokey until his trial begins in October. Oh my goodness, what a soap opera!

So, with the latest round of "entertainment" we not only have good old fashioned Democrat malfeasance, but the Republican bump and grind to boot. I guess Senator Shepherd, known for his pro-life (not "wide") stance, is, shall we say, "reaching across the aisle."

But the good news is that we have journalists that will not only tackle such issues, but will do so with a rapier wit. Enter Jarvis DeBerry. He is on the Times-Picayune editorial staff (and we suspect he writes many of the editorial positions - his crisp writing is pretty easy to spot), and he can actually make his readers laugh out loud. In Louisiana, we have so much political corruption, that sometimes there is nothing to do but laugh. The great thing is that when the whole city is laughing, but angry just the same, things actually get fixed. Politicians who want to keep their misdeeds in the dark, find themselves the butt of jokes everywhere from the statehouse to the corner store. "Laugh at the devil" Martin Luther is reputed to have said, "and he will flee from you." It works, at least in New Orleans.

Here is this morning's offering from Mr. DeBerry. Great stuff!

But it doesn't stop with DeBerry. No indeed! Cartoonist Steve Kelley has a take on it that was in this morning's edition, as well as a riotously funny letter to the editor from Robert Watters, the owner of a Bourbon Street strip club, who implores the Senator to leave the lap dancing to the professionals. The letter simply has to be read to be believed - and lest you non-Louisianans begin to believe that your politicians aren't also in the sewer, check out the end of Watters's letter for the zinger.

But even corruption has more flair in the Pelican State. Where else would you find not only reporting about our crooked senator's domestic problems, his arrest while getting a lap dance, and night in a halfway house; three jokes about him in a political cartoon; an editor ripping him to shreds; and a stinging comic rebuke from a Bourbon Street "peeler bar" owner - all in the mainstream morning paper?

I'm not sure which is frothier - the cappuccino or the Times-Picayune.

The Church: Rent and Distressed

The assigned sermon hymn in the one year series for Lutherans using Lutheran Service Book for this past Sunday was a beloved modern American piece entitled "The Church's One Foundation."

Written in 1866 AD, this hymn proclaims the mysteries of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. In the first stanza alone, the author 1) proclaims the centrality and the divinity of the divine person of Jesus Christ to the Church - linking the theological disciplines of christology and ecclesiology, 2) joins together eschatology ("new creation") and sacramentology in a biblical baptismal reference ("by water and the Word"), 3) invokes the incarnation, the monergism of grace, and the mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ, and 4) introduces the sacrificial theme of the atonement.

And that's just stanza one.

The third stanza, however, is painfully poignant today. The author speaks of the Church "oppressed." Surprisingly, the author is not speaking of external persecution in the worldly sense (e.g. the Roman arena and cross, Communism, Islam), but rather "by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed."

For this is how the Church is truly oppressed, internally, by her most vicious enemy: the devil.

Luther considered the "cross" - that is persecution, to be a "mark of the Church." If Satan is not working night and day to destoy you, you have become uninteresting to him. Only one who is hopelessly lost has that kind of "luxury." As long as the Bride of Christ endures in the fallen world (and our Lord promises that not even the gates of hell will prevail against her) the true Church will suffer the assaults of schism and heresy bubbling up from within.

This reality is of great comfort when we see encroachments of the secular world upon the Church. For if she were not the Church, Satan wouldn't care to attack her.

No part, jurisdiction, denomination, or confession within the Church Catholic is exempt from such internal discord - though some feel the need to put forth the illusion that their particular denomination is free from such schisms and heresies.

The conservative element of my own confession, known historically as "Lutheranism," is particularly prone to triumphalism and false security because on the surface, we have resisted much of the world's encroachment. Our church body is unabashedly pro-life, we only ordain men to the pastoral office, we openly teach that homosexuality is a sin and not in accordance with God's created order, and we hold unequivocally to the inerrancy of the Bible. Our particular church body also clings without reservation to the 1580 Book of Concord - at least on paper.

All of this can make Lutherans - especially those from conservative American branches of Lutheranism - obnoxiously smug and arrogant. But we have much to keep in mind before we get on our high horses. We have utter confusion about who is authorized to officiate in Word and Sacrament ministry - and are subjected to an endless parade of Bible studies, CTCR reports, votes at conventions, opinions of bureaucratic boards and seminary faculties - all to figure out what the heck the office of the ministry is. If we don't know after 2,000 years, something is wrong.

As expatriots from our synod have rightly pointed out, we have aberrations and abominations regarding the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, whether it is served amid terrible irreverence which belies our confession of the Real Presence, or involves the substitution of foreign elements for the bread and wine used by our Lord. There are disagreements among us over whether or not the Lord's Presence expires from the elements, and whether the Real Presence exists from the time of consecration or only begins when the element is orally received.

We can't even find commonality in such externals as the liturgical forms used in worship.

And in spite of our official positions regarding women's ordination, there are lay members, pastors, and even high ranking church officials who believe women's ordination is not proscribed by Scripture. Many of our young people, according to surveys, believe in premarital sex, homosexual unions, and the legitimacy of abortion. We do not even have consensus as to whom should be communed at our altars.

World Lutheranism suffers from different schisms and heresies - such as a militant established advocacy of women's ordination and the encroachment of the homosexual movement upon theology.

Some see our church body "by schisms rent asunder, by heresies oppressed" and conclude that this cannot be the Church. For certainly, the Church, the true Church, would not be rent and distressed. For such people, the cross is not a mark of the Church, but rather a mark of not being Church.

Some flee to Anglicanism - which shares the Lutheran historical tradition of the western Reformation, and indeed much of our theology and hymnody - certainly our Anglo-Saxon liturgical tradition and western Catholicism. And yet, if there is any communion that typifies being rent asunder and distressed by schism and heresy, it is Anglicanism. There seems to be a special hatred seething in the heart of Satan for the Anglican communion, having used every trick in the book to rend and distress them, many identical issues to that which plague world Lutheranism: women's priestly and episcopal orders and the normalization of homosexuality being chief among them - all stemming from a claimed mastery over, rather than submission to, Holy Scripture.

Some take refuge in Rome, whose heavy hierarchical structure and authoritarianism (as well as gravitas of historical tradition) would seem to make that communion immune from some of the individualism plaguing the heirs of the Reformation. And yet, in the Roman Church, even under a conservative pope, there are still schisms and heresies biting and growling every which way. Feminism and secularism have made horrific inroads into mainstream Roman Catholicism - as well as irreverent entertainment-based liturgies, including clowns, rock music, and dancing girls; an almost flippant view of private confession, and preaching that is overwhelmingly the stuff of Marx and not of Christ. And yet, the Church is still there, for why would Satan be so keen to corrupt those who are not Christ's holy bride?

Many of the same battles are being waged within Reformed Christianity and among the heirs of the Anabaptist movement. American Christianity in particular has become a trainwreck of greed-motivated positive thinking combined with lurid professional wrestling-style showmanship and Madison avenue manipulation.

Many people see the schisms embedded in historic Protestantism and the heresies lurking among their Roman cousins, and begin to look to the East. In fact, "looking East" has an almost poetic and romantic sound to it, to look to the rising sun, facing the orient, keeping one's eyes to where our Lord both ascended and will descend, to take one's theology "ad fontes" - to the source.

And like Lutherans, many of those who have gone to the East are keen to present to non-Orthodox a squeaky-clean schism-and-heresy-free brand of Christianity (which is whet restless "home seeking" converts to Eastern Orthodoxy often seem to be after). The paradox is this: without the cross, there is no Church. Without the devil's constant attacks, there is no Bride of Christ. A perfect Church is no Church at all. And yet, Christians do find their perfection "in Christ," He who is the vine to our branches.

But thanks be to God the propaganda of zealous Orthodox converts is really not true at all. For Eastern Orthodoxy is indeed the Church - as are Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Protestantism where the Gospel is proclaimed in sermon and liturgy and where the Sacraments are administered.

And while Eastern Orthodoxy - especially here in the U.S., where they have been somewhat isolated from the larger culture - has done a remarkable job of keeping modernism and postmodernism at bay, the more "mainstream" Orthodoxy becomes, the more converts from Protestantism she takes in, the more she is integrated with American life - the more she too will be "by schisms rent asunder" and "by heresies distressed."

Just as homosexuality is often the cause of much of the rending asunder and distress within mainline churches, one can find gay and lesbian advocacy within Orthodoxy, especially in California, whose culture has great power in shaping young minds. The freedom of speech and anonymity of blogging can only result in even more previously-suppressed diversity of viewpoints regarding homosexuality within Eastern Orthodoxy.

Similarly, Eastern Orthodoxy is not without feminist influences. Indeed, there are even those pushing for women's ordination using Eastern church history as a basis. There are radical Orthodox women theologians pressing a feminist theological perspective. And again, the world of blogging makes access to dissenting views within Orthodoxy regarding feminism more readily available than in times past.

The St. Nina Quarterly is a feminist theological journal from within Eastern Orthodoxy. The late Elizabeth Behr-Sigel, a prominent radical feminist Orthodox theologian, served on their board of directors. Here is a review of her now-out-of-print book The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church, which incidentally, was co-written by Bishop Kallistos Ware - whose book The Orthodox Church has become a standard introduction to Orthodoxy to converts (both Ware and Behr-Sigel are converts from Protestantism). [The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church can be had, though as of this writing, they're rather scarce and a used copy will set you back more than $70.00 at Amazon.]

Syndesmos: The World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth sings the praises of Behr-Sigel, including her iconoclastic views of the male priesthood, in a newsletter that goes so far as to declare her to be a "father in the faith."

In her Times-Online obituary, Behr-Sigel, a former Protestant "pastor", is praised for her work as an Orthodox theologian:

She also argued for the possibility of re-establishing the ordained ministry of the deaconess — a ministry still in evidence well into the early medieval period and even, very occasionally, in modern times.

She sought to re-imagine what she called a “new humanism”; one that would not only fully embrace the feminine dimension of human experience but also balance and correct the “aggressive masculinity” that tends to dominate human affairs.

Her book, The Ministry of Women in the Church, which is in print, is available here.

Bishop Ware, for his part, is not without criticism for holding some rather shocking theological views. Here is a traditionalist critique of his famous book The Orthodox Church. Bishop Ware, comes across as being somewhat open to women's ordination - like (as asserted by the author) the Patriarch of Alexandria, Parthenos III, who openly endorsed the idea (not to mention the idea that non-Christian religions were "paths to God"). Patriarch Parthenos was indeed criticized by his successor Peter VII - but for being "too conservative."

These are the kinds of things that converts, and those seeking converts, are not eager to discuss - any more than we Lutherans are too keen on talking about the blasphemous abominations that occur in places bearing the name "Lutheran". These things are painful and grievous, but the Church, East and West, has always been "rent asunder" and "distressed" by both internal "schisms" and even by "heresies" emerging from within.

But these things in no way negate the faithful remnants within Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Protestantism as being constituent parts of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. In fact, the East's long history of struggles - theological and political - only serve to confirm that she, like the rest of the Church Catholic, is an enemy of the devil - because she is most certainly a part of the Bride of Christ.

While there is a place for theological debate, and even at times, polemics - we Christians would do well not to lose sight of who our real enemy is, as well as who our faithful Husband shall always be.

All Christians can indeed sing together stanza five of "The Church's One Foundation":

Yet she on earth has union
With God, the Three in One.
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won.
O blessed heav'nly chorus!
Lord, save us by Your grace
That we, like saints before us,
May see you face to face.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The silliest song ever written

It's funny every time I hear it.

For the lyrics, click here

The performer whose version of this song is sung on this video is David Allan Coe, a singer who is known for a lot of, shall we say, less-than-family friendly songs (even the titles to many of his tunes could not be shown on television or said on the radio - even in this day and age). But at least we have to give him this much - he reformed himself after being released from prison, and made a life for himself as a performer - all based on self-promotion, gratuitous name dropping, some real flashes of brilliance and genuine musicality, humor, and the creation of a mysterious persona.

His built-in account of how the song was written is (like many of Coe's lyrics) a concocted story. But in fairness, he made the song a hit, and his version is probably the funniest.

But if you'd like to see and hear the song's author, the late Steve Goodman, perform it as he originally wrote it (which he indeed wrote as the definitive spoof of country music), click here.

Goodman, in spite of this utterly silly parody song, also wrote beautiful haunting ballads that really capture American life. My good buddy Fr. David Juhl considers Goodman's melancholy train song The City of New Orleans (famously sung by Arlo Guthrie) to be one of the greatest something or others. I can't pull up the quote because Juhl's blog doesn't have a search thingie. Oh well, suffice it to say, Steve Goodman was a brilliant songwriter and poet who, as is evidenced by this uproariously funny piece of satire, did not take himself too seriously.

Anyway, once this song gets in your head... well, y'all have been warned.

Goose pals

In an earlier post, a reader asked for a picture of Mrs. Hollywood and her Gosling friend. Here it is! (circa 1996 in Wayne, Pennsylvania).

As a bonus, here is my dear friend Mother Goose, plying her maternal vocation in the parking lot of the software company I was working for...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Another crack in the glass ceiling

Hooray for feminism! Remember the days when the exciting world of excessive drinking, vomiting, fisticuffs, incontinence, and generally making a public spectacle of oneself was a male bastion?

Not any more!

Boy, women have come a long way since those bad-old days of Betty Crocker and June Cleaver. If only our grandmothers could have seen this great day of liberation (sniff).

I can hardly wait to see the next domino fall.

Sermon: Trinity 10

27 July 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA Text: Luke 19:41-48 (Jer 8:4-12, 1 Cor 12:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Anyone who has ever held a job knows that something changes when the “big boss” is present – especially when the workers are used to not being supervised. When the executive from afar is coming for a visit to the plant or the office, the floors get swept, there may be a fresh coat of paint on the walls, and employees and managers alike are told to look sharp and put their best foot forward.

In fact, this universal way we react when the boss is coming for a visit has spawned an irreverent bumper sticker that nevertheless has a grain of truth to it: “Jesus is coming – everybody look busy.”

In our Gospel, our Blessed Lord speaks to the City of Jerusalem about His coming as “the time of your visitation.” And the Greek word translated “visitation” is the same word that is translated as “boss” – literally “overseer” – episkopos – the word associated with bishops in the Church.

Jesus Christ is indeed the Overseer and Bishop of our souls, and He has come to visit His creation, especially His bride the Church, and most especially His holy City of Jerusalem.

But how did Jerusalem react to the Overseer’s visitation? Did they sweep out the dirt from their legalistic religion? Did they cleanse the Temple of its impiety and misuse? Did they fret and implore the priests and the lay people alike to turn from their sins and put their best foot forward? Did everybody “look busy” for the sake of the kingdom? No, they did not. In fact, when the Boss came for His visitation, he found the employees slovenly, disrespectful, out of uniform, belligerent, disobedient, and only concerned with their own paycheck. They seemed to have no idea who He was at all.

When their visitation came, the City of Jerusalem could not be bothered. Instead of repentance, our Lord found impenitence. Instead of a desire to be cleansed of sin, our Lord found a shameless reveling in that sin, what the prophet Jeremiah called not knowing “how to blush.”

And instead of a diadem of gold, our blessed Lord was presented with a crown of thorns.

The visitation of our Lord, His appearance in the flesh, His coming among us, was for our good, for our salvation, for our redemption. And He was rejected by those He came to save. He was handed over to the tender mercies of the Romans while Jerusalem looked on in mockery. And just as Jeremiah lamented six centuries earlier, prophesying: “‘Even the stork in the heavens knows her appointed times; and the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow observe the time of their coming. But my people do not know the judgment of the Lord…. Behold, they have rejected the Word of the Lord. Therefore, I will give their wives to others. And their fields to those who will inherit them…. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; in the time of their punishment they shall be cast down,’ says the Lord.”

Our Blessed Lord knows Jeremiah’s words, for they are His Word. He knows the harshness that comes as a consequence to impertinence to one’s superiors, to holding the visitation of the Lord God Himself in contempt. The punishment Jerusalem will suffer will be severe and swift. Our Lord weeps just thinking about it.

For in rejecting the cure, they are stuck with the disease. In showing contempt for forgiveness they have chosen condemnation for themselves and their descendants. Having rejected the true Temple, the old Temple they have defiled is doomed. Having turned our Blessed Lord over to the mercies of the Roman enemy, they too will be turned over to the ruthless Roman foe. In three days the Temple of the Lord’s Body would rise again, but when the Temple of Herod was leveled to the ground, it was never to have even one stone upon another ever again.

For when the Lord Himself visited His Father’s house, He did not find a house of prayer, but rather a den of thieves. When He called Jerusalem to repent, the priests and scribes instead hardened their hearts and “sought to destroy Him.”

And this, dear Christians, is why our Lord weeps. He is imploring the people to repent, to know the time of their visitation, to recognize that He is their Overseer, their God, their Redeemer, their very hope of life.

But instead of a well-swept house, He found a mess. Instead of diligent servants he found rebellious self-servers. Instead of the humble fear of the Lord, He found haughty mockery of the One who came to save them.

But lest we become smug on our high twenty first century Gentile horses, pointing the finger at Old Jerusalem and the Old Testament children of Israel – how do we treat our visitation? Is our house swept and in order? Are we putting our best foot forward? Are we at least trying to “look busy” out of fear that our Overseer will find us slacking and catch us unawares not doing what He commands us to do?

Indeed, we are as smug and self-confident as the priests and scribes in Jerusalem. We are in need of repentance and the fear of God just as those for whom our Lord weeps. We too await our Lord’s coming. We too have a temple and sacrifices – that is, our bodies, temples of the Holy Spirit, the living sacrifices we offer as a thank offering to Him who has redeemed us.

Our Lord is calling us to repent, brothers and sisters! Our Lord not only weeps for Jerusalem, but also for Gretna! How many of you came yesterday for confession? How many of you shun the opportunity to participate in Bible class? How many of your children and grandchildren are sleeping in this morning rather than come to the Lord’s House? How many of our fellow members of Salem will find themselves at the mercy of our common enemy, the devil, and will lack the comfort of the faith that they have abandoned and squandered for the love of money, a better job, sporting events, or some other temporary pleasure?

Do we know the time of our visitation?

Dear friends, our Lord is calling us to repent! There is still time – but there may not be tomorrow. There is still the opportunity to confess – though we could be surrounded by an embankment and leveled tomorrow. Now is the time of salvation.

In spite of our Lord’s tears, His chasing out of the moneychangers, the Roman devastation of Jerusalem and of the temple – there is good news here.

Even though the people of Jerusalem did not know the time of their visitation, our Lord still prays on their behalf: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Our Lord is in the forgiving business. He speaks His Word to us today because it is a word of hope, not of condemnation. He is imploring you to confess your sins, to spend time in study of the Holy Word, to receive His Holy Body and Blood as often as you can as a protection against the evil one and as a “mystic sweet communion” with Him who is the Church’s one Foundation.”

Although we don’t do a good job of sweeping out the dirt, our Lord cleanses us as only the Lamb of God can. Although we don’t put our best foot forward, He washes off the filth of our feet as He baptizes us unto everlasting life, even as His holy feet are bloodied by a Roman nail. And though we can’t be bothered to “look busy” because the Boss is coming, our Boss is not merely an Overseer, but is also our Good Shepherd, our Lord, our Savior, our merciful Redeemer.

Jesus doesn’t want you to just “look busy.” Rather, because He has done all the heavy lifting, we have been freed from trying to curry favor with the Boss, freed to spread the Good News of our Good Shepherd to those whom the Lord weeps over. We have been freed to really be about our Father’s business, in our Father’s house, a house of prayer, a place where our Lord teaches us, a place where we can indeed recognize the time of our visitation, a place where the very work of God is carried out by us, His humble servants and lowly workers in the kingdom. For as St. Paul assures us: “there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.”

This is not busywork, dear Christians. It is the very work through which the Lord draws us in to His kingdom and redeems us. For our Lord is not merely an Overseer, but a merciful Savior who weeps over His creation and visits it in order to save it. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Biblical Church Growth

(the Duggars of Arkansas)

While all the "experts" tell us the way to grow the Church is to use marketing, gimmicks, slogans, talking points, ditch the liturgy, trash tradition, imitate the local megachurch, push day care centers, ignore our confessional teaching on the ministry and sacraments, and anything else they can throw out there except the simple:

1) make babies,
2) baptize them,
3) catechize them,
4) encourage them to grow up to be faithful Christians and fruitful parents (none of which counts as a single "critical event" on the Ablaze!(tm) scoreboard).

However, here are two bits of good news: one in Canada, the other in the U.S.

Of course, there is one way to appeal to our mindless, Godless culture that utterly hates large (especially Christian) families: we could point out that with only the children from these two families, we could field four baseball teams (excuse me, they're called "franchises" these days).

If you can't appeal to human life (which means nothing in our culture), maybe we can push a sports agenda (which is god in our culture)!

Hey, it's worth a try. Meanwhile, young married Christian couples, it's past your bedtime!

(the Ionces of British Columbia)

Important advice concerning police interviews

In this video, a law professor from Virginia, James Duane, explains why no-one - even innocent people (especially innocent people) should talk to the police when being suspected of a crime. This is counter-intuitive, since our knee-jerk reaction is to "prove" our innocence (after all, the innocent have nothing to hide). But the founders of the Constitution understood why protections against self-incrimination were so important, and the much misunderstood and maligned fifth amendment became part of the Bill of Rights.

This video is quite a wake-up call. I was skeptical about this at first, but Prof. Duane's presentation has made me rethink the matter (and I used to be a corrections officer myself).

Officer George Bruch of the Virginia Beach Police Department gives his side of the story as a police officer. The revelations he makes here are really fascinating. If you'd like to watch Officer's Bruch's retort (and I highly recommend that you do), click here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

French by Immersion

Language professor Pierre J. Capretz of Yale University is both a pioneer and a genius.

In 1987, he developed a video-based French immersion curriculum called French in Action. FIA is lively, fun, and (most importantly) involves learning French by a method of immersion that blends classroom-type instruction with being thrown into real situations involving real French people, all vicariously through video. Thus, the student learns to speak the language by involving gestures, humor, facial expressions, and cultural ways of communication that go way beyond conjugations, drills, and vocabulary.

FIA has become a "cult classic" among French students, and although the series is now over 20 years old, it continues to be used in universities and on public TV as a vehicle for learning the French language. The use of the "natural method" combined with an engaging story that draws the students into the narrative is similar to Hans Oerberg's approach to Latin that I use with my middle school students.

I first ran across the videos a few years ago while at seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (the local public library there is absolutely top-notch!). I found FIA to be extraordinary.

A reader of Father Hollywood (I don't know if "Donna" wishes to be identified) tipped me off just recently that the entire FIA series of 52 videos is available to be freely viewed online right here!. In fact, the Annenberg Foundation offers many other video courses that can be viewed online, including similar immersion language courses in Spanish and German - as well as a great many other academic subjects (browse around for yourself and see what's there!). It's a smorgasbord for the autodidact.

Interestingly, FIA is not without controversy. As is almost all too predictable, the political incorrectness that typifies much of French culture did not escape the feminist scrutiny and conformist ire of the upper-crust east-coast academic establishment.

I guess the Wellesley and Amherst gals were "offended" at the French being, well..., French. Oh la la, imagine that! High heels, handbags, and cigarette smoking! Oh mon Dieu! I suppose they were also miffed that there aren't any abortions or lesbians in the series. Oh well. C'est la vie.

But you gotta love Professor Capretz's reaction. He said he would "not change a thing." Good for him. One can almost see him do that patented dismissive "Gallic shrug" in response, or perhaps a more forceful: "Non, non, et non!" Either way, the unexpurgated and unbowdlerized versions of all 52 episodes - untouched by the wet blanket of the fun-free feminist neo-puritans - are available for anyone with access to a decent internet connection to watch and learn from. At least for the time being.

I guess given that the French have fairly recent experience in resisting the Nazis, it comes in handy in dealing with them in their latest academic incarnation.

Vive la Liberté et vive la France
! And merci beaucoup to Mme "Donna" for the tip!

Brilliant Political Satire

Regardless of one's political orientation, here is a fantastic piece of satirical writing from the Times of London. In the days when people were more familiar with traditional biblical imagery as well as the grammar and style of the King James Version of the Bible, such examples of this kind of commentary were far more common.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Father Hollywood Recommends...

Singing the Faith: Living the Lutheran Musical Heritage, a DVD-based mini-course teaching the basics of the history and ongoing significance of Lutheran hymnody.

This project comes from the Good Shepherd Institute which was "founded in the year 2000" at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne "to serve as a place dedicated to the recovery of the classic care of souls and the integration of theology into the pastoral life of the church."

Singing the Faith is based on four video presentations of roughly 20 minutes each on a DVD featuring short talks by various musical and liturgical scholars, musicians, and hymn writers, namely:
  • Christopher Boyd Brown, Boston University School of Theology
  • Kevin J. Hildebrand, Concordia Theological Seminary
  • Martin Jean, Yale University
  • Robin Leaver, Westminster Choir College
  • Richard C. Resch, Concordia Theological Seminary
  • Carl F. Schalk, Concordia University Chicago
  • Stephen P. Starke, St. John Lutheran Church, Bay City, Michigan
  • Daniel Zager, Eastman School of Music.
The course is well-suited to congregational Bible study, providing the pastor with a study guide and a series of handouts.

The video presentations are not only informative, but interesting, and aesthetically pleasing both to the eye and the ear. The lectures are well-paced, accessible to people with no musical training, and are punctuated by frequent musical performances - not only by choral and instrumental experts, but also by congregations and individuals - including people of every nationality and age. The trans-cultural and trans-generational nature of our hymnody is emphasized, as is the role of Lutheran hymnody in the catechetical formation of children.

I believe this mini-course, which sells for a modest $25, will instill a sense of reverence and appreciation for the treasure of traditional Lutheran hymnody in the life of the Christian - both in the Sunday liturgy and in the ongoing day-to-day life under the cross.

Pastors, if you're looking for a nice way to wind up your summer adult Bible classes, I highly recommend Singing the Faith as something that is not only theologically sound, but pleasant, informative, well-done in terms of production, professionalism, and polish, and rooted in the theology of the cross and of the Gospel.

Outstanding job, gentlemen!

Meet the new ordination shortcut...

...same as the old ordination shortcut."
- Pete Townshend (paraphrased)

This insert appeared in the recent issue of the LCMS Reporter newspaper. Notice the front-page article entitled: "Future SMP students seek to serve while in pastoral formation process."

The SMP ("Specific Ministry Pastor") program was "sold" to LCMS confessionalists and traditionalists as a "new and improved" DELTO ("Distance Education Leading To Ordination") program, one that would bring the synodical alternative route to the pastoral office into better confessional compliance.

I was not at the convention last year, but it is my understanding that two seminary professors - one from each institution - argued that the SMP program would put an end to the very thing being trumpeted in this article: laymen claiming to perform Word and Sacrament ministry apart from Holy Ordination. I believe these professors who spoke in favor of the SMP program owe us an explanation for this "bait and switch." In fact, the faculties of both seminaries endorsed this plan. In light of how this program is being implemented, I would like to know why they did not see this coming, and what they plan to say and do about it now - though I won't hold my breath. I do believe they owe us - pastors and laymen alike - some explanation, and not a lot of bureaucratic double-talk either. We weren't born yesterday.

And, another oft-unspoken reality is that the seminaries do send men to vicarages where they are expected to "do Word and Sacrament ministry" apart from Holy Ordination. This violates the vicarage handbook (not to mention the Book of Concord, for crying out loud!), but the seminaries will not insist that this cease. They will not stand up for these scandalized men and will not tell the District Presidents and vicarage supervisors to either knock it off, or they will get no vicars. Men's consciences suffer for this. I know of one young pastor in particular who was so distraught over this that he never recovered from it, and ended up leaving not only the ministry but the LCMS after serving a very short time - and I suspect he's not alone. Why do the seminaries leave these men twisting in the wind? Do the rules not apply to the vicarage supervisors and congregations? Do the District Presidents get carte blanche to violate any rule they wish?

But here are the real fruits of the SMP program, in full color, sent all over the country in the Reporter: "Future SMP students seek to serve while in pastoral formation process." There's even a picture of a lay deacon in shirt and tie officiating at a baptism. This was obviously not an emergency baptism. This was done in a permanent church building at a regular baptismal font - not a hospital, battlefield, or concentration camp. The SMP program is typically sold to us as the solution for that little congregation in the middle of nowhere that would just fall to pieces if this one man were to leave to go to the seminary. But the article says outright that the church where this deacon serves has a real pastor on staff. In fact, they have a senior pastor, a deacon, two DCEs, worship attendance of 380, three new member classes a year, and a preschool. So why is the pastor not conducting this baptism, and why is this layman pretending to be a pastor?

The deacon in this article implies that he's unable to go to seminary, as he's 53 years old, has a wife, and has two sons in school. In other words, he is in the same boat as probably half of my class at seminary - older, second career guys who left established jobs, uprooted their families, took a leap of faith, and made sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. I guess this fellow can't be bothered. Furthermore, the article tells us he has no college degree, but sold auto parts, worked in a restaurant, and served "as a counselor for couples in communications" (the latter of which sounds to me like the kind of thing one ought to have some formal education to be doing).

I can't claim to speak for anyone but myself, but if my baptismal certificate were signed by a non-ordained person, and the situation was not an emergency, I would be asking an ordained man to baptize me. Why the LCMS is instilling doubt and playing games with the Holy Office and the Holy Sacrament is beyond me.

I had a seminary classmate who was in the DELTO program. He attended classes with us traditional students for, I believe, two quarters. During break, he went home to officiate at a baptism. I asked him why he, a layman, was baptizing. He told me he was "licensed for Word and Sacrament ministry by the District President." I asked him if there were no pastors available. His response: "This is a mission situation." Right. The man came from a major American metropolis of some four million people, a city that hosted the Olympics, for crying out loud. There are LCMS congregations and pastors all over the place where this man was playing pastor. "Mission situation" indeed. He did not return home to an African hut or an igloo in Alaska (and even those places have real pastors!). That "mission" excuse is nothing other than a damnable lie. I expect telemarketers and spam e-mails to lie - but I expect more out of my church. We pastors and lay people should be enraged, enraged, that such nonsense goes on in the LCMS - just as enraged as we rightly were about the Issues, Etc. debacle.

In the insert's article "A new pastor and a new program" Rev. Glen Thomas reveals another "bait and switch." The SMP program was originally sold to us as a solution for specific situations, such as one specific congregation where the SMP pastor will be able to serve unless he upgrades to GMP (General) status. But this is not the case. Thomas explains that the SMP is declared to be in a specific "type of ministry (e.g. church planter, youth pastor, campus pastor), declared at the outset" and that is the "realm in which the SMP is eligible to serve." So, the "specific" part doesn't refer to that specific call or struggling congregation, but rather to that "realm." Thomas adds: "Following completion of the program, the SMP may accept a call to another location only if that call is within his specific ministry category." In the case of the deacon serving the big congregation, he is on track to become an associate pastor of a large congregation. Does this mean that he, as a SMP, will then be eligible to take a call to any congregation seeking an associate pastor? The specificity in the SMP program is already broadening itself, and the program hasn't even started yet!

I'm tired of being fed a line of bull at every turn.

Furthermore, Fort Wayne's most recent For the Life of the World magazine has devoted the back page to "Frequently Asked Questions about the SMP Program." One question asks: "Does SMP represent a dumbing down of our standards for pastors?" Of course, the answer is predictable: "Absolutely not," - though it admits that the SMP program "will, of necessity, be more limited than in our residential programs." But we are assured that "the standards will remain high." So, a program that requires no residential requirement, almost no face time with profs and fellow seminarians, almost no experience worshiping and debating with brother seminarians, a lack of hearing and observing the diversity of preachers in chapel, and a requirement of only eight classes before ordination - is not a "dumbing down" when compared to the traditional program of three years of full-time onsite class work and a year of vicarage? How am I supposed to buy this?

Can a SMP student sing in the chapel choir, join the Kantorei, participate in student government, drink beer every Friday with faculty and fellow students, get grilled by Dr. Scaer for three years, struggle with the formidable Early Church course, browse around a world-class theological library every day, attend Good Shepherd Institute and Symposia every year, participate and in some cases lead daily Matins, Vespers, and Compline in addition to a daily preaching office and a weekly Mass with the community, load and unload trucks as fellow students move in and move out, learn Latin, German, or even Swedish from faculty and fellow students, experience Q-parties, or go through the crucible of summer Greek with one's class? Pastors are formed not only by the classroom, but by the experience of being part of a worshiping community of men in the same boat, by access to profs outside the classroom, by a semi-monastic setting of prayer and study, and by allowing the Spirit time to work. Even our Lord trained His disciples for three years.

If it's true that SMP isn't a "dumbing down," then why not make those same eight classes the requirement for ordination for all seminarians? If the standards are just as high, it would be poor stewardship to condemn the residential students to years of student loan indebtedness. And if that were to happen (the SMP standards being applied to all students), would the overall standards of our ordained ministerium remain the same?

And here are some unforeseen (to put on the best construction) results that are likely to happen:
  • SMP pastors will serve start-up congregations that may not make it financially. The church closes. Another congregation nearby needs a pastor, and will petition the District President to allow the SMP guy to take a call there. If he refuses, a pastor will be left with no way to make a living and feed his family. If the District Presidents allow these exceptions, the entire SMP premise is blown to hell (which may be appropriate under the circumstances).
  • Someone will argue that restricting SMP calls is a violation of the confessional principle of the equality of bishops, and the CCM or the COP will simply overturn the SMP restrictions by fiat.
  • Since "the seminaries anticipate the ability to enroll 40 SMP students each this fall" (80 in total), there is going to be a huge shift away from the traditional paradigm. 80 students in a year's time is the size of some entire graduating classes at Fort Wayne. The traditional (residential) students are going to increasingly question why they are spending so much time and money, racking up student loans, causing their families to move four times (to seminary, to vicarage, back from vicarage, and then to a call - if they even have one) - when the SMP guys get to learn by correspondence classes, and even have a guaranteed call waiting for them when they finish their 8 classes spread over two years (which run concurrently with their home-congregation vicarages).
  • This influx of students through non-traditional routes will almost certainly result in a glut of pastors, especially of men with: M.Div degrees, huge student loan debts, and no calls to be had.
There is no clergy shortage. There will be no clergy shortage. It is simply unrealistic to expect numerical growth among Lutherans when our people are practicing "family planning." All the programs, slogans, and gimmicks in the world cannot replace procreation as an effective tool of generationally sustainable church growth. The decline of the Christian population is simply a fact in western countries - especially non Roman Catholic countries where contraception is king. In many western nations, the native population is plummeting, and only the influx of immigrants - many of them Muslims - is preventing a total societal economic collapse. Of course, this is almost never discussed in the context of long-range planning for future pastors. Instead, we're given an almost hysterical dystopian picture of clergy shortages and desperate congregations ready and willing to call and pay for a pastor, but with none to be had. We are assured that the more men that we can run through the conveyor belt the better. I remember the sainted professor Kurt Marquart saying: "You cannot mass-produce pastors."

Even among our traditional students, the educational standards have slipped. Personally, I think we should be adding a year (if not two) to the M.Div. program, not reducing the ordination requirement to eight classes. Instead of increasing enrollment, maybe we should be reducing it, raising admission standards, and finding ways to increase financial aid for each man willing to slog through the years of training and formation required to become a pastor. In generations past, men knew their biblical languages, not to mention Latin and German, before setting foot in a seminary classroom. There is simply no way to continue to cut back on the rigor of the program without giving the church less-educated and less-prepared pastors.

Would you want your cardiologist or airline pilot trained in this way? I believe this kind of flippancy toward ordination, toward the office of the Holy Ministry, and toward the importance of a properly educated ministerium is one reason why some of our brightest and best pastors and theologians leave the LCMS and go elsewhere. This goes beyond "playing church" and is moving toward just "playing."

But in the midst of all the pragmatic smoke and mirror arguments to justify this program, what about our Lord's example of devoting three painstaking years to onsite pastoral formation? What about Matt 8:19-22? Or Luke 5:27-28? Or Luke 9:61-62? In 1 Tim 1:18, St. Paul calls the carrying out of the ministry as "the good warfare." Even the military, which wages temporal warfare, has no SMP version of basic training. Recruits go to boot camp in person. There is no substitute for actually going through the experience. How much more must we "soldiers of the cross" be prepared for battle? The pastoral ministry is real warfare, not a computer game. One cannot prepare for the Holy Office in front of a computer screen any more than a marine, soldier, airman, or sailor can do boot camp on a PlayStation or Xbox - that is, unless we see the ministry as somehow less of a militant office than the guy carrying an M16 or flying a fighter jet.

And in spite of all of this, the original premise of the SMP program was that this would at least be an improvement over DELTO and would ensure that only ordained men are serving in Word and Sacrament ministry. But here it is in the Reporter, complete with a picture. It's just not true.

So, who is going to step up to the plate with some answers?

Monday, July 21, 2008

A little summer Wilson...

My favorite historian is a man who, though retired, is still busy writing and lecturing: Dr. Clyde N. Wilson, professor emeritus of American history at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

While I was on vicarage in the beautiful city of Columbia, the capital of the Palmetto State, I had the honor of meeting Dr. Wilson - whose book of essays: From Union to Empire should be required reading for any scholar of American history. I met him at a Maurice's Barbecue restaurant where he was signing copies of his book. While there, I met, and later struck up a friendship with, Dr. Wilson's colleague at USC, Dr. Tobias Lanz - who is not only a brilliant cultural historian, scholar, and a leader in the Catholic land movement, but also a devoted family man, urban vegetable farmer, and all around great guy.

There are conservative scholars out there in the academy, believe it or not. You may have to hunt a while to find one, though.

Clyde Wilson also writes for the paleo-conservative Chronicles magazine, of which the deep-thinking and razor-sharp-witted Aaron D. Wolf, LCMS lay theologian and historian, is associate editor. And for your summer reading pleasure, here is an archive of Wilson's Chronicles essays, articles, and posts.

And here is one of Dr. Wilson's quick hitting pieces regarding a conservative look at the sixteenth president of the United States. To really get the full effect, if only vicariously and in your mind's eye, make yourself a mint julep, pull up a wicker chair beside the magnolia with flowers bigger than your head, and learn to love the sight of the moon rising over a palmetto tree as the sweat glistens on your brow and the jasmine perfumes the air. Enjoy!

News from the SCV reunion

I've been a long-time member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), an honorable genealogical, patriotic, and benevolent military society of male descendants of veterans of the War for Southern Independence of 1861-1865. The SCV was founded in 1896 as the successor of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV).

Often, we are cast using the crassest anti-Southern stereotypes - usually for political gain or to be exploited by some professional activist who needs a boogeyman. The stereotypes are well known: we are backward, uneducated, racist, and violent. The reality is quite different. I really miss not being able to attend SCV events as I was in the past. SCV members are overwhelmingly intelligent, genteel, educated, Christian family folks who have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of their own family histories and the histories of both the United States of America and the Confederate States of America.

On a personal note, the Pennsylvania Division of the SCV (which did not even exist yet when I served as the commander of Philadelphia's J.E.B. Stuart Camp #1506) mourns the loss of its first Division Commander, John Care. John was a Christian gentleman and an advocate of the dignity of the graves of Confederate soldiers buried across the Keystone State. John's family remains in my prayers, and I wish them comfort in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Though our organization is overwhelmingly white, we have several prominent black members who are equally proud of their ancestors' contributions to the Southern independence movement and war effort to resist Northern invasion, just as their white compatriots are. In the same way as in the first war of American independence, blacks, both free and slave, fought gallantly for their nascent country - even as brave black soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought for the United States in World War II - in spite of living in segregation and second-class citizenship. Love of home and country and the desire to protect one's family from invasion is a universal virtue.

The SCV has been on the educational cutting edge now for some twenty years to dispel the myths and falsehoods of those who would malign our heroic ancestors - especially in their motives for fighting. The SCV has also been a leading advocate for the largely forgotten black Confederate soldiers, whose heroic deeds have been celebrated by Southerners all along - though their very existence is a thorn in the side of agenda-driven politically-correct historians and the race hustling industry. But as long as the SCV exists, their heroic deeds will be remembered with equal affection and admiration as all veterans who gave their lives for God, country, hearth, home, and resistance to tyranny.

This year's annual SCV reunion was held in Concord, NC - and featured a moving tribute to a heroic black Confederate veteran from the area that involved many of his proud descendants.

You will not hear about any of this from Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, or Spike Lee; nor from Barack Obama or Condoleeza Rice. It won't be covered in any haunting PBS or HBO documentary. Nor will you find it in any mainstream Hollywood movie, national magazine, or typical history classroom - and what a pity!

But the good news is that you can check out the video or read the newspaper article.

Attention Bible Scholars!

The Codex Sinaiticus, one of the oldest Greek New Testament manuscripts (4th century A.D.) is going to be available online here beginning July 24, 2008.

From the website:

Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript - the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity - is of supreme importance for the history of the book.

The Codex Sinaiticus Project

The Codex Sinaiticus Project is an international collaboration to reunite the entire manuscript in digital form and make it accessible to a global audience for the first time. Drawing on the expertise of leading scholars, conservators and curators, the Project gives everyone the opportunity to connect directly with this famous manuscript.

The Codex Sinaiticus Website

The first release of the Codex Sinaiticus Project website will be launched on 24 July 2008 here. The website will be substantially updated in November 2008 and in July 2009, by when the website will have been fully developed.

(The above picture is Luke 11:2 from the Codex Sinaiticus, as published on Wikipedia).

Thanks to In Rebus, a very helpful site for the study of the Latin language for posting this!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 9

19 July 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 16:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has a painful observation for us today, dear friends. He says: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” In other words, the nonbelievers outperform us in getting things that are important to them done. And how true this criticism is!

Our Lord tells a story about a crook who gets his hand caught in the cookie jar. Rather than pile it in and take his lumps, the crook networks with other crooks to weasel his way out of the consequences of his actions. And this story is all-too familiar to us in Louisiana. How often have we been amazed, utterly amazed, at the audacity of politicians who shamelessly commit crimes and then carry on as if nothing happened – maybe even committing further crimes to stay in power? Their ability to find loopholes, friends in high places, and ways out of the consequences of their actions simply boggles the mind.

There is a lesson in there for us, dear brothers and sisters. Our Lord isn’t praising the crooked politician and the unjust steward for their dishonesty, but rather is using their examples of audacity as a lesson in how we should approach God’s kingdom. For the desire, the drive, the boldness for the sake of getting the job done is, by far, more exhibited by the unbeliever than by the believer.

Come hell or high water, an ambitious person will achieve his goals. He will go without food for days on end to invest money in his dream. He will forego pleasure in the present in order to study, to be an apprentice, to work two or three jobs while going to school – whatever it takes – all for the sake of achieving some personal goal. He will stomp on anyone, take advantage of anyone, destroy anyone, lie, cheat, beg, borrow or steal, to get from Point A to Point B.

We have all seen such people, such friends of Mammon, who know how to pull strings and make things happen. While it is true that men can, and indeed are, successful while being honest, while upholding their integrity, our Lord chooses to make an example of the unjust “sons of this world” over and against the “sons of light.”

Meanwhile, who is aggressively working in the fields of the Lord? Do we plot and plan and connive and cajole in order to squeeze out a few more minutes of labor for the sake of God’s kingdom? Are we shrewdly looking at every angle, every resource – be it money, people, or time – in order to make friends in high places for the sake of God’s kingdom?

If an ambitious man wants to make a fortune in the stock market, the first thing he will do is learn. He will read every book he can get his hands on. While his friends are out golfing or fishing, he will be perusing journals, attending seminars, and devouring every magazine on the subject. He will search out friends and make contact with people from whom he can learn.

But what about us workers for the kingdom of God? Do we get up in the morning eager to study God’s Word? Are we shrewdly looking to squeeze in a few minutes with the pastor to learn about God’s kingdom? Are we figuring out ways in which our Lord can use our gifts, our skills – whether teaching, painting, polishing, cooking, climbing ladders, planning finances, coming up with evangelism strategies, or just asking the pastor and the Board of Elders: “How can I help the kingdom of God?”

Do Fortune 500 companies, self-made millionaires, and major sports franchises have to forego board meetings for want of a quorum? Would you want to do business with a company where the workers skate by with the absolute bare minimum? What would be your impression of a business that had to make due with broken down furniture and secondhand castoffs? And what is more important to us Christians, our earthly jobs, or the kingdom of God?

Our Lord is giving us a hard dose of the law today, dear brothers and sisters. He is telling us that the crooks and criminals know what they’re doing, understand their priorities, and have their ducks in a row far better than we Christians.

We must become more shrewd, more aggressive, more committed in our service to the Lord’s kingdom. It is a disgrace that the “sons of this world” outperform and outshine the “sons of light” when it comes to shrewdness and commitment. It should be the other way around. What we have to offer the world is of infinite value, not things of this world that will rust and rot away. And, we give it away for free – unlike the “sons of this world” who are only out to make a buck.

Our Lord is goading us to serve the kingdom – not for what we can get out of it, but rather for the sake of the kingdom itself and for what the kingdom offers to those who need to hear the good news. Serving God’s kingdom is not about increasing your own riches. For we are all already heirs. We already have it all. We have eternal life and the promise of infinite wealth. What more is there for us to strive for? Indeed, in God’s kingdom, we serve so that others might be saved. We “work out our salvation,” in the words of St. Paul, not so we can climb our way up the ladder, but rather because we have already been put on the top rung, and we are now in a position to throw a lifeline to those whom God wants to rope in with the Gospel.

We serve God’s kingdom not out of greed and avarice, but rather out of love and gratitude.

And look at the shrewdest deal of all, the one who paid for the sins of all the world by taking out the bill and writing quickly a settlement in His own blood. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Forgive us our trespasses” – but the word “trespasses” really means “debts.” We pray again and again that the Lord would relieve us of the burden that we could never even so much as hope to pay. And this is exactly what our Lord does, paying our debt with His capital.

It is this shrewdness of our Lord that salvages life from certain death, that parlays what seems to be total defeat on the cross into eternal victory, that uses the murderous devil against himself to bring about the sacrifice that ultimately destroys the devil, bringing about the will of His Father, whose obedience secures eternal life for those who put their faith in Him and not Mammon.

What a joy and a privilege to serve God’s kingdom for the salvation and redemption of all creation! May we be filled with zeal and shrewdness, even as our Lord’s shrewdness won eternal life for us in His kingdom which has no end. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Friday, July 18, 2008

O Day(s) of Rest and Gladness

Well, I really did it. I took a vacation day yesterday on Mrs. Hollywood's birthday! I even pretty much had a day off today. How decadent!

Yesterday, we began the day pretty much in routine fashion - sitting at the table drinking bowls of cappuccino, reading the paper, and practicing our French. I realized we had become real New Orleanians when the talk at the breakfast table focused on lunch and dinner (in addition to chatting about the latest scandal involving a New Orleans police officer, ho-hum). The plan was to go to Magazine Street, eat comme-il-faut French pastries at La Boulangerie, take Leo to the Magic Box toy store, maybe have lunch at Mona's (middle eastern) or some other Magazine Street eatery, and celebrate Mrs. H.'s birthday with whatever came to us.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

Lion Boy and I strolled to the Post Office while Mrs. H. continued to get dressed and ready. We stopped to admire a fountain, one of Leo's favorite stops in the neighborhood. Two of our parishioners, Leslie and Lindsey, drove by and greeted us warmly. I have the greatest parishioners ever.

On the way, we checked to see if the Paris Deli was open, and it was! We called Mrs. H. to meet us there. Meanwhile, we continued our trek to the Post Office. Leo manfully handled not only my mail, but that of another customer. He demonstrated mastery over street crossing and introducing himself to strangers (which is what we do in the South). We walked back to the Paris Deli to find that Mrs. H. had gotten a ride from a parishioner, Lisa, who had dropped by to give her a birthday present. Did I mention that I have the best parishioners?

We had yet another of Maman Slafie's perfect-ten lunches surrounded by the Polynesian decor (which absolutely makes sense in a New Orleans eatery called the Paris Deli). The Birthday Girl had the pork chop and black beans while I had the chicken stew - which really isn't a stew, but a roast chicken done as only the French can. We also continued to converse en français with Maman. Lion Boy, for his part, is also doing pretty well in that department.

Before heading to Mag Street, we went home for a nap - ostensibly because Leo was fussy and in need of one. Of course, we all crashed, waking up too late for Magazine Street, La Boulangerie, and the toy store - much to Lion Boy's annoyance. But we settled the matter diplomatically with a visit to Chez Target to look at toys.

Afterwards, we celebrated Mrs. H's natal anniversary by visiting the local cafe one block from home: Common Grounds. Our waitress knew our drink orders ahead of time and what to bring Leo to eat from memory. Miss Grace ordered the chicken and sausage gumbo, and I opted for an Italian sausage po-boy (which is our local "sub" sandwich served on, of course, French bread). We finished up with a piece of German chocolate cake on the house, complete with a candle. There is no substitute for the neighborhood restaurant.

Since we had to scrub the mission to go to Magazine Street, the festivities were officially put on hold to be carried over to the next day (today) - which happens to be the fourth anniversary of my ordination (hey, any reason for a party will do - like I said, we's Nwahlinyuns now, Chère).

This morning, the ritual began anew, with another round of cappuccinos.

While Friday is technically my day off, the church bulletins still need to be printed. So we paid our weekly visit to our friend Jim Tompson of Tompson Printing two doors down, and then took the bulletins to Salem to present to Kathy, our indispensable volunteer secretary - who had also given Grace a nice birthday gift and card. Have I told you, dear reader, about my parishioners? Then, we had to go to the bank (the errands never do end, do they?).

We did indeed finally make it to Magazine Street, and lounged with coffee and pâtisseries. Lion Boy chose a "chocolate decadence" (it was a hoot to hear him casually pronounce it) - a deadly chocolate on chocolate confection that would certainly fuel Tour de France riders far better than any anabolic steroid. Mom and Dad settled on the more traditional croissants (almond for Maman and almond/chocolate for Papa). We made it to the toy store as well, but failed in our goal to have a mojito at St. Joe's Bar - which is considered by experts to serve the best mojitos in New Orleans. Alas, they don't open until 5:00 pm and don't allow anyone under 21 to enter anyway. And alack, I also forgot my camera - the buildings right around La Boulangerie have that classic New Orleans/Caribbean look that cries out to be photographed). Oh la la la la. I guess we'll just have to go back again!

But meanwhile, our little mini-mini-vacation was a great success. Miss Grace actually bought herself a couple pairs of shoes (I believe this is a first since we have been living in New Orleans) and a big inflatable ball (that Lion Boy assumes is for him) used in one of her exercise routines. For Mrs. Hollywood, this is a full-blown shopping spree. I spent some time writing and researching for a book I'm hoping to have ready for publication this fall (I would say this summer, but that's about over already). We also spent the day reading an utterly magnificent article from First Things called The Death of Protestant America sent to me by my brother Polycarpian, the delightfully cranky Rev. Fr. Shane Cota. Not only did author Joseph Bottum do his homework in the form of meticulous research, he presents it with brilliant clarity and a masterful use of the English language. It is a no-holds-barred recap of how the "mainline" churches began to self-destruct in the 1960s. This is the kind of article that cries out to be read while sipping unhurriedly on a fine coffee and pondering the ramifications with one's spouse. At least that's how it works in our household, thanks be to God!

All on all, a nice vacationette to rest, to celebrate, and to enjoy family life before the work begins anew tomorrow and Sunday.

Now thank we all our God, and I hope ma chère femme had a blessed fête d'anniversaire.