Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sermon: Advent 1 (Ad Te Levavi)

29 November 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 21:1-9

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Once again, the Christian Church finds herself in Advent, a season of hopeful waiting for her Bridegroom to come.

For most people, their wedding is one of the rare times in which they participate in extraordinary pomp and formality. The wedding party might dress in tuxedoes and elaborate gowns. The bride and groom might be transported in almost royal fashion – in a prestigious foreign car, or a limousine, or maybe even in a horse-drawn carriage.

Not many modern brides would be too thrilled to see their beloved bridegroom showing up on a donkey, without even a saddle, but rather sitting on some spare clothing.

But love conquers all. For in this scene, the Bridegroom is not conveyed by a Rolls Royce or a Bently, but is rather “lowly, and sitting on a donkey.” And see how His bride greets Him! “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!”

And this Bridegroom is not just anyone, for this is a royal visitation: “Behold, your King is coming to you.” This King is not a pretender like Herod, nor even a temporary Caesar waiting to be assassinated by his own family. This Bridegroom-King is Jesus, Christ the Lord, the King of the Universe, very God of very God! And yet here He is, entering the Royal City of His royal ancestor David, plodding along like David’s lesser son Solomon mounted on a donkey. This Jesus is David’s greater Son, who is also the Son of God.

He describes Himself as “the Lord” – not just a silly title of nobility or a clever nickname that entitles the bearer to wear baubles and elicit the bows and scrapes of those around him. No indeed! He is the very King of Kings and one and only Lord of Lords! And this is His royal triumphant entry into Zion. He is drawing near to His throne and crown. The name “Lord” is how the children of Israel, seeking not to take the Holy Name of their God in vain, addressed their God. When we confess “Jesus is Lord,” we are proclaiming “Jesus is God!”

The idea of God in human flesh is the literal beating heart of the Christian faith, the Incarnation of the Divine in the bodily form of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is why His bride again celebrates His Advent, His drawing near, His coming. For in coming into our flesh, He redeems our flesh. In dying, He dies as our Most Holy Sacrifice, the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” His Advent leads to the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, and His eternal reign – all in human flesh.

And though our Lord’s royal entrance into Jerusalem would be followed in less than a week by His ignoble expiration on the cross – He is still God. And as God, He is still in His wise and perfect providence – calling the shots. As our Lord prepares to celebrate the Passover to end all Passovers with His disciples who are soon to be apostles – our Lord finds Himself in need.

What a bizarre turn of phrase from the mouth of our Blessed Lord Himself: “if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them.” When He says “the Lord has need,” He is not only identifying Himself as Almighty God, but declaring Himself to be “in need.” This Greek expression can be understood as “to be in want” or “to lack.” Obviously, Jesus needs his donkey and colt for His triumph. He “needs” them. But since when does God ever “need” anything? What kind of a Lord do we have who “lacks” and then sends people to run errands for Him to fill His needs?

We’ve often heard Dr. Luther’s famous quote from Freedom of a Christian, where he says: “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.” And while this is true for us today, at that point at which our Lord prepares for His triumph, we see the Lord “in need.”

Of course, His riding in on a donkey instead of a stallion is illustrative of both King and Kingdom. Our King is a humble King. To be in human form is a degradation for Him from His divine state. Even if Jesus were to be the Caesar, the conqueror of the world by might of arms – His Incarnation would be a humiliating demotion. And so here He is, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, whose Kingdom will have no end, sitting on spare cloaks on a donkey. And His humiliation is nowhere near complete.

Our Kingdom is also not like the kingdoms of this world. It is not a state, not a bureaucracy, not a dominion by force of arms, not an empire of governors and satraps, of laws and armies – rather this Kingdom is rooted in love – divine love of a Creator who refuses to turn His back on His rebellious creation, His wayward children, His errant bride. He endures the ultimate humiliation for her sake, out of love, and in spite of all appearances, remains the Conqueror – even while being at the same time, the Victim.

For in having a King who “has need,” a King who knows what it is to be in a state of want, of hunger, of thirst, of grief, of anxiety, of temptation, of pain, and even of death – we also have a High Priest and Advocate who can sympathize with our want and need. We have a Good Shepherd, who, by virtue of His taking away our lack, we can proclaim: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

Dear brothers and sisters, our Bridegroom withholds nothing from us, His bride. Nothing is too good for us, no gracious gift is too costly. Just as every husband vows to do, our Bridegroom lays down His life for His beloved, to protect her from being ravaged by the devil, to cloak her nakedness and protect her modesty, to bring her joy, and to provide for her a beautiful home. There is nothing our Bridegroom will not do, no humiliation too great, no pain too severe, no amount of His body and blood to be given and shed is too voluminous for Him to share with His bride, His Church, His Zion, His sheep, His people.

And so, here we are, dear brothers and sisters, waiting and watching anew, like the virgins with their lamps trimmed in expectation, with the time drawing near, with excitement building, and with our joy hard to contain. And yet we continue to wait. We continue to be vigilant. This is a time of focus and devotion. For “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

Our Lord is coming soon! He will come at the end of time to restore us to eternal newness. He will come at the end of our lives to take us home to live with him in His kingdom forever. He will come today, lowly, veiled in the forms of bread and wine, bearing gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Our King comes to recreate the world anew; to remake us whole, wholesome, and holy; to redeem His Church and bring them into eternal fellowship and communion with Him whose Name we praise with our shouts and chants of “Hosanna.” “Blessed is He who cometh in the Name of the Lord!” For His Name is above every Name. And it is a Name given to us even as a bride takes her bridegroom’s name as a gift and a pledge.

Our Bridegroom, our King, our Lord, our God, our Priest, our Savior is coming in the flesh “for us men and for our salvation.” And “this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Amen.

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

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Alice's Restaurant

Probably the funniest eighteen minute song ever recorded. A blessed Thanksgiving Day to all.

Mathematics Disproves Atheism

The father of modern Atheism, philosopher Antony Flew, shocked his followers by becoming a Deist. What convinced him to finally reject Atheism were the mathematical implications inherent in the complexity of DNA (which is also part of what led microbiologist Michael Behe to reject Darwinianism and to write Darwin's Black Box). The vast complexity and precise order of life (which was largely unknown until DNA was discovered) combined with the problem of origin is mathematically insurmountable for those, like Flew, who are determined to follow "the argument no matter where it leads."

Here is a mathematical refutation of Atheism from his 2007 book There is a God, pages 75-78:

I was particularly impressed with Gerry Schroeder's point-by-point refutation of what I call the "monkey theorem." This idea, which has been presented in a number of forms and variations, defends the possibility of life arising by chance using the analogy of a multitude of monkeys banging away on computer keyboards and eventually ending up writing a Shakespearean sonnet.

Schroeder first referred to an experiment conducted by the British National Council of Arts. A computer was placed in a cage with six monkeys. After one month of hammering away at it (as well as using it as a bathroom!), the monkeys produced fifty typed pages - but not a single word. Schroeder noted that this was the case even though the shortest word in the English language is one letter (a or I). A is a word only if there is a space on either side of it. If we take it that the keyboard has thirty characters (the twenty-six letters and other symbols), then the likelihood of getting a one-letter word is 30 times 30 times thirty, which is 27,000. The likelihood of getting a one-letter word is one chance out of 27,000.

Schroeder them applied the probabilities to the sonnet analogy. "What's the chance of getting a Shakespearean sonnet?" he asked. He continued:

All the sonnets are the same length. They're by definition fourteen lines long. I picked the one I knew the opening line for, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" I counted the number of letters; there are 488 letters in that sonnet. What's the likelihood of hammering away and getting 488 letters in the exact sequence as in "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?"? What you end up with is 26 multiplied by itself 488 times - or 26 to the 488th power. Or, in other words, in base 10, 10 to the 690th.

[Now] the number of particles in the universe - not grains of sand, I'm talking about protons, electrons, and neutrons - is 10 to the 80th. Ten to the 80th is 1 with 80 zeros after it. Ten to the 690th is one with 690 zeros after it. There are not enough particles in the universe to write down the trials; you'd be off by a factor of 10 to the 600th.

If you took the entire universe and converted it to computer chips - forget the monkeys - each one weighing a millionth of a gram and had each computer chip able to spin out 488 trials at, say, a million times a second; if you turn the entire universe into these microcomputer chips and these chips were spinning a million times a second [producing] random letters, the number of trials you would get since the beginning of time would be 10 to the 90th trials. It would be off again by a factor of 10 to the 600th. You will never get a sonnet by chance. The universe would have to be 10 to the 600th times larger. Yet the world thinks the monkeys can do it every time. [Gerald Schroeder, "Has Science Discovered God?"]

After hearing Schroeder's presentation, I told him that he had satisfactorily and decisively established that the "monkey theorem" was a load of rubbish, and that it was particularly good to do it with just a sonnet; the theorem is sometimes proposed using the works of Shakespeare or a single play, such as Hamlet. If the theorem won't work for a single sonnet, then of course it's simple absurd to suggest that the more elaborate feat of the origin of life could have been achieved by chance.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve

26 November 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19 (Deut 8:1-10, Phil 4:6-20)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In the tenth leper, we see a beautiful illustration of the Christian life. Ten lepers were in dire need. They were not only diseased, shamed, and exiled – but they were also dying. “For the wages of sin is death.” These ten men – at least one of whom was already scorned by the people of God for his ethnicity – understood full well the implications of sin and of being outside of the assembly of the people of God. In their desperation, they came to the Master seeking mercy.

These ten were cleansed. They were healed. The cross they bore for the burden of their sin and the sin of man was taken away from them by the One who would bear all sin upon His one great cross. The lepers were told that they were not only biologically healed, but made ceremonially clean in a way that would satisfy the priests and the law of the Old Testament.

But only one of these ten came back to give thanks. In the Greek, giving thanks is “euchariston.” In the Latin translation, this thanksgiving, “gratias agens”, is related to the idea of being an “agent” and of “grace”.

This “foreigner”, as our Lord calls him, is the only one of those who have been healed who has become an “agent of gratitude.” He is the only one who returned to the physical body of Christ to “eucharist”, to give thanks, for the agency of grace given to him. He is the only one who falls down in worship to “pray, praise, and give thanks.”

And notice another agency that our Lord ascribes to the healing of the leper: his “faith” – that is his “belief” – which our Lord says “has made you well”. The faith that drove this leper to come back to Jesus to worship and thank him is the faith through which he was made well in the first place. But there is even more, for the Greek word often rendered into English as “made you well” is also understood as meaning “saved you.”

The other nine were also saved, also cleansed, also healed, but their healing is only temporary. Indeed, all ten of these lepers will die – in spite of our Lord’s miracle. But this leper’s faith has done more than rid him of a skin disease, it has saved him. The non-thankful nine will hopefully repent of their ingratitude. For even God’s grace can be refused by those whose lack of gratitude demonstrates a lapsed faith, a lack of eucharist and a lack of grace and faith.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is one of the clearest illustrations of the Christian life in all of Scripture.

For like the lepers that encountered our Lord, you too were hopelessly disease-ridden and covered with shame. Sin has literally infected all of us to the point of terminal illness. And yet, what happens? Most of you were brought to the Master in your swaddling clothes. Most of you were cleansed and shown mercy by baptismal water without even realizing it was happening. You were given eternal life, and your terminal sinfulness was washed away and replaced with eternal holiness. If there were any priests of the Old Testament to declare you to be in accordance with the Law, you could have received their blessing.

You who hear the Word of God in this place have come back, like the grateful leper, to fall upon your faces in worship before the Master. You have come to “praise God with a loud voice” – with song and psalm – for the purpose of partaking in the Eucharistic celebration, the agent of grace – which is not only a meal of thanksgiving, but a paradoxical gift of the very faith that has “made you well” and “saved you” – in the holy words of the prophet Moses: “bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks, of water, of fountains and springs… of wheat… a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing…. You shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good He has given you.”

We deserve nothing but leprosy, want, and death; and yet our gracious Lord gives us healing, an everlasting feast, and eternal life. We deserve starvation, but we are given the living bread of the Eucharist that is also the Word “from the mouth of the Lord.” We deserve the cup of the Lord’s wrath, but we are given the Eucharistic wine of the sacrificial blood of the Son Himself! We deserve a dry desert, but we are given “fountains and springs” of living water. We deserve the punishment reserved to those who do not believe, but we receive faith itself. We deserve what we have merited, but we are given the free gift of grace.

It is only in receiving a free gift that a “thank you” is appropriate. It is only in being given life by the very Author of Life, through whom all things were made, that it is possible to fall upon one’s face in worship. It is only by grace that the Christian, having received all, can indeed “return” and praise God “with a loud voice.”

The leper has nothing in himself to put his faith in. But the leper has a Master, a Redeemer, a Good Physician – which is both the source and the deposit of his faith. The leper has his life. His shame has been put to flight. He has hope, and even more. He has the “agent of grace,” the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord, the healing waters of baptism, and the hope and certitude of eternal life and the promise of resurrection. He has been freed from his dungeon, and made an heir of the King and a son of God.

This is how it is that the Christian can learn, along with our holy father in the faith, St. Paul, “in whatever state… to be content.” We can have contentment even as we “know how to be abased” and “to abound”, “both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Even when the economy booms and when it busts, when jobs are secure and when they are in doubt, when times are prosperous and when they are lean – for we confess with the holy Apostle: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

This is the Christian life of thanksgiving, of Eucharist, of grace, of falling before the Lord in worship. It is the faith that saves us and brings us contentment. “And my God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Amen.

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

Youth Gathering: Stay away!

The LCMS National Youth Gathering is coming to our beloved Crescent City in 2010.


Yes, these are the "official" youth events that have featured throwing of toilet paper rolls during the distribution of Holy Communion and "rap" versions of the ordinaries of the Mass. These events have been, and remain, so scandalous to confessional Lutherans, that the Higher Things youth gatherings - which feature such radical elements as dignified worship and the exclusive use of LCMS hymnals and liturgies - are growing by leaps and bounds. Imagine that!

Normally, I'm all for tourist groups coming to NOLA, but I have to admit, I wish these folks would find another place to have their wing-ding. Haven't we suffered enough?

There is an interesting website dedicated to the New Orleans youth gathering. Can you believe how condescending it is? Take a poke around. The frequently asked questions would lead you to believe that the kids are being sent to a malaria-ridden red light district of a 3rd world nation where cannibalism is rampant (I'll have you know, like the British Navy, we now have the latter relatively under control).

There is even an "ask a native" section. Yep, ask a real-live New Orleans "native." Goodness, do they think we run around in loincloths? I know there are a few folks who do just that in the Quarter, but they're typically drunken tourists (which I suppose means there will be something for LCMS parents to do while their kids are throwing toilet paper during the Divine Service...).

Now, you Father Hollywood readers know how much I love my city and region. So, let's just keep all the positives about NOLA between us, okay?

Here is how I would answer the concerns of parents, youth leaders, commissioned ministers and ministresses, guitar-twangling emergent-wannabe pastors, and others considering invading, I mean, visiting the Big Easy for the Youth Gathering:

New Orleans is a cesspool. You should really think about going someplace safe by comparison: like Gary, Detroit, or Kabul. We have them all beat in violent crime. In fact, the murder rate is approaching 50%. You have as great a chance of being murdered in New Orleans as you do of flipping a "heads" on a coin. Think about that!

Also, keep in mind, New Orleans is utterly amoral. Every street corner has a drug dealer on it - openly selling crack and heroin. In fact, our pushers are not only violent and disease ridden, they are all naked lesbian voodoo priestesses who play the lottery and listen to heavy metal music.

You also have to watch out for the crazy Cajuns who cruise around the bayous of the Central Business District in piroughs and jeeps looking for dead animals to scrape off the road to make jambalaya (what do you think you're eating in those restaurants anyway?), picking off national guard troops (didn't you realize that Southern Comfort was a documentary?) in between playing loud zydeco music and refusing to speak English. In fact, if you can't speak French, don't bother coming. According to the Napoleanic Code, English is forbidden, and you are guilty of all crimes until proven innocent. That's why we have "parishes" instead of "counties." Don't say you haven't been warned, mon ami!

Also, the ubiquitous fleur-de-lis is just a stylized middle finger - totally inappropriate for Lutheran youth. And keep in mind we are swarming with Roman Catholics just waiting to pounce on your sons and daughters not only to make them pray to the Saints every Sunday, but to cheer for them at the Superdome as well. Just hold that thought, Viking fans and Garrison Keillor listeners whose Bibles only contain 66 books.

And racial problems? Oh boy. We still have not abolished slavery. Every white person in New Orleans is a member of the Klan, and every black person is a Panther. We have open riots and race wars on the streets on a daily basis just for fun. That's why we had a Chinese sheriff in Jefferson Parish - so he could be the referee for all the black and white gang warfare. Do you really want your innocent kids from the midwest exposed to that?

And I haven't even gotten to the French Quarter yet - where the garbage is piled ten feet high, where heterosexuals are beaten (with the heels of Manolo Blahnik shoes) by transvestite hookers into thin patties and served with french fries and remoulade sauce to clueless tourists walking up and down Bourbon Street with "hand grenades." Christians are openly tossed to the lions at Audubon Zoo. In fact, the naked lesbian voodoo priestesses (you haven't forgotten them, have you?) have lobbied the Nagin administration to outlaw Christian churches within Orleans Parish. And you don't even want to know what goes on in Jefferson Parish! Are you Iowans up for that kind of thing?

It's also hot. That's because we're so close to hell. You have to drive north across the world's longest bridge to get to South Mississippi. It's 150 degrees in the winter. Al Gore is convinced that he invented global warming on Tchoupitoulas Street. If you live in Minnesota or Wisconsin, you will literally fry to death in your own skin - which is really good for the local cannibal restaurants, but bad for tourism. But like I said, we're getting that cannibalism issue somewhat under control.

We also have local mayors who drive drunk and crash into tollbooths. We have cops who commit armed robbery and steal thousands of dollars out of the evidence room. Our Republicans keep the brothels in business and our Democrats keep their bribes in the freezer. We had one governor assassinated on the floor of the State Capitol that he built, and another one currently incarcerated in the federal penitentiary (and none of this paragraph is exaggerated). So, you think your politicians in Indianapolis and Harrisburg are corrupt? Ha!

We also have billions of rabid feral cats and strange drunken wild musicians covered in washboards and tattoos. Some live in "shotgun" houses, because we typically shoot first and ask questions later. We still practice dueling, and we hang Yankees from the flag pole in front of the courthouse. There are some places where Republicans still can't get on the ballot. Now there's a reason for your typical LCMS family to keep their kids away! Can I get an "Amen"?

We eat dead leggy crawfish that peer up at you from the plate by pinching their tails and sucking their heads. We put Tabasco on everything. We don't hate the French like every Northern Republican LCMS Rush Limbaugh listener. We upset Lutheran school teachers by saying "Who dat?" and asking "What time it is?" We also never "ask" a question, but rather always "ax." Subject and verb agreement is at best only a suggestion. At any given time, you will see a grown man in a pirate suit or someone walking around town with a live chicken under his arm for no particular reason - and nobody will bat an eye. You may even see a Lutheran pastor walking to work in a cassock. We often bury our dead above ground. We have numerous casinos, drive through daiquiri shops, and liquor sold in grocery stores seven days a week. The clerks at the Circle K smoke while they are at work. We have bars and restaurants that sell absynthe.

We have wild Mardi Gras parades in which children are placed precariously in boxes atop ladders along parade routes so as to give them a closer view, and (worse yet!), they are not in federally-approved child seats with proper safety equipment. Shocking!

Also, the state bird is the mosquito - which carries malaria and is about 30 inches in length. Alligators live in our canals, as do nutria - which are rats the size of labrador retrievers. You think your Chinese restaurants might be serving cats? Meh. You don't want to know what our Chinese and Vietnamese chefs are putting on your kids' plates. We also have cockroaches the size of chihuahuas. They are known to eat Lutheran children in a single bite.

And, as a bonus, the youth gathering is held during hurricane season (what genuius came up with that?)! And don't you know, most of the city is still flooded from Katrina, with the result that most New Orleanians have to wear scuba equipment and swim to work in shark-infested waters? So if you send your kids here, there's a really good chance they will be stranded in the Superdome with no power for weeks on end while looters run amok toting cases of Heineken and shooting at rescue helicopters.

So, maybe it would be best for the LCMS Youth Gathering Committee to reconsider. Cleveland is a really nice place. So is Equatorial Guinea. My vote: someplace far away from New Orleans. We have standards to maintain here. We're trying to keep the riffraff out!

Five Winners...

... to my caption contest.

I enjoyed them all, so winners, feel free to download the coveted prize and display it on your blog.

Here it is:

Just keep in mind that you are responsible for all taxes and other regulations covering international internet awards. Batteries not included. Do not look directly at Happy Fun Ball.

Fr Bollywood do not want!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sermon: Last Sunday of the Church Year

23 November 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 25:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

To us creatures beholden to time, everything has a beginning and an end. But to us Christians who partake in the Lord’s promise of everlasting life, we also live outside of time, where there is no beginning and no end.

This is how we can live with one foot in time and one foot in eternity.

One the one hand, the Bible begins as time begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And yet, the Bible does not end with the words “the end” – for there is no end, only endless paradise.

And our Lord Himself shares in our humanity by living in time, even as in His divinity, He lives in eternity. For our Lord was indeed born in the aftermath of “a decree… from Caesar Augustus… while Quirinius was governing Syria.” But at the same time, He was “begotten of His Father before all worlds.” Similarly, our Lord died after being “crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate” even as His “kingdom will have no end.”

This paradox gives us Christians a strange kind of way of looking at the world in which we live. Like everyone else, we too put our birth and death dates on our tombstones – and yet we know that death is not an end, but is the beginning of something newer and better for us redeemed of the Lord. And like everyone else, we want a bright future in this life for our children, but we also know that no matter what happens, God’s children already possess Paradise that will have no end. And we are reminded of our old Adam with every sin, with every disappointment, with every ache and pain, and with every funeral we attend. But at the same time, our sins bring us to the cross where our Lord won forgiveness for us, and to the Sacrament where His eternal flesh and blood are given to us physically. Every ache and pain calls to mind not only our Lord’s Incarnation in a body like ours, but also calls to mind His suffering and passion that won eternal life for us. And even as we Christians mourn when our loved ones die, we do not mourn like the unbelievers – for we know that our sadness is only in this temporal existence – in eternity our sorrow will “not be remembered or come to mind” but rather we will “rejoice forever” in His new creation.

And so here we are on the Last Sunday of the church year, calling to mind the Last Things – but the Last Things are not just the Last Things, but rather the beginning of eternity. We are indeed in the last days, waiting for our Bridegroom to come and whisk us away from this timely, sorrowful, painful, sin-ridden existence.

And so here we are in these last days, hanging between our temporal and our eternal existence – which is why our Lord bids us to be ready! Our day is coming: our transition out of time and into eternity. We know it is coming, but we don’t know when – so our blessed Lord bids us to prepare now! The day before landfall is not the day to start cutting plywood or driving around looking for batteries. We know of a potential hurricane many days out – but we have known of our Lord’s return for two thousand years.

This is why St, Paul warns us that the Bridegroom’s return will be like a “thief in the night” – for we know nighttime is when robbers strike, but we never know exactly when. Likewise, we can predict about when a woman will give birth, but not down to the minute. A wise mother will have a bag already packed to go to the hospital and not wait until the birth pangs come to start cobbling together a plan. This is why the Apostle similarly warns us: “Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”

We need to be watchful and alert. We dare not drop our guard and let the cares of the world take our eyes off of the eternity that awaits us.

Our Lord says as much in a story. In our Lord’s parable, there are ten virgins going to a wedding. They know the Bridegroom is coming to pick them up – but like a thief in the night, they don’t know exactly when. They need to be alert, watchful, and above all, prepared. And there are two kinds of people in the world – the wise and the foolish. The wise are not always smart, and the foolish are not always stupid. Wisdom is not about being able to do calculus and speak eight languages so much as it is having common sense and being ready. And similarly, folly isn’t the lack of the ability to figure out logarithms in your head or not knowing the Hydrogen is an element, but rather lacking the street-smarts to be prepared for something you have been warned is on the way.

In our Lord’s parable, the wise virgins are ready for the trip. Their lamps were filled with oil. They could go to sleep knowing that when the Bridegroom comes, they can trim their lamps and quickly be on their way. The foolish virgins procrastinated. They assumed there would always be time. But when the Bridegroom came, they were out buying oil, and missed their ride. For the foolish, time ran out. To the unprepared, our Lord will say: “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

“Watch therefore,” our Lord warns us, “for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

We live in time, but that time will come to an end – even as the church year is ending, even as 2008 is ending, even as our lives too will end. One of the consequences of living in time is that there are endings. Time runs out. In living in time, we can be too late. We know what is coming, but we don’t know exactly when – and so the wise will be prepared, but the foolish will be unprepared.

And how can we be prepared, dear brothers and sisters? “Watch” says our Lord. That means we are to be vigilant. “Vigil” is an ancient word for one of the hours of worship. To be vigilant, to hold vigil, is to be watching, to be expecting. Our Lord could come at any moment! We could breathe our last at any moment. Be ready! Don’t procrastinate repenting. Don’t be like the foolish virgins who assumed they had all the time in the world – for time is fleeting.

Or as St. Paul puts it, we are “not of the night nor of darkness,” rather we are “sons of light and sons of the day.” Sin and crime live under the cover of darkness. The evildoer does not want the light to expose his deeds. But those who live in darkness have been given a great light, the Light of Christ, and this Light “calls us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”

Our Lord and the Lord’s Apostle are both imploring us to be ready now, to repent now, to walk in the light now, to illuminate your minds and spirits with the light of Scripture – not at some point in the future, not when it becomes convenient – but now. Don’t repeat the folly of the foolish virgins who traded away their eternal life for a short time of pleasure or of slumber.

Now is the day of salvation! And the beauty of salvation is that it is timeless. We truly do have one foot in time and one in eternity. Let us be ready, dear brothers and sisters! Let us be prepared by the Gospel, by our baptism, by our life in the glow of God’s grace, by living the Christian life of a disciple, of a hearer of the Word, of one who prays and one who partakes of the body and blood of the Lord. Let us repent daily and fill our lamps with the oil of the Lord’s forgiveness, so that we may sleep peacefully in the confidence that our Bridegroom is coming, and we are indeed ready to greet Him.

“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” Amen.

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

A helpful suggestion...

for the incoming Commander in Chief of the United States military forces.

I was surprised to read recently, that today, 63 years after the end of World War II, we are still essentially occupying Germany with 50,000 (!) United States troops. Goodness!

Somehow, I don't think the Germans pose a credible threat to us (unless, of course, they are hiding WMDs and Hitler is hanging out in a spider hole with bin Laden). The "if we don't fight them there we will have to fight them here" argument falls flat these days (as does the "if we withdraw our troops we will all be speaking German" bromide). In fact, we still have 30,000 troops in Korea. North and South Korea have been in unification talks, and have even competed under one flag in athletic competitions - but I guess it would be "waving the white flag of surrender" to call it a day in the Peninsula (maybe we need a "surge" to "get the job done"?). In fact, we may have more soldiers there than they have guys named "Kim" who claim to be "9th degree black belts" and "trainers of the Korean Army" and "Olympic gold medalists" here teaching Tae Kwon Do in strip malls and giving black belts to ten year olds. In any case, the numbers are close.

But the bottom line is that empires are expensive. We have soldiers, sailors, and marines in more than 700 bases in more than 130 countries around the world. Of course, the Somali pirates don't seem to notice. But having this worldwide network of military bases to supply, manage, and man costs a lot of money. If anyone doubts that, just ask those who are paying for it (that would be the Communist Chinese, who are loaning us all the cash). In case the pols on Capital Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue haven't noticed, money is a little tight these days.

And then there is the gaping hole in the actual security of the United States - the illegal immigration that is permitting millions of foreigners to freely come and go into the U.S. with absolutely no control and no questions asked. When they enter illegally, we don't know if they have a university degree or a criminal record. We don't know if they are in demand for their skills or wanted as fugitives. If terrorists wanted to literally walk right into the United States, there's plenty of opportunity. Entire families do just that every day. The border patrol seems to be out-manned, and in some cases, outgunned.

The solution is looking us right in the face. It's all in the math.

The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,969 miles long and largely unmanned. But we have 50,000 troops in Germany making sure the Germans stay within their borders - even though E.U. membership means they're actually allowed to leave their borders. The makers of American foreign policy might be shocked to learn that the Berlin Wall has been torn down now for nearly 20 years (maybe they're still waiting for the memo from "Intelligence", or maybe there isn't a comic book edition of modern European history for the folks in Washington yet). Newsflash: we don't need to spend millions upon millions of dollars maintaining 50,000 troops in Germany.

Let's move these soldiers to the U.S.-Mexico border! 1,969 miles guarded by 50,000 troops means we can place one soldier every 207 feet!

Not only would this stem the flow of illegal immigrants and narcotics into the U.S., it would also stem the tide of U.S. dollars flowing out of our wallets and then out of the country. And, as a bonus, think of the benefits to local economies! Instead of providing jobs to Germans, we could provide jobs to Americans. There would be industries and towns along the border that would spring up.

Of course, there is a down side for American politicians, as the Republicans would have to pay Americans or legal immigrants to nanny their basically-abandoned children and scrub the floors of their palaces, and the Democrats could no longer count on the illegal aliens to supplement the dead and insane for their Democrat party votes (no doubt the folks at ACORN are bilingual). But in the long run, I think it would be a great idea to have a real border, keep American soldiers and American money in America guarding America (how novel!), and let the E.U. maintain its own military defense budget and supply jobs to their own people instead of making the U.S. taxpayer do that.

If this plan works, we could also stop providing military defense to Japan, and maybe we could even get some manpower and money to rebuild our coastlands. Instead of building an embassy in Iraq the size of Vatican City, maybe we could sell it and beef up the manpower, budget, and oversight over the Army Corps of Engineers and finally rebuild the paper-stuffed rotten levees that cost our local economy billions of dollars due to their shoddy work.

We could also use a few new roads and bridges here in America. You could rebuild a lot of infrastructure with 50,000 men and all the money we're throwing away in Germany.

But I don't expect Barack Obama to recall any soldiers to the U.S. I think he'll wait until we literally have no money to pay the 50,000 soldiers in Germany. To roll back the empire gracefully for the benefit of our own citizens would take statesmanship that I'm afraid is lacking among both major parties. Personally, I think President Obama will join conservative talk show hosts in ordering American troops into new bases in places like Greenland and Antarctica. You just never can tell what all those un-American Danish-speaking Eskimoes and suspicious waddling penguins are up to without American military supervision. WMDs? Oil? Independence of American oversight and micromanagement? So I don't expect a lot of "change" unless it is forced by absolute economic necessity - and even then, they'll probably just print more money anyway.

Besides, are these politicians capable of dividing 1,969 by 50,000 and converting the answer into feet? That would require actual thought. Just don't let the Army Corps of engineers do the math!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Private Jet Panhandlers

Note to CEOs:

When you're going to Washington, DC to panhandle us for billions of dollars due to your mismanagement, don't take the private jets. It's kind of tacky. It makes you seem like nouveau riche "white trash."

Try to have a semblance of class, fellas! At very least, why not spend some time with the homeless to learn the etiquette of harassing people who actually work into giving you the money they have earned? No need to reinvent the wheel, and all that.


The Taxpayers

My prediction is that Congress will cave in to the auto industry lobbyists, and take care of their pals in Detroit (over the vehement objection of their constituents, who will be ignored, of course). And the result will be even worse than if they had done nothing, allowing the Big Three to continue in their mismanagement emboldened by the latest money-grab with no market consequence for their incompetence. And, as a bonus, it will also encourage further troughing by other catastrophizing private-jet-setting CEO panhandlers and other corporate-welfare bums.

Maybe we'll soon be seeing "tent cities" cropping up for down-on-their-luck executives (suburban subdivisions, oh the shame...) and taxpayer-supported "soup kitchens" serving second-rate vichyssoise, domestic caviar, and non-humidored Cohibas (for shame, for shame!) for the down-and-out CEO beggar. Why, it's a regular Wall Street version of Grapes of Wrath.

It's going to be a cold winter. Get those tax forms filled out ASAP, and please give generously!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Signs of the (hard, but also hopeful) Times

The well-heeled management of American Express, having run their business into the ground through bad investment and stupidity, want you and me to pay for their mistakes through their getting a piece of the bailout, as are all sorts of businesses lining up at the trough. Meanwhile, the executive bonuses continue to roll (I'm still waiting for my thank you card).

And, a good number of these "poor pitiful" corporations that are going to go out of business without the fleecing, I mean "bailout", can somehow afford to hire high-priced lobbyists to schmooze Congress for goodies. Great gig, huh? It sure beats making smart decisions and hiring competent people with integrity to run your company.

And thanks to the same mismanagement and incompetence in government, the U.S. may now lose its AAA credit rating and essentially go bankrupt. But not to worry, the Democrats are seeking to nationalize a share of the "big three" so the Federal government can run the car companies, control the means of production, and share the wealth. Why didn't we think of this sooner, Comrades. From each according to his ability...

But there is some good news. Not everybody is drinking the Kool-Aid. Here is an example of common sense (wow!) from an economist, and here is evidence that not all of our citizens are clueless either. There are signs that the people do not see the solution in borrowing and spending, but rather in thrift.

And here is an interesting list of things we can do to save money. Not all of these are applicable to everyone, but it's nice to see some discussion happening.

In spite of the hard times to come, there is indeed reason to be optimistic about the economy in the long run. It will not be big imperial government, tax and spend Democrats, borrow and spend Republicans, nor lobbyists and worthless executives that will bring this malaise to an end - but rather the common sense of the people being coaxed along by the real world and by the market.

I think this Saturday Night Live skit has it just right.

Maybe the banksters in New York and the crooks in Washington need to watch more SNL.

Meanwhile, any good recipes for Spam, anyone?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Magi Moment?

Sometimes life imitates art.

Mrs. Hollywood and I had a laugh today over the fact that I have a watch that needs a battery. That, in and of itself isn't funny, but irony ensues. This watch is a pocket watch - which I carry mainly because I'm brutal on wristwatches. This particular quartz watch is a gift from my dad, but I have not carried this one in some time because, as I said, it needs a battery.

Since I don't have the tool to open it, I need to bring it to a jeweler. Mrs. Hollywood remembered a coupon that she has for a free watch battery from a shop on Manhattan Avenue. So, she got the coupon while I got out my watch.

Unfortunately, the gold-plating on the chain has worn off, and it (the chain) looks kind of shabby. So, I told Mrs. H. that perhaps I should get myself a new watch chain. This is where the laugh and the irony took place. For Mrs. H. has a mane of hair extending well past her waist. We quickly agreed that I would not get a watch chain for Christmas, nor would Mrs. H. be getting a haircut and a tortoise shell comb.

Get it?

If not, you must read this classic short story of American literature, The Gift Of The Magi by the American master of the ironic short story, O. Henry (1862-1910).

Grace and I once saw Magi done brilliantly at a tiny playhouse in Philadelphia, in which the show was acted by one actor and one actress in front of maybe 30 people arranged in a square around the tiny stage. It was mesmerizing. Needless to say, Magi is one of our favorite stories. We've even made a "pilgrimage" to the home in Austin, Texas where the author's family lived for a time, and the building is today the O. Henry Museum.

O. Henry is also one of my favorite authors, especially having bought all twelve volumes of the 1923 "authorized edition" of O. Henry's works in excellent condition (I think I paid ten bucks for the set!) - as well as a dilapidated 1920 edition of the addendum called Waifs and Strays.

I believe O. Henry may have originated the art form of the American short story with the ironic plot twist, the kind of brief tales that follow the format of The Twilight Zone, though his works are not science fiction. Some of his stories are comedies, some are tragedies, but they are all lively, engaging, and filled with the obvious real-world characters that O. Henry (whose real name was William Sydney Porter) met in his interesting and complex life. Most, but not all, have at least one twist in the plot - often held until the very end of the story.

Many of his tales take place in Manhattan (the borough in New York, that is, not the avenue in Gretna, Louisiana where we have a coupon for a watch battery...), with the names of actual Big Apple streets and haunts making their appearances. The stories happen a century ago, when a dollar was worth a dollar and when chivalry was still not on life support, and yet, in spite of the quaintness of life, the vast difference in the technology of the day, and the era's political incorrectness - O. Henry's stories still proclaim the human condition, original sin, the desire for redemption, the motivations of greed and love, and the artist's desire to see justice and right prevail, especially for the underdog - even if things do not always work out for everybody in the end.

The stories are fresh, and are a wonderful respite from modern life.

There is even an edition of some of O. Henry's stories for young people - complete with helpful annotations and beautiful illustrations.

One nice thing about the stories being in public domain is that they are available in reprints (very cheap), and even online (such as at Project Gutenberg). In fact, in my Palm T/X, I have (along with a library of other works), the entire corpus of O. Henry books that I can pull out of my pocket and read at practically any moment - something that would have been inconceivable to William Sydney Porter a hundred years ago. One can only imagine what and how people will be reading a century hence.

So, if you're still reading this blog post, I can offer you the reward of a few links to O. Henry stories I enjoy (though there are many more, of course!)...

The Last Leaf, The Rose of Dixie, and one of my very favorites: Transients in Arcadia.

And of course, sometimes art imitates life.

Sermon: Trinity 26

16 November 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA Text: Matt 25:31-46 (Dan 7:9-14, 2 Pet 3:3-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

As the time draws near for our Lord to go to the cross, His preaching increasingly focuses on the end times, on His return to establish His kingdom, the judgment, eternity, and the fact that He will have to suffer and rise from the dead.

And as we get closer and closer to the end of the church year, the Church’s preaching reflects that same theme – of our Lord’s return, of judgment, eternity, and the results of His passion, death, and resurrection.

As He does so often, our Lord teaches us with a story. He tells us how He will judge the sheep from the goats, physically separating them, saying to the sheep: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” but saying to the goats: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and His angels.”

Sheep and goats may look similar, but they are completely different animals with different numbers of chromosomes. They are what they are, “each according to its own kind.” Sheep cannot become goats, and goats cannot become sheep. But we can tell which is which by observation.

In our Lord’s story, the sheep are blessed and given eternal life. They are confirmed to be sheep based on the fact that their works prove what they are. The sheep perform acts of mercy and kindness. They have compassion, and do what needs to be done for those whom our Lord calls “the least of these, My brethren.” The sheep feed the hungry, provide water to the thirsty, show hospitality, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the prisoners. They don’t do this seeking reward, but rather out of love and compassion. And our Lord reveals that whatever we do to our neighbors, we really do to Him. Man is made in God’s image, and whatever is done to God’s image is done to God, whose iconic form is Jesus Christ. The sheep serve their neighbors out of love. And the beauty of love is that it has no thought of reward.

Mothers change diapers day in and day out not because the child thanks her, but rather because she loves her child, and it simply needs done. She doesn’t expect the Congressional Medal of Freedom. Fathers likewise labor and work year in and year out, most days without any fanfare, simply because it needs done. He loves his family, and doesn’t expect a front page article in the paper or a Nobel Prize.

And the opposite is also true. The goats in our Lord’s story do not lift a finger to help others in need. They care nothing for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. The goats are too busy taking care of themselves. And again, our Lord reveals that whatever neglect we show to our neighbors, we show to Him.

To those without love and mercy, even the acts that appear good are nothing more than a desire to build up the self, an attempt for the goat to look like a sheep only to play the impostor and escape punishment.

Notice that of the two, only sheep are able to repent. For they may behave as goats, even much of the time (and we all do), but we sheep can come to our senses and repent. A goat, on the other hand, is only imitating a sheep with false motives. A goat cannot repent because he is what he is. He is concerned for himself and for no-one else.

And what a great blessing we have these words from our Lord, dear brothers and sisters! Our Lord is warning us to repent while there is still time. If we are unloving and uncaring, if we are selfish and inhospitable, if we are unmerciful and indifferent to suffering, and we realize that our conduct is appalling – we can repent! Even the desire to repent is the very mark of being a sheep and not a goat.

Unlike the goat, the sheep can pray for the Lord’s grace to “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” We are what we are. Goats can’t become sheep and vice versa. But by the Holy Spirit, we sheep can act like sheep, and not seek to live like goats. We know that we are sheep when we have a Shepherd: the Good Shepherd. For we know His voice, and He knows us by name. We know we are sheep when our Shepherd leads us to the green pastures of the Gospel and the still waters of Holy Baptism. We know we are sheep when we are grieved at our goat-like behavior, when we want to look and act like the sheep that we are.

It is in being loved by the Shepherd that we sheep can love our fellow sheep. And when we show love to our fellow sheep, we’re really showing love to our Shepherd. Whatever we do, or don’t do, for the sheep, we’re in fact doing (or not doing) for our Shepherd.

Think of the words we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We sheep have been forgiven by our Shepherd – who forgives us motivated solely by love. And we pray to give the same forgiveness to others, motivated by the same love as our Shepherd.

And the beauty is this: when we sheep are doing what we are supposed to be doing, when we are behaving as sheep, when the time comes to receive our reward, we won’t even realize that what we have done is worthy of reward. We may be completely ignorant of having done good works. For true good works are not done with repayment in mind. They are done simply because they need done, because someone needs help. We Christians have been blessed to be a blessing, even as we have been forgiven so that we might forgive. And the opportunities are virtually endless.

But in these “last days,” St. Peter assures us that “scoffers will come,” those who walk “according to their own lusts,” men who “willfully forget that by the word of God” all things were made. These, dear friends, are the goats in our Lord’s parable: the unbelieving, the loveless, the self-centered, those who mock Christ and the Christian faith. And notice that our Lord desires that “all should come to repentance.” By definition, those who are baptized, those who repent, those who cling to their Shepherd – are the Lord’s lambs. But when we lambs display the characteristics of the goat, when we serve ourselves instead of our neighbors, when we are loveless and unmerciful, the Lord bids us to repent.

The lambs hear the voice of their Shepherd, and in hearing that voice, are led to repentance; whereas the goats do not hear the Shepherd at all. And thus, they do not even desire to repent. The sheep hear the law and feel the sting of conscience. The goat hears the law and feels nothing but perhaps scorn and anger and a deluded self-righteousness.

Dear brothers and sisters, we are in the “last days.” For one day to Him is as a thousand years to us. And if He seems to be taking His time about returning, it is only because He is “longsuffering” and giving us every opportunity to repent, to turn away from our self-centered ways and to hear the cries of the suffering. If we have much, it is because the Lord has given us much to share. If mercy is something that is even on our radar screen, we will desire to show mercy to our fellow sheep who are in need. Compassion is something that is both sought and given away. The sheep has been forgiven, which is exactly why he forgives.

But you can’t earn your forgiveness any more than a goat can suddenly become a sheep. You are sheep by grace. You are a sheep because you have been created as one – born again by water and the Spirit. You are sheep because you have been called and separated, set apart, made holy, given a new heart and a new life, and you hear your loving Shepherd’s voice, both when he calls you back to the flock when you wander, and on that day when He will bid you to “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Amen.

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

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Gift Idea

If you're looking for something unique as a gift idea, I have a capital idea - some of the most extraordinary coffee you will ever drink from Bean's Coffee Company. I had previously blogged about them here.

I know it sounds like I'm getting a commission or something, but I'm really not! The stuff is just that good! I'm blown away every time I make it - and that is at least once a day, every day - sometimes more.

The Hollywood family continues to procure coffee from this local family-owned business, and it has been excellent every single time, without exception. The DalDegans obviously love what they are doing, and they do it with excellence in mind. It's always great to see at least one of them at the Gretna Farmer's Market just about every Saturday, and they truly understand that the quality they put into their product is the cause of great joy to their customers. They really do get a kick out of it!

Bean's is offering a couple new varieties: the Christmas Blend (which has a hint of nuttiness - perhaps iconic of New Orleans in a way, and is festive and delicious) and the signature New Orleans blend of coffee and chicory (called Bean's with Chicory) - which is likewise simply delicious, and is the real Crescent City deal (perfect for making café au lait). We also discovered recently that they do have a decaf variety: Sumatra Decaf - which serves us well as evening looms.

Anyway, I'm thinking that with the way the economy is going, we could all use a lot less "stuff." Instead of buying more plastic junk that will eventually clog our landfills and export all our dollars to China, why not buy gifts for people that they will consume, savor, and enjoy rather than put on a shelf until the next yard sale? And, as a bonus, this is a real American business run by a real American family. They care about their product, and it is simply untouchable in terms of quality.

Just for laughs, try putting a cup of Bean's next to a cup of Starbuck's and do a taste test. For all the hype (and cost), let's face it, Starbuck's is eau de chausettes ("sock water"). You will never want to drink that swill again. Ever.

When you put in an order with Bean's, your coffee is then (and only then) roasted, ground (unless you want the whole beans), and shipped within 48 hours. They seal their coffee in these really cool super-high quality ziplock bags that you have to then tear open (though they reseal easily). And when you open it, you just can't believe what you are seeing and smelling. The beans literally glisten with the oils (for kicks, compare these beans with anything you will buy in the store). And the aroma - you just can't believe it is possible for something to be so glorious and to fill the entire room!

We like to buy whole beans and grind them to order ourselves - whether we are making espresso/cappuccino, or French-pressed, or are in a hurry and use the auto-drip. But you can either buy the roasted beans or let Bean's grind them for you, literally seconds before they are sealed in the bag.

The price varies slightly with the blend, but I find Bean's to be very competitive ($11.00-11.50/lb) with what you would pay for grocery store "premium" coffee beans - which are downright ancient and stale by comparison.

So, if you're looking for something a little different for a gift idea, here it is. Just be sure to have some sent to yourself as well as a reward for your generosity and discriminating taste. We like the Tanzanian Peaberry (hint hint).

Fr. Hollywood Caption Contest

Here is a picture from January 2007 of the Hollywood Family's visit to the very cool Canada Aviation Museum/Musée de l'aviation du Canada in Ottawa. This is just crying out for a caption - but I can't come up with one. Please feel free to weigh in with a suggestion (you can even click on the pic to enlarge).

There is a special "international" web award for the winner.

Flying regards...

The Missing Generation Missing?

Please take the time to read this excellent analysis by Frank Gillespie of Putting Out the Fire concerning the latest trend among LCMS mission experts to "reach" the "missing generation." Frank is spot on.

This "hipolatry" is getting tiresome. I suppose when we start seeing icons with the Starbuck's logo and serving Holy Communion in paper cups with the little corrugated cardboard sleeve wrapped around it, we'll finally get the message of just how shallow this worship of the youth culture really is.

Thanks again, Frank! BTW, I recommend his blog as well. And you can't beat that logo (see above).

And on the same topic, while I don't have the time to write a proper review, a few weeks ago, I read an outstanding book, Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, that exposes the "emerging/emergent church" phenomenon (the latest fad that the church growth experts, including the mandarins of the Missouri Synod, are diving into). The book provides viewpoints from both a Protestant (Reformed) pastor (Kevin DeYoung) and a layman (Ted Kluck) by alternating chapters written by each.

The book is engaging and written in an almost "blogsy" style that effectively dovetails two writers with unique perspectives with a nice balance of reiteration without redundancy. I highly recommend the book, especially to those interested in a primer or introduction to the emergent/emerging movement, as well as those with interest in "youth ministry." If I find "some time" some time - maybe I'll write a review. But since you can get the book for about ten bucks, maybe you should just take a chance and read it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Peter Schiff

We attended a two-hour talk by conservative economist Peter Schiff today (the above video is a montage of his economic predictions from the past two years). Against all the "prevailing wisdom," Schiff predicted the real estate bubble caused by sub-prime mortgages and the recent economic downturn (dare we say "recession"?). The video above includes the eternally rosy predictions by most of the other economists, including the alleged conservative Arthur Laffer, who has yet to pay Schiff the penny he wagered him on this TV show (you gotta admire the force of the man's conviction to bet a whole cent). And how about the fellow predicting that the Dow would be 16,000 right now? It is presently only slightly more than half of that.

Anyway, Schiff's talk was outstanding, a two-hour stream of consciousness without notes or manuscript - and without pompous knucklehead professors and know-it-all talking heads who are never held accountable for their inability to see what Schiff and other real conservatives saw coming. And, it was held on 41st floor of the Canal Street Marriott in downtown New Orleans - what a view! Plus, it was free.

Most of today's talk was a reiteration of the material in his recent books, but interpreted in light of how things have turned out recently.

The bottom line is this: the dollar's strength right now is temporary (as is the low price of foreign stocks). Now is a really good time to buy solid foreign stocks that pay good dividends. Now is also a good time to have some cash on hand (which means getting out of debt) and also to have some commodities - especially gold.

In speaking about the debt issue, Schiff spoke with great common sense. Most of us have all the "stuff" we need right now. Do we need more TVs, more cars, more clothes? Do we really need to spend more money and go further into debt? Do we really need a bigger home? If we want to get out of debt, we need to (obviously) stop spending money. What if we just stop buying stuff for a while?

But of course, the government hates it when we save. Why? They can't collect taxes. Their scheme of printing money to pay their obligations doesn't work as well when people are saving instead of borrowing and spending. Plus, the Federal Reserve system is entirely based on debt. This is why politicians of both parties want to give "stimulus checks" (hoping consumers will blow it all at Best Buy or at a car dealership) and "bailouts" to inefficient businesses and failed managers of the most badly run companies - all of course without cutting government spending or doing anything about the monster entitlement programs that are bankrupting us.

The only solution the politicians see is to spend our way out of the problem - which means going further into debt. The British central bank has just announced a rate cut to zero percent! That means their money is so worthless that they are literally giving it away. What is the next step, a negative interest rate? This is the direct result of being linked to the U.S. dollar (as the world's reserve currency) and that dollar being nothing more than an IOU. When the world, especially China, realizes they will never be repaid what they have loaned us, they will no longer underwrite our national debt. And then, as Peter Schiff put it: "we're screwed."

Schiff sees rough times under the Obama administration - which is expected to basically repeat the errors of the Bush administration - only worse. And there is the possibility of some pretty radical policy - such as making it difficult (or even illegal) for Americans to invest in foreign companies and currencies down the road. There is a possibility that we will see hyperinflation - even while the same "experts" in the above video are now telling us we can tax and spend our way out of the problem - especially in conjunction with printing more money out of thin air.

I was hoping to shake hands with Schiff and thank him for his books and cogent analysis, but Lion Boy was ready to hit the wall after two hours. We had to scram while Schiff was taking questions. But I really can't complain. We asked a lot out of Leo. We did make a visit to the Aquarium on the way back so he could see his friends in the shark tank (which incidentally are not the same bunch of politicians that are lying through their teeth to us).

As a bonus, here is a link to Schiff's commentary for the week. As you can see, Schiff is an engaging writer who takes economics out of the dusty textbooks and makes it lively and understandable.

Where's St. Francis?

The new Lutheran Service Book (LSB), our excellent new Missouri Synod hymnal, contains a much larger calendar of commemorations of saints' days than our previous hymnals.

However, one of my colleagues of Swedish descent notes the complete lack of Scandinavian saints - even though there were many heroic Christians, some Lutheran and others pre-reformation, that have shaped the piety of Lutheran countries and churches for centuries and are firmly part of the Lutheran heretage and tradition. These saints were omitted without explanation in spite of the fact that he had specifically submitted the names of these non-Germans to the Commission on Worship (COW) for consideration.

More puzzling to me is the omission of St. Francis of Assisi. Where is St. Francis? He is explicitly mentioned in the Book of Concord where he is called a "holy father." He is traditionally credited with the spiritual exercise of the Stations of the Cross - which adorned the walls of most, if not all, early Lutheran churches. In fact, St. Francis and the order he founded, the Franciscans, were in many ways forerunners of the Reformation, serving as a thorn in the side of the corrupt medieval papacy (going so far as to call the papacy "antichrist" a century before Luther) by spurning wealth and piously serving their neighbors in need instead.

Ironically, LSB commemorates St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) on her feast day of November 19 - a "nun in the Order of St. Francis" (Treasury of Daily Prayer p. 929) whose Franciscan ideals led her to found a hospital with her dowry money before her death at age 25 - while LSB says nothing about the founder of the order and the "holy father" who inspired her saintly life.

Maybe modern Lutherans are just embarrassed by St. Francis. I don't have a citation, but I remember an issue of Good News magazine that took a piece of art out of context and claimed that St. Francis (again, a "holy father" if the Lutheran confessions are to be believed) "turned his back on the Bible." I know of no historical work that makes any such claim. Certainly the Lutheran confessions never say any such thing. St. Francis was a man of poverty, piety, and prayer. He was gentle. He had a gift of unique rapport with animals. He is also reputed to have received the stigmata - a physical manifestation of the wounds of Jesus. His eccentricity was always a bit of an embarrassment to church bureaucrats.

Maybe all of these things conspire to deny St. Francis any liturgical recognition in Missouri Synod churches - or maybe it was just an oversight. But whatever the reason, I think Lutherans would do well to honor this holy father, this beggar for Christ, this preacher of peace and harmony, this embarrassment to corrupt popes and bishops - when his feast day rolls around next year, God willing, October 4. It may even be worth penciling this commemoration into your LSB and your TDP.

The Hollywood family has iconography of this holy father adorning our walls. Our brother and friend St. Francis fits in well in our home where the cats outnumber the humans, and where he serves us well in reminding us that gentleness and compassion are virtues, even in these last days where wealth and braggadocio are lauded.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Pink Taliban

The militant homosexual movement is not content with all sorts of special legal protections denied to heterosexuals, recognition of their civil unions across the country, and a cultural full-court press to exalt their lifestyle in Hollywood and in corporate America, they are now fomenting hatred against churches.

See here and here for a couple reports about the recent incident of invasion and blasphemy during services at a church in Lansing, Michigan.

There is also a movement of hatred on the rise against not only Christians, but all conservative religious movements, in California, where the voters amended the state constitution to define marriage to be limited to a one man one woman arrangement. Mormon temples and Christian churches are being targeted, and the ridiculous propagandistic TV ad aired for California voters does not bode well for those who adhere to Scripture, common sense, and natural biology on this issue.

I suspect these kinds of tactics will increase. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Neanderthal Nanny State Bans Latin

Amid charges of "elitism" and being "discriminatory", various British local governments have not only banned "sexist" words like "man-made" and "forefathers", but also "elitist" words like "et cetera" and "per" (as in miles-per-hour), ad lib, and bona fide (which would make Popeye's Chicken an "elitist" organization).

Read the nonsense here.

Well, I have two words for these knuckle-dragging, stupidity-encouraging, linguistic barbarian-bureaucrats who are really the self-appointed elite in a lowest common denominator sort of way:


As the Rev. David Juhl would say at this point: sic satis superque.

Parrot Saves Girl's Life

Animals never cease to amaze me. Parrots are particularly fascinating, because they can vocalize. They are not always simply mimicking, as this fascinating account demonstrates. This is yet another little glimpse into our once-and-future Paradise, in which man exercised godly dominion over the other creatures, and where the animals served mankind without fear.

Does contraception enable abortion?

We Lutherans have a strong sense of "evangelical freedom." If something is not specifically proscribed by Scripture, we are hesitant to condemn any practice for fear of turning Gospel into Law.

We should, however, be careful not to abuse our liberty in the Gospel, nor overlook the unintended consequences that stem from our actions - especially those actions motivated by self-centeredness. Contraception is one such example. A couple generations ago, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) held the position that contraception ("birth control") was a sin. A lot of people are shocked to learn this these days, and would chafe bitterly if their pastors were to teach this "Catholic" dogma today.

Beginning in the twentieth century, we Lutherans loosened the reins on "family planning" as long as no abortion of fertilized eggs are involved (and there is quite a bit of controversy regarding various methods of contraception that many argue are actually abortive - I am far from an expert on these matters, and invite those wiser than I to comment). In so doing, we have adopted a "pro-choice" position that the size of one's family is not for God to providentially decide based on His will and His kingdom, but is rather a matter of our personal "choice" - to be made in accordance with our own lifestyle considerations and desire for a certain target financial status.

But even if we concede the point that contraception is, in and of itself, a matter of "evangelical freedom", there has been a tragic unintended consequence that has enabled abortion to become not only socially acceptable, but the "law of the land" in the United States. Our own selfishness in limiting the size of our families has diminished the voice of Christians at the polls and attenuated the voice of the Church in the secular culture.

Please read Greg Laughlin's cogent remarks at the blog "Lutherans and Contraception."


I.O.U.S.A. is a documentary that enjoyed limited release in theaters (and is soon-to-be released on DVD) that takes the at-times abstract concepts of economics and makes them understandable - specifically, the ramifications of the U.S. economy at the precipice of disaster due to the national debt, personal debt, the trade deficit, and the looming demographic tsunami of retiring baby-boomers.

The above video is a "short" (30 minute) version of the documentary.

You can't afford to "ostrich-head" this matter away. If you have a family, you really should have a look.

St. Martin of Tours, Armistice, Veterans Day

An outstanding post here from "Past Elder" regarding November 11 - a day in which the commemorations for Church and state intersect in a providential way. Outstanding prose (as always) from the PE!

Today's collect from the Treasury of Daily Prayer is the same collect Past Elder reproduces at the end of his fine post:
Lord God of hosts, who clothed Your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in Your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Of salt losing its savor

You might want to have a look at this very thoughtful and provocative article by Jennie Chancey of Ladies Against Feminism. She addresses the ever-changing relationship between Christianity and the secular culture - in particular as to how Christian women relate to the feminist culture in light of this year's political turmoil.

As conservatives and Republicans re-evaluate their respective movement and party, Christians too may wish to take a step back and consider what kind of witness they are called to give "before kings and princes."

Mrs. Chancey is the co-author, along with Mrs. Stacy McDonald, of the book Passionate Housewives Desperate for God.

Obama to "Rule" says spokesman...

Someone's going to have to fill me in on all the new protocol. My ancestors haven't been ruled in seven generations. Do we bow first, then scrape? Or does the scraping precede the bowing?

Oh, so much to learn now that our country has finally "grown up."

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fr. Hollywood Recommends...

...the movie Maxed Out, a 2006 documentary that exposes the effects of debt, both personal and national. It is particularly riveting given the recent events regarding the collapse of banks as a result of risky loan practices and sub-prime mortgage lending.

Young people especially need to be taught the danger inherent in getting into credit card debt.

In fact, you can watch this movie online on demand if you have Netflix.

The movie is both enlightening and disturbing. You will see meet some of our old friends in Congress, lobbyists for the banking industry, collection agents and owners of collection agencies, pawn brokers, families and individuals who have been destroyed by debt, as well as the nationally-known talk radio host Dave Ramsey, an advocate of taking personal responsibility, of getting out of debt, and avoiding bankruptcy.

Maxed Out received very high ratings from IMDb, and has been screened nationally by Americans for Fairness in Lending.

While I have to admit, I don't think government regulation is the answer, it is apparent that there are immoral predatory practices going on in which banks engage in policies that obviously sell Americans into a form of indentured servitude. We Americans need to wise up and save instead of going into debt. This will only happen if we start living beneath our means and stop filling our lives with junk that we charge to the credit card.

Please watch this movie, and if you know of any college students, have them watch it as well. The credit trap is not all that different than becoming hooked on crack or meth - with the exception that it is a legal addiction and the dealers and pushers are respected members of society.

This movie is a real eye opener.