Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sermon: Feast of St, Michael and All Angels (Michaelmas)


28 September 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA


Text: Matt 18:1-10 (Dan 12:1-3, Rev 12:7-1
2)


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Not all saints are human. In fact, there are legions of non-human saints that are part of the Lord’s created universe that is “invisible” as we confess in the Nicene Creed.

Today, we pause and give praise to God for the work of one such non-human saint – St. Michael the Archangel – as well as for the service of all the angels who serve the Lord God before His face – holy messengers sent by God to proclaim the Word of God to men in extraordinary circumstances, as well as guardians who carry out of blessed Lord’s unseen and ongoing work in protecting us from harm and from the attacks of the evil one.

Since the fall in Eden, the human race has been caught in the crossfire between the Father who loves them and the devil who seeks their destruction. As Luther once pointed out, it is a great blessing to us that much of the carnage of this warfare is unseen to us, that we are blissfully unaware of the spiritual battle waging between the Lord’s hosts under the command of the Archangel, and the diabolical hordes in the service of Satan.

Talk of angels and devils may embarrass many Christians today, but our Lord Himself speaks of the fact that “in heaven… angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven” and these angels are watching over the “little ones” who believe in Him. Our Lord’s ministry involves healing the sick, raising the dead, preaching the Gospel, and exorcising demons – which are all parts of the same work of undermining the destruction of the devil in order to bring mankind back to paradise.

In our Small Catechism, Dr. Luther implores us to pray for angelic protection twice a day in order to befuddle the power of Satan in tormenting us.

This biblical revelation of vicious warfare and all-out battle for the bodies and souls of the Lord’s creatures is hardly the stuff of the popular culture, in which angels are bare-bottomed babies or fair-skinned girls with fairy wings. Traditional art, by contrast, reflects the biblical imagery of the warrior-spirits, manly without being man, masculine without being carnal, wielding a sword not for personal gain or glory, but rather in the eternal service of the Holy Trinity.

St. Michael and all the holy angels are not our masters – for even the apostle John was rebuked for kneeling and worshiping the angel who gave him the Book of Revelation. Rather, these heroic spirits are our servants. It is man, who was “created a little lower than the angels” that is ultimately given dominion over the angels – for our Lord Jesus Christ is a Man, whose humanity is not diminished by His divinity. And it is before this Man that the angels kneel in homage and worship.

What a joy and a blessing that our Lord Himself fights for us, and even though One of our race, the crucified and risen God-Man Jesus Christ, has defeated the devil, what comfort it is that we still enjoy the protection of armies of watchers and holy ones who do the Lord’s bidding in keeping us from danger and holding Satan at bay. For the devil is indeed at the top of the list of those whom our Lord warns, and not merely warns, but prophesies against: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” As the Lord reveals in His Word, Satan is to be drowned in a lake of fire, from which he will never be able to torment, possess, tempt, lure, accuse, or trick mankind again. His fate is sealed.

And yet, until that time, life in this fallen world is no child’s play. We are at war, dear brothers and sisters, desperate, hand-to-hand combat with the forces of evil. The devil bares his teeth like a ravenous lion at us. Death and darkness surround us. The grave mocks us. Satan leers at us. We are badgered and harried. But it is all a show and a sham, dear friends. Satan tells us that we are unworthy and that he has defeated us. He bids us to sin and turn our backs on God. But listen again, dear baptized Christians, to the mighty Word of God: “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

Satan is a deceiver “who deceives the whole world.” He is a liar. Indeed, he is the father of lies. So what does it mean when the chief liar himself tries to convince us that we are unworthy of the Gospel and that we are in his grip? It is just another worthless, formless lie, dear friends. You were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You were marked with the seal and the sign of the Holy Cross, the most repugnant reminder of Satan’s humiliating and skull-crushing defeat. You have been freely given the Holy Spirit in your baptism. You are freely given the Word of the Lord Jesus Himself declaring you to be worthy, to be forgiven, to be in communion with Him – not merely spiritually, but in the flesh. Your body is mingled with His body and your blood is mingled with His blood – the blood of the New Testament, the Testament that bespeaks you worthy over and against the pathetic empty lies of Satan, the demoted angel whose time is short.

And try as he might, the dragon can’t harm us, devour us, or force us away from our Good Shepherd. The Lord has assigned unseen legions of angels to beat back the devil’s minions. The Archangel Michael’s name itself is a war cry of victory over the devil, as it is actually a rhetorical question: “Who is like the Lord?” St. Michael takes up his sword, and under the command of the Lord Himself, hurls this mocking question back in the face of the mocker himself. For the answer is nothing but defeat for the devil. Jesus Himself tells us that we are like the Lord – created in the very image of God. And our Lord Jesus Himself is the image, the icon of God’s righteousness, made flesh for us, removing all of our sins, and bodily interposing Himself, at the cross and at the altar, between us and the wicked intentions of the evil one.

Indeed, there is an invisible world, a dimension we are not permitted to see. Some of us, no doubt have entertained angels unawares as the author of the Book of Hebrews reveals. We are without doubt protected by ministering spirits who face the Lord Himself in heaven, as our Lord tells us – as we in the Lord’s Kingdom are those who have become little children, whose weakness and helplessness are not liabilities, but actually strength. For in our weakness, the Lord dispatches “angels and archangels” who are with us, who worship with us, with whom we pray and praise and sing. And though they are unseen to us, and although they, and not we, see the face of the Father, they are our comrades under arms, these “stars of the morning so gloriously bright… angelic hosts battling for right.” They are our protectors under the command of the Lord and under the watchful eye of St. Michael, “the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people,” and by the protection the Lord renders through his warriors, the Lord Himself promises that His people “shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book.”

And though our guardians are of the invisible realm, we have the assurance of the Word of God that they are indeed present in the Lord’s service to “deliver us from evil.” And with Dr. Luther and saints throughout the ages, we pray: “Let your holy angel be with us, that the evil foe may have no power over us.” Amen.

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

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lutheran Theology Blog


I've been meaning to give Father Hollywood readers a heads-up about a Lutheran Theology blog that lay and clergy theologians of a more intellectual bent might enjoy (of course, the way the blogosphere works, you probably already know about it anyway).

But nevertheless, I would like to recommend Lutheran Theology as a unique resource because of its ecumenicity - being run by a former Lutheran (now Anglican) parish priest, and includes current Lutheran pastors and academic theologians - several of whom were seminary classmates of mine (specifically Oxford-trained Rev. Bryce Wandrey, S.T.M. candidate Rev. Luke Zimmerman, Harvard doctoral candidate Rev. Piotr Malysz, and Loyola professor and Notre Dame Ph.D. Rev. Dr. John Paul Salay) - all utterly brilliant guys, it should go without saying. But they are also men with a sense of humor who are equally comfortable on a tavern stool as they are in the sanctuary pulpit or at the classroom lecturn.

The advantage of this blog is that it allows Luther (and others, such as Sasse and Bonhoeffer) to breathe a little, not being stifled by the stagnant air of 21st century American Lutheranism.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Who's laughing now?



Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital, and an adherent of the much-maligned Austrian School of Economics and the Ludwig von Mises Institute (not to mention the economic adviser of the Ron Paul presidential campaign) appeared on FOX "fair and balanced" News in December of 2006 predicting just what we have seen in the housing industry that is now threatening the integrity of the American economy and virtually assuring the further devaluation of the U.S. dollar.

Notice how the cocksure mob of smug establishment Republicans, filled with hubris, mock and laugh while Schiff calmly predicts just what has come to pass - to the hoots and heckles of the "experts".

It's kind of eerie in retrospect, isn't it?

When people from the conservative, free market Austrian School of Economics have been warning us for years that these exact things would transpire, do you think we ought to listen to them? Or should we just continue sticking our heads in the sand and believing the Money Fairy and Manifest Destiny will just bail us out again and again?

Hello? Is anyone in the Republicrat Party listening? Look, if you've had enough of this pseudo-conservatism, start reading Lew Rockwell (and other sources of sound economic and conservative thought, such as the Mises Institute's Bailout Reader) and think for yourself instead of just saying "Ditto!" to radio entertainers and buying what the establishment party hacks are trying to sell you.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Father Hollywood Recommends...

...the finest coffee I have ever had, from Bean's Coffee Company.

First of all, there is no relation between any member of my family and this company. My name is Beane, and their company's name is "Bean's." I get the same discount from Bean's as I get at L.L.Bean's - nothing. And that's not a complaint! All I'm doing is pointing out that this isn't my company, nor am I related to anyone at Bean's. As "Michael Bolton" says in Office Space - "It's just a coincidence."

I just really love their coffee!

We in New Orleans savor our java! During the War (Between the States), New Orleanians stubbornly continued our coffee habit - especially by stretching supplies by mixing chicory with the arabica - a custom carried on by our famous Cafe du Monde (which has been selling chicory-laced cafe au lait 24 hours a day almost without interruption since opening in 1862 when it was established during military occupation). In war, peace, and hurricanes, coffee has always been a big deal in the Crescent City! In fact, New Orleans is one market Starbucks struggles in, because we have a plethora of top-quality local coffee shops, both franchises and "ma and pa" establishments. (We treat Starbucks as "corporate carpetbaggers" and only frequent them in dire caffeine emergencies...)

Coffee is also nearly sacramental in the Hollywood home - as the matinal cappuccino ritual is carried out with the precision and reverence of the Japanese tea ceremony and with the temporal regularity of the whirr of the central air conditioner in a South Louisiana Summer. Coffee is the one luxury the Treasury Department (Mrs. Hollywood) approves and insists upon (we are Gevalia subscribers - though our orders have dwindled considerably since discovering Bean's).

We know and love our coffee.

But keep in mind that Bean's is not a coffee house. Rather they are purveyors of exquisite (and yet affordable) coffee. They set up just about every Saturday at the Gretna Farmers' Market, and Mrs. Hollywood, Lion Boy, and myself probably pick up a pound about every other week from the Daldegan family, the proprietors who faithfully work the market themselves. They are really nice folks, and are always cheerful and dedicated to giving excellent customer service. In fact, they hand deliver orders of their coffee to locals.

Our favorite (and I mean favorite) is their Tanzanian Peaberry. We use it both in its fine-ground form for espresso and cappuccino (both hot and iced), as well as course-ground for regular hot coffee (which we make in a low-tech flavor-maximizing French press).

But whether you enjoy espresso or American-style coffee, hot or iced, and even if you make your coffee in an automatic drip maker instead of a press - this coffee will simply blow you away. It's the finest we've ever had. It is so fresh, so recently roasted, and of such quality, that the beans are literally wet with the natural oils. The smell that wafts from a little bag fills the house and is heavenly. There is no other way to describe it.

Bean's will ship to your home. You can order right from their webpage, and your order is roasted after you order it! This is just unbelievable, and explains why it is so good. They sell eight different varieties (including the Tanzanian), and explain all the characteristics of each.

Give Bean's a shot, and let me know what you think!

Understanding the Crisis

Chart of the value of the dollar 1800-2000 courtesy of Seeking Alpha.

I believe a lot of people are terribly frustrated by the current economic crisis because they don't have a clue as to what is going on. All they know is that a lot of extremely wealthy corporations and banks are asking for handouts and welfare - lots of it. Billions and billions of dollars. Maybe a trillion, but who's counting? And they (the taxpayers) understand that they (the banks) will get it (the handouts). And who will pay? Who will do the "bailing out"? The taxpayers. One way or another, this is a direct wealth transfer from us to them. We know it is going to happen, and we know that we are getting the short end of the stick again.

No wonder the taxpayers, who are also voters, are balking.

Part of the problem is that the vast majority of voters have no clue what the Federal Reserve does, how it works, where money comes from, and why these kinds of credit meltdowns happen. There is almost a "shadow government" operating behind the scenes, an unelected cadre of wealthy men turning wheels and spinning gears. None of us are supposed to look behind the curtain. In fact, the Federal Reserve is not even permitted to be audited!

We would like to think our elected officials (as well as those seeking higher office) understand what's happening. But it becomes apparent that many of them are as clueless as the rest of us. Instead of sober explanations we get hysterical finger pointing. Instead of intelligent analysis we get glib one-liners. Instead of frank talk, we get focus-group approved talking points.

Sen. Barack Obama says: "This plan can't just be a plan for Wall Street, it has to be a plan for Main Street." This is a three-second jingle that means absolutely nothing. It's just a clever way to rhetorically link "Wall Street" to "Main Street" for the sake of a soundbyte. This is the best we can get from a man who covets the presidency. I think Sen. Obama would have a better career on Madison Avenue than Pennsylvania Avenue, if I may play with the "street" analogy a little myself.

I saw a headline for an article regarding Sen. John McCain's analysis that was more hopeful: "McCain says Fed should stop government bailouts." Hey, maybe this guy gets it. Of course, before I got my hopes too high, I read the article: "Addressing a business group in Wisconsin, the Republican presidential hopeful said the Fed should get back to what he called 'its core business of responsibly managing our money supply and inflation.'"

Huh?

That's like condemning the mafia for lawlessness and thuggery and saying that it needs to get back to its "core business of protection schemes, running numbers rackets, and prostitution." So, Sen. McCain believes the Fed's job is to "manage our money supply and inflation." Managing inflation? Inflation is the devaluation of our currency. Their job is to "manage" the theft of everyone who trades in dollars by systematically lowering the value of that dollar in your pocket? Is there any such power delegated to anyone in the Constitution? Would we tolerate the deliberate reduction of the gallon or the pound by some unelected unseen bureaucracy every time we bought gasoline or produce? Obviously, someone benefits from this arrangement (the modern-day equivalent of the ancient crime of shaving a bit off of the gold coins). And now, those who have benefited for so long, those who have enriched themselves at our expense, those who have now killed the goose that laid the golden egg, want a welfare check. "Don't you people realize how expensive Beemers and private jets are? I mean, billionaire bankers have to make a living too! Do you think it's easy?" Let's take up a collection...

Anyway, I'm afraid Sen. McCain doesn't get it any better than Sen. Obama. They are indeed two sides of the same coin that has been demetalized and stripped of its value. It's a two-headed trinket that you can't even redeem for a cup of coffee.

And then there was the news report of Gov. Palin's speech before 60,000 enthusiastic supporters in Florida (which, if it had been Obama, we would have heard mockery from talk radio comparing him to a messianic figure): "[John McCain] will fix the nation's economy if voters give the GOP four more years in the White House." Now, that is not a direct quote from Gov. Palin, but rather a paraphrase from the reporter - who was in no way hostile in his reporting. If she actually did either say or imply such a thing, think about the implications. If the president of the United States can indeed "fix the economy," then who should be fixing it now? Aren't people who support McCain-Palin also supporters of President Bush? And if President Bush is responsible, than how can this be Congress's fault, or the Democrats' fault, or Obama's fault - as a lot of GOP members are positing.

If the future possible President McCain can fix it, that means the incumbent President Bush broke it. On the other hand, if Congress broke it, that means President McCain can't fix it either. So, which is it? Does the buck stop with the president or with Congress? But then again, Senator McCain thinks it is the Fed's job to "regulate" our "inflation" anyway.

Has the entire Federal government gone mad?

The only way to make sense of any of this is to learn what caused the crisis in the first place, and that means we Americans - especially those of you who are so passionate about the "right" to vote - need to know what the Fed does, why we got into this mess, and what is the proper way to get out of it. Unfortunately, we will not learn any of this is school, nor listening to Rush, nor reading the latest Ann Coulter book. But fortunately, you can educate yourself.

For example, conservative economist F.A. Hayek was swimming upstream in the boom-bust-depression 1920s and 30s as the mainstream study of economics went in the completely opposite (socialist) direction. His was walking the "lonely way" of market economics, and was only recognized for his genius internationally by the 1974 Nobel Prize committee. Hayek predicted the mess we are in today, as did other economists who likewise were the minority voice against socialism and the welfare state. If you'd like to learn more, check this out! As a voter and a taxpayer, you owe it to your fellow Americans, as well as to your grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will still be "bailing out" the current crop of corporate welfare recipients.


Don't think for a minute that the other side isn't plotting and scheming to lay the blame for this on conservatism and free market economics. They are already at work.

Maybe we conservative-minded Americans need to spend less time in front of the TV (even if it is FOX News), less time listening to talk radio (even if it is Rush and Sean), and less time looking for a really cool t-shirt making fun of liberalism - and start actually walking the conservative walk by reading, learning, thinking, teaching, and demanding that our legislators and politicians do more than mouth platitudes and continue to protect their friends while saddling all of us with the burdens.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sermon: Feast of St. Matthew

21 September 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 9:9-13 (Eph 4:7-16)


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

There is no clearer expression of the Gospel and no more concise explanation of the conflict between true and false religion than is found in these five simple verses from Matthew’s Gospel.

Jesus calls a sinful man to follow him. People who do not see their own sinfulness complain about this. Jesus rebukes them with Scripture and explains His mission to forgive sinners. He also points out that our role as forgiven sinners is to be merciful in response, rather than to depend on our own sacrifices.

St. Matthew uses his own situation as not only a kind of sermon illustration, but as a summary of the Gospel and as a means to summarize the entire message of Jesus to the believer and unbeliever alike in this short passage. And this, dear friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit, inspiring the Evangelist to take up his pen and leave this Gospel as a written testimony that will endure until the Lord returns.

St. Matthew doesn’t waste a lot of ink explaining the nature of his call to become a disciple. Jesus called him. He followed. The tax collector left his booth, left his job, left his former occupation of greed – left it all – to be a disciple of Jesus. Our blessed Lord said: “Follow me,” and “so he arose and followed Him.” Matthew has nothing to say about himself other than that he followed. Matthew doesn’t give any testimony about himself – but rather testifies to the words and deeds of our Lord.

In fact, Matthew groups himself with the “sinners and tax collectors” sitting at the table with Jesus – a fact that upsets the Pharisees. Far from painting a virtuous picture of himself, Matthew shows that he is a castoff, a pariah to the movers and shakers of society. Matthew is a filthy tax collector. He says it matter-of-factly, not in order to teach us about himself, but rather to teach us about Jesus.

St. Matthew is an Evangelist, one of four charged with inscripturating the life story of our Blessed Lord. He is a minister of Jesus Christ. He is a preacher of the Gospel. He is not a showman or a charlatan. He is not an entertainer or an inspirational speaker. Rather he is a sinner, a filthy tax collector, a cause of shame to Jesus in the eyes of the world.

And this is whom God chose to write the first Gospel.

Notice, it isn’t about Matthew. It never has been about Matthew. Matthew is the messenger, but the message points to the Messiah. For St. Matthew doesn’t speak his own words, but the very Word of God from the lips of the Lord with whom St. Matthew ate at table.

Our Lord sums up His messianic mission very simply: “Only the sick need a doctor.” In other words, Jesus has come for sinners and sinners only. If you believe you don’t need a Savior, then you don’t need Jesus. For there is nothing a doctor can do for a patient who believes he is not sick. It is only in acknowledging our frailty and our weakness, our infirmity and our desolation, our filthiness and helplessness that the Great Physician can bring us a cure. Those who refuse to accept that they too suffer from the terminal disease of life in this fallen world will simply perish with the cure looking them right in the face.

And this was indeed St. Matthew’s calling and purpose in this life. St. Matthew’s Gospel, according to tradition, was carried by St. Bartholomew to India. Matthew’s Gospel was translated from Hebrew to Greek, was universally recognized by the Church as the very first book of the New Testament, and is today found in Bibles and New Testaments in churches, in hotel rooms, in the pockets of soldiers, on college campuses, in grade schools, in the homes of believers and unbelievers alike. St. Matthew continued to testify of his Lord and Master nearly 2,000 years later, and in every imaginable language.

The Word of God is there for all. It pulls no punches. It has no secret hidden codes. The meaning hasn’t changed in two millennia. There is no riddle to solve and no puzzle to work out. St. Matthew simply reports what our Lord says: the simple fact that He is the Great Physician, and physicians come for the sick.

Jesus has come into the world to save sinners.

So, who could have an issue with that? Only people who do not perceive themselves as sinners. For them, the Kingdom of God is an exclusive place that they have earned by clawing and scratching, by sacrificing, and by working. And along comes Jesus with His throng of misfits: drunks, whores, thieves, crooks, even a terrorist. Later, one of Jesus’s preachers whose works will find their way into Scripture will be a guy who used to try to snuff out the Christian faith, who wrote: “And to the one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” But where does this leave all the work and the sacrifice of the clawing and scratching Pharisees?

Well, our Lord tells them: “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” In other words, Jesus has just told them their work is useless and their sacrifice is in vain. For Jesus is the sacrifice. Their work is to be merciful. This is indeed the work of forgiven sinners.

Any sacrifice we make is one of thanksgiving, not for the forgiveness of sins. Any work that we do is not for credit, but simply because it needs done. And when we do repent, when we do struggle against evil, when we do manage to do good works for the sake of the Kingdom, we don’t get one step closer to redemption – for redemption is already ours. The Physician has come for us, for the sick, for the tax collectors and sinners – not for those who would justify themselves.

St. Matthew is an Evangelist, that is, a forgiven sinner with Good News. He is also a preacher of the Gospel, an apostolic witness, a minister, a bishop, an overseer. He is one charged with responsibility for “equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,” in order “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.”

And by the will of that Christ, sitting at the head of the table where Matthew was invited and counted worthy to eat and drink the bread and wine of the Lord’s body and blood – to the consternation of the self-righteous – St. Matthew became a messenger for us of the Gospel, a bearer of the greatest news of all time, a proclaimer of Christ crucified, a witness of the cross and resurrection, but most of all, a fellow redeemed sinner like all of us who has been declared a saint, worthy of our remembrance, affection, and…

Praise, Lord, for him whose Gospel
Your human life declared.
Who worldly gain forsaking,
Your path of suff’ring shared.
From all unrighteous mammon,
O raise our eyes anew
That we in our vocation
May rise and follow You.


Amen.

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

Friday, September 19, 2008

With a bang and a whimper?


"What we are witnessing today is how empires end..." 
--- Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan has the guts (and the economic understanding) to say what needs to be said. Wall Street, the Democrats, and the Republicans are clueless.  Congress is going on vacation.  The Fed is pledging money not appropriated by Congress - in fact, the money doesn't exist.  It's printed out of thin air!

The sad part is this was all completely avoidable - if we had had a conservative party in Washington.  There was a period of six years in which the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency - but of course, government grew and grew, spending went up and up, the borrowed-money joyride rolled on, and if that weren't enough, Roe vs. Wade needlessly continued to be the "law" of the land, and now the GOP has the unmitigated gall to point the finger at anyone other than itself for its failures.

Meanwhile, real conservatism is going to take the blame because of what the counterfeit conservatives have been doing and calling it conservatism.

I think Buchanan called it.  Real conservatives are frugal, they pay their bills, they obey the law, and they mind their own business.  But what do the folks who have co-opted the term do?  They spend like there's no tomorrow, they borrow from what amounts to a printing press, they run roughshod over the Constitution, and they involve the United States in conflicts all over the world that we have no business being involved with (let alone the obvious fact that we can't pay for it).

The real beneficiaries of the current Republican joyride and economic crash (not counting the politically well-connected, those who have already become rich at our expense, and the massive network of lobbyists) will be the Democrats.  And the Republicans have no-one to blame but themselves.  Meanwhile, we, the American people are going to have to pay, and pay, and pay - in blood, in taxes, in a devalued dollar, and in the inevitable international blowback that we, our children, and grandchildren will have to suffer for the hubris of these politicians who think "conservative" means making the government bigger, spending more money, borrowing more - while criticizing the Democrats for doing the very same thing.  And of course, neither major party will move in a conservative direction.  Both are proposing more government tinkering and more "bailing out."

We think these people in Washington are smart.  We think they're well-read and highly educated.  We think they understand economics and history and the Constitution.  I should have figured it out when I lived in Philadelphia and was set-up at a booth at a community fair with a bust of Thomas Jefferson.  I asked Representative Jon Fox, a highly touted "conservative" Republican U.S. Congressman, what he thought of my "friend" on the table.  Before he could draw a breath, his lackey, latched to his side like Smithers to Burns in the Simpsons, almost in a panic, whispered in the Congressman's ear: "It's Thomas Jefferson!"

I really do believe most of our politicians in Washington would fail miserably at "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"  

Also in Pennsylvania, I remember a visit to my State Rep's office (she was a Democrat, but I don't remember her name).  I asked her if she could sponsor a piece of legislation on the floor of the Statehouse in Harrisburg.  I read the short proposal to her and asked her to read it over for herself.  She said she could not.  She was opposed to it.  You should have seen the look on her face when I told her she had already agreed to it - it was a verbatim quote from the State Constitution.  She feebly offered that maybe it should be changed - but as I pointed out to her, that passage was from a part of the Constitution that was not permitted to ever be amended (it was from the State's version of the Bill of Rights).  Why didn't she know this?  What the heck to we pay these people to know - if not the bloody Constitution?

These folks are simply not very bright.  Some probably are.  But I believe the vast majority of them are hucksters and Bull Artists, people who would fail in the private sector.  They demand junkets, per diems, lucrative retirement packages, special privileges, and deference from the rest of us - when they are more fit for picking up litter off the side of the road.  And now we are approaching an economic meltdown, and there they are, like deer in the headlights.  Clueless, pointing fingers, and scurrying like roaches for cover.  I shouldn't be surprised, but I still can't help being appalled.  

Thanks a lot, Washington.  Thanks Democrats, and thanks Republicans.  I'm beginning to think Thomas Woods' definition of bipartisanship makes a lot of sense: "the Stupid Party getting together with the Evil Party to do something both stupid and evil."

But I suppose the old saying is true: we get the government we deserve.  Man, have we scraped the bottom of the garbage dumpster, or what?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sarah Palin Called it Right!


Regardless of what you may think of the propriety of Sarah Palin serving at a high level of government with a young infant - take a look at how she uncannily predicted the current housing bubble and the subsequent Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae crisis and bail-out - five years ago! We need people who truly understand the economy in high office. Look at how prescient she was in this appearance before Congress in 2003, while she was still only the chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. I would encourage you to read all of this, and ask yourself if this woman sounds like the "wack job" the mainstream media has made her out to be? Does this woman have the qualifications to be President? Does she understand economics, or what?

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on the Treasury Department's views regarding government sponsored enterprises (GSEs). I would also like to thank Secretaries Snow and Martinez for taking time out of their busy schedules to appear before the committee.

I hope this committee spends some time examining the special privileges provided to GSEs by the federal government. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the housing-related GSEs received $13.6 billion worth of indirect federal subsidies in fiscal year 2000 alone. Today, I will introduce the Free Housing Market Enhancement Act, which removes government subsidies from the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), and the National Home Loan Bank Board.

One of the major government privileges granted to GSEs is a line of credit with the United States Treasury. According to some estimates, the line of credit may be worth over $2 billion. This explicit promise by the Treasury to bail out GSEs in times of economic difficulty helps the GSEs attract investors who are willing to settle for lower yields than they would demand in the absence of the subsidy. Thus, the line of credit distorts the allocation of capital. More importantly, the line of credit is a promise on behalf of the government to engage in a huge unconstitutional and immoral income transfer from working Americans to holders of GSE debt.

The Free Housing Market Enhancement Act also repeals the explicit grant of legal authority given to the Federal Reserve to purchase GSE debt. GSEs are the only institutions besides the United States Treasury granted explicit statutory authority to monetize their debt through the Federal Reserve. This provision gives the GSEs a source of liquidity unavailable to their competitors.

The connection between the GSEs and the government helps isolate the GSE management from market discipline. This isolation from market discipline is the root cause of the recent reports of mismanagement occurring at Fannie and Freddie. After all, if Fannie and Freddie were not underwritten by the federal government, investors would demand Fannie and Freddie provide assurance that they follow accepted management and accounting practices.

Ironically, by transferring the risk of a widespread mortgage default, the government increases the likelihood of a painful crash in the housing market. This is because the special privileges granted to Fannie and Freddie have distorted the housing market by allowing them to attract capital they could not attract under pure market conditions. As a result, capital is diverted from its most productive use into housing. This reduces the efficacy of the entire market and thus reduces the standard of living of all Americans.

Despite the long-term damage to the economy inflicted by the government's interference in the housing market, the government's policy of diverting capital to other uses creates a short-term boom in housing. Like all artificially-created bubbles, the boom in housing prices cannot last forever. When housing prices fall, homeowners will experience difficulty as their equity is wiped out. Furthermore, the holders of the mortgage debt will also have a loss. These losses will be greater than they would have otherwise been had government policy not actively encouraged over-investment in housing.

Perhaps the Federal Reserve can stave off the day of reckoning by purchasing GSE debt and pumping liquidity into the housing market, but this cannot hold off the inevitable drop in the housing market forever. In fact, postponing the necessary, but painful market corrections will only deepen the inevitable fall. The more people invested in the market, the greater the effects across the economy when the bubble bursts.

No less an authority than Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has expressed concern that government subsidies provided to GSEs make investors underestimate the risk of investing in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to once again thank the Financial Services Committee for holding this hearing. I would also like to thank Secretaries Snow and Martinez for their presence here today. I hope today's hearing sheds light on how special privileges granted to GSEs distort the housing market and endanger American taxpayers. Congress should act to remove taxpayer support from the housing GSEs before the bubble bursts and taxpayers are once again forced to bail out investors who were misled by foolish government interference in the market. I therefore hope this committee will soon stand up for American taxpayers and investors by acting on my Free Housing Market Enhancement Act.


Wasn't that unbelievable? Of course it was. But Sarah Palin didn't say this. If you want to know who did, click here.

I thought I'd try the little experiment that Pizza Hut and Folgers have done by a little swap-out, seeing what people really think when they don't know the actual source. Unfortunately, politics has become a cult of personality, and ideas are judged by who said them rather than on their merits alone - and these days, unless something political has the name "Sarah Palin" on it, it's hard to get most conservatives to read anything longer than a fortune cookie.

The current presidential candidates seem to be clueless about the housing bubble and the bailouts. Think about this: right now, more than half of the extant mortgages in the United States are held by the federal government. This amounts to the largest nationalization in history. AIG has also gotten its bailout as well - and more are on the way. Meanwhile, the politicians are talking about "economic stimulus" (i.e. bread and circuses) - as though more consumer spending can fix the problem. We are the largest debtor nation in the world - and we are floating our current debt (held largely by China) by printing currency out of thin air. If (and when) China and other foreign nations who don't especially like us stop floating us loans, we will have no choice but to submit to hyperinflation.

McCain blames "greed" and promises "hearings" to "clean up Wall Street" (whatever that means). Obama blames Bush (yawn). The RNC Chair blames the "Pelosi-Obama Congress" (the what?). The Democrats say there aren't enough regulations. The Republicans say there are too many regulations. Rush blames the "drive-bys" and the "liberals" and Air America blames, oh, are they even still around? Of course, left-wing leaders blame the free market. Meanwhile, the real issue is not even being discussed.

Are the politicians really that stupid, or do they just think we all are?

Here is an analogy: America is like a young guy that has a pretty good job. He has good credit, and so has lots of luxuries. But he is financially overextended. He has to have some help paying his Visa. In order to cover the minimum payment, he borrows a lot of money from Dad every month. The shortfall is made up by using MasterCard to pay Visa. This seems to be working, so no worries. He has a Plasma TV, a sweet ride, and plenty of beer. He's also popular, because he has a lot of powerful "friends" who come to him to borrow money - and he is able to help them out not only with cash, but by co-signing their loans. But he has a problem that is largely unseen - as he is getting further and further into debt. And when the dreaded day comes that Dad says: "No more!" - he will then have to pay his entire Visa bill with his MasterCard. Both Visa and MasterCard will then be racking up even more debt. Furthermore, the friends he has been floating with low-interest loans all this time will have turned out to be deadbeats themselves, and now their creditors will be calling about those co-signed loans. Eventually, his income will only be able to pay the interest on all of his commitments, and the principal will continue to soar. He takes a look at that brand new color laser printer (which he bought on credit, of course), and realizes that the only way out of the mess is to print trillions of dollars of bogus money...

This can't go on forever, can it?

Meanwhile, the GOP is virtually promising wars in Iran and Russia (which requires a lot of expensive purchases of things that, as my dad who worked in the defense industry used to say: "puts a lot of bread on the table"). The Republicans are also advocating more foreign bases and an even larger military budget (referred to in an Orwellian way as "national security"). Not to be outdone, the Democrats are promising universal health care and cradle to grave security, free educations for all, and any other thing that people can be talked into wanting for nothing. The Baby Boomers are beginning to retire, and there are not enough workers (thanks partially to the Baby Boomer culture of contraception) to prop up the Social Security and Medicare pyramid (since there is no Social Security "trust fund" - the money has all been spent already on luxuries we can't afford). Both parties are proposing a vastly expanded federal government - all paid for by "somebody else" (the Democrats say "The Rich" and the Republicans say "Growth in the Economy").

The reality is we will all pay through the inflation of a bloated cash supply, through a massive Wall Street and Real Estate crash, and through bankruptcy.

I honestly respect that Sarah Palin can hunt a moose and field dress it. I could never do such a thing. I honestly respect John McCain's years of service to his country that included being a POW. But none of these things an economist makes. I'm sure Joe Biden and Barack Obama have done impressive things in their lives - serving in the U.S. Senate is no small accomplishment - and they are probably really bright individuals. But nobody is addressing the heart of our economic problem: bloating debt being covered up by kited fiat currency.

Five years ago (when he was in his 7th term in Congress, as Palin was beginning to serve as the chairman of an obscure political committee), Congressman Paul predicted exactly what is happening today. He has been consistently warning us (by warning our public representatives) for his entire tenure in Congress. But the mainstream media and their cohorts in the mainstream political parties wanted us all to believe he was some kind of a nutjob.

Well, it sure doesn't sound like that's the case now, does it?

The electorate got what they wanted. Ron Paul is not a presidential candidate. We now get to choose between McCain and Obama. But at least Congress has one person who understands how we got where we are, and what we must do to get out of it. If you were impressed with the above quotation when you thought it was Sarah Palin who said it, you might want to read the real author's new book The Revolution: A Manifesto (available at Amazon in hardcover for $12.60, or as an audio book on CD for $16.49). Formerly number one on the bestseller list (this past May), it's currently number ten on the NY Times bestseller list - just one notch behind John McCain's book. Not a bad place to be for a guy who was clobbered in the elections and portrayed as some kind of a loony fringe candidate.

Now, if we can just get McCain, Palin, Obama, Biden and Paul's colleagues in the United States Congress to read it - maybe we'd be getting somewhere. Meanwhile, I recommend that every American read it, pay down his own debts, be as self-sufficient as possible, and start saving money in a truly conservative way. Quit giving your politicians carte blanche to bail out their friends with taxpayer money. Start demanding real conservative fiscal accountability by a return to sound money and an end to the mischief of paper currency and a central bank - whether or not "our" party or "our" guy or gal is in power.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Day in the Life


This is one of those throwaway blog posts of no depth and no real thought, no theology, no politics, nothing of eternal ramifications - just an observation on a pop song.

So, you're still reading? Great. What the heck...

In one of my relatively rare rides in the auto yesterday, I tuned on the radio just to hear the beginning of the Beatles's "A Day in the Life" from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I had not heard the song in many years, though I must have heard it a thousand times in my high school/college age immersion in Album Oriented Rock (as I was introduced to that genre of rock and roll by the late great Clemens J. Caraboolad, the Harley-riding theologian, geometry teacher, heavy-metal guru, bon vivant, and philosopher-coach at Walsh Jesuit High School, presiding over Room 110, may he rest in peace).

So, I cranked up the volume as far as a Toyota Sienna minivan's sound system can go, and listened to the entire song - at least until the DJ interrupted the extremely long final (42 seconds) E-Major chord with the usual drivel.

Wow.

I really enjoyed the tune. It is a genuinely interesting piece of music with haunting orchestration thanks to producer/composer George Martin (who is now 82 years old). What a bold, gutsy move this was to create this really unique piece of music and release it commercially on a pop album forty-one years ago - while the pop music on the radio was still pretty inane and "corporate" for the most part at that time. I imagine the song (and the album) must have created quite a stir at the time. I think it is safe to say both had a great deal of influence on younger generations of musicians.

It's not Bach, by any means, but interesting, entrancing to listen to, and still fresh in a pop-music rock-and-roll kind of way four decades later.

Congress to Direct Fed to Print Mo' Money!

Problem: Debt, overly loose credit, too much spending. Solution: Spend more. Implementation: Get the Fed to loan more money into existence, to further extend credit to keep spending levels up (economic stimulus). Side benefits: Inflation.

Rinse. Repeat.

Thanks federal government! Read more here.

PS: Oh, goodness. The media talking heads are saying that we're not spending enough money! Check it out.

The Dangers of a Living Document


There is a tendency among both liberals and conservatives to view the Constitution as a "living document" - by permitting the Supreme Court (and the federal courts in general) to "interpret" the text. But as long as the president is one of "us" (whether liberal or conservative), this is okay - as we will get the goodies from government we want - whether federal oversight to abolish state abortion prohibitions, or federal oversight to mandate the states to permit it. Of course, that's just one issue (albeit a life and death issue) among many.

The founders of the United States rejected the "living document" theory, as well as the supreme central government (the Crown) in giving us a limited republic comprised of federated states with a written general constitution. By contrast, the British Constitution has always been unwritten. It is the ultimate "living document" that amounts to evolving common law as interpreted by judges. The people, though having representation in Parliament, have little power over their own constitutional law.

The American federal government as we understand it today has fallen back to a certain extent on the "unwritten" British model - as the Constitution is treated, at best, as a "guideline" or an obstacle to work around instead of as a chain to bind the government. Today's federal government treats the Constitution not as a curb, but as a motor. And they can only do this by clever, strained, and sometimes outright outrageous interpretation. The executive and legislative branches will not use their checks and balances against the judiciary. Why? Because they benefit from the arrangement.

They like it the way it is. And so do the major political parties, including whoever the opposition is at any given time. Because the opposing party knows that when they take their turn in power, they too will have the judiciary doing their bidding. Instead of protecting us from tyranny, both major parties are pushing their own "new and improved" tyranny of their own making. Instead of representing the people, they are representing the parties (as well as the lobbyists who ply them with money and threats) - all the while dividing the people, expanding the federal government, and distorting the original intent of the Constitution.

If you want to see where this leads, take a look at how the unwritten, living Constitution in Britain has been interpreted of late by its courts.

This is not a liberal/conservative issue, nor a Republican/Democrat issue. The Constitution protects all of us and is designed to prevent such mischief.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Slavery, Whoopi, McCain, and the Constitution

Sen. John McCain obviously walked into a hornet's nest by appearing on The View, which he knew would be a hostile environment. He also had to know that the Big Question was going to come up: abortion - that most sacrosanct of "rights" for the Left.

Whoopi Goldberg played the ultimate Race Card, triumphantly tossing down the Queen of Slavery as a trump while her fellow affluent girlfriends swore on their "white skin privilege" to protect her from the Bad Man.

Puh-Leeez!

John McCain played a very safe, but ultimately impotent, retort: "Good point. That's an excellent point. Thank you." Huh? He punted.

Of course, sometimes there is nothing to do but punt. The problem is that Sen. McCain missed a real teaching moment. All he had to do was inform Whoopi that the Constitution protects her from slavery - the Thirteenth Amendment. And when judges strictly interpret the Constitution without weaseling around looking for new interpretations of a "living document", the protections all Americans enjoy (the pre-born excepted, thanks to activist judges playing loose and fast with our Constitution, spurred on by pro-abortion politicians and a culture of death) - such as the protection against forced labor - we all win.

McCain should have pointed out to her that slavery was outlawed by amending the Constitution, which would have been the proper legal channel for those who wished to see the federal government have the power to either prohibit or require the states to make abortion legal (neither of which are powers delegated to the federal government).

Here is what John McCain should have answered:

"Excellent point, Whoopi. I want to address that, because I think it's important. Slavery was abolished not because a judge was able to impose his own opinion, but because the Constitution was amended to give Congress the power to abolish slavery. Would you want to place your freedom in the hands of a changing, politically appointed handful of judges based on their ever-changing interpretation, or would you rather have a black-and-white amendment explicitly spelled out and made crystal clear to everyone? Activist judges may get you what you want today, but they may well enslave you tomorrow. Can you imagine if the Supreme Court suddenly decided that the Thirteenth Amendment didn't mean what the plain language says it means? Can you imagine if they were to "find" a "new" right to enslave other people where the document says nothing of the sort? This is why I believe in a strict reading of the Constitution. It protects you from being a slave."

I can think of one of Sen. McCain's conservative colleagues in the Congress who would have given an answer along those lines. Instead, Sen. McCain surrendered the ground.

If he wins the election, let's hope he doesn't surrender the actual Constitution in the real world the way he squandered a golden opportunity to defend it on a TV show.

Sermon: Feast of the Holy Cross


14 September 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: 1 Cor 1:18-25


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In the year 312 A.D., a remarkable thing happened.

The Roman Empire, which officially put Jesus and thousands of His followers to death, turned on its heels. According to some ancient historians, the Emperor Constantine had a vision just before battle in which he saw a cross and the Greek words “Ἐν τούτῳ νίκα”, which means: “In this sign you will conquer.” Now, whether or not this part of the story is true, the next part certainly is: Constantine won the battle, legalized Christianity, and himself became a Christian.

Soon, the cross was seen everywhere – even in former pagan temples that were being converted into Christian churches. Christians practiced their faith in the open, and the Gospel was spread legally using the magnificent roads and the universal language of the Romans who once persecuted them for their faith – often by crucifying them.

Around this time, a dispute rose over the nature of the divinity of Jesus, and the Christians began to trace the sign of the cross the way we do today, over the head and chest, instead of the small sign on the forehead that was done in the days of Roman persecution.

The Christian faith symbolized by this cross triumphed over the mighty Roman Empire without firing a single shot. No-one could have predicted such an unlikely route to such an unlikely victory, a victory over the enemies of the cross, over the oppressors of those who followed in the footsteps of the crucified One, of those whom the Lord said would be bearers of their own crosses.

“In this sign, you will conquer.”

And that is indeed the story of the cross. In this sign our Lord conquered the devil. In this sign, we Christians conquer sin, death, and the grave. And it is in this sign, given at Baptism, that the forces of evil are exorcised and life is victorious over death.

The way of the cross is indeed an unlikely route to victory. For to the eyes, the cross is a symbol of death, defeat, submission, and disgrace. It is a shameful instrument of torture and capital punishment reserved for slaves and traitors. It is painful, gory, and horrific. The statesman Cicero said that the cross is not a topic civilized people should bring up in polite company.

If someone wanted to start a religion, the cross would be the last symbol anyone would want to represent it.

The fact that Christians wear crosses around their necks would seem strange to ancient Romans, as if we were to wear little electric chairs or hangman’s nooses as jewelry today. And that is exactly St. Paul’s point that we can only grasp by faith: “it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

The world doesn’t get us because the world doesn’t get the cross.

The world mocks Christianity as foolishness, and Christians as fools. We are either derided as unscientific backward morons or as self-righteous bigots and hypocrites. “For the message of the cross” says St. Paul, “is foolishness for those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

It pleases God to bring the haughty down and to exalt the humble. And as St. Paul asks the mocker of the cross and of the Christ: “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” The world sees a condemned criminal dying and asks: “How can this truly be God?” The world sees bread and wine and asks “How can this be the true body and blood of Christ?” The world sees a redeemed sinner and asks: “How can this truly be a saint?”

And here is how it is, dear Christians, from the mouth of the Holy Spirit Himself, proclaimed by St. Paul, and confessed by the Church for two millennia: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

The holy cross is an instrument of torture that frees us from the torture of hell. The holy cross is the bringer of death that brings us out of death to life. The holy cross is the law’s punishment for sin that liberates us from sin and the law’s punishment. The holy cross was a failed attempt by Satan to decapitate the people of God, that became the means through which the Head of the Church crushed the head of the serpent.

“In this sign, you will conquer.” For we are more than conquerors because of the sacrifice of the crucified One, and through the preaching of the foolishness of the cross.

Indeed all those who are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, all the redeemed and reborn who eat the body and drink the blood of Christ crucified, all those who pray for deliverance and for help by the Lord’s cross and passion will certainly conquer in, with, and under that sign of the glorious battle of which we sing:

Faithful cross, true sign of triumph,
Be for all the noblest tree;

None in foliage, none in blossom,

None in fruit thine equal be;

Symbol of the world’s redemption,

For the weight that hung on thee.


Amen.

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

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Time Bomb Explodes, Nobody Notices


A great short essay by economist Dr. Robert Higgs entitled Ticking Time Bomb Explodes, Public Is Shocked.

Unfortunately, our great presidential dialogue leading up to the election in less than two months is all about vague references to "change," discussions about lipstick, accusations of not knowing how to send e-mails, and other inanities. Choosing a president is today not much different than selecting the next American Idol - as both sides in the election are being marketed as a cult of personality based on the ability to create a media "buzz."

Meanwhile, back in the real world outside the beltway and the media - has anyone bothered to notice the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Does this sound kind of important? Is anyone talking about the federal reserve's continued devaluation of the dollar? Doesn't this sound like something that we might want to be talking about at election time?

We are facing a complete financial meltdown in this country simply based on the laws of mathematics and economics - but talk radio, TV pundits, and political journalists are fixated on nonsense - and the politicians themselves are more interested in polls and talking points than addressing these dire matters.

A couple quotes from Higgs:

"The failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, setting in motion the biggest government bailout/takeover in U.S. history, brings a grim sense of fulfillment to competent economists. After all, what did people expect, that water would flow uphill forever? ... The trouble is, however, that now, even more than then, the American people have little interest in liberty. Instead, they want the impossible: home ownership for those who cannot afford homes, credit for those who are not creditworthy, old-age pensions for those who have not saved, health care for those who make no attempt to keep themselves healthy, and college educations for those who lack the wit to finish high school. Moreover, they want it now, and they want somebody else to pay for it.

If you think that Fannie and Freddie’s bust is a big deal, just wait until Medicare comes crashing down. Then, the wailing and gnashing of teeth will be truly unbearable. As that day rapidly approaches, however, you’ll notice that the politicians are doing utterly nothing to forestall it."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Welfare State Disconnect


A recent TV news report here in New Orleans featured a story of thousands of people waiting in line for hours on end to get food stamps. They had to evacuate for Hurricane Gustav (which is terribly expensive, to be sure!). The state had set up a couple of temporary distribution centers for people to apply for benefits because so many were asking for them.

The news station interviewed three people who were terribly angry at the clumsiness of the bureaucracy and the time they had to spend in line. Two of these folks who were utterly indignant had Blue Tooths stuck in their ears.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying, but if you can afford a Blue Tooth, you should not get food stamps - especially if you're standing in line for welfare, and most especially if you're being interviewed on TV. Isn't Blue Tooth kind of expensive? You have to buy the hardware, but also pay a monthly subscription - isn't that correct?

I'm reminded of the oft-reported situation after Hurricane Katrina in which an elderly lady was being put up at government expense in a furnished apartment - along with a 60 inch flat screen TV with brand new hardwood floors - and she was complaining that it was a "dump."

We in South Louisiana have been terribly embarrassed of late by the complaints and ingratitude of hurricane refugees who had to spend time in shelters - which I'm sure are no picnic. But an emergency shelter is not a 4-star resort. It means you get a roof, a cot, a portable toilet, and food and water. You get to survive. Frankly, a lot of military personnel live this way for months or years on end. Hurricane refugees may spend a week or two in such conditions (complaining of lack of soda drinks, showers, and TV). Living in a primitive situation like this for a few days is better than drowning in a flood, isn't it? And then you get to go home.

Besides, if you forgo a few luxuries that you really can't afford (like Blue Tooth, cable, cell phones, booze, smokes, tattoos, body piercings, expensive jewelry, etc.), you can sock away a few hundred bucks so that when the next hurricane comes, you can stay in a hotel instead of a shelter, and you can fall back on your savings and be self-sufficient instead of making the taxpayers treat you like a child and give you a handout.

Like almost everyone in South Louisiana, I accepted Red Cross and FEMA money after Hurricane Katrina - and I was grateful for it. Evacuation is expensive. We were all caught unawares that time - especially given the severity of the devastation. Our entire region was crippled after the storm. Our families had to spend weeks, in some cases, months away from home. We also benefited greatly from selfless volunteers sent by churches and charitable agencies who helped us rebuild our homes and our lives. And most of us learned valuable lessons as a result. We learned to put money away and to have a plan. If you live in New Orleans, you simply must have a few hundred bucks in cash stowed away at home before you spend a dime on luxuries.

The U.S. certainly owes our region decent levees (they were built to substandard levels which were covered up by the Army Corps of Engineers, and the federal government needs to take responsibility and fix their shoddy work - and besides, the state and local governments aren't allowed to fix the levees even if we wanted to - by law, all work on the levees must go through the Corps and be funded by the federal government). But the taxpayers (at any level of government) should not be expected to pay our citizens who irresponsibly spent their money over the last three years on electronic goodies, gas guzzling cars, and entertainment instead of saving for a "rainy day."

Of course, it goes without saying that a lot of people are genuinely poor and in need. This is not to disparage them. But those who have the means, but squander them, do not exactly make other people too eager to help anyone - including those who are in genuine need.

The Welfare State discourages people from taking responsibility and setting priorities. The Welfare State encourages able-bodied grown men and women to act as eternal adolescents or even to see themselves as helpless little children.

People need to relearn the concepts of thrift, self-denial, and delayed gratification - as well as the classic Boy Scout motto: "Always be prepared."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

God bless Texas


Ike is predicted to become a Category 4 hurricane. Please keep the good people of the Lone Star State (who have been so generous in looking after Louisianians fleeing from storms) in your prayers!

Garbage in, garbage out


In my "former life," I was a computer programmer. In that line of work, there is (or at least there was) a universally known saying: "Garbage in, garbage out" - which, like most things, became acronymized by computer geeks as GIGO.

It makes a lot of sense in the world of computers. Because basically, a computer takes input, does something to that input, and then produces output. Hence, no matter how good the program is, if the input data is garbage, the output is also going to be garbage.

In our garbage-ridden world, the Lord gives His people gems - the Gospel, mighty words of grace uttered by the Word of Grace Himself through preachers who hold the high privilege of speaking the Word of God to the redeemed of God. In a way, pastors are like garbagemen/gemologists. They remove the trash of sin from the sinner, and replace the filth with the bejeweled beauty of the Gospel.

But what do some of these preachers do? They opt instead to pile on more garbage. There are a lot of preachers out there who think people need entertainment in their congregations, they need movies, they need a good show, they need stage lights, dancing girls, skits, bawdy humor, outlandish costumes, and other nonsense that overpowers the "still small voice" of the Word of God rather than serving as some "culturally relevant conduit" or whatever other mealymouthed psychobabble or sociological "emergent" argot they want to put on it.

I guess I could quote Barack Obama at this point about pigs and lipstick, but I think I'll stick with the GIGO metaphor instead.

These preachers are pushing garbage instead of proclaiming Christ crucified. Instead of removing the trash, they are doling out more. They are turning American Christianity into a rubbish-pile of Wall-E proportions. They are making the American religious scene little more than a fly-ridden smoldering landfill, heaped high with discarded trinkets, broken toys, and junk.

Of course, they are free to do what they want in their churches. It's a free country. If people want stripper poles and shots of Jack Daniels in their churches (and I believe they will eventually get those too), that's up to them. But the reason I feel compelled to comment on it is because there is a faction within our own church, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, including many in high places in our church hierarchy - who encourage this kind of garbage in our churches, garbage in our pulpits, and garbage at our altars.

They hold conferences and meetings that are celebrations of garbage. They tell us that we have to wallow in the trash in order to "grow." They tell us we need to trash our traditions, and trade them for trash.

Of course, one man's trash is another man's treasure - but not in the Christian Church. We believers in Christ should know a pile of garbage when we see it, and we should know, discern, and recognize the beautiful workings of the Holy Spirit by contrast.

You can get a show anywhere. You can buy cheap junk to add to your pile in any number of places. But you can only get the treasure of the Gospel in one place and from one supplier - the Christian Church. And, as a bonus, the treasure is entirely free.

So instead of taking this "garbage in" from outside, why don't we take the "garbage out" to the curb where it belongs?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Christology from the Mouths of Babes

Mrs. Hollywood and I took Lion Boy to a Gretna playground this afternoon. While we ate dinner, Leo played and romped with a passel of little children - one of which was a little girl who attends Salem Lutheran School. After a while, she ran over to me, smiled, and said: "Hey, I know you."

"You do?" I replied. "Who am I?"

Her answer: "Jesus!"

I laughed. "Not quite. I'm Pastor Beane." "Oh," she answered, and ran off to resume her play.

Little children instinctively seem to understand that the pastor, the preacher, the one who is always talking about Jesus, the one who wears churchly vestments, stands in the front of the church, and makes the sign of the cross - is somehow inextricably linked to Jesus.

Maybe this is why our Lord says we must become as little children to inherit the Kingdom. When we get older, many of us no longer see a man in persona Christi, but rather a hireling, a functionary, a guy with a job. We begin to see the minister not for who he is and for Whom he acts (ontologically), but rather for what he does (functionally) - and then we are quick to posit that anyone else can do the same job. We begin to see ordination as nothing more than a quaint little ceremony and the ministry as merely a function that can be carried out by vicars, "lay ministers," DCEs, and lay elders. After all, lots of people are "ministers" who have a "divine call" - not just "ministers of religion - ordained" (as the bureaucrats would say).

This is how it is that we have dirty little secrets in the LCMS, horrific things like: forcing vicars to violate their consciences by bullying them into pre-ordinational "consecration" with no authority to do so, and like having the laity lay hands on elders and send them off to celebrate the Mass - for that authority comes from Christ and is given, according to the Lutheran confessions, "rite vocatus" (through the "call according to the rite" (of ordination)) - which follows a period of pastoral training, formation, and public oaths to doctrinal fidelity.

The laity have a holy vocation, no less holy than the clergy. But only the clergy have the vocation to preach and administer sacraments. We Lutherans never proposed a change to that article of faith of the church catholic (the only question under debate in article 14 of the Augsburg Confession boiled down to the discussion about whether the minister of ordination had to be a bishop, or whether priests likewise had the authority to ordain - the question of lay people ordaining and/or officiating at sacraments was never on the table).

And certainly all Christians are called upon to be "little Christs" - in the words of Luther. All Christians have the priestly vocation to pray and to offer their lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, to be witnesses of the faith. Christians are called to confess to each other, and lead a life of forgiveness. But as this little girl was confessing in her own way, pastors, men who are rite vocatus, called through the process of ritual ordination, speak publically, authoritatively, and vocationally in their own priestly way on behalf of, and by authority of, Jesus.

"So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:21-23).

It's too bad when Christians "grow up" and start "doing their own thing" according to their own reasoning apart from the collective testimony and wisdom of their ancestors in the faith - not to mention the Word of God.

Maybe if more of our leadership spent more time in the real world with little children and less time reading the latest trendy books written by business gurus and fad church poobahs, they too would get it.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 16


7 September 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA


Text: Luke 7:11-17 (1 Kings 17:17-24, Eph 3:13-21)


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Christian faith is a matter of life and death.

Christianity is not a hobby, not something to do on Sunday as part of our social life, not something to make us feel better about ourselves and our lives, not a means to teach our children morals, not a political agenda, and not just another one of those choices we make in life based on what teachings we like best or what style of worship suits our fancy.

The Christian faith is a matter of life and death.

For we were created by our God to live, to live abundantly, and to live forever. We brought death upon ourselves by our disobedience, by our selfishness, by our sin. And as St. Paul preaches: “The wages of sin are death.”

So what does God do? He rescues us. He doesn’t give us a pill – though He does give us a sort of “immortality medicine”. He doesn’t pretend our sins don’t exist – though He does discharge them by visiting death upon Jesus, the Crucified One. He doesn’t turn Himself into a liar by simply making us immortal – though He does make us “more than conquerors” over the death we deserve, of the death we will suffer, of the death His Son defeated by dying and rising.

Ever since the fall in Eden, mankind has been suffering death and suffering because of death. This great struggle between the forces of death and life, between darkness and light, between hell and heaven has been engaged since Satan first transgressed the Law of God and convinced man to do the same. And yet, in His mercy, the Lord has been beating back sin, Satan, and death ever since.

The victory of life over death is a powerful theme in Scripture. In our Gospel, St. Luke recounts our Lord Jesus Christ Himself raising a widow’s son who was being carried to his tomb in an open casket. Our Blessed Lord isn’t merely making a point or punctuating a sermon – He is acting out of compassion for the widow and out of love for the fallen man. “Do not weep,” He says with empathy to the woman who has been victimized by death. And the touch of Jesus restores the widow’s son to life. “Young man, I say to you, arise,” He says, using the same words He said to raise the little girl from her mortal slumber.

To the Christian, to the one touched by Jesus, to the one who is on the receiving end of the Word of God – death is indeed nothing more than a slumber. Its brutality and its seeming finality are brushed away by the Word of Jesus as the widow’s son is roused from his nap.

That, dear friends, is the power of the Word of God. That, dear brothers and sisters is why we are here. That, dear children of God is why what goes on in this place is a matter of life and death.

Our Lord did not raise people from the dead long-distance. Rather, He came to them, to their bodies, to their grieving family members. He comes to us today in His Word and Sacrament. If you want to be revived and cured of death, if you want to, in the words of the ancient hymn, dread your grave as little as your bed, then this is where you must be, here, where Jesus speaks, where His Word sounds forth, defeating death and breathing life into our wearied bodies and souls.

Some may protest that they can be in God’s presence apart from the Church, that the Lord is present in places where people would rather be, more self-serving places than being here with the people of God. Perhaps. But Jesus has promised to be where His Word is proclaimed and preached, where His body and blood are given to eat and to drink, where his ministers absolve and baptize. And you cannot find that at the golf course on in the fishing camp. You won’t hear that sleeping in or going to brunch.

Christianity is a matter of life and death.

Even where you don’t see the face of Jesus, you see the face of His spokesman. For when the prophet or pastor speaks the Lord’s Words with the Lord’s authorization, the result is the same – life is wrenched from death, and the Lord’s forgiveness overpowers sin.

In our Old Testament it isn’t our Lord Jesus who raises the dead – at least not directly. Rather, it is a preacher, Elijah, a man whose calling was to be the hands of the Lord’s compassion and the mouthpiece of the Lord’s mercy as a bringer of life – even to the deceased. And giving us a preview of our Lord’s miracle to come centuries in the future, Elijah breathes life into a son of a widow who had died. By the authority and the grace of God, Elijah, the preacher and pastor of the Lord, in whose mouth is found the Word of the Lord, is able to present to the widow her once dead son with the proclamation: “See, your son lives!”

“The vict’ry’s won! Death no longer can appall me,” as we sing at Easter, and as we will sing today on this mini-Easter, this little Lord’s Day festival of the resurrection.

This hope of the resurrection, this reality that the Lord’s death conquered death and the Lord’s rising to life is a guarantee of our own resurrection by being baptized into Him is the very reason St. Paul can ask us not to lose heart in the face of tribulation. St. Paul prays for his hearers to be “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.” He prays that we might be “rooted and grounded in love” – a love of the very Christ “who dwells in [our] hearts through faith.”

For death has been defeated, destroyed, conquered, and forever removed from power over us – even though we Christians will too die. But for us, death is not final. Death is not the end of life, but rather the gateway for eternal life – not by our merits, but as Paul proclaims: “through faith.” For what we hear again and again in the Word of God proclaimed to us under the authority of Christ is given to us that we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge,” that we may be “filled with the fullness of God.”

Knowledge of the Bible is a good thing. Knowing the doctrine of the Church is a good thing. But both of these are not ends in themselves, but rather means to the Gospel, to the Good News that Jesus has destroyed death once and for all on the cross, and we, like the helpless sons of widows, are raised to new life through His Word. For as St. Paul points out, that is the kind of knowledge that surpasses knowledge. It isn’t mere factual data, but rather knowledge of love.

It is out of love that the Lord conquers the evil one. It is out of love that He raises us to life again. It is out of love that He died for us. And it is out of love that He carries out His will, all for the good of His creation – whether we comprehend all the reasons or not.

In our sermon hymn, we sang “The Will of God is Always Best.” And like the widows who lost their sons in our Scripture accounts, and like our Lord’s own blessed mother, whose heart was pierced by sorrow at the death of her Son, we may have no idea why the Lord’s will takes the shape that it does, but like these daughters of Eve, we will live to see the day when all the dead in Christ will rise by the Word of God, when our bodies themselves will be restored to life anew, a life that will have no end.

This is why we are here, dear friends. Today, this very hour is a matter of life and death. Our Lord is giving you life today, His life, God’s life, never-ending life, to the praise and glory of His Father, world without end. Amen.

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