Sunday, July 31, 2011

Monster: Portrait of Stalin in Blood

Gulag mugshot of Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Monster: Portrait of Stalin in Blood is a six-part documentary by Russian filmmaker Alexandre Ivankin that makes use of "recently released archival footage" of the terrors of life under Stalin.  The film has been uploaded in parts on YouTube and they are linked above.

HT: Charles Burris on Lew Rockwell

Renaissance Man

Rockstar, world class fencer, and professional pilot Bruce Dickinson
The Art of Manliness has an article about becoming a Renaissance Man Without Spending a Dime.

The gist of the piece is that today, thanks to technology, anyone with the desire and determination can become a true Renaissance Man - especially when it comes to education.  The limits on human potential owing to lack of money to afford education and lack of learning materials based on one's physical location in the world are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

There are many examples of just how otherwise ordinary people all over the world - not James Bond or Indiana Jones, but real people - are doing extraordinary things.  For example, Benny Lewis (known as the Irish Polyglot) went from being a 21-year old language failure to being a 27-year old world traveller and polyglot, fluent in 8 languages (and currently a student of 8 additional tongues).  He posits that anyone - with discipline and determination - can become fluent in any language in three months.  It is not a matter of being a genius.  It is, rather, a matter of drive.

I find people like Benny not only helpful in a technical kind of way (with good insights and tips for learning languages), but inspirational by way of encouragement in accomplishing goals in this life.

Another example of a Renaissance Man comes from where one might least expect it: from the shadowy world of Heavy Metal rock music.  Bruce Dickinson is best known as the lead singer for the 1980s metal outfit Iron Maiden.  And for most people, being the frontman of an internationally-known rock band, being rated as the seventh greatest metal vocalist of all time, being able to sing in addition to playing drums and guitars - as well as write songs - would likely satisfy 99% of people.

But not Dickinson.

For he is a "polymath" - a true Renaissance Man whose desires and interests propel him to strike out and try new and extraodinary things - things other men only daydream about.  And not only does Dickenson try such things, he succeeds and makes his mark in many fields of endeavor.

At the age of 52, Bruce Dickinson is listed on Wikipedia as a "singer, songwriter, airline pilot, fencer, broadcaster, author, screenwriter, actor and marketing director." 

Whether or not one appreciates the Heavy Metal music genre, how can one not be astounded by such a person and inspired by his example to take a few risks in life?

Bruce Dickinson has accomplished amazing things in the competitive sport of fencing - recently competing internationally and coming in seventh in Great Britain.  If that weren't enough, he founded a company that makes fencing equipment.  He has also worked in radio and television, drove a Russian T34 tank on the Military Channel, wrote two successful novels, scripted a screenplay that became a movie, and acted in two BBC television shows.

And yet, this is still not enough for a Renaissance Man.  Dickinson has a genuine love for aviation.  He works as a professional commercial pilot and marketing director for a British charter airline company.  Flying a Boeing 757, he has rescued stranded people from troubled places in the world - including a group of RAF pilots from Afghanistan.  You can also see him on Youtube having a go at flying an A320Airbus for the first time and commenting on its features.

The Wikipedia article tangentially mentions that he is also a poet and a painter.

And, by the way, in spite of his euphonious set of pipes, he has had no formal voice training.

Here are some videos for your polymath pleasure and metallurgical musicality:

Tattooed Millionaire (1990)

Tears of the Dragon (1994)

Man of Sorrows (1997)

Bonus for reading to the end of the blogpost: here is a pic of Bruce Dickinson from Mrs. Hollywood backstage at an Iron Maiden show in Toronto, March 1987.

Sermon: Trinity 6 – 2011

31 July 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 5:17-26 (Ex 20:1-17, Rom 6:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

To the world, the Christian faith is absurd. To our reason, the Christian faith is impossible. To our sinful flesh, the Christian faith is offensive. But, dear friends, to “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus,” this faith is a revelation from the very God who created us, who redeems us, and who has made us His holy people through water and the Word.

In faith, we hear the words of our Lord not with mockery, not with offense, but humbly and with joy.

For our Lord has words of life and salvation for us today, dear friends, words of renewal and reclamation, words of reconciliation and peace. Our blessed Lord was sent into the world not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. And in so doing, our Lord brings healing and reconciliation – between men, and between man and God. He has come into our existence to redeem existence, to build up that which has been torn down, to bring to life that which is dead.

So, dear brothers and sisters, why should we cling to that which is dead in us? Why would we want to hold onto grudges and hatred? What could be so important to our angry, hateful, sinful, dying flesh as to begrudge our brethren to the point at which we should “leave our gift there before the altar and go”?

But “to whom shall we go?” we ask rhetorically with St. Peter.

For even when we are being wronged, when we are being lied about, when we are being slandered, or even (God forbid!) persecuted and tortured for the sake of our confession of Christ, what good comes from responding with hatred? We should pity those who oppress the church. Better yet, we should pray with the church for those who hate us, and to plead with the Lord “to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts,” even as our dear Lord did on the cross. For has He not said, “Take up your cross and follow Me”?

For the cross is not merely a divine punishment for sin, it is also a divine reconciliation of the sinner – all of us “poor miserable sinners.” Through our Lord’s cross, the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in our stead, the guilt of sin has been purged on our behalf, and the enmity we have by virtue of our sins with God and with men, has been eradicated in spite of our unworthiness – by His worthiness, by means of His grace, and by the power of His love.

The commandments have indeed not been abolished – “not an iota, not a dot,” but have rather been brought to completion by the One who suffered at our hands for our sakes.

We can love those who attack us because He loved those who attacked Him. We can continue to pray for peace because He has secured the peace. We can pray for those who hate us, because He prays for those who hate Him – even to the point of dying for them and continuing to call them to repentance.

This is why even in our litigious society, dear friends, we do seek reconciliation. We do strive to “come to terms quickly” with our accusers to avoid having to go to court – even when we are the innocent party. And then, dear brothers and sisters, if they will not listen to us, if they spurn our entreaties, if they refuse to repent – even then we are to pray fervently for them. This is what it means that our righteousness must exceed “that of the scribes and Pharisees.” It is not enough only to love those who love us – for even the heathen do that. It is not enough to follow the Law to the letter – for we lack the power and the righteousness to do so. But the good news is this: our Blessed Lord has followed the Law to the letter, and He gives us that righteousness – even the rightouesness that loves those who hate us – as a free and full gift.

So what do we have to complain about, dear friends? For “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” And just as “death no longer has dominion over Him,” neither do death and its allies: Satan and our sinful flesh, rule over us and drag us away from our salvation. This is indeed what it means that we the baptized are exhorted by the apostle to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

It is this kind of life that transcends death itself. This is why Christian funerals often invoke St, Paul’s inspired exhortation: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His…. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again.”

Once again, dear friends, death has no dominion over our Lord, and death has no dominion over you. Death has no dominion over you! The Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Christ. Your sins have been paid in full by Christ. Your lives are a ransom of Christ. Your very existence as a creature, as a forgiven sinner, as a saint made and kept by the Word is a testimony to Christ.

For it is Christ who fulfills the Law, Christ who fulfills the prophets, Christ who has expunged our sins, Christ who bids us to die and rise with Him, Christ who reconciles us to the Lord and to our fellow man, and Christ who grants us everlasting life.

Dear friends, hear the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ. And what’s more, do not resist as that divine Word has its way with you, saves you, and restores you. To resist God’s call to repent and to love your enemies is to resist life itself. To choose hatred and rage is to choose death. To refuse to reconcile with your brother is nothing other than spiritual suicide.

Our Lord does not call us to be this way, to be alive to sin and dead to God, but rather the very opposite: to be “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

That, dear friends, is what it means to be a Christian, a redeemed sinner, a recipient of the free gift of everlasting life.

So let the world scoff, let the devil attack, let your sinful flesh offer up feeble lies – only cling to Christ and His Word, His sacraments and His love, His life and His salvation, His gifts and His grace. For He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the One who has come to fulfill everything for you, now, and even unto eternity.


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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Europe and Asia

Thanks to Fr. Alexey and Fr. Sergey for bringing me to the border between Europe* and Asia* in Yekaterinburg, Russia, July 14, 2011.  Photo courtesy of Fr. Daniel.

* Make sure you click on the links for Europe and Asia for the full 80s epic goodness.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sermon: Trinity 5 – 2011 and Baptism of Quinn Donald Brown

24 July 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Cor 1:18-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” says Peter, protesting the Lord’s command to “let down [his] nets for a catch.”

According to the wisdom of the world, hard work is rewarded. And even as there is such a thing as luck, as the old saying goes, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

In this world, if you want to succeed, you must work. And as a rule, the more you work, the greater your reward. And this is why Peter, the fisherman, the businessman, the laborer, the one who is wise in the ways of the world, pushes back against the word of this preacher who just walked off the shore and got into Peter’s boat.

It is as though Peter is telling our Lord: “You don’t understand how the world works. I do. I know my business better than you do. I am wise in the ways of the world.” But in spite of Peter’s reliance on his own toil, knowledge, experience, and worldly wisdom, a small part of him submits to the Lord – who is, of course, the creator of the world. Something not of flesh and blood has indeed revealed to Peter that this man’s word is none other than God’s Word. For Peter takes a leap of faith: “But at your word…”

“But at Your Word…”

Dear brothers and sisters, we too live in the world. We are businessmen and laborers, we know how things work in this world. But along with St. Peter, we Christians take that leap of faith, saying to the same Lord Jesus: “But at Your Word…”

Our reason tells us that we can depend on our own toil, our own good intentions, our own preparations and plans, our own knowledge and experience in our Christian faith and life. Our reason tells us this because our reason has been distorted with sin. Our reason deceives us because God’s kingdom doesn’t work like the world.

Reason tells us that little Quinn cannot be a Christian, he cannot believe, he cannot be baptized. Reason tells us that Quinn must reason for himself, that he must do something other than passively receive some water on the head and be in the presence of some words uttered by Jesus and without toil receive grace as a free gift. And even if our reason protests, we, the Church, say along with ever-honest St. Peter: “But at your word I will let down the nets.”

“But at Your Word I will let down the nets.”

For in the net of the Gospel, in the net of Holy Baptism, in the net of the Word of God, we have caught billions of people from every time and place – born again, created anew, made holy and worthy to stand in God’s presence, saved from sin, death, and the devil; rescued from the skewed and distorted wisdom of this fallen world, marked with the sign of the holy cross, sealed with the unction of the Holy Spirit, and given the very promise of everlasting life from the lips of Jesus himself, who spoke in the hearing of St. Peter and in the Scripture-filled ears of the church: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

We have let down our nets yet again, dear friends, and we have caught yet another disciple, Quinn. By our own toil, we take nothing. By our own reason, we gain nothing. By our own strength, we hold nothing. But at God’s Word, by God’s command, through God’s promise, we are fishers of men and dispensers of the mystery of eternal life! Through faith we are caught by God’s grace, and gain everything!

“And when they had done this,” says the evangelist, meaning, when they had put the Lord’s Word, the Lord’s command, the Lord’s gracious invitation into action, “when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish and their nets were breaking.”

Dear brothers and sisters, this is how the church grows. She does not grow by our own toil, our cleverness, our marketing techniques, our technology, our gadgets, our ability to tickle the ears of our listeners with an entertaining message that they want to hear. The church does not grow by the “wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning.” For our methods are “folly to those who are perishing.” Preaching, baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper is indeed foolishness to those who are dying. “But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” For the cross of Christ is delivered to us by these sacramental means, and we, dear friends, we are caught up in that net and drawn out of the baptismal waters and raised to new life in Christ.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

The world demands signs and wonders. The world demands rational answers and wisdom. “But we preach Christ crucified… the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

The world scoffs at God’s Word and would rather rely on its own wisdom. Our sinful flesh pushes back against God’s Word and would rather rely on our own toil. And the difference between the world and the church is that the church takes that leap of faith along with the holy apostle whose cosmic doubts at times seem to outweigh his mustard seed of faith, saying: “But at your word.”

For at His Word, the sinner is made a saint, the dead are brought to life, the guilty are declared innocent, and we learn not to listen for the Word of God in winds and earthquakes and fires, but rather in “the sound of a low whisper,” the Word of God whose power is in its divine truth. And truth is truth, and God’s Word is God’s Word, whether shouted from the rooftop or uttered softly to a baby at a font.

Dear friends, let us rejoice anew at God’s Word. For in His Word is truth, is power, is wisdom that puts to shame the wisdom of the world. And even though the world may scoff, may scowl, may mock, may persecute, may deny, or may seek to silence the preaching of Christ the Crucified One, we join with Quinn, with St. Peter, with one another, and with Christians of every time and place in praying:

Then let us follow Christ our Lord,
And take the cross appointed
And firmly clinging to His Word,
In suff’ring be undaunted.
For those who bear the battle strain
The crown of heav’nly life obtain.


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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sermon: Trinity 3 – 2011

10 July 2011 at St. Andrews Lutheran Church, Novosibirsk, Russia

Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (Luke 19:10 antiphon)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we hear our Lord teaching us yet again.  The Author of life and salvation authors one of the most beloved and retold short stories of any author.  And we are privileged to hear Him retell this story to us anew on this holy day and in this holy place.

And like all good teachers, our Good Teacher uses storytelling to convey his material to us.  The only difference with this Teacher is that His teachings are revelations from God.  And so when the Lord tells us this familiar parable, we would do well to listen with attentive ears and with hearts open to His Word – for His Word is truth, a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

Indeed, our Lord tells us this story to take us out of the darkness of sin and bring us into the light of God’s kingdom, to reveal to us the wretched reality of how we are in our sinful flesh, and the glorious reality of how God is in His divine mercy.

And our Blessed Lord tells this parable in response to a complaint: “The Pharisees and scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”  The implication is that Jesus is wrong to do so.  The grumblers don’t understand themselves, nor God’s kingdom, nor  certainly not our Lord Himself.  So our Lord tells a couple stories to make the point as to why they are wrong, and how their very grumbling is sinful.  One of those stories is known in English as “The Prodigal Son.”  The word “prodigal” does not mean “lost” or “sinful,” but rather “overspending.”  A prodigal person is the opposite of a miser.  The prodigal person does not budget well, but lives beyond his means; he does not store up, but rather spends.

This story begins with a son who spends all that He has on himself, but the real story is ultimately about the Son who spends all of Himself for us.

Our Lord tells of a younger son who takes his inheritance and wastes it in foolish and sinful pursuits.  He is prodigal in his sin and selfishness.  It doesn’t take long for the money to be gone.  And his situation becomes dire.  The illusion that he is rich and in good standing is destroyed by the reality that he is poor and miserable. 

And so, our Lord uses an interesting turn of phrase, the younger son realizes this and “comes to himself.”  Previously, he had evaded the reality of who he was.  Now, impoverished and humiliated, he must “come to himself,” and confront the reality that he is not as he should be, not the son the father molded him to be, not the man he was created to be.

Dear friends, we are all so used to things like pain, financial insecurity, anger, random acts of violence, cancer, depression, family problems, temptations, sin, accidents, anxiety, distortions of the natural created order, and even death itself – that we think such things are a normal part of life.  When we think this way, we must “come to ourselves” and see that the world is not right, that we are not right, and that we are not the people we should be, made in God’s image and created to be perfect reflections of our perfect Father.  Our world is broken.  We are broken.  We must “come to ourselves” and face the truth.

And yet this “coming to ourselves” will not make us better, will not save us, and will not restore us to the Father.  For as our Lord teaches us in His story, even our coming to the Father on our own terms will not help us.  Our good intentions will not redeem us.  Our regret will not cure us.  Rather, our salvation lies in what the Father does for us: “But while he [the son] was a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” 

It is in the coming of the father to the sinful son (who has been stirred by the realization that things are not right and that he is not right), it is only in this coming of the father that the son is changed, made anew, and restored to a right standing before his father.  And this is why God the Father sends His perfect Son into the world.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Dear brothers and sisters, this is why the world grumbles.  This good news of forgiveness perplexes and angers the world the way the older son in our Lord’s tale reacts harshly to his father’s generosity, the way the scribes and Pharisees grumble in the face of our Lord’s mercy.  In fact, it isn’t so much the son who is prodigal, but the father.  For as much as the son foolishly spends all that he has on selfish, sinful pursuits of lust, it is the father who spends all that he has on selfless, righteous pursuits of love – even as our Heavenly Father pursues us and withholds nothing – not even His only begotten Son – for the sake of us poor miserable sinners, for our repentance, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life.

Our prodigal Father comes to us in His mercy and in our sin, in His prodigal love, and our prodigal brokenness.  He is prodigal in His forgiveness and boundless in His grace.  He has compassion for our lack and fills us with the bread of life.  He rushes to us with the embrace of the truly prodigal Son’s incarnation, with His passion, death, and resurrection, and with and victory over sin, death, and the devil.  And the Holy Spirit comes to us prodigally in the Word and in the sacraments, calling us to come to ourselves, to gather where the Word is proclaimed, all the while gifting us with repentance and new life.

The Word is proclaimed to us prodigally by our Lord, by His apostles, and by all preachers of this Gospel of every time and place.  We are washed prodigally and lavishly in the prodigal waters of Holy Baptism.  We are forgiven prodigally and abundantly in the prodigal words of Holy Absolution.  We are strengthened and restored prodigally and bodily in the prodigal body and blood of the Lord in the Holy Supper: given for you, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

For us prodigal sinners made prodigal saints, the Lord presents us with the priestly baptismal robe, adorns us with the royal ring of the Christian life, and feeds us with the prophetic and celebratory feast that has no end. 

For our Lord is no miser.  He is prodigal.  He rushes to us in His love and mercy, embracing and kissing us, restoring us, and drawing us into His own household as those who were dead and who are now alive, those who were lost, but who now are found.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Amen.

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