Saturday, September 03, 2011

We Have Met the Enemy. . .

“The Help” is undoubtedly a fascinating and excellent movie based on one of the darkest periods of this nation’s recent past. Yet if the only thing we take from it is how far we’ve come from those days of racial prejudice and how much better off we are than those Southern women with the effrontery to treat others with disdain, then it’s time to give ourselves another think.

Peter didn’t think twice about shucking off his new religion and returning to the old when the Judaizers showed up. Instead of appearing to be on the “outside,” he coddled to the circumcision party, giving offense to the Gospel. There is prejudice. It was born of sinful pride, and we each have more than enough of that to go around ourselves.

Nope. We aren’t like those women in that movie. Not us at all. And yet when was the last time we scrambled to be first in line, clawed to be first at the table, shouted to be first to make a point? When was the last time we were frustrated when the other person was “too stubborn” to hear what we had to say, while all along, we, of course, were spoke with perfect clarity and sense?

Prejudice isn’t a matter of degree; it’s a state of fact. We commit prejudice because we cannot fear, love or trust in God above all things. Therefore, we break the Eighth Commandment against others, daily and much; we pre-judge them based on our own criteria of the way things ought to be. It’s hardwired into us. It’s called original sin from which we cannot free ourselves. We may struggle against it, but we lose. Even our covetousness simply hides our prejudices. We want more so we won’t be like them; we desire less so we can appear to be more like these. Who can free us from this body of death? Thanks be to Christ Jesus that He already has!      

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Of Fixable and Treatable

We’ve been down this road before—back surgery. Yet, here we go again. A graft didn’t heal properly so one of the screws holding the hardware is loose. Painful doesn’t quite describe it for some days.

I’m not a painkiller taker. I learned the hard way that those things can create more problems than they alleviate. So I’ll opt for whatever keeps me comfortable even if I’m not pain-free.

That’s not current with American thinking. We’re pressed to live pain-free lives. Isn’t that a part of freedom from want? It’s at least in there with quality of life. We can throw a whole load of things in those two buckets. Quality of life and freedom from want requires me to have the latest in electronic gear in my home, too. Don’t want to be socially deprived. It might cause an emotional slide from which I might not recover.

I visited a doctor recently about my little problem. Having moved from one state to another I was in the process of setting up the procedures for what ought to be a forthcoming surgery to correct the little issue regarding my failed graft and loose screw. At first the doctor offered me an opium pump. Sure. I’ll just zone out for the rest of my life. Never mind what the drug does to my body over the long run. No fix, just mask the problem. I don’t think so.

Eventually, after explaining a variety of fix-it procedures, he basically said I wasn’t fixable. Failed grafts are repaired with minimal success, according to him.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or walk out on him. I already knew I wasn’t fixable. I wanted to know if I was treatable. In the end he transferred my care to a doctor in Little Rock, and I called my doctor in Mississippi to reverify which treatments would work to correct my situation. Leaving the screw out, as suggested by this new doctor, was certainly not among them. My Mississippi doctor is writing a letter as a consult to the new doctor in Little Rock.

Still, the fixable/treatable tension played on my mind. There’s a difference. What ails me is the result of original sin playing havoc in the members of my body. That’s not fixable by medicine. Ananias was told by God to go to Paul, but was reluctant. God told him, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Paul asked for a thorn to be removed from his flesh. God replied that His grace was sufficient, and His power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

Can a doctor treat my condition? Sure. Can he fix it? I dunno. Perhaps God has other plans and intentions. I look at my mother who has been dealing with this disease for a lot longer than I have. I have no complaints and many more prayers—especially for her who needs them more than I—before I start to whine and suggest God has ignored my pleas for relief. God ignores neither of us. Our Father leads us to salvation His way.

For a great sermon on this topic follow this link.    

Friday, June 24, 2011

Of Billboards and Foundations

So abortion is a personal matter—a woman’s rights issue? Right? Greg Fulz doesn’t think so. If he’s correct, that his girlfriend did have an abortion against his wishes for the welfare of his own child, then hasn’t he as much right to speak up as any father would?

Oh, that’s right. It’s a privacy matter, not a social one. The billboard proves the irony in that argument! It was a social event that impregnated the woman. We ought, therefore, as a society, own up to the fact that abortion is a societal event. It affects us all.

The unnaturalness of women killing their own children strikes us with horror. Who can forget the stories of Andrea Yates or Susan Smith? Then there’s the lesser known Theresa Riggi. Reporter of the article on Riggi Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI profiler. He states, “At least 200 women kill their children in the U.S. every year, yet we are still surprised when incidents of “filicide,” the killing of one’s own child, occur in our society.

In all honesty, given the acceptance and normalization of abortion, why the surprise? Why the surprise with the so-called Society of Death and the increasingly normalization of suicide across all ages?

The leap from woman as nurturer to woman as killer goes beyond Constitutional decisions. In truth, society has always had mothers who killed their own or others in defense of their own. Jael treated Sisera to a tent peg and saved her nation much grief. Yet here we are speaking of actions within the Fourth Commandment.  Deborah had spoken as God’s prophetess that Sisera’s day was at hand. She did not say by whose hand he would fall.

The Fifth Commandment binds us to “help and support our neighbor in every physical need.” “Neighbor” includes myself as well as those God places in our path.

Pregnant happens. It is a social action when it does. And most often it is a friendly sort of action going on rather than a violent one. Abortion happens. It has social ramifications, despite the lie promoting its personal characteristics. Knowing that abortion is so freely chosen by so many women today, social responsibility ought to lead to better choices than the one that landed Fultz where he is now. Sin happens, too. Blessed be the Sixth Commandment. It's there for a reason, still. Christ and His Bride are living icons ill understood by those who live by virtual reality even in their sacramental lives.     

Who’s right? Fulz or his girlfriend? Did she have an abortion or a miscarriage? Who will ever know for certain? What this article does point out is the lie that abortion is a personal matter between a woman and her physician/abortionist. There’s a father, a child, and the whole of society involved when women killing their own children is accepted as the norm and foundation of society.   

Come quickly Lord Jesus!          

Thursday, June 23, 2011

From Here to There

Didn't take us long. Just a few more aches and pains than usual. But we're pros at it on the one hand and older than other times on the other hand. We're settled in to our new home in Arkansas. The tags are on the cars and the icons are hanging all throughout the house. I'm not traditional when it comes to hanging icons. As far as I'm concerned, they belong anywhere, to be seen by anyone at anytime a good heavenly reminder is wanted. The laundry room with its western wall is just fine by me. A grouping reminding me of vocation is fitting there. But this is old information, having been posted on FB previously.

We couldn't have accomplished the move as quickly without the hard work of Jane and Mike. They really worked hard unpacking and then also getting things up into the attic. it was loads more fun with them, too. Sarah did her part, too. Bit-by-bit we are learning our way around town. We've found a place with N'awlins food. Friday we'll have an early anniversary dinner there. The littlest grandbabies are coming over for lunch Saturday, so that day is given over to them.

Church takes a bit longer to get to, but it's well worth it. The delivery of Christ is, well, what it's all about. Driving a few extra miles is no big thing.

Right now we're taking time to slow down and relax just a bit. There's plenty of work ahead of us in the coming days and weeks. That little thing in my back nags at me. A reminder of original sin and even more so of the grace that overcomes it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Of Commercials and Heartstrings

Watching TV last night was nearly heartbreaking. Re-runs were elsewhere, so we consigned ourselves to the near-harmlessness of the Hallmark Channel. We haven’t advanced to the age of satellite TV. We can’t reconcile ourselves to the notion of 287 channels and still nothing worthwhile to watch. We still pay for nothing more than the basic level of cable. Again, why have so many channels with little to show for it? I suppose it’s merely an indication of the fact that neither of us was raised with the TV as the first and foremost instrument in our lives. So, there we sat, watching a Hallmark Christmas movie geared to tug at our heartstrings. It was cute. Everything worked out just fine in the end.

The movie was peppered with copious commercials from the Humane Society aimed to bring even more tears to our eyes. Save the animals. Copious images of puppies, kittens, dogs, and cats were displayed with messages like, “Why was I abused?”; “Why was I abandoned?”; “Won’t someone love me?” It was certainly heart wrenching. The ads are a part of the Humane Society’s attempt to solicit funds for their campaign against animal cruelty. Yet it also includes the destruction of animals collected from the streets and euthanized at the local pound. “Is today my day to die?” was one of the questions “asked” by a sweet kitten.

Pete Singer, whose philosophical perspectives have replaced the sanctity of life with the culture of death, considers the developing human to be equal to that of the chicken. If we euthanize dogs and cats, then we ought to have no qualms about euthanizing humans. Still, Singer argues for the equal treatment of all animals, human and non-human.

So let’s play this one out in the media. I’d like to see an evening filled with ads of the sort we watched last night. Sweet little baby faces floating in amniotic fluid—it can be done now with today’s technology—superimposed with questions, “Is today my day to die?” Or kicking babies asking, “Why wasn’t I allowed to become a soccer star?” Yawning babes, “I wanted to sing, but someone stopped me!”  The baby sucking her thumb wondering, “Why didn’t anyone love me?” Or, hey! Twins questioning why their parents abandoned them to the abuse of being torn into pieces.

Years ago a Memphis TV reporter asked a young woman why she was protesting against the wearing of furs. “Oh, it’s abuse against animals. The poor things are caged up. They aren’t allowed to live freely. Then they are slaughtered.” The reporter persisted with one fatal question, “Are you also pro abortion?” “Of course,” the young woman responded. When asked how she could reconcile the two thoughts she replied, “Well, there’s no one to speak up for the animals. I make my own decisions.”

My body, my ownership. This is the face of feminism. This is how feminism is the face of original sin. Man was created to be a reflection of God in the world and to be the crown of creation. This is anathema to feminism. Feminism began when the humans God created decided to take by another means what they already had been given, the Image of God. Man now reflects the image of the deceiver, the heart turned in upon itself (incurvatus in se). Oh, what a silly thing to be concerned about! I don’t suffer from the heart incurvatus in se. It’s my neighbor who’s so arrogant! Yes, yes, It’s the fur-killers and animal abusers who have the problem, not the abortionists.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, presaging Singer, wrote, “In rejecting androcentrism (males as norms of humanity), women must also criticize all other forms of chauvinism:... making Christians the norm of humanity ... They must also criticize humanocentrism: making humans the norm and “crown” of creation in a way that diminishes other beings in the community of creation.”

The reality is the more we elevate animals to the level of humans and devalue humanity from its God-given place as the crown of creation the better we treat animals than the humans. We are simply unlikely to see an evening filled with ads tugging at our heart strings to save the baby humans—not without great protest at any rate—as was seen to save the baby animals. Animals are a First Article gift. We Christians care for them accordingly because of that. There is much in scripture to enjoin us to be kind to the furred, feathered, and finned ones, not the least of which is the fact that out Lord chose to speak through an ass and Himself was borne on one in triumph on His road to death for our sins.

Still, that does not mean that the animal is an equal to the human. When Ruether rejects Christians as the norm of humanity at the same time she rejects humans as the crown of creation, she is rejecting the first and the Last Adam. This puts her beyond the pale of Christianity itself. This makes feminism an enemy of Christianity. Of course it is, for it is the mirror image of original sin in which choice is the primary ideology. The first Adam was created as an image of the Last Adam; the Last Adam fulfilled all that the first Adam failed. The first Adam foreshadows the Last Adam. Baptism, with its Great Exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness, makes of Christians precisely what Ruether anthematizes: Christians are the norm of humanity. That’s what it means to be the crown of creation. That’s what baptism does.

In that string of babies running through that commercial that will never be aired but ought to be is one more superimposed tag line: “Why was I not baptized?”

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Prayer as Vocation

My mom wonders what to do with herself. She’s nearing her eightieth birthday, but age isn’t her problem. Her body is giving out on her. Her arthritic scoliosis is advanced. The pain meds have ceased working as they ought. Last week she fell backwards. It takes time for anyone to heal from such an injury, even more so for one such as she. She once asked her doctor what her prognosis was. “Grim. Not pretty,” he replied.

“I can’t do much anymore,” she says. “So what do I do with myself?”

I told her to pray.

My mom’s of that certain breed of women who’s ever been active. She was a wife, raised six children, and then went on from there to a career in hospital administration. She doesn’t know how to be still. She had her garden fed by her mulch pile. She repaired her own house. Now all these things are lying fallow. She’s simply unable to keep up because her spine is crumbling and twisting inside her. She’s well aware of the fact that soon she will be unable to live on her own and will be in supervised care.

“So what do I do with myself?”

Join the angels and heavenly hosts and pray. That’s what you do when God puts you under the cross and strips you of all distractions so you have nothing left but to pray.

“Ah,” she said. “Now I get it. I can do that. So God has use of me yet.”

Prayer as vocation. Sometimes we forget that. Vocation is what God gives our hands to do—and our mouths. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Sticky Side

Now here’s the sticky side of the bumper sticker,

“Why should God bless us when we’ve kicked HIM out of our schools?”

Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann wrote, “Just as Christianity can– and must–be considered the end of religion, so the Christian liturgy in general, and the Eucharist in particular are indeed the end of a cult, of the ‘sacred’ religious act isolated from, and opposed to, the ‘profane’ life of the community.” (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1982), 25, 26.)

We Lutherans may not agree with our Orthodox friends at all points, but on this Schmemann is correct. When Jesus says He is the door, He did not mean He was a plank of wood. He means He is the only way to the Father; the only entrance to heaven. Thus, the religion that bears His name and rests only in Him is the “end of all religion.” It is in the Eucharist, the blessed Meal of Christ’s Body and Blood in the bread and wine where Christ is Incarnationally present for His people. The liturgy leads forward to that event, setting the congregation apart from what is common and secular in the community, to  where heaven and earth meet.

Such ritual and soul-feeding prepares God’s people for their vocations in their lives. It is door-to-door vocational education. We enter the church door hungry and depleted, starved from our week long struggles in our vocation; we leave the church door fed and prepared to face our week long vocation once more.

The struggle is tougher and tougher, whether in school or the workplace. The entertainment industry inundates us with its messages that constantly pull us away from Christ’s Gospel.

I attended a workshop on the liturgy several years ago. We were reveling in how the liturgy is constructed to draw the heart, mind, and soul to the pivotal event, Christ’s giving of Himself in His Supper. The question of Contemporary Worship was ever on the mind. What of it? What was CW doing to this structure since it has none? And what would happen to this treasure of the liturgy we have now if we so callously misuse it? “Well,” said one pastor, “it’ll go out in the dust heap, where some one else will pick it up, and by God’s grace, and make use of it.” In other words, what is not used or what is not used properly is eventually taken away.

We have found that very situation happen to us in the use of Individual Confession and Absolution. For whatever history behind it, that practice fell out of use. Now it is difficult to re-instate—and for some people its use will never be acceptable.

So God has been kicked out of the schools? The marketplace? The arena of ideas? So why should God bless us if we don’t bless Him?

On the one hand, God blessing us has nothing to do with whether we bless Him or not. On the other hand, God will “bless” us in a manner we do not expect when we do not pay heed to the Giver of all Good Things.

When my children were rude and surly to me, their father blessed them with discipline. They were his children, and he loved them. He wasn’t about to set hellions loose on the world, and hasn’t. Even more to the point, I am his wife whom he swore to honor and love. That’s a promise he hasn’t broken, even with his own children.
So it is with God and His people, Christ and His Bride. When the Children of Israel, God’s wife as He called them, behaved badly, He sent them into Babylon as captives. Now there is some heavy-duty timeout! We are not beyond God’s reach as a church body or as a nation.

When Katrina hit a good many pundits claimed it was God’s way of exacting repentance on a sin-filled city. Those with clearer vision rightly pointed out that if it was so, then why is it the center of all the action, the French Quarter, was left standing? We need to be careful of pointing fingers, saying “Here is God’s retribution, there it is again.” Rather, we have enough of our own repentance for which to be concerned.

 And we can also rejoice in God’s calls to repentance. God disciplines those whom He loves, His sons (who are made so by Baptism in His Son!), to be called back to the Absolution of the Gospel in Christ.