Sunday, September 10, 2006

Understanding Vocation

Early in my first year of teaching I found it necessary to have a short catechetical on vocation. Some of my students were taking it upon themselves to correct the younger students of the school. They were usurping authority. We were reading “Charlotte's Web,” by E. B. White, at the time. It provided me an opportunity to revisit the topic.

Wilbur, the pig as you might recall, had boasted that he could spin a web. After several attempts and even Templeton’s assistance, he finally had to concede that he was not constructed to spin webs like Charlotte. He didn't have her equipment, and a rope tied to his tail was a poor substitute for spider's silk. “Do you remember when we spoke of vocation?” The children needed a memory jog.

"Can women become daddies?" They rolled their eyes and laughed out loud.

"Can men become mommies?" They laughed even harder.

One of the "cooler" Second Graders replied, "Deaconess! What are you thinking of! You make us laugh!"

"OK. So you tell me what I might be thinking of with these questions. Why is it Wilbur couldn't spin a web like Charlotte?"

The answers were all good: No spinnerets. No web. He wasn't a spider. He was a pig. He was too big. Yet, the answers didn't get to the core. "Why didn't Wilbur have spinnerets?" They were lost in thought.

"Why was he a pig?"

"Because he was born one?" ventured one brave girl.

"How is it he happened to be born a pig and not a spider? Who made sure Wilbur would be a pig?" I was pushing further.

Finally they were getting the drift. Three exploded with "GOD!"

"So if God made sure Wilbur was a pig and not a spider, then did Wilbur have any choice in whether he was a pig or a spider?"

"Of course not!"

"And if it's not a choice, but that God did it, then what is it to be a pig and not a spider or a spider and not a pig?"

Two minds clicked at once. "It's a gift!"

"Right. Did you have a choice in being a boy and not a girl or a girl and not a boy?"


"But who made you and all creatures? Who gave you your body and soul, eyes, ears and all of your members?"

"GOD!" "So who you are and what you are is a...."


"Right. Being boy or girl is a gift. Being boy or girl is also a vocation, because it involves what you can or cannot do - like be a daddy or a mommy. So, vocation is a gift. Wilbur's vocation was to be a pig, not a spider. He was to make good bacon. (The kids giggled.) Charlotte's vocation was to be a spider. She was to make webs, give people the creepy-crawlies, and eat flies. Boys grow up to be husbands and daddies. Girls grow up to be wives and mommies. Being a boy or a girl is a gift. Vocation is a gift."

I let the kids absorb this for a moment or two, then asked, "What to you do with a special gift? Do you exchange it?"

They looked at me like I was nuts. "No! You keep it."

"Well, nowadays there are some men who say they can be mommies. And there are some women who say they can be daddies."

The room was filled with the children denouncing such things. It just couldn't be possible. No way. God made men to be daddies, and women to be mommies. That's the way they are built. Anyone could see that.

All but one student knew that it was ridiculous to even think such thoughts. She looked around and rolled her eyes. "That's how it is where my mom works. Some women come in and exchange their gift so they can be men. Then men exchange their gift so they can be women."

"So what do you think about that," I asked.

"I think it's pretty dumb!" The rest of the class gasped. In this school "dumb" is a verbotten word.

"What do the rest of you think about it?" I questioned the class.

"That's God's gift!"

“You can't exchange God's gift. That's His gift to just you."

"God made you the way He wants you to be."

"God needs daddies AND mommies, not daddies and daddies."

"If Wilbur and Charlotte can figure it out, why can't people?"

To the last reply I responded, "If you all can figure it out, I wish the adults would listen to you!"

One final reminder I couldn't resist. Wilbur wound up in the manure pile after his failed attempts with another's vocation. That was OK for Wilbur, because the manure pile was his home. Not so for the rest of us. In this there is a lesson: Take a foreign vocation and you'll land in manure.

Apostles' Creed, First Article: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean?
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Living Catechesis

God speaks and we listen. Then we say back to Him what He has first said of Himself. This is catechesis, or teaching. It is the church confessing or “same saying” what is most holy and true.

A child learns what he lives. Suppose a child is brought to church for Baptism and then is taken home where the words of faith are seldom if ever heard from the lips of his parents. It would follow that the catechesis he received would be very shallow. Certainly one hopes he would be brought to church every Sunday, but what is an hour of faith-talk in the ears against the plethora of learning received elsewhere?

Catechesis happens. Little ears are open and receptive. This sort of ditty, and this one, filling the ears of the baptized are also catechesis. What does he hear most often? What then is the fountain and source of his catechesis? Where that is, there his worldview will take shape. And there his certainty will be.

Luther’s Small Catechism was written to be a prayer book for daily use by everyone. Each of the Six Chief Parts begins, “As the head of the family should teach … in a simple way to his household.” In plain, simple words the Catechism teaches and feeds hungry souls the Living Bread of Life. It is primary theology. Luther viewed it not as his Catechism, but as God’s, and so it is. For, it is a correct explanation and confession of what God has first spoken to us in His word. Therefore, writes Luther, God himself is not ashamed to teach it daily, for he knows of nothing better to teach, and he always keeps on teaching this one thing without proposing anything new or different.” He continues, “We think we can learn in an hour what God himself cannot finish teaching, though He were to teach it from the beginning of the world until the end! All the prophets and all the saints have had to learn it, but they have always remained its pupils, and they must continue to be so” (Large Catechism, Preface, 16.) Therefore, to be a student of the Catechism is to be nothing other than a Christian; for, it is the practice of Christ’s command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Mt 28: 29-20).

Court battles are waged whether images of the Ten Commandments can be placed outside public buildings, as if paying homage to God’s Law in this way makes of us a Christian nation. This is the deadness of the Law. Simply paying homage to a symbol while not knowing their application keeps us dead in the Law.

We confess in the Third Article that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. Without knowing specifically how we are sinners, without confessing our specific sins, we become smug in our self-righteousness. Knowing the Ten Commandments and applying them daily to specific acts teaches children (and adults) to confess sins, and to confess them immediately. A litany of apology followed by forgiveness in Jesus name reinforces the fact that there can be no forgiveness except through the Savior who died on the cross. The daily invocation of God’s Triune Name is a remembrance of Baptism. Encouragement to keep the Commandments is a reminder that the devil is lurking about like a roaring lion (1Pe 5:8). It is also a reminder of Baptism. For, to be in the Law is to be in Christ, the one who kept it for us. This is to be in Baptism, which is how His righteousness is delivered to us. The only way any of us keeps the Law perfectly is to be in Christ, so the repentance of the Law is always a return to the Gospel.

The Catechism is wet with Baptism, dripping with Gospel. Why would any parent want to keep it from his child? To memorize this precious jewel from infancy is to be armed with the best defense against the greatest enemy the parents have set loose against the child when he was baptized, Satan himself.

If that's not enough, the explanation of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism states

For if we want capable and qualified people for both the civil and the spiritual realms, we really must spare no effort, time, and expense in teaching and educating our children to serve God and the world. We must not think only of amassing money and property for them. God can provide for them and make them rich without our help, as indeed he does daily. But he has given us children and entrusted them to us precisely so that we may raise and govern them according to his will; otherwise, God would have no need of fathers and mothers. Therefore let all people know that it is their chief duty—at the risk of losing divine grace—first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God, and, then, if they are so gifted, also to have them engage in formal study and learn so that they may be of service wherever they are needed. (Large Catechism: 1, 170)

In another place Luther writes,

Now we must devote far more care to educating the children in order that we may find people who are capable of serving a country in its secular government and the cities in spiritual government as preachers and lectors. You see what murderous harm you do to the sovereign prince and the fatherland when you keep gifted boys away from study. The same applies to you, the mother of a family, if you train your daughter or your maid badly. It is a commandment which is laid upon you, not something which is merely given to you. For if you are able to rear your daughter well and do not do so, you are the one who has ruined her. AE 51, 151.

Christian parental catechesis involves training children to speak the words of the apostolic faith so that they are lived in their daily lives. This is training children to be good citizens not merely of the church, but also of the nation. In this way every hour is a sacred hour and church work is not the only or most sacred of all vocations.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Unmovable Objects

Byrne, one of the Troublemint Twins, likes to be first – at EVERYTHING. Now, a healthy sense of competition is just fine with me. I like to encourage that. However, his situation was rapidly deteriorating from outright rudeness to downright danger.

First it was racing his buddy to see who would be first in line after I called out “Line ‘em up at recess.” Then it was pushing and shoving and arguing over who was ahead of whom in line. Then it was knock ‘em out of the way to get a paper towel in the boys’ room so he could be first to line up for lunch. Mixed in all this was the ever-looming race to the finished work basket in the room if he saw anyone else headed toward it. Finally he rushed to the toilet yesterday (“I was walking fast, which was technically running…”) and fell straight onto it. Not into it, mind you. He didn’t get wet. Too bad. The bruised shin will probably heal faster than a bit of wet embarrassment would have. And gratefully he didn’t crack open his head on the porcelain!

His official position in the class has been “Mr. Polite” for some time. That means he is not the line leader, rather the one who lets all others go first. This also means he’s last in the bathroom. He keeps asking, “How long to I hafta be ‘Mr. Polite?’” What he doesn’t get is that the more he asks, the longer he stays. It means he’s not getting it yet.

His buddy, the other Troublemint Twin, was Mr. Polite first this year. It took him about a week to be broken in. Slowly but surely he got it. We called him Mr. Polite at every opportunity and he started to act the part. He began to believe it of himself. He would step aside and let others pass in front of him. He took pride in himself for doing it, too. He does it still. Being polite is permanent, although being Mr. Polite is not a permanent position.

I was hoping for the same learning curve from Byrne, but so far it isn’t happening. There is no lack of support from the parents. Byrne’s dad doesn’t appreciate him putting his hands on other children rudely. But Byrne gets a thought in his head and bends himself to it, and no one can stop him.

Today Byrne impulsively reached out for a trading card the students were looking at during snack time, bumped Sean’s cup, knocked it into his face, and sent orange juice flying. Sean had juice all over his clothes and in his eyes. Must have stung! When I asked Byrne why he reached and grabbed in like that he said he was afraid he would miss his turn.

It was time to get the crew outside for recess, so we went on out. I had a special task for Byrne. “See that tree over there… the big oak? Go push it until I tell you to stop.” Byrne commenced to pushing that big tree for five minutes or so. He shoved. He shoulder butted. He ran at it and rammed it. He gave it every last bit a seven-year-old could. That tree never once shuddered, swayed, or winced under Byrne’s mighty work. Didn’t even know the kid was there.

When I asked Byrne how things went he admitted he didn’t accomplish much. “But,” he allowed, “if I had an axe I could chop it down. Then I could move that tree.”

“Sure. But then the tree would be dead. Are you admitting to me that the only way you can shove that tree out of your way is if you kill it?”

“Well, yes ma'am.”

“So tell me which commandment is involved when you push or shove your way around through people?”

Byrne knew that one easily enough. He’d been repeating it enough lately. He added another. “The First and the Fifth. ‘You shall have no other gods’ and ‘You shall not murder.’”

Then he got it… “Oh… so if the only way I can move the tree is to kill it, that’s like the only way I can push people around is to kill them. Even if I hurt someone accidentally, it’s my fault if I’m thinking of me first.”

Well if the porcelain barking your shins doesn’t wake you up, maybe the bark on your skin will.

Byrne has shown an aptitude for studious work this year, though he still has his old bag of tricks. I know his routine. He comes to me with a question before he even attempts the answer himself. I point him straight back to his desk before he can even get the question out. Without fail brief minutes later I hear him groan and say, “Ohhh… of course!” I like for him to at least try before he comes to me. He still wants to try to work me for an easy answer. If I make him work, he shows he is capable, he has learned more, and he gains confidence. He has the mind and ability to be a first-rate student. His father knows it, too. Byrne likes good grades, so he works hard to get them.

What Byrne is also becoming is secure in knowing that he is forgiven. He has been confessing that he believes this since the first day he began at our school. Now he is certain of it. Why? Because Jesus says so. Any sin talk will find Byrne among the first, if not the first to say, “But Jesus died for that. He took all our sins on the cross.” That kind of being first is always encouraged. Always push the Gospel, just as Christ always pushes it so eagerly on us.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

"Repairing" the Crack in the Stained Glass Ceiling

And now a cure for the stained-glass ceiling is on its way, it appears.

When quotas fail, what to do? Spend money and then why, make more and better quotas…

The first premise of Feminist Theology is ecumenism, donchaknow.

It's really quite simple: If the fundamental guiding principle is "Let's agree to disagree," it's simply Pilate asking the same question, "What is truth?" To to say that there is no one truth that can be known and proclaimed to all people is also to consign oneself to the error each one's own personal version of "truth" must be regarded as a valid and salvific path to God despite what Christ says of Himself. This is as much as to say, "No, thank you Jesus. You can just take your cross and bloody sacrifice and go away. I don't need it. I have Moses and Abraham. You are so very kind, but please do go away. God is our Father, but you we will not have as His Son." Jesus called people who spoke like this "liars" (John 8:55).

"Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham" (Gal 3:7). Abraham's son was released from sacrifice when God provided a ram in his place. Jesus said Abraham saw His day and rejoiced in it (John 8:56). "Of faith" means to be "in Christ." Thus it is by Baptism we are made sons of Abraham by faith, male and female alike. As Paul says, "So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham" (Gal 3:9). To believe Abraham is to receive Christ as the Son of God. To have Christ is to have the Father (John 10:30).