Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.


Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.

Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar. For what that stuff in the banner means, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar.

29 December 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas

If one tried to abstract it from contemporary American life, one would think Christmas time lasts from the day after Thanksgiving to the day after New Year's. With the warm-up getting longer every year, as the first Christmas stuff and Halloween costumes can be seen in the stores at the same time now. The Christmas shopping and other preparations start in earnest after Thanksgiving, on through December to the Big Day, then hang around for a week to give a festive atmosphere to New Year's Eve and Day, then come down. With Valentine's Day candy in the stores pretty much the next day.

And it fits with the world's Christmas. The church has a little different season going on. December is largely taken up with Advent, and while the idea is preparation there too, it isn't about buying presents and food, it's about repentance in preparation for celebrating the coming in the flesh of God as Jesus who will die to save us from our sins, and for the coming of Jesus again in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day. For which reason the colour of Advent is purple, the colour of royalty and also of repentance. Neither his historical coming nor his return is prepared for by buying stuff.

The celebration for the church begins on Christmas, and then continues, not begins with December and ends with it with New Year's tacked on. Our manger scenes often have the humble station shepherds and the worldly important visitors -- called Magi, Wise Men, or Kings most often -- both there, but as the story reads the Three Kings weren't there at Christmas itself but arrived on the day we celebrate as Epiphany, 6 January. There are twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany, and these are the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Now how did that happen? No-body knows. The thing is, Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, and now is largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did THAT happen? Well, to me it looks like this. By the late fourth century after Christ, 6 January as the Epiphany existed. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the Three Kings -- epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning "appearance" or "manifestation" -- but rather the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including his birth! No Christmas, this is "Christmas" as well as a celebration all the other events of the young Jesus up to and including his Baptism and his first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. A very big day!

In the Western Church, these events began to be spun off from Epiphany. By the sixth century 25 December had become the celebration of his birth. His baptism began to be celebrated after Epiphany, so Epiphany itself in the West fairly early on assumed a focus on the arrival of the Three Kings (Magi, etc.), who, not being Jews but Gentiles, has the significance of the appearance or manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles. This did not happen in the Eastern Church, where it retained its original character much longer, with many places much later adopting 25 December as the feast of his birth but keeping the celebration of his baptism on Epiphany, and in a few places yet keeping the Nativity on this day, with the added complication that 6 January in the older (Julian, as in Julius Caesar) calendar still used liturgically by the Eastern Church is 19 January in the Gregorian (as in Pope Gregory) calendar used in the West and now pretty much world wide as a convention. In the Eastern Church the day is more commonly called the Theophany -- divine appearance or divine manifestation -- and is considered the third most important feast in the church's observance, Easter (Pascha) being first and Pentecost second. There ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas for our brethren in the Eastern Church, it's a Western thing, but on the other hand Theophany is more in line with the original of what we in the West call Epiphany, if we remember it to call it anything at all. And to complicate it further, after a millennium and one half of usage, Rome, ever at the ready to tinker with the very tradition it says it conserves, decided at its last council, in the 1960s (Vatican II, you may have heard of it) to make it a moveable feast as the Sunday after the first Saturday in January, so if you listen to Rome (and if you listen to Rome, quit!) there ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas in the West either! Nice going, guys.

For us confessional Lutherans -- those who seek to hold to the catholic, as distinct from the Catholic, faith and church -- while our latest service book, Lutheran Service Book, is infected with the latest Roman virus (please support research that a cure may be found in our time!) it appears that Epiphany has survived as 6 January.

So we still got 'em, The Twelve Days of Christmas!!

Now here's the deal. NOW is when all the fun and festivities are supposed to happen -- LEAVE those decorations up, right on up through Twelfth Night (that's the night of 5-6 January, in case you weren't counting, and yes, that from which the title of Shakespeare's great play is taken and so far has not been retitled "First Sunday After The First Saturday in January Night" though who knows, sillier revisionism happens all the time), maybe even GIVE A GIFT to someone special for Epiphany (which in some places in the gift giving day, not Christmas) just as God gave himself to us and the Three Kings brought gifts to him, BAKE A CAKE (that's how Kings Cake started and still is done in some places), HAVE FRIENDS OVER -- you get the idea! The appearance or manifestation of God is just too big to contain in one day!!

And therefore the church doesn't but extends the celebration of God's coming among us over twelve days, so don't let the world, or, sadly, some entities called church, take a bit of it away from you!

Side note: I'm of English descent, but I was adopted by people of Irish descent, and my Dad, growing up pre-conciliar RC, always referred to Epiphany as "Little Christmas", an Irish custom from when 6 January in the pre-Gregorian calendar was also Christmas, which in later life I was to find out was one echo of all the stuff I mentioned above. Decorations were always left up until then, and there was one more "Christmas" gift. I do the same in my house now. If plans hold up, I'll post about Los Tres Reyes (Spanish for The Three Kings) on 6 January, having been culturally adopted by the Puerto Rican contingent at university.

Another side note: "Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen". What's that all about? You think Epiphany got lost in the shuffle, what about this feast of Stephen? It's 26 December, the day after Christmas. Why? Because the Stephen remembered on this day is the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and, it being the custom in the church to commemorate someone not on the day of his earthly birth but the day of his birth to eternal life (generally called death in the world), the first person known to have been born to eternal life by martyrdom for his faith is celebrated right after the earthly birth of him who came to make eternal life available to us.

25 December 2007

'Twas the night before Christmas ... Shhh!

I may have come across to such readership as this blog may have as a bit, in terms of the usual nomenclature, conservative and traditional. You know, one of those confessional types, all red hymnal, "historic" (read, the one used for more or less 1,500 years until we all starting acting like Rome still ran the show and jumped on their new one) lectionary, and like that.

Our midnight service is like this. It's written and done by the teen group, yes with pastoral input, but it's theirs. They write it, they do it. There's Christmas hymns, responsive prayer and all, and the feature is a play they write and perform. This year's illustrated how the Christmas story gets kind of warped in our minds with all the hustle and bustle of the world in general and what it makes of Christmas in particular. It had a guy telling the Christmas story, all wrong -- my favourite was when the angel announced the sign would be a brand new Wal-Mart -- with the players enacting the mistelling, someone in the back shouting "That's not what happened", a voice-over correcting it, and the players re-assembling to enact the real thing, throughout the story, then after the play the Luke nativity account was read. No clergy, no liturgy, certainly not the first mass of Christmas and not at midnight but 11pm. It ends with the congregation in a circle with candles, singing Silent Night.

I love it. We go every year. The first time we went, it was the first time we attended the parish and the first time I attended an LCMS church not to be at someone's wedding or funeral but to worship -- which, being an elder in WELS at the time, isn't something I was supposed to do! I went hoping for the first mass of Christmas and maybe even a little German here and there. And got this instead -- and it was just fine. Still is. We started coming back. We joined. I've stayed too, even though typical worship is the LW version of what is now DS1 in LSB and the blasted three-year lectionary is used, wannabe Vatican II For Lutherans. And here on one of the biggest events in the church year, a play by the youth group not the first mass of Christmas. Why, you'd think a guy like me would be livid, or at least ready to rumble at the next voter's meeting! But I'm not. Go every year, rather than to the regular Christmas services we also have. I love it, our teens in the middle of the night telling the story of Christ's birth in this way. But hey, as they used to say where I grew up, don't tella nobody!

And speaking of the Vatican, I don't waste my time watching "Midnight Mass" from the Vatican any more like I used to before God put the Lutheran church in my path, hoping just maybe to find I was wrong and the Catholic Church still is the Catholic Church and everything's OK, only to see once again it isn't and having no idea what to do or where to go except to wait for another, to borrow a phrase. There was a link about it on the start page when I booted up, so I clicked on it. Looks like the birth of Christ who was born to die so that we could die to live was proclaimed so unambiguously that the press went on about the environmental concern that seems to be becoming a characteristic of the current papacy. Yeah, I know, the press doesn't get religion let alone Christianity, and they don't. Still, those Apostles from whom these guys claim to be in succession managed to proclaim that message so unambiguously that they got tossed in the slam for not shutting up about it or saying something else. I read where this year's Vatican nativity scene placed it in Joseph's home in Nazareth rather than a feeding trough -- that's what a manger is -- in a stable in Bethlehem. Roman officials explained this is to show Jesus is born everywhere for everyone.

Nice touch, Roman dudes. He WAS born for everyone -- in Bethlehem in a stable. He IS born in the hearts of believers everywhere -- which is the focus of the second mass of Christmas. How typically Roman. Tinker with the material and say you're making the same point. Guess what, mitred dudes, even when you are making the same point, the point comes with a story that doesn't need to be tinkered with to make the point, a story God chose. Leave it alone. Or rather, tell it. Oh well, I guess that's why there is a Lutheran church, so there can be the real catholic church.

I'll take the Youth Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve any day. Well, any Christmas Eve.

They told the story.

22 December 2007

Merry Christmas / Feliz Navidad / Froehliche Weinachten

No, this is not a post wishing you Merry Christmas and saying I'm taking a break from blogging until after the holidays!

What it is to say, is that in addition to the many other things remarkable about Christmas, it is so rich in significance for the Christian faith that over time the church has evolved, unlike any other feast in the church calendar, three distinct masses at three distinct times to contain it all.

That's exactly what the word Christmas is, a contraction of Christ's Mass. The first appearance of the word in English -- Old English, to be exact -- that survives is from 1038, Cristes maesse, which became Christemasse in Middle English, and now Christmas. 25 December is not Jesus' date of birth; the actual date is unknown, and Scripture does not record it according to any calendar. From which I think it is a safe conclusion to draw that the exact and actual date of Jesus' birth is not important since if it were God would have seen that it got recorded in Scripture.

So why 25 December? Well, in the larger culture around the Hebrews in which Christianity first took hold, the day and the general time of year already had a religious significance. In a world ruled by Rome, there was every year at the time of the winter solstice the Saturnalia. What's a Saturnalia? Originally it was held on 17 December and later expanded to one week. Saturn, known as Cronus to the Greeks, was the son of Heaven, Uranus, and Earth, Gaia. Saturn took power from his father Uranus/Heaven and castrated him. But a prophecy arose that a child of Saturn's would one day overthrow him, so to prevent this Saturn ate his children. That's right, ate his children. But Saturn's wife, Opis, known to the Greeks as Rhea, hid their sixth child Jupiter, known to the Greeks as Zeus, on Crete and gave Saturn a big rock in a blanket instead. Yeah, he ate it. Jupiter/Zeus thus survived and did indeed overthrow Saturn/Cronus and his five brothers and six sisters, all twelve called Titans, in concert with his own five brothers and six sisters, all called Olympians, from their hang out, Mount Olympus. (If you're hearing modern words like Titanic and Olympics in here, you're right.)

Now in the Greek version of this story the losing Titans got sent to Hell, well, Tartarus actually, meaning a deep place. But in the Roman version Saturn escaped the rule of Jupiter/Zeus and the Olympians and went to Rome where he established a rule of perfect peace called the Golden Age. In memory of this perfect age, Romans celebrated Saturnalia, when no war could be fought, no business conducted, slaves ate with their masters, and everybody set aside the usual rules of propriety for eating, drinking, gift giving and even getting naked in public. Par-TAY!

Right after this came Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, The Day of Birth of the Unconquered Sun, celebrated on 25 December, which in the calendar of the time was winter solstice, the day with the shortest daylight hours of the year, demostrating that darkness cannot completely overcome light. A number of the early Christian Fathers, St Cyprian among them, spoke of the parallel that Jesus the Son of God and Light of the World was born on the same day as the physical sun and light of the world, neither to be overcome by the forces of darkness. In addition, other religions in the Roman world had a god's birthday on 25 December, the Babylonian sex goddess Ishtar and the Persian mediator god Mithras, whose mystery cult was popular in the Roman army and carried throughout the Empire, for example. On top of that, the barbarians living to the north of the formal boundaries of the Roman world (sorry, Germanic types) where Winter is harsher had their own winter solstice observances.

So it looks like the whole Christmas thing originates with the Christian Church adopting and adapting familiar material from the world around them, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Saturnalia, and the widespread observance of Winter Solstice, to create a time of celebration for the birth of Jesus. What does this mean, a Lutheran might ask. Well, anybody might ask, but I'm trying to get a chuckle out of Lutheran readers, who'll recognise the phrase often used in Luther's Small Catechism to introduce an explanation. Is Christmas and the observances that go with it simply another step in the evolution of stories about the sun and light not going away but coming back, gods getting born and golden ages, another recasting of universal human themes -- maybe just like Christianity itself?

Don't think so. Consider. What did Saturn do? Here's a god who had kids all right -- then ate them to prevent them from doing to him what he did to his own father. In contrast to the stories Man makes up about gods, the story God reveals to Man is just the opposite. Man is a creation, not a child, of God, lost in his own nonsense, that of it encapsulated in mythology and that not but considered the latest of enlightened thinking, who will destroy himself, to avoid which God becomes Man in Jesus, whose body and blood will be given for our salvation on the Cross that we may become children of God, and in the mass as the pledge of that salvation; a child of God who does not overthrow his father but lives in perfect submission to his will;`who does not banish his father's rule but proclaims his kingdom; a God who does not eat his child in fear but gives him to us in love so we could eat his body and blood as the food of eternal life, a real golden age to come; a mother who has to hide her newborn son not from God but Man for his survival. And the imagery of light, not validating all sun gods but demonstrating that even in its fallen and broken state Creation still shows that the Creator will not be overcome no matter how the darkness gathers. These pre-Christian observances are not the real roots and story of Christmas, but rather aspects of God's truth written into both Man and Nature even in its fallen state, which we now see in retrospect point to the truth we could not see in prospect, looking forward and trying to make sense of our situation, so God reveals it to us. Which the liturgy will exactly sum up in the Introit, the introductory Scripture passages, for the first mass of Christmas: Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? -- The Lord has said to me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee (Psalm 2:1,7. See below, or with my fellow geeks and wannabes, vide infra).

We call this coming of God into Man's flesh the Incarnation, from the Latin that means exactly that, to become in the flesh. To be born. For which another word is Nativity, from the Latin to be born. Christ comes into Creation, into the flesh, is born into our world, on three levels: his historical birth in the flesh as a human baby, his spiritual birth in the hearts and souls of those justified by faith because of Christ, and his eternal birth or generation from the Father in the Godhead.

Consequently, the church celebrates a mass for each of these three.

The First Mass of Christ's Mass, at midnight.
The Historical Birth in Bethlehem.
Introit Psalm 2:7. Psalm verse 2:1.
O God, Who hast made this most sacred night to shine forth with the brightness of the true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may enjoy His happiness in heaven, the mystery of whose light we have known upon earth.
Epistle Titus 2:11-15. Gospel Luke 2:1-14.

The Second Mass of Christ's Mass, at dawn.
The Spiritual Birth in the Believer.
Introit Isaiah 9:2,6. Psalm verse 92:1 Septuagint, 93:1 Hebrew.
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who are filled with the new light of Thy Incarnate Word, may show forth in our works that which by faith shineth in our minds.
Epistle Titus 3:4-7. Gospel Luke 2:15-20.

The Third Mass of Christ's Mass, during the day.
The Eternal Generation in the Trinity.
Introit Isaiah 9:6. Psalm verse 97:1 Septuagint, 98:1 Hebrew.
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only begotten Son in the flesh may deliver us who are held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin.
Epistle Hebrews 1:1-12. Gospel John 1:1-14

Maybe I was wrong. Yes, I'm not taking a break from blogging during the holidays. But may I take this opportunity to wish all who visit this blog Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Froehliche Weinachten!

20 December 2007

The Divine Office and Advent

Those who champion the use of the church's traditional hours of prayer, called the Divine Office -- or, for those who labour under Rome's latest adventure in revisionism, The Liturgy of the Hours -- often point out the seven beautiful antiphons in the Vespers service prominent in the immediate run up to Christmas from 17 through 23 December. They are often called the "O" Antiphons, because each begins in Latin with "O", as in the first one, O Wisdom, or O Sapientia in Latin.

You can find some excellent meditations on them on some of the blogs listed in my blogroll, and start with Pastor Weedon's. I'd like to point out that not only do these antiphons, the Vespers of which they are a part, and Advent itself, point to the unfolding history of salvation one of whose decisive moments we are about to celebrate, but in fact the whole Divine Office both points to the unfolding salvation story and is in fact a part of it, a development that did not arise with the Church.

Pre Messiah, there were no particular set times for prayer for hundreds of years. Not that prayer wasn't prayed at set times in various places, but there was nothing normative about it. This originated at the end of the Babylonian Captivity (the one that happened to the Jews, not the Church!) with the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the reconstruction of the Temple, ie the Second Temple. Ezra and the 120 Men established them in essentially the form they are still used in the synagogue. Established, not originated. These were not new, but were codified into three times of prayer during the day. These times were set to correspond to the three times of sacrifice in the Temple: morning (shaharit), afternoon (minha) and evening (arvit or maariv). On top of that, in Jewish tradition they trace themselves to the times of prayer Scripture records for each of the three great Patriarchs: Abraham in the morning (Gen19:27), Isaac at dusk (Gen24:63) and Jacob in the evening (Gen28:10).

This pattern was adapted by the Church in light of the Christ having come, and is the basis of the three major times of prayer in the Divine Office we know as Matins, Vespers and Compline. Just as in the Divine Service, or mass, we have essentially a Christian synagogue service followed by a Christian seder, a service of the word followed by the sacrament of the altar, so in the Divine Office we have in Matins a Christian shaharit going back through the history of the New Israel the church to the pre-Messianic morning synagogue service which Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with morning sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the morning prayer time of Abraham, in Vespers a Christian minha going back through the church to the afternoon synagogue service known to Jesus and the Apostles and aligned with the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the afternoon prayer time of Isaac, and in Compline a Christian arvit or maariv going back through the church to the evening synagogue service Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with the evening sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the evening prayer time of Jacob.

Absolutely, not commanded by Scripture. But we Lutherans aren't a If it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it crowd. Our confessions are explicit -- though unfortunately sometimes our parishes aren't -- that we happily accept the observances and ceremonies that those who came before us in faith brought about and hand on to us, rejecting not what isn't in Scripture but only what contradicts it that crept in here and there over time.

And what a great gift has been handed to us! In the Divine Office as in the Divine Service we not only have a magnificent gift from those who came before us, but we take our place with them in the forward motion toward the final fulfillment of the promises of God, and do so in a vehicle that is itself an expression and product of the advent, the coming, the unfolding through all its points leading to that great and final Coming!!

Get a hold of that and you'll say "O" indeed! Join in!!

19 December 2007

It really takes 2GB RAM to run Vista Home Premium

On 6 July I bought a new Toshiba laptop to take over from my old one. That has 256 migs of RAM I expanded from 128 running ME and I've used it since April 2001. The new one came with Vista Home Premium and 1GB RAM, the minimum given by Microsoft. It's minimum indeed -- the old one kicked ME along faster than the new one did Home Premium! So after these months of enjoying the new one but using the old one because it's faster (!) my Christmas present to me arrived to-day, two 1GB memory modules from Toshiba Direct. I popped them in -- it's a dual core set up -- and WHAT A DIFFERENCE!

Yeah, there's a Real Lutherans Use Mac faction out there, and in the best of all possible worlds I concede Mac is better, but in this world I've caved and use IBM compatibles like about 90% of the computing world. Just like I used Netscape until Explorer became unavoidable without compatibility issues. And it's a first for me -- I'm generally at the end of a Microsoft product cycle, running 3.11 well into 95, 95 past 98 to nearly through ME, and ME clean through XP (which we have at work so I do know it). Now I'm at the beginning, and I'm ready. horror stories, updates and all.

But lemme tell ya, if you buy a PC with Home Premium, either make sure it has 2GB RAM or be ready to expand to 2GB, because 1GB will run it like Microsoft says but it's slow, slow, slow, to the point of not even being able to keep up with typing! And for those thinking of Home Basic, a friend of mine at work said his wife got a new computer with that and the Microsoft stated minimum of 512 to run it, and had the same experience until upgrading RAM to a gig. Makes me wonder how much of the reported unpopularity of Vista is due to simply running it with what seem to be the inadequate RAM minimums given by Microsoft.

15 December 2007


We take a break from our usual topics to explore something of truly theological significance. Cars.

I'm 57. In my life to date my name has been on the title of seven cars. My observation is, this is not typical -- I know any number of people much younger than I am who have had more than that. On top of that, I still own three of them, which is less typical yet. Even if we include my first car, which technically was not mine but a second family vehicle (a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air that had been "the" family car until Dad bought a 1964 Buick Wildcat but kept the Chevy and let me use it once I got my licence) it's still a little apart from the norm.

What does this mean? (There's the Lutheran part!)

It means that my life hasn't been that of your average bear, even when it comes to cars. (To assist my biographers with their footnotes, though I'd prefer endnotes, the "bear" reference is to the popular mid C20 cartoon series Yogi Bear, which name itself is derived from baseball legend Yogi Berra, and baseball being the mind of God at sport the theological connexion is thus established, and which character often used the comparative " xxx ... than your average bear", so there guys, but cite this post if this is part of your dissertation or your adviser will raise a stink about uncited sources.)

After the 1955 Chevrolet, which as we saw really wasn't mine anyway, the list is:
1. 1970 Renault 10.
2. 1971 Renault 16.
3. 1977 Toyota Corolla Deluxe.
4. 1983 Pontiac Fiero SE.
5. 1993 Nissan Sentra XE.
6. 1992 Plymouth Voyager LE.
7. 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser Limited Edition.

1. The R10 was a magnificent vehicle. Rear engine roomy little sedan, went in all conditions and through anything -- except when I introduced it to a tree trunk while attempting to drive while sleeping in the context of a seriously mis-spent youth. Had my life been more typical and this incident not happened, I would likely be driving it yet to-day in late 2007, 37 years later and enjoying as on the first day, to borrow Goethe's phrase (look that one up biographers, it ain't that far into Faust). But wait, that would render me atypical again! Is this a loop or infinite regress? Lito can help sort that one out.

2. The R16 lasted but a few months. It was front wheel drive before that became the norm. Which contributed to its fate, as it met its end in a roll taken while exploring the limits of high speed cornering with front wheel drive in the context of a seriously mis-spent youth. Insurance being rightly what it is, being under 25, foreign cars, and mis-spent youth factors, I was not able to afford insuring a car for the next five years.

3. Then the 1977 Corolla. A rock solid absolutely otherwise unremarkable sedan I drove for the next 17 years. I loved being able to keep a car on the road more than one year or 10k miles, whichever came first, without an Annual Spring Wreck. I was 27 when I bought it, with both youth and its mis-spentidness (which reminds me, I'm going to blog about universals and the mathematical foundations of philosophy and the philosophical foundations of mathematics here soon) now behind, and 42 when I sold it at 177k miles.

4. In 1988 I bought a 1986 Fiero, still owning the Corolla, a mere 9 years old at the time. I was 38, and widely assumed to be having a mid-life crisis. However, the truth is, when we bought the 1955 Chevrolet from my uncle who was in the car business, he took my Dad and me for a little spin, shall we say, in the then brand new wonder from Chevrolet, the Corvette. Absolutely changed my life, and yeah, I know, three people, two seats, however my Dad and uncle have long since been gathered unto their ancestors, I was a kid so not responsible and the statute of limitations has probably expired anyway this having been the mid 1950s. From that drive on, I knew one day I would have a sports car, and, after seeing the Cinerama movie Grand Prix in the 1960s, which also changed my life and made me a Formula One fan, with the engine behind the driver where it bloody well belongs. It sits in the driveway now, undriveable and probably soon to be sold.

5. Then came the 1993 Nissan Sentra, which, now married, my wife and I bought used off a lease in 1995. It was the first car I ever had with automatic transmission. Nancy had a Sentra before it and going into the marriage, but when it was no longer reliable and left her stranded in a storm one time, she, being quite unsentimental about things, was ready to trade. The Fiero, an attraction in early dating, had become a possible sign of an unstable male seeking to hang on to his youth rather than make adult commitments, like say marriage, so it became my go to work car and the Nissan was both hers and the family car. Though I'll have to say, about a week before our first son was born, she was unable to get into a sedan and we went out on our last pre kids date with her more or less dropping into the passenger seat of the Fiero, quite a contrast from those early dates! I kept the Sentra for a year or two after Nancy died, since by that time there were two kids and one adult, and I was unwilling to apply the mathematics of my Corvette experience to daily life.

6. We had come to want a van and started looking for one, but when she became ill that took a back seat until that played itself out and I re-organised life to go forward. So in the Summer after, 1998, I bought after much looking the 1992 Voyager, top of the line when new and actually owned by a little old lady who didn't drive it much. Finding a good low miles used van isn't easy, since most people buy them to pile in the kids and go everywhere. This is absolutely the best vehicle ever, and if I could get a new one just like it I wouldn't look at anything else. Now that I think of it, Dad said the same about the 1955 Chevy. It now has 144k miles, on its second tranny and runs like a champ, just this morning allowing me to get two kids to two basketball games in different parts of town unfazed at all by the snow we're having and allowing the pleasure of monitoring it on a full six gauge instrument panel, unavailable now on the new ones but more important to me than stow and go seats or a table in the back. It's everything in one -- sports, sedan, utility, whatever you need it to be. It was also the first vehicle I bought on my own, without either a dad or a wife co-signing, just me, which at age 48 is not when this usually happens.

7. But it's a machine too, and during its tranny troubles the idea of having something newer usable for family purposes but fun too became hard to resist, even though I don't like the current vans as well as my Voyager. Then it came, as if it were heard at Sinai -- you already have a van you like, why bother with vans, that '06 top of the line PT they want to unload because the '07s are here is a blast to drive, has a lot of the utility of the van, and the boys love it. So we bought it Thanksgiving week-end 2006, the first new car I ever owned, and typically, at age 56, atypical. It's a terrific little car, just fine in the Winter too, and with the van still around to take the bigger and/or messier hauling chores, just the right choice. If only it came with full instruments (which is: speedometre, tach, gas, oil, water and battery, for those of you for whom driving is just transportation rather than a life event) it would be perfect.

So that's the seven, three of them in the driveway, one driver in the house. Yeah, I know, atypical again. I think it's time to take it down to two, the Voyager and the PT. The kid in the Corvette has found his dream vehicle in a mini-van. Now there's transformation, even without cabbage (biographers, that's a reference to the subtitle of one of my favourite Lutheran blogs, Lutheran Lucciola). Oh wait, there IS cabbage -- trips to Runza!! (vide prior post on Runzas -- vide, biographers, being the correct Latin word in foot or end notes for "see", a solid usage in adacemic succession, so to speak, from the original university dudes, and for jumping Judas Priest's sake say VEE-day, not WEE-day, all of which revisionist usage is surely a sign that the end of times is near, also sprach Herr Dr Maher, and just to not leave that one hanging, a reference to the great work by Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading.)

There. A window into my soul.

09 December 2007

Other Religious News, 8 December 2007

Which date is celebrated in the Roman rite as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

This year, the Roman church began its celebration on 8 December of the 150th anniversary of the 18 events taken to be apparitions of Mary to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, between February and July 1858. So why now, why not February 2008? Because in one of these phenomena the woman referred to herself as the Immaculate Conception, which would confirm the validity of the dogma whose formal definition came just four years earlier. A Catholic, however, is not required to believe these phenomena to be real, and belief in the Immaculate Conception rests on the authority of the papal constitution which defined it, not the phenomena at Lourdes.

What's the Immaculate Conception? It is the idea that Mary, in order to give birth to the Son of God and not pass on to him the stain of original sin, had to be free from original sin from conception herself by a miracle of God. In other words, in order for Jesus to not need a Saviour himself his mother had to be free of original sin. That Mary did not pass on a fallen and sinful human nature to Jesus is held throughout Christianity, but that it happened as a result of her herself being conceived without sin by a miracle of God is a Western opinion. The Eastern Church does not share it, seeing the idea as more deriving from St Augustine's Western theology than God's revelation in Scripture. In the West, the feast was instituted by Pope Sixtus IV in 1476 but the idea behind it was not defined as dogma nor did the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) so define it as it set a comprehensive definition of the Roman church in response to the Reformation.

The formal definition of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of faith binding upon Catholics to accept happened 8 December 1854 in Pope Pius IX's constitution Ineffabilis Deus. It is important to understand that this dogma does not place Mary on an equal basis with Jesus her Son. She is as much redeemed by her Son's merits as anyone else, but in advance, as it were, to allow her to bear a sinless from conception son. Rome teaches enough error without imputing to it errors it does not in fact teach.

In Catholic thinking, this is not a case of adding doctrine either, but rather a case where a doctrine long held was not formally defined until later. Which is something God empowers his Church to do, in this case the holding back of the formally defining this doctrine serving the purpose of addressing the appearance of two critical foundations of modern unbelief. Those being the appearance of Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species in 1859 and of Karl Marx' The Communist Manifesto in 1848. These two establish a philosophical and supposedly scientific basis for the general idea now commonly held that Man is not an essentially fallen creature born in sin and incapable of escaping that condition either individually or collectively, but rather a point in a perfectible progression evolving over time.

Now, recall the original title of Darwin's work: On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Think about that for a while. The shorter title, in which we can conveniently forget about favoured races in the theory that supposedly vindicates the idea that we need no saviour from sin, came with the sixth edition of the work in 1872. Against this view the dogma of the Immaculate Conception asserts that Man IS a fallen creature and CANNOT effect his own salvation individually or collectively, the only human being ever born outside of that condition being the mother of the Saviour Jesus, God born as a man, and that by God's action and not her own merit. Nor then will there be a scientifically determined social progression of such a creature as set out by Marx, or anyone else, either.

These two points in which Christianity addresses modern unbelief -- that all Creation is fallen through sin and Man with it, therefore he is not perfectible individually or socially, and will not experience the former apart from the merits of Christ from his Death and Resurrection in his First Coming in the flesh and the latter in his Second Coming in glory, which two Comings comprise the theme of this season of Advent -- do not require subscription to Catholicism or the dogma of the Immaculate Conception but are clearly taught in Scripture and confessed by the church catholic, which is not the Catholic Church or all churches generally but those who hold and teach the faith of the church catholic's own book, the Bible.

Speaking of which, also on 8 December 2007, the Diocese of San Joaquin (California) of the Episcopal Church USA has voted to leave that denomination, the first ECUSA diocese to so so, and re-align itself with other traditional bodies within the Anglican Communion. The immediate issues are the ordination to priesthood and episcopate of openly practicing homosexuals, the sanction of same sex marriage, and the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, which this diocese has not practised, along with the general doctrinal and liturgical revisionism plaguing all church bodies, all of it seen as a violation of Scripture and the traditional faith and practice of the Christian Church.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, Katharine Jefferts Schori, issued a statement from which the Associated Press quotes: "We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness." No mention of Scripture, doctrine or liturgy. Not so the bishop of the diocese, John-David Schofield, from whose address to the diocesan convention the AP quotes: "It is about freedom to remain who we are in Christ. It is freedom to honor the authority of Scripture. It is freedom to worship with the Prayer Book we know and freedom from innovations and services that are contrary to the Word of God." And you can bet that one part of that "comprehensiveness" the ECUSA ain't a-gonna let go of without a fight is the millions of dollars in real estate.

A confessional Lutheran cannot of course subscribe to all that a traditional Episcopalian or Anglican does, any more than to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. But a confessional Lutheran certainly does subscribe to the same Scriptural fidelity on which this diocese has stood with regard to the immediate issues as well as the general background of revisionism. God speed these valiant brothers and sisters in Christ -- in that diocese, the ECUSA, the Anglican Communion, and in all churches who stand in Christian freedom for the Word of God against, to borrow Bishop Schofield's words, innovations and services that are contrary to the Word of God!

8 December 2007. Back to the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Sheen used to say he couldn't understand why anyone would have a problem with the idea that Mary was conceived without sin since these days everyone thinks he is! Which kind of sums it all up.

07 December 2007

Omaha, 5 December 2007

For such readership as this blog may enjoy, you may have heard the horrific news of the mall shooting massacre.

I would ask your prayers for the many families and people impacted, as well as the police, other law enforcement, the firefighters, other emergency medical personnel, store personnel, and all who responded.

UPDATE! For those who are moved to help the victims in a financial way, the Von Maur company, whose store there was the scene of the massacre, has set up a fund through the United Way at First Westroads Bank. Not so much as even one cent will be taken for administrative fees. Make donations to United Way of the Midlands, note the memo line Von Maur Victims Fund, and send to 1805 Harney Street, Omaha NE 68102. Or donate online (links to the same site as the sidebar link):

02 December 2007

Advent 2007

Scripture records the birth of Jesus, but it records no direction to celebrate either it or a preparation for it. But it records no prohibition of doing so either. The Christian Church has evolved various pratices to commemorate one of its most outrageous claims, that God became Man in Jesus, the Incarnation, and considering the magnitude of what is celebrated, a season of preparation for it. These celebrations have taken on various forms in various places, and even various forms over time in the same place. But all of them have the same idea, for Christ's church to celebrate to-gether one of the world and life changing events it proclaims. Which is the idea of all of the church's liturgy.

Advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means a coming, and translates the Greek word parousia, which designates not the coming of Jesus at his birth but his coming again to judge the world on the Last Day. Advent has in fact three comings, or turnings toward, to prepare for, which culminate in the liturgy for Christmas, Christ's Mass, which uniquely in the church year has three distinct liturgies. There is the mass in the night to celebrate the historical coming or birth of Jesus, the mass at dawn to celebrate the coming or birth of Jesus in the heart of believers as evidenced in the shepherds who went to the manger, and the mass during the day which celebrates the eternal generation of the Son in the Trinity in the being of God in which redeemed Man will fully participate after the end of time, which has been the subject of the final Sindays of the church year before Advent.

Advent then precedes Christmas similar to Lent preceding Easter, a time of repentance and preparation. For both seasons, church vestments etc are purple, the colour associated both with penance, our part, and royalty, his part as King of kings. However, the purple is a little different than the Lent purple, darker, the royal purple rather than the Roman purple, as the seasons, while similar, are distinct in that to which they lead. And in the rite of Salisbury, called Sarum in Latin, England, which had a hybrid liturgy of English and French influences following the Norman Conquest in 1066 (William of Normandy appointing its bishop, St Osmund, how's that for apostolic succession!) the Scripture readings and other prayers proper to the day were different than the Roman rite, as was the colour of vestments, which was blue. This use of blue as the colour for Advent has had a more general usage in the West in recent years, though with the Roman propers (or the new Roman ones from its three year cycle from the 1960s, which will not be considered here -- one can look them up and put on a little Simon and Garfunkle or other holdovers of the time if one is so inclined). It is not the first time the Sarum rite has influenced Western usage, generally through its appropriation into the Church of England. The traditional Lutheran practice of counting Sundays in the rest of the church year from Trinity Sunday rather than Pentecost is a Sarum influence too. For that matter, the liturgical colour for Advent in the Eastern churches is generally red! And in the West, from the fourth or fifth century or so Advent was a 40 day time of fasting and penance much like Lent, starting on 11 November, the feast of St Martin of Tours, Martin Luther's namesake (and see my post on 11 November and this feast, "What's An Armistice"), with the day being something like Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, in Lent. This "quadragesima sancti Martini", the forty days of St Martin, died out by the late Middle Ages, and Advent as it is generally known in the West took shape and is what we use to-day.

Each Sunday emphasises a different aspect of the preparation and the comings noted above. Following are the Scripture passages used for the Introits and Scripture readings. Roman usage (which they ditched at Vatican II) has the same Introits but varies as noted from ours in the Epistles and Gospels for the Western Advent. I had never understood this variation and mentioned that in the combox on One Lutheran ... Ablog! (see Blogroll on the sidebar). Pastor Benjamin Mayes responded citing Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, p.438, which states our usage follows the Comes attributed to St Jerome and its final version, The Lectionary of Charlemagne, which Rome later modified to accomodate its new feasts. Comes is a Latin word meaning companion, here a companion book of readings for mass to the rite's service book itself and more commonly called to-day a Lectionary, from the Latin for "readings"; the list of the readings is still often called by its Greek name, pericope, meaning section, here the sections of Scripture appointed to be read. Psalm numbers as given below are the old Roman usage which followed the Septuagint, in which in terms of the Hebrew Bible Psalm numbering generally used now counts Psalms 9 and 10 as one psalm, likewise 114 and 115, and divides both 116 and 147 in two, so between 10 to 148 the numbering is different by one.

The First Sunday of Advent. (Ad te levavi)

Introit Psalms 24:1-3 psalm verse 24:4, Epistle Romans 13:11-15, Gospel Matthew 21:1-9.

Roman usage Gospel Luke 21:25-33 our second Sunday Gospel.

The Second Sunday of Advent. (Populus Sion)

Introit Isaiah 30:30 psalm verse 79:2, Epistle Romans 15:4-13, Gospel Luke 21:25-36.

Roman usage Gospel Matthew 11:2-10, our third Sunday Gospel.

The Third Sunday of Advent. (Gaudete)

Introit Philippians 4:4-6 psalm verse 84:2, Epistle First Corinthians 4:1-5, Gospel Matthew 11:2-10.

Roman usage Epistle Philippians 4:4-7 Gospel John 1:19-28, our fourth Sunday readings.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent. (Rorate coeli)

Introit Isaiah 45:8 psalm verse 18:2, Epistle Philippians 4:4-7, Gospel John 1:19-28.

Roman usage Epistle First Corinthians 4:1-5 Gospel Luke 3:1-6, our third Sunday Epistle, the Luke passage not used by us.

Some final notes. In some places, the traditional main dish for Christmas is goose. In fact, one of my favourite phrases in English, not suitable for reproduction here, derives from this custom, let the reader understand. The Christmas goose may derive from Advent when it was St Martin's Fast. Martin didn't really want to be a bishop, and is said to have hid himself in a flock of geese from those seeking him to persuade him to accept the post, whose noise nonetheless gave his location away. So goose became the main food for St Martin's Day kicking off Advent.

In Latin and Hebrew, the title of a text is usually the first word or two of the text rather than something separate. Accordingly, some of the Sundays of the church year are called from the first word of the first proper text to them, the Introit. This practice has fallen into disuse with many churches following Rome's 1960s revisionism of the lectionary. Or one can as my former synod did abolish Introits altogether! The third Sunday in Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the opening of the Introit from Philippians Rejoice (gaudete, in Latin) in the Lord always and the coming joy of Christmas breaks into the time of preparation. Accordingly, purple is set aside this Sunday, and rose coloured vestments are used and the rose candle in the Advent wreath lit. Rose vestments are used only one other time in the church year, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, called Laetare from its Introit Rejoice (laetare, in Latin) Jerusalem, from Isaiah 66:10, in which the coming Easter joy similarly breaks into the season of preparation. Roman usage repeats the Gaudete passage as Epistle (or used to), whereas our usage will extend this on through Advent using the passage as the Epistle for the next and last Sunday of Advent.

Christmas is a warm time filled with comfort, family, presents, good food, along with our religious sentiments, for many of us. Christmas as in the event we celebrate was nothing like that. It was rough. Joseph wasn't the glowing saint of paintings and icons, he was a working guy with a pregnant wife about to give birth -- I've been there twice and that ain't easy under any circumstances, and my observation would be it ain't easy being the about to deliver wife either -- in town to follow the law and get counted in the census with all the hotels full and no place to put his family up but a stable for animals, and after the baby was born they had to put him in a feeding trough for animals. That's what away in a manger was. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, the word coming into English from the French to eat, in turn from the Latin to chew (mandere). Fact is, our word "munch" has the same root.

So the King of kings is put in a feeding trough for animals in a cold stable. You don't make up this kind of stuff. Humans who are gods in myth are emporers and such, not working class kids born in a barn. Top it all off, this child away in a feeding trough will one day give himself to be the food of eternal life, giving his body and blood for us to eat and drink as the pledge and promise of our salvation through the merits of his death and resurrection at mass. Guess it kind of fits then.

And you know what, for those whose Christmas isn't going to be all warm and cozy and filled with cheer, guess what, you're right in there with those at the first Christmas. That was a little rough too. Born in a stable, a feeding trough for a crib, and pretty soon his family having to high tail it out of town into political exile too. So you're not excluded at all, and can take it right to him, because he knows all about when Christmas isn't so merry. And he also knows all about how merry doesn't really get determined by what happens in this life, on Christmas or any other day!

To Thee have I lifted up my soul, in Thee, O my God, I put my trust. Let me not be ashamed, neither let my enemies laugh at me, for none of those that wait on Thee shall be confounded.

Psalm 24 (or 25, remember?):1-3 as used in the Introit for the First Sunday in Advent.

28 November 2007

The Hertz Chumash

If you do any Bible study from Jewish sources, there are two terms you'll encounter that you probably won't among Christian sources. One of them is Chumash.

What's a Chumash? In general, it is any version of the Five Books of Moses -- the first five books of anyone's Bible, also commonly called the Pentateuch or Torah -- that is bound rather than written on a traditional scroll. It comes from the Hebrew word chomesh, meaning one-fifth. A chomesh is one of the five books of Moses individually bound, which as such is not considered as sacred as a full scroll containing all five, the Sefer Torah. Maimonides said that any version of the Torah which does not meet the requirements for a Sefer Torah -- such as being bound rather than on a scroll, or having the vowels inserted -- has only the same holiness as a chomesh. Over time the word morphed into chumash (sometimes spelled chumesh) as a general term of reference for any bound version of the Torah, or Pentateuch, thus not meeting the Sefer Torah standards.

One of these for decades was the standard among Orthodox Jews, and also at the time among many Conservative Jews before that denomination drifted further to the left. It is the work of Rabbi Dr Joseph Hertz (1872 - 1946) who was Chief Rabbi of the British Empire from 1913 until he died. It contains all five books of Moses in both Hebrew and English. The Torah is divided into the portions for each Sabbath. The entire Torah in synagogue services is read in order during a year; on the feast of Simkhat Torah, or Rejoicing in the Law, right after Sukkoth concludes, Deuteronomy is completed and Genesis immediately begun. Each Torah portion has an assigned related reading from the Prophets. These are called Haftorah, and are included too, as are the Torah and Haftorah for all the special Sabbaths and festivals. And there is Rabbi Hertz' commentary and notes for each, as well as several additional essays at the end. So the book is not just study oriented but connected to worship as well, the worship Jesus and the Apostles frequented throughout the Gospels and Acts, and is not a full Hebrew Bible but that of it used in synagogue services.

It was first published in five volumes in 1936, and the English text of Scripture was the Revised Version. In 1937, a one volume edition came out, which besides putting it all between two covers also replaced the Revised Version translation text with that from the Jewish Publication Society of America's 1917 English translation of the Hebrew Bible. That version was essentially a rabbinically revised King James Old Testament put back in the traditional order of books in the Hebrew Bible. It lasted until the JPS replaced it with a brand new translation in 1985 that breaks with the KJV English lineage and promotes itself as the broadest based Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible since the Septuagint.

It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance and influence of the Hertz Chumash in my life, yet, I have never met another Christian who is even aware of it. I might not be either, except that during the twenty some years between my dropping Christianity altogether in 1973 in the wake of Vatican II's implosion of it and professing the faith of the evangelical Lutheran church in 1996, I thought that while Christianity turned out to be a Gentile misunderstanding of Jewish Messianism this did not invalidate the religion given by God in the "Old" Testament, and considered Orthodox Judaism the true religion, though I did not convert nor does Orthodox Judaism see a need such a need. During that time, as a Righteous of the Nations -- a Gentile who believes in the God of Israel -- I became aware of this book and read it for years following the pattern of Sabbaths and festivals. The Hertz Chumash was my "Bible", though I have copies of both the 1917 and 1985 JPS full Hebrew Bible translations as well.

When I was writing the "Christmas Gift Suggestions" post I described those books as the basic one at my house. And they are. They're also the books on the "Book List" part of the sidebar, plus the two books for kids. And they are the specifically religious ones listed in the Books in My Profile -- except for Hertz' Chumash. Since it remains an hugely important book to me, and is so little known in Christian circles, I though I should post about it specifically. While it isn't "my Bible" any more, I still use it regularly and here are the reasons that come to mind.

1. One could say the scholarship is dated. Well, of course. It came out in 1937. However modern Biblical scholarship hasn't changed its mind set since its inception with Julius Wellhausen (1844 - 1918) in the later nineteenth century, and Hertz in his notes and essays thoroughly exposes the underlying assumptions and the holes in them of the historical-critical school, whose proponents as of the 1960s were the stock in trade of Scripture classes such as I had them in university, and a Roman Catholic one at that. It was amazing to me, and contines to amaze me, to see what had been taught to me as the latest and greatest in enlightened thinking about Scripture in particular and religion in general -- and so beautifully encapsuled in the near textus receptus of the day, the original (1966) Jerusalem Bible, which I still have and also consult from time to time -- so completely dispatched by this brilliant rabbi decades before!

2. At the same time, and unlike so many other religious, Rabbi Hertz neither feared nor despised scholarship, but used what was of legitimate value in it. A terrific example. He wrote in the Preface to the original edition, preserved in the second: "Accept the true from whatever source it come" is sound Rabbinic doctrine -- even if it be from the pages of a devout Christian expositor or of an iconoclastic Bible scholar, Jewish or non-Jewish. Which sound Rabbinic doctrine St Paul encourages for Christians in Philippians 4:8 -- Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (ESV).

3. The greatest thing of all the Hertz Chumash gave me was, of course, Scripture, and, in a way that is connected to worship, both for the regular cycle through the year and the festivals given in Scripture itself. Liturgy and Scripture then became two aspects of the same thing, faith. And not as some afterthough by the church, that may or may not have any present value, but as a practice from ancient times, handed on to and used by Jesus and the Apostles, and I would come to see, adapted by the new Israel the church for the Messianic times. Scripture takes on a new light when it is studied along the pattern of Liturgy. Liturgy takes on a new light when it is seen as the present celebration of what it recorded in its Scripture. One reads and studies scripturally what one celebrates liturgically. Scripture is Liturgy in one place, Liturgy is Scripture over time. And, I would come to see, where the Law was read in a year now the Gospel was read in a year -- primarily Matthew, whose Aramaic original is the oldest, placed first with the other Gospel accounts in the NT as the Law is first in the OT -- and as related passages from the Prophets were associated with the Torah portions now related passages from the Epistles of the Apostles were associated with the Gospel portions. And the great Biblical festivals themselves were similarly transformed, Passover becoming Easter, as a day and as a "little Easter" each Sunday and every time the Sacrament of the Passover Lamb at the Altar was given, Pentecost the celebration of the giving of the Law at Sinai becoming Pentecost the celebration of the giving of the Spirit in Jerusalem, which empowered the Gospel to be preached as we live in our temporary booths on our way to the Promised Land of eternal life with God. Far from being some sort of legalistic stuff we can now safely ignore since the Messiah has come, Jewish liturgy became the pre-Messianic form of Christian liturgy just as the Law had to be given before the Gospel. Far from being some sort of legalistic stuff we can now safely reject as an unfortunate regression from the freedom in Christ, Christian liturgy became the post Messianic form of Jewish liturgy just as the Gospel had fulfilled the Law. And all of it part of one motion of God toward Man to save him and restore him to life with God both now and forever.

I find this beautiful unity of God's unfolding action in love toward Man in Scripture and Liturgy and the saving events they contain almost impossible to express. I hope I have been able to suggest at least something of what this is.

For me this unfolding unity of doctrine, Scripture and Liturgy -- things which taken separately often appear so different than when taken to-gether -- began to come to-gether for me in the years when I followed the Hertz Chumash. And while I no longer follow it as I did in those years, it remains among my most treasured possessions, and not a keepsake from my past but a continuing source of inspiration as I study the Bible and the Book of Concord and live out what it confesses in the worship and life of what is called among men the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

I am happy to say this magnificent volume is still in print. You can get one from the publisher at

Oh, I forgot. The other term if you study from Jewish sources that you won't encounter much among Christian sources is Tanakh. The word is an acronym and simply means the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament to Christians. But the Christian Old Testament, while it has the same books, mixes up the order and division of them in the Hebrew Bible. There are three distinct divisions, Law, Prophets and Writings -- a usage found with Jesus and the Apostles -- and Tanakh is formed from the first Hebrew letters in the words for each: Torah (Law), Nevi'im (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings). A curious thing about this different order is that the Old Testament ends with Malachi where God promises to send Elijah to avert utter destruction in consequence of our faithlessness, whereas the Hebrew Bible ends with Second Chronicles, where God moves the Persian King Cyrus to build the Temple in Jerusalem and allow and encourage the Jews to leave and go do it!

25 November 2007

Christmas Gift Suggestions

Kids asking if Santa Claus is real and wondering what to say? Wondering if there is something a little more to the point to read for Christmas Eve than "Twas the Night Before Christmas"? Luke 2:1-20 ain't bad. Then, how about reading them what A Visit from St Nicholas (the actual title of Moore's, well, probably Moore's, poem) is really all about!

Find "St Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend" at

Looking for some solid Christian formation with language and illustrations appropriate for kids to give a child for Christmas, even participate with them?

Find "My First Catechism: An Illustrated Version of Luther's Small Catechism" at

Need a little brushing up on just what it is confessional Lutherans confess? Know someone who might want to know too? Nothing states the Lutheran confessions like the Lutheran Confessions!

Find "Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions" at

Looking for a solid devotional book to carry the Sunday Scripture readings through your week?

Find "God Grant It" at

No, I'm not a paid endorser for Concordia Publishing House. I bought all this stuff myself. They're the basic books at my house. Well, there is one more, of course. The Bible I use.

Find "ESV Deluxe Reference Bible - Concordia Edition" at

24 November 2007

Thanksgiving? Advent? What Happened to Sukkot?

In my posts around Easter and Pentecost, I mentioned that the Christian pattern of yearly worship derives from the Jewish one. And, that this is precisely what one would expect if the Messiah had come and fulfilled the Law.

In the religion God delivered to the Jews in the Old Testament, there are three major festivals commanded, Pesach or Passover, Shavuot or Pentecost, also called Weeks, and Sukkot, called Tabernacles or Booths. In addition, besides Sukkot in the Fall there is also Rosh Ha-Shana or New Years (actually one of several new years, there being a new year for trees and a new year for kings which begins the year in terms of the festivals) and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year.

So we saw Passover transformed by Christ at the Last Supper into what we call Holy Communion and ratified by his Death and Resurrection which we celebrate as an event in time on Good Friday and Easter. Then we saw God as it were count the Omer and transform the celebration of the giving of the Law at Sinai at Pentecost by the giving of the promised Holy Spirit to the Apostles, which we celebrate as an event in time on the day also called Pentecost. Then, what -- the whole thing seems to fall apart!! Where's the transformed Rosh Ha-Shanah, where's the transformed Yom Kippur, where's the transformed Sukkoth?

Nowhere, it seems. The Christian calendar is entirely absent of such things. Fall , full of observances in Judaism, comes and goes with nothing until the secular Thanksgiving and then Advent which is a time of preparation for Christmas. So does the parallel fall apart here, or perhaps show itself to be irrelevant anyway if it exists at all?

No. Consider. Christ has himself become our atonement, that to which the Day of Atonement led. The Day of Atonement was the historical Good Friday, once for all. Rosh Ha-Shanah too, the day on which creation was completed and God judges each person for the coming year, has been fulfilled in God's having re-created lost Man by making justification possible because of the merit of Christ's sacrifice. That is how we are now inscribed, not just for the coming year but for eternity. They are absent because they have served their purpose and been fulfilled.

And what of Sukkot? At Sukkot, one lives, or at least takes one's meals, in a temporary structure -- a booth, a tabernacle, but not in one's actual home. This is to remember the passage of the people after the Passover and Pentecost to the Promised Land. And, Zechariah (14:16-19) predicts that in the time of the Messiah the feast will be observed not just by Jews but by all humanity coming to Jerusalem for its observance. That's a pretty big event. It ain't happening. And there isn't even some sort of transformed Sukkoth in the Christian calendar. So what is the deal here?

Consider. Christ is our Passover in whose blood we are washed and made clean, the Holy Spirit has empowered the spread of this Good News beginning on that Pentecost recorded in Acts. But the end of the story, unlike the arrival in the Promised Land, has not happened. The real Promised Land is not a piece of geography but heaven itself, the ultimate Jerusalem. So, there cannot be a Christian Sukkoth because we are still in our booths, as it were, not in our permanent homes, still on our pilgimage to the Promised Land, and what Zechariah saw is happening as "the nations", all people, join in this journey given first to the Jews and then to all Man, the Gentiles. Our Sukkot is our life right now, in our "booths" or temporary homes on our way to heaven. So this feast awaits its transformation, and that is why it is absent. The first two of the "pilgrimage festivals", the Shalosh Regalim, have been transformed, into the basis of not just our calendar but our life and faith itself, but the third will be heaven itself, toward which we journey as we live in our booths here on the way.

While we do not, therefore, have a certain observance of a transformed Sukkot in our calendar, being in our booths presently, we do have something of it as we go. Our nation, and others too, have a secular, national day of Thanksgivng at the end of harvest time, preserving that aspect of thankfulness for our earthly ingathering of the fruits of our labour. And in the final weeks of the Sundays after Trinity, we focus on the End Times in our readings, the great ingathering that will be for all nations when our Sukkoth here is ended, not just at death personally but finally at the Last Day.

At my wife's funeral, the Saturday after Thanksgiving 1997, the pastor concluded the sermon by saying: A few days ago most of us celebrated a thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.

So is the promise to us all. And that's what happened to Sukkot.

22 November 2007

President Washington Declares The First National Thanksgiving (1789)

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

The First Thanksgiving Under The Current Law (1942)

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation - The President

Hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers

Psalm 103

Hymn, Faith Of Our Fathers

The First Lesson, Deuteronomy VIII

Hymn, Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

The Second Lesson, Matthew VI:25-end

Hymn, Eternal Father, Strong To Save

The Lord's Prayer

The Collect for Thanksgiving Day

Prayer for The President

Prayer for the Nation

Prayer for All In the Service of Our Country and Our Allies

Prayer for Peace

Prayer for Those Who Mourn

The General Thanksgiving

A Special Thanksgiving

The Grace

Hymn, Battle Hymn of the Republic

The Benediction

This service was conducted in the East Room of the White House on 26 November 1942 at 11 AM Eastern and broadcast nationally. The President's Proclamation called the attention of the nation to the joint resolution of Congress of 26 December 1941 designating the fourth Thursday in November each year as Thanksgiving Day.

Previously, all presidents since Lincoln had year by year designated the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. In 1939 the last Thursday in November would be the 30th, and President Roosevelt was persuaded by business leaders that a longer Christmas shopping season -- once upon a time it was considered inappropriate to start the Christmas season before Thanksgiving -- would help the economy out of the Depression with more sales and declared Thanksgiving the next to last Thursday in November that year. The new Thanksgiving was widely derided as "Franksgiving" -- Roosevelt's first name being Franklin -- and had no force of law, some states observing the new "Democrat" Thanksgiving and some the old "Republican" Thanksgiving. A Commerce Department report in 1941 found no significant difference in sales from the change, and Congress passed a law designating the fourth Thursday in November, which some years is the last and some the next to last Thursday, as Thanksgiving Day every year, so 1942 was the first Thanksgiving under the current law -- by which time a new world war had maybe redirected things away from retail sales to graver matters.

Funny, Washington didn't have a thing to say about sales, Christmas, or Christmas sales regarding Thanksgiving when "Washington" referred to a man and not a city. Neither did President Lincoln, whose example had been followed since.

21 November 2007

Once Upon A Time In America (1863)

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,Secretary of State

20 November 2007

What's a Runza?

LP Cruz, author of the excellent blog Extra Nos, asked in a combox to an earlier post what is this Runza to which I referred.

So here's the answer. A runza is a rectangular pocket of dough bread filled with beef, onion, seasonings and cabbage that is baked. It originates with the Volga German immigrants to the United States. They can be made at home according to variations on the theme, and there is a commercial Runza fast food chain begun in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1949 and now a regional chain.

When I first came to this area in 1983 it was to Lincoln and shortly thereafter someone suggested we go to a Runza so I could get introduced to this local delicacy. I thought it sounded absolutely grotesque but went along, and converted from the first bite. They are fabulous!! Personally, I like the cheese Runza best. And the fries and onion rings you can get for sides are better than any other fast food chain too. IMHO of course. And their burgers are better than the others too! You just can't lose going to Runza!! I've lived in Omaha since 1991 and we are well stocked with Runzas all across the metro area.

Wikipedia has further material on runzas, the food itself and the chain. The place to start is the main article,

You might read up on the Volga Germans themselves, the Wolgadeutsche, or "Russian Germans" as they are sometimes called here. It all comes from Catherine the Great of Russia -- who was herself a German -- who invited Europeans to settle in Russia to create a sort of buffer zone for the Russians themselves. A fascinating, and rocky, history.

So how does Runza turn up on Lutheran blog? Well, some of the Volga Germans are Lutheran. But the real reason is Lutheran Lucciola, the subtitle of whose blog is "Stories of Transformation and Cabbage" -- a reference from this non-German convert to the German in origin Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (like myself) to the use of cabbage in German cooking.

I gotta tell ya, if you're looking for German cooking with cabbage, a runza is IT!! After writing this I'd head straight to the nearest one myself, except it's closed at this hour. Drag.

11 November 2007

What's an Armistice?

Here is what the world, I hope, knows. 11 November was originally Armistice Day, from the armistice that ended hostilities in the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, GMT (or UTC), in 1918. Later, with another and even worse World War having been fought despite a War to End All Wars, Congress in 1954 changed the observance to include all veterans, hence Veterans Day.

What's an armistice? The English word is transliterated from the Latin armistitium, which literally means a stopping of arms. It's a truce, a cessation of hostilities. Now, if you're one of those getting shot at, that's a good thing -- but, it's not a comprehensive social and political solution to what led to the hostilities, and not even necessarily permanent, let alone that universal aspiration of beauty pageant contestants, world peace. Which means, hostilities may well resume at some point. And always have.

Here is what the world probably does not know or care about. 11 November is the feast day of St Martin of Tours, who is the patron saint of, guess what, soldiers! Hmm. Martin was born a pagan around 316 and was career military in the Roman army. One day he passed a man freezing on the road, tore his military issue cloak in half and gave it to him. That night, he had a dream seeing Jesus wearing the half a cloak. Shook up, he went to the bishop (now called St Hilary) for direction. He was taught the faith and baptised, obtained a discharge from the army and set about combating the Arian heresy which about did the church in at the time, thinking he was God's soldier now. He was forced into exile by persecution, lived as a hermit, and later was finally persuaded to become the new bishop of Tours when the old one died, and from there soldiered on to preach the true Gospel in Gaul.

11 November, feast of the patron of soldiers for centuries, date of Armistice Day, now Veterans Day? Coincidence, or one of those little things that pokes through from what is beyond the surface? The armistice of 11 November 1918 turned out to be just that, a cessation of hostilities. What was fought as The War to End All Wars would become World War One as hostilities resumed in an even worse World War Two. Along with the millions of lives lost, and millions more of lives forever changed, something changed in what might be called the spirit of Man too. The great sense in the age leading into these cataclysms that Man was on an upward spiral of progress toward an enlightened future lay rotting like the wreck of that great expression of the age the RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic.

The Titans had lost, but unlike the mythological battle, who were the victorious Olympians, or if there even were such, was not clear. Man began to speak of life as absurd, the old certainties were gone, the search for "meaning" was on amid an apparently essentially meaningless existence. One could simply accept that life is absurd and meaningless; one could understand that meaning is something Man, or each man, creates for himself; one could deny the whole thing and remain irrelevant and inauthentic in either a religious faith or, equally, in holding on to the secular faith in the progress and perfectibility of Man. And, at the present writing (2007), hostilities continue amid the arrangements worked out nearly a century ago following the War to End All Wars in Southeast Europe, the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent.

So the Twelve Titans. So the Twelve Olympians, who this time apparently aren't going to show up. If Genesis isn't witness to Man as fallen, the world history of Man surely is. A history filled with the universal intuition that Man is less than he is meant to be or can be, filled with however many religious, philosophical, social and political programmes to accomplish his fulfillment -- and filled with the dashing of all of them.

There's twelve something else who had something to say about that. The Twelve Apostles. Not "the church", the twelve Apostles. They got told to go into the world with the message that Man just isn't going to get himself out of his self-constructed mess, that God has seen that and became Man in Jesus to die to pay for all that and rise again, so that Man can by the gift and power of God repent of his own self-destructive efforts and start over, be reborn in faith in the One God has sent that because of Him one can be washed clean by being covered in his sacrificial blood and even amid the brokenness of this world live in partial experience of that which is beyond it, dying with him to rise with him. That message continues to-day where God calls and feeds Man in his Word properly preached and his Sacraments properly administered.

Interesting that in that context, 11 November, St Martin's Day, in 1483 was the day that Mr and Mrs Luther brought their day old baby boy to be baptised, and following the traditional custom he was given the name of the saint of the day -- Martin Luther, who too would devote his life to preaching the true Gospel against heresy.

So as we rightly remember and celebrate in gratitude those who have served to preserve and defend our temporal freedom, let us also remember that armistice is the best we can do, the hostilities cease for a while only to resume, and let us remember and celebrate in gratitude Him who gained our true spiritual freedom for now and all eternity, who gives peace not as the world gives peace, but for real and for ever.

Pacem relinquo vobis, pacem meam do vobis.
Peace I leave thee, my peace I give thee.
(John 14:27, used in the liturgy after the Agnus Dei before Communion)

Here is the Collect from the mass propers for the feast of St Martin of Tours:

Lord God of hosts, who clothed Your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in Your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.

04 November 2007

Reformation Mini-Carnival!

Here are links to some outstanding sermons for Reformation Sunday, from the blogs on the sidebar. Maybe we should call it Christianity Sunday, because a proper understanding of what the Reformation was -- is -- all about entails everything else too!

These five sermons (OK, one is really a post and the rest are posted sermons!) really lay it out. What a blessing to be where the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments properly administered!

"The Most Dangerous Thing in the World"

There are a number of excellent Reformation Sunday sermons in the blogs by pastors on the sidebar, and I'm tempted to come up with sort of a mini-carnival to list them.

I came across a post entitled "The Most Dangerous Thing in the World" on a blog I visit sometimes that isn't on the sidebar -- and after reading this, maybe it should be! While not specifically a Reformation Sunday post, it is entirely about what Reformation is. Since there seems to be some confusion these days not just about what Reformation is but even what church is, I cannot say enough for the clarity this post contributes.

03 November 2007

A Firefly; Outside Us

Please note the addition to my blogroll of two blogs I have been reading for a while now but have neglected to add to my blogroll. Both are by lay confessional Lutherans, like myself, who also like myself are converts, having been given the faith of Christ correctly stated in the Book of Concord after having been given something else.

Lutheran Lucciola is a terrific story of transformation indeed, just as the blog's subtitle suggests -- but rather than try to recount or describe it here, why not click over there where the author does so herself? It's also just great fun too.

Extra Nos (Outside Us) is by a software engineer from Australia of Filipino descent. An excellent place to start is with his latest post, Miles Apart, which lays out with great precision how people with similar sounding talk about Christ actually are, well, miles apart.

All three of us have ended up not where we began, both temporally and spiritually. As to the latter, all three of us began in enchanting, shall we say, forms of Italian religion reaching back to ancient times, Stregheria, The Old Religion with Etruscan roots, and Roman Catholicism, the state religion of the (Western) Roman Empire.

The Word of the Lord does indeed endure forever, and speaking of cabbage, if you ever get to Nebraska be sure to stop for a Runza!

24 September 2007

New Wine, Old Skins

This past Sunday I spent a little time watching religion on cable TV. Of course there's the packages of the mega-churches -- Joel Osteen, EWTN and the like. But also there were three services from local churches, one Congregational, one Baptist, and one ELCA.

The sermon from the Congregational church was interesting. It was on the "new wine, old skins" passage. The pastor mentioned that once we saw that as saying Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism, but now under the transforming power of Jesus and the newness he offers we now understand not to find one religion better than another. And further, just as we no longer cite Scripture to uphold slavery, we now know better how to read Scripture so we no longer use passages of Scripture to bar women from any role of service in the church, or find homosexual behaviour wrong or against God.

Over at the ELCA service, the female pastor presided at a baptism and preached on the God and Mammon passage from the three year Vatican II lectionary now the common property, with minor revisions, of all heterodox liturgical churches.

Both services were thoroughly traditional in their respective contexts -- the "Lutheran" one straight from the LBW with vestments, choir and organ, the Congregational one with a robed pastor and robed choir, neither with a guitar, praise band or CCM anywhere to be found.

The Baptist one was by a preacher in an open collar casual shirt, and slacks. Since I was flipping channels I didn't hear any of the music, but the sermon had to do with Jesus dying for our sins so that we could be saved by faith in that -- concluding with a call to make a decision for this Jesus and accept him as one's personal Saviour.

Now I'll leave treatment of the subjects of womens ordination, ministry to homosexuals and decision theology to the blogs on the sidebar, many of which have taken up these subjects.

Here's an additional thought that hit me, watching all three of these. All three of course present a different message about Christ and Christianity than confessional Lutheranism, not to sweep that aside. That said, the two that were the farthest from it were also the two that in terms of order of service were the most traditional, both in terms of the "historic liturgy" we speak of and each denomination's own history, whereas the one closest to us, at least in that it gave the message that Jesus died for our sins and we are saved from them by faith in him, was the farthest from any historic liturgy, being not liturgical at all!

The point being, fidelity to the historical liturgy of the church guarantees nothing in itself, and it is possible to use the historic liturgy in a thoroughly heterodox effort. Therefore, the real enemy, if that is the best word, is not non-liturgical services or non-traditional church music, it is doctrine. Teaching.

This is not at all to say therefore liturgy and fidelity to it don't matter. They do. And the liturgy itself came about over the centuries as the expression of orthodox Christian teaching, doctrine in motion, so to speak, therefore it is the best vehicle for orthodox Christian teaching rather than service orders which originate in a denial of some of what we hold as confessional Lutherans. And therefore the one which in Christian Freedom we should choose.

That said, unless that choice springs from doctrinal agreement on our confession of faith, it is meaningless. Just as a non-liturgical type of service that springs from a non-sacramental understanding of the means of grace can on the one hand preserve some of the essentials of Christian doctrine, as we believe revealed in Scripture and correctly stated in the Book of Concord, yet on the other obviously not be the best choice, so also can a liturgical type of service that does spring from a sacramental understanding of the means of grace, and for that matter a traditional service after its own lights, thoroughly re-invent those essentials into something else.

If it is not the best choice to try to wrestle a manner of worship that arose from a denial of parts of essential doctrine to fit it, neither is it the best choice to simply champion liturgical worship and oppose other types of worship alone.

Our concern for correct doctrine is not misplaced. Without it, any kind of worship can serve heterodoxy. The ultimate danger is not from praise bands and CCM. An equal danger exists from liturgical and/or traditional services. Without clarity on and concord in sound doctrine, neither kind of worship itself will guard against heterodoxy, and either can be bent to serve heterodoxy, the one derived from it as well as the one not derived from it.

Therefore, simply crusading for liturgical fidelity is not enough -- not only can it not prevent heterodoxy, it will be seen as simply a stylistic preference.

Now, I am soundly and unequivocally for liturgical fidelity. What I am saying is, our case for it must be grounded not in liturgical fidelity per se but in the sound doctrine that the liturgy came about to serve. With this clarity and concord in sound doctrine, the "worship wars" and much else will take care of itself.

09 September 2007

William Derrida, Jacques of Occam

On a recent post on the blog Cruising Down the Coast of the High Barbaree -- a blog I read with great delight -- the subject of Nominalism came up. It came up for me years ago when writing a dissertation on Boethius' concept musica, which is a good deal more than we generally mean by the English cognate music.

What's Nominalism? The theory that our words and terms in theology and philosophy do not refer to such objective reality as there may be, but are simply names -- hence Nominalism, from the plural nomines of the Latin word for name, nomen -- for our various theological and philosophical concepts, which may or may not correspond to anything that objectively exists, and that therefore we should not confuse our theological and philosophical statements about reality with reality itself.

Which isn't such a bad idea all by itself. One can, for example, borrow concepts from Plato and Aristotle to explain Christianity's beliefs, but the danger is one can confuse those explanations with what is believed in itself, and end up believing in Platonic or Aristotelian philosophy more than Christianity while seeing them as the same. One can, for example, borrow Aristotle's distinction between substance and accident to explain what happens in the Eucharist, but one may well go beyond that to think that the Eucharist IS a change in substance without a change it accidents (accidents not being falling off your bike but what there is about something that can change without changing what it is, like appearance) and that this IS what Christ meant when he said This is My Body and This is My Blood. Substance and Accident are not realities, but names for concepts that may be useful in sorting out our experience. Therefore we ought to assume as few of these as possible in trying to sort out our experience.

This theory is often stated in the Latin maxim entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, which translates entities should not be multiplied beyond what is necessary, or if you will, don't assume more stuff than you have to in explaining things. This is called Occam's Razor, after William of Occam (or Ockham), a 14th Century English Franciscan friar (we'll leave what distinguishes a friar from a monk to another time!) who didn't actually write the maxim but it does express the idea of shaving off, hence the razor, what you don't really need. It isn't literally a theory, but more a way of choosing among theories, which are models to explain a phenomenon.

The problem is, one can start to think that Reality is then basically unknowable, heck, maybe doesn't exist, or if it does what we think we know about it is just word shuffling and we're kind of left on our own. When it comes to God, rather than removing all the theological and philosophical shop talk, it can seem to make God more distant and unknowable than ever, who for all we know or can say may be something altogether different or may become so. Kind of hard to preach simple concrete truths taken to be revealed when they come in verbal concepts that may or may not really express what they are meant to.

The idea was a blockbuster, throwing the established theology and philosophy of the universities (called schools, or scholae in Latin, hence the name Scholasticism) steeped in Plato and Aristotle into a tizzy. Which in turn doesn't help a young fellow in seminary needing some certainty to calm his turmoil of soul and finding professors who were by and large raging Occamists. Kind of like turning up at a church university in a turmoil of soul and being given all kinds of tomes from the Rhine on historical-critical method. (The former happened to Martin Luther, the latter happened to me.)

The problem further is, this kind of thinking extends not just to scientific and philosophical theories and models, but to pretty much anything put into language. You're just reading words, language, not an explanation or description of reality but simply an exercise in the use of words or language be it scientific/philosophical or literary. And this seems to me to be also the message of an influential recent school of "post-modern" (roughly, since existentialism and structuralism, maybe we'll get to that along with friars and monks) thought called deconstructionism, whose best known proponent is the late Jacques Derrida. The idea being that our texts really don't tell us anything except that under certain conditions language functions in certain ways.

Now if this were only a matter of scientific or philosophical methodology, affecting academic researchers and leavng the rest of us alone, that would be one thing. Long before Ocaam, Thomas of Aquinas said (toward the beginning of contra gentiles) that theological supports or arguments for what we believe should be used only if they are helpful to people who already believe what we believe, and not to convince others of our beliefs lest they think our beliefs rest on such flimsy support . He said the only way to convince an opponent of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture, because what is beyond our ability to grasp can only be believed because God has revealed it, and only after that can theology help or not as the case may be. Yeah, he said that. Book One, Chapter Nine, summa contra gentiles. Thomists as a rule tend to blow right past that, but that's Thomists, not Thomas.

But suppose we avoid the Thomist in particular and theological in general trap and do what he says. Is Scripture then not a statement of what God has revealed, or even if it is it doesn't matter, since either way it's a text, and like all texts really only shows that under certain conditions language functions in a certain way? Just words, terms, names, nomines, quite distinct from any reality to which they may attempt to refer?

That's our problem. There is no retreat into Scripture if it has the same limitations, being language, as theology or philosophy. There seems to be three responses to this. One is, get all historical-critical and attempt to show precisely how language is functioning under just what circumstances -- not recommended unless you either don't have to work for a living or have decided to do that for a living. Another is, forget the whole thing and focus on your experience, what you feel and do -- deeds not creeds, everything validated out of your own personal piety, for which not just the historical movement but all this sort of thing should be called Pietism.

And there's another. In Scripture, a book, Jesus didn't promise to send more books, but the Spirit of God, and that Spirit would be a Helper and Guide. Faith is a gift of this Spirit. He told us to read the book and not avoid gathering to-gether. So read the book and attend a confessional Lutheran church, and as with any gift, don't take action to try to pry if from the hands of the giver like a little kid when Christmas presents are handed out, but let the giver give it in the only way he does, in his Word as read in Scripture and preached from a confessional pulpit by one called to do it, and if you have professed your belief, been baptised and are in the fellowship of the church, in Sacrament. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. He can handle it. And he will.