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.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.

VDMA

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.

31 May 2011

Ascension Thursday 2011. Where Are You Bound For?

23 May 2011

Memorial Day Is Not All Saints Day Or Veterans Day, 2011.

It isn't even Memorial Day any more, really. And, it wasn't to start with, either!

So where did it come from? Unlike many holidays, there is no centuries-old background here. The background there is will help not only understanding Memorial Day for what it is and isn't, but our secular holidays as a whole, and provide some eye-openers on the political scene.

The Original Memorial Day.

On 5 May 1868 General John A Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, designated 30 May 1868 "for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion". Not only for that, but also to "renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan". The designation was for 1868 only, but it expressed "the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades".

What does this mean?

The above words, from the proclamation itself, General Orders No.11 from G.A.R. headquarters, make it clear that the reference is to the Civil War. So who is Logan and what is the G.A.R.?

The latter was not a unit in the Civil War. It was a group founded 6 April 1866 by Benjamin F Stephenson MD in Decatur IL for veterans of the U.S. Army who had served in the Civil War. He himself had served as surgeon of the 14th Illinois Infantry with the rank of Major. The unit was a regiment with the Army of the Tennessee for a three year term ending 24 June 1864, after which he returned to Springfield IL, the state capital, to resume medical practice.

Among the notable commanding officers of the Army of the Tennessee are its first, Ulysses S Grant, and its second, William T Sherman, who arranged for John A Logan to be its fifth and last after the war was actually over. There's a story there. The third commander, James B McPherson, was killed in action 22 July 1864 during the Battle of Atlanta, and Logan temporarily replaced him, but command went to another, Oliver O Howard from the Army of the Cumberland. Howard, like Sherman, was West Point; Logan wasn't. However, Sherman arranged for Logan to become commander so he could lead the army in the Grand Review to kind of make up for being passed over. It disbanded 1 August 1865.

And what was the Grand Review? An event on 23 and 24 May 1865, whose full name is Grand Review of the Armies, in Washington DC to celebrate the end of the war. On 23 May, Major General George Meade of the Army of the Potomac, who had won over General Lee at Gettysburg, led about 80,000 of its men in a six hour parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and the following day Sherman led about 65,000 men combined from the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of Georgia in another six hour parade, Howard riding with Sherman and Logan leading the Army of the Tennessee.

Post Civil War Memorial Days.

General Logan served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 1st Illinois Infantry during the Mexican-American War -- during which he learned to speak Spanish -- graduated in law from the University of Louisville in 1851, practiced law and rose in a political career from county clerk to the Illinois state house of representatives and was serving as a member of the US House of Representatives, Democrat from Illinois, at the outset of the war. He was a volunteer at Bull Run, or Manassas, after which he resigned his congressional seat and organised the 31st Illinois Volunteers, with the rank of Colonel. After the war he switched parties, was a Representative and then Senator from Illinois, and ran as the Vice Presidential candidate on the Republican ticket with James G Blaine in the election of 1884, which lost to Democrat Grover Cleveland.

There's another story. Cleveland, whose Civil War service was paying a Polish immigrant to serve in his place when he was drafted -- legal under the Conscription Act of 1863 -- was a classic liberal, "liberal" being as unrelated to what the term means now as "Democrat". He opposed taxes, supported the gold standard and lowering tariffs imposed on imports to protect domestic products, worked for reduction and limitation of government, and opposed government intervention in the welfare of individuals. In vetoing a measure to provide a "bail out" for Texas farmers ruined by drought, he said the veto was " to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood". Not a lot of that kind of talk from Democrats lately.

The election was hard fought. The Democrats accused Blaine of influencing legislation to benefit railroads whose bonds he owned, which was long denied until letters were discovered making it a little harder to deny, some of them ending "Burn this letter", which in turn gave rise to the campaign slogan "Blaine, Blaine, James G Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine". The Republicans in turn tried to sully Cleveland's image when a woman named him the father of her illegitimate child, and Cleveland admitted he did pay her child support. She however was known to have, so to speak, played the field, including with Cleveland's law partner, for whom the child was named, and while Cleveland himself actually did not know who the father was, being the only bachelor among the possibilities, took responsibility, leading to the campaign slogan "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?"

And you thought politics only got rough and dirty lately! It gets worse. Blaine, whose mother was Irish Catholic, was hoping for support from that community, not typically known for supporting Republicans, but then one of Blaine's supporters denounced the Democrats as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" (the party of Lincoln not being popular in the South) which lost him a ton of votes in swing states to Cleveland, who won the popular vote by less than 1%, though being swing states the electoral college vote was decisive. After Cleveland won, the slogan was turned around to "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa, gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!".

It gets worse yet. In 1888 he was renominated and ran again, and the Republicans ran Benjamin Harrison, Republican Senator from Indiana, against him instead of Logan -- oh yeah, Logan, we'll get back to him -- for high tariffs and big government -- yes, you read it right, that was the Republican position, big government -- and while Cleveland did not win all the swing states as before, what did him in was, guess what, vote fraud by the Republicans in, guess where, Indiana, where Cleveland narrowly lost, however, it gave Harrison the electoral votes to win although he lost the national popular vote. And you thought politics only got rough and dirty lately!

Cleveland came back though. Harrison's high tariffs, and big budgets -- he was the first President to have a billion dollar budget, yes Republicans for a big budget -- and support for backing currency with silver as well as gold -- why was that a problem, because silver wasn't worth as much as its legal gold equivalent -- with taxpayers paying in silver, cheap money to "help the poor", but the government's creditors required payment in gold, the economy went to hell. With the Republicans losing supporters of free silver to the new Populist Party, Cleveland was elected President again in 1892. He thus became the only President (so far) to serve non continuous terms, and will, btw, therefore have two coins in the Presidential Dollar series.

Oh yeah, Logan. Had the Blaine/Logan ticket won, he would have died in office. He died 26 December 1886. Staunchly Republican, he became Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868 and continued in that position until 1871 when he became a US Senator. He was always active in veteran's affairs, and public education -- the non West Pointer. A GAR endorsement was essential to winning a Republican nomination for President for decades. The GAR also was influential in the establishment of Old Soldiers' Homes, which became the basis for the present US Department of Veterans Affairs. At its peak in 1890, the GAR had 490,000 members, but, realising numbers must eventually decline, in 1881 the GAR founded the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) to eventually carry on.

And so they did: the last encampment, as national meetings were called, was in 1949, and the last surviving member, named Albert Woolson, died 2 August 1956 at age 109, it was thought, though census records now indicate 106. There's a story there too. He was from New York state. His father was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and taken to a military hospital in Windom, Minnesota, where he and his mother moved, though his father later died of his wounds. Whereupon Albert enlisted in Company C of the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment as a drummer, which is not just for parades and stuff like now. Then, as for centuries before, there was no motorised transport, and drummers were key in both setting marching pace and boosting morale during combat. Albert enlisted 10 October 1864 just months before the war's end and the unit did not see action. He returned to Minnesota, lived out his life as a carpenter, and died in Duluth.

General Eisenhower, President at the time said of his passing " "The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army ... His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States". The recognition of both sides was not new; at the first Memorial Day graves from both sides were decorated.

Modern Memorial Day Evolves.

With his death, the GAR ceased to exist. Memorial Day did not. More or less. The original name was Decoration Day, from the original proclamation for the decorating of veterans' graves of the Civil War, which also, in 1868, envisioned its existence until the last survivor was gone, which was 1956, 88 years later. It's expanded a bit. After World War One, it had become a Federal holiday observed on the original date, 30 May, and was expanded to included the decoration of the graves of all who died in any US military engagement. The alternate name for Decoration Day, Memorial Day, was first used in 1882, and after World War Two, which gave many more to be remembered and whose graves to be decorated, became the more common name, and was made the official name in 1967.

The following year, the Uniform Holidays Bill changed its observance along with Veterans' Day (11 November, on which this blog also posts annually) and Washington's Birthday (22 February) to create three three-day-long weekends to take effect in 1971. None of these observances were instituted to give people a three-day week-end, with an extra day off and cook-outs and sports and big sales at the stores, but to remember as a nation particular people and things.

Washington's Birthday was chosen to commemorate the commander of the Continental Army in the war for independence and the unanimous choice of the Electoral College to be the first President, a unifying figure for the new nation and model for its future Presidents, often called "the father of his country", on his, well, birthday, 22 February. Veterans Day is now called that to commemorate all veterans, and was originally to commemorate the armistice which ended World War One starting on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 11 November. Decoration Day was chosen to commemorate Civil War dead on 30 May precisely because that date is not connected with any particular battle or other event of the Civil War.

The dates mean something, closing up shop for a particular commemoration of a particular something on a particular date, not an opportunity to take the 3rd Monday in February, the 4th Monday of October, and the last Monday in May off from work to do other things, or stay at work to boost business from big sales attracting those off work. The outcry over this loss of the meaning of the day, and acquiring meanings unrelated to it, was enough that Veterans Day was moved back to its original date in 1978, but with the provision that if that date fell on a Sunday it could be observed the following Monday, or if on a Saturday either on that Saturday or the Friday before.

In the 1980s advertisers began the push to boost sales on the new day for Washington's Birthday as "Presidents Day" including Lincoln whose birthday is 12 February. So now we have Washington's Birthday, which is still the official name of the holiday, not on Washington's birthday, not altogether about Washington, not generally known under its name but an advertising nickname, and not really about presidents either but time off work and buying stuff.

As to Memorial Day, it is for no other purpose than to take time from our normal pursuits to commemorate those who gave their lives in the armed forces of this country that we might have the freedom to go about those pursuits. It's not for the dead per se -- the church provides that with All Saints Day on 1 November, and other religions have similar observances for the dead -- not for living veterans and current service members, both of which groups have their own commemorations, which are observed on this blog, and certainly not to provide a three day kick off for Summer.

Conclusion.

For us Lutherans, and for all others, their sacrifice has given us a country where we need not wrestle with local, regional and national governments to hold our beliefs, or have our services in the only place where services are going to be, the state church, or at least be tolerated by it. We are free to form our churches according to our understanding of God, as are others according to their understandings, as are others who choose not to participate. Nor do we need to re-create here church structure that emerged in the old countries where that was not the case and church officials were state officials too. What an incredibly precious gift.

The VFW noted in its Memorial Day statement of 2002: "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day." Efforts continue to return Memorial Day to its original date of observance.

But we can return the observance itself to what it is, as General Logan said, to commemorate those who have died defending their country, AND to renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

11 May 2011

Armed Forces Week And Day, 2011.

This blog posts annually about Veterans Day, so it seems appropriate to mention the day for those currently serving. It's actually a full week, beginning the second Saturday in May and ending the third Sunday in May, with Armed Forces Day itself the third Saturday in May.

Originally, each branch of the military held its own day, and weren't branches of a unified military either. After World War Two, the US armed forces were unified in a new, single branch of government, the Department of Defense. Armed Forces Day was created to reflect that change, which was announced on 31 August 1949 and celebrated for the first time on 20 May 1950.

Some information on the original separate days will help toward one of the goals of Armed Forces Day, a better understanding by the general public of the armed forces.

Army Day. 6 April. The first Army Day was 1 May 1928. The day was chosen to offset the Communist Worker's Day also on 1 May. The next year it was changed to 6 April, the date of the US entry into World War One, and stayed there. The military history of the United States begins with colonial militias of citizen-soldiers originally working with the British military, which later became state militias and since 1903 the National Guard, with some units on state status and some also reserve units of the United States Army. The Army itself began on 14 June 1775, when the Continental Congress formed the Continental Army. It disbanded in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris formally ended the Revolutionary War, and was re-created by Congress as the United States Army on 14 June 1784.

Navy Day. 27 October. First celebrated in 1922. 27 October was chosen because it is both the birth date of Theodore Roosevelt, who was a very strong voice as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and the date in 1775 when a committee of the Continental Congress issued a report to begin a navy with the purchase of ships from merchant lines. The Navy considers 13 October 1775, the date of the Continental Congress resolution to form that committee, its inception, though there was no naval force after the Revolutionary War other than the Revenue Cutter Service, now the Coast Guard, until 1794 when, to defend against pirates, Congress mandated building six frigates. They were launched in 1797, one of which, the USS Constitution, is still a frigate in the United States Navy.

Air Force Day. 1 August. This day was established in 1947 when the Air Force was still part of the Army, as the recently concluded world war had demonstrated air as an essential frontier to be protected. The date comes from the date of the establishment of the first unit of what would become the Air Force, the Aeronautical Division in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, in 1907. The Air Force became a separate branch on 18 September 1947.

Marine Corps Day. 10 November. The Marine Corps was established by Congress on 11 July 1798 to serve under the Department of the Navy. Marine Corps Day was celebrated on 11 July by the Corps from its first birthday in 1799 until 1921. The date was changed in 1921 to 10 November to reflect the original establishment of the Marine Corps on 10 November 1775 to assist the navy during the Revolutionary War, after which the Corps was disbanded. The Marine Corps still observes this day, while participating in Armed Forces Day as well.

Coast Guard Day. 4 August. On that day in 1790 the Treasury Department under Alexander Hamilton established the Revenue Cutter Service, to enforce the first US tariff laws. The Revenue Cutter Service has been in service ever since, becoming the Coast Guard on its merger with the Lifesaving Service in 1915. The day is still observed in the Coast Guard, which also participates in Armed Forces Day. The Coast Guard is unique among the military's five armed services in that it is both military and law enforcement; in 1967 it was transferred from Treasury to the then new Department of Transportation, then on 25 February 2003 it was transferred again to then recently created Department of Homeland Security, but as before in wartime at the direction of the President or Congress it can be transferred to the Navy under the Department of Defense.

What's this got to do with the Lutheran faith? Among the many other benefits, our armed forces have secured a country where we are free to form our congregations and church bodies, and not, unlike the countries from which many of our ancestors came, have to fight over what will be the church funded by the state or fight to be allowed to be part of the state church.

President Truman's Proclamation of the first Armed Forces Day states a goal that has become more telling as the years have passed:

"Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America's defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense."

04 May 2011

C.F.W. Walther. 7 May 2011.

What if the times were like this: Lutherans are saying that while there may have been historic merit in the Lutheran Confessions, the fact is the old doctrines and practices no longer make sense to people in our day, and the church must change to fit the times, adopting new measures if it is to draw people to Christ, and leave the old things to former times, things like liturgy and sacraments and concern for doctrine.

Huh? Isn't that THESE times? Well, the times I have in mind in this description are two centuries ago, Lutheranism in the US in the 1800s! If they sound just like our times, and they do, that is because, to borrow Bishop Sheen's phrase, there are no new errors, just old errors with new labels, so they look new to us and take us in.

The fact is, the circumstances and condition of Lutheranism at the time of the formation of our beloved synod are exactly those of our own. And now with the added twist that in our times even within our beloved synod one hears the very same old errors, now with new labels, the synod was formed to counter with solid, orthodox Lutheranism grounded in the Confessions of the Lutheran faith, our Concordia, so that not only the book but the synod may present in our teaching and liturgical practice with one heart, as the name Concordia means, the faith of Christ correctly stated in them.

So on this "feast day" of CFW Walther, our first synodical president, instead of offering something about him, here is something about that which he was all about offering. Let's let him speak in his own words. Well, his own words translated from German, with a few notes from me indicated like [this].

We know and firmly hold that the character, the soul of Lutheranism, is not found in outward observances but in the pure doctrine. If a congregation had the most beautiful ceremonies in the very best order, but did not have the pure doctrine, it would be anything but Lutheran. We have from the beginning spoken earnestly of good ceremonies, not as though the important thing were outward forms, but rather to make use of our liberty in these things. For true Lutherans know that although one does not have to have these things (because there is no divine command to have them), one may nevertheless have them because good ceremonies are lovely and beautiful and are not forbidden in the Word of God. Therefore the Lutheran church has not abolished "outward ornaments, candles, altar cloths, statues and similar ornaments," [AP XXIV] but has left them free. The sects proceeded differently because they did not know how to distinguish between what is commanded, forbidden, and left free in the Word of God. We remind only of the mad actions of Carlstadt and of his adherents and followers in Germany and in Switzerland. We on our part have retained the ceremonies and church ornaments in order to prove by our actions that we have a correct understanding of Christian liberty, and know how to conduct ourselves in things which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman antichristendom enslaves poor consciences by imposing human ordinances on them with the command: "You must keep such and such a thing!"; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. Unfortunately, also many of our Lutheran Christians are still without a true understanding of their liberty. This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies.

It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist [on what "Methodist" means here, see the note below], who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

It is too bad that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great with many people — this does not, however, alter the fact that it is very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said, "Qui cantat, bis orat–he who sings prays twice."

This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16) that the congregations of his time had a similar custom. It has been the custom in the Lutheran Church for 250 years [this is now about 400 years]. It creates a solemn impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the their joy in such a lovely manner.

We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.

Uniformity of ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon Church order published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A poor slave of the pope finds one and same form of service, no matter where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church.

With us it is different. Whoever comes from Germany without a true understanding of the doctrine often has to look for his church for a long time, and many have already been lost to our church because of this search [just as true now of those born right here but also without such an understanding]. How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafers?

The objection: "What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?" was answered with the counter question, "What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: "It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments".

(C.F.W. Walther, Explanation of Thesis XVIII, D, Adiaphora, of the book The True Visible Church, delivered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, beginning August 9, 1871, at the 16th Central District Convention, translated by Fred Kramer, printed in Essays for the Church [CPH: 1992], I:193-194).

Note. His reference to "Methodist" should not be confused with the present United Methodist Church, a body formed in 1968 from the union of the Evangelical United Brethren and the The Methodist Church, which itself was formed in 1939 from a reunion of three groups originating in the Methodist Episcopal Church. However, the conflation of the Holiness Movement with the Social Gospel is characteristic throughout, with the emphasis on personal feeling of sanctification in living still prominent in "evangelical" churches to-day and Pietism in our own history.

Hat tip to Pastor Paul T McCain, on whose excellent Cyberbrethren blog I saw this excerpt.