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.

27 November 2015

A Thanksgiving That Lasts An Eternity.

I remember things better by the day than the date.

For example, to me my wife Nancy died the night before Thanksgiving, 2140 hours, 1997, rather than 26 November 1997. Dates fall on different days in different years, and the night before Thanksgiving always seems more like the anniversary of it rather than 26 November, which in 2014 was also the day before Thanksgiving but in 2015 it's Thanksgiving itself.

In addition to the obvious, what amazes me about it, then, now, and all points in between, is that it has not produced a crisis of faith in me, let alone a loss of faith. Now, if you haven't gleaned it from some of my posts, crises of faith and loss of faith were pretty much constant for me from Vatican II in the 1960s to professing the faith of the evangelical Lutheran church in 1996.

Vatican II tore up and stomped on pretty much everything that was the basis of my life back then. However, the death of your wife and mother of your children, toss in that their ages were fifteen months and three months at the time, is a tearing up and a stomping on at a whole different level and place.

I've been me for a while now, and "me" no doubt about it would take that as the final insult after all the rest from a god who probably doesn't exist anyway so forget the whole thing, it's a cruel joke that ain't funny.

But it didn't happen. Not Thanksgiving Eve when she died, not the next day when I spent Thanksgiving afternoon at the funeral home picking out caskets and stuff like that before arriving late for some turkey at the family dinner like everyone else. Not in the first few weeks of not having a clue how this single working dad with two babies will work beyond just getting through each day. Not later as routines emerged that worked but obviously aren't the ones we hoped and planned for. And not later as other difficulties and challenges emerged and still emerge.

That's not me. No way I can be like that, guaranteed, take that to the bank, I cannot do that. But it happened. Since other spiritual forces and powers do not bolster faith in Jesus Christ, I think we're going to chalk this up to the Holy Spirit. When they say faith is entirely the gift and work of the Holy Spirit, believe it, they ain't kidding.

Her funeral was the following Saturday. It was right by the service book at the time, all about faith in Jesus Christ for the salvation from sins unto eternal life. You couldn't have been there without getting the message that the only dead people present aren't in caskets but dead in sin unjustified by faith in Jesus Christ through whose merits alone they are counted saved unto eternal life, a promise He extends to all including right here and now.

The sermon concluded as follows, which I hear eighteen years later as clearly as the moment the pastor said it:

A few days ago, most of us celebrated a thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.

Amen.

May your Thanksgiving be a prequel to a Thanksgiving that lasts an eternity!

24 November 2015

Thanksgiving 2015.

Thanksgiving as such is not unique to the United States.  Celebrations of gratitude for the harvest at the end of the growing season appear in many times and places. They are found in Asia, Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the Americas.  In the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament) the last of the three great festivals, Sukkot, has such themes.  Here's a little something on the US Thanksgiving. 

226 years ago this year (2015) President George Washington proclaimed a national Day of Thanksgiving in the United States for the year 1789, the year in which provisional independent government ended and a permanent federal government took effect under a document, called a Frame of Government at the time but now known as the Constitution, ratified by all the states.  74 years later, or 152 years ago, in 1863, as the country was in a civil war, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Day of Thanksgiving. Not one thing about Pilgrims or turkeys in either of those proclamations.  Or watching sports or buying stuff for Christmas, er, the holidays, either. So what was/is this US Thanksgiving holiday all about anyway?  Here's the story.  

The "first" Thanksgiving -- all three of them. 

Guess what! There were two "first" Thanksgivings before the "first" Thanksgiving in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts!

The second "first" Thanksgiving before the "first" Thanksgiving was two years earlier. On 4 December 1619, English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, roughly 20 miles up the James River from Jamestown, the first permanent settlement, begun 14 May 1607. The ship's captain, John Woodleaf, led a service of thanksgiving and the settlement charter directed the date to be observed thereafter. Thereafter lasted until 1622 when the native population, not so grateful for their arrival, forced their retreat to Jamestown.

The first "first" Thanksgiving before the "first" Thanksgiving was 54 years earlier. Spanish settlers celebrated thanksgiving for their safe arrival 8 September 1565 at what is now St Augustine, Florida. This the first recorded thanksgiving in America, but, as this was Spaniards in a Spanish colony, La Florida, which didn't pass to English control until 1763 or become a state until 1845, it doesn't get much airplay among Anglos.

Thanksgivings were held at various times and places in the English colonies, after the harvest, but as days of prayer, not eating! The provisional Continental Congress proclaimed the first national thanksgiving, which was Thursday 18 December 1777, so I guess that's some sort of "first" too although the United States as constituted (literally) now didn't exist until 1789.

The United States Day of Thanksgiving. 

The first national day of Thanksgiving in the United States as such was proclaimed by President Washington for Thursday 26 November 1789. Presidents and governors proclaimed thanksgivings off and on after that.  Then starting with President Lincoln's designation in 1863 of the last Thursday of November that year as a day of national thanksgiving, for the next 76 years each subsequent president had year by year designated the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. Until FDR.

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 would help the economy out of the Depression with more sales. Gotta remember, once upon a time but not so long ago it was considered inappropriate to start the Christmas season before Thanksgiving.  So, he 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, but, nonetheless, 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. 1942 was the first Thanksgiving under the current law, by which time we were not in the middle of a civil war but the second of two world wars.

So the march to "Black Friday" began with a move to increase store sales on the day after Thanksgiving by moving Thanksgiving itself, a logical choice since many businesses gave the day after off too and then there's a week-end.  The name "Black Friday" originated in Philadelphia somewhere in the 1950s to describe the pandemonium of all the shoppers, and by the 1970s the term was in general use in the US.  Stores would open earlier than usual, like around 0600.  Then, as the 21st Century came, with a worsening economy it crept earlier by an hour or two to capture even more sales, and in 2011 major retailers opened at midnight, the first second of Friday, in 2012 some began opening Thanksgiving night and in 2014 it was extended into Thanksgiving afternoon.  Who knows, by decade's end maybe it'll be just Black Thanksgiving.

You know what, Washington had no more to say about sales, Christmas, Christmas sales, food or football than he did about Pilgrims and turkeys regarding Thanksgiving, when "Washington" referred to a man and not a city. Neither did President Lincoln, whose example, as to a proclamation anyway, had been followed since. Below are the original proclamations of the first United States Thanksgiving Day by President George Washington in 1789 and the 1863 proclamation by President Lincoln that was followed annually until modified for commercialism under FDR in 1939. Amazing stuff. Beautiful stuff. Our stuff.

Thing is, yes we don't find food and sports and shopping frenzies spoken of in that stuff, and, we also don't find now among our stuff that of which Washington did speak.  Such as:
- a duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of, to be grateful for the benefits of, and humbly to implore the protection of, Almighty God;
- a duty to observe a day of public thanksgiving and prayer for his favour, particularly in being able to form our kind of government;
- service of a great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all good;
- joining in prayers to the great Ruler and Lord Of Nations to pardon our wrongs, to enable us to perform our duties, to make our government a blessing of wise, just and constitutional law, to guide all Sovereigns and Nations in good government, to promote true religion and virtue, to increase science and such prosperity as he knows best among all mankind.

And where now among our stuff does one find that of which Lincoln spoke?  Such as:
- the fruits of our efforts being due not to ourselves but to God whose gifts they are, who though he punishes us for our sins remembers mercy too;
- that wherever we are, we offer praise and thanksgiving to our beneficient Father who dwelleth in the Heavens;
- that as we do, we also, with penitence for our perverseness and disobedience, ask the intervention of his Almighty Hand to heal the wounds we have caused ourselves, when it is consistent with His purposes.

Where do you find this sort of stuff now?  You don't.  Even though this is what Thanksgiving is meant to be.  And it's characteristic of our other founding stuff.  And not as a matter of Lutheran belief, or any other belief as no religion is specified, but as just being American, our stuff. Yet one does not find such talk in the public discourse now.

Instead, one finds:
- those who think such talk has no place in our stuff, and have pretty well succeeded in removing all such talk from our stuff, as part of being "politically correct", speech and therefore presumably thought control, once dreaded for a dystopian future but now ok;
- those who think this is a specifically Christian nation though no such mention is made, and try to restore things that were never there;
- those who see that there is nothing specifically Christian about Thanksgiving and thus deride it as American "civic religion".

All of them, equally in their different ways, miss what our stuff is all about.  Just as do those who make Thanksgiving about a big meal, football on TV, and heading to the stores to buy stuff for Christmas, er, "holiday", presents.

May we find something of Presidents Washington and Lincoln in our national celebration in 2015 as we did 226 years ago at the first one in 1789, and as we did 152 years ago at what became the first annual national one in 1863.

President Washington's Proclamation of the First U.S. Thanksgiving.

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

President Lincoln's Proclamation of Thanksgiving 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 Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
 
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
 
William H. Seward, Secretary of State

05 November 2015

What's An Armistice? Veterans Day / St Martin's Day 2015.

Here is what the world knows about Veterans Day, I hope. 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, in 1954 Congress changed the observance to include all veterans, hence Veterans Day.

What's An Armistice?

The English word armistice 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.

Who Is St Martin of Tours and Why Is He Patron Of Soldiers?

Martin was born a pagan around 316 in what is now Hungary, and was what is now called a military brat. Then as now, military families move a lot, and Martin grew up where his father was stationed, at Ticinum, which is now Pavia, Italy. His father was a tribune, which is roughly equivalent to a modern colonel, in the crack Roman unit the Imperial Horse Guard (equites singulari Augusti). Being a military kid, he was named Martin, from Mars, the Roman god of war.

The year of his birth, 316, was also the year it became legal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire, but it was a decidedly minority religion, and in the army the cult of Mithras was common. When Martin was ten, he ticked off his parents by starting to go to church and taking instruction as a catechumen (you know, the Sunday School, mid-week, etc of the time). However in 331 at 15 he joined the army, as sons of senior officers did, in a provincial cavalry unit (ala, or wing) and about 334 was stationed at Samarobriva, the Roman name for Amiens, in northern France.

One day, by the city gate of Amiens, he passed a man freezing on the road, tore his military issue cloak in half and gave half to him. That night, he had a dream seeing Jesus wearing the half a cloak. This shook him up, and he got baptised that year, 334, at 18. He remained in the army, but in 336 when it looked like the army and the local Gauls were about to engage at Worms, he declared he was a soldier of Christ and could not fight. He was thrown in the brig (military jail) and charged with cowardice. He offered to be in the front lines but unarmed, and the army was going to do just that with him, but the Gauls made peace with Rome and the battle did not happen.

After that Martin was discharged from the service. He went to Tours, and began to study with the renowned, even in his own time, St Hilary. Hilary was a convert too, and he vigourously opposed the Arian "Christianity" of the Visigoths, and was elected by the faithful of Poitiers as their first bishop (they did that then), married with a daughter and all (they did that then too). Martin set about combating the Arian heresy too, which about did the church in at the time, thinking he was God's soldier now.

He and Hilary were both forced into exile by persecution. Martin lived as a hermit but when Hilary was restored in 361 Martin joined him. He started a monastery in nearby Liguge, which is still there as the now Benedictine (of course) St Martin's Abbey, from which he preached Christianity all around the area. Later, the people of Tours made him their third bishop when the old one died in 371 and he was finally persuaded to accept. From there he soldiered on to preach the true Gospel in Gaul, and, to get away from the attention of his office, he established another monastery, Marmoutier, which also later became Benedictine, on the other side of the River Loire in Tours, about 372, which lasted until the French Revolution in 1799 and is largely in ruins now.

A good insight into Martin is something that happened in 385.  Remember that 385 is just five years since the Imperial Edict of Thessalonica defined what is and is not the Catholic Church, and made the Catholic Church the state religion, which makes heresy a state offence punishable by the Empire.  In 385 Priscillian, bishop of Avila in Spain, and his followers were brought before the Emperor, Magnus Maximus, on charges of false doctrine, heresy, stemming from their severe asceticism, and the penalty was beheading.  But Martin, though he was quite opposed to Priscillian, hurried to Trier, where the Imperial court held forth at the time, not Rome, to protest the sentence as both unjust in itself and an unjust imposition of civil power in a church matter. The Emperor relented, but, after Martin left the court beheaded them anyway. This was the first time ever that a Christian executed another Christian for heresy, and Martin was absolutely disconsolate after he heard the news and urged mercy toward Priscillian's followers.

Martin died 8 November 397 and was buried 11 November, which became his feast day, though the date of death is the usual practice for determining a feast day. He was widely venerated for centuries, which I will not go into except for this, soon after his death it became the custom to begin a 40 day fast in preparation for Christmas, the quadragesima sancti Martini or St Martin's Fast, with his feast day being the last non-fasting day until Christmas. This eventually shortened into what we know as Advent now. More on that in the "Advent" post coming up.

An Armistice on St Martin's Day 1918.

So, 11 November, feast of the patron of soldiers for centuries, date of Armistice Day, now Veterans Day? Hmm. Coincidence, or one of those little things that pokes through from what is beyond the surface? Wanna know something else just a little too co-incidental? The military campaign that led to the armistice is the Hundred Days Offensive, aka the Grand Offensive, from 8 August to 11 November 1918. Guess where the Hundred Days Offensive started. With the Battle of Amiens, where the Roman officer Martin had given the freezing beggar the cloak. Hmm.

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, millions more lives were forever changed, and, 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, in which the Olympians were the victors and established a new world order, this time who would be the victorious Olympians, or if there even were victors or Olympians, was not clear. The old world order, and its certainties both temporal and eternal, were gone. Man began to speak of life as absurd, and 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, either by holding on to a religious faith from the old order's certainties, or equally, by holding on to the secular faith in the progress and perfectibility of Man or the restoration of the old political order.

Increasingly, as what was to end all cataclysms only led to further and worse cataclysms, Man spoke of Angst, anxiety, in which Man on the one hand yearns for the certainties and meanings of the old world order but on the other knows they are but lost illusions that no longer work.

The resolution? There isn't one.  That embodiment of the old order, the Titanic, sank 15 April 1912, 103 years ago.  The spark that would light the keg of the War To End All Wars, the assassination of Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand along with his wife Herzogin Sophie, on 28 June 1914, was 100 years ago last year. And, 97 years after the armistice, in 2015 hostilities continue amid the wreckage of 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. 

One hundred years on, more or less, from the collapse of the old world order and its temporal and eternal certainties, their loss has now become normal, and what was once sensed as a loss or void, is no longer sensed as such, because they were never known anyway.  Angst, anxiety, is the norm and no longer experienced as anxiety, and, though the void which produced it remains, the void is not sensed as any void at all.  We become as a people like a person with Alzheimer's, prisoners of the present, no longer recognising who and what we are.

So the Twelve Titans fell to 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, a history filled with however many religious, philosophical, social and political programmes to accomplish his fulfillment -- and a history filled with the dashing of all of them.

There's twelve something else who had something to say about that. The Twelve Apostles. They got told to go into the world with the message.  The message is:
- 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 as God calls and feeds Man in the church wherever his Word is properly preached and his Sacraments properly administered.

Interesting that in that context, on 11 November, St Martin's Day, in 1483, 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 like his namesake would devote his life to preaching the true Gospel against false doctrine and corruption from state control of the church.

Conclusion.

So on 11 November, Armistice Day now Veterans Day and also St Martin's Day, 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.