Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Book of Concord Site


If you are interested in the historic confessions of the Lutheran Church, there is a new site you need to check: The Book of Concord. It contains the complete next of the Book of Concord (including the German 1580 version), introductions to the book, and a wealth of other information. There is even a link to a blog where you can interact with others on questions or concerns regarding the theology of the Book of Concord. So, bookmark this now. I am also going to provide a link to the left on this blog if you forget ;)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Are the Unborn Protected or Not? I'm Confused

"Authorities Want to Arrest Pregnant Woman to Protect Unborn Child." So the headline read this past Wednesday over at MSNBC. The woman in question is an habitual drug user who has repeatedly refused treatment. The district attorney wants to arrest the woman to protect the unborn child from her uncontrolled drug abuse. The author of the article called the action "controversial," yet only a couple of sentences later reported that "Parents can't understand why a woman would use drugs with a baby due in just a few months. 'I’ve been a dad and a grandfather for over a year, and it's hard for me to imagine why someone would ever do that to a child. Why they wouldn't take care of them?' Frank Schinko said."

Interesting how common sense can understand the need to protect life even when it is pre-born, yet the so-called right to terminate a pregnancy is considered one of the most sacred of choices. It is also interesting how many states protect the life of an unborn child when the mother is injured or attacked. The following link is dated to 1999, but I wonder if many of these laws have been since changed. I suspect very few. The law easily recognizes what the law easily dismisses. How ironic.

If there is any doubt on the above link, check out the Wikipedia article "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" from 2004. Yet the irony rises here again. In the first paragraph we read the following:
"The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-212) is a United States law which recognizes a "child in utero" as a legal victim, if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of any of over 60 listed federal crimes of violence. The law defines "child in utero" as "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb."

Then a little later we read this:
"The legislation was both hailed and vilified by various legal observers who interpreted the measure as a step toward granting legal personhood to human fetuses, even though the bill explicitly contained a provision excepting abortion, stating that the bill would not 'be construed to permit the prosecution' 'of any person for conduct relating to an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman, or a person authorized by law to act on her behalf', 'of any person for any medical treatment of the pregnant woman or her unborn child' or 'of any woman with respect to her unborn child.'"

So let me see if I get this right. If I deliberately injure a woman and cause the death of her unborn child, I can be prosecuted. But if that woman decides to bring about the death of that unborn child herself through abortion, she is legally protected. I'd say we are confused here on the nature of unborn life, but that's probably not the real point. The point is that we know killing is wrong, in any form. On the other hand, we also are a society of situational ethics, where we change the definition of right and wrong depending on how ii impacts our personal preferences. And within that is the sin that continues to bring about one of the greatest holocausts mankind has ever known.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Value of Guilt

Recently I received a forwarded piece from George Carlin on the subject of "How to Stay Young." Much of his advice was common sense and reasonable. One point, however, caught my attention. He wrote: "9. Don't take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, even to the next county; to a foreign country but NOT to where the guilt is."

Now I understand that there is an excessive and unhealthy side to guilt. I've been there. Too often we can beat ourselves up over false guilt, taking on responsibility that is not ours. In that sense, I agree. Don't take such a 'trip.' It only leads to misery.

On the other hand, our society regularly tells us that any guilt is unhealthy, and that we should do whatever makes us happy and content. Our mores are self-serving credos that elevate freedom as the highest aspiration. And this lack of restraint has brought untold damage to marriages and families, cheapened sex, increased violence and substance abuse, and somehow reasoned that "personal choice" trumps the higher need to protect life. In this sense, we are greatly in need of more guilt, not less. Yet guilt assumes regret over breaking a law outside ourselves. If this law is not recognized, there can be no real guilt.

Guilt is most unhealthy when it knows no absolution. But thanks be to God that in Christ we have true forgiveness for repented guilt. The law that brings guilt in this sense is good, for it humbles our pride. Then the Gospel can awaken true faith. If Carlin wants to avoid this "guilt trip," he is to be pitied.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Labyrinths


According to an article in my Sunday paper labyrinths are finding "new converts in the modern world." In "A Spiritual Path," Post-Crescent author Cheryl Anderson begins by recounting how a certain Anglican priest began creating these things by mowing intricate paths in her backyard, and then later at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Menasha, WI. This is just the latest version of what has descended from one of the most famous 'Christian' labyrinths located at the Chartres Cathedral of Notre Dame, France.

"A labyrinth is a form of a maze," Anderson writes, "but unlike a maze there's only one path leading to the center with no dead ends or false turns. It is a meditative tool used to quiet the mind. Labyrinths serve as a metaphor for the person's inward spiritual journey." Labyrinths fell out of exsistence over time, and were only 'rediscovered' in the '80's and '90's.

I have never 'walked" a labyrinth, so I have no real experience with them. The idea of focused walking in a quiet atmosphere to aid in prayer and meditation would seem to have benefits for those who struggle with distractions. Mideaval believers used the labyrinth as a substitute for pilgrimage to the Holy Land,and as Anderson notes, "to gain spiritual merit." For that reason I can imagine that the practice would have been suspect among the early reformers who were cautious of anything that took away from grace and faith alone in Christ. However, I am not sure that Luther or the others had an familiarity with this practice by the 15th or 16th century.

Overall walking labyrinths seems innocent enough. My only concern would be if someone substituted this for true devotional prayer centered in the Word, feeling that they could "find God" by merely walking the path. As this Anglican priest admitted of her time in labyrinths: "I've had experiences where I've felt like I was in the pressence of the holy one, in the hands of God." Such an experience I have usually reserved for describing my time in the sanctuary during the Divine Service centerered on Word and Sacrament.

For now walking around my country church for exercise and meditation seems to work fine for me. I guess I'm not really into trends. Any way, I hate to mow. I'd just as soon keep all the grass at one length.

Note added on 9-15-08: For additional information discovered after this article was originally written, please make sure to read the "comments" section. Links provided here will help those interested to learn more about the concerns some Christians are expressing concerning the current use of "prayer labyrinths."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Do Stay-at-Home Moms Damage Their Children?


The title to this article presents an odd question. However, it was raised by one of the writers to Dear Abby and reflects a deep seated concern in our times regarding women, children, traditional families, and the role of women in society. This mother from Texas claims that she loves being with her children and taking care of them. Yet, she wonders: "Am I doing long term damage to them by being so dependent on their father for everything?

To her credit, Abby affirms the value of a loving mother. "How can having a mother in the house whose focus is on their welfare and development be damaging?" she asks. "Most children should be so fortunate." Indeed. Nevertheless, I suspect that there are those out there who would answer differently, advising this women to get out there an find a career so that her children had the proper role model of an independent and thoroughly self-sufficient woman. The irony of this woman's question is that the problem of our society is too few engaged and committed mothers, not too few independent career-minded ones.

God elevated motherhood as one of the highest honors a woman could know. It is also one of the greatest responsibilities in one's life: shaping and molding and directing the futures of countless children who will be the leaders of tomorrow. My wife has been an at-home mom now for 19 years and I thank God for the invaluable contribution she had made to their welfare and development as healthy, well-rounded individuals. Praise be to God for faithful motherhood!

Friday, September 12, 2008

On Synodical Structures and Changing Polity

Currently the LCMS has a blue ribbon task force studying possible changes in the structure of the governance of Synod. The September Reporter revealed several proposals currently on the table for discussion, summarizing a recently released "white paper" called Walking Together - The LCMS Future. The suggestions, at present, seem to be fairly extensive, and in some cases reflecting conflicting directions. Districts should either be increased in number or decreased or remain the same, but cooperate more with other districts. Change the circuits so that they are purely "visitational," and not "electoral." Involve the district presidents in choosing the circuit counselors. Change the voting representation so that larger congregations will have more delegates to correspond to their greater membership numbers. Discontinue advisory delegates. Continue the policy for submission of overtures, but include district or synodical officers as well. Encourage congregations to submit their concerns through circuit forums to district conventions and then have those results submitted to the national convention (instead of individual congregations submitting them indepentently as they can do so now.) Change the name of the Synod to "better reflect who we are today..." Involve district presidents and the congregations being served by pastoral candidates in the certification process. Make commissioned ministers eligible as voting delegates. And on go the suggestions...

Naturally I have my concerns, even fears, when I see proposals for far reaching change. While I understand that governance is a matter of choice - that is, there are no divinely appointed forms here - I also am cautious when we want to change structures that have, for the most part, stood the test of time, albeit imperpectly in an imperfect world. I hesitate on matters that seem, to my eyes, to reflect a possible tendency to centralize power, even for the sake of effeciency. For an effecient organization can also be one that too easily bypasses the need to consult the will of the people. Efficiency over representation. Even the forefathers of our nation knew there might be problems brewing here. They created what could be considered a fairly cumbersome and inefficient system of governance. But it was not because of carelessness. It was by design. Balance of power, they called it. One branch was never to become an out-of-control freight train racing ahead of the others.

I pray that the delegates of the 2010 convention carefully study these proposals and those that will certainly follow on their heels. Too often delegates have so much information before them that they cannot digest it all. They trust those who bring the overtures to the floor, assuming that they certainly are all for the best of everyone. While I do not wish to questions the sincereity or integrity of those who bring such proposals, I do hold the right to question whether they are in our best interest at this time. And right now I am wary. I hope that those who represent us are equally cautious in thier willingness to endorse these proposals. This all needs much more thought before it is brought to the synod.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Surprises About the Unchurched


Church-going people sometimes have stereotypes of those who do not go to church. They may think such people are thoroughly turned off of the established church, antagonistic to anything Christian or religious, resistive to invitations to Sunday worship, and put off by old, traditional church buildings. How wrong we are.

While searching Google for information on the unchurched, I ran across the following:

Ten Surprises About the Unchurched by Dr. Thomas Rainer

Unchurched Prefer Cathedrals to Contemporary Church Designs by Tobin Perry

The message on current outreach and evangelism often suggests significant changes from traditional practices. Old buildings are not attractive as theater-style structures, so the old cathedrals are torn down for state-of-the-art edifices with drop down screens and cutting edge sound systems. Hymnals and traditional music is tossed in favor of contemporary bands. All this is supposed to be so much more effective in reaching the unchurched. But what if simply having a regular Divine Service on Sunday morning with friendly people in a beautiful old church with stained glass windows was more attractive to those seeking the holy in the midst of this fallen world? Makes you wonder....

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pastor Hunter's All-Inclusive Prayer


On Thursday, August 28, the Rev. Joel Hunter of the Northland Church in Floria, gave the closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention. As a well-known, albeit unconventional Evangelical, Hunter's prayer certainly raised more than a few eyebrows in the Christian community. The buzz concerned the all-inclusive nature of the prayer (especially the ending), something unheard of in conservative Christian circles. As one who has been called upon to pray in public for a wide variety of civic groups over the years, it has always been my conviction that I would pray specificially in Jesus' name, or I would not pray at all. In the explanation to Luther's Small Catechism we read that "Only those who believe in Jesus Christ may pray to God and expect to be heard." Aparently Evangelical theology is changing. The definition of God is now broad enough to encompass all faiths.

Here is a transcript of the prayer as taken from the DNC itself. What do you think?

Please stand. We are all here to devote ourselves to the improvement of this country we love. In one of the best traditions of our country, would those of you who are people of faith join me in asking for God's help?

Almighty God, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us a reverence for all life. Give us a compassion for the most vulnerable among us - the babies, the children, the poor, the sick, the enslaved, the persecuted. For all of those who have been left out of the advantaged world. Give us a zeal to clean the environment we have polluted while we create an economy where everyone who can work can have a job. Help us to honor those who defend our country by working harder and smarter for peace. Help us to counter those that incite fear and hatred by becoming people who are informed and respectful and are known for principles and projects that aim higher than our own group's benefit. Guide Barack Obama and all of our leaders to be agents of your will and recipients of your wisdom. And grant that all of us citizens will continually do our part to contribute to the common good by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Now, I interrupt this prayer for a closing instruction: Because we are gathered in a country that continues to welcome people of all faiths, let us personalize this prayer by closing according to our own tradition. On the count of three, end your prayer as you would usually do. Amen! Let's go out and change the world for good!