Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vacationing in Missouri

The Synod, that is, not the State. Then again, they are a lot alike. Lots of neat stuff in Missouri - but then some real disappointments as well. The Arch is nice to look at, but the museum is that modern, History-Channelized, Big Government thingy. And don't even bother with Meramac Cavern: $17 a head just to get in! We kept driving - and then visited the free Illinois Caverns later on.

So also with vacationing in the Missouri Synod. It's a like a box of chocolates: you never know what creative worship resources you're going to get.

It's a sad thing, indeed, that something like the Evangelical-Lutheran Lutheran Congregation directory has to exist, but it sure does. The days are long gone when LCMS on the sign promised that you would be ushered into a reverent sanctuary where the Word of God would be proclaimed even if the pastor was a Bozo, thanks to the liturgy of the Church. (That sign never guaranteed that you would actually be able to receive the Lord's Supper on a given week - though that is one thing that has actually gotten better over the years, thanks be to God.)

But reverence goes beyond using the services of the Church. If the liturgy is not simply a matter of indifferent things, as the masthead of Gottesdienst would have it, neither is it simply a matter of "using what's in the book."

There's a whole subspecies of Lutheran pastor, we'll call him Pastor EZ Gohing, who doesn't like the new-fangled Evangelical worship stuff: the praise band, the coffee shop church, the soul patch, etc. Just not his style. Couldn't do it if he did like it and smart enough to know it. He'll stick to the stuff in the hymnal, thank you very much -- with maybe a couple of services a year (Thanksgiving, Easter) thrown in from Creative Communications or some such, to make it special.

But in general, Sunday in and Sunday out, he's a user of the services of the Church, from Matins to the Order of Holy Communion, to Divine Service Setting 5, etc. In fact, he likes to explore the hymnal. You're apt to run into the Service of Prayer and Preaching on a non-communion Sunday in the "after Pentecost" season of the Church year (as I did on my last vacation Sunday out West).

For while Pastor EZ Gohing doesn't really like Pastor Prehsband's style, they share some deeper assumptions: personal creativity in "worship planning" is a must, there must be variety in the order of worship from week to week, and (most centrally) church should be "comfortable" and "welcoming."

What they mean by comfortable and welcoming is that the worship should not be reverent. They don't think what they are doing is irreverent - they would never put it that way. For them, irreverent means a positive, overt act - like blasphemy. They have no concept that irreverence could be unintentional: if there is no mens rea then there can be no irreverence, they think. And they certainly don't intend irreverence.

They intend comfortable and welcoming and friendly. And they think the way to encourage this is with chatty commentary on the liturgy as the service progresses, or by inviting the children up front (sitting in the chancel facing the congregation, of course) to share an object lesson ending with a sucker, or by starting the sermon with a wisecrack, etc., etc.

Pr. Gohing thrills the kids with the story of how God told Moses to "Take a load off: you're on holy ground."

I spent my first Sunday off this year with Pr. EZ Gohing. Nice guy. Sermon was a little rambling - but amidst all the jokes and personal stories, he did preach about Jesus. I am thankful for that. But I have to say: one misses the reverence (and one certainly misses the Mass. When asked why they didn't have the Lord's Supper, my 4 year old, remembering a previous trip to this parish, surmised that they gave it up because "they don't have a chalice.").

We fight not against flesh and blood - but against The Flesh: our own and our neighbor's. Reverence is a great help with this. A buddy of mine once suggested that we start to speak of The Reverent Worship Movement. It's a good idea. If we were taking submissions for a Mission Statment for Gottesdienst, I would vote for: "To encourage reverence."


The World's Favorite Bible Verse (ESV)

Trinity IV is nigh upon us and with it the world's favorite Bible verse: Judge not, and you will not be judged.

Of course, Jesus has more to say - the log should come out and the sawdust, too. The "judge not" business is a statement of how the world works: judge and condemn not, and forgive, and men will do likewise for you. There is, after all, honor among thieves and an agreement between pot and kettle not to mention the word "black." But there's more: can the blind lead the blind. . .

All that is a commonplace in our preaching on this text - I bring it up only because those using the ESV will encounter a most puzzling mistranslation this week. To wit:

Luke 6:38 (ESV) give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you."

Luke 6:38 (KJV) Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.

Luke 6:38 δίδοτε, καὶ δοθήσεται ὑμῖν: μέτρον καλὸν πεπιεσμένον σεσαλευμένον ὑπερεκχυννόμενον δώσουσιν εἰς τὸν κόλπον ὑμῶν: ᾧ γὰρ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε ἀντιμετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν.

Usually I find the ESV a very faithful and straightforward translation - I'm excited to get the Lutheran Study Bible (will it be called LSB II: Son of LSB?) which will use this translation. But every translation drops the ball now and again - and the ESV certainly does here. The KJV's addition of "men" in v. 38 is a very good way to make things explicit.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

No Drums, Please

So, as I said at the eighteenth annual Concordia Catechetical Conference in Waukesha, Wisconsin last Thursday, there is such a thing as Dionysian music, as Dr. Daniel Reuning proposed some twenty-five years ago, and that it is to be discouraged, even disallowed in the Church.

Dionysian music, as I recall his having explained it, is music with a profound beat; music which resonates well with the natural rhythms of natural man (who is opposed to all that is spiritual, according to St. Paul).

I'll even venture to put it another way: natural man has a natural life which is defined by a naturally beating heart. The heart thumps as it pushes blood through the body, by which we live. And this, I would further venture to suggest, is what is so appealing about many kinds of popular music. It has a strong beat. We like a beat, because our hearts beat.

Once upon a time music had no beat at all. It was melodic and lilting, but tones and melismas moved with the syllables which were spoken. Gregorian Chant is the name given to this ancient type of music.

The first use of metical music in the churches was likely to have been a bit jarring to the people, to say nothing of their bishops. My guess is that one could find evidence of controversy surrounding its introduction into the churches, though I have not done the research.

Nonetheless, it gained acceptance, and my guess is that the Church determined it was at length admitted because although it now had a beat, its beat was determined (or, more likely, instinctively considered) not to have been so profound that it became the driving force in the music. Thus hymns and chorales as we now know them became acceptable.

Then came the mid-twentieth century, when 'contemporary music' invaded the churches. The argument has been made that this was just another step in the same direction. Jarring at first, but eventually, the reasoning goes, it will become counted as acceptable.

So, what's the problem?

My take is that it has crossed a line into what may be termed Dionysian music. In classical mythology, Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, was the god who inspired ritual madness and ecstasy or frenzy (bakkheia). I call Dionysian music a musical style driven by the natural impulses and rhythms, a drive which so governs the genre that the other elements of it are relegated to a sometimes distant second place.

This is certainly true with regard to many forms of rock music, jazz music, and pop music. As a musician, I find myself so enjoying these musical forms that I care little what the lyrics are saying. It bothers me that, say, some Led Zeppelin lyrics are raunchy, but admittedly it doesn't bother me all that much. I love the music. I love the beat. I am driven to a miniature kind of frenzy when I listen to it.

Hence, my reasoning goes, if it were employed in worship, in a manner of speaking it would be found to be in service to the god Dionysus: given to frenzy and ecstatic experience.

One can scoff at this idea, but I believe it is well worthy of considering, and I am thankful that Dr. Reuning explained it to me back when.

Thus I repeat the comment I made the other day: if I enter your church before the service commences, and I see an organ, fine. If I see a flute, or a violin, or even a guitar, ok: I would not be yet able to make a value judgment. But if I see a drum set, I know there's something wrong. A drum set keeps the beat, and strongly. It bespeaks a pulse, as it were a strong and powerful heartbeat. Too strong. Dionysian. Inappropriate for the service of God's Holy Word.

And this, I will dare to declare, is the very heart(beat) of what's wrong with contemporary worship.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Of the Word, Blessing, and Prayer

I really enjoyed the article by Fr. John Berg in the latest print issue. He brings up a topic that has been bandied about here before: the nature and function of the Word.

I think Fr. Berg's WELS colleagues were right that a sermon doesn't do an infant (whether in or ex utero) any good. Or rather, I should say, I think that it does an infant as much good as a sermon spoken in Polish does for me. Maybe it does some hidden good I'm not aware of and can't see evidence for - but I'd just be guessing at that. It would be pious speculation to say that a sermon does do an infant any good: take it or leave it, but don't hang your hat there.

But they would be wrong to say that since a sermon doesn't do an infant any good that therefore the Word doesn't do an infant any good. "Sermon" does not exhaust the category of "the Word." If a sermon, a rational discourse, cannot pierce the uteran walls, then some other Word can - and even the Word, in the narrow sense, is not the only thing that has God's promise.

This is where I agree vociferously with Fr. Berg that God has not left us in the dark concerning the unbaptized children of Christians - as the unfortunate wording of the WELS Q&A indicated (I propose starting an ecumenical alliance that would discourage denominational websites from offering Q&A. I'm sure Lutherans of all stripes as well as Baptists, Romanists, etc. would all join up.).

A blessing spoken from God's Word delivers - it pierces the uteran walls in Fr. Berg's memorable image. A blessing spoken by the pastor over the child in the womb at the communion rail is effective and has God's promise. "The Lord bless you and keep" can be spoken to me in Polish and be effective. I don't have to understand, or even know, that someone is speaking God's blessing on me to be blessed. It is truly the external Word. And that external Word has the promise of God. So Mary's greeting - undoubtedly the Herbrew blessing "Shalom" - pierces the uteran wall and blesses the infant.

Further, there is the promise of God's Word to hear our prayers - so even if we can't exactly place prayer in the narrow category of "the Word" we must admit that God's Word attaches promises to it. Interestingly, when he wishes to offer comfort to women who have miscarried, this is where Luther points. He doesn't talk about the child in the womb hearing sermons, or even receiving blessings - he talks about Christians praying for the child and God's desire and promise to hear those prayers favorably.


PS: The other piece of pious speculation from Fr. Berg I was taken with the first time I heard him speak of it last year at Octoberfest: Why do we assume that Lazarus, having been raised by the Lord, died again? Why not assume that he walks still among us - waiting for the day when the rest of us will catch up to him. I like that pious speculation quite a lot.

Monday, June 8, 2009

More on Receptionism

The latest print issue of Gottesdienst is about the Lord's Supper, reverence, and a special focus on refuting receptionism. Which brings to mind the time I almost got kicked out of a call for not being a receptionist. That's probably a little melodramatic, but not much. It's a long story how it got that bad - a story that starts with a 1955 CSL grad, Creative Communications' Christmas service with a tag-team Verba between pastor and congregation, and my intrepid request that we not use it. The story continues with me be harangued in front of the DCE as a witness (poor guy - a really nice fellow), the circuit counselor being called in. . . well, you get the point: when you graduate from the sem, try to avoid being an assistant pastor.

But there were two very good things to come out of it. First, I found support in the most unlikely of places: a seminary professor (and a chap climbing the Synodical bureaucratic latter, but who was, at that time, able to lend only moral support). The prof actually volunteered to do a phone conference with me, the angry party, and the circuit counselor. This, friends, is a rare seminary professor and for this act of kindness and steadfastness he has earned my deepest respect and thanks. And let me tell you - it was like a magic spell: once I said this prof would talk to us about it, the guy backed down post haste and the danger passed. He, the circuit counselor, and I had a nice talk - didn't need the prof to speak after all.

The other good to result was that I really had to dig into this topic. I found Teigen's indispensable book, looked at Sasse again, read the concise smack-down of receptionism by Scott Murray, talked with folks in the know etc. All that led me to produce a study document which you can read here, if you like.

Here I want to include just this brief quotation from what I wrote after reading all those fine works.

The Very Minor Confession

"83] However, this blessing, or the recitation of the words of institution of Christ alone does not make a sacrament if the entire action of the Supper, as it was instituted by Christ, is not observed (as when the consecrated bread is not distributed, received, and partaken of, but is enclosed, sacrificed, or carried about), but the command of Christ, This do (which embraces the entire action or administration in this Sacrament, 84] that in an assembly of Christians bread and wine are taken, consecrated, distributed, received, eaten, drunk, and the Lord's death is shown forth at the same time) must be observed unseparated and inviolate, as also St. Paul places before our eyes the entire action of the breaking of bread or of distribution and reception, 1 Cor. 10, 16.

"These paragraphs have been misquoted out of context to allow for receptionism. Some say that since the Formula says that the entire action of the Supper is needed for a valid Supper, then the presence of Christ is not effected until the last part of that action is observed. In saying this some Lutherans have again fallen into Aristotelian theories of form and action. However, the text itself tells us what the text means: what is excluded here is the Romanist practice of "consecrating" elements for the sole purpose of Corpus Christi processions or the papal "sacrifice of the Mass" [without the intention of ever consuming the elements]. Since these "celebrations" do not intend to follow Christ's institution, they are not the Lord's Supper merely because they ape the Words of Christ. Likewise, a group of Satanists gathering to mock the Lord's Supper would not have the Lord's Supper even if they recited the Words and distributed and ate the "consecrated" elements.

"Also the paragraphs have been badly misinterpreted through a basic mistake in logic. The paragraph says that "If the entire action of the Supper as instituted by Christ is not observed, then the recitation of the Words alone do not make the sacrament." The error in logic may be easily seen:

Let A be: The entire action of the Supper as instituted by Christ is observed.

Let B be: The recitation of the Words alone do make the sacrament.

The Confessions state: If not-A, then not-B.

The paragraph does not say anything at all about a celebration in which the whole action of the supper is to be carried out. As we have seen above, in such a celebration it is indeed Christ's Word alone which produces the Real Presence. To conclude otherwise from these paragraphs is to make the following error:

Given: If not A, then not B.

Given: A. Therefore: not B.

A further example of the same error may help make this clear:

Let A be: this ice cream is above 32 degrees F

Let B be: this ice cream is melted.

Given: If this ice cream is not above 32 degrees F, then it is not melted (If not A, then not B).

Given: The ice cream is above 32 degrees F (A). Therefore: it is not melted (not B).

Clearly this is faulty reasoning."


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Some Mysteries Explained

Petersen recommended that I read this book: Class: A Guide through the American Status System by Paul Fussell. My only complaint is that Petersen didn't have me read this sooner. I understand why he didn't: the knowledge therein gives one a steep Lifemanship advantage over others. Below, I intend to make Petersen pay for hording this advantage for himself.

The chief mystery this book explains is why some folks get on and others just can't. It's because class in our culture is very real, learned from the very beginnings of life, and very difficult to unlearn. It is nearly impossible to learn and adapt to the habits of another class. Try this, for example: You walk into a friend's living room and notice a beautiful new oil painting, an original not a print, over the fireplace. What is your reaction? If it is to compliment it and your friend you are hopelessly middle class. If you would simply appreciate the painting but think making any compliment would be terrible gauche, you are upper-middle or upper class. If you would rib your buddy about his pretension in owning such an effeminate artifact you are a prole (proletariat).

Fussell designates nine classes:

Top out-of-sight
High-proletarian (high-prole)
Bottom out-of-sight

His descriptions of these classes will have you alternately laughing and hiding your head in shame at yourself, your friends, and your family. His careful analysis also goes a long way to explain why some pastors just don't "fit in" in a certain call. They are of the wrong class. This is a problem more nuanced and difficult to untangle than Paul and the Jews and Greeks - chiefly because class is hidden in our culture. If you have been befuddled by your inability to "get" your parishioners, or simply fit right in without having to do a blessed thing - class is a piece of the answer why, likely a very big piece. This book, therefore, will be a great benefit to all pastors - and fits in very well with Petersen's advice on bringing change to a parish. You've got to understand your people to do that. And class is a big part of your congregation.

For example. My first call was to a very rich, very upper-middle class suburb of Chicago. I did not fit in with the majority. I was dizzingly uncomfortable when invited over to one of the elder's homes for lunch. I found the advent of November each year delightfully laughable when all the furs came out - after the first gal walked in like that I looked around to see who else was chuckling; no one was. The two parishioners I liked the best, and who liked me the best, were a mechanic and a guy who worked for the public works department. Oddly enough, the people I felt self-conscious around (like the banker with the foreign wife, McMansion, and fancy wine cellar) always complimented my preaching; the two guys I really liked and who really like me, not so much. I always found that strange.

After reading Fussell's book, all these mysteries were explained. I come from a high-prole family striving for middle class respectability. My dad is a meat cutter - always willing to explain to you that he is not a butcher (a meat cutter knows how to run the market, a butcher only cuts up the animal). My mom and step-mom (young marriage and divorce in the early 30's after a couple of kids is a depressingly regular habit of the high-proles) both worked outside the home in middle class occupations: marketing. So of course I didn't naturally jive with the folks who hired itinerant Aztecs to mow their lawns and never wore clothing with words on them: I came from a world where mowing the lawn was to be done after removing your Go Big Red T-shirt and decorating your home with a Southwest Theme was all the rage.

And it's why I fit in so well where I serve now. It's why the people find it easier to exercise the Christian virtue of toleration toward my eccentricities and foibles: I'm their kind of scum. I like killing my own food and I only enjoy two kinds of beer: cold and warm. I am not shocked or discomfited when they use, shall we say, "rustic" phrases to describe incessant rain or the relunctance of the milquetoast set to express their frustrations scatalogically (the high prole reader will understand).

So also: how can Petersen, with his black rain coat, poorly fitting tweed jackets (which he always, always wears. Never just a clergy shirt. The jackets often have elbow pads, like community college philosophy professors'.), middle Michigan upbringing, and love of comic books - how can this man survive in a mixed race urban parish? One trip to his self-painted home, one reading of blog posts expressing desperate support for the Bach society and Ballroom Dancing lessons gives the answer: like his parishioners he is middle class striving for something more. He is thus attractive to all who are likewise on the cusp of middle class, either coming up from high-prole or reaching up to something more.

And the Editor-in-Chief - how can this man with his six violin-playing sons, his PhD from Marquette, his homemade High Mass Missals in the pews - how can he survive in (!) Kewanee, IL? Perhaps you didn't read his screeds about his son not getting enough playing time in High School basketball? Or his "USA: Love it or Leave it," Sarah Palin-loving, waterboarding-supporting, Rush-listening conservatism? The man is high-prole to the core. He fits right in with Catepillar line workers and Pabst Blue Ribbon drinking mechanics. The doggedness of his caste didn't hurt him in sticking to his guns at St. Paul's, either.

I will let others read the book and provide illuminations for these:
* Juhl's hat.
* Every half-smart seminarian thinking he's going to get a PhD and teach there someday.
* Why DP's get reelected.
* Gerald Kieschnick.
* Cwirla picking blackberries off the trellis for breakfast.
* Why Wil Weedon and Paul McCain are BFF.

An aside. This is one reason why I love the liturgical set: they love learning and ideas. Between Adler recommending A. J. Nock and Petersen recommending this Fussell book, I've learned more in the past two weeks about sociology, economics, and politics than I had in all my formal education. Maybe this is how the other half lives, too, but I don't get that impression. When I talk with my friends of the Evangelical Style/Lutheran Substance set they are more apt to recommend books of a practical-tactical nature. Some of which can be good and useful (Petersen has also recommended some useful books of this order, like the one about affair proofing your marriage) - but very few of these sort of books threaten to change the way you look at the world. In the past year, I've received recommendations and read books, articles, or magazines that did just that from Juhl, Beane, Petersen, Adler, Seaver, etc.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Out of the Barn

Angels rejoice,
and earth repeats;

The Spirit proceeds,
since Pentecost morn,

And preachers proclaim
the tidings of peace

And Gottesdienst
is out of the barn.

Coming soon to a mailbox near you.

Unless, that is,
you have not subscribed;
which do, at once, and we'll send yours right away!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why I Use the Three-Year Lectionary


My name is Rick.

I am a user
of the three-year lectionary.

Here's why:

It is the lectionary from which my pastors fed me with the Gospel of Christ through high school and college.

It is the lectionary that my field-work and vicarage pastors used in the course of my training for the pastoral office. It is the lectionary from which they also fed me with the Gospel of Christ, and with which they assisted me in learning the art of preaching the Gospel.

It is the lectionary that over 90% of my brother pastors within my synodical fellowship use to feed the flocks entrusted to their spiritual care. Therefore, in conversation with my colleagues we are able to engage one another in discussions of these texts that we hold in common, and we are able to assist one another in our understanding and preaching of these Holy Scriptures.

Over fourteen years of preaching from the three-year lectionary, I have found it to serve the preaching of the Gospel faithfully and well.

I especially appreciate the way it moves through the Gospel witness of the several holy Evangelists, an approach that approximates the lectio continua of the early Church.

I also very much appreciate the reading of the Acts of the Apostles throughout Eastertide.

I am grateful for the extensive historical research that went into the formation of the original three-year lectionary by the Roman Church after Vatican II. I am likewise grateful for the focus of that work on the Paschal Mystery (the Cross and Resurrection of Christ); for the fundamental connection of this lectionary to the celebration of the Mass; and for the selection of its Old Testament lections on the basis of a unified Christological reading of the Holy Scriptures.

I am also very grateful for the way the three-year lectionary reinvigorated liturgical preaching in the Lutheran Church, and greatly helped to restore the practice of preaching on the appointed lections, the Holy Gospel in particular. On that score, I maintain that the renewed interest in, appreciation for, and salutary use of the historic lectionary in recent decades would not have occurred apart from the introduction of the three-year lectionary.

I do not use the three-year lectionary out of any protest against the historic lectionary; but I do persist in exercising my freedom to use the three-year lectionary against pressures which suggest that I am confessionally bound to use the historic lectionary. Our confession and preaching of the Gospel do not require the use of any one unique lectionary vis-a-vis another. The unity of our common confession does not necessitate the same lectionary, but the same Christ.

I don't use the three-year lectionary because of its "ecumenical significance," but neither do I refuse to use it on that basis. In the main, it is the lectionary used by the bulk of Christendom in the present day of the Church on earth. I do not hold that against it, but rather am glad of it. My confession and preaching of Christ and His Gospel from the three-year lectionary are, perhaps, a witness to those of other confessions who use basically the same lectionary.