Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Snorting Horse

As a racehorse that snorts when the gate's latch is jangled by the jockey's aide as he fumbles with the lock, so the Christmas issue of Gottesdienst prepares itself to bolt onto the racetrack. The mailroom volunteers are like the horse's restless hooves: she can't wait to spring forth, and they can't wait to sort and carry the mailbags to the Post Office this week.

In this issue you will find the 2012 Gottesdienst Liturgical Calendar, and:

Two seasonal sermons
The Gospel in the Details
The Virtue of “Overstatement”
Two new poems
The Marcions Are Coming!
An Unfading Remembrance and Noble Heritage
The Best Preaching
Sixteen Years of Sabre-Bearers
GottesGuests at La Quinta January 17-20
In the Beginning: The Seventh Day

Not a subscriber yet? It's still very inexpensive ($15/year), so why not take care of that matter today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

30% Off DDSB & New Testament in His Blood

The publisher of Gottesdienst editors' choice is running a cyber Monday sale. Get Daily Divine Service Book, The New Testament in His Blood, and other titles from Dr. Eckardt or myself for 30% off with the code CYBERMONDAY305 at checkout.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Out of my depth

The most useful thing I've read about being a pastor in a long time. How to live a life out of your depth.

HT: The inestimable Lew Rockwell.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Contemptible Worship, Swedish Style

By Larry Beane

As if Lesbian "bishops" and gay porn in the cathedral weren't enough, here is the latest blasphemous attempt by the Lutheran (sic) "Church" of Sweden to engage the youth.

This about sums it up:
The church in Sweden has become increasingly progressive.  In 1958, it allowed its first female priests, and two years ago ordained its first openly gay bishop, Eva Brunne, and gave priests the right to wed same-sex couples.   
Idestrom says his modern Mass is a further development on the road of progress.
"People say this is exactly what the Church of Sweden needs," he said. "We need to develop the services so that we have a service also for people, mainly from the younger generation, who like this kind of music."
That's always the rationale for "contemporary worship."  And notice how it never stops with a few guitars, a flute, and a piano...
"There are churches who have U2 Masses, where they play music by U2, some have animals — horses and dogs and donkeys — and we have motor cycle Masses."
This is exactly what happens when the church forgets that worship is Gottesdienst (Swedish: Gudstjanst), God's service - a holy, supernatural, sacramental transaction in which the Lord gives His gifts to His people in Word and Sacrament, who in turn worship Him with reverence and gratitude for the sacrifice that has saved them from sin, death, and the devil.  Once that bond of mystery is broken, once the connection to the faith of our fathers is severed, there is not much left but a shallow and pathetic cry for attention that can quickly degenerate into a freak show.

At the heart of the matter, it's a first commandment issue.  Do we worship and submit to Christ?  Or do we worship ourselves and serve the god "entertainment"?  The liturgical butchers of the "Church" of Sweden have made it clear what is the object of their veneration.

HT: Dr. William Tighe

Speaking of Poetry . . .

This blew me away this morning, again from the Almanac:

The White
by Patricia Hampl

These are the moments
before snow, whole weeks before.
The rehearsals of milky November,
cloud constructions
when a warm day
lowers a drift of light
through the leafless angles
of the trees lining the streets.
Green is gone,
gold is gone.
The blue sky is
the clairvoyance of snow.
There is night
and a moon
but these facts
force the hand of the season:
from that black sky
the real and cold white
will begin to emerge.

"The White" by Patricia Hampl, from Resort. © Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1983. From The Writer's Almanac for November 12, 2011.

It is cold here, all the leaves are down, but the sun is shining and the sky is blue. The last two nights the sky has been clear, the moon full. Ms. Hampl just described my world and noted for me the sad foreboding reality that we are in our last "nice" days of the year: winter is coming.

Anyway, great poem.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Read Poetry for Better Preaching

Spurred on by my recent column in Gottesdienst, I’ve enjoyed a little series at Issues, Etc. with Rev. Todd Wilken on how to become a better preacher. In the midst of this, fellow Gotteseditor (that is edited by God and not the other way around) Rev. Jason Braaten put me on to the book Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media have Shaped the Messenger by T. Gordon David. It turns out, by the way, that Wilken has interviewed David. You can listen here: http://issuesetc.org/podcast/222050509H2S1_2.mp3

You should read David’s book. $7.50 on the Kindle, which is deliciously ironic and also a great bargain. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1596381167/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=3141364181&ref=pd_sl_46v6whdqbq_e

In the course of the interview with Wilken, David advocates preachers reading poetry to become better preachers. I myself have advocated this for years. Once in a while some non-logophile preacher tries to take me up on it and then sends an e-mail asking, “How does one read poetry.” Generally, I’ve ignored those e-mails. But here is an attempt to help.

Step one: just do it. Subscribe to the Writer’s Almanac from NPR and read a poem a day. It is fast. It is easy. You don’t have to understand them or appreciate them. Just read them. Get into the habit. Sooner or later, one of them will make sense, one of them will hit you were you live.

Step two: go to the public library and get the audio course from the Teaching Company on listening to poetry. You might have to make an interlibrary loan request. You should know how to do that anyway. The public library is your friend.

If that spurs you on, I suggest you pick up poetry anthologies from the library. The Norton anthologies for English 101 are quite good. The notes are nice also.

I’ve ignored the question because I am not an English major: I simply love poetry. But I will now do a stupid thing and try to take you through a poem. Here is the poem from the Writer’s Almanac that landed in my in-box this morning.

When the War is Over
by W.S. Merwin

When the war is over
We will be proud of course the air will be
Good for breathing at last
The water will have been improved the salmon
And the silence of heaven will migrate more perfectly
The dead will think the living are worth it we will know
Who we are
And we will all enlist again

"When the War is Over" by W.S. Merwin, from The Lice. © Copper Canyon Press, 1993. Found at The Writer’s Almanac http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/ for November 10, 2011.

Read the poem out loud. Then read it again. Does it work? Maybe not. The poet is playing with you. The sense requires you ignore the line breaks and find the real breaks on your own. Here is how it should sound when read for sense:
When the war is over, we will be proud, of course.

The air will be good for breathing, at last.

The water will have been improved.

The salmon and the silence of heaven will migrate more perfectly.

The dead will think the living are worth it.

We will know who we are.

And we will all enlist again.

The poem is lamenting the sad reality that war is inevitable, that we do not learn from history. It subtly mocks the idea that the dead think the living are worth it, that we are proud of our violence. The poem is told, remember, from the perspective that the war has not yet ended. This is the private in the trench trying to comfort himself. He might be one of those dead. He is desperate that air and water quality improve again, that the salmon return. He hopes his future pride will make it worth it, that if he lives his dead buddies don’t begrudge him. But he is sad, confused, uncertain in these bold statements.

That sadness and confusion, that bitter note at the end, that we don’t learn, that war will never end, etc, is conveyed by more than the words. It is conveyed also by the lacking punctuation and weird line breaks. The poet seeks to create an experience in you. The only way to participate with him is to meet him half-way. He wrote the poem now you have to read it, carefully, deliberately, more than once or even twice. You have to invest. Then it becomes clear and you are part of it.

The poem is about more than war. It is about the lies we tell ourselves, our attempts to comfort ourselves, and our realism, knowing, that it won’t work.
What this does for preaching is create an awareness of the power of words not just for their dictionary definition, but for the exact right word at the exact right place.

So there you go. There is the Petersen method of poetry reading. English majors may now assault in all their manliness.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


While I have been constantly updating Daily Divine Service Book to correct the typos that users have found in the first edition, it has always been my hope to eventually offer a fully reworked second edition. As you might imagine, this is a lot of work and I wanted to make sure that a full-blown second edition would really have something unique to offer. If I'm not going to be able to produce a product that is significantly different than the first edition, then I can make better use of my time.

Well, today I got an offer from Thomas Nelson publishing to allow me to use the New King James Version translation for the readings. But they are in this to make money and I don't know if the price they are asking is feasible. So, please see the poll at right to help me out with a little market research. And thanks in advance.


Harrison on Preaching

The other part of President Harrison's address to the open forum in Ft Wayne the other day is actually the more important part, in my opinion. What he says about the need to reform our preaching is spot on: Click here to watch.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What do you do all week?

The guys at the local bar/coffee shop/restaurant/town meeting place like to rib me since I only work one day a week. I retort that yes, I only work one day a week, but I only get two days off all year long.

This business of only working one day a week is, in my experience with myself and my friends in the ministry, where the parish antagonists are likely first to strike against the pastor: he's lazy, what does he do all week, why are we paying him so much for so little work, etc.

Thus it is good general advice to young pastors, a pastor in a new a place, or a pastor who can see some conflict on the horizon to keep a daily log of just what he does all week. Lawyers have to do this all the time: they have to show what they are doing every 15 minutes (every 10 minutes if your hourly is high enough) in a "billable hours" journal. It is really handy to be able to plop this down in front of the board of elders, the district president, or the antagonist in the parish - it cuts them off at the pass.

And there is an added benefit to keeping this journal for at least a month or so every year: it gives you a chance to review how effectively you are using your time. I've rearranged my schedule more than once based on what I saw in my habits. As every pastor knows, a "normal week" is hard to come by - but by keeping this journal you can devise a "normal week" as a goal to aim at, keeping in mind the sort of contingencies you've got to expect in your parish. FWIW, here's my "normal week."

Sunday: Set up at church: 6am; Bible Class 7:30; Divine Services 8, 9:30; Bible Class 10:45. Usually home by 12 or 12:30 and usually have the rest of the day free.

Office/Study/Visit Days (Mon-Thurs)
Daily Mon-Thurs: Prayer, Scripture reading, and study: about 1.5-2 hours where it fits. Usually morning, but also at noon or in the afternoon.

Monday: Morning: in the office - prep services, newsletters, communication with parishioners, parish planning, writing (for this blog, papers for presentations, etc - not sermons), etc. About a third of the year there is a women's Bible study from 9:30-10:30. During the school year, opening chapel at 8:30. Afternoon: visits, errands, more of the morning stuff. I often spend either the morning or the afternoon visiting the sick or putting out fires that I learned about on Sunday. Evening: maybe once a month on average I have a meeting on Monday night.

Tuesday: Men's Bible study early. Then opening at school at 8:30 during the school year. The rest of Tuesday looks a lot like Monday. It is often a good day to visit the far away shut ins. Once a month this is Winkel Day and school board meeting in the evenings. Tuesday evening is the night I also set aside for meetings with parishioners, visits of delinquents, writing notes, etc.

Wednesday: Every other month during the school year, chapel at 8:30. Lunch with my wife (I often don't eat lunch or eat it at weird times, always on the run and alone as I like to think while I eat. On Wednesday I bring in something special from the bar/restaurant/coffee shop and we have lunch together.) Prep for Wednesday night stuff. Evening: 5 - set up for DS; 5:30-6:15, set aside to hear confession; 6:30 DS; 7:00 - catechesis for government school kids and whatever adults are "in the system."

Thursday: Morning coffee at the bar to catch up on all the local "news" (that is, gossip and BS) with all the old men. This is the main place I learn who is angry with me, who is sick, etc. 8:00-10, opening and catechesis at the school. 10:00 - sermon writing. Afternoon: the long list of what hasn't been done yet this week, all the leftovers.

Friday: Scheduled day off. Especially during the school year I might be stretched into doing a shut in call this day, but I am pretty good about taking it completely off.

Saturday: More than half the time I also have Saturday basically off as long as Thursday went well and there is no sermon hanging over my head.

One thing you will notice about my schedule is the paucity of evening meetings. I am just blessed in this regard: my people hate meetings as much as I do.

This week is off to a normal start. It's Monday at 9:45 and here I am writing, with my study done for the day. Though not my prayers and Scripture reading! This is a perennial problem with me. I find it very easy to put that off until later in the day even though I am always happier when I do it first. I should repent. I have three people to check up on, but they can all either be dealt with via email or wait until the afternoon. Now it's time to get the Advent services figured out and maybe a shut in call this afternoon. Deer season is also coming up, so if I have extra time today I might get sermons done ahead of time. I should have tonight off to hang out with the family.

I honestly don't understand you guys who take Monday off instead of Friday. Do you ever really get it off, free and clear?


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sensible, Straight Talk from Fr. Harrison

In years past there has been much hand wringing about the decline of Missouri's membership. In these pages we have often argued the problem is a demographic one. I am gratified to see that we're not the only ones who have noticed. Thank you to Dr. Heidenreich for transcribing the following from Fr. Harrison. - +HRC

There are three things that are really hitting the Missouri Synod as much as anything. We're doing, I mean we're doing better than a lot of churches of course. But we've had a continuous slow decline over the last 50-40 years. I think 30 years ago was the last recorded yearly increase in our membership. Forty years ago, says Larry. That's all right, he'll, as he becomes president and becomes more and more of a fundraiser he'll become less and less of a historian. [Laughter] The biggest challenge we face is the birthrate. The birthrate of the Missouri Synod that is overwhelmingly white, descendent of European people in this synod - the birthrate of our church body has simply followed, mirrored, the broader birthrate of the United States among descendants of northern Europeans. That's a fact. There's hardly a single family out there that you're related to that has more children in the latest generation than it did in the previous generation. Now, do I expect any wholesale turnaround in this phenomenon? No, I don't. There are all kinds of intense pressures upon us. However, I think it's time for us to preach "Be fruitful and multiply." That's what the Bible says. And we ought to encourage young people and families who have the ability to have families. And encourage them. The church needs to be a place... It's no time to despise family ministries. It's no time to despise those kind of diakonic efforts in the church to care for marriages and families, etc. It's time to redouble our efforts in those areas and it's time to speak clearly that it's a good thing to have a large Lutheran orthodox family. If Muslims are having an average of 4.2 children a piece and we're having 2.1 children a piece, I would say God would be really happy if we'd bump it up to at least 4.2 per family. Don't quote me on that. [Laughter]

President Matthew Harrison, address at the ACNA-LCMS Open Forum, Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne, Thursday, October 27, 2011.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Advent Prayer Services

Advent rapidly approaches and with it the awkward question of what to do with those midweek prayer services that became popular in the mid-20th century. Here are a few ideas for the liturgically minded.

* If you don't already have a midweek Mass, that is the place to start. See if you can parlay these Advent services into a regular midweek low Mass. This is of great spiritual benefit to the congregation if for no other reason than to allow vacationers, shift-workers, etc., to catch a Divine Service if they have to miss Sunday. For propers, see DDSB.

* If you already have a midweek Mass or for some other reason want to keep this a prayer service, use it as an opportunity for the congregation to learn Vespers, Evening Prayer, or Compline.

As for liturgical themes, readings, psalmody, etc., here are three ideas to consider that avoid kitsch and idiosyncrasy, which often goes by the name "creativity" these days.

1. Saints. Andrew (Nov 30); Nicholas (Dec 6); Lucia (Dec 13); Thomas (Dec 21). One each for the four weeks of Advent with obvious tie-ins to the season and historic readings (which can be found in DDSB). That's hard to beat.

2. Treasury of Daily Prayer. This is our Lutheran Breviary and is wonderfully done. Take a look at the assigned readings for the weeks in Advent. Let the Writings guide and inspire your preaching. Also take a look at a Roman Breviary for more meditations from the Fathers as well as a little perspective on the history of the TDP's readings. For the actual service, I think picking one day's readings from the week for the service is the best idea, to go along with encouraging the whole congregation to take up this discipline in the home.

3. Previous Sunday's Epistle lesson. Traditionally, the Gospel serves as the text for the Sunday sermon with the Epistle playing only a supporting role. These midweek services are a fine time to preach on the Epistles, or LSB's OT lessons which are nicely focused on prophecies of Christ.