Friday, February 28, 2014

An Unlikely Member of The Gottesdienst Crowd™

By Larry Beane
Comedian Jimmy Fallon
Mr. FALLON: I just, I loved the church. I loved the idea of it. I loved the smell of the incense. I loved the feeling you get when you left church. I loved like how this priest can make people feel this good. I just thought it was – I loved the whole idea of it. My grandfather was very religious, so I used to go to Mass with him at like 6:45 in the morning, serve Mass. And then you made money, too, if you did weddings and funerals. You’d get like five bucks. And so I go ‘Okay, I can make money too.’ I go, ‘This could be a good deal for me.’ I thought I had the calling…

GROSS: Do you still go to church?
Mr. FALLON: I don’t go to – I tried to go back. When I was out in L.A. and I was kind of struggling for a bit. I went to church for a while, but it’s kind of, it’s gotten gigantic now for me. It’s like too… There’s a band. There’s a band there now, and you got to, you have to hold hands with people through the whole Mass now, and I don’t like doing that…Now, I’m holding hands – now I’m lifting people. Like Simba. [Laughter] I’m holding them [Singing] ha nah hey nah ho.
I’m doing too much. I don’t want – there’s Frisbees being thrown, there’s beach balls going around, people waving lighters, and I go, ‘This is too much for me.’ I want the old way. I want to hang out with the, you know, with the nuns, you know, that was my favorite type of Mass, and the grotto, and just like straight up, just Mass Mass.

You can read the full article here.

Fallon is a comedian.  He is being flip here.  Whether he really understands the christocentricity of the Mass or not, who knows?  But what is revealing here is his visceral sense (that I believe he shares with most people) that contemporary worship is not real worship.  It's a show.  It's at best a bait-and-switch manipulation.  And by repudiating tradition, the church has become a self-parody.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A good definition of burn out.... about this: if it were economically feasible for you to walk away from the ministry and into another line of work tomorrow, would you go? These statistics indicate that among generic "American clergy" the number who would respond in the affirmative stands somewhere between 50 and 57 percent.

Lord help us all...


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cantemus, fratres

The following is from G.K. Chesterton's "The Little Birds That Won't Sing" in the collection of essays Tremendous Trifles. Compare Luther's "And then go joyfully to your work, singing..."



If reapers sing while reaping, why should not auditors sing while auditing and bankers while banking? If there are songs for all the separate things that have to be done in a boat, why are there not songs for all the separate things that have to be done in a bank? As the train from Dover flew through the Kentish gardens, I tried to write a few songs suitable for commercial gentlemen. Thus, the work of bank clerks when casting up columns might begin with a thundering chorus in praise of Simple Addition.
"Up my lads and lift the ledgers, sleep and ease are o'er. Hear the Stars of Morning shouting: 'Two and Two are four.' Though the creeds and realms are reeling, though the sophists roar, Though we weep and pawn our watches, Two and Two are Four."
"There's a run upon the Bank—Stand away! For the Manager's a crank and the Secretary drank, and the
   Upper Tooting Bank
         Turns to bay!
   Stand close: there is a run
   On the Bank.
   Of our ship, our royal one, let the ringing legend run,
   That she fired with every gun
         Ere she sank."
And as I came into the cloud of London I met a friend of mine who actually is in a bank, and submitted these suggestions in rhyme to him for use among his colleagues. But he was not very hopeful about the matter. It was not (he assured me) that he underrated the verses, or in any sense lamented their lack of polish. No; it was rather, he felt, an indefinable something in the very atmosphere of the society in which we live that makes it spiritually difficult to sing in banks. And I think he must be right; though the matter is very mysterious. I may observe here that I think there must be some mistake in the calculations of the Socialists. They put down all our distress, not to a moral tone, but to the chaos of private enterprise. Now, banks are private; but post-offices are Socialistic: therefore I naturally expected that the post-office would fall into the collectivist idea of a chorus. Judge of my surprise when the lady in my local post-office (whom I urged to sing) dismissed the idea with far more coldness than the bank clerk had done. She seemed indeed, to be in a considerably greater state of depression than he. Should any one suppose that this was the effect of the verses themselves, it is only fair to say that the specimen verse of the Post-Office Hymn ran thus:
     "O'er London our letters are shaken like snow,
      Our wires o'er the world like the thunderbolts go.
      The news that may marry a maiden in Sark,
      Or kill an old lady in Finsbury Park."
Chorus (with a swing of joy and energy):
     "Or kill an old lady in Finsbury Park."
And the more I thought about the matter the more painfully certain it seemed that the most important and typical modern things could not be done with a chorus. One could not, for instance, be a great financier and sing; because the essence of being a great financier is that you keep quiet. You could not even in many modern circles be a public man and sing; because in those circles the essence of being a public man is that you do nearly everything in private. Nobody would imagine a chorus of money-lenders. Every one knows the story of the solicitors' corps of volunteers who, when the Colonel on the battlefield cried "Charge!" all said simultaneously, "Six-and-eightpence." Men can sing while charging in a military, but hardly in a legal sense. And at the end of my reflections I had really got no further than the sub-conscious feeling of my friend the bank-clerk—that there is something spiritually suffocating about our life; not about our laws merely, but about our life. Bank-clerks are without songs, not because they are poor, but because they are sad. Sailors are much poorer. As I passed homewards I passed a little tin building of some religious sort, which was shaken with shouting as a trumpet is torn with its own tongue. THEY were singing anyhow; and I had for an instant a fancy I had often had before: that with us the super-human is the only place where you can find the human. Human nature is hunted and has fled into sanctuary.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Liturgical Resource Online

Fr. Eric Wismar has posted the entirety of Pro Ecclesia Lutherana, the journal of the Liturgical Society of St. James, online. Fr. Wismar's great-grandfather Father...well, Father Wismar (Adolph), was one of the founders of the society. From his introduction to the collection:

The Liturgical Society of St. James was in existence from 1929 until 1947.  The membership of the LSSJ included clergy and laity of the Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States.  The society expressed itself through convocations, an irregular periodical called Pro Ecclesia Lutherana, an even more irregular Bulletin, and other occasional papers.  My great-grandfather, Adolph P. Wismar, became the chairman of the LSSJ while he was the pastor at historical St. Matthew Lutheran Church in New York City.  In 1945 he took a call to Valparaiso University to teach in the Department of Theology and began his teaching duties with the 1946-1947 academic year.  The LSSJ followed him there and the last Convocation of the LSSJ was held at Valparaiso University May 20-21, 1947.  The next spring O. P. Kretzmann, President of the University, sent Wismar a memo requesting that he (and others) "serve as a committee to submit plans for "An Institute of Liturgical Studies" to be conducted on our campus next summer."  Thus the LSSJ transformed into the VLI. . . 


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Liturgical Homerun

Transfiguration is traditionally celebrated in the West on August 6. In Sweden and other Nordic countries, the Lutherans continued this tradition. But many German Lutherans (Church Orders authored by Bugenhagen and Veit Dietrich: See Reid, The Lutheran Liturgy pp 485-86) moved the festival to the last Sunday before Pre-Lent. This is a good example of doing liturgical change the right way.

To start with there are good reasons for the change. First, it moves a feast that is very important in the Gospel accounts from an obscure time (a fixed date in the middle of summer which would only fall on a Sunday occasionally) to a Sunday observance.

Second, the move is internally coherent, that is, the festival fits this liturgical season better. In the summer the focus of the lectionary is on typical Trinity season topics or in early August around Trinity X on eschatology. The Transfiguration fits there well enough, but one can argue it fits much better right before the penitential season leading up to Easter. This is its place in the Gospel accounts: a glimpse of glory before it is time to "set His face toward Jerusalem."

Third, it places a major festival in a good position to send off the Christmas/Epiphany season and its joy with a bang.

Fourth, it does no harm to the other stories the lectionary means to tell. If this feast were in the summer and transferred to the nearest Sunday (as it appears was the custom in Sweden) it would replace a Sunday in ordinary time. The same is true with moving it to the last Sunday in the Epiphany season. So that's a wash.

So the change is well-thought out and beneficial. So far so good - but there is more reason to think of this as a liturgical homerun. The change was made within ecclesiastical jurisdictions, not willy nilly in this parish here and that parish there. Some jurisdictions made the change and some didn't. And that's fine. But where the change happened, it happened in unison across an ecclesiastical jurisdiction in good order.

I don't think this is minimized by the fact that the Missouri Synod currently lives under two different church years. Within the logic of the 3-Year lectionary, Transfiguration needs to come right before Lent since Pre-Lent is no more. It's better to have two different lectionaries than no lectionaries at all.


Monday, February 10, 2014


Fr. Curtis’ post got me thinking, and I was reminded of something that C.S. Lewis once touched upon.

“No doubt priggery is a horrid thing, and the more moral the horrider. To avoid a man’s society because he is poor or ugly or stupid may be bad; but to avoid it because he is wicked—with the all but inevitable implication that you are less wicked (at least in some respect)—is dangerous and disgusting. We could all go on to develop this theme at any length and without the slightest effort. Smug—complacent—Pharisaical—Victorian—parable of the Pharisee and the Publican . . . it writes itself,” wrote C.S. Lewis in the 7 December 1945 issue of The Spectator. “But the real question,” he continues, "is what are we to put in the place of priggery. Private vices, we were taught long ago, are public benefits. Which means that when you remove a vice you must put a virtue in its place—a virtue which will produce the same public benefits. It will not do simply to cut out priggery and leave it at that.”

No one wants to be guilty of priggery. Well, at least, no one wants to be caught and found to be guilty of it. Even still, it’s become the tu quoque of our age. Priggery justifies the actions of the one who’s being dealt with priggishly. Nevertheless, the fact remains that sin has consequences, consequences that are not removed by the confessional. These consequences are not eternal but temporal. We understand this intuitively, but we often deny it implicitly. We think forgiveness should remove all consequences. But it doesn’t. This is clearly the case with the drunk driver who crashes into another vehicle and takes the life of another. Even with repentance and the forgiveness of sins, there are temporal consequences that endure, both for the drunk driver and the family of the one whose life was taken. This is clearly the case, too, when fornication leads to out-of-wedlock, illegitimate children. The temporal consequences of sin was the running theme of the Clinton impeachment hearings and the current debate surrounding Woody Allen’s reception of the Golden Globe's Cecil B. De Mille Lifetime Achievement Award [LINK].

But what happens when clergy go bad? We were rightly outraged by the scandal—the coverup, the non-removal, and relocation of offenders—of the sex abuse cases of Catholic clergy during the past decade. Even though these men had confessed, shown signs of repentance, and received absolution, they should have been removed from Office because the consequences of sins are both eternal and temporal. God’s law may be subverted, but it can’t be destroyed. Consequences for sins remain, even after the forgiveness of sins.

But what about when it hits closer to home? What if an LCMS clergyman were to be found in public scandal? Would we think similarly? Would we say forgiveness means all consequences, both temporal and eternal, are taken away? Or would we say that though their sins, because of Christ, be as white as snow, the temporal consequences for their action endures?

Now what if not just any ole LCMS clergyman were to be caught in a public scandal—drunkenness, adultery, murder, defamation of character—but one from the so-called Gottesdienst Crowd or the God Whisperer Crowd or the CoWo Crowd (whatever your crowd might be)? Would our answer be different? Would it matter that he were on your side and in your corner? Should it matter?

It shouldn’t. This isn’t priggery. This is the temporal consequence of sin. For not just any justified sinner can hold the office of the Ministry. Not just anyone can stand up and make himself a teacher of and for the church. Nor would these men be “just another layman.” They would be former clergymen removed from Office for just cause (1 Tim 3:1–7). Being publicly above reproach and having a good report with those outside are standards important to Paul and, thus, to our Lord, for those who hold the Office. This isn’t about our standing before God, but before men. The reputation of the one who teaches, that speaks in and for the Church is important. Thus, St. Paul instructs the Elders at Ephesus, and we do well to heed his instruction: “Pay attention to yourselves and to the entire flock” (Acts 20:28). Notice the emphasis is placed first upon paying attention to yourselves—doctrine and life, what he speaks and what he does—which indicates it’s importance. This is so that the man of God can avoid the tu quoque retort—not eternally but temporally. For while all sins eternally are the same, they all separate us from God, they all carry the condemnation of God and the sentence of death, not all sins are the same temporally. Some are more corrosive than others, more hurtful and damaging than others, bring about more consequences than others. The one who stands in the place of Christ must be above this public reproach. He must have a good report with those outside. He must adorn the Office with a holy life. Those who stand in the stead of Christ ought not by their own life, word and deed, subject the "Thus saith the Lord" to tu quoque from within or without the walls of the Church. 

Again, this isn’t priggery. This is simply to acknowledge the temporal consequence of sin. So let me be clear: If you commit grave sin—there is good news for you. Repent and trust in the Lord Jesus who loves sinners and died for them and for you. Even if your sin is drunkenness and carelessness that led to the death of another in a car wreck—repent and trust the Lord and be saved. Even if you are clergy, and your sin of murder, adultery, drunkenness, stealing, or an unbridled tongue raises a scandal—repent and trust in the Lord Jesus who loves sinners and died for them.

But please don’t tell me that I’m guilty of priggery, that I don’t understand the Gospel, if I also insist that you turn yourself in for the sin and endure the appropriate temporal consequences for it. I would hope, and I pray, that you would do the same for me.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Of defrockings, rosters, and resignations

The Roman Church is in the news again with many large dioceses publishing their full records concerning clergy sexual abuse charges. It's all so sad. And yet it is refreshing that they are finally just putting the records out there: at least people will know the reasons why Father X was suddenly no longer a priest.

There are a host of lessons to learn here - but let's take just a small one about church administration. When a clergyman commits a grave sin that should bar him from the ministry - and so many do revolve around the 6th Commandment - the great temptation for the overseer of his ministry (whether a presbytery, board of deacons, bishop, or district president) is to ask him to resign quietly. And so a letter goes out: "I know that you know that I can prove you committed adultery/beat your wife and kids/are drunk 7 days a week/stole from the offering plate: so sign the enclosed resignation letter and get yourself some help."

And it's signed. But then what? What are the parishioners to think? Father X resigned - why? "Personal reasons?" Well, will he be back when he has that sorted out? What happens to the overseer's reputation when Father X insinuates that really, it wasn't his fault you know...bad old bishop/deacons/DP ran me out for no good reason...but I'll just go quietly, martyr that I am.

And then he bides his time, gets a day job, moves a few hundred miles away.....and a few years later he starts to slide back into churchly things....some folks know what's going on, and some don't. So Father X, now Mr. X, get a speaking engagement here and a writing gig there and maybe even a volunteer role in a parish that would never, ever have been offered to him had folks known why exactly it was that he resigned. Would you take advice on marriage from a man who left his wife and kids for a sexual adventure with another man's wife? Would you let an accused child molester volunteer as a lay youth worker? Would you let a raging drunk and gambling addict volunteer to serve as parish treasurer?

And yet those who know what Father X, now Mr. X, is all about feel muzzled and chained because....well, because of fear. Fear of libel lawsuits. Fear of shouts of, "What about the 8th commandment?" or "What about forgiveness?" Fear of confrontation. Fear that the overseer won't back them up.

So these quiet resignations are a very bad thing. Better to be open. Better to say at the very least, "Father X has resigned his ministry because he has failed to live a morally upright life. For the sake of all involved, I'm going to leave it at that. But there is no denying that this is the case, which is why he agreed to resign rather than force me to put him through our discipline/defrocking/removal process."

One would hope that basic decency would tell these former preachers to live out a quiet life of repentance and not try to weasel their ways back into ministry and para-ministry. But the possession of basic decency is not why they left the ministry, I suppose.

Well, may God grant wisdom to all overseers of ministers. It's not a job I would want.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What works for evangelism (and a free Gottesdienst subscription contest)

Everybody needs a hobby. Chuck, what are your hobbies? Evangelism? Chuckie....that's the Synodical sport.

But many evangelism efforts in Lutheran parishes peter out because laity and pastor alike get discouraged by the amount of time and effort put in on the one hand and the paucity of new members and baptisms on the other. This is most common in established, demographically constant communities where most everybody is a Christian already (though obviously not most everybody is active in their faith). In a quickly growing community, things are different. Many of the folks moving in will be Lutheran, or making a new start in their lives, and they will be happy to hear from your parish. In that setting, a "welcome committee" and a subscription to an agency that gathers public mortgage data for your zipcode is effort well spent.

I have heard good things about another tactic for seeking out God's elect from men who serve in an urban context. They will go to homes throughout their neighborhood, knock on the door, and instead of doing a Kennedy Evangelism presentation, they will say, "We're from St. Ira Dei Lutheran Church on the corner of State and Main. How can we pray for you and your family? Is there anything you need?"

So in the growing suburbs, get a few outgoing folks and a subscription to a service that will give you new mortgage addresses. Have your welcome committee stop by with a welcome basket and an invitation to Sunday services. In the city, lead with mercy; just meet people and pray for them and leave your card. That's what I hear from faithful guys on the ground: those are the good leads in those places.

But every place is different: in the city always a reflection, in the woods always a sound. So around here in rural/semi-rural communities where the majority of LCMS parishes reside: Where's the gold? You know, I'm reluctant to tell you. You might think I'm lazy. But here's what I've found: I've already got the good leads. The good leads, the [expletive deleted] Glengarry leads are my list of delinquent members.

They've been right here all the time!

Cute, huh? Cute as a pail full of kittens. But it's true. You'd be delighted if I said I could hand you a list of names of people who would be glad to hear from the pastor when something went wrong in their lives; who would want to see you at their bedside if you heard they fell ill; who would send their kids to be catechized if you sent them a letter letting them know when the class was. Well, you've already got that list.

So I don't worry too much about cleaning up the rolls: worry is like interest paid in advance on a debt that never comes due. I don't look at them as delinquents, problems, or a load of work. I pray for them and I look at them as evangelism leads and just wait for one of them to have a heart attack or a baby and then get to work.


PS: Free Gottesdienst Subscription for you to give to a non-subscriber to the first commenter that lists all the David Mamet references in this post.  Well, maybe just to the fellow who gets most of them. Some are hard.