Thursday, December 28, 2006

Divinum Mysterium

If anything articulates my feelings on the divine mystery of God in Christ Jesus then it is music. To wit: the first piece -- Da Pacem Domine -- from Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's newest album. I heard this coming home from work last Friday. Mere luck?
Who knows.
I'm inclined to say that this album is God's response to my despondent attitude over the last week or two.

The lyrics are simple but, to me, profound; the music soars over them and sanctifies them. When done with care, music is the surest proof of God for me.

Da pacem domine
in diebus nostris
quia non est alius
qui pugnet pro nobis
nisi tu Deus noster.

Give peace in our time,
O Lord,
because there is none other
that fighteth for us,
but only thou, O Lord

Monday, December 18, 2006

Waiting, Waiting...

It's a truism to say that Decembers are hectic. But it is doubly so for me and my family. I have two children, both born in the month of December, 7 days apart (the 10th and 17th). This wouldn't necessarily be so difficult if it wasn't for the fact that these birthdays mean that my wife and I get little time to unwind from Thanksgiving before we are thrust into the treacherous waters of birthdays . And just when the last birthday (my son's) is over, we have Christmas only 7 days away with all of its familial entanglements to contend with. All of this during the time of the Christian calendar that is suppose to be about waiting and expectation. I can hardly wait until its all over.

Because I've started blogging, I've peruse other blogs (both Lutheran and not) to see what works and what doesn't; standing on the shoulders of giants as it were. As you might know, the topic du jour is the Episcopalian Church and its, well, familial entanglements. I've read a lot about this the last 2 weeks. The amount of bile on this issue is truly astounding and very sad and painful to read about -- there but by the grace of God go the ELCA. This issue put me in a bad mood. Then I read this (#5) which agitated me more than I expected: First, it's patently not true and quite insulting; second I realized the distance between Protestants and Catholics is still quite large and doesn't look like it will be healed any time soon.

But what really irks me is that these things are happening at a time of year when Christians are to wait, with humility and expectation, the coming of the Lord. The Christ child. The Word made flesh. The Messiah.

Not the coming of the conservative, anti-gay, I'm taking my ball and leaving U.S. Anglican Lord; not the smug, self-righteous, One-True-Church Catholic Lord; not the I'm-ok-you're-ok, can't we all just get along liberal Protestant Lord. This is the coming of the Lord; the Word made flesh. The one who will, through his death and resurrection, reconcile a shitty world to God. A world who, like John the Baptist said, is "not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals". And this is how we prepare for his birth? (Weeping Jesus on the cross......). All of this is a terrible distraction from contemplating the miraculous and mysterious birth of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

I remember as a child feeling, with palpable reality, the mystery of Advent. The specialness, the anticipation, the rich traditions which made Advent -- and of course Christmas -- a favorite time of year (the presents didn't hurt of course). Now everything seems drab and bland and quite distant. Inter-Nicene feuding, consumerism, work and family stresses keep Advent (and Christmas) just out of reach. I hope I can get a glimpse before it's all over.

P.S. I read this poem and I felt a little better. I like the way Marty writes.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On Conversion.

Recently, I read an article about life-long members of one denomination (normally Episcopalian or Lutheran) converting (or at least ruminating about converting) to Roman Catholicism or, less often, Eastern Orthodox The reasons are as varied as there are personalities and personal beliefs but, on the whole, the reasons seems to be: a) A reaction to some type heterodoxy (read heresy), b) The inability of the denomination's governing institution to correct such heterodoxy or c) both. I don't want to dismiss, out of hand, the real and legitimate doctrinal issues that face mainline Protestant denominations with glib analysis; it's never simple. Nevertheless, I feel that this does capture what I've been reading online as well as well as off (mostly periodicals -- both well know and esoteric).

(Note: Here I should mention that most conversions I've read are about theologians or pastors and not necessarily laymen or women. And theologians/pastors are, by definition and training, more acutely sensitive to doctrinal/dogmatic issues. I also haven't read about conversions the other way. It's hard to know if these conversions are a canary-in-the-coalmine issue for mainline Protestants or just outliers.)

Although these are the primary reasons, I feel there is a secondary, more personal reason. I'll call it foundational erosion. By this I mean a perceived sense that the bedrock foundational doctrines of their denomination are disappearing. These are doctrines that have been held for hundreds of years, in some cases back as far as the founding of the denomination. They are doctrines that have become interwoven into the very fabric of families and religious communities. This upheaval must be (and I suspect is) disconcerting to say the least. Add to this the very real conviction of leading the flock astray and you have the formulae for a crisis in any denomination.

Does leaving help? Is it a good (or proper) decision to make? Certainly one should be free to worship as they choose and one ought not be compelled to worship in a denomination that they feel is, at best, misguided, or worse, heretical. But what they seem to desire, although they might not verbally express it, is the certainty that comes with Catholicism; a faith that has a hierarchical system of authority (Magisterium) that can unequivocally say what is orthodox and what is not. A faith that goes back almost to the earliest Christian communities. A faith that has *roots* that do not change to the whims of modernity (or post modernity). And this seems all the more important given the myriad pressures and stresses we deal with every day. I guess you could call it reactionary (in the non-judgmental sense).

With culture seeming to be the cart before the spiritual horse, I can understand conversion being very enticing. I, for one, lament the lack of liturgical tradition in Lutheranism. I happen to be lucky (and blessed) enough to attend a church that understands the tremendous advantages, both spiritual and cultural, of retaining historic liturgical practices. But mine is the exception that proves the sad rule: historic (solemn, respectful) liturgy is out, "praise" worship (seemingly in service to membership growth and convenience) is in. This pull away from tradition is upsetting; I'm not even speaking yet of doctrinal issues which inform the heart of my beliefs. What would I do, I often wonder, if this happened to me?

Again the question begs to be answered: Is this a proper way of dealing with problems in your religious denomination? My gut reaction is no. And not for sectarian reasons, e.g. Lutheranism vs. Catholicism. If we are witnesses of Christ in the world, how much more are we in our church? Is this good fellowship or good stewardship of what God has entrusted to us? I feel it's our Christian duty to witness to the world what is best in our religious tradition and to work (in whatever capacity that God gives us) to change/correct those parts which are not true to first, the Gospel, and second, the rich history of the Church which is the Body of Christ in the world.

I will speak for myself: I love and cherish being Lutheran and couldn't imagine giving it up. I feel that Lutherans, by virtue of the fact that we share two faith traditions, can bear witness that there are reasons for retaining the religious norms of the Church even in the face of popular culture. But also to witness the need for change (small steps please!) against the rigidity of doctrinal and dogmatic tradition. And I can show the world, or my small part of it, that there is hope. There is hope because in Christ Jesus we are all one body even if we don't feel it. Amen.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

In the beginning....

I have finally succumbed. How long have blogs been around? 3-4 years? That sounds about right. And only now have I finally created a blog. I'm not quite sure whether to feel excited or ashamed. And it wasn't for lack of technical understanding either; I'm a Unix system administrator for heaven sake! No, the reason I've never done a blog was because I've always felt that blogs are, to some extent, selfish and/or self centered diatribes by folks who should either:
  1. stop listening to radio talking heads.
  2. stop watching T.V. talking heads.
  3. get a hobby that doesn't involve a computer.
Yes, I know that there are many blogs/bloggers that aren't like I've described but those are the ones that seemed prove my rule. And so I remained aloof from the great unwashed of the blog sphere ( is that phrase trite or what). That is until now.

Why now? For all the same reasons that others start blogs: to workout thoughts and ideas on "paper" (well, electronic paper at any rate) and, through comments from friends and strangers alike, possibly learn a thing or two.
I have friends who have been blogging for quite a while and I have enjoyed their postings; not always "immensely" but I have enjoyed them. So now its time for me to loose my inhibitions and throw caution to the wind (well, let's say a light breeze) and join in.

So, what should you expect from this endeavor? Well the title should give you a hint as to my intentions (I apologize to any Latin grammarians; it's the best I could do). I'd like to use this space as a way, as I said earlier, to work out ideas or thoughts as I turn toward Christ and the Church, in my case the Lutheran church, in a more full and lasting way. It's been about a year and a half since I tried in earnest to attend church (or mass, I still feel self conscious when I say that) on a regular basis. And its been about that long since I tried in earnest to read scripture every day. I can say I'm doing well on both fronts. I have oh-so-many things to say but that will have to wait for now. Let us see if I have any stomach for this sort of thing.