Thursday, February 22, 2007

Help for Mrs. Federline

With the rest of America I've paid notice to the train wreck that Britney Spears' life is becoming. It's an old story, the story of the rich and famous who, having too much, lose it all as they spiral downward into the abyss of self-destruction.

The talking heads all seem to know that she needs help. What they don't know, or at least don't say, is the help she needs. Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Doubtless Britney Spears knows the meaning of a restless heart, but she has not clue where to find its Rest. Nor, I hasten to surmise, is it likely that her rapper husband does, in spite of the confident airs with which he likes to strut around on stage. Nor did Anna Nicole Smith, whose end we hope will not be a harbinger of Mrs. Federline's future.

I don't say this to be judgmental, but to muse on how richly blessed the players on this tragic stage would be if only they would find their Rest, learn the meaning of Lent, and be enlightened by something as simple and small as the Gospel of a Suffering Christ for the sin of the world.

Or, to put it in the words of Blessed Augustine's famous prayer: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Hallowed Ground of the Scientists

When the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confidently declared that it's over 90% sure that global warming is not only a significant problem, but that it's being caused mostly by human activities like driving cars and running power plants, it naturally convinced a lot of people. Even John McCain and Joe Lieberman declared it as fact in the Boston Globe last week, referencing "broad consensus in this country, and indeed in the world," and concluding, "This report puts the final nail in denial's coffin about the problem of global warming."

Actually, what it does for me is put the final nail in objectivity's coffin about anything the scientific community comes up with. I had always suspected that much of their aura of scholarship was a rich mixture of things they actually knew and things they only wanted people to think they knew. Now it’s abundantly clear.

About as soon as the ink was dry on this IPCC report, convincing rebuttals came forth from The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, exposing the politics behind the scenes. When significant scientific opposition is banned from participating in the panel, it’s hardly a thing of wonder that consensus can so easily be reached by the remaining scientists, though word has it that even then it took some lobbying. Consensus was very a very important goal to them, as even they admitted. How odd that consensus should now be a determining factor in scientific analysis.

Their report, purporting to knock the objections over the matter out of the ring once and for all, turned out to be nothing more than another bell between rounds.

It’s in the very same light, I hasten to add, that we ought to see any declarations of the “scientific community” on matters in which they alone seem to have privileged access.

Like evolution, for instance. It’s hard to get them to even debate the matter, which suggests to me that for them it’s some sort of Holy Place where questions of legitimacy are blasphemy. If on a rare occasion they do debate, their talk is peppered with technical language no doubt meant to get the rest of us poor idiots wondering not only about our objections, but why we ever questioned such geniuses in the first place. As in the case of the IPCC, the matter seems for them to be settled by the mere confidence with which they make their pronouncements. You’d question us? And who are you? Don’t you know consensus has already been reached?

The age of relics, or of the earth itself—an integral component of evolution, of course—is another matter in which I am amazed that it is so hard to find ever, anywhere, or by anyone, an explanation of just how they arrive at the dating of artifacts. You’d think museums would have an exhibit on this somewhere, but I’ve never seen one. Carbon-14, unanium half-life, and the like, are notoriously flawed, even by their standards. So instead, the hallowed ground simply becomes a place of silence. And the rest of us are supposed to have an instinctive awareness that faith is the substance of things not seen.

And while we’re at it, here’s one more matter on which I have long mused. Admittedly I’m going out on a limb here, because I have never seen anyone question this, ever. Did you ever look up at the stars on a summer night and wonder how far away they really are? Gazillions of light years? Well, people like our bright friends at the IPCC have me second guessing even those kinds of scientific assertions. I mean, how do they know? Don’t tell me it’s parallax view. On something that far away? I can scarcely believe their instruments can make any such distinction in degrees, even if measurements are taken from one side of the earth, or solar system, to the other. I’m guessing—yes, purely guessing—that their determination has to do with the color of the light they see coming from a star. But what if their base assumptions are flawed here, as they are in so many other areas? What if those stars are of an entirely different nature, and much closer than a number of years with as many zeroes behind it as there are evolutionary hoaxes? Somebody tell me if I’m all wet on this one; I certainly could be, I readily admit. But I’d really like to know.

One thing I do know, and the jury is in: the scientists are as religious about their dogma as the rest of us are about ours, and about as dedicated. On any given matter on which they make confident assertions it is virtually as likely that they do as that they do not have scientific proof to back it up.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I can say it better than God did, IV.

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38.

It's been reported that our squeamish Baptist friends like to rephrase this logion, because of the uncomfortably clear indication, given by the little word "for," that Baptism forgives sins. So there has been some re-rendering of the passage, thus: "Repent, every one of you, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, because you've already received the forgiveness of sins."

You at least have to give them credit for trying, I guess. Hat tip to Kelly Klages for this one.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I can say it better than God did, III.

But now the righteousness of God without hte law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all whem that believe. - Romans 3:22 KJV

Thanks now to all the helpful exegetes who have somehow ignored the genitive case ("of Jesus Christ"), here and elsewhere (Gal 2:16, 20, 3:22, Eph. 3:12) to make us better aware that it is our faith in Jesus, rather than Jesus' faith, that renders us righteous. Might it not be, though, that faith of Jesus is not a reference to Jesus' faith, but to the faith is of Jesus, i.e., about Jesus, having Jesus as its object, the faith which is about Jesus? Faith of Jesus is then not meant to be a reference to anyone's condition of believing, but rather to the content of faith (for the Latin lovers among us, that's fides quae creditur), thus defining what the true saving faith is. Which, of course, our experts have missed. Ah, what would we do without experts?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I can say it better than God did

The road to hell is paved with good editorial intentions. I have nothing against editors (I know one pretty well), but sometimes the editor goes a bit too far, as when he feels the need to correct the Scriptures so that they don't offend or lead people astray. It seems innocuous at first, but actually it's quite offensive. It's saying the Biblical writer, though moved by the Holy Ghost, should have been more careful. Now the all-wise editor has come to the rescue, in effect correcting God. I'm sure there are some of you who have examples of this folly. If you can think of one, put it in as a reply, or send it to me privately (put "I can say it better than God did" in the subject line) and we'll see if we can keep the list going. I'm providing the first two here.

I can say it better than God did, I:

I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee. (Psalm 138:1)

That's KJV, but the New International Version (still the favorite of our good friends in the Wisconsin Synod) prefers this:

I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the "gods" I will sing your praise.

Notice the quotation marks around "gods"? Well, isn't that helpful? We wouldn't want Bible readers to get the impression that David is saying there is more than one true God, now, would we. So the NIV editors put in their quotes, and even add "O LORD," so that nobody gets confused. The problem is that Biblical Hebrew knows no quotation marks. It's just elohim, which means "God." Context has translators rendering the word in the plural (gods) though it would normally be translated in the singular as a reference to God. That part is proper translating, but as for the quotation marks, they're awful. Are the editors saying David should have been more careful? No one has had a problem misunderstanding the KJV version for hundreds of years, to say nothing of the inspired Hebrew. So here's the first instance of I can say it better than God did.

I can say it better than God did, II:

We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness. - I Corinthians 1:23.

I've seen more than one Lutheran church pick up on part of this logion, "we preach Christ crucified," and make it their slogan, but with a little editorial fix: "We preach Christ crucified and risen."

Oh yes, we do need that corrective. Heavens, we wouldn't want people to think we deny the resurrection, after all! Have to make that fix, for sure. But St. Paul didn't. So, did he mess up here? Should he have said it with the "and risen"? Actually, if he had, he'd have been messing with his whole point. It's not the resurrection that is foolish to the Greeks, but the cross. Nor would the Jews stumble over the resurrection. But never mind. Nice to know we Lutherans can do better than the Apostle here. Which in effect is saying I can say it better than God did.

Monday, February 05, 2007

McCain and Gottesdienst

This I can’t resist. It’s just too good. Back in late January, Fr. David Petersen, freshman editor at Gottesdienst, put this up on his blog: “Promoting Gottesdienst: Do you subscribe to Gottesdienst? Why? What do you like about it?” and then this enticing little question, “How many of you do not subscribe on purpose? That is, how many of you have read Gottesdienst and thought it not worth the money? Why?” Well, that bait brought out a rather interesting catch, from Rev. Paul McCain:

“Tweeking the nose is one thing, allowing a certain former Lutheran pastor to publish what amounts to near hallucinatory "reviews" and in the process slandering persons and institutions is quite another. In this way, Gottesdienst stands in good company with both Christian News and JesusFirst, but I don't think that is a particularly positive achievement.

“In spite of whatever Gottesdienst wishes to be doing that is good, I can not in good conscience recommend it to anyone. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if the little magazine is not more a forum for the pecularities and quirks of its editors who do appear to enjoy amusing themselves with their little quips and such than a magazine that provides a responsible churchly forum for healthy discussion about matters liturgical.”

Now just what, you may ask, is that all about? Well, it turns out that there was a disapproving review in Gottesdienst about a year ago of Concordia, the newest edition, with notes, of the Book of Concord. The review, by former Missouri Synod pastor Michael J. Hill, takes McCain to task for some of the editorial decisions he made. It turns out that Hill’s review was not only thoughtful but prescient, as some time afterwards the LCMS Board of Doctrinal Review had second thoughts and revoked its certification for the book, requiring that changes be made (and as I recall there was another review by Concordia Seminary in St. Louis which expressed some similar sentiments). I guess that might have bothered McCain a bit, and Concordia Publishing House, which had already printed a gazillion copies. Oops. Meanwhile a review also came from Jesus First, a journal of LCMS “moderates” (who, I think, like to think of themselves as “conservative” but actually behave like liberals, if you’re into political labels), which also panned the book, but for entirely different reasons (as Hill explained succinctly in a follow-up article—see what you’re missing, all you non-subscribers? To subscribe, click here).

So now McCain says he feels justified in throwing Gottesdienst in the same trash can as he throws Jesus First and Christian News, but of course, there’s a difference. We send out a few complimentary copies here and there, but generally you aren’t going to get it if you don’t subscribe. I wonder who gave him a copy in the first place.

But what I find particularly rich is this: “I can not in good conscience recommend it to anyone.” Holy cow, in good conscience? Wow, there’s something serious going on there. Like, that Gottesdiesnt must have some real bad stuff in there that might lead people astray. Hmmm, what stuff, I wonder? Is there some error we need to retract somewhere? I mean, he speaks of slander too. Who was slandered? McCain? Or . . . (you be the judge).

I wonder why it bothers him so much if, as he says, Gottesdienst is a “little magazine . . . for the pecularities and quirks of its editors who do appear to enjoy amusing themselves with their little quips and such.” No doubt that’s the pejorative “little,” rather than a reference to the conciseness of our journal. What a hoot.

But for all this exchange we owe a debt of gratitude not only to Fr. Petersen, but to Rev. McCain himself, because ever since, well, we’ve been getting a slew of new subscribers. Way to go, Paul!