Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The New Eds Chime In

Two of our new online editors have posted recently at Gottesdienst Online, one on the question of whether the Lutheran Confessions are descriptive or prescriptive, and the other on the matter of chanting the Verba, and the salutary effect this has on children. Have a look.

Friday, December 26, 2008

White Christmas!

Now that the blogosphere I frequent and to which I occasionally contribute has covered the spiritual side of Christmas, I have to say that there's something pleasing about the other side of it, too.

And since we've all been sufficiently chided for allowing too much Christmas celebrating to go on during Advent, why can't we import some of the cultural stuff into these Twelve Days of Christmas?

So, in the spirit of this exceptionally snowy year, I'd like to say that I'm particularly fond of this, ah, inspiring rendition of "White Christmas" by the Drifters, disguised here as Santa and his reindeer:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lessons and Carols Live This Morning

Lessons and Carols live from Kings College Choir may be heard at 9 a.m. CST this morning here. It's likely to be repeated.

OK, call me an Anglophile. Especially when it's time for Christmas carols.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Ox and the Ass

In virtually every depiction of the Nativity of our Lord one can find an ox and ass, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "the ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's crib, but Israel does not know Me, and the people has not regarded Me" (Isaiah 1:3).

Traditionally the ox and ass are symbolic of the Jews and Gentiles, respectively, as Gregory the Great (c600) explained:

“Who is the ox if not the Jewish people whose necks were bowed down by the yoke of the Law? And who is the ass if not the pagan, whom any rustler finds a brute animal without any sense and leads him astray where he will. The ox knows his owner and the ass recognizes the corral of his master, for the Hebrew people found the God whom they had worshipped but not known, while the pagans accepted the forage of the Law which they had not had” (Commentary on Job, I, 16).

Fittingly the ox and ass gaze upon the Savior of the world.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gift Idea

As Fr. Weedon says on his blog, if you still need a Christmas gift for someone, here's an idea.

Set Sorrow Aside

is a Christmas CD from the Mixed Chorus of our St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, and provides some of what you'll hear live if you come to our Christmas Choral Vespers, an annual event scheduled for January 4, 2009, at 7 p.m. which I'm also unabashedly plugging here. A wine and cheese reception follows.

But if you can't come, you might want to hear a bit of it, as we made this recording last year shortly after the event.

So order yours today: $12.00 + $2.50 s&h. If you order up to five, it's still only $2.50 s&h, though here's another idea. Order as many as you like as a Christmas gift, adding $2.50 per CD for special s&h, and we'll include a little greeting from you to whomever you want us to send it to.

We'll take care of it all, and send you an invoice. Just send me an email. Better hurry, if you want to do it for Christmas. Be sure to put your full name and address, and, if it's a gift, the full name and address of the recipient, with your message (200 words max please).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Remembering Avery Dulles

The passing of Avery Cardinal Dulles (noted at Fr Fenton's blog) has me remembering some of the incisive and salient arguments he has made in favor of the filioque, in numerous publications and, as I recall, at a Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions in Fort Wayne in the mid 1990s (which, quite worth the read, may be accessed here).

I had a brief opportunity to speak with him during the q & a after his lecture, when he was, as I recall, thinking aloud that he could not recall the use of the term ekporeueto (to proceed) being used anywhere Biblically for a double-procession, i.e., for a procession from two sources. As it happened, I had just finished looking at Revelation 22, in which one reads this: "And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding (ekpereuontos) out of the throne of God and of the Lamb," and I mentioned that. He brightened and expressed delight at this, er, revelation. Dr. Scaer, the moderator at the time, quipped that perhaps this was a moment of divine inspiration.

I remember feeling quite pleased with myself that day, though I tried to hide my foolish pride to the best of my ability.

I later learned of Cardinal Dulles' exceptional work on the question of the filioque; indeed one might even suggest it is the twentieth-century equivalent of the writing of St. Anselm on the same topic.

His voluminous writing bespeaks what is undeniable: this man had a brilliant theological mind. No wonder he was the first U.S. theologian to be named to the college of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church.

Avery Cardinal Dulles, R.I.P.

Another Thing about John the Baptist

It occurred to me yesterday as I was about to preach St. Matthew 11 that there's another thing I hadn't considered before.

The question of how one preaches on John the Baptist in prison may depend on what one thinks about his prenatal state, as Fr Curtis has pointed out at Gottesdienst Online, though then again it may not.

I don't happen to think John was cleansed of original sin while in the womb, as I have my own version of 'pious' speculation on how lots of that sort of that pious speculation has arisen. And yet I have preached on many occasions that John did not ask the doubting question "Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another" not for himself but for his disciples. One does not have to hold he had had his original sin removed in order to think that he did not doubt here; you need not say he could not have doubted in order to say that he did not doubt. After all, he knew full well who Jesus was, and had seen the Spirit descend on him as he baptized him. All he had to do was remember that in order to be sure.

And yet--here's the thing I hadn't considered--in John's role as forerunner, it is his office to teach the Church, not only by what he says, but by example. So therefore, what do you do when you are beset with circumstances which might produce doubt or second-thoughts? You go back to Jesus and ask him: "Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?"

That little thing provides an excellent opportunity for preaching.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fr Curtis is First out of the Gate

Rightly deducing that the term Gottesdienst Online is fashioned after the term National Review Online, he has also declared himself to have provided FSPOTB, providing an article on Confessing with the Calendar, which is well worth the read.

Introducing Gottesdienst Online

The newest venture of Gottesdienst has launched.

Over at, we have added Gottesdienst Online, a new page on which we hope to provide a continual flow of online articles. From the first article there:

We hope to have this a bit better organized shortly, but for now we herewith offer to you, dear Gottesfolks, a series of online columns to tantalize, edify, provoke, please, irritate, or otherwise move you in the same way our print edition has done so for well over a decade.

To this end, we welcome three new editors, whose specific department is this Gottesdienst Online. You may expect to hear from them, therefore, as well as to the other guys here and there, in the days to come.

We are pleased to announce our newest editors:

* Rev Fr Heath Curtis
* Rev Fr Larry Beane
* Rev Fr Richard Stuckwisch

Gottesdienst continues to push ahead, ever seeking to promote and defend the Christian faith as it is expressed in our most holy liturgy.

+ Burnell Eckardt, editor-in-chief

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sorting out the Immaculate Conception

First off, I'm going to admit that we did not observe the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary here on Monday. My own default entrenchment in TLH has me at a disadvantage when it comes to any observances and feasts whatsoever that are not found there. It's not that TLH is inerrant, certainly; it's just that it's become the indelible way my own synapses work.

We did celebrate St. Nicholas Mass on Saturday, though, and we will celebrate St. Lucy's next Saturday, so it's not that I can't bring myself to make changes; it's just that each one comes with some difficulty.

In my brain (the one I, the Frankengottesdienst monster, got when Marty Feldman dropped the normal brain and took the one from Abby . . .), there are a number of committees. Each change proposed must go through lots of red tape. During the process it often will sit unattended on a messy desk for extended periods of time. Sometimes there's a veto, or a subcommittee hearing, and the process takes even longer. Let the reader understand: I am a true conservative, in the most rudimentary sense of that term.

So anyhow, the Feasts for the BVM are all at various stages in this mental process of mine. The most recent one to be enacted (which actually means that I got around to celebrating it, really) is the dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15th. That one underwent several alterations before becoming, er, law, in Kewanee. It is not called the Assumption, a la Rome, nor is it simply called St. Mary, Mother of our Lord, a la SBH. I must say, the former, notwithstanding its questionable historicity, is truly preferable to the latter, an abominable reversion to Nestorius. (Oh where is St. Leo when you need him?)

So here I am, still sorting out what I ought to think about the Conception BVM. It's certainly historical (I mean, she was conceived), and it certainly has the effect of helping us count her blessed among women.

And yet somehow I admit that I'm dragging my heels a bit on this. I have learned to trust my instincts (which drives my loved ones nuts, particularly when their instincts are at variance).

Maybe it's the whole Immaculate Conception thing that has me troubled. To those of us who are both interested in good tradition and in historical validity--which are usually not at odds with each other--sometimes there is a problem, and when it must be resolved on the side of what's true, we find ourselves troubled that we must set tradition aside.

So it is for me in the case of the Immaculate Conception. One might wryly say that the immaculate conception didn't take place until 1854, when Rome dogmatized it, though it was a popular view for a long time prior to that.

My own take on it is that it is the understandable result of a misunderstanding of Doubting Joseph, on whom a number of medieval hymns have been written. That is to say, it's most likely that that term "immaculate conception" arose in poetry from the angel's words to Joseph in St. Matthew 1: "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."

In other words, the immaculate conception does indeed pertain to Mary, but not to her own conception. Rather, it is a reference to her virginal purity: Joseph, do not think ill of your betrothed; that which is conceived in her was conceived immaculately, without sin in her.

So, to return to my original musing, though I haven't researched this, I'm going to guess that the feast observed on December 8th, which is generally called the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is reserved for the observance of Mary's own conception in the womb of her mother St. Anne. Hence (if this is correct) it is a faulty observance.

I may be quite wrong about this, particularly as I know it is observed also in the East. But even so, there are those tedious committee meetings going on in my brain even as I write, and there doesn't seem to be a resolution in view any time soon.

That said, I really do hate coming down on the side of Nestorians, Calvinists, and clowns who refuse to call Mary blessed, to say nothing of her being the Mother of God.

Perhaps somebody could enlighten me on this, but without even checking I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the propers for December 8th are not what they should be. If there is going to be a Feast of the Immaculate Conception, it should be the Feast of Doubting Joseph, and the Gospel appointed should be the one from St. Matthew 1; though honestly, the notion of altogether new propers would never see the light of day in those cranial committee meetings of mine.

But if it had been so, then everyone would know, as I suspect it was widely known in Christendom around 900 years ago, when those medieval hymns were written, that the Immaculate Conception is an important thing to emphasize: Joseph, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

As long as I seem to be doing such a good job of being misunderstood (as in the threads found here and here, for instance), I may as well venture forth and ask for more.

How about this one. In yesterday's Gospel, Jesus waxed apocalyptic in his reference to the sun, the moon, and the stars: "There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (St. Luke 21).

And the key, I repeat, is that Jesus is being apocalyptic here. As in, Danielic, Ezekielic, or, well, Apocalyptic (as in, last book of the Bible). He even references Daniel specifically earlier on in the Matthean counterpart to this chapter (St Matthew 24), so it is not at all unreasonable to suggest (here goes):

These are not references to heavenly phenomena like eclipses, falling stars, comets, etc.

How about references to the powers in place over God's people, i.e., the leaders of the nation of Israel, a la Joseph's dream. Remember that Joseph had once referred to the sun, the moon, and the stars as references to his own family? Well, how about here?

Consider: the fall of Jerusalem, referenced in Jesus' prior remarks, is to give way to the utter realignment of the heavenly authority of God, and this will cause men's hearts to fail them for fear and expectation, etc. Indeed, the Matthean version adds "immediately after those days" to this prediction. Now comes the age of the Church, which is something to which even the most devout of Jewish believers would have trouble adjusting. Gentiles qua Gentiles will be grafted in (interestingly, the Epistle for yesterday, from Romans, references that).

And then comes this: "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Note that phrase "begin to come to pass"; in other words, the coming of the Son of man is something that will begin with . . . what?

St Matthew helps us again: "then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven." What sign? He shall send forth his angels, who shall gather the elect.

But the Day of Judgment is a day of separating. What, then, might these gathering angels be? Again, this is apocalyptic language. So, how about angelic messengers? As in, preachers?

In short, the sign that the Son of Man is in heaven would then be the preaching of the Gospel. When you see (i.e. hear) this preaching, you may know that the Son of Man is in heaven (he ascended on the very day he sent the preachers, after all), and that his return in glory is immanent.

I must offer a tip of the hat to Professor Jeff Gibbs for first alerting me, years ago, to the possibility of this interpretation, which I have embraced wholeheartedly.

That said, I'm still going to run for cover. I expect recriminations for this wild and unacceptable interpretation to fly . . .

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Blameless Zacharias

It occurred to me, and I preached accordingly tonight, that the angel's reply to Zacharias in St. Luke 1 ("Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed") was not necessarily a rebuke.

I've wondered about this, frankly, for years, ever since I read in Lenski's commentary a rather lame comparison between Zacharias 'disbelief' and the Blessed Virgin's question to the angel, in the same chapter, regarding her virgin conception of Christ. He declared, as I recall, that whereas Zacharias' question indicated unbelief on his part, Mary's question did not, but only an inquiry as to how she ought to expect the angel's word to come true, "seeing I know not a man." Hence, if you follow this line of reasoning, Zacharias was struck dumb, whereas Mary suffered no recrimination or ill consequence from her questioning of the angel.

All this assumes that what befell Zacharias was a punishment of sorts for his disbelief.

What's troubling about this assumption is that it is crystal clear, in the same chapter, that both Zacharias and Elizabeth were "righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." We may deduce, I suppose, that suddenly Zacharias slipped up, or that in spite of his faithful blamelessness, he was nevertheless a sinner (which is certainly true, as in the case of all of us whose faith, like Abraham's, God reckons to us for righteousness). But neither of these explanations fits the context of this account.

Thus it occurred to me that the angel's rejoinder to Zacharias may not have been a rebuke at all. Perhaps it was merely an explanation for what followed. Because he did not believe the word of the angel, therefore a sign was given with it, to give him the confidence he otherwise lacked. Because he did not believe on the strength of the angel's word alone, therefore this was added: he was struck dumb.

Imagine it from Zacharias' point of view: first he experiences, and expresses, doubt over whether all this is really so. Then, he is struck dumb. How clearly this must have taught him the utter truthfulness of it all: he could not utter a word! There was the very proof he needed.

Similarly, we need additions to the sheer word of promise. So we are given Holy Sacraments, which are heavenly signs, seals from God, to accompany His promise. For we, like Zacharias, are prone to fickleness of the flesh. Hence God in His inestimable mercy grants to us the support we require, even as He did for this saint.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Want of Honesty

Every time I have to grade term papers (I've been doing a little online teaching on the side), I find evidence of cheating. People lift material from other sources, sometimes without any acknowledgment, or sometimes, while acknowledging the source, failing to indicate that the material is verbatim. The latter is not quite as serious, but in both cases, the student is making an effort to employ the wording, the grammar, the structure, and even the argument of someone else as though it were his own. This is essentially stealing.

This morning, coincidentally, as I was reading and grading essays, a story came up on FOX news saying that some 30% of students are guilty of plagiarism. Well, I thought, I guess I should take heart. My classes are much better than the average.

Of course the evidence of dishonesty is widespread throughout our educational system, as most everyone is aware. I have no data on whether it is on the increase, and even if I did, I suspect it would not give the whole story.

But it stands to reason that in a society in which the family has broken down, and parenting is rapidly becoming a lost art, there should be a corresponding rise in dishonesty.

Honesty must be taught in the home first of all. This, of course, does not merely mean that parents should merely lecture there children: Be honest!

It means, first, that parents should be honest, setting the example. Sit-coms like Everybody Loves Raymond are certainly entertaining, but they don't really help. Their shtick is often the web of lies that keeps growing as the liar tries to stay ahead of being found out. Such things ought never happen in a Christian home. Lies, however small, must be verboten. When children are found to have lied, it is incumbent upon parents (who themselves have presumably been honest) to show the children how devastating, how hurtful, lies can be; even the small ones. When you lie to me, you are taking from me my desire to trust you in the first place. Now, instead, I must be suspicicious, which is a sad thing. Children need to see the ramifications of their lies.

Moreover, parents should raise their children with the expectation that those children will be honest in all their dealings. When I was a child, and I might ask my mother, say, for five dollars, she would say, "Go in my purse and get it." I wanted to show her that all I was taking was the five dollars we agreed upon, but she would refuse, saying, "No need; I believe you." That was a positive lesson well learned. I did not ever want to betray my mother's trust.

Luther declares in the Large Catechism that the world is a large stall full of thieves. It is also full of liars, one might add. God is true, says St. Paul, referring to the Psalm, and every man a liar.

Since this is so, we must also be ready to forgive one another, and to give our children another chance. This is not to be confused with leniency. Infractions must have consequences, of course. But we need to inculcate into our children, especially the dishonest ones, a new desire to gain our trust. Let them know, when they have lied to us, that this will take some doing; but let them also know that we are benevolent parents who are eager to see them learn this lesson.

After all, we have a benevolent Lord Jesus, whose own heart breaks when we lie, but whose mercies are new to us every morning, and who therefore is likewise eager to see us learn the lessons His mercy would have us learn.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Check out St. Paul's Newsletter

It's online and may be accessed here.

The lead article is "Set Sorrow Aside," and there's also an old reprint from Gottesdienst if you scroll down.

For that matter, you might just check out the St. Paul's website first, through which the newsletter can also be accessed. So, go ahead, click here instead.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Want of Humility, part II

It’s even hard to be humble when you’re not perfect in every way. It's always hard to be humble.

I can think of at least two kinds of humility, both worthy ones. There is the kind I expect most people think about when assessing the genteel qualities of certain people they know or have met, characterized by attention to courtesy, civility, and consideration.

And then there is knowing yourself, and, upon becoming mildly terrified at the glimpses of your own wretched true nature you see in yourself, as you remember your place before God.

I have a vague recollection of a fascinating argument Rush Limbaugh had with a caller some twenty years ago, back then the nation was first getting accustomed to his style. I think the caller may have been a minister. Offended at Rush’s glib characterization of himself as having “talent on loan from God,” the caller sought to bring him to the realization that this was boastful and self-serving.

It was a long time ago, so I only remember that Rush fended him off quite well, though I don’t remember what he said. I do think, however, that one must understand that it’s merely part of Rush’s shtick, and that no one really has the right to be judgmental here. Besides, there’s scarcely something I can abide less than a feigned kind of humility, such as would be the inverse of Rush Limbaugh. I’ll gladly take Rush over that.

I suppose one could call me judgmental for that point of view, so to qualify, I’ m not going to sit here and point out particular instances of feigned humility; I’d even be willing to let Rush’s caller off with a dismissive “he doesn’t get what Rush is doing.”
But then again, if I do too much of that sort of thing, I suppose it could be seen as a feigned humility in me. So rather, what I’d offer as an alternative to the entire arena of what is or is not feigned humility are the two kinds of genuine humility I believe to be worthy of gaining.

The first kind, simply put, is common courtesy and good manners. We could stand more of it in the public square, even when one is put off by the remarks of one’s adversary. William F. Buckley, in my recollection, was a master of this kind of thing. Relentless in his addressing of issues, but always the gentleman. That in itself is a good thing.

Is Miss Manners still writing her column? I don’t think so. I remember one marvelous piece in which she, in the fine tradition of Emily Post before her, laid out the rules of verbal warfare. If someone says something that sounds offensive, you may reply with a simple “I beg your pardon?”, thus admitting to the real possibility that you simply misunderstood him, or, if you didn’t, providing him an easy way to back down from his offense. The next tier of conflict, if a more intense form of defense is required, is to say, “Pardon me.” And the last, the nuclear option, would be to declare, “How dare you!” But never, she wrote, is anything more than this permissible.

But this is not an unabashed advocacy of Miss Manners; I’m merely suggesting that common courtesy is a desired trait to be sought, and one for which I can easily chide myself for not having enough of.

The second kind of humility is more important, and has to do with one’s Christianity. Here we are speaking of a penitential spirit. This kind of humility is elusive, even among us who desire to live by it. An occasional divine intervention of some sort of ‘humbling’ experience is requisite for the learning, or maintenance, or recovery, of the kind of humility that gives way to faith.

This latter kind of humility is not between me and my neighbor, but between me and God, and is therefore intensely personal. So personal, in fact, that it causes most people to forgo confessing their sins to their pastors. Too bad, because the exercise of confession is for the engendering of just such a thing. To retort that it’s so personal that it’s not the pastor’s business is to misunderstand the role of the pastor as one who stands in for God and speaks for Him.

Both types of humility are in short supply, and have been more or less been perennially so, it seems to me. While pleading guilty to being a contributing factor in that phenomenon, at least I can count myself among those who still say that they are needful.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Heard about that cruise ship on which Mitt Romney was ‘schmoozing’ Republican insiders last week? CNN said so, and Jay Leno even cracked a joke about it in his monologue.

Well, yours truly was there, at the invitation and for the benefit of my mother. (Why did the little old lady cross the street? Because she could, with a little help.) I must admit to feeling a bit sheepish, though, when some of the people we met commented on what a nice son I was to do this for my mother. Right: so very nice of me to go along, on her nickel, and spend a week on a cruise ship with her and help her get around. Mm-hmm, it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

Seriously, thanks, Mom, it was a truly memorable week.

Anyhow, one of the things I noticed was how thoughtful and considerate everyone was toward everyone else. These were mostly people who had never met one another, people from various walks and religions: Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews, bloggers, doctors, photographers, comedians, lawyers, farmers, writers, politicians, conservatives, and liberals. OK, I was kidding about the liberals. This was, after all, a National Review cruise. Although I didn’t see or meet any liberals in our group of some 700 strong, for all I know, there may well have been some hiding in the shadows.

I do think if there had been any liberals who had spoken up and voiced their opinions in conversation—you know, while schmoozing—they would have been engaged in honest, intelligent, and courteous discussion and debate. That’s provided, of course, they did so without the shrill voices and outlandish conduct we have too often seen from the loons on the outskirts of the left. I rather doubt that these folks would be willing to engage, say, the naked bicyclists protesting something or other in Portland, Oregon this week. Or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions.

But these people were quite interested in intelligent, informed, and reasonable conversation; and there was lots of courtesy toward people like me who are not quite as politically informed.

Many times during the week my mother and I had opportunity to meet personally with some pretty well-known people, whether over drinks or dinner or even at random places. We talked with the likes of Fred Thompson (yes, the Fred Thompson), John O’Sullivan (Margaret Thatcher’s speechwriter), Jack Fowler (the publisher of NR), and Scott Johnson (author of How Arafat Got Away with Murder), to name just a few, and I found these people to be as gracious and down-to-earth as your next-door neighbor. This was not like the meeting of Oz the Great and Powerful with Dorothy the Meek and Small, and precisely because it wasn’t, I was duly impressed. No stuffiness, and absolutely none of haughty demeanor we sometimes associate with famous people.

No wonder, incidentally, there was tremendous applause every time Sarah Palin’s name was mentioned. She's down-to-earth too, just like them, and just like our next-door neighbors. There is something to be said about that kind of unassuming modesty.

Three cheers for this large gang of conservatives big and small, and their decent humanity.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Primer on Rights

I suppose it was inevitable that people would one day begin expanding on the rights upon which the US Constitution is ostensibly based, going even beyond the Bill of Rights.

Today, for instance, we hear about the right to a fair wage. The absurdity of that one may be seen by restating it: the right to a fair wage is the right to have a certain value attached to your services. Well, who says? These kinds of "rights" are directly contrary to the notion of the free exchange of commerce, the essence of capitalism. Hence the right to a fair wage is really a stipulation that society must be in essence socialist. This begs the question who is going to be put in charge of determining what the value of services should be. If that value is not set by the marketplace, it must be imposed. This is contrary to freedom, which is the heart of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Hence one may find an extrapolation of the constitutional basis in rights which is contrary to that basis itself.

Speaking of the Declaration of Independence, we will do well to consider carefully the meaning of "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

In the first place, there is the fact that the basis of authority here is what is considered to be "self-evident," an appeal to common sense. This document is the product of the age of Rationalism, whose consistent appeal was to Reason. The American ideal was tempered by a lack of excess, and comparatively speaking the Revolution was conservative in nature. A salient difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution was that the latter took the ideas of liberty too far. The elimination of the nobility gave way to mob rule and the enthronement of the Goddess Reason and an unfettered mess. In America, by contrast, the need for the rule of law was seen as part of what was self-evident.

But in principle, any appeal to what is self-evident contains a seed of trouble, since what is self-evident to one generation may not be so self-evident to another.

And in fact, the phrase "among these rights" implies that there are more rights which are self-evident than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Who's to say that the Bill of Rights must be the full range and extent of those rights?

Here's where the slippery slope upon which activist judges may base their rulings begins.

But what bears remembering is that the Declaration of Independence was written to tell the government what it had no right to do. This may be taken from the context in which it was written. The preamble was speaking first of all to the British monarchy, in effect saying, "We are not doing what is morally corrupt in our opposition to your throne; for we have from our creation as men as much intrinsic value and prerogatives as you; rather, it is you who are behaving immorally, in that you have denied us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The Declaration was in effect entering into the argument over establishmentarianism: was the throne established by God to dictate whatever it deemed legal, or not?

When this context is removed from questions over government, mischief arises.

Now rights may be applied to individuals over against other individuals, and consequently any notion of responsibility or of charity is left out of the discussion.

The fabric of life does not derive from the concept of rights. Only our obligations vis-a-vis the government may be argued to derive from it.

The fabric of life derives from God, to whom a brief nod is given in the Declaration; and what is in fact self-evident, though many choose to deny it, is that He has created life. We subsequently owe Him our existence. That is not a right; it is a debt.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

People Are Getting Nervous

Maybe it's just me, but I'm getting the sense that normally impartial observers during this political season are having a hard time maintaining their balance. I'm thinking that's because they are really concerned about this election, more so than in previous cycles.

I refer first of all to Fox News, which is pretty much my own steady diet for TV news. I have given up on the others, aka the MSM, since their leftist bias has become so outrageous that it sends shock waves up my leg. They make Pravda look reasonable.

So Fox has become the top-rated news channel, since I'm not the only one who can see this. People became fed up with Olberman and his cronies.

And I've watched Fox during election seasons since the '90s. Admittedly my own view is biased, but with that awareness I think I'm seeing something new here. I'm not going to say they're "in the tank" for McCain, but they do seem to be rather up front in their distaste for the Obama campaign.

To be sure, I agree with them. And I'm not really blaming them here; one way to look at this is to say that with everyone else in the media on the Obama campaign team, at least Fox is balancing things out. I'm just wondering why it seems to me that although Fox is still fair, now rather than being balanced, they are the balance.

And I have a little theory about that. It's not only Fox, by the way. It's also the US Chamber of Commerce, usually careful about bald endorsements of a political party. Not any more. They are panning the Democrats this time.

My theory is that these folks are really worried about a number of things that are also worrying me.

With a Pelosi-Reid-Obama trifecta quite possibly winning the horserace, and perhaps filibuster-proof, we could be in for a really rough ride. That might have been palatable back when the Democrats had some respect for the US Constitution.

But I don't think McCain's complaints about Obama to be mere smear tactics. I believe they're legitimate concerns.

Meanwhile there's well-known massive voter fraud going on in battleground states, and Obama himself on record worrying rather about voter suppression (give me a break), with the Justice Department looking the other way (because the ones charged with not looking away are known Obama supporters).

I'm scratching my head thinking, wow, how far removed are we from a banana republic? On second thought, at least banana republics aren't aborting as many babies as we are.

Oh well. Let's hope the founders had this scenario in mind when they made the Supreme Court an impartial check on the other branches. We might just get to see if that works.

And meanwhile, I'll just go back to praying for our President, our Governor, and those who make and uphold our laws. After all, whether we like it or not, we are a nation under God. All things are, ineffably, under His governance.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


So this stewardship guy gets up and chides the seminaries for not teaching stewardship, suggesting that this is the reason our offerings are low. I'm sitting in the back of the room thinking, Nope.

I don't preach stewardship sermons. Ever. You know, the standard "Look at all Jesus has done for you, now what are you going to give Him in return?" I've always had a sense that your basic stewardship sermon is really a neatly disguised (or not-so-neatly, if you've heard it all before) plea for cash. The old "time, talents, and treasures" outline was really nothing but a ruse. You knew you were really only shooting for that last one about the treasures. The time and talents part was a way of trying to convince people that the whole stewardship gig was really oh, so much more than money. Bah. It's all about money, and who is being fooled?

Anyhow, I don't preach them. Once long ago, a fellow pastor, on hearing me say this, complained, "Well, what are you going to replace them with?!" To which I, having just seen the old black-and-white Luther film with a similar scene, replied, "Christ!"

But to return to the point, there was a false premise in this guy's question. I don't know about you, but our offerings are not low. I mean, overall they're not anything great, because our parish is rather small, but when that factor is taken into account, our people do quite well, I'd say. And why? Because they love their parish. They rejoice over the preaching of Christ in their church. They want to see their church thrive and the Gospel to be given free course, to the joy and edifying of Christ's holy people.

Eat your heart out, stewardship guy. I don't preach stewardship sermons. And my people are really exemplary in their offerings. Can you explain that? I can.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Liturgical Calendar is Up

The Gottesdienst Liturgical Calendar for 2009 is now posted at the Gottesdienst website.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oktoberfest come and gone

A successful event has us cleaning up and reflecting.

There was, I think, a record turnout. Unofficial figures had us at 92 on Sunday night for the bratfest, so probably closer to 100 for the choral vespers prior. Monday's lectures were heard, unofficially, by 62; and they were all outstanding. Today's seminar was attended by 22 of us.

The weather was grand, and everyone seemed to agree that the event was well worth it.

More on it all later; for now, it's time to rest.

Thursday, October 09, 2008



Registrations are up, and we're thinking we could get a record turnout. So if you haven't registered yet, do so now and start packing.

The brats arrive from Miesfeld's (award winning) in Sheboygan on Friday, and the hard rolls arrive on Saturday, fresh from Sheboygan's City Bakery. I guess some warehouse is out of Leinenkugel's, so we're going with Sam Adams Oktoberfest, also a very fine brew. I think there's a local ordinance in Sheboygan declares it a misdemeanor if you don't have beer with your brats, so, being a Sheboygan native, I've determinined that we'll have to follow the spirit of that law here in Kewanee.

But first, we assemble in the church at 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 12, for our Autumn Choral Vespers, featuring our talented Mixed Chorus. Vespers this year will anticipate Mission Festival day, which we will observe at Holy Mass Monday morning.

Following Vespers we move down the hall for the bratwurst and some laughing and scratching. We call it the best party on the block. Or in town. Or in the Missouri Synod.

On Monday morning, following Holy Mass at 9:30, the Oktoberfest seminar runs until 3:15 p.m.

Our conference theme is “A Tale of Two Synods.” We're welcoming four guests who have in recent years taken the walk across the rickety bridge from Wisconsin to Missouri.

Several years ago the Reverend Fr. Peter Berg, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chicago, having been removed from the roster of the WELS, was received into the LCMS. This year his brother, the Reverend Fr. John Berg, pastor of Hope Ev. Lutheran Church in Fremont, California, has taken the same trek. In the meantime the Reverend Fr. Aaron Moldenhauer, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Beecher, Illinois, made the same move during his seminary training. He will be accompanied by his wife Tabitha, a scholar in her own right, who will provide a confessional Lutheran perspective on women’s issues. This year both Berg brothers became associate editors of Gottesdienst, and Fr. Moldenhauer received the journal’s Sabre of Boldness award for 2008.

On Tuesday, a liturgical seminar is again planned for a roundtable discussion seeking uniformity in our worship practices. Informed Lutheran clergy are particularly invited to provide input and exchange of ideas, although all are invited to stay for the day. For more information on that seminar, click here.

REGISTRATION for the entire event is $25 per person (students $20) or $40 per couple — which includes Sunday banquet and Monday continental and luncheon; and there's no charge for children with parents.

To register, send me an email with Oktoberfest as the subject. Give your name, title, address, and intentions: coming Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, or portions thereof. We'll sign you up; you may pay the registration fee when you arrive. Click here.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Miracle in Kewanee

As I wrote last month, the story of Carole Sanders is nothing short of miraculous. On death's door twice, given no chance to recover from pulmonary fibrosis, within hours of breathing her last. But not only did she rally, what happened since summer time is something I haven't seen in all my years. This woman is improving steadily, has come home from the nursing home, has cut her oxygen intake in half, is now enjoying life with her husband, and at long last has seen her dream come true: she wanted to be in church again, and walk the steps to the altar on her own.

This she did yesterday.

And after mass, she took a few moments to thank the congregation for their support and prayers. Then she and her husband and I walked to the back where she greeted the people as they came out.

There was hardly a dry eye among the people.

What has happened to this woman, and therefore to this parish, has been stunning and beautiful to behold.

She might even be able to come to Oktoberfest Sunday night. Our guests will get the chance to see a woman who has been on the receiving end of a miracle.

We ought never underestimate the strength of the prayers of God's people.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Lyrics Game Goes to Washington

"You can't always get what you want; but . . . you get what you need."

On the floor of the House this morning some congressman was making his speech by quoting Mick Jagger of the Stones.

Ah, the memories!

Maybe the US House of Representatives somehow caught wind of what went on at the LCMS Synodical Convention in Houston in the summer of '07. A few of us decided the speeches were too dry and predictable, so we secretly injected a little game into the mix. We made it our goal to slip some familiar old rock lyrics into our speeches, and if we did, we'd get a point. I think in all there were close to ten such speeches, like this one:

"Sometimes you have to parse the words carefully when you hear what people say. I mean, I could say to you that all you need is love, but I wouldn't really mean that was all you needed, literally . . ."

Or this one:

"We all want freedom from bureaucratic baggage, but really, freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose. So let's be careful about this . . ."

Or this:

"Listen, we debate these important things intensely, but let's not get the wrong impression about each other. It's not that I don't love you; I do, and that's forever. Yes, and for always. I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are. And you make it hard for me to say this, but . . ."

You get the idea. We took the business of our convention seriously, but we made it a little fun while doing so. (I remember even injecting this little poem into the mix, just for fun.) We'd like to think it kept people from taking themselves too seriously.

Maybe the congressman wants to do the same thing. When I saw it, I thought, Sweet!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Want of Humility

Whoever chooses to write on the importance of humility does so as a person in which there is by nature a want of humility. To say we are sinful by nature is to say that we are proud by nature. Everyone loves it when his ego is stroked; we generally feel uncomfortable about it when it is done publicly, because when in public most of us are aware of what people will think of us when we come off as too high and mighty. So we instinctively seek to be self-deprecating.

(For that matter, incidentally, we should. Imagine someone reacting to kudos with agreement: Yes, I am great, I agree with you.)

Yet the virtue of humility is not about being self-deprecating for appearances. Anybody can do that. True humility comes from an awareness of the reality of who we really are. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, exhort the Apostles Peter and James. They don't mean that we should speak softly, be shy, or say demeaning things about ourselves. They mean that we should remember that we are unworthy, utterly unworthy, of any accolades of any kind; we are not God. How simple that sounds, yet how elusive it is: we are not God.

I think it's curious that it was Moses who wrote that Moses was the most humble man on earth. What on earth was he saying? That he was perfectly humble, good for him? Was this the first manifestation of what would one day be crooned in a country song, "It's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way"?

I think not. I think he was acutely aware of the truth about himself. I think it was his way of saying what St. Paul said, "I am chief of sinners." It was as if to say, "I know what my adversaries are saying about me, that I am not worthy to be in my exalted position; what they don't know is how well aware I am of this myself: they can't beat up on me nearly as much as I can beat up on myself. I didn't want this position, but God insisted."

True humility is to be sought after, especially by leaders. It is to be willing to beat up on yourself, to be unafraid of going to confession, to exult in the forgiveness of sins in awareness of how desperately you need it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Want of Integrity

There were halcyon days in my formative years when I used to think that people in positions of leadership could be expected to understand the importance of integrity. And I am sure that there are young people today whose own outlooks are still unencumbered by the harsh reality that there are so many wrong people in positions which require of them what they don't have.

What they too often don't have, and what their positions require, is a spine.

So they search for the easiest short-term solution to a crisis or a threat, without giving a thought to the assault this does to the truth, or to their integrity.

They are the bureaucrats who can't bear to live without the promise of funding by their most important benefactors, so they sacrifice their principles, if only just a little, in order to keep them happy. And then a little more, and more again after that.

They live, essentially, by fear. They are beholden not so much to their sponsors themselves as to the images of their sponsors, images which are really likely more caricatures than realities.

These bureaucrats certainly exist in the halls of government, but they also haunt the Church. In both places they wreak havoc, in proportion to the amount of authority they hold.

These people are worse plagues upon the well being of society or of the Church than the outright scoundrels, being themselves less identifiable.

And yet, we will never be free of them. They have been doing their damage since the beginning, since Adam lost the fortitude to tell off the serpent who was tempting his wife, who was standing, no doubt, right next to him all the while. Who knows, perhaps when the serpent beguiled, Adam simply wanted to avoid confrontation, or loss of favor somehow, so thought he needed to compromise, to come out of this matter looking at least like half the man he didn't have the guts to be.

That, at least, is what seems to drive the gutless these days. There's always a threat, an alarm, a foreboding of dire consequences.

Men must learn not to live by fear, ever. Though we may have our fears, we must not let them guide us. Sometimes we must damn the torpedoes.

And men who don't know how to do this will never be what God intended them to be. And men, or aspiring men, who do understand, even from the start of their formation, can perhaps one day become, deo volente, replacements for the spineless here and there.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dressing Down

So here's a picture of a small group of members of a Lutheran congregation with their pastor. Which one's the pastor? Not sure? Not surprising.

I've noticed that in recent times it's pretty common to see feature stories about pastors with their people, or pastors involved with various church projects, whether in Lutheran publications, or in the newspaper, and the accompanying picture shows the pastor in a simple open collared shirt, or a knit shirt, or something very casual.

To be sure, I might occasionally attend a council meeting dressed like this, and on a Friday I can routinely be seen in such clothes, but what I'm wondering about is whether pastors who are to be photographed as representatives of their churches ought to be so dressed.

Is the dressing down of clergyman a growing phenomenon?

First, they eschewed the clerical garb in favor of neckties and sports jackets; now they're removing those as well. Something tells me this is another little gnawing anticlericalism on the part of the clerics themselves, that is, that they want to affirm their membership in the priesthood of all believers and put off all sense of the office they hold.

While the office they hold is not one in which wielding authority over the people is becoming, that is a far cry from denying that they have authority. One would think that Christian people expect their pastors to be comfortable with this authority; after all, they come hear them on Sundays; they come to be trained, edified, comforted, encouraged, fathered. How can a pastor with no authority do those things? And how can a man who's uncomfortable in the garb which bespeaks the pastor's position be such a pastor?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blinking Contest

If you saw the Charlie Gibson interview of Sarah Palin, you need to see this great little montage Jay Leno put together as an "interview" with Sarah Palin. The blinking contest is the last part.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gottesdienst 2008 Appeal for Help

A letter from Gottesdienst to all our supporters:

September 2008

Dear friend of the Lutheran Liturgy,

Gottesdienst keeps moving forward, but we always seem to be doing it on a shoestring. And we couldn’t do it at all without the continued generosity of people like you. As you have depended on us for sixteen years to provide you with the very best in material promoting dignified, evangelical liturgy and worship, we must also depend on you to help us, as you are able, to keep the mission moving.

As you know, it is within the rich context and setting of dignified liturgical worship that the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed with power. That power is in the Gospel itself, of course, but it behooves us to provide for it the best environment we can for its proclamation. For the liturgy itself is really nothing less than the Word of God on our lips.

And yet in our day the liturgy routinely comes under assault, as churches discard it for entertainment and for settings that might as well pass for a pop music concert complete with a star vocalist on stage, with makeup, lighting, and a backup band. People sway to the music and sing along with their favorite lyrics; how well they are entertained! And with it, enough mention of praise for the name of Jesus that they are even (mis)led to think that this is worship and entertainment all in one.

Meanwhile the Gospel in all its fullness, the rich mercy of God in Christ, is shoved aside, and the people no longer even bother to cry out, “Lord have mercy,” as the people in the Gospels did, nor sing “O Christ Thou Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world,” nor plead, “Create in me a clean heart, O God . . .” nor “give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever.” They no longer Simeon’s confident song of willingness to die in peace, “for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation . . .”

We must not abandon, but continue, and redouble our efforts to reach the churches with reasons to rediscover and rejoice in the rich and abiding Holy Liturgy. Your generous support for Gottesdienst will make you our co-workers in this effort. Please help. We need you. The church needs Gottesdienst.


+ Burnell F. Eckardt, Jr., Editor-in-chief

To donate online, please click here (if you don't have PayPal, there's a place to click to donate with a major credit card), or check out our newly designed website and donate from there.

To send your donation in the mail, please mail your check to

c/o St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church
109 South Elm Street
Kewanee, IL 61443

Thank you for your consideration!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New Gottesdienst Website Design

Having updated the design of Gottesblog, it's only fitting that the Gottesdienst website should be updated too, after sitting virtually idle for two or three years. Yes, we finally did it. Have a look.

And while you're at it, subscribe. Gottesdienst is the insightful, witty, evangelical, liturgical journal of record (if we do say so ourselves).

Gottesdienst is for you if

· You want to know more about the liturgy

· Or if you want some great seasonal sermons and Biblical insights

· Or if you want liturgical observations that are truthful, insightful, and unafraid

· Or if you want encouragement to stand firm in the faith

· Or if you’re a pastor who hasn’t yet taken the step of ordering a bulk subscription for your congregation. You know, if they read something you’re already trying to tell them, they might be easier to convince.

To subscribe, click here.

And, incidentally, we're about to embark on our annual fund drive for Gottesdienst, whose funds tend to get rather low about this time of year, so anyone who has the wherewithal to help us out, be sure to check out the Make a Donation! tab; we could sure use some help!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Three, Yes Three Cheers for Sarah

Which is to say, here's the third of three blog posts in praise of Sarah Palin, almost in a row.

Why? You ask? Why am I so pumped?

Because I remember Ronald Reagan--Ronald the Great--so well, and here he is all over again, as his own son Michael Reagan so glowingly exulted the other day.

Because the conservative movement is suddenly reborn and we have reason to hope that America might not, after all, continue to be dismantled and demoralized by the relentlessly atheistic Left. Not just yet, anyhow.

Because the groundswell was instant. The sleeping majority has awakened, and it is huge. I know I am not the only one who is pumped.

Hey, all you Ron Paul folks, get off it, will you? Listen, John McCain will probably not be that great a President (though I have to admit he could surprise me and yet turn out to be, so I'll reserve my own judgment right now, only because he so surprised me with his VP pick).

But Sarah Palin has drastically changed the scenery, and the Alaskan panorama is breathtaking in more ways than one. I'm not merely thinking of a McCain presidency here, but of a Palin one to come. Deborah the Prophetess lives.

So I'm going to make a bold prediction, just for fun. I predict this election will go to McCain, and that it won't even be close. He will win in a landslide, I think. Here's why I think this.

First, he's already ahead in the polls. The Palin bombshell has shaken American politics to the roots, and it's already showing.

Secondly, Obama lost the blue collar states to Hillary already. They don't really like him that much to begin with, and he still has to sell himself even among Democrats.

Third, the presidential debates will quite possibly be a rout. I saw the Saddleback interviews, and although I've never been a real big McCain supporter, what I saw in those interviews is a stark difference in how he comes off, as opposed to Obama. That tells me that he will impress and surprise people when he matches up against Obama's stuttering aimlessness on national TV. People like it when a man gives a straight answer. They don't like "uh, uh, that's above my pay grade . . ." When Obama was asked what to do about evil, he said, something like, "We need to confront it." When McCain was asked, he said, without batting an eye, "Defeat it." And McCain does this sort of thin all the time, even if you disagree with him (which I sometimes do). So that will serve him well in the debates, I think. His confidence is born of an utter grasp of who he is and what he wants to do.

Fourth, the media will continue to hammer away at Palin, and the more they do, the more the backlash will help the ticket. The media folks probably know this, but they can't help themselves. They probably know already that Obama's best hope of winning will be the uncovering of some Palin scandal. I heard they're looking into whether she cheated in the Miss Wasilla contest. Now that is rich. The media barrage has become the gift that keeps on giving.

Fifth, there will be an unprecedented number of people watching the vice-presidential debate this time, and, well, need I say more?

I believe the Left knows this as well as I do, and that they're probably in a state of panic already. I hope Mrs. Palin's security is on high alert. Seriously.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Still Ecstatic

I told you so . . .

Count me as one not surprised by the home run I saw last night in Gov. Palin's speech, though it has the even likes of conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer and Peggy Noonan likely rethinking their initial dislike of Sen. McCain's VP choice. I'm telling you, this is the start of something really big . . .

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Liturgy Seminar October 14: tentative topic

The Second Annual Liturgical Seminar at
St. Paul’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church
Kewanee, Illinois
Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On the day following our annual Oktoberfest on Sunday and Monday, October 12-13, 2008, we are holding our second annual liturgy seminar, with an aim toward finding some uniformity among Lutheran liturgical practices. Last year we discussed a liturgical calendar. This year’s topic deals with Canon Law, or the question of the use and proper extent of regulations governing liturgical practice.

A roundtable discussion is scheduled for today, in search of uniformity. Informed Lutheran clergy are particularly invited to provide input and exchange of ideas, although all are invited to stay for the day. Here following is a schedule with tentative proposals for discussion.

9:00 a.m. Low (spoken) Mass

9:45 – noon: Seminar, first topic.

On Canon Law.

The existence of specific canon law dates to the seven ecumenical councils of the early church. Indeed the bulk of activity in which the assembled bishops engaged was the preparation of these canons, i.e., regulations pertaining to what is proper for the churches. In twenty-first century Lutheranism, by contrast, any talk of regulations is likely to elicit a response of legalism, and untold mischief has resulted, all under the banner of adiaphora.

Among the questions worthy of discussion among us are these:

What is canon law for Lutherans? How far should it go? How far can it go? What are the true adiaphora? What are not adiaphora? How might a Lutheran jurisdiction be set in place whose aim is to produce evangelical canons to which we voluntarily assent?

12 noon – lunch

1 pm -- 3:15 pm: Seminar, second topic:

Toward a Canon of the Mass.

Recently a recommended Eucharistic Prayer was posted at the new blog Four and Twenty Blackbirds, which among other things raises the question of whether the Words of Institution ought be embedded in such a prayer. A strong Lutheran tradition, led by Luther Reed (The Lutheran Liturgy) would forbid it, but a long and catholic tradition does not. Meanwhile a centuries-long debate has continued between Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy over the question of the epiclesis, a specific prayer calling upon the Holy Ghost to make the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Among the questions worthy of discussion among us are these:

How might confessional Lutherans arrive at an acceptable canon? Is it even desirable to seek to do so? What is the significance of praying or not praying the Verba? Is the Lord’s Prayer consecratory?

3:15 Office of None. Itinerarium

For details of Oktoberfest or to register, please visit

The entire schedule is tentative and itself open to discussion.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ecstatic over Palin

Suddenly I'm excited about politics again. Although there will likely be some things about Sarah Palin that I'll discover I disagree with here and there, John McCain made some giant strides today toward gaining my confidence that he'll make a good President.

I'm one of those conservatives, even "social conservatives," he knows he has to win over, and he hasn't done too much to win me over, seemingly taking every opportunity to distance himself from our kind, leaving us scratching our heads, wondering, what in the world is he doing? Somebody remind me why I am supposed to vote for him. And then remembering it was because the alternative would be far worse in a gazillion ways.

All that changed today.

I read about Sarah Palin several months ago, and thought, wow, she'd be a great president. I remember having the same thoughts about a certain Governor Ronald Reagan back in the mid 1970s. Governor Palin is strongly pro-life and anti-bureaucracy. She is a woman of high integrity, as far as I can tell. She was appointed to some oil commission, and when she found corruption there, she sought to root it out, and in so doing made many enemies among powerful people. At length she succeeded, and has gained the support of 80% of the people in her state. 80%! That's unheard of.

She's pro-family, pro-second amendment, and one classy lady. I still can't believe she got the nod. I'm thrilled to the bone, and suddenly find myself actually rooting for somebody instead of just against somebody else. Something good has just happened to American politics. Kudos to Senator McCain.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Preacher, IV: Nothing Personal. Please.

Today I was led to Fr. Greg Alms' marvelous little post on preaching, whose title says it all: "A Continuing Guide to the Self Delusion of Preachers."

I'd like to highlight these two points he makes:

Preachers know that 90 percent of personal stories in sermons overpower and obscure the theological point being made.

90 percent of preachers believe their personal stories are effective homiletical tools.

My guess, preacher, is that if you're one who likes to tell personal anecdotes as a staple of your sermons, you will likely never admit, even to yourelf, that your personal stories obscure the Gospel. And that, dear preacher, is because of your sin.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as much of a sinner as you are, but by the grace of God I am what I am: a preacher of the Gospel. Have you not read St. Paul? We preach not ourselves, he says most clearly. So why do you think it's ok to go preach yourself? We don't want to hear about you. And frankly, we don't want to hear your little make-believe anecdotes about somebody else, either. Is it too much to ask you you preach Christ?

Sometimes I have heard preachers do nothing but string stories end to end and call it a sermon, and I'm not exaggerating.

Preacher, consider the sermons in the book of Acts. You don't see St. Peter telling personal stories.

For that matter, consider Jesus' own preaching. Now his device is the parable, which, to be sure, is a kind of story. But these stories arise out of the rabbinic mold, and as such are themselves rich in content; and they're certainly not personal ones.

The typical American sermon has become the heart of all banality. I'm amazed that people can sit through such insults to their intelligence, and then tell the preacher what a great sermon he had today, when all they heard was trite little ditties like Little Johnny was lost in the wood for hours one night; his father went out searching for hours; and when he finally found his son sleeping under a thin blanket of snow, he awoke, stretched, and exclaimed, "Oh Daddy, I found you at last!" Who found whom?

Oh, gag me! Preacher, stop reading Herman Gockel, will you? Or whatever books you're looking at to get your little extended metaphors.

When you tell them, you'll surely impress some of your hearers, but alas, you've just wasted valuable preaching time in which you could have been delving into the mysteries of the Sacred Page.

So some will tell you how wonderful your stories are. Preacher, listen, they're probably just being nice. Either that, or they really need some serious catechesis in the Gospel, which is infinately richer than tripe about little Johnny!

You want to use some stories to illustrate your point? Fine. How about using a great book I've found that's chock full of them. It's called the Old Testament. You want to illustrate divine grace? How about using Gideon's army, or David the shepherd-boy. The point there is that the victories were not gained by the strength of man. See? There are the stories you may use to your heart's content. And you'll be teaching them Bible stories to boot!

Stop preaching yourself, or your own little time-wasting anecdotes. Preach Christ instead.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Carole Sanders Story

The following story is my leading article in our church's monthly newsletter for September. It has generated lots of interest, so I thought it worth reprinting also at this blog. The entire newsletter is always accessible online (to do so, click here).

No one expected her to live this long, let alone improve. But Carole Sanders continues to defy the predictions and prognostications of everyone, whether family or medical personnel.

Several years ago she was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a rare lung disease that gradually (so we are told) renders the lungs nonfunctional, bit by bit, as scars continue to replace healthy tissue. We watched her go downhill, just as they said she would. They gave her two years to live at the most.

And so we began to pray for her, as Christians do, both privately and at Mass, for we knew that her dear Lord would deal with her as He saw fit, according to His own unsearchable wisdom and infinite power. With God all things are possible.

Soon she became confined to her home, and unable, except on a rare occasion, to go out. She loved her church, but was now a shut-in. Once in a great while we’d see her in church, if only on a Saturday night when less people are present. Yet her determination to keep up the fight was always evident, as we saw her, oxygen tank and all, approach the altar for the Blessed Sacrament. I could have brought it to her in the first pew, as I customarily do for some who have difficulty walking, but she preferred if at all possible to approach, climb the three steps, and make it to the altar.

Usually she had to receive her communion at home, where her husband Duane waited on her daily, an unflinching if weary angel always at her side. Duane was better for her than any nurse could have been, around the clock, constantly there for her, to be her stay. Months passed. Soon she entered Hospice care. She was losing her breath, she was going downhill. She was dying.

And so our prayers for her continued, even as we continued to expect the inevitable.

But she did not die. Six months passed, and so did the Hospice nurse. They don’t keep people on longer than six months; they’re expected to be dead by that time. And Duane and Carole decided it was easier and cheaper to manage things without Hospice, staying in close touch with medical personnel. I remember opining that none of us has any business predicting when she will die. Only God knows, in spite of what any professionals might think.

So she kept on at home, yet still going downhill. She routinely fell, even though she had a walker, and even though she never had far to walk. She just didn’t have the strength, because she didn’t have the breath. Her lungs were giving out. She fell, and bruised, and once or twice even cracked a bone. Her pain was mitigated some by pain medications, which made her groggy. I remember thinking that I had never seen someone dying so slowly.

Then one day last winter I got a call late in the evening from Duane. He couldn’t wake her. It seemed as though the end was finally at hand. I raced over to the house. Poor Duane was beside himself. We prayed. I brought to bear some of the most comforting passages of Scripture, of psalms, and of hymns. The nurse arrived, as did a family friend or two. After two or three hours, she did not stir, and her breathing was shallow. I had been at deathbeds before. Some days prior, she had already received her last communion, her viaticum, and now we were bidding her farewell. We were bracing ourselves for her last breath. Finally, when several people were keeping vigil, I decided I could leave for awhile, fully expecting to be called back shortly when death was more clearly at hand.

The call never came.

Next morning I puzzled over this, and went back to the house. There she was, to my great surprise, sitting up and smiling at me. Her hour had not yet come. Somehow, miraculously, she had revived during the night. Now doubly I know that nobody knows the hour of death. She had defied all predictions distant and recent. It was already well over the two years they had given her; I think it was almost twice that long. And still she drew her breath, and continued doggedly on.

Winter turned to spring, and spring to summer. My visits settled roughly into a weekly pattern. But my prayers, and the church’s prayers, continued at a daily pace, as ever.

Then came July. Another frantic call brought me out quickly to the house. This time she was losing her mind, quite literally. She was delirious, and completely unlike the Carole I knew. Suddenly she trusted no one but me, yet even I could not reason well with her. It was evident to me that her brain needed more oxygen, as I explained to her distraught husband. She was not herself.

Duane came to realize that she had to be moved, as she would not even let him care for her. This was the last thing this dedicated husband wanted to do; he had promised himself he would not let her live out her days in a nursing home somewhere, yet now he had no choice. It was a heartbreaking and agonizing decision. The years of care, and his labor of love, had taken their toll on him already. He had lost altogether too much weight, and was reduced to a mere shadow of himself. Now, in spite of his valiant determination month after month to continue the marathon, he was faced with defeat. Poor Duane! Poor Carole!

Yet we continued to pray, daily.

Then, in the past several weeks, something astounding began to happen. We had thought the move to Toulon Health Care would be the last straw. Perhaps it was for this reason, because every earthly prop had given way, that all at once things changed. She began the transformation from someone who was dying to someone who was living. Every time I saw her, which at first was daily, she was better than the time before. Not only was she no longer dying, she began improving, to the amazement of everyone. This was not supposed to happen. So extraordinary is her progress that even Duane, who visits her daily, is again gaining weight and strength.

Today Carole Sanders is again in her right mind, having not only accepted her lot in life, but rejoicing continually in the mercy of her Savior. Jesus has been with her, not only to comfort, but to strengthen both in body and soul. In therapy she walks farther than they tell her to walk. She is no longer waiting to die. She is living and breathing, and improving daily. She even hopes to return home some day, and to start coming to church again. Her remarkable convalescence to date really gives her no reason to expect otherwise. I can scarcely believe my eyes.

To be sure, it doesn’t generally happen like this. Faithful Christians die daily; they fall asleep in Jesus, and we mourn their loss, with the assurance that, as St. Paul has said, if in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable. So we don’t despair when earthly things are passed; we know of a life of the world to come; we know Jesus the Crucified, who was raised from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity. And we know we shall reign with Him. So we learn not to sorrow as others who have no hope, no matter whether we live or die. And we learn that this life is a vale of tears. Disease strikes and mortality makes itself known to us all.

Yet once in a while our Lord deigns to remind us, in sometimes remarkable ways, that He is in command of all things, and that He does indeed hear our prayers. In Him we live and move and have our being. And so it is that He has determined in His wisdom and mercy that it is not time for Carole Sanders to die. Not yet. In fact, she’s even showing signs of beginning to thrive.

If you wish to pay her a call, feel free. She’ll gladly visit with you and well you all these things herself. She is a living miracle, and reminder to us all that our God is always able to do abundantly more than we either ask or think.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Out of the Barn

Horses are now running wild and free.
Mavericks they are, one and all, shall they be.
And now there's another, for now yet again
Gottesdienst flies, she is out of the barn.

IN THIS ISSUE subscribers may look forward to two marvelous guest essays. The first, by Fr Richard Stuckwisch on "Singing the Church year with Paul Gerhardt," is a continuation of his brilliant study of this Lutheran giant's rich contributions to our hymnody.

The second, by frequent contributor Fr Larry Beane, asks, "Is the Papacy Still Antichrist?", a long overdue question, with incisive reasoning and plenty of confessional approbation to back up his answer. Hint: the answer isn't "Yes."

This is also our first issue with two new editors, Frs (and brothers) John and Peter Berg. We finally assimilated them (yes, rather like the Borg: "Strength is irrelevant, resistance is futile. We wish to improve ourselves. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service ours."). Their short-lived The Motley Magpie has been resurrected, and is now a regular column in our journal.

Then there's an entry by your humble columnist called "Cheap Plastic." Guess what that one's about.

The lineup is rounded out by two fine sermons, from Fr William Weedon and Fr Aaron Koch, Fr David Petersen's article "Contemplating Missouri's Losses," Fr Karl Fabrizius's "Musing on the Mysteries," and my own "Pondering the Holy Liturgy."

One more thing. We don't have quite as many copies left over this time as usual, so if you want to subscribe before they run out, better hurry. First come, first served. Log on at to get the current issue.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fair Olympics?

Maybe it's just me--well actually, it isn't, because the NBC commentators seemed to be noticing the same thing--but there seem to be some sort of shenanigans going on among the gymnastics judges at Beijing.

I guess it's being overshadowed by the bigger contoversy swirling around the ages of the Chinese atheletes, and I must say that I don't really get that one. I guess if they're really young, they get some sort of advantage over the taller girls. Judging from appearances, it must have been only a few months ago that these kids learned to walk, let alone win Olympics medals.

I'm more concerned right now about the rather glaring score boosts these children, er, women, are getting from the panel of judges. First there was an obvious scoring "mistake" over the weekend which robbed, was it Shawn Johnson?, of a medal; then there was the tiebreaker win by China's He Kexin over all-around champion Nastia Liukin. Everyone thought that one was a matter of pre-set rules, but I question how He got that high of a score to begin with.

But ok, those are judgment calls, so who knows?

But now, as of yesterday, I'm really scratching my head. I refer to the event in which Shawn Johnson finally won her gold, and teammate Nastia Liukin took the silver. Good work. At last.

But how in the world did He Kexin take the bronze? She fell off the beam, for crying out loud. Off. You know, as in, Oops, that does it. How do you win a medal when you fall off? Nobody's paying much attention to this, but I'm wondering if some of the other athletes are, you know the ones who didn't fall off the beam.

Somewhere in my memory is the recollection of a judge who was found out in a recent Olympics. Something about having been paid off; it was either a Summer Olympics, or maybe figure skating. I distinctly remember some definite cheating going on in that case.

So I can't help wondering. She fell off the beam! Come on, how does that merit a medal of any kind?

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Preacher, III

I don't write sermons, I preach them.

This is related to my previous Preacher post, a corollary, really. For, as I believe to be well established, the Gospel is primarily meant to be proclaimed aloud before it is understood as something written down. This I have claimed and demonstrated in the previous post (Faith cometh by hearing, etc.), and Blessed Martin Luther has also shown. In his postil for the First Sunday in Advent, he explains that the meaning of Bethphage is "mouth-house," and goes on to explain that the Church is the mouth-house of God. The Gospel is meant to be proclaimed aloud.

So, although the Gospel certainly can be written down, and is written down, yet this is not the mode that is to be preferred for it.

Agreed, everyone?

If so, then perhaps we could also begin to suggest--in spite my awareness of the opposition of a long list of preachers whom I admire and respect--that the preferred mode for the entire process of the making and delivery of a sermon might also be oral and not written.

I do not preach from a manuscript, as many who know me are aware. And I rarely carry any notes into the pulpit.

I admit that I did so for a dozen years or so before I began preaching, as it were, without a net. But since then I have adopted the method of preparation that I understand to have been the method of St. Augustine. He did not write his sermons either. He mused, he meditated, perhaps several times, on the pericope appointed, and then he preached it.

There's a story of how once Augustine was supposed to preach on a certain psalm, but by some mistake the psalm read prior to his preaching turned out to be a different one than he expected. But after making a brief reference to this error, he simply went on to preach the psalm for which he was unprepared.

There's a saying that you can't understand what someone is saying until you know what he's talking about. This is most especially true of the Sacred Scriptures. And conversely, if you know what the Scriptures are talking about, you will have an easier time knowing what they are saying, and you will be the more capable of owning it, and preaching it.

I have heard the arguments in favor of a written sermon manuscript, and I often have found myself halfheartedly agreeing that there are many benefits. Indeed a preacher who is unprepared, or who, shall we say, has "an impediment in his speech" (St. Mark 7), might well be advised not to do what I am proposing here. After all, this is why Luther wrote his postils: not for himself (for he also preached without a manuscript), but for others to preach, who did not have the requisite capability.

But Preacher, I bid you to strive for excellence.

A friend of mine once commented that in order to preach without a manuscript, one must get into a zone. This is true. You must become united with the words on which you are preaching. If you don't understand them all (which is sometimes to be expected), don't preach on the parts you don't understand. On the rest, get into your zone.

Learn to own the Gospel on which you preach. Make it your own. Let it edify you in mind and soul as you meditate on it. Find yourself encouraged by it. Then find a way to put this into words. And then, learn to master the words you speak. Learn the art not of producing a sermon manuscript, but of preaching. Invest your energy in the latter rather than the former.

To be sure, sometimes my sermons are less than I'd like them to be. But the same can be said of manuscripts, as far as that goes. And, on the other hand, if I am not bound to a manuscript, I sometimes pick up things I had missed in my preparation, right during Mass, and have the freedom to incorporate them into the sermon. As I read the Gospel aloud for the people, I might notice something else, especially now that it is found in the midst of the live setting of its hearers, and within the context of the liturgy.

All of this takes work, of course. It is a developed skill, and it presupposes many learned techniques about public speaking.

Preacher, strive for excellence. Make it your aim to learn how to preach.