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.