Friday, October 30, 2009

Fox and Bias

The idea that any news network could be entirely fair and balanced is pure myth, as everyone should know; just as the idea that any person could be entirely fair and balanced is fantasy. We all have our opinions, and they always will part of the formation of how we behave, no matter who we are. So the emotionless, detached reporter or news anchor who implies by his demeanor that he is really just reporting, is hiding something about himself. Of course. The degree to which we think he succeeds in keeping his own opinion out of his reporting is rightly seen as one barometer by which we adjudge him. But we'd be foolhardy to suppose that degree is not always part of the judgment. Walter Cronkite convinced the President of the United States that the Vietnam War was a lost cause largely because of his success in this endeavor. People believed him just because he sounded objective and believable, even if in fact he wasn't.

Nobody is every purely objective.

So the claims of Fox News to be fair and balanced, or to be letting "you decide" what "we report" ought not be entirely believed. Prudence dictates that we be circumspect about all such claims.

And yet for all its faults, I do watch Fox, if for no other reason than that they are willing to report what the other networks won't. Of course they're out for profit, just like the other ones; and of course they have a particular perspective, just like the others; they're biased too. But then, so am I. So is everyone. And, like everyone, I prefer hearing someone who shares my bias to hearing someone who doesn't, though occasionally I'll flip to the others to hear another perspective.

But there's something else. I remain convinced that there is an important difference between the grudging reporting of unfavorable news with a spin than choosing not to report it at all. The other networks--the Mainstream Media--have in recent years become rather notorious for this, for not reporting at all the kind of thing they don't like. That's dangerous and foolish, and is the kind of thing Pravda became known for, for doing routinely.

Fox chooses to leave stuff out too, of course, especially foreign news (a pet peeve of mine, which applies to all the networks), but it seems to me that they're not guilty of making these decisions on the basis of worry about how it will influence people.

And now the Obama Administration has tried to ostracize Fox, charging that it is less than a news network, and even threatening to remove it from the reporter pool. To their credit, the other networks balked at this, and ABC's Jake Tapper questioned the Press Secretary about it. Perhaps it's beginning to look to them like the pure Chicago-style bullying that it is, and I for one am pleased that it has helped Fox's ratings.

My guess is that it was mostly meant to plant longer-term doubts in peoples' minds about Fox, but I doubt the strategy will work. What I'd love to see is that as an unintended result the other networks begin to be more forthcoming with news they don't like.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Did You Know? Cremation is Unchristian

(November 2009 St. Paul's Newsletter article)

From time to time it’s necessary to expose the unchristian elements of society which masquerade as Christian.

Among the more successful of such masqueraders is the practice of cremating the dead. A recent District Pastors’ Conference dealt with this topic in some detail, and I thought it might be good to recount here some of the discussion.

The origin of cremation is unques-tionably pagan. It is no secret to historians that the practice of crema-tion has been prevalent in many pagan societies dating back to 2000 BC, and remains a major practice associated with disposing of dead bodies among the Hindus and others to this day.

But contrast, the people of Israel never engaged in it, in spite of its use by nearby nations. The burials of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives are recorded in Genesis. Joseph’s burial is recorded in the last verse of Genesis. The burial of Moses by the LORD Himself is recorded in the final chapter of the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 34).

So also in the New Testament, burial is assumed to be the proper means of treating the bodies of the dead. The body of John the Baptist was buried by his disciples (St. Mark 6:29), and the burial of Lazarus is well known, for Jesus called him out of the tomb (St. John 11). The graves of many saints are mentioned in St. Matthew 27. There is not a single instance of cremation of an Israelite or Christian throughout all of Scripture, in spite of the widespread prevalence of the practice elsewhere.

The incarnation of our Lord is at the heart of the Christian religion, and His sanctification of human flesh by His own union with it is at the heart of Christian respect for the body. The bodies of all saints have been honored by virtue of the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh.

Upon Jesus’ own death, the women bought spices to anoint Him, determined even in their grief to treat His holy body with dignity. His bodily resurrection from the dead is all the more reason to count the body as a sacred thing.
St. Paul consequently enjoins us, saying, your body is “the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” I Cor. 6:19), and therefore exhorts, “Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:20). This certainly applies to the respect for which our bodies should be treated even after our souls have left them, and is the reason the Christian Church has historically forbidden cremation.

Only in very recent years have any Christian churches permitted cremation. Until the twentieth century, in all of Christendom cremation was strictly forbidden.
Some people today think cremation is an acceptable way to deal with the bodies of the dead for several reasons. These reasons should be considered and answered.

First, cremation tends to be cheaper, and so, the reasoning goes, it’s less burdensome on loved ones who remain.

Second, people say life is spiritual, and what’s spiritual about a dead body? Who needs it?

Third, bodies decay over time, and eventually end up just like ashes anyway, so, they say, what’s the difference?

And finally, people reason that the earth will run out of room for burying the dead.
These objections might be well-intentioned, but they are ill-informed.

The reference to savings of money is nothing new, and we recall the scorn with which the woman was treated who anointed Jesus with expensive ointment which “might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor” (St. Mark 14:5). Just as our offerings are in part used to honor our place of worship, so we ought to be willing to provide funds for the proper treatment of the bodies of Christians.

Secondly, “spiritual” Christian life does not mean anti-material. After all, the Christian faith is centered in the union of heaven and earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is improper to think of material substance as inherently evil.

Third, the fact that bodies decay over time does not provide us with reason to dishonor them.

Finally, any funeral director can tell you that there is abundance of room for proper burials; the notion that we’ll run out of space is not informed by actual statistics.

So when you plan to consider your own funeral, be sure above all that you do not agree to cremation. Though many have agreed to it in the past, and may have done so in complete ignorance of these matters, it is better to be well-informed and to let your faith be guided by the best in Christian tradition. Always remember the dignity of the human body. Always say no to cremation.

In fact, the best of Christian burial traditions includes having the funeral at the church, the very place where the Christian received the body of Christ.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mmm mmm mmm

By now we've all heard the creepy song the New Jersey schoolchildren have been programmed to sing about our president. I paid closer attention to the words today, and found something even creepier in them:

"Red and yellow, black and white,
All are equal in his sight"

That, as most baby boomers know, is a song about Jesus, who

". . . loves the little children,
All the children of the world,
Red and yellow, black and white
they are precious in his sight"

A generation ago I would not have had to point this out, since virtually everyone knew the source of those words. But today? Certainly those children can hardly be expected to know.

So we have yet another blatant attempt to make Obama into Jesus in the minds of little children. The bare words of that chant now have the children thinking that all these different people are considered in Obama's sight.

And to boot this new savior does not count everyone as "precious" as the original lyrics would have it, but "equal," as in the equalizing mind of Karl Marx, "From each according to their ability to each according to their need."

I'm telling you, this is getting on beyond politics. This is not-so-subtle attack on the Christian faith. There is a new savior, and there is a new religion.

Or am I overreacting? Mmm, mmm, mmm . . .

Saturday, October 10, 2009

How to Cook Brats and Where to Eat Them

The how is explained below. The where is at Oktoberfest: St. Paul's, Kewanee, Illinois, tomorrow night.

Sheboygan-style bratwurst are to be cooked slowly over an open grill, which means the fire ought not be too hot, and they must be turned frequently, to minimize breakage of the skins. They are cooked enough so that they become firm and dark. Not too little, lest they be squishy; not too much, lest they burn.

They are soaked in beer and butter after they are grilled, not before. This enhances their presentation, and it adds a little to their flavor, of course. The beer should not be boiling, only warm.

The brats are best eaten on Sheboygan hard rolls, which are very difficult to obtain if you're not in Sheboygan, or you haven't had them shipped.

Well, we did. And we cooked the brats today per the instructions above.

They are ready.

We are ready.

Oktoberfest is next up. Sunday, October 11, at 5 pm is the choral vespers, and the bratwurst dinner follows. Et cetera. It's still not to late to register. For crying out loud, just register when you get here, we'll have enough. Just come. $25 per person, $40 per couple. Starting Sunday night, running till Tuesday. Details here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Oktoberfest! This Weekend!

As I was saying (and it's not too late to register) . . .

The Fourteenth Annual Oktoberfest and Third Annual Liturgical Seminar will take place BEGINNING THIS SUNDAY at St. Paul’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Kewanee, Illinois.

October 11-13, 2009 (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday)

Conference theme: Not a Matter of Indifferent Things

Log on at to register.

This year we are pleased to welcome as our guests the two men who have most recently joined the staff of Gottesdienst as our online editors.

Reverend Frs. Heath Curtis and Rick Stuckwisch will be joining us for a discussion of the Divine Liturgy of the Church, to provide their insights on the questions which arise in connection with the ongoing debates concerning why certain styles and elements may or may not be counted as permissible in worship, and what is at stake in the worship wars of the 21st century. Fr. Curtis is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Edwardsville, Illinois, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, Illinois, and Fr. Stuckwisch is pastor of Emmaus Lutheran Church, South Bend, Indiana.

Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. is our Autumn Choral Vespers, followed by our annual bratwurst banquet (if you haven’t had our award-winning Sheboygan brats, it’s high time you did!).

On Monday morning, following Holy Mass at 9:30, the seminar runs until 3:15 p.m. the following questions are on the table for discussion by our guests:

“So what's negotiable and what isn't, in worship?"
“Nothing is an adiaphoron in a state of confession: meaning what, exactly?"
“Is Gottesdienst adiaphora? Of course not, but why not?"

Tuesday, October 13 (Liturgical Seminar)

On Tuesday, matters raised in the Monday discussions will be considered further in a roundtable liturgical seminar designed to seek 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.

REGISTRATION: $25 per person (students $20) $40 per couple — includes Sunday banquet and Monday continental and luncheon; no charge for children with parents. Register here.

Questions? Send an email.