Sunday, December 31, 2006

Emergency Rooms And Joel Osteen.

Boy I hate emergency rooms. I know they aren’t supposed to anyone’s favorite place. But, they are necessary because without them, God’s gifts, used in a variety of vocations, end up helping people. Right now they are helping my wife. She is very sick with an infection that has caused the left side of her face to swell up to three times its normal size. Clearly all of this is her fault. If only she had the kind of faith to believe that God wants her to get better. Actually I wish she had the kind of faith to never wind up here. I mean, all she seems to be thinking about is how much morphine she is going to get. All she seems to be thinking about is herself. For her right now, it’s all about me, me, me. Selfish, isn’t she.

What am I rambling on about? Well, this morning for my Sunday school class we went over a great article written by Rev. Todd Wilken in the latest issue of Higher Things. This time of year is a good time for “filler” as most of the high school age ragamuffins I teach are with their families visiting other relatives. But I really shouldn’t call the Higher Things magazine "filler". The magazine has more good theological content than do our official synodical magazines. What is supposed to be a “for kids” is something that I look forward to every time it comes to my door. It’s a great magazine, issue after issue, and I strongly recommend it to all. This morning, Rev. Wilken’s article led to a lively discussion on what is saving faith and what is the role of good works for the Christian.

Rev. Wilken, in this latest issue, tackles one of the most popular TV “evangelist” in America today, Joel Osteen, with an article entitled “Nice isn’t enough”. Joel Osteen has made his mark by promising to all who listen that God want all of us to have our best life now. In fact he wrote a book, (can you guess what the title is?)…… “Your best life now.” It is one of the all time best sellers that can be found in just about any store that carry “religious” books on its shelf. Joel states in his book that God wants to shower us with His blessings and all we have to do is believe. Our Lord wants us to get that choice parking spot at the mall. He wants us to go into the mall and find that tie we want on sale. He wants us to have the faith to believe that we will be upgraded, at no charge, from coach to first class on that flight to see our Aunt Lucy.

Rev. Wilken tackles the fact that Joel’s god is a nice god, I mean a very, very nice god. Joel’s god is so nice that he is willing to overlook the fact that we are sinful. Joel’s god overlooks sin and showers all who believe with the blessings that are due them… if they have the faith to believe.

Not covered in the Higher Things article was the story that Joel Osteen even went so far last week as to say on his televised TV show that if we all had the faith to believe, we could be assured that we would not be diagnosed with Alzeiheimers. He said that heart disease ran in his family and that he believed, no, he knew that the Lord of heaven and earth would not bother him with this little affliction.

Apparently Saint Paul didn’t read Joel’s book. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul writes "And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I amstrong." So the apostle Paul asked three times and still the Lord thought it was a good thing that this thorn, whatever it was, was good?

And when Jesus became sin for us on the cross, did God overlook our High Priest offering himself up as propitiation? Who was Jesus talking to when he cried out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” I guess Jesus didn’t read the book either. The “nice” God allowed His Son to be sacrificed. That ain’t nice if you ask me.

There are many names for this kind of screwed up theology. Some people call it “name it and claim it” or “blab it and grab it”. But Lutherans like to call it the theology of glory. The theology of glory tries to make God nice. The theology of glory tries to tie our own works and thoughts and deeds to our well being or bank account. The more faith we have says the theologian of glory, the better off we will be. The theologian of glory winds up calling good evil and evil good.

But the theologian of the cross, in direct contrast, calls a thing what it is. He recognizes that what happens to us on this side of eternity is a result of us poor sinful creatures living in a sinful world. Our faith and our bank account or parking spots have nothing to do with one another. Our own works and our own faith in the end will only wind up damning us.

Our Lord does bless us and always will bless us through His Church. Through Word and Sacrament, we enjoy a foretaste of that heavenly banquet that is promised to us. Our Lord says he will bless us and he does, just not the way the world around us can recognize without the eyes of faith.

The Lord is blessing me this evening as I sit in room ER19 with my wife. Through vocation, whether they are believers or unbelievers, God’s gifts being utilized through the doctors and especially through our nurse Alicia, are administering aid to my wife. It is through their care that eventually we will be able to go home.

My wife’s faith is fine. She understands that on this side of eternity, bad things can and will happen, even to the faithful. She prays every day and she reads her Bible every day. She has confessed Christ so I know that by grace she is one of the elect. And thankfully, she doesn’t read or watch Joel Osteen. Because if she did, I sure her heart rate would be even higher than it is now.

Well, the missus is home from the hospital now. Basically she was diagnosed with parotitis, leukocytosis, and fever. To put that in layman’s terms, she had a massive infection of her left saliva gland. Right now she is pretty doped up and sleeping a lot. Mucho thanks to the family “A” for letting me crash their New Years Eve extravaganza for a bite to eat. At their next party the sushi is on me.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Infant Priest Was Holy Born

I’m going to miss Advent. Advent is the time of year that the historic Church has focused on eschatological matters. Eschatology as I’ve stated in previous posts is the study of last things or rather the look at the end times. Sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? I mean, shouldn’t we have been focusing on Christmas? Isn’t Jesus “the reason for the season”? Jesus must be the reason for the season because every other church sign I passed during Advent seemed to have a variation of that phrase posted for the entire world to see. And to be clear, I certainly don’t dispute the logic of said signage.

But Advent wasn’t just an opportunity to look back at the Christ child lying in the manger. Advent was also an opportunity for the Church catholic to look forward for Christ’s return.

I notice more and more that many churches seem to treat the miracle at Bethlehem as only a historical event. It was historical and it did happen in a real town, in a real province, during a real census decreed by Caesar Augustus. But to treat the event of God becoming man as history only, takes away from this inaugural eschatological event. This momentous and blessed event fixes the world that we ourselves broke. Did you notice I said fixes, not fixed? To treat the birth of Christ, as only history is to say that what happened, happed long, long ago in a place far, far away.

But that is just not the case for us. The events of two thousand years ago are not in the before times, in the long, long ago. The event that we celebrate is here, and it is now. And no, I’m not speaking metaphorically.

To help explain myself, I’m going to look at one of my favorite hymns, The Infant Priest Was Holy Born written in 1997 by Rev. Chad L. Bird. Pastor Bird is proof that you don’t have to be dead five or six hundred years for me to like your hymns. Rev. Bird’s hymn is found in the section of hymns that focus on the Lord’s Supper, not in the Advent section, in both the Hymnal Supplement 98 as well as the Lutheran Service Book; our newest hymnal. The hymn certainly belongs in the section that focuses on the Eucharist, but I believe it could just as easily be sung with our usual Advent hymns.

Through the use of beautiful words, Rev. Bird rightfully takes us from the manger to the cross and onto the Holy Supper, because they are inseparable. Lying in the manger, wrapped in human flesh, is our High Priest who gives up His own life as sacrifice for our sins. But our Lord doesn’t stop there; He feeds us with His body and blood at the Eucharist. And He promises to continue to feed us with His body and blood to His promised return.

And there we are, full circle, looking at the Word taking on human flesh for sinful man and looking to His return during the Advent season. We looked not to the before times, in the long, long ago, but rather at the manger, in light of the cross, with the promise of Christ’s return.

As I’ve said, I will miss Advent. But through the proper preaching of the Word and the right administration of the Sacraments, those things I enjoyed during Advent, carry on throughout the Church year. Christ’s gifts, administered by His called servants, are in the now, promised for all eternity until His return.

I do hope everyone had a joyful Advent and a merry Christmas. I’ll end this post with Rev. Bird’s beautiful hymn.

1. The infant priest was holy born,
For us unholy and forlorn
From fleshly temple forth came he,
Anointed from eternity
2. This great High Priest in human flesh
Was icon of God’s righteousness.
His hallowed torch brought sanctity;
His hand removed impurity
3. The holy Lamb undaunted came
To God’s own alter lit with flame
While weeping angles hid their eyes,
This Priest became a sacrifice
4. But death would not the victor be
Of Him who hung upon the tree
He leads us to the Holy Place
Within the veil before god’s face
5. The veil is torn, our Priest we see,
As at the rail on bended knee
Our hungry mouths from Him receive,
The bread of immortality
6. The body of God’s Lamb we eat
A priestly food and priestly meat;
On sin parched lips the chalice pours
His quenching blood that life restores.
7. With cherubim and seraphim
Our voices join the endless hymn
And “Holy, holy, holy” sing
To Christ, God’s Lamb, our Priest and King

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Best Idea Since...

The LCMS site is reporting the following:

Kieschnicks to ride LHM float in Rose Parade

LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick and his wife, Terry, will ride “The Lutheran Hour” float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.
“The Lutheran Hour” float, the only religious float in the parade, is sponsored by the Southern California District of the International Lutheran Laymen's League, an LCMS auxiliary.
The 2007 float's theme is “God's Great Nature.” The float will be decorated by volunteers called “Petal Pushers,” who range in age from teenagers to 80-plus and come to Pasadena each year from across the country. The Petal Pushers decorate “The Lutheran Hour” float and several commercial sponsors' floats for the Rose Parade.
The Kieschnicks also will be guests of honor at a “Behind the Scenes” party in Pasadena on Dec. 30 from 4 to 8 p.m. Those who attend will have an opportunity to view the finished floats on the last night of decorating week. Admission is $25 per person or $50 per family and includes a buffet dinner and souvenir photo.
President Kieschnick will deliver a special message during a Petal Pushers worship service at 7:30 a.m. Dec. 31 at the float. Everyone is welcome to attend.
The Petal Pushers also sponsor an annual tour of Southern California in conjunction with the parade. This year's tour runs from Dec. 27 to Jan. 1 and includes float decorating and visits to the Crystal Cathedral, the Getty Museum, and Beverly Hills/Hollywood.
Most TV networks carry the Rose Parade, but individual floats are not guaranteed coverage due to commercials and other television commitments. Home and Garden Television (HGTV), a cable network, plans to show the parade without interruption, and “The Lutheran Hour” float is expected to appear on camera at approximately 9:50 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.
Live coverage of the parade begins at 8 a.m. PST (11 a.m. Eastern). Check local listings for time and channel information in your area.
“The Lutheran Hour” float will appear in the back third of the 5.5-mile parade lineup. The parade will include 45 floral floats, 23 equestrian units, and 21 marching bands. Grand marshal will be filmmaker George Lucas.
“The Lutheran Hour” float also is one of five floats featured on the HGTV Web site where visitors are encouraged to vote for their favorite. To see the floats and vote, go to and click on “Rose Parade.”
Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM) has been proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Tournament of Roses Parade for the past 57 years. To learn more about LHM, go to or call (800) 944-3450.
For more information about the Petal Pushers tour and parade events, visit the group's Web site at

It's really a shame that the ones Christ sent, way back in the first century, didn't have a float to get out the good news. I mean, all they had was that Word and Sacrament stuff, which doesn't lend itself to flower covered floats all too well.

I'm really not sure that my congregation with it's limited resources can afford the extra pews to accommodate the masses expected to be beating down our doors after watching the Rose Parade. It will be an interesting council meeting in January to be sure.

Benedict XVI Is Now Training His First Apprentice

The Vatican news agency, Zenit, just released a new photo of the Bishop of Rome taking on a new apprentice.

His holiness Pope Benedict XVI is quoted as saying to the young lad "Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now mine."

Zenit also reports this was a greatly anticipated event as the Holy Father only trains one apprentice at a time. The name of the apprentice was unavailable and Vatican officials declined further requests for information.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Know I Shouldn't, But...

I know I shouldn’t but…

I was surfing the LCMS site yesterday looking for “critical event” stuff and found two news stories on the front page.

The first story touts my beloved synod’s “Fan Into Flame” fundraising efforts. (Of course Ablaze! isn’t a fundraising campaign per se…it’s a movement!) Apparently, this new, unlike any other, campaign is doing worlds of good in the Texas and Southern Wisconsin districts. So maybe I was wrong. Maybe fire is a good thing. Maybe.

The second story shows that fire can indeed take out an entire retirement home. I wonder if anybody had the desire to run back into the burning building and sing a verse or two of “Come Lord Jesus, walk with me!” I somehow doubt it. So maybe I was right about fire being bad… hmm.

This is as bad as when the Discovery Channel placed a show entitled “The Big Sting” right after an episode of the “Crocodile Hunter” just two weeks after Steve Irwin’s untimely death at the sharp end of a stingray.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Christmas Card

A joyful Advent to everyone! My apologies to all for the lack of posts during the Advent season. My vocation has kept me busy during one of my favorite times of the Church year. I really had intended to do at least a couple of posts on the beautiful hymnody sung, and thereby confessed, during Advent. But vocation being what it is, got in the way of my working on posts. Again, my apologies.

So, instead of a serious post on hymnody, I’ll end the Advent season with a Christmas card. And not just any Christmas card, a Christmas card from my beloved district to yours truly.
I received the card on Monday that read:

The heavens are ablaze as a great company of the heavenly host appear praising God and saying. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all”
This heavenly announcement sent the shepherds off to see and worship the Savior. And then…they returned to share the Good News.
It is our prayer that as you celebrate these days of God’s coming, you will be blessed with opportunities for worship and sharing. Praise God that He comes to us.
Blessed Christmas,
The Staff

Yes, this little card made my day. The above text is exactly what I received, no edits and no deletions, save my removing which district actually sent it. Notice anything odd?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Lutheran Carnival XXXIX

Lutheran Carnival XXXIX is up and running at Ask The Pastor. It turns out that my one submission to the Carnival was not enough. Pastor Walter Snyder added a few more of his favorites along with some very kind words.

Make sure to stop by and thank Pastor Snyder for doing such a great job hosting.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The COP And A New Alternate Route To The Pulpit

First, here’s the story from LCMS news;

December 8, 2006 .................... LCMSNews -- No. 82
COP eyes 'harmony and trust,' OKs proposed alternate-route
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) focused on "restoring harmony and trust in the ... Synod for the sake of Christ's mission" at its Nov. 12-14 meeting here. The council also "approved in principle" a proposed alternate-route program leading to ordination in the Synod and reviewed final details for its Feb. 8-10 fiscal conference. The vote on the direction of a working draft laying out the proposed alternate-route program -- currently known as "Pastor-Specific" Ministry -- came after members discussed in detail the proposal and the need for fine-tuning the wording of that proposal. Discussion continued the council's consideration of the proposal at its September meeting, when the proposed alternate-route program was termed "Pastor Supervised."Basically, the concept of the proposed program would include a special curriculum that would take four years to complete. It would be separated into pre-ordination and post-ordination curricula.The concept grew out of the Pastoral Formation Leadership Summit held earlier this year, and is being proposed by the oversight committee for Distance Education Leading to Ordination (DELTO).One of the DELTO representatives -- California-Nevada-Hawaii District President Robert Newton -- told the COP that such a program is needed because of the "huge, huge need [to fill pastoral] vacancies in areas where Christ is not named." Newton said that there is especially "need for training in the language and culture of the unchurched." (Emphasis mine) The DELTO committee, working with the COP and seminary faculties, will continue to fine-tune the Pastor-Specific Ministry proposal, which would need to be adopted by a Synod convention to go into effect. Plans for the COP's fiscal conference unfolded as Synod Fifth Vice President David Buegler recommended that the conference should include each district's president, "an additional person ... with significant understanding of the district's unrestricted budget," and a parish pastor of a "district congregation that is a leading contributor." Buegler is chairman of the Synod's Blue Ribbon Task Force for Funding the Mission, which issued its report earlier this year. "With God-pleasing sharing of mission and ministry challenges," Buegler said, "this fiscal conference should be expected to adjourn with a Synod/district agreement that will strive to do the following:1. Determine the annual total amount of unrestricted dollars to be submitted to the national budget by the 35 districts.2. Decide the fair share of each district toward the fulfillment of the commitment from step number 1.3. Plan ahead three years in advance to aid in district/Synod planning.4. Gradually increase the total amount submitted to a level of at least $25 million by 2017."With a total of about 100 participants, the conference will take place in St. Louis, with costs to be covered by the districts. The COP's look at restoring harmony and trust in the Synod during the November meeting is part of its overall theme of "Leading Together ... for the Sake of Christ's Mission." Two guest speakers -- Rev. Wally Arp and Dr. Wayne Wilke -- addressed harmony and trust in their presentations to the council. Arp, senior pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church, Oviedo, Fla., told the council in his Bible study that harmony and trust in the church begin with baptism in Christ. "It's God's time machine," Arp said of baptism. "It takes us to Jesus on the cross, and provides a daily remembrance of His death and resurrection." Arp suggested that Christians consider that remembrance when they take their morning showers. As the water falls from the shower head, he said, "think of the day to come as the first day of the rest of your life of faith in Christ." "We have hope because of Who we have hope in," Wilke told the council in his remarks. Wilke, a member of the LCMS Florida-Georgia District staff, is executive director of the Concordia House of Studies. "We are raised again to a new life in our baptism not to achieve the idealized past of our beloved Missouri Synod," Wilke said, "but to claim His promised future of participating in His extension of the Church to the uttermost ends of the world." Wilke reminded the COP that Martin Luther's explanation of the Eighth Commandment "reminds us not only to avoid the negative, but also to practice the positive."Also during the November meeting, the council -- comprised of the 35 district presidents and members of the Synod's praesidium -- elected members to committees and as representatives to a number of other LCMS groups. District presidents reported a total of 814 pastoral vacancies in LCMS congregations. Of those, 371 are in congregations that are not calling men to fill those vacancies, and 443 are in congregations that are calling. The category breakdown for the calling congregations is for 328 sole pastors, 54 senior pastors, and 61 associate or assistant pastors. In addition to meeting with the Synod Board of Directors, the COP also participated in a worship service with Synod mission partners meeting at the same Orlando convention facility.The next meeting of the COP will be held in tandem with its fiscal conference.

So, according to District President Robert Newton we have, outside of the seminary environment, a “need for training in the language and culture of the unchurched.” Does this now mean we consider the seminaries to be training our pastors to be and talk too Christian? Maybe the unchurched need to be, oh I don't know, properly catechized by properly trained pastors. This sounds almost like we're trying to out-Joel Osteen, Joel Osteen. Doesn't it?

I agree with Wilke who reminded the COP that Martin Luther's explanation of the Eighth Commandment "reminds us not only to avoid the negative, but also to practice the positive.” But in this case, where the heck is the positive? Why do we need to emulate the culture of sin to be effective communicators of God’s grace?

I do understand that the men training in this program would be supervised. But let’s be serious here, will they really be just as equipped to take care of the sheep they’ve entrusted with as they would by attending one of the seminaries? Would these same men be able to pass the basic entrance exam to be admitted to one of our seminaries? If we want more pastors, shouldn’t we try funding the seminaries a little better than we are first?

This program reeks of the late sixties, early seventies “tribe apart” mentality used with youth groups to this day. That thinking says "just go off by yourself or with your friends, “find Jesus”, strum your guitar and sing a few stanza’s of This is the Day, and just forget how, historically, the Church has always done things." Remember kids, Christianity started the day you where confirmed.

I heard one district president say that we won’t be able to plant 2000 new churches in his district unless we do things differently. The question I have is; what kind of churches do we want to plant? Do we want churches (or using the language of the culture, big multi functional buildings, daycare centers, or meeting halls where we go to network with the other unchurched) filled to the brim with the unchurched hearing the language of the culture? Isn’t that what the local optimist club is for? I just don’t get it!

But I guess I’m just not putting the best construction on this. Maybe how we train our future pastors is just as outdated as our confessions seem to be when talking about missions. Who knows, maybe a slack jawed yokel like me can be a pastor. Clearly we have lowered the bar for that to be possible.

Note: this is my second try at addressing this story. After rereading the first attempt I determined that it was probably the worst thing I’ve ever posted. It started out with me telling a story about my grandmother saying “Frankie, why don’t you just start your own church? Why bother with all that school. Lots of people just start up their own church and make lots of money doing it.” From there I went into a little bit of why we train our pastors the way we do. While covering many of the same issues addressed above, I thought the piece meandered and tried to cover too may points for such a short post. I know you folks expect better and for that reason I deleted it. I guess I can cover the left over issues in another post.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"The Stuff You Write Isn't Even In English!"

I had a complaint a little bit ago and I apologize for not addressing this sooner. I was chatting with someone who said, “We can’t understand half the things you write. The stuff you write isn’t even in English!” What brought this up was my use of the word eschatology in addressing the Lutheran view of the Eucharist in my What’s Wrong With Ablaze! series of posts.

No, I don’t make up words intentionally. It’s true that a few misspelled words do slip by spellchecker because of my inability to type. Often I’m thinking a few sentences ahead and sometimes what comes out is a jumbled mess. I always look over what I write, but rarely is that helpful. I know what I mean to say but it usually takes my wife or my quality manager MorningGlory2 at work, to bring my mistakes to light.

I do try to choose my words carefully because often when talking theology, the some words will numerous meanings. For example; several years ago I was visiting a friend of mine up north. This very dear friend of mine “A” was concerned that I was going to the wrong “kind” of church, specifically a Lutheran church. She had every right to be concerned for me because of her background.

She and I were both members of the same Lutheran church just down the street where the Gospel was not preached purely and the Sacraments were not administered rightly. The only sermon that I can recall preached there was one on how good the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark was because it had Hollywood proving the Bible must exist because Spielberg and Lucas used the ark as a prop. Oh yeah, lots of Gospel in that one. Anyhoo, getting back to my point…

“A” was concerned that because I had wound up going back to a Lutheran church after a loooong absence, I was not going to get that spiritual food which faith requires. So for six years, every time I went up north to visit family, I would visit “A” and get grilled on how I “worshiped.” That’s all “A” seemed to want to know, “how do you worship?” And every time I would tell her the basic and general structure of the Divine Service. And each time I explained to her how the Divine Service is God serving us through Word and Sacrament and then us responding to the same. And each and every time I was told that what I was doing was not good enough.

The problem was that the word “worship” meant two very different things to “A” and I. For “A”, worship meant reading her Bible every day, memorizing verses, praying and fasting. For her worship meant living a pious life. I thought she wanted to know what I did on a Sunday morning. But because we kept talking past one another we kept failing to communicate.

Eventually we had a breakthrough and realized that not only weren’t we on the same sheet of music, we aren’t even in the same symphony. With that we made some headway and she was able to explain some of the reformed theology she subscribes to in a way that I could understand. I believe she’s wrong in couple of doctrinal areas and she knows what I think of her subscription to reformed theological points. (And she certainly thinks I'm wrong on a great many things to be sure!) But I love her dearly and I count her among the elect. By her confession that Jesus is the Christ I have no choice but to count her among the faithful. By her confession she is part of my family and I hers.

So what does all of this have to do with a little word like eschatology? No matter what I write, I try to convey exactly what it is that I mean. I would venture to say most of us do this whether we write or make a point in general conversation.

When it comes to theology, sometimes it’s not good enough to just say I believe in Jesus. Mormons say they believe in Jesus, but they say he was a reincarnated Adam, a created creature, who became a god. Muslims say they believe in Jesus, but they say he was only a prophet and the idea that He is one with the Father is so offensive it’ll get your head cut off in certain parts of the world should you mention it.

I use the word eschatological because it’s exactly what I mean. It the part of dogmatics that means having to do with the “last things.” It’s not a word that I just made up, I promise! The root word is the Greek word eschaton. (I wish I could figure out how to properly spell the word in Greek with my available fonts, but I’ve tried and I can’t) Again, it’s a real word that I thought fit the discussion on the Eucharist.

If you have a question, ask. If you think I’m making up words, call me on it. If you think you need to, you may do it anonymously, my blog has that option.

Anytime anyone wants to ask me a question, feel free to do so and ask away! I do take questions. For crying out loud, I wrote a 9700 word piece answering a question from a reader on what I thought was wrong with my synods Ablaze! program. (do you remember me saying I don’t type?)

While I do use theological terminology on occasion, I do write in english. Sehr gut?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Monet and Missions

Last week my wife and I took a break from our normal Saturday activities and traveled to the North Carolina Museum of Art. Right now until middle of January there is a special exhibit entitled “Monet in Normandy.” There are in this exhibit over 140 paintings that highlight Monet’s evolving skills as the initiator and leader of the Impressionist movement while living on the Normandy coast in France.

It was an enjoyable, afternoon to be sure. The wife and I got to see a few paintings that had never been in America before. It was neat seeing all the different museums that where credited with loaning their paintings for the exhibit, some as far away as Japan. Yep, it was a fun afternoon. The way I look at, it’s not that often that a slack jawed yokel like myself will ever be able to travel the world to see so many paintings of any artist much less the one in particular credited with founding a “movement.”

But Monet is just not my cup of tea. While I recognize his talent and contributions to the art world, I just can’t get exited over this guy. I know the guy is more talented that I would ever hope to be. I know I could never paint anything remotely recognizable as a landscape. Heck, I have trouble painting a wall in my house properly. For me it’s just a matter of personal taste. I just don’t like Monet, and no it’s not because he’s French. Auguste Rodin was French and I think he was the last great artist, not only of his generation but also of all generations that have followed, period. But when it comes to Monet though, I just don’t get it.

My wife had the same thought viewing Monet’s landscapes. In fact, she hit the nail on the head when she said, “the only way you can enjoy the paintings is to stand really far back.” She went so far as to call the paintings “blurry.” The reason for this observation is Monet’s short brush strokes and dabs of color that build up his paintings. There are no clear lines in Impressionism, only dematerialized outlines of color that give the viewer an impression of the scene, hence the title of the movement. If one stands too close to a Monet painting, the view is one of a jumbled mess of harmonized colors that say nothing to the viewer.

Now contrast a Monet with a Cranach or one of his Italian counterparts. The closer you get to a Renaissance era painting the more detailed the painting becomes. Cranach painted with the skill that allowed a painting to not only be work of beautiful art but also an instrument of education. (That is another whole post that I won’t go into here.)

So what does this have to do with missions? The more I’m involved with missions the more I think all we (laity and our willing accomplices in the priestly caste) want missions that resemble those blurry Monet paintings.

I sit on a mission board and recently was presented with the following statement:
In response to the opportunity presented by this densely populated area, the XYZ Area
Mission would:

a. Be committed to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with unchurched
b. Focus on reaching the unchurched, providing a welcoming community where formerly
churched persons may return to active participation.
c. Offer a dynamic church home for new Christians and other residents who are newcomers to the area.

I responded with an email to the head and a copy to all members of the committee that stated; I would really prefer the first mission statement in the letter read “a. Be committed to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Divine gifts of Word and Sacrament.”

I gave two reasons why we should use my proposed change by stating we should highlight what makes us distinctive and backed up those reasons using our confessions. I swear that you would think from the reaction to my proposal that I had just suggested that we elect Baal our new lord.

The more I hear and see how we as a synod do mission work, the more I think we strive for that fuzzy Monet like theology that is no different than the PresbyBaptaMethaCostal neo emergent church in every run down strip mall that rents for three dollars a square foot. Why do we hide what we supposedly confess to believe? For the life of me I can’t understand why we think that the Lutheran Confessions and all the doctrine that makes us distinctive is just some old Germanic or cultural bygone that no longer applies in today’s all too complicated society. To subscribe to that line of thinking is to say St. Paul was only talking to the people of his day when he said in 2 Timothy 3:16; all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.

Paul was not only talking to Timothy but to us today as well. We should plant missions with the same doctrinal clarity that a Cranach woodcut clearly conveys. If we do otherwise, we only wind up with fuzzy globs of paint that force the viewer to take several steps back to get an understanding of what impression we’re trying to pass off as Church.