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Sunday, August 23rd, 2009
In the comment section of a Facebook post by Paul T. McCain, former ELCA pastor Robert Waters made the following claims: "It is the duty of every Christian to leave a heterodox church body the instant it becomes clear that witnessing to it isn't going to work," and followed it with "It is at this moment the duty of every faithful Christian in the ELCA to leave. Every moment that you and your congregation stay, you are making a public witness that you either approve of what happened in Minneapolis this past week, or that it's not enough of a big deal to break fellowship over.... " Later in the comment thread (this portion has been removed) he claimed that this was practically a quote from Walther.
Well, yes. Practically.
The problem is, he applied this to church bodies when Walther made a sharp distinction between congregations and church bodies. Congregations were spoken of in the New Testament. Church bodies were not. The old Missouri Synod theologians insisted that we not speak of the two things the same way. Here is a link where that is described in detail.
We have to be very careful that we handle these things making the proper distinctions. Some distinctions got lost in the newer church names. What had been the "Evangelical Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States" became the "Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod." Such a name clouded the fact that Synod is an advisory body and not the church itself. Similarly with the "Evangelical Lutheran Church in America." There are people who imagine that individual Christians are members of the ELCA. It should not be understood that way. Individual Christians are members of congregations which are rostered in the ELCA and whose pastors are rostered in the ELCA. But to discover what the actual relationship of the congregation to the body is, you probably have to read the Constitution and by-Laws. Our past congregational President assured us this morning that according to our church Constitution, we do not have to abide by ELCA decisions. They are not supreme. According to Walther, they should not be considered so. The local congregation is the judge of true doctrine, so they define their own confession. If a congregation has not bound itself to holding to everything the larger body holds, it does not hold to them. To make blanket statements about what membership in a church body means for a congregation's confession betrays an Ecclesiology which the congregations probably do not espouse, and the New Testament certainly does not teach. Paraphrasing Walther will not help here, as he is against such an Ecclesiology.
7:05 am Pacific Standard Time
Friday, August 21st, 2009
Well, today was an interesting day. I watched live video of the ELCA churchwide assembly as they debated the ordination of practicing homosexuals who are in committed monogamous relationships. The actual wording of the resolution is vague enough that I'm not quite sure what the resolution binds the church to. Added to that, there is a "bound conscience" question that was voted in the affirmative before the big resolution came to a vote. After much debate, the resolution passed 55% to 45%.
The debate itself was better than I expected it to be, on both sides. The liberal side did not convince me, but there was a near absence of certain kinds of arguments I would have expected. That much was nice. I would have little problem going to church with any of the people who spoke on either side.
Life after the resolution will be more of a challenge. I did not join my congregation because it was a member of the ELCA. I joined it because it was nearby and surprisingly solid. Questions of affiliation will no doubt come up. I am not clear whether this resolution has any teeth that could be used against my congregation, or whether it merely allows other congregation to pursue their own courses. If the latter, we probably have some time to ponder.
When I posted on Facebook that I was watching the proceedings, a friend asked me if I had gouged my eyes out yet. No. To be honest, as disappointed as I am about the vote, the actual debate gave me a higher esteem for the ELCA than I had before watching. I used to assume they were all apostate. Now I not only know there are many conservatives out there, but think a lot of the liberals are not as liberal as I thought. Misguided, to be sure. But most didn't strike me as the strident use-the-pulpit-as-a-political-tool types I would read about in denominational publications when I was in the PC(USA). Congregations on both sides need your prayers. This is not, to my eye, a lost cause even if today was a major setback.
8:13 am Pacific Standard Time
Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
I recently ordered a book titled Sailor's Word-book: A Dictionary of Nautical Terms by Admiral W.H. Smyth. Having run into a lot of naval terminology in Master and Commander, where Royal Navy terminology differed from current American Naval terminology, I decided it would make the job of looking things up easier. The book was first published in 1867, and has a very different flavor for that fact.
Looking up "BLACK SQUALL" I found another entry, "BLACK'S THE WHITE OF MY EYE" which made me laugh: "When Jack avers that no one can say this or that of him it is an indignant expression of innocence of a charge." I can picture this being said by a friend of mine whose phrase of choice on such occasions is, "I did NOT!!!" Going back to the entry, "JACK" is listed as a familiar term for a sailor, "A fore-mast man and an able seaman." Great. When I worked the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, everyone running a boat was called "Skip." I have to wonder how common expressions like this are in various vocations, and whether we would miss things like this in reading the Bible if they were there to be found.
This also brings up the idea of personality in reference books. The most famous example is the entry on "OATS" in Samuel Johnson's dictionary: "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people."
I once took a class on Information Design, and the professor said that bland corporate-speak was past its time. The ideal of a disembodied omniscient voice with no human personality behind it should give way to personality. You could still have accuracy and careful work behind what you said. But personality is an advantage. Just compare Luther's prefaces to Bible books with the general prefaces found in most Study Bibles to see the difference.
9:55 am Pacific Standard Time
Thursday, August 6th, 2009
In a recent post at Arma Virumque, the weblog of The New Criterion, James Bowman argues that a look back at Cary Grant can show how our idea of a leading man has changed over the years.
Cary Grant can be called a "real" man in the sense that he portrayed a man in real kinds of circumstances. He avoided whole genres of pictures that were outside of this. In this sense he could even be said to be more of a "real" man than John Wayne, whose Western characters could not be directly emulated since his male viewers didn't generally find themselves in such circumstances.
I have been in other conversations where, say, Leonardo DiCaprio is compared unfavorably to John Wayne with the remark that Hollywood doesn't like real men. Bowman's discussion takes this question to a deeper level. Is the primary question a strictly biological one? None of us can emulate the biology of another. But we can take another for a model of behavior. Hollywood prefers boys to men, and this goes deeper than boyish appearance. We should fight the disease rather than the symptom.
Bowman's description of comic book movies really highlights the difference. Comic book movies will often feature actors with hypermasculinized physiques, but do so in a way that appeals to boyish moviegoers of all ages and sexes. This just puts real manhood out of reach. A good leading man might make us say, "I can do that."
[To see a similar discussion that almost gets it, check here. Grown-up storytelling is mentioned, but the focus is primarily on persona rather than character and reality. The question we should be asking is not, "Why don't our comic book movies have grown-up looking actors in them?"]
5:41 am Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
When I was in high school, I made an attempt at reading Moby Dick. I got through about 300 pages, and it bogged down. For a long time I wondered whether it stayed stuck, or whether if I had stuck with it, it would have improved. There have been times in other books that I have gone back and discovered the bog only lasted five pages. Well, a few years ago, I made another attempt on Moby Dick. I bogged down at about the same place. I set the book aside for many months. I finally disciplined myself to push through. It took a lot of pushing. There were few rewards. I had read the best part of the book in high school and had actually chosen the optimal stopping point.
I decided to list some other books I would recommend reading half way. Or reading until they bog down. There are many books out there that offer something, but where that something can be gleaned by less than a full read. Here is my own list. I won't tell you which ones I did or did not finish. I'll just say both kinds are included. I won't even say that none of these books is worth finishing. Just that I suspect the bulk of what you get out of it can be had early on:
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia
The Places in Between by Rory Stewart
The Tapestry by Edith Schaeffer
The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century by Perry Miller
I'm sure there's another list to be made of books that most people half read that should be finished. In my school years, I heard many lecture based on the first half of Alan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, and wished more would have wrestled with the second half.
Anyone else have books they recommend, but not as full reads?
3:36 am Pacific Standard Time
Tuesday, August 4th, 2009
In my younger years, I took several personality tests. Most didn't resonate with me. It wasn't so much that one "type" didn't appeal to me as that several did equally. (Anybody else find the DISC test deadly dull?) The Myers-Briggs test made more sense than most, however, and I would go through periods of devouring information about it.
From high school through seminary, I always came out INTP. I once took the test to a meeting of Christians United for Reformation, and I think everyone else came out INTJ. I have remained NT. My N is my most lopsided letter, scoring 17/20. I'm barely I and fairly P. I have recently scored F rather than T. (Some answers changed when I decided I should answer according to daily life decisions, rather than as if I were answering a doctrinal question with eternity at stake.) That's a shift from Socrates to Homer. (Or Bob Newhart to Mister Rogers to take less illustrious examples.)
I was happy to discover Jung's book Psychological Types. And surprised to find that Jung knew Church History, writing, for example, about questions of type in the lives of Tertullian and Origen. (Tertullian was an intellectual who sacrificed his intellect for his faith and shifted over to passion. Origen sacrificed his passion—quite literally—for the sake of intellect. As some have said, for an allegorist, he certainly chose an odd passage to read literally!) This is a book I go back to from time to time.
More recently I found a BBC treatment of the ancient idea of personality coming from the four humours. This was held for thousands of years, but rejected when medical science refuted the basic theory behind it. As an artful series of insights, however, I wonder if it doesn't have some value. It is clearly not scientific. But many good statements in the humanities are not.
Some use birth order as a kind of predictor of personality. That one is complicated for me. I am the youngest in the family, but after an eight year gap. So my family could be said to have an oldest, a youngest, and an only. None of us match our parents, who were both middles. I took a class in seminary where one meeting discussed these factors. He asked how many were oldest children. I was one of two or three out of thirty who did not raise our hands. Then we were told about the gap, and I think all hands were up. One of my favorite guys there, though, was a youngest. I could enjoy some kind of escape from a stifling level of responsibility when I hung out with him.
When friends talk about personalities, I find myself puzzled sometimes. One friend likes to say that two people have the same personalty or two people have opposite personalities and I will think, "What can he mean by that?" Then he'll mention the category, and I'll have to agree with his assessment. They are alike or opposite in the way he mentions. But it will be some category that never struck me as primary when I considered the people in question. I rarely think my friend is outright wrong. But it serves as an interesting reminder of just how different people can be in what they regard as central.
6:08 am Pacific Standard Time