Thursday, September 25th, 2008
Over at Confessing Evangelical, John Halton alerted his readers to a recent podcast by iMonk talking about the Lutheran/Evangelical conversation. iMonk has had some trouble coming up with a way of addressing the readers of the blog at New Reformation Press, as he was asked his impression of Lutheranism from the evangelical world.
What it came down to was that he feels like he has benefitted from many of the insights of Lutheranism, and feels that others could do the same if we would speak in a way that would help toward this end. But he thinks we spend too much time debating the Sacraments for this to happen. Most evangelicals don't want to "scuttle their ships" and board ours.
To some degree I can relate to this myself. I tried for a few years, a couple of them seminary years, to hold to some Lutheran distinctives from within a PC(USA) context. There was a lot I didn't want to leave.
But there's another side to this question that I think needs addressing. John Halton alluded to part of it when he said that "There is some justice in these criticisms - though as regards the sacraments, this is largely because baptism and the Lordís supper occupy a much more central role in Lutheran spirituality than for most other evangelicals." Yes. When I saw the Lutheran Sacraments as being on the periphery, I didn't see them as something to change churches over. But what changed this was not a written argument, but an experience of a parish where they were not treated as being on the periphery. It was two years in Episcopal parishes that got me to see this in a different light.
But I think iMonk's very phrasing of what he would want out of Lutheranism is quite telling. He wants to "benefit from our insights." Insights are what evangelicalism has to offer. They have lots of them. They sell all kinds of books promoting insights. One generation it will be "body life." Another it will be the "purpose-driven life" Whatever it is, people will claim that their lives have been totally revolutionized. But we know that in another generation, another fad will take its place, with the same degree of urgency.
This leaves many evangelicals a bit jaded. They have seen the winds of doctrine blow through. When you've seen enough of these, you come to the conclusion that no one of them is worth really getting excited about. So many things have been claimed to be central that you aren't going to be quick to accept this kind of claim. But I have to wonder whether even if any doctrinal wind can be dismissed, some evangelicals would not feel bored if they weren't living where it was "windy." They reject the centrality of the sacraments because the claims are implausible. But this is almost like a betting strategy in Vegas. Why put all your money on one square if it will mean not being able to bet on others? But perhaps it goes beyond this. This strategy is not the strategy of a true gambler who wants to win. It's the strategy of someone who expects the house to win, but wants to make sure he can spend more time hanging out in the casino.
In a certain sense, Lutherans are like charismatics. If we're wrong, then it's reasonable for us to be sidelined. But if we're right, then what we have to offer is not a nice little side dish. Long ago I considered myself to be charismatic. Now I do not. But I never did understand those who just wanted charismatics to be less trouble, regardless of whether what they believed was true. No. Either what they have to offer is close enough to the center that they should fight for it, or they are wrong-headed altogether. But don't ask them to stop making a ruckus without engaging the truth or falsity of their claims. If charismatics have anything worthwhile to offer, it is not "insights." If their views of the Holy Spirit are wrong, I won't trust them to have any worth mentioning. Or if they do it will be despite their being charismatic. If their experiences are true, however, to speak of their "insights" is an insult.
Likewise here. I'd rather my theology arise to the dignity of error than be considered "insightful." It should be accepted or fought. I'd like Michael to join the argument. "My Dinner with Andre" was a never-ending conversation. I left such conversations when I heard that food was being served.
5:16 pm Pacific Standard Time
Monday, September 22nd, 2008
The high functioning autistic Temple Grandin has theorized that autistics like her think a bit more like animals than like normal people. Much of what this involves is an ability to picture concrete things. Abstractions mean little to Grandin. She thinks there are some advantages. During the dot com boom, she said she was wary. People would be talking about all these businesses, but most of the time there was nothing she could picture. She rightly suspected that in many cases there was little reality to what was being spoken of.
There are some other economic applications of this idea. But really, my college economics class taught a bit of this to us. What happens when a business goes bankrupt? Our teacher told us to be careful not to become too apocalyptic. Generally, you still had good capital in existence. People didn't come in and immediately start bulldozing buildings and wrecking equipment. No. There was still value. Ordinarily what happened was that a business would pass into hands that could do better with it. Some might suffer, but the economy as a whole was not the worse for what had happened.
When I consider what is happening now, I try to use this line of thinking to see what is likely ahead.
Now I will admit up front that there are many dimensions of this I don't fully grasp. Nor am I trying to look at this in such a way that nobody experiences anything bad. Nor am I avoiding the idea that some ways of going through the crisis wouldn't be much more destructive than others.
But one thing I like to consider here is that there are a lot of people in the country, and there is a lot of housing in the country. I doubt that whatever happens, that banks would end up sitting on empty housing because that's what economic realities dictate. No. If they want money to come from the housing, people will end up living in houses, however cheaply. For that matter, houses stay in better condition when lived in.
I have to wonder what is being pictured when people picture a "meltdown." And I wonder why more specific words aren't being used. The term "meltdown" is scary and vague. I'd like to hear more specific forecasts. Though I fear that what we're avoiding will be trouble for Wall Street rather than Main Street. I wish people were angrier.
The other thing I have learned in my life is that the words, "It has to work," don't generally guarantee that things will work. In fact, they tend to be said at a point when it is unlikely that things will work.
12:16 pm Pacific Standard Time
Tuesday, September 9th, 2008
Sunday was Grandparents Day. I'll use that as an excuse to talk about my grandparents, though the actual impetus was thinking about eating barbecue chips with my Grandma Ritchie.
Each grandparent has a very different place in my memory, in large part because I had very differing degrees of time with them. I'll order this from greatest to least.
Grandma Ritchie was the one I had the most contact with from very early. I have a photograph on my desk of me on the day of my baptism at ten months old. While I don't remember her holding me that day, I do have glimmerings of a memory of that day. Or a memory of a memory. I can sort of remember being very young and walking at church and thinking about how this was where I was handed to the men in robes and they held me over the sink. It was only recently I figured out that I had remembered the font as a sink because that was where I had my bath. At ten months I got that baptism was a bath. I also sort of remember that the pastor who baptized me at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church had glasses.
Grandma Ritchie and I connected on food very early. I was sitting at my aunt's house (mother's sister) and Grandma Ritchie was sitting next to me. I was probably three years old, and she was impressed that I had a strong liking of barbecue potato chips. She herself loved spicy foods. My dad says that when he was a kid, she would fix Mexican food in two batches. A moderate batch for the kids and a hot batch for her and my Grandfather. I remember going to a board and care place to visit her when she was in her mid 90's, and had gotten to where she could no longer speak. They were serving her soup and she had a bottle of Tabasco sauce she was pouring into it quite liberally. I wondered how she had arranged it. Later I suspected my brother had arranged it. I recently asked him. He told me he had nothing to do with it and somehow she had made her wishes known. Yes! When life gets pared down to essentials, Tabasco sauce remains on the list.
When we would visit her apartment in San Jose, she would leave me with a can of Tinker Toys. In the back of the station wagon I would build. My brother showed me how to build a catapult.
More recently my mom, who is seventy-five, remarked how she can't believe how energetic Grandma Ritchie was. "Do you remember how when she was 80 years old, she cooked us all a full Thanksgiving dinner and then tramped around in Mexico with us all day the next day?" I can still picture her in her early 80's standing next to her suitcases after taking care of "older relatives." Haha.
I also remember her laughter. I was young and watching older relatives sitting around a table. Her sister's husband, my great-uncle, had cut his own hair, and ended up cutting it way short. Well, somehow this was a big deal. My grandma found this hilariously funny. "It's going to be that way all summer. Ha ha ha!" I have a friend how likes to tease, and it reminds me of my grandma when he does. It's not a particularly feminine or masculine trait. But I think it makes my friend seem all the more familiar.
When she was in her seventies, my grandma sold her apartment and moved back to the adobe ranch house her father had built and lived with a brother and a sister. They were the younger batch of a large family. (Her older brothers ranched with the Clantons and thought Wyatt Earp and company were murderers.) Visiting the ranch was a bit like time travel.
Grandma Ritchie was my true fan.
Next was Grandma Gunnary. She lived in Minnesota. We visited her many summers. Sometimes every other summer, but a few times every summer. She was a farm wife. I was a bit fastidious, so she freaked me out. She would walk into the chicken coop and see a dead chicken laying on the ground. It had been there for a few days, and looked like it was wearing blue eye shadow. "Oh, Chicky! What happened to you?" she says, kicking it up. Or she would feed a mouse out of the trap to her cat, and not wash her hands afterwards.
I liked how she introduced me to my Grandpa when I first walked through the door. "Look who we have here!" Or how she fed me from the refrigerator. Some kind of chocolate cake and pudding concoction. My mom didn't serve many chocolate desserts, even if she was fond of sweets.
She was much calmer than my mother, which I found interesting. Once when my mom was in some kind of snit, she told her, "Jean, sit down. You're madder than a wet hen."
I also liked how you could walk in their house and find that their interests would be different than your parents. They would watch Laurel and Hardy. My parents wouldn't. (At Grandma Ritchie's ranch, you would find dominoes in the drawer. And Little House books on the shelf.)
Then there was Grandpa Gunnary. He died when I was eight years old. I didn't have a lot of time with him. But he's the only person I've ever deeply mourned. That happened when I heard he might die, some months before he did die. I cried. A lot. When relatives called to tell us he was on the brink of death, I knew the call was from Minnesota. (I have sometimes expected to have this kind of sense since then, but it hasn't proved true. The phone rings. It seems ominous. The call turns out to be trivial, or even happy.) The next morning my mom told me he had died. I said, "Oh, darn." This wasn't really stoic. I had already mourned.
Grandpa appreciated my memory. When we visited when I was five, I said he had shaved his beard. My previous visit I had been three. He thought it amazing I had noticed. Funny how as an adult, that kind of thing could more easily slip by.
My favorite memory was of one summer when I was about seven and some other California cousins were in Minnesota with me. Becky and I were petting a one-eyed dog. Grandpa stepped out of the house. "Are you two full of the dickens?" he asked. Becky, who was four, just lost it. She laughed so hard.
His voice was very full and deep. This was like being asked something silly by a giant. My mom says that my voice reminds me of his.
Finally there was Grandpa Ritchie. He died long before I was born. I think it was New Years Day in 1944. My dad had lunch with him the day before. He was 15. Grandpa's heart was bad, though, and he died.
Grandma Ritchie said to my parents that I reminded her of him. I think temperamentally.
I recently inherited one of his photo albums. Much of it was of his friends in 1911. They are out in the desert in Arizona. The first page, the photos are all cut into ovals, and arranged in an arc, and the friends' names are written in silver pencil above, with their nicknames below. There is a funny picture later where the men and women are paired off. One picture is of my grandpa and some woman who is not my grandma, and the caption is, "The tie that didn't bind." I think the other couples did end up getting married. Later there are pictures of my grandma in the album. And a sketch of her as a cowboy drawn by my grandpa.
I also inherited a book of poems by Longfellow that he owned. He had written out a personal table of contents of his favorites. I like Longfellow myself. Especially The Skeleton in Armor. (This really caught me, though, because I had bought an audiobook of Great American Poetry, and Vincent Price can really make this poem come alive. For a few minutes, you enter timelessness, and live a whole life in that Norse world.)
Grandparents are interesting in how they trickle down to us. Both in their experienced presence and in their genetic inheritance. I look more like my dad than my mom, and more like his mom than his dad (as he does). I think our resemblance was once pointed out to my grandma and she said, "I take that as a compliment." So like her.
12:12 am Pacific Standard Time