Announcing a new residence for my blog. The Burr in the Burgh will now have this address:
Please update your listings.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Time to compare web browsers. Do any of you web savvy browser mavens have insights into the new browser "Google Chrome?" Is it worth investigating?
I prefer Firefox over everything I've tried because it's just super customizable and functional for me. Some webpages only work properly when viewed on IE, so I do keep that one around basically put I have to. I tried Safari but didn't like it. Opera is great because it is super fast. I've even used Flock which is very cool for social networking. Now what about Chrome?
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Sphere: Related Content
My wife's latest children's book is Gobble-Gobble Crash: A Barnyard Counting Bash published by Dutton. Unlike most of Julie's books which can be purchased from CPH, this one is not religious.
Her latest book is also one of her earliest books. I remember the day she wrote it in our backyard in Pittsburgh about eight or nine years ago. For those of you who aspire to publish, patience is your friend.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Recently, I read that the Roman Catholic Church will soon be revising the wording of bits of their liturgy. The discussion then ensued about whether liturgical language should be lofty or more colloquial.
I noticed from the examples I read online that a number of the "updates" actually bring the new Roman mass closer to our Lutheran worship texts. So I asked our seminary Dean of Chapel, the Rev. Dr. Paul Grime, to comment. Prior to coming to teach at the seminary a year ago, he was the chief architect of our synod's newest hymnal.
His comments are found on our seminary blog here.
Friday, September 05, 2008
John McCain has never been my favorite Republican. I haven't always agreed with him on every issue. I'm not a hard right-winger or anything. I really don't like Rush Limbaugh (oooooooh). I am definitely no Libertine, uh, I mean Libertarian.
I believe in fiscal responsibility, but I am not voting primarily on the economy. As I understand it, human governments are instituted by God primarily to protect us. One of the few real reasons we need a federal government is to raise and command armed forces.
That's how God protects us on a national scale. The armed forces. In a more personal sense, God protects us through legislature, courts and law enforcement.
And here is where the rubber hits the road for me. If you and I cannot agree on the definition of "human being," we've got problems. How can a man deny that a human zygote or a fetus deserves to be protected? Even a mangy dog will protect his pregnant bitch. Even a goose will become aggressive if you approach her eggs. In other words, denying the humanity of an unborn child is contrary to natural law. And everyone knows it.
A leader who will not agree that it is his/her divine calling to defend every person in his realm, the aged, the ill, and in utero is both self-deluded and dangerous.
What is a human being? If you don't know or are not sure, then you are not qualified to govern.
I believe that John McCain and Sarah Palin know what a human being is. And they know it would be their responsibility to protect all Americans.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
A Russian judge ruled that it is acceptable for men to sexually harass women in the workplace because such behavior helps to insure the survival of the species. No, you know what would really help the human species survive?? The banning of abortions. Russia has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, something like 2 abortions for every live birth.
Is this for real? I expected to see that this came from a humor mag like The Onion. It seems like a real news item.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Text: Luke 1:39-55
There are only 133 shopping days left until Christmas. If you are like most people, here in the middle of the August heat and humidity, Christmas is probably the farthest thing from your mind. It seems strange to consider at this time the narrative of the Annunciation, the Holy Family, and Mary’s visitation to
The early fathers of the Lutheran Reformation continued to faithfully observe much of the same holy calendar which had become custom in the West. Even though many Lutherans today feel uncomfortable with recognizing saint days, that was not the case for our spiritual forefathers. They knew that there were indeed certain excesses and malpractices to be avoided. But they also well understood the value and benefit of observing these special occasions in the liturgical life of the church.
One of the benefits of remembering the saints, for instance, is for our encouragement and the strengthening of our faith. How does this happen? When we recall the marvelous things which God accomplished through those earthen vessels, we respond in hearty thanks and praise. Look how God Almighty rescued the Israelites from cruel slavery in
Furthermore, our faith can strengthened when we recall the great compassion He has shown toward sinners. David was forgiven for his adulterous affair. St. Peter was absolved for denying Christ. When we see the mercy of God at work in the lives of Christians who have gone before, we can take heart that God’s mercy will extend also to us. God is good to sinful men and women. In our corporate confession of sins we acknowledge that we deserve to be punished for our sins both now in time and forever in eternity. But God does not treat us as our sins deserve. He loves you and extends the hand of friendship to you. He invites us into His presence to enjoy table fellowship with Him.
A couple of years ago, I was a guest at a family’s house for their New Year’s Eve celebration. I’d never met them before. I was traveling for the seminary and circumstances just worked out for me to be there that night. In some ways, I felt very out of place at that meal and the celebration of the evening. This family and their group of friends were all wealthy, highly educated people, people in positions of power and authority and influence. And then there was little ol’ me. But I guess I would say that was one of the most enjoyable New Year’s Eve celebrations I have every experienced. The meal was grand and expensive. We were served delicacies and wines of the highest quality. But the main reason it was such a pleasantly memorable night for me was because of the warm welcome that I was shown. Though I was a stranger, though I am not a person of affluence and power, everyone was kind and gracious. They made me feel welcome and as though I belonged.
We are unworthy of standing in the holy awesome presence of God. Our God is a consuming fire. It is a fearful terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But we can come into His presence, not trembling with self loathing, terrified of His wrath, unsure of our standing before Him. Because of the work of Jesus Christ upon the cross, we are declared righteous in the eyes of God Almighty. Our sins have been atoned for in full by the bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And it is on His account, by His merit, that we can enjoy God’s good favor and be welcomed into His festal hall.
Our faith is fortified when we understand that God so often chooses the weakest and lowliest among us to accomplish His purposes. This was never more true than in His selection of Mary of Nazareth to bear and deliver His Son. In the eyes of the world, she was nothing. She was a peasant, a nobody, a peon. But in the eyes of God, she was precious beyond measure. It was not due to any merit or virtue in her as a person that God chose her. It was purely out of God’s incredible grace that He showed His servant this unspeakable kindness, that she should become the Mother of our Lord.
It seems to me that Mary, the mother of our Lord, was one of the world’s most profound theologians. For in her beautiful song, the Magnicat, she exhibits an understanding of the ways of God which seems to escape so many wise heads both then and now. She sang, “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away….” She understood so eloquently that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. For it would be the way of the world to bless the rich and curse the poor, to admire the strong and despise the weak. But God lifts up the lowly and removes the haughty. Beware all you who are confident in yourselves, for God will leave you to yourself. The God of Moses and David and Peter and Mary is the God who dines with sinners. He is the God who comes down to the lowly and then exalts them. He has come for you. God, in Christ, has chosen you in your sorrow, your fear, your failure, your unhappiness. He has chosen you in your sin, your rebellion, your disease. God Has chosen you to be the lords and ladies of His Kingdom. He will wipe your face. He will dress you in finery. He will take you proudly, a groom with his bride, into the hall where angels will bow before us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Sphere: Related Content
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Sphere: Related Content
Our family left Friday night for our annual two week vacation. For the past several years, we've gone to Colorado (Denver, Colo Springs, Rocky Mtn National Park, Grand Lake, Glenwood Springs), which we always enjoy. But this time, we just wanted to see something different. Jacob's never seen any part of New England and I've only seen parts of it in passing.
11:45 p.m. Friday, July 25: We got two sleeping compartments on the Amtrack which took us from the station north of Fort Wayne all the way to Washington D.C.
3:30 p.m. Saturday, July 26: Arrived in D.C. and took cab to hotel in downtown, about a mile from the Capitol building.
4:00-10:00 p.m. July 26: Got checked in and hung around the hotel. We ordered room services. Jacob and I got some mean chicken wings. Julie ordered a salad. And a bucket of Amstell Light. Went swimming on the rooftop pool.
J & J went on a walk and took some nice snapshots. I stayed at the pool area to finish reading Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is really good, by the way.
10:30 p.m., July 26: Sack time.
Friday, July 25, 2008
St. Paul wrote: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things (Phil. 4:8)."
Many Christians read this passage and focus on the pure & lovely. But notice that the first word Paul uses is TRUE. Think on the truth. Not every truth is delightful to behold. According to the pure & lovely standard, narrowly understood, one might need to exclude important scriptures such as the beheading of Goliath, the global destruction of the flood, the slaughter of the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, or the torture and murder of Jesus. Those are horrifying scenes indeed. I know of people who have been deeply upset to learn of such excessive violence in Holy Scripture. In some cases, their very faith was shaken. The book of Ecclesiastes often takes fire for being, in the eyes of some, a hopeless text. The Gospels are blamed for inciting hatred against the Jews. The epistles of St. Paul have several rather harsh blasts of holy anger. My point is that the Bible itself contains much distasteful content. It is, at times, disturbing, unsettling, and infuriating.
Other important works of literature may not pass the pure & lovely test either, including the plays of Shakespeare (Macbeth, Hamlet, Titus Andronicus), Homer's Odyssey, the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Graham Greene, and John Steinbeck to name only a few.
Some Christians will disagree with me vehemently, but I think the latest cinematic Batman episode, The Dark Knight, written and directed by Chris Nolan, is a work of genius. Yes, it is dark. Yes, parts of it are hard to watch. But it tells the truth, at least part of it. An important part.
I'm no expert on the work of Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, but I am familiar with his great work entitled "Dark Night of the Soul." That phrase has come to refer to those times in the life of a person when God seems particularly distant, when the soul is alone with his corruption. That's what this movie is about. The Joker is the archetypal man.
Much of contemporary culture is infused with a deadly optimism about human nature. And this is a demonic lie which blinds people to the depth of their need for someone more than a super-hero, a true white and noble Knight to rescue them.
Mutilation. Disfigurement. Anarchy. Random violence. Betrayal. It's no Frank Capra flick. Chris Nolan did not make a "feel good" picture. But he did make a great movie that tells the important truth of mankind's deep inbred narcissism. Without external restraints, we are worse than savages. Apart from restoration in Christ, all people are disfigurements. Deep beneath the veneer of civility, all human beings are unfunny clowns who appear to thrive on mayhem. At one point, the Joker says, "Madness is like gravity. All people need is a little push."
One extremely useful insight the film conveys is the utter meaninglessness of evil. We don't want to believe that. We constantly want to explain away our bad behavior, to make excuses, to justify ourselves. I steal because I'm poor. I hate because I'm ignorant. I kill because I'm a victim. Ultimately, that is just baloney. We do those things because we are bad. That's all. Sinners sin because they are sinful.
The Joker says, "Do I really look like a man with a plan, Harvey? I don't have a plan. The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do if I caught one. I just *do* things."
Alfred, Batman's butler, gets it. He says, "Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."
In the dark night of the soul, when God is absent, there is no meaning, no purpose, no direction. Even an evil direction would be more bearable than having none whatsoever. Of course, Chris Nolan's masterpiece knows nothing of the dawn, the Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). But if you can sit through the 2 1/2 hours of "Dark Knight" and not exit craving the sunshine, you are made of cement.
The untimely death of actor Heath Ledger several months ago, makes his performance particularly bitter to watch. What a loss. His Joker strikes me as one of the most amazing on-screen performances I've ever seen. Of course, it goes a bit over-the-top. It has to. Otherwise most of us would scarcely notice. As Flannery O'Connor once said, "you have to make your vision apparant by shock, to the hard of hearing, you must shout. And for the almost blind, you draw large and startling figures."
In my judgment, this is not a movie about Batman. It's about the Joker. Which is to say that it's about me. The Joker is a mirror, a truth-teller of unpretty realities.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
June 21, 2008
Text: Colossians 2: 1-12
When I was a teenager - about 150,000 years ago - I was a pretty big fan of riding roller coasters. The amusement park near where I grew up in Kansas City, MO is called Worlds of Fun. I can remember the first roller coaster that I ever rode that had a loopty loop. It was called the Scream Roller. The first wooden coaster I rode was the Timber Wolf. But my all-time favorite, which now no longer exists, I'm sad to say, was the Orient Express. I could go on and on. And now I have the joy of watching my almost 13-year-old son become entusiastic about theme parks and extreme thrill rides.
Last year, I went with the Academy to Cedar Point and a great time, even though my stomach cannot tolerate the rides like it used to. There is just something about being thrust along at 70 m.p.h., 75 degree angles, 350 foot drops, loops, twirls, corkscrews and having my head jostled around, back and forth, like a bobble-headed doll in an earthquake that just is not as fun as it used to be. It can be disorienting. It makes me feel dizzy and light-headed and yes, maybe even a little bit nauseous.
Like so many things, this can be a metaphor for life. Is your life merely a day at the park? All fun and games? Cotton candy for dinner and ice cream for dessert? Or is it sometimes fun and sometimes confusing, disorienting, dizzying, terrifying or even nauseating?
We have an enemy, the devil, and he is a liar. Jesus said that the devil has been lying from the very beginning. Ever since he told that deadly little fib to our first mother, Eve, in the garden of earthly delights. Jesus said that when the devil lies, he is speaking his native language.
The very best lies, the most effective deceptions, are those which are blended with a dose of the truth. The difficulty is being able to divide the truth from the errors. St. Paul speaks to us today and he says: "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."
This is precisely the reason why I rejoice to God that all of you are here at Christ Academy these two weeks at the end of June. Some of you are here for the very first time and others of you have been here year after year. Frankly, I consider that to be a miracle of God. It is miraculous that you young men, with all the world's temptations displayed lavishly before you, have chosen to be here in humble Fort Wayne, IN in order to study the very words of our great and living God. You are here by God's design. Not your own. And what we give you here are not the philosophies of this age, the empty traditions of men, but rather the truth of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the truth shall make you free. Well, He is the truth. He is the One who makes us free. Not as a mere theory or abstraction but in reality, in flesh-and-blood, in history, on the earth.
We want you to have fun while you are here as well. And we schedule a number of events and activities that we think you will enjoy like Cedar Point yesterday, the baseball game on monday, a movie night later next week. We want you to enjoy the good things of God's world and to make lasting friendships with one another. But most importantly, Christ Academy exists in order to train young men in the things of the spirit, to deepen the roots of your faith in the soil of Holy Scripture and perhaps even to equip some of you for a later life of formation and pastoral ministry.
One of the most pernicious and persistent lies of this age is the doctrine of naturalism or scientific materialism. This is the belief that all there is to human existence is summed up in what the hand can hold and the eyes can see. Very persuasive entities in our culture maintain that nothing exists except that which can be observed. And although most Americans still profess some kind of belief in God, many are living as if all that really matters is material stuff: money, possessions, bodily enticements, and the feeding of your carnel appetites.
St. Pauls was concerned for the congregation in Colossai that they not be, as he puts it, deluded by plausible arguments. That rebelliousness that resides inside all of us wants to be deluded by plausible arguments. We want to be persuaded that the pursuit of earthly gain is a good thing. We want to believe that everything is ok and we are alright in the sight of God, all on our own, no matter what. A part of you wants to be independent, not just from your parent, teachers and human authority, but from God Himself. And there is nothing natural or good or beneficial in that rebelious wish. In fact, it is destructive, corrosive, poisonous and foul.
In our reading from Colossians chapter 2, St. Paul states: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him.... "Walk in him" is a common biblical way of saying live your life in Christ, take every step in fellowship with Jesus. He says, "as you recevied Christ Jesus... so walk in Him." In other words, live your life as a Christian in the same manner as you began it. And how did you receive Christ? In what manner did that occur? Certainly, not as a result of your good works. Not by the effect of your will. No, you received Christ Jesus by God's grace. He gave Himself to you at your Baptism. He continues to give Himself to you in preaching, absolution and the sacrament of the altar. God is a giver. It is the very nature of God for Him to offer himself to those whom he loves. That is the definition of love, the giving of oneself to another, with no thought for personal gain. Our Lord has no need of us. There is nothing compelling Him to love us, forgive us or save us. This He does freely, purely out of goodness and mercy, concepts which we can never fully understand. For just as it is the very nature of God to give, it is the very nature of created beings to receive.
You have received Christ and with Christ, you receive all things, forgiveness, righteousness, and abundant life both now and forever. As Christians and as sons of God, we live by faith, not by sight. The Bible says, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1)." Contrary to the philosphers of this age who place their ultimate hope in material goods, we see what lies beyond.
It reminds me a little bit of those police television shows where the detectives are interrogating their prisoners in the poorly lit room with no windows. There is only a single long mirror on the wall. But of course, we the viewers all know that it is not really a mirror, but a two way glass and that there are other detectives on the other sides observing all that takes place.
Like the suspect in the interrogation chamber, the people of this world look and all that they see is a reflection of themselves. We are on the other side of the wall and because of illumination we have in Christ, we can see through the glass, not at ourselves, but at reality as it truly exists.
You know the truth about yourselves, about this world and its passing fantasies. You know the truth about your Creator and your eternal destiny in Him. For Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the deity in bodily form, He has suffered and died on your behalf, in your place, in the place of sinners, so that we who were once captivated by the lies of Satan, in bondage not with shackles of iron but with the brittle chains of false promises. And you have been liberated from your bondage, set free from captivity, unleashed by the pronouncement of God. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
I'm back in my hometown area, Kansas City, MO, doing a bit of recruiting for the seminary. I do love being here. One thing I'd nearly forgotten about is the legendary Winstead's burger joint. I'm glad to see there are some new locations, but this place is pretty unique to Kansas City. There just happens to be one near my hotel. I haven't eaten there yet, but will probably for dinner tonight. They have arguably the best steakburgers in the world and the awesomest chocolate malts named The Frosty long before there ever was such thing as Wendy's. They've been in business since 1940.
If you ever come to Kansas City, MO, there are a few must sees. One is the excellent art museum, the Nelson Atkins gallery. I've been to art museums all of the nation and the one in KC is one of the best. Another is Gate's Bar-B-Q. But if you don't at least once at Winstead's, there's something wrong.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
A great pal has this short insightful post on his blog, The Lutheran Logomaniac.
In case you've wondered at the recent scarcity of posts here, I have been putting most of my blogging energy recently into the new seminary admission department blog called Concordia TheoBLOGical Seminary. Come pay a visit.