Mar 21, 2008

Good Friday.

The Damnations of Jeremiah

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,

Which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
on the day of his fierce anger.

For these things I weep;
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage.

Remember my affliction and my bitterness,
the wormwood and the gall!

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;

They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.

It is good that we should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

For the Lord will not reject for ever;
though he causes grief, he will have compassion,

According to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.

Lamentations 1.12, 16a,b; 3.19, 21-26, 31-33

The above is a Song of Lamentations from the English Book of Common Worship, and is extracted from the Old Testament book "The Lamentations of Jeremiah".

A different Jeremiah has been in the news lately, a fiery black preacher in Chicago. Videos have been floating about the internet of Jeremiah Wright calling out God's judgment to damn America, not to bless us. In response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, he described those attacks as God's judgment upon America for being imperialistic (something Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson did as well, but for our being libertine). The very different sins of America that both Jeremiah Wright and Pat Robertson listed are indeed sins that I have considered as I look at my country. We should indeed fear God's judgment.

Following 9-11, everyone started putting up signs, banners, and bumper stickers that read, "God Bless America", even though we are materially the most "blessed" nation the world has ever seen. My wife suggested that we shouldn't be saying, "God Bless America" at that time, but "Bless God America" instead. I agreed with her, and produced thousands of bumper stickers to that effect.

And that is where Jeremiah Wright (and perhaps his disciple, Barack Obama) are mistaken. The true prophet's call should not be "God damn America", calling on God's wrath, but "Bless God, America", calling our nation to repentance in seeking God's mercy, as the Biblical prophet Jeremiah did so long ago for Israel's sake.

Bless God, America.

Mar 20, 2008

Mandate Day.

Today is Maundy Thursday in the western Christian Calendar.

Prior to Lent beginning this year, I was asked by a children's Sunday School Teacher if I knew what Maundy Thursday meant. She didn't know, but wanted to tell the kids what it meant. I had forgotten.

Here's the Wikipedia definition:

The word Maundy is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung during the "Mandatum" ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or at another time as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community.

A new commandment has been given to us, a new mandate... to love one another as Christ Jesus loved us. Why oh why could I not remember what the word maundy means?

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Mar 16, 2008

Stiff-necked Germans.

Cellphone video from Palm Sunday 2008.

Not long after we first joined our church, we were asked to take part in a committee called "Natural Church Development" (NCD). The NCD process was to develop a picture of where the church is in several areas, and identify the strengths and the weaknesses. One of our great strengths was our "Lively Worship" at our 9:30 AM Sunday service.

Part of the survey was also to identify what one was "looked for" in a church. My response was that I looked for "a palpable sense of the Holy Spirit's presence". The crude cellphone video above indicates why we chose (and choose) Bethel Lutheran Church (warts and all).

[UPDATE] The NCD survey found two places that were weak at my church. The weak spots are often what hold a congregation back form being a Great Commission congregation. Our two weaknesses were/are 1) Passionate Spirituality, and 2) Need-based Evangelism. There was a lot of confusion among the committee members what these meant. Some though Passionate Spirituality meant "Jumpin' Jesus" worship, but that's not it. Some others thought that "Need-based Evangelism" referred to doing good works (food pantry, Habitat, etc.), but they were also mistaken.

Passionate Spirituality refers to an immediate and powerful sense of God's presence in our lives, usually realized through personal prayer. Need-based evangelism refers to be convinced that people need to be told the Good News of Jesus Christ for their salvation. In response to those two needs, I have just one word: Alpha.

I can see for miles and miles.

“The power of clear vision is called cynicism by those who have not got it.”
-- George Bernard Shaw

Mar 15, 2008

Let us make God in our image.

Our relation to God is unrighteous.
Secretly we are ourselves the masters in this relationship. We are not concerned with God, but with our own requirements, to which God must adjust Himself. Our arrogance demands that, in addition to everything else, some super-world should also be known and accessible to us. Our conduct calls for some deeper sanction, some approbation and remuneration from another world.

Our well-regulated, pleasurable life longs for some
hours of devotion, some prolongation into infinity. And so, when we set God upon the throne of the world, we mean by God ourselves. In "believing" on Him, we justify, enjoy, and adore ourselves.

-- Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans

Mar 14, 2008

Hello. My name is Michael, and I am a crack-pot.

Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we're not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don't maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don't twist God's Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.

If our Message is obscure to anyone, it's not because we're holding back in any way. No, it's because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won't have to bother believing a Truth they can't see. They're stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we'll ever get.

Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we're proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, "Light up the darkness!" and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus' sake, which makes Jesus' life all the more evident in us. While we're going through the worst, you're getting in on the best!

2 Corinthians 4:1-12, The Message

Mar 11, 2008

Creep, creep creep. Death comes creeping in.

My church rewarded Sunday School teachers with various gifts last week. Each teacher/facilitator got a little gift box with candy, a $10 gift card (Lowe's for the men, Starbucks for the ladies), and this bookmark.

Works Righteousness, the idea that we can get rewards from God for our good behavior, creeps into every human endeavor. It's the premise behind Islam and Mormonism, and it denies the Cross.

I'm not sure if I should continue leading a Sunday School class after receiving this award, this human stain. I'm not sure if I can. The very thought of this sickens me unto death.

Mar 10, 2008

The Theocracy of Lowered Expectations: Process vs. Product along the Way.

I attended two events of interest to me over the weekend. First, I attended a Healing Prayer workshop
at an LCMS church in far southwest Arlington (next to Pantego). Being as this was a true "hands-on" training session, it really underscored the LCMS church I recently visited where the congregational leaders voted to not touch each other for fear of spreading germs.

I also attended the opening of a old friend's art exhibition relating to a cover she did for the 2005 Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog (this is a really big deal). Pauline is a friend of mine from university days, with whom I exhibited in art galleries in the 1980s. Very talented lady, but one whom I had pretty much lost contact with until recently. Her exhibition focused on the process involved in coming up with the final design for the Christmas Book, not so much the end product. Hence the show's name: "Process".

As God often does with me, He stitched these two events together as a narrative.

First the art. When I was an artist (if that may be said of me), my interest was drawing, but not in the way that people tend to think. Drawing is often seen as a preliminary step to the production of art through the use of studies. A drawing might be seen as preparing the way for the "art" which was to follow, and was of lesser importance. Subservient, perhaps, to the finished product. But for me, the drawing was itself the completion of the thought, almost a snapshot of the brain's activity. In a drawing, especially in the chaotic forms of a sketchpad with multiple compositions intertwined by the desire to save paper, I could see the artist's mind and soul at work. It was as if they had dug deep into their experience and held up large gobs of their life for my inspection.

Preliminary sketches, studies, roughs, thumbnails, and paper napkins all spoke to me in a way that a finished painting or sculpture (or a "finished" drawing) never could. Here was the living process of thinking, chewing, fighting, and loving that would give up its life for a finished product. In the pursuit of the final product, the real would be exchanged for an idol.

The Healing Prayer Workshop dealt with the aspects of living the Christian life "in the Spirit" as was described in the new Testament Book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles. There was no "church" as we think of one today... a place you dress up to go to on Sunday morning. In the first century, one didn't go to church, one was the church. As part of the Spirit of God Filled Life, miracles not only happened, they were expected (if not predicted). The whole point of being a follower of The Way was to have your spirit super-infused with God's spirit, like a sponge soaking up water to the point of leakage. One moved in a community of water-sloshing sponges, constantly being refilled. The idea was to make everything wet.

But as the church (the ecclesia) "matured", it became "Church". The Church became an entity apart from the sloshing-sponges. It became a place of memories and tales of the Sloshing Spirit, but a place where such outbursts might damage the man-made structure. The process of being filled with the Spirit of God gave way to the product of Church. Because God's sponge-filling could be (and usually was) messy, the Church needed to codify it, and make it part of ritual that the Church could control. So, as they focused on the final product of "Christianity", the process of becoming a "Christ-ian" was almost completely lost.

To quote myself...
Preliminary sketches, studies, roughs, thumbnails, and paper napkins all spoke to me in a way that a finished painting or sculpture (or a "finished" drawing) never could. Here was the living process of thinking, chewing, fighting, and loving that would give up its life for a finished product. The real would be exchanged for an idol.
Here we now have the real exchanged for the unreal. The Spirit in Flesh exchanged for a lifeless idol.

"The Church welcomes you. Now sit down." No thanks. I must be on the Way now.

Mar 4, 2008

Party Ruckus.

"I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat!"
-- Will Rogers

The caucus was a mess, the worst side of politics. No obvious shenanigans, but I didn’t stay for the whole thing (4:30 AM comes pretty early here). Almost 200 people, pretty evenly split between Obambots and Clintonians. There were only 12 at the last precinct caucus (which exposes the story that Reps were voting for Hill as false… may prove just the opposite). It WAS fun to see the GOP precinct meeting moved to a small room to make more room available for the Dems. Voting was easily 4:1 Dem to Rep at my precinct

I saw the Deaniacs there, and they are all Obamamaniacs now. Perhaps there’s a connection. I’m eager for Hill to get the nomination and show the Quack from Vermont the door. The good doctor represents a myopic view of America.

The “Texas Two-Step” is clearly meant to negate/mitigate the general primary results. It’s a bad system only a pol could come up with.

The GOP-controlled suburbs and the more Dem urban cities all had a roughly 60/40 Obama/Hillary split (urban was really closer to 65/35)… which I interpret as GOP crossovers voting Obama in the burbs, and high AA turnout in the core.

Mar 3, 2008


James Brolin as Llewellyn Moss in the Coen brother's movie version of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country For Old Men".

Publicity photo of Cormac McCarthy from 1972.